AT THE BEGINNING of the winter Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky and his daughter moved to Moscow. His past, his intellect and originality, and still more the falling off at about that time of the popular enthusiasm for the rule of the Tsar Alexander and the anti-French and patriotic sentiments then prevailing at Moscow, all contributed to make Prince Nikolay Andreitch at once an object of peculiar veneration and the centre of the Moscow opposition to the government.
The prince had greatly aged during that year. He had begun to show unmistakable signs of failing powers, sudden attacks of drowsiness, and forgetfulness of events nearest in time, and exact memory of remote incidents, and a childlike vanity in playing the part of leader of the Moscow opposition. But in spite of that, when the old man came into the drawing-room in the evenings to tea, in his wig and fur coat, and on being incited to do so by some one, began uttering abrupt observations on the past, or still more abrupt and harsh criticisms on the present—he aroused the same feeling of esteem and reverence in all his guests. For visitors, that old-fashioned house, with its huge mirrors, pre-revolutionary furniture, and powdered lackeys, and the stern and shrewd old man, himself a relic of a past age, with the gentle daughter and the pretty Frenchwoman, both so reverently devoted to him, made a stately and agreeable spectacle. But those visitors did not reflect that, apart from the couple of hours during which they saw the household, there were twenty-two hours of the day and night during which the secret, private life of the house went on its accustomed way.
That inner life had become very hard for Princess Marya of late in Moscow. She was deprived in Moscow of her two greatest pleasures—talks with God's folk and the solitude which had refreshed her spirit at Bleak Hills, and she had none of the advantages and pleasures of town life. She did not go into society; every one knew that her father would not allow her to go anywhere without him, and owing to his failing health he could go nowhere himself. She was not even invited now to dinner-parties or balls. Princess Marya had laid aside all hopes of marriage. She saw the coldness and hostility with which the old prince received and dismissed the young men, possible suitors, who sometimes appeared at the house. Friends, Princess Marya now had none; during this stay in Moscow she had lost all faith in the two friends who had been nearest to her. Mademoiselle Bourienne, with whom she had never been able to be perfectly open, she now regarded with dislike, and for certain reasons kept at a distance. Julie, with whom Princess Marya had kept up an unbroken correspondence for five years, was in Moscow. When Princess Marya renewed her personal relations with her, she felt her former friend to be utterly alien to her. Julie, who had become, by the death of her brothers, one of the wealthiest heiresses in Moscow, was at that time engrossed in a giddy whirl of fashionable amusements. She was surrounded by young men, whom she believed to have become suddenly appreciative of her qualities. Julie was at that stage when a young lady is somewhat past her first youth in society and feels that her last chance of marrying has come, and that now or never her fate must be decided. With a mournful smile Princess Marya reflected every Thursday that she had now no one to write to, seeing that Julie was here and saw her every week, though her friend's actual presence gave her no sort of pleasure. Like the old French émigré, who declined to marry the lady with whom he had for so many years spent his evenings, she regretted that Julie was here and she had no one to write to. In Moscow Princess Marya had no one to speak to, no one to confide her sorrows to, and many fresh sorrows fell to her lot about this time. The time for Prince Andrey's return and marriage was approaching, and his commission to her to prepare her father's mind was so far from being successfully carried out that the whole thing seemed hopeless; and any reference to the young Countess Rostov infuriated the old prince, who was for the most part out of humour at all times now. Another trouble that weighed on Princess Marya of late was due to the lessons she gave to her six-year-old nephew. In her relations with little Nikolay she recognised to her consternation symptoms of her father's irritable character in herself. However often she told herself that she must not let herself lose her temper, when teaching her nephew, almost every time she sat down with a pointer showing him the French alphabet, she so longed to hasten, to make easy the process of transferring her knowledge to the child, who was by now always afraid his auntie would be angry the next moment, that at the slightest inattention she was quivering in nervous haste and vexation, she raised her voice and sometimes pulled him by his little hand and stood him in the corner. When she had stood him in the corner she would begin to cry herself over her evil, wicked nature, and little Nikolay, his sobs vying with hers, would come unbidden out of the corner to pull her wet hands from her face and try to comfort her. But the greatest, far the greatest of the princess's burdens was her father's irascibility, which was invariably directed against his daughter, and had of late reached the point of cruelty. Had he forced her to spend the night bowing to the ground, had he beaten her, or made her carry in wood and water, it would never have entered her head that her position was a hard one. But this loving despot—most cruel of all because he loved, and for that very reason tortured himself and her—knew not only how to mortify and humiliate her, but of set purpose, to prove to her that she was always to blame in everything. Of late he had taken a new departure, which caused Princess Marya more misery than anything—that was his closer and closer intimacy with Mademoiselle Bourienne. The idea, that had occurred to him in jest at the first moment of receiving the news of his son's intentions, that if Andrey got married he, too, would marry Mademoiselle Bourienne, obviously pleased him, and he had of late— simply, as Princess Marya fancied, to annoy her—persisted in being particularly gracious to Mademoiselle Bourienne and manifesting his dissatisfaction with his daughter by demonstrations of love for the Frenchwoman.
One day in Princess Marya's presence (it seemed to her that her father did it on purpose because she was there) the old prince kissed Mademoiselle Bourienne's hand, and drawing her to him embraced her affectionately. Princess Marya flushed hotly and ran out of the room. A few minutes later, Mademoiselle Bourienne went into Princess Marya's room, smiling and making some cheerful remarks in her agreeable voice. Princess Marya hastily wiped away her tears, with resolute steps went up to the Frenchwoman, and obviously unconscious of what she was doing, with wrathful haste and breaks in her voice she began screaming at her:
“It's loathsome, vile, inhuman to take advantage of feebleness…” She could not go on. “Go out of my room,” she cried, and broke into sobs.
The next day the old prince did not say a word to his daughter, but she noticed that at dinner he gave orders for the dishes to be handed to Mademoiselle Bourienne first. When towards the end of dinner, the footman from habit handed the coffee, beginning with the princess, the old prince flew into a sudden frenzy of rage, flung his cane at Filipp, and immediately gave orders for him to be sent for a soldier.
“He won't obey…twice I told him!…and he didn't obey. She's the first person in this house, she's my best friend,” screamed the old prince. And if you allow yourself,” he shouted in a fury, for the first time addressing Princess Marya, “ever again, as you dared yesterday … to forget yourself in her presence, I'll show you who is master in this house. Away! don't let me set eyes on you! Beg her pardon!”
Princess Marya begged Amalia Yevgenyevna's pardon and also her father's, both for herself and the footman Filipp, who implored her intervention.
At such moments the feeling that prevailed in Princess Marya's soul was akin to the pride of sacrifice. And all of a sudden at such moments, that father whom she was judging would look for his spectacles, fumbling by them and not seeing them, or would forget what had just happened, or would take a tottering step with his weak legs, and look round to see whether any one had noticed his feebleness, or what was worst of all, at dinner when there were no guests to excite him, he would suddenly fall asleep, letting his napkin drop and his shaking head sink over his plate. “He is old and feeble, and I dare to judge him!” she thought, revolted by herself.