Book 12 Chapter 7

THE TERRIBLE NEWS of the battle of Borodino, of our losses in killed and wounded, and the even more terrible news of the loss of Moscow reached Voronezh in the middle of September. Princess Marya, learning of her brother's wound only from the newspapers, and having no definite information about him, was preparing (so Nikolay heard, though he had not seen her) to set off to try and reach Prince Andrey.

On hearing the news of the battle of Borodino and of the abandonment of Moscow, Rostov felt, not despair, rage, revenge, nor any such feeling, but a sudden weariness and vexation with everything at Voronezh, and a sense of awkwardness and uneasy conscience. All the conversations he listened to seemed to him insincere; he did not know what to think of it all, and felt that only in the regiment would all become clear to him again. He made haste to conclude the purchase of horses, and was often without good cause ill-tempered with his servant and quarter-master.

Several days before Rostov's departure there was a thanksgiving service in the cathedral for the victory gained by the Russian troops, and Nikolay went to the service. He was a little behind the governor, and was standing through the service meditating with befitting sedateness on the most various subjects. When the service was concluding, the governor's wife beckoned him to her.

“Did you see the princess?” she said, with a motion of her hand towards a lady in black standing behind the choir.

Nikolay recognised Princess Marya at once, not so much from the profile he saw under her hat as from the feeling of watchful solicitude, awe, and pity which came over him at once. Princess Marya, obviously buried in her own thoughts, was making the last signs of the cross before leaving the church.

Nikolay gazed in wonder at her face. It was the same face he had seen before; there was the same general look of refined, inner, spiritual travail; but now there was an utterly different light in it. There was a touching expression of sadness, of prayer and of hope in it. With the same absence of hesitation as he had felt before in her presence, without waiting for the governor's wife to urge him, without asking himself whether it were right, whether it were proper for him to address her here in church, Nikolay went up to her, and said he had heard of her trouble and grieved with his whole heart to hear of it. As soon as she heard his voice, a vivid colour glowed in her face, lighting up at once her joy and her sorrow.

“One thing I wanted to tell you, princess,” said Rostov, “that is, that if Prince Andrey Nikolaevitch were not living, since he is a colonel, it would be announced immediately in the gazettes.”

The princess looked at him, not comprehending his words, but comforted by the expression of sympathetic suffering in his face.

“And I know from so many instances that a wound from a splinter” (the papers said it was from a grenade) “is either immediately fatal or else very slight,” Nikolay went on. “We must hope for the best, and I am certain …”

Princess Marya interrupted him.

“Oh, it would be so aw …” she began, and her emotion choking her utterance, she bent her head with a graceful gesture, like everything she did in his presence, and glancing gratefully at him followed her aunt.

That evening Nikolay did not go out anywhere, but stayed at home to finish some accounts with the horse-vendors. By the time he had finished his work it was rather late to go out anywhere, but still early to go to bed, and Nikolay spent a long while walking up and down the room, thinking over his life, a thing that he rarely did.

Princess Marya had made an agreeable impression on him at Bogutcharovo. The fact of his meeting her then in such striking circumstances, and of his mother having at one time pitched precisely on her as the wealthy heiress suitable for him, had led him to look at her with special attention. During his stay at Voronezh, that impression had become, not merely a pleasing, but a very strong one. Nikolay was impressed by the peculiar, moral beauty which he discerned in her at this time. He had, however, been preparing to go away, and it had not entered his head to regret that in leaving Voronezh he was losing all chance of seeing her. But his meeting with Princess Marya that morning in church had, Nikolay felt, gone more deeply to his heart than he had anticipated and more deeply than he desired for his peace of mind. That pale, delicate, melancholy face, those luminous eyes, those soft, gracious gestures, and, above all, the deep and tender melancholy expressed in all her features, agitated him and drew his sympathy. In men Rostov could not bear an appearance of higher, spiritual life (it was why he did not like Prince Andrey), he spoke of it contemptuously as philosophy, idealism; but in Princess Marya it was just in that melancholy, showing all the depth of a spiritual world, strange and remote to Nikolay, that he found an irresistible attraction.

“She must be a marvellous girl! An angel, really!” he said to himself. “Why am I not free? Why was I in such a hurry with Sonya?” And involuntarily he compared the two: the poverty of the one and the wealth of the other in those spiritual gifts, which Nikolay was himself without and therefore prized so highly. He tried to picture what would have happened if he had been free, and in what way he would have made her an offer and she would have become his wife. No, he could not imagine that. A feeling of dread came over him and that picture would take no definite shape. With Sonya he had long ago made his picture of the future, and it was all so simple and clear, just because it was all made up and he knew all there was in Sonya. But with Princess Marya he could not picture his future life, because he did not understand her—he simply loved her.

There was something light-hearted, something of child's play in his dreams of Sonya. But to dream of Princess Marya was difficult and a little terrible.

“How she was praying!” he thought. “One could see that her whole soul was in her prayer. Yes, it was that prayer that moves mountains, and I am convinced that her prayer will be answered. Why don't I pray for what I want?” he bethought himself. “What do I want? Freedom, release from Sonya. She was right,” he thought of what the governor's wife had said, “nothing but misery can come of my marrying her. Muddle, mamma's grief … our position … a muddle, a fearful muddle! Besides, I don't even love her. No, I don't love her in the right way. My God! take me out of this awful, hopeless position!” he began praying all at once. “Yes, prayer will move mountains, but one must believe, and not pray, as Natasha and I prayed as children for the snow to turn into sugar, and then ran out into the yard to try whether it had become sugar. No; but I am not praying for trifles now,” he said, putting his pipe down in the corner and standing with clasped hands before the holy picture. And softened by the thought of Princess Marya, he began to pray as he had not prayed for a long while. He had tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat when Lavrushka came in at the door with papers.

“Blockhead! bursting in when you're not wanted!” said Nikolay, quickly changing his attitude.

“A courier has come,” said Lavrushka in a sleepy voice, “from the governor, a letter for you.”

“Oh, very well, thanks, you can go!”

Nikolay took the two letters. One was from his mother, the other from Sonya. He knew them from the handwriting, and broke open Sonya's letter first. He had hardly read a few lines when his face turned white and his eyes opened wide in dismay and joy. “No, it's not possible!” he said aloud. Unable to sit still, he began walking to and fro in the room, holding the letter in both hands as he read it. He skimmed through the letter, then read it through once and again, and shrugging his shoulders and flinging up his hands, he stood still in the middle of the room with wide-open mouth and staring eyes. What he had just been praying for with the assurance that God would answer his prayer had come to pass; but Nikolay was astounded at it as though it were something extraordinary, and as though he had not expected it, and as though the very fact of its coming to pass so quickly proved that it had not come from God, to whom he had been praying, but was some ordinary coincidence.

The knot fastening his freedom, that had seemed so impossible to disentangle, had been undone by this unexpected and, as it seemed to Nikolay, uncalled-for letter from Sonya. She wrote that their late misfortunes, the loss of almost the whole of the Rostovs' property in Moscow, and the countess's frequently expressed desire that Nikolay should marry Princess Bolkonsky, and his silence and coldness of late, all taken together led her to decide to set him free from his promise, and to give him back complete liberty.

“It would be too painful to me to think that I could be a cause of sorrow and discord in the family which has overwhelmed me with benefits,” she wrote; “and the one aim of my love is the happiness of those I love, and therefore I beseech you, Nicolas, to consider yourself free, and to know that in spite of everything, no one can love you more truly than your—SONYA.”

Both letters were from Troitsa. The other letter was from the countess. It described the last days in Moscow, the departure, the fire and the loss of the whole of their property. The countess wrote too that Prince Andrey had been among the train of wounded soldiers who had travelled with them. He was still in a very critical condition, but that the doctor said now that there was more hope. Sonya and Natasha were nursing him.

With this letter Nikolay went next day to call on Princess Marya. Neither Nikolay nor Princess Marya said a word as to all that was implied by the words: “Natasha is nursing him”; but thanks to this letter, Nikolay was brought suddenly into intimate relations, almost those of a kinsman with the princess.

Next day Rostov escorted Princess Marya as far as Yaroslavl, and a few days later he set off himself to join his regiment.