War And Peace

CHAPTER XIX

Chinese

THE NEXT DAY Prince Andrey paid calls on various people whom he had not visited before, and among them on the Rostovs, with whom he had renewed his acquaintance at the ball. Apart from considerations of politeness, which necessitated a call on the Rostovs, Prince Andrey wanted to see at home that original, eager girl, who had left such a pleasant recollection with him.

Natasha was one of the first to meet him. She was in a blue everyday dress, in which she struck Prince Andrey as looking prettier than in her ball-dress. She and all the family received Prince Andrey like an old friend, simply and cordially. All the family, which Prince Andrey had once criticised so severely, now seemed to him to consist of excellent, simple, kindly people. The hospitality and good-nature of the old count, particularly striking and attractive in Petersburg, was such that Prince Andrey could not refuse to stay to dinner. “Yes, these are good-natured, capital people,” thought Bolkonsky. “Of course they have no conception, what a treasure they possess in Natasha; but they are good people, who make the best possible background for the strikingly poetical figure of that charming girl, so full of life!”

Prince Andrey was conscious in Natasha of a special world, utterly remote from him, brimful of joys unknown to him, that strange world, which even in the avenue at Otradnoe, and on that moonlight night at the window had tantalised him. Now that no longer tantalised him, it seemed no longer an alien world; but he himself was stepping into it, and finding new pleasures in it.

After dinner Natasha went to the clavichord, at Prince Andrey's request, and began singing. Prince Andrey stood at the window talking to the ladies, and listened to her. In the middle of a phrase, Prince Andrey ceased speaking, and felt suddenly a lump in his throat from tears, the possibility of which he had not dreamed of in himself. He looked at Natasha singing, and something new and blissful stirred in his soul. He was happy, and at the same time he was sad. He certainly had nothing to weep about, but he was ready to weep. For what? For his past love? For the little princess? For his lost illusions? … For his hopes for the future? … Yes, and no. The chief thing which made him ready to weep was a sudden, vivid sense of the fearful contrast between something infinitely great and illimitable existing in him, and something limited and material, which he himself was, and even she was.

This contrast made his heart ache, and rejoiced him while she was singing.

As soon as Natasha had finished singing, she went up to him, and asked how he liked her voice. She asked this, and was abashed after saying it, conscious that she ought not to have asked such a question. He smiled, looking at her, and said he liked her singing, as he liked everything she did.

It was late in the evening when Prince Andrey left the Rostovs'. He went to bed from the habit of going to bed, but soon saw that he could not sleep. He lighted a candle and sat up in bed; then got up, then lay down again, not in the least wearied by his sleeplessness: he felt a new joy in his soul, as though he had come out of a stuffy room into the open daylight. It never even occurred to him that he was in love with this little Rostov girl. He was not thinking about her. He only pictured her to himself, and the whole of life rose before him in a new light as he did so. “Why do I struggle? Why am I troubled in this narrow cramped routine, when life, all life, with all its joys, lies open before me?” he said to himself. And for the first time for a very long while, he began making happy plans for the future. He made up his mind that he ought to look after his son's education, to find a tutor, and entrust the child to him. Then he ought to retire from the army, and go abroad, see England, Switzerland, Italy. “I must take advantage of my liberty, while I feel so much youth and strength in me,” he told himself. “Pierre was right in saying that one must believe in the possibility of happiness, in order to be happy, and now I do believe in it. Let us leave the dead to bury the dead; but while one is living, one must live and be happy,” he thought.

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