War And Peace



THE LITTLE PRINCESS was lying on the pillows in her white nightcap (the agony had only a moment left her). Her black hair lay in curls about her swollen and perspiring cheeks; her rosy, charming little mouth, with the downy lip, was open, and she was smiling joyfully. Prince Andrey went into the room, and stood facing her at the foot of the bed on which she lay. The glittering eyes, staring in childish terror and excitement, rested on him with no change in their expression. “I love you all, I have done no one any harm; why am I suffering? help me,” her face seemed to say. She saw her husband, but she did not take in the meaning of his appearance now before her. Prince Andrey went round the bed and kissed her on the forehead.

“My precious,” he said, a word he had never used speaking to her before. “God is merciful.…” She stared at him with a face of inquiry, of childish reproach.

“I hoped for help from you, and nothing, nothing, you too!” her eyes said. She was not surprised at his having come; she did not understand that he had come. His coming had nothing to do with her agony and its alleviation. The pains began again, and Marya Bogdanovna advised Prince Andrey to go out of the room.

The doctor went into the room. Prince Andrey came out, and, meeting Princess Marya, went to her again. They talked in whispers, but every moment their talk was hushed. They were waiting and listening.

“Go, mon ami,” said Princess Marya. Prince Andrey went again to his wife and sat down in the adjoining room, waiting. A woman ran out of the bedroom with a frightened face, and was disconcerted on seeing Prince Andrey. He hid his face in his hands and sat so for some minutes. Piteous, helpless, animal groans came from the next room. Prince Andrey got up, went to the door, and would have opened it. Some one was holding the door.

“Can't come in, can't!” a frightened voice said from within. He began walking about the room. The screams ceased; several seconds passed. Suddenly a fearful scream—not her scream, could she scream like that?—came from the room. Prince Andrey ran to the door; the scream ceased; he heard the cry of a baby.

“What have they taken a baby in there for?” Prince Andrey wondered for the first second. “A baby? What baby? … Why a baby there? Or is the baby born?”

When he suddenly realised all the joyful significance of that cry, tears choked him, and leaning both elbows on the window-sill he cried, sobbing as children cry. The door opened. The doctor with his shirt sleeves tucked up, and no coat on, came out of the room, pale, and his lower jaw twitching. Prince Andrey addressed him, but the doctor, looking at him in a distracted way, passed by without uttering a word. A woman ran out, and, seeing Prince Andrey, stopped hesitating in the door. He went into his wife's room. She was lying dead in the same position in which he had seen her five minutes before, and in spite of the fixed gaze and white cheeks, there was the same expression still on the charming childish face with the little lip covered with fine dark hair. “I love you all, and have done no harm to any one, and what have you done to me?” said her charming, piteous, dead face. In a corner of the room was something red and tiny, squealing and grunting in the trembling white hands of Marya Bogdanovna.

Two hours later Prince Andrey went with soft steps into his father's room. The old man knew everything already. He was standing near the door, and, as soon as it opened, his rough old arms closed like a vice round his son's neck, and without a word he burst into sobs like a child.

Three days afterwards the little princess was buried; and Prince Andrey went to the steps of the tomb to take his last farewell of her. Even in the coffin the face was the same, though the eyes were closed. “Ah, what have you done to me?” it still seemed to say; and Prince Andrey felt that something was being torn out of his soul, that he was guilty of a crime that he could never set right nor forget. He could not weep. The old man, too, went in and kissed the little waxen hand that lay so peacefully crossed over the other, and to him, too, her face said: “Ah, what have you done to me, and why?” And the old man turned angrily away, when he caught sight of the face.

In another five days there followed the christening of the young prince, Nikolay Andreitch. The nurse held the swaddling clothes up to her chin, while the priest with a goose feather anointed the baby's red, wrinkled hands and feet.

His grandfather, who was his godfather, trembling and afraid of dropping the baby, carried him round the battered tin font, and handed him over to the godmother, Princess Marya. Faint with terror that they would let the baby drown in the font, Prince Andrey sat in an adjoining room, waiting for the conclusion of the ceremony. He looked joyfully at the baby when the nurse brought him out, and nodded approvingly when the nurse told him that a bit of wax with the baby's hairs in it, thrown into the font, had not sunk in the water but floated on the surface.




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