IN THE DECEMBER of 1805, the old Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky received a letter from Prince Vassily, announcing that he intended to visit him with his son. (“I am going on an inspection tour, and of course a hundred versts is only a step out of the way for me to visit you, my deeply-honoured benefactor,” he wrote. “My Anatole is accompanying me on his way to the army, and I hope you will permit him to express to you in person the profound veneration that, following his father's example, he entertains for you.”)
“Well, there's no need to bring Marie out, it seems; suitors come to us of themselves,” the little princess said heedlessly on hearing of this. Prince Nikolay Andreitch scowled and said nothing.
A fortnight after receiving the letter, Prince Vassily's servants arrived one evening in advance of him, and the following day he came himself with his son.
Old Bolkonsky had always had a poor opinion of Prince Vassily's character, and this opinion had grown stronger of late since Prince Vassily had, under the new reigns of Paul and Alexander, advanced to high rank and honours. Now from the letter and the little princess's hints, he saw what the object of the visit was, and his poor opinion of Prince Vassily passed into a feeling of ill-will and contempt in the old prince's heart. He snorted indignantly whenever he spoke of him. On the day of Prince Vassily's arrival, the old prince was particularly discontented and out of humour. Whether he was out of humour because Prince Vassily was coming, or whether he was particularly displeased at Prince Vassily's coming because he was out of humour, no one can say. But he was out of humour, and early in the morning Tihon had dissuaded the architect from going to the prince with his report.
“Listen how he's walking,” said Tihon, calling the attention of the architect to the sound of the prince's footsteps. “Stepping flat on his heels … then we know …”
At nine o'clock, however, the old prince went out for a walk, as usual, wearing his short, velvet, fur-lined cloak with a sable collar and a sable cap. There had been a fall of snow on the previous evening. The path along which Prince Nikolay Andreitch walked to the conservatory had been cleared; there were marks of a broom in the swept snow, and a spade had been left sticking in the crisp bank of snow that bordered the path on both sides. The prince walked through the conservatories, the servants' quarters, and the out-buildings, frowning and silent.
“Could a sledge drive up?” he asked the respectful steward, who was escorting him to the house, with a countenance and manners like his own.
“The snow is deep, your excellency. I gave orders for the avenue to be swept too.”
The prince nodded, and was approaching the steps. “Glory to Thee, O Lord!” thought the steward, “the storm has passed over!”
“It would have been hard to drive up, your excellency,” added the steward. “So I hear, your excellency, there's a minister coming to visit your excellency?” The prince turned to the steward and stared with scowling eyes at him.
“Eh? A minister? What minister? Who gave you orders?” he began in his shrill, cruel voice. “For the princess my daughter, you do not clear the way, but for the minister you do! For me there are no ministers!”
“Your excellency, I supposed …”
“You supposed,” shouted the prince, articulating with greater and greater haste and incoherence. “You supposed … Brigands! blackguards! … I'll teach you to suppose,” and raising his stick he waved it at Alpatitch, and would have hit him, had not the steward instinctively shrunk back and escaped the blow. “You supposed … Blackguards! …” he still cried hurriedly. But although Alpatitch, shocked at his own insolence in dodging the blow, went closer to the prince, with his bald head bent humbly before him, or perhaps just because of this, the prince did not lift the stick again, and still shouting, “Blackguards! … fill up the road …” he ran to his room.
Princess Marya and Mademoiselle Bourienne stood, waiting for the old prince before dinner, well aware that he was out of temper. Mademoiselle Bourienne's beaming countenance seemed to say, “I know nothing about it, I am just the same as usual,” while Princess Marya stood pale and terrified with downcast eyes. What made it harder for Princess Marya was that she knew that she ought to act like Mademoiselle Bourienne at such times, but she could not do it. She felt, “If I behave as if I did not notice it, he'll think I have no sympathy with him. If I behave as if I were depressed and out of humour myself, he'll say (as indeed often happened) that I'm sulky …” and so on.
The prince glanced at his daughter's scared face and snorted.
“Stuff!” or perhaps “stupid!” he muttered. “And the other is not here! they've been telling tales to her already,” he thought, noticing that the little princess was not in the dining-room.
“Where's Princess Liza?” he asked. “In hiding?”
“She's not quite well,” said Mademoiselle Bourienne with a bright smile; “she is not coming down. In her condition it is only to be expected.”
“H'm! h'm! kh! kh!” growled the prince, and he sat down to the table. He thought his plate was not clean: he pointed to a mark on it and threw it away. Tihon caught it and handed it to a footman. The little princess was quite well, but she was in such overwhelming terror of the prince, that on hearing he was in a bad temper, she had decided not to come in.
“I am afraid for my baby,” she said to Mademoiselle Bourienne; “God knows what might not be the result of a fright.”
The little princess, in fact, lived at Bleak Hills in a state of continual terror of the old prince, and had an aversion for him, of which she was herself unconscious, so completely did terror overbear every other feeling. There was the same aversion on the prince's side, too; but in his case it was swallowed up in contempt. As she went on staying at Bleak Hills, the little princess became particularly fond of Mademoiselle Bourienne; she spent her days with her, begged her to sleep in her room, and often talked of her father-in-law, and criticised him to her.
“We have company coming, prince,” said Mademoiselle Bourienne, her rosy fingers unfolding her dinner-napkin. “His excellency Prince Kuragin with his son, as I have heard say?” she said in a tone of inquiry.
“H'm! … his excellence is an upstart. I got him his place in the college,” the old prince said huffily. “And what his son's coming for, I can't make out. Princess Lizaveta Karlovna and Princess Marya can tell us, maybe; I don't know what he's bringing his son here for. I don't want him.” And he looked at his daughter, who turned crimson.
“Unwell, eh? Scared of the minister, as that blockhead Alpatitch called him to-day?”
“Non, mon père.”
Unsuccessful as Mademoiselle Bourienne had been in the subject she had started, she did not desist, but went on prattling away about the conservatories, the beauty of a flower that had just opened, and after the soup the prince subsided.
After dinner he went to see his daughter-in-law. The little princess was sitting at a little table gossiping with Masha, her maid. She turned pale on seeing her father-in-law.
The little princess was greatly changed. She looked ugly rather than pretty now. Her cheeks were sunken, her lip was drawn up, and her eyes were hollow.
“Yes, a sort of heaviness,” she said in answer to the prince's inquiry how she felt.
“Isn't there anything you need?”
“Non, merci, mon père.”
“Oh, very well then, very well.”
He went out and into the waiting-room. Alpatitch was standing there with downcast head.
“Filled up the road again?”
“Yes, your excellency; for God's sake, forgive me, it was simply a blunder.”
The prince cut him short with his unnatural laugh.
“Oh, very well, very well.” He held out his hand, which Alpatitch kissed, and then he went to his study.
In the evening Prince Vassily arrived. He was met on the way by the coachmen and footmen of the Bolkonskys, who with shouts dragged his carriages and sledge to the lodge, over the road, which had been purposely obstructed with snow again.
Prince Vassily and Anatole were conducted to separate apartments.
Taking off his tunic, Anatole sat with his elbows on the table, on a corner of which he fixed his handsome, large eyes with a smiling, unconcerned stare. All his life he had looked upon as an uninterrupted entertainment, which some one or other was, he felt, somehow bound to provide for him. In just the same spirit he had looked at his visit to the cross old gentleman and his rich and hideous daughter. It might all, according to his anticipations, turn out very jolly and amusing. “And why not get married, if she has such a lot of money? That never comes amiss,” thought Anatole.
He shaved and scented himself with the care and elegance that had become habitual with him, and with his characteristic expression of all-conquering good-humour, he walked into his father's room, holding, his head high. Two valets were busily engaged in dressing Prince Vassily; he was looking about him eagerly, and nodded gaily to his son, as he entered with an air that said, “Yes, that's just how I wanted to see you looking.”
“Come, joking apart, father, is she so hideous? Eh?” he asked in French, as though reverting to a subject more than once discussed on the journey.
“Nonsense! The great thing for you is to try and be respectful and sensible with the old prince.”
“If he gets nasty, I'm off,” said Anatole. “I can't stand those old gentlemen. Eh?”
“Remember that for you everything depends on it.”
Meanwhile, in the feminine part of the household not only the arrival of the minister and his son was already known, but the appearance of both had been minutely described. Princess Marya was sitting alone in her room doing her utmost to control her inner emotion.
“Why did they write, why did Liza tell me about it? Why, it cannot be!” she thought, looking at herself in the glass. “How am I to go into the drawing-room? Even if I like him, I could never be myself with him now.” The mere thought of her father's eyes reduced her to terror. The little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne had already obtained all necessary information from the maid, Masha; they had learned what a handsome fellow the minister's son was, with rosy cheeks and black eye-brows; how his papa had dragged his legs upstairs with difficulty, while he, like a young eagle, had flown up after him three steps at a time. On receiving these items of information, the little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne, whose eager voices were audible in the corridor, went into Princess Marya's room.
“They are come, Marie, do you know?” said the little princess, waddling in and sinking heavily into an armchair. She was not wearing the gown in which she had been sitting in the morning, but had put on one of her best dresses. Her hair had been carefully arranged, and her face was full of an eager excitement, which did not, however, conceal its wasted and pallid look. In the smart clothes which she had been used to wear in Petersburg in society, the loss of her good looks was even more noticeable. Mademoiselle Bourienne, too, had put some hardly perceptible finishing touches to her costume, which made her fresh, pretty face even more attractive.
“What, and you are staying just as you are, dear princess. They will come in a minute to tell us the gentlemen are in the drawing-room,” she began. “We shall have to go down, and you are doing nothing at all to your dress.”
The little princess got up from her chair, rang for the maid, and hurriedly and eagerly began to arrange what Princess Marya was to wear, and to put her ideas into practice. Princess Marya's sense of personal dignity was wounded by her own agitation at the arrival of her suitor, and still more was she mortified that her two companions should not even conceive that she ought not to be so agitated. To have told them how ashamed she was of herself and of them would have been to betray her own excitement. Besides, to refuse to be dressed up, as they suggested, would have been exposing herself to reiterated raillery and insistence. She flushed; her beautiful eyes grew dim; her face was suffused with patches of crimson; and with the unbeautiful, victimised expression which was the one most often seen on her face, she abandoned herself to Mademoiselle Bourienne and Liza. Both women exerted themselves with perfect sincerity to make her look well. She was so plain that the idea of rivalry with her could never have entered their heads. Consequently it was with perfect sincerity, in the naïve and unhesitating conviction women have that dress can make a face handsome, that they set to work to attire her.
“No, really, ma bonne amie, that dress isn't pretty,” said Liza, looking sideways at Princess Marya from a distance; “tell her to put on you your maroon velvet there. Yes, really! Why, you know, it may be the turning-point in your whole life. That one's too light, it's not right, no, it's not!”
It was not the dress that was wrong, but the face and the whole figure of the princess, but that was not felt by Mademoiselle Bourienne and the little princess. They still fancied that if they were to put a blue ribbon in her hair, and do it up high, and to put the blue sash lower on the maroon dress and so on, then all would be well. They forgot that the frightened face and figure of Princess Marya could not be changed, and therefore, however presentable they might make the setting and decoration of the face, the face itself would still look piteous and ugly. After two or three changes, to which Princess Marya submitted passively, when her hair had been done on the top of her head (which completely changed and utterly disfigured her), and the blue sash and best maroon velvet dress had been put on, the little princess walked twice round, and with her little hand stroked out a fold here and pulled down the sash there, and gazed at her with her head first on one side and then on the other.
“No, it won't do,” she said resolutely, throwing up her hands. “No, Marie, decidedly that does not suit you. I like you better in your little grey everyday frock. No, please do that for me. Katya,” she said to the maid, “bring the princess her grey dress, and look, Mademoiselle Bourienne, how I'll arrange it,” she said, smiling with a foretaste of artistic pleasure. But when Katya brought the dress, Princess Marya was still sitting motionless before the looking-glass, looking at her own face, and in the looking-glass she saw that there were tears in her eyes and her mouth was quivering, on the point of breaking into sobs.
“Come, dear princess,” said Mademoiselle Bourienne, “one more little effort.”
The little princess, taking the dress from the hands of the maid, went up to Princess Marya.
“Now, we'll try something simple and charming,” she said. Her voice and Mademoiselle Bourienne's and the giggle of Katya blended into a sort of gay babble like the twitter of birds.
“No, leave me alone,” said the princess; and there was such seriousness and such suffering in her voice that the twitter of the birds ceased at once. They looked at the great, beautiful eyes, full of tears and of thought, looking at them imploringly, and they saw that to insist was useless and even cruel.
“At least alter your hair,” said the little princess. “I told you,” she said reproachfully to Mademoiselle Bourienne, “there were faces which that way of doing the hair does not suit a bit. Not a bit, not a bit, please alter it.”
“Leave me alone, leave me alone, all that is nothing to me,” answered a voice scarcely able to struggle with tears.
Mademoiselle Bourienne and the little princess could not but admit to themselves that Princess Marya was very plain in this guise, far worse than usual, but it was too late. She looked at them with an expression they knew well, an expression of deep thought and sadness. That expression did not inspire fear. (That was a feeling she could never have inspired in any one.) But they knew that when that expression came into her face, she was mute and inflexible in her resolutions.
“You will alter it, won't you?” said Liza, and when Princess Marya made no reply, Liza went out of the room.
Princess Marya was left alone. She did not act upon Liza's wishes, she did not re-arrange her hair, she did not even glance into the looking-glass. Letting her eyes and her hands drop helplessly, she sat mentally dreaming. She pictured her husband, a man, a strong, masterful, and inconceivably attractive creature, who would bear her away all at once into an utterly different, happy world of his own. A child, her own, like the baby she had seen at her old nurse's daughter's, she fancied at her own breast. The husband standing, gazing tenderly at her and the child. “But no, it can never be, I am too ugly,” she thought.
“Kindly come to tea. The prince will be going in immediately,” said the maid's voice at the door. She started and was horrified at what she had been thinking. And before going downstairs she went into the oratory, and fixing her eyes on the black outline of the great image of the Saviour, she stood for several minutes before it with clasped hands. Princess Marya's soul was full of an agonising doubt. Could the joy of love, of earthly love for a man, be for her? In her reveries of marriage, Princess Marya dreamed of happiness in a home and children of her own, but her chief, her strongest and most secret dream was of earthly love. The feeling became the stronger the more she tried to conceal it from others, and even from herself. “My God,” she said, “how am I to subdue in my heart these temptings of the devil? How am I to renounce for ever all evil thoughts, so as in peace to fulfil Thy will?” And scarcely had she put this question than God's answer came to her in her own heart. “Desire nothing for thyself, be not covetous, anxious, envious. The future of men and thy destiny too must be unknown for thee; but live that thou mayest be ready for all. If it shall be God's will to prove thee in the duties of marriage, be ready to obey His will.” With this soothing thought (though still she hoped for the fulfilment of that forbidden earthly dream) Princess Marya crossed herself, sighing, and went downstairs, without thinking of her dress nor how her hair was done; of how she would go in nor what she would say. What could all that signify beside the guidance of Him, without Whose will not one hair falls from the head of man?