Book 11 Chapter 31

THE VALET on going in informed the count that Moscow was on fire. The count put on his dressing-gown and went out to look. With him went Sonya, who had not yet undressed, and Madame Schoss, Natasha and the countess were left alone within. Petya was no longer with the family; he had gone on ahead with his regiment marching to Troitsa.

The countess wept on hearing that Moscow was in flames. Natasha, pale, with staring eyes, sat on the bench under the holy images, the spot where she had first thrown herself down on entering, and took no notice of her father's words. She was listening to the never-ceasing moan of the adjutant, audible three huts away.

“Oh! how awful!” cried Sonya, coming in chilled and frightened from the yard. “I do believe all Moscow is burning: there's an awful fire! Natasha, do look; you can see now from the window here,” she said, obviously trying to distract her friend's mind. But Natasha stared at her, as though she did not understand what was asked of her, and fixed her eyes again on the corner of the stove. Natasha had been in this petrified condition ever since morning, when Sonya, to the amazement and anger of the countess, had for some incomprehensible reason thought fit to inform Natasha of Prince Andrey's wound, and his presence among their train. The countess had been angry with Sonya, as she waited all the while on her friend, as though trying to atone for her fault.

“Look, Natasha, how frightfully it's burning,” said Sonya.

“What's burning?” asked Natasha. “Oh yes, Moscow.”

And to get rid of Sonya, and not hurt her by a refusal, she moved her head towards the window, looking in such a way that it was evident she could see nothing, and sat again in the same attitude as before.

“But didn't you see?”

“Yes, I really did see,” she declared in a voice that implored to be left in peace.

Both the countess and Sonya could readily understand that Moscow, the burning of Moscow, anything whatever in fact, could be of no interest to Natasha.

The count came in again behind the partition wall and lay down. The countess went up to Natasha, put the back of her hand to her head, as she did when her daughter was ill, then touched her forehead with her lips, as though to find out whether she were feverish, and kissed her.

“You are chilled? You are all shaking. You should lie down,” she said.

“Lie down? Yes, very well, I'll lie down. I'll lie down in a minute,” said Natasha.

When Natasha had been told that morning that Prince Andrey was seriously wounded, and was travelling with them, she had at the first moment asked a great many questions, how and why and where she could see him. But after she had been told that she could not see him, that his wound was a serious one, but that his life was not in danger, though she plainly did not believe what was told her, she saw that she would get the same answer whatever she said, and gave up asking questions and speaking at all. All the way Natasha had sat motionless in the corner of the carriage with those wide eyes, the look which the countess knew so well and dreaded so much. And she was sitting in just the same way now on the bench in the hut. She was brooding on some plan; she was making, or already by now had made some decision, in her own mind—that the countess knew, but what that decision was she did not know, and that alarmed and worried her.

“Natasha, undress, darling, get into my bed.”

For the countess only a bed had been made up on a bedstead. Madame Schoss and the two girls were to sleep on hay on the floor.

“No, mamma, I'll lie here on the floor,” said Natasha irritably; she went to the window and opened it. The moans of the adjutant could be heard more distinctly from the open window. She put her head out into the damp night air, and the countess saw her slender neck shaking with sobs and heaving against the window frame. Natasha knew it was not Prince Andrey moaning. She knew that Prince Andrey was in the same block of huts as they were in, that he was in the next hut just across the porch, but that fearful never-ceasing moan made her sob. The countess exchanged glances with Sonya.

“Go to bed, darling, go to bed, my pet,” said the countess, lightly touching Natasha's shoulder. “Come, go to bed.”

“Oh yes … I'll go to bed at once, at once,” said Natasha, hurriedly undressing, and breaking the strings of her petticoats. Dropping off her dress, and putting on a dressing-jacket, she sat down on the bed made up on the floor, tucking her feet under her, and flinging her short, fine hair over her shoulder, began plaiting it. Her thin, long, practised fingers rapidly and deftly divided, plaited, and tied up her hair. Natasha's head turned from side to side as usual as she did this, but her eyes, feverishly wide, looked straight before her with the same fixed stare. When her toilet for the night was over, Natasha sank softly down on to the sheet laid on the hay nearest the door.

“Natasha, you lie in the middle,” said Sonya.

“I'll stay here,” said Natasha. “And do go to bed,” she added in a tone of annoyance. And she buried her face in the pillow.

The countess, Madame Schoss, and Sonya hurriedly undressed and went to bed. The lamp before the holy images was the only light left in the room. But out of doors the fire at Little Mytishtchy lighted the country up for two versts round, and there was a noisy clamour of peasants shouting at the tavern across the street, which Mamonov's Cossacks had broken into, and the moan of the adjutant could be heard unceasingly through everything.

For a long while Natasha listened to the sounds that reached her from within and without, and she did not stir. She heard at first her mother's prayers and sighs, the creaking of her bed under her, Madame Schoss's familiar, whistling snore, Sonya's soft breathing. Then the countess called to Natasha. Natasha did not answer.

“I think she's asleep, mamma,” answered Sonya.

The countess, after a brief silence, spoke again, but this time no one answered her.

Soon after this Natasha caught the sound of her mother's even breathing. Natasha did not stir, though her little bare foot, poking out below the quilt, felt frozen against the uncovered floor.

A cricket chirped in a crack, as though celebrating a victory over all the world. A cock crowed far away, and another answered close by. The shouts had died away in the tavern, but the adjutant's moaning went on still the same. Natasha sat up.

“Sonya! Are you asleep? Mamma!” she whispered. No one answered. Slowly and cautiously, Natasha got up, crossed herself, and stepped cautiously with her slender, supple, bare feet on to the dirty, cold floor. The boards creaked. With nimble feet she ran like a kitten a few steps, and took hold of the cold door-handle.

It seemed to her that something with heavy, rhythmical strokes was banging on all the walls of the hut; it was the beating of her own heart, torn with dread, with love and terror.

She opened the door, stepped over the lintel, and on to the damp, cold earth of the passage outside. The cold all about her refreshed her. Her bare foot felt a man asleep; she stepped over him, and opened the door of the hut in which Prince Andrey was lying.

In that hut it was dark. A tallow candle with a great, smouldering wick stood on a bench in the further corner, by a bed, on which something was lying.

Ever since she had been told in the morning of Prince Andrey's wound and his presence there, Natasha had resolved that she must see him. She could not have said why this must be, but she knew their meeting would be anguish to her, and that made her the more certain that it must be inevitable.

All day long she had lived in the hope that at night she would see him. But now when the moment had come, a terror came over her of what she would see. How had he been disfigured? What was left of him? Was he like that unceasing moan of the adjutant? Yes, he was all over like that. In her imagination he was that awful moan of pain personified. When she caught sight of an undefined mass in the corner, and took his raised knees under the quilt for his shoulders, she pictured some fearful body there, and stood still in terror. But an irresistible force drew her forward. She made one cautious step, another, and found herself in the middle of the small hut, cumbered up with baggage. On the bench, under the holy images, lay another man (this was Timohin), and on the floor were two more figures (the doctor and the valet).

The valet sat up and muttered something. Timohin, in pain from a wound in his leg, was not asleep, and gazed, all eyes, at the strange apparition of a girl in a white night-gown, dressing-jacket, and nightcap. The valet's sleepy and frightened words “What is it? What do you want?” only made Natasha hasten towards the figure lying in the corner. However fearfully unlike a human shape that figure might be now, she must see him. She passed by the valet, the smouldering candle flickered up, and she saw clearly Prince Andrey, lying with his arms stretched out on the quilt, looking just as she had always seen him.

He was just the same as ever; but the flush on his face, his shining eyes, gazing passionately at her, and especially the soft, childlike neck, showing above the lay-down collar of the nightshirt, gave him a peculiarly innocent, childlike look, such as she had never seen in him before. She ran up to him and with a swift, supple, youthful movement dropped on her knees.

He smiled, and held out his hand to her.