Book 9 Chapter 17

NATASHA was calmer, but no happier. She did not merely shun every external form of amusement—balls, skating, concerts, and theatres—but she never even laughed without the sound of tears behind her laughter. She could not sing. As soon as she began to laugh or attempted to sing all by herself, tears choked her: tears of remorse; tears of regret for that time of pure happiness that could never return; tears of vexation that she should so wantonly have ruined her young life, that might have been so happy. Laughter and singing especially seemed to her like scoffing at her grief. She never even thought of desiring admiration; she had no impulse of vanity to restrain. She said and felt at that time that all men were no more to her than Nastasya Ivanovna, the buffoon. An inner sentinel seemed to guard against every sort of pleasure. And, indeed, she seemed to have lost all the old interests of her girlish, careless life, that had been so full of hope. Most often, and with most pining, she brooded over the memory of those autumn months, the hunting, the old uncle, and the Christmas holidays spent with Nikolay at Otradnoe. What would she not have given to bring back one single day of that time! But it was all over for her. Her presentiment at the time had not deceived her, that such a time of freedom and readiness for every enjoyment would never come again. But yet she had to live.

It comforted her to think, not that she was better, as she had once fancied, but worse, far worse than any one, than any one in the whole world. But that meant little to her. She believed it; but then she asked: “And what next?” And there was nothing to come. There was no gladness in life, but life was passing. All Natasha tried after was plainly to be no burden to others, and not to hinder other people's enjoyment; but for herself she wanted nothing. She held aloof from all the household. It was only with her brother, Petya, that she felt at ease. She liked being with him better than being with the rest, and sometimes even laughed when she was alone with him. She hardly left the house to go anywhere; and of the guests who came to the house she was only glad to see one person—Pierre. No one could have been more tender, circumspect, and at the same time serious, than Count Bezuhov in his manner to her. Natasha was unconsciously aware of this tenderness, and it was owing to it that she found more pleasure in his society. But she was not even grateful to him for it. Nothing good in him seemed to her due to an effort on Pierre's part. It seemed so natural to Pierre to be kind that there was no merit in his kindness. Sometimes Natasha noticed some confusion or awkwardness in Pierre in her presence, especially when he was trying to do something for her pleasure or afraid something in the conversation might suggest to her painful reminiscences. She observed this, and put it down to his general kindliness and shyness, which she supposed would be the same with every one else. Ever since those unforeseen words—that if he had been free, he would have asked on his knees for her hand and her love—uttered in a moment full of violent emotion for her, Pierre had said nothing of his feelings to Natasha; and it seemed to her clear that those words, which had so comforted her, had been uttered, just as one says any meaningless nonsense to console a weeping child. It was not because Pierre was a married man, but because Natasha felt between herself and him the force of that moral barrier—of the absence of which she had been so conscious with Kuragin—that the idea never occurred to her that her relations with Pierre might develop into love on her side, and still less on his, or even into that tender, self-conscious, romantic friendship between a man and a woman, of which she had known several instances.

Towards the end of St. Peter's fast, Agrafena Ivanovna Byelov, a country neighbour of the Rostovs, came to Moscow to pay her devotions to the saints there. She suggested to Natasha that she should prepare herself for the Sacrament, and Natasha caught eagerly at the suggestion. Although the doctors forbade her going out early in the morning, Natasha insisted on keeping the fast, and not simply as it was kept in the Rostovs' household, by taking part in three services in the house, but keeping it as Agrafena Ivanova was doing, that is to say, for a whole week, not missing a single early morning service, or litany, or vesper.

The countess was pleased at these signs of religious fervour in Natasha. After the poor results of medical treatment, at the bottom of her heart she hoped that prayer would do more for her than medicine; and though she concealed it from the doctors and had some inward misgivings, she fell in with Natasha's wishes, and intrusted her to Madame Byelov.

Agrafena Ivanovna went in to wake Natasha at three o'clock in the night, and frequently found her not asleep. Natasha was afraid of sleeping too late for the early morning service. Hurriedly washing, and in all humility putting on her shabbiest dress and old mantle, Natasha, shuddering at the chill air, went out into the deserted streets, in the limpid light of the early dawn. By the advice of Agrafena Ivanovna, Natasha did not attend the services of her own parish church, but went to a church where the priest was esteemed by the devout Madame Byelov as being of a particularly severe and exemplary life. There were few people in the church. Natasha and Madame Byelov always took the same seat before an image of the Mother of God, carved at the back of the left choir; and a new feeling of humility before the great mystery came over Natasha, as at that unusual hour in the morning she gazed at the black outline of the Mother of God, with the light of the candles burning in front of it, and the morning light falling on it from the window. She listened to the words of the service, and tried to follow and understand them. When she did understand them, all the shades of her personal feeling blended with her prayer; when she did not understand, it was still sweeter for her to think that the desire to understand all was pride, that she could not comprehend all; that she had but to believe and give herself up to God, Who was, she felt, at those moments guiding her soul. She crossed herself, bowed to the ground, and when she did not follow, simply prayed to God to forgive her everything, everything, and to have mercy on her, in horror at her own vileness. The prayer into which she threw herself heart and soul was the prayer of repentance. On the way home in the early morning, when they met no one but masons going to their work, or porters cleaning the streets, and every one was asleep in the houses, Natasha had a new sense of the possibility of correcting herself of her sins and leading a new life of purity and happiness.

During the week she spent in this way, that feeling grew stronger with every day. And the joy of “communication,” as Agrafena Ivanovna liked to call taking the Communion, seemed to her so great that she fancied she could not live till that blissful Sunday.

But the happy day did come. And when on that memorable Sunday Natasha returned from the Sacrament wearing a white muslin dress, for the first time for many months she felt at peace, and not oppressed by the life that lay before her.

The doctor came that day to see Natasha, and gave directions for the powders to be continued that he had begun prescribing a fortnight ago. “She must certainly go on taking them morning and evening,” he said, with visible and simple-hearted satisfaction at the success of his treatment. “Please, don't forget them. You may set your mind at rest, countess,” the doctor said playfully, as he deftly received the gold in the hollow of his palm. “She will soon be singing and dancing again. The last medicine has done her great, great good. She is very much better.”

The countess looked at her finger-nails and spat, to avert the ill-omen of such words, as with a cheerful face she went back to the drawing-room.