Book Six: 1808 --10 - Chapter XXIII
Prince Andrew needed his father's consent to his marriage, and to obtain this he started for the country next day.
His father received his son's communication with external composure, but inward wrath. He could not comprehend how anyone could wish to alter his life or introduce anything new into it, when his own life was already ending. "If only they would let me end my days as I want to," thought the old man, "then they might do as they please." With his son, however, he employed the diplomacy he reserved for important occasions and, adopting a quiet tone, discussed the whole matter.
In the first place the marriage was not a brilliant one as regards birth, wealth, or rank. Secondly, Prince Andrew was no longer as young as he had been and his health was poor (the old man laid special stress on this), while she was very young. Thirdly, he had a son whom it would be a pity to entrust to a chit of a girl. "Fourthly and finally," the father said, looking ironically at his son, "I beg you to put it off for a year: go abroad, take a cure, look out as you wanted to for a German tutor for Prince Nicholas. Then if your love or passion or obstinacy--as you please--is still as great, marry! And that's my last word on it. Mind, the last..." concluded the prince, in a tone which showed that nothing would make him alter his decision.
Prince Andrew saw clearly that the old man hoped that his feelings, or his fiancee's, would not stand a year's test, or that he (the old prince himself) would die before then, and he decided to conform to his father's wish--to propose, and postpone the wedding for a year.
Three weeks after the last evening he had spent with the Rostovs, Prince Andrew returned to Petersburg.
Next day after her talk with her mother Natasha expected Bolkonski all day, but he did not come. On the second and third day it was the same. Pierre did not come either and Natasha, not knowing that Prince Andrew had gone to see his father, could not explain his absence to herself.
Three weeks passed in this way. Natasha had no desire to go out anywhere and wandered from room to room like a shadow, idle and listless; she wept secretly at night and did not go to her mother in the evenings. She blushed continually and was irritable. It seemed to her that everybody knew about her disappointment and was laughing at her and pitying her. Strong as was her inward grief, this wound to her vanity intensified her misery.
Once she came to her mother, tried to say something, and suddenly began to cry. Her tears were those of an offended child who does not know why it is being punished.
The countess began to soothe Natasha, who after first listening to her mother's words, suddenly interrupted her:
"Leave off, Mamma! I don't think, and don't want to think about it! He just came and then left off, left off..."
Her voice trembled, and she again nearly cried, but recovered and went on quietly:
"And I don't at all want to get married. And I am afraid of him; I have now become quite calm, quite calm."
The day after this conversation Natasha put on the old dress which she knew had the peculiar property of conducing to cheerfulness in the mornings, and that day she returned to the old way of life which she had abandoned since the ball. Having finished her morning tea she went to the ballroom, which she particularly liked for its loud resonance, and began singing her solfeggio. When she had finished her first exercise she stood still in the middle of the room and sang a musical phrase that particularly pleased her. She listened joyfully (as though she had not expected it) to the charm of the notes reverberating, filling the whole empty ballroom, and slowly dying away; and all at once she felt cheerful. "What's the good of making so much of it? Things are nice as it is," she said to herself, and she began walking up and down the room, not stepping simply on the resounding parquet but treading with each step from the heel to the toe (she had on a new and favorite pair of shoes) and listening to the regular tap of the heel and creak of the toe as gladly as she had to the sounds of her own voice. Passing a mirror she glanced into it. "There, that's me!" the expression of her face seemed to say as she caught sight of herself. "Well, and very nice too! I need nobody."
A footman wanted to come in to clear away something in the room but she would not let him, and having closed the door behind him continued her walk. That morning she had returned to her favorite mood--love of, and delight in, herself. "How charming that Natasha is!" she said again, speaking as some third, collective, male person. "Pretty, a good voice, young, and in nobody's way if only they leave her in peace." But however much they left her in peace she could not now be at peace, and immediately felt this.
In the hall the porch door opened, and someone asked, "At home?" and then footsteps were heard. Natasha was looking at the mirror, but did not see herself. She listened to the sounds in the hall. When she saw herself, her face was pale. It was he. She knew this for certain, though she hardly heard his voice through the closed doors.
Pale and agitated, Natasha ran into the drawing room.
"Mamma! Bolkonski has come!" she said. "Mamma, it is awful, it is unbearable! I don't want... to be tormented? What am I to do?..."
Before the countess could answer, Prince Andrew entered the room with an agitated and serious face. As soon as he saw Natasha his face brightened. He kissed the countess' hand and Natasha's, and sat down beside the sofa.
"It is long since we had the pleasure..." began the countess, but Prince Andrew interrupted her by answering her intended question, obviously in haste to say what he had to.
"I have not been to see all this time because I have been at my father's. I had to talk over a very important matter with him. I only got back last night," he said glancing at Natasha; "I want to have a talk with you, Countess," he added after a moment's pause.
The countess lowered her eyes, sighing deeply.
"I am at your disposal," she murmured.
Natasha knew that she ought to go away, but was unable to do so: something gripped her throat, and regardless of manners she stared straight at Prince Andrew with wide-open eyes.
"At once? This instant!... No, it can't be!" she thought.
Again he glanced at her, and that glance convinced her that she was not mistaken. Yes, at once, that very instant, her fate would be decided.
"Go, Natasha! I will call you," said the countess in a whisper.
Natasha glanced with frightened imploring eyes at Prince Andrew and at her mother and went out.
"I have come, Countess, to ask for your daughter's hand," said Prince Andrew.
The countess' face flushed hotly, but she said nothing.
"Your offer..." she began at last sedately. He remained silent, looking into her eyes. "Your offer..." (she grew confused) "is agreeable to us, and I accept your offer. I am glad. And my husband... I hope... but it will depend on her...."
"I will speak to her when I have your consent.... Do you give it to me?" said Prince Andrew.
"Yes," replied the countess. She held out her hand to him, and with a mixed feeling of estrangement and tenderness pressed her lips to his forehead as he stooped to kiss her hand. She wished to love him as a son, but felt that to her he was a stranger and a terrifying man. "I am sure my husband will consent," said the countess, "but your father..."
"My father, to whom I have told my plans, has made it an express condition of his consent that the wedding is not to take place for a year. And I wished to tell you of that," said Prince Andrew.
"It is true that Natasha is still young, but--so long as that?..."
"It is unavoidable," said Prince Andrew with a sigh.
"I will send her to you," said the countess, and left the room.
"Lord have mercy upon us!" she repeated while seeking her daughter.
Sonya said that Natasha was in her bedroom. Natasha was sitting on the bed, pale and dry eyed, and was gazing at the icons and whispering something as she rapidly crossed herself. Seeing her mother she jumped up and flew to her.
"Well, Mamma?... Well?..."
"Go, go to him. He is asking for your hand," said the countess, coldly it seemed to Natasha. "Go... go," said the mother, sadly and reproachfully, with a deep sigh, as her daughter ran away.
Natasha never remembered how she entered the drawing room. When she came in and saw him she paused. "Is it possible that this stranger has now become everything to me?" she asked herself, and immediately answered, "Yes, everything! He alone is now dearer to me than everything in the world." Prince Andrew came up to her with downcast eyes.
"I have loved you from the very first moment I saw you. May I hope?"
He looked at her and was struck by the serious impassioned expression of her face. Her face said: "Why ask? Why doubt what you cannot but know? Why speak, when words cannot express what one feels?"
She drew near to him and stopped. He took her hand and kissed it.
"Do you love me?"
"Yes, yes!" Natasha murmured as if in vexation. Then she sighed loudly and, catching her breath more and more quickly, began to sob.
"What is it? What's the matter?"
"Oh, I am so happy!" she replied, smiled through her tears, bent over closer to him, paused for an instant as if asking herself whether she might, and then kissed him.
Prince Andrew held her hands, looked into her eyes, and did not find in his heart his former love for her. Something in him had suddenly changed; there was no longer the former poetic and mystic charm of desire, but there was pity for her feminine and childish weakness, fear at her devotion and trustfulness, and an oppressive yet joyful sense of the duty that now bound him to her forever. The present feeling, though not so bright and poetic as the former, was stronger and more serious.
"Did your mother tell you that it cannot be for a year?" asked Prince Andrew, still looking into her eyes.
"Is it possible that I--the 'chit of a girl,' as everybody called me," thought Natasha--"is it possible that I am now to be the wife and the equal of this strange, dear, clever man whom even my father looks up to? Can it be true? Can it be true that there can be no more playing with life, that now I am grown up, that on me now lies a responsibility for my every word and deed? Yes, but what did he ask me?"
"No," she replied, but she had not understood his question.
"Forgive me!" he said. "But you are so young, and I have already been through so much in life. I am afraid for you, you do not yet know yourself."
Natasha listened with concentrated attention, trying but failing to take in the meaning of his words.
"Hard as this year which delays my happiness will be," continued Prince Andrew, "it will give you time to be sure of yourself. I ask you to make me happy in a year, but you are free: our engagement shall remain a secret, and should you find that you do not love me, or should you come to love..." said Prince Andrew with an unnatural smile.
"Why do you say that?" Natasha interrupted him. "You know that from the very day you first came to Otradnoe I have loved you," she cried, quite convinced that she spoke the truth.
"In a year you will learn to know yourself...."
"A whole year!" Natasha repeated suddenly, only now realizing that the marriage was to be postponed for a year. "But why a year? Why a year?..."
Prince Andrew began to explain to her the reasons for this delay. Natasha did not hear him.
"And can't it be helped?" she asked. Prince Andrew did not reply, but his face expressed the impossibility of altering that decision.
"It's awful! Oh, it's awful! awful!" Natasha suddenly cried, and again burst into sobs. "I shall die, waiting a year: it's impossible, it's awful!" She looked into her lover's face and saw in it a look of commiseration and perplexity.
"No, no! I'll do anything!" she said, suddenly checking her tears. "I am so happy."
The father and mother came into the room and gave the betrothed couple their blessing.
From that day Prince Andrew began to frequent the Rostovs' as Natasha's affianced lover.