Book 15 Chapter 3

PRINCESS MARYA put off her departure. Sonya and the count tried to take Natasha's place, but they could not. They saw that she was the only one who could keep the mother from the frenzy of despair. For three weeks Natasha never left her mother's side, slept on a lounge in her room, made her drink and eat, and without pause talked to her, talked because her tender, loving voice was the only thing that soothed the countess.

The wound in the mother's heart could never be healed. Petya's death had torn away half of her life. When the news of Petya's death reached her, she was a fresh-looking, vigorous woman of fifty; a month later she came out of her room an old woman, half dead and with no more interest in life. But the wound that half killed the countess, that fresh wound, brought Natasha back to life.

A spiritual wound that comes from a rending of the spirit is like a physical wound, and after it has healed externally, and the torn edges are scarred over, yet, strange to say, like a deep physical injury, it only heals inwardly by the force of life pushing up from within.

So Natasha's wound healed. She believed that her life was over. But suddenly her love for her mother showed her that the essence of her life—love—was still alive within her. Love was awakened, and life waked with it.

The last days of Prince Andrey had been a close bond between Natasha and Princess Marya. This fresh trouble brought them even closer together. Princess Marya put off her departure, and for the last three weeks she had been looking after Natasha, as though she were a sick child. Those weeks spent by Natasha in her mother's room had completely broken down her health.

One day Princess Marya noticed that Natasha was shivering with a feverish chill, and brought her away to her own room, and tucked her up in bed in the middle of the day. Natasha lay down, but when Princess Marya, having let down the blinds, was about to leave the room, Natasha called her to her.

“I'm not sleepy, Marie; stay with me.”

“You are tired; try and go to sleep.”

“No, no. Why did you bring me away? She will ask for me.”

“She is much better. She was talking much more like herself to-day,” said Princess Marya.

Natasha lay on the bed, and in the half-dark room she tried to make out Princess Marya's face.

“Is she like him?” Natasha wondered. “Yes; like and unlike. But she is original, different, a quite new, unknown person. And she likes me. What is there in her heart? Everything good. But what is it like? What are her thoughts like? How does she look on me? Yes; she is nice!”

“Masha,” she said, shyly drawing her hand towards her. “Masha, you mustn't think I'm horrid. No? Masha, darling! How I love you! Let us be quite, quite friends.” And embracing her, Natasha fell to kissing her hands and face.

Princess Marya was abashed and overjoyed at this demonstration of feeling.

From that day there sprang up between Princess Marya and Natasha one of those tender and passionate friendships which can only exist between women. They were continually kissing each other and saying tender things to one another, and they spent the greater part of their time together. If one went away, the other was uneasy and hastened to join her. They felt more harmony together with each other than apart, each with herself. There sprang up between them a feeling stronger than friendship; that was the feeling of life being only possible in each other's company.

Sometimes they did not speak for hours together. Sometimes, as they lay in their beds, they would begin to talk, and talked till morning. They talked, for the most part, of their own remote past. Princess Marya told her of her childhood, of her mother, of her father, of her dreams. And Natasha, who had in the past turned away with calm acceptance of her non-comprehension of that life of devotion and resignation, of the idealism of Christian self-sacrifice, grew to love Princess Marya's past, and to understand that side of life of which she had had no conception before. She had no thought of imitating that resignation and self-sacrifice in her own life, because she was accustomed to look for other joys in life; but she understood and loved in another that virtue that had been till now beyond her ken. Princess Marya, too, as she listened to Natasha's stories of her childhood and early girlhood, had a glimpse of a side of life she had known nothing of, of faith in life and in the enjoyment of life.

They still refrained from talking of him, that they might not, as seemed to them, desecrate the exalted feeling in their hearts; but this reticence led them, though they would not have believed it, into gradually forgetting him.

Natasha had grown thin and pale, and was physically so weak that every one was continually talking about her health, and she was glad it was so. Yet sometimes she was suddenly seized, not simply by a dread of death, but by a dread of sickness, of ill-health, of losing her good looks; and sometimes she unconsciously examined her bare arm, marvelling at its thinness, or peeped in the looking-glass in the morning at her pinched face, and was touched by its piteous look. It seemed to her that this was as it should be, and yet she felt afraid and mournful at it.

One day she ran upstairs quickly, and was painfully short of breath. Immediately she made some pretext for going down again, and ran upstairs again, to try her strength and put herself to the test.

Another day she called Dunyasha, and her voice broke. She called her once more, though she heard her coming—called her in the deep chest voice with which she used to sing, and listened to the sound.

She knew it not, and would not have believed it yet though the layer of mould under which she fancied that her soul was buried seemed unbroken, the delicate, tender, young blades of grass were already pushing through it, and were destined to take root, and so to hide the grief that had crushed her under their living shoots that it would soon be unseen and forgotten. The wound was healing from within.

Towards the end of January Princess Marya set off for Moscow, and the count insisted on Natasha going with her to consult the doctors.