Natásha and Pierre, left alone, also began to talk as only a husband and wife can talk, that is, with extraordinary clearness and rapidity, understanding and expressing each other’s thoughts in ways contrary to all rules of logic, without premises, deductions, or conclusions, and in a quite peculiar way. Natásha was so used to this kind of talk with her husband that for her it was the surest sign of something being wrong between them if Pierre followed a line of logical reasoning. When he began proving anything, or talking argumentatively and calmly and she, led on by his example, began to do the same, she knew that they were on the verge of a quarrel.
From the moment they were alone and Natásha came up to him with wide-open happy eyes, and quickly seizing his head pressed it to her bosom, saying: “Now you are all mine, mine! You won’t escape!”—from that moment this conversation began, contrary to all the laws of logic and contrary to them because quite different subjects were talked about at one and the same time. This simultaneous discussion of many topics did not prevent a clear understanding but on the contrary was the surest sign that they fully understood one another.
Just as in a dream when all is uncertain, unreasoning, and contradictory, except the feeling that guides the dream, so in this intercourse contrary to all laws of reason, the words themselves were not consecutive and clear but only the feeling that prompted them.
Natásha spoke to Pierre about her brother’s life and doings, of how she had suffered and lacked life during his own absence, and of how she was fonder than ever of Mary, and how Mary was in every way better than herself. In saying this Natásha was sincere in acknowledging Mary’s superiority, but at the same time by saying it she made a demand on Pierre that he should, all the same, prefer her to Mary and to all other women, and that now, especially after having seen many women in Petersburg, he should tell her so afresh.
Pierre, answering Natásha’s words, told her how intolerable it had been for him to meet ladies at dinners and balls in Petersburg.
“I have quite lost the knack of talking to ladies,” he said. “It was simply dull. Besides, I was very busy.”
Natásha looked intently at him and went on:
“Mary is so splendid,” she said. “How she understands children! It is as if she saw straight into their souls. Yesterday, for instance, Mítya was naughty...”
“How like his father he is,” Pierre interjected.
Natásha knew why he mentioned Mítya’s likeness to Nicholas: the recollection of his dispute with his brother-in-law was unpleasant and he wanted to know what Natásha thought of it.
“Nicholas has the weakness of never agreeing with anything not generally accepted. But I understand that you value what opens up a fresh line,” said she, repeating words Pierre had once uttered.
“No, the chief point is that to Nicholas ideas and discussions are an amusement—almost a pastime,” said Pierre. “For instance, he is collecting a library and has made it a rule not to buy a new book till he has read what he had already bought—Sismondi and Rousseau and Montesquieu,” he added with a smile. “You know how much I...” he began to soften down what he had said; but Natásha interrupted him to show that this was unnecessary.
“So you say ideas are an amusement to him....”
“Yes, and for me nothing else is serious. All the time in Petersburg I saw everyone as in a dream. When I am taken up by a thought, all else is mere amusement.”
“Ah, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you met the children,” said Natásha. “Which was most delighted? Lisa, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” Pierre replied, and went on with what was in his mind. “Nicholas says we ought not to think. But I can’t help it. Besides, when I was in Petersburg I felt (I can say this to you) that the whole affair would go to pieces without me—everyone was pulling his own way. But I succeeded in uniting them all; and then my idea is so clear and simple. You see, I don’t say that we ought to oppose this and that. We may be mistaken. What I say is: ‘Join hands, you who love the right, and let there be but one banner—that of active virtue.’ Prince Sergéy is a fine fellow and clever.”
Natásha would have had no doubt as to the greatness of Pierre’s idea, but one thing disconcerted her. “Can a man so important and necessary to society be also my husband? How did this happen?” She wished to express this doubt to him. “Now who could decide whether he is really cleverer than all the others?” she asked herself, and passed in review all those whom Pierre most respected. Judging by what he had said there was no one he had respected so highly as Platón Karatáev.
“Do you know what I am thinking about?” she asked. “About Platón Karatáev. Would he have approved of you now, do you think?”
Pierre was not at all surprised at this question. He understood his wife’s line of thought.
“Platón Karatáev?” he repeated, and pondered, evidently sincerely trying to imagine Karatáev’s opinion on the subject. “He would not have understood... yet perhaps he would.”
“I love you awfully!” Natásha suddenly said. “Awfully, awfully!”
“No, he would not have approved,” said Pierre, after reflection. “What he would have approved of is our family life. He was always so anxious to find seemliness, happiness, and peace in everything, and I should have been proud to let him see us. There now—you talk of my absence, but you wouldn’t believe what a special feeling I have for you after a separation....”
“Yes, I should think...” Natásha began.
“No, it’s not that. I never leave off loving you. And one couldn’t love more, but this is something special.... Yes, of course—” he did not finish because their eyes meeting said the rest.
“What nonsense it is,” Natásha suddenly exclaimed, “about honeymoons, and that the greatest happiness is at first! On the contrary, now is the best of all. If only you did not go away! Do you remember how we quarreled? And it was always my fault. Always mine. And what we quarreled about—I don’t even remember!”
“Always about the same thing,” said Pierre with a smile. “Jealo...”
“Don’t say it! I can’t bear it!” Natásha cried, and her eyes glittered coldly and vindictively. “Did you see her?” she added, after a pause.
“No, and if I had I shouldn’t have recognized her.”
They were silent for a while.
“Oh, do you know? While you were talking in the study I was looking at you,” Natásha began, evidently anxious to disperse the cloud that had come over them. “You are as like him as two peas—like the boy.” (She meant her little son.) “Oh, it’s time to go to him.... The milk’s come.... But I’m sorry to leave you.”
They were silent for a few seconds. Then suddenly turning to one another at the same time they both began to speak. Pierre began with self-satisfaction and enthusiasm, Natásha with a quiet, happy smile. Having interrupted one another they both stopped to let the other continue.
“No. What did you say? Go on, go on.”
“No, you go on, I was talking nonsense,” said Natásha.
Pierre finished what he had begun. It was the sequel to his complacent reflections on his success in Petersburg. At that moment it seemed to him that he was chosen to give a new direction to the whole of Russian society and to the whole world.
“I only wished to say that ideas that have great results are always simple ones. My whole idea is that if vicious people are united and constitute a power, then honest folk must do the same. Now that’s simple enough.”
“And what were you going to say?”
“I? Only nonsense.”
“But all the same?”
“Oh nothing, only a trifle,” said Natásha, smiling still more brightly. “I only wanted to tell you about Pétya: today nurse was coming to take him from me, and he laughed, shut his eyes, and clung to me. I’m sure he thought he was hiding. Awfully sweet! There, now he’s crying. Well, good-by!” and she left the room.
Meanwhile downstairs in young Nicholas Bolkónski’s bedroom a little lamp was burning as usual. (The boy was afraid of the dark and they could not cure him of it.) Dessalles slept propped up on four pillows and his Roman nose emitted sounds of rhythmic snoring. Little Nicholas, who had just waked up in a cold perspiration, sat up in bed and gazed before him with wide-open eyes. He had awaked from a terrible dream. He had dreamed that he and Uncle Pierre, wearing helmets such as were depicted in his Plutarch, were leading a huge army. The army was made up of white slanting lines that filled the air like the cobwebs that float about in autumn and which Dessalles called les fils de la Vièrge. In front was Glory, which was similar to those threads but rather thicker. He and Pierre were borne along lightly and joyously, nearer and nearer to their goal. Suddenly the threads that moved them began to slacken and become entangled and it grew difficult to move. And Uncle Nicholas stood before them in a stern and threatening attitude.
“Have you done this?” he said, pointing to some broken sealing wax and pens. “I loved you, but I have orders from Arakchéev and will kill the first of you who moves forward.” Little Nicholas turned to look at Pierre but Pierre was no longer there. In his place was his father—Prince Andrew—and his father had neither shape nor form, but he existed, and when little Nicholas perceived him he grew faint with love: he felt himself powerless, limp, and formless. His father caressed and pitied him. But Uncle Nicholas came nearer and nearer to them. Terror seized young Nicholas and he awoke.
“My father!” he thought. (Though there were two good portraits of Prince Andrew in the house, Nicholas never imagined him in human form.) “My father has been with me and caressed me. He approved of me and of Uncle Pierre. Whatever he may tell me, I will do it. Mucius Scaevola burned his hand. Why should not the same sort of thing happen to me? I know they want me to learn. And I will learn. But someday I shall have finished learning, and then I will do something. I only pray God that something may happen to me such as happened to Plutarch’s men, and I will act as they did. I will do better. Everyone shall know me, love me, and be delighted with me!” And suddenly his bosom heaved with sobs and he began to cry.
“Are you ill?” he heard Dessalles’ voice asking.
“No,” answered Nicholas, and lay back on his pillow.
“He is good and kind and I am fond of him!” he thought of Dessalles. “But Uncle Pierre! Oh, what a wonderful man he is! And my father? Oh, Father, Father! Yes, I will do something with which even he would be satisfied....”
Next page →