WHEN A MAN sees an animal dying, a horror comes over him. What he is himself—his essence, visibly before his eyes, perishes—ceases to exist. But when the dying creature is a man and a man dearly loved, then, besides the horror at the extinction of life, what is felt is a rending of the soul, a spiritual wound, which, like a physical wound, is sometimes mortal, sometimes healed, but always aches and shrinks from contact with the outer world, that sets it smarting.
After Prince Andrey's death, Natasha and Princess Marya both alike felt this. Crushed in spirit, they closed their eyes under the menacing cloud of death that hovered about them, and dared not look life in the face. Carefully they guarded their open wounds from every rough and painful touch. Everything—the carriage driving along the street, the summons to dinner, the maid asking which dress to get out; worse still—words of faint, feigned sympathy—set the wound smarting, seemed an insult to it, and jarred on that needful silence in which both were trying to listen to the stern, terrible litany that had not yet died away in their ears, and to gaze into the mysterious, endless vistas that seemed for a moment to have been unveiled before them.
Only alone together were they safe from such outrage and pain. They said little to one another. When they did speak, it was about the most trivial subjects. And both equally avoided all mention of anything connected with the future.
To admit the possibility of a future seemed to them an insult to his memory. Still more circumspectly did they avoid in their talk all that could be connected with the dead man. It seemed to them that what they had felt and gone through could not be expressed in words. It seemed to them that every allusion in words to the details of his life was an outrage on the grandeur and holiness of the mystery that had been accomplished before their eyes.
The constant restraint of speech and studious avoidance of everything that might lead to words about him, these barriers, fencing off on all sides what could not be spoken of, brought what they were feeling even more clearly and vividly before their minds.
But pure and perfect sorrow is as impossible as pure and perfect joy. From the isolation of her position, as the guardian and foster-mother of her nephew, and independent mistress of her own destinies, Princess Marya was the first to be called back to life from that world of mourning in which she lived for the first fortnight. She received letters from her relations which had to be answered; the room in which Nikolushka had been put was damp, and he had begun to cough. Alpatitch came to Yaroslavl with accounts. He had suggestions to make, and advised Princess Marya to move to Moscow to the house in Vozdvizhenka, which was uninjured, and only needed some trifling repairs. Life would not stand still, and she had to live. Painful as it was for Princess Marya to come out of that world of solitary contemplation, in which she had been living till then, and sorry, and, as it were, conscience-stricken, as she felt at leaving Natasha alone, the duties of daily life claimed her attention, and against her own will she had to give herself up to them. She went through the accounts with Alpatitch, consulted Dessalle about her little nephew, and began to make preparations for moving to Moscow.
Natasha was left alone, and from the time that Princess Marya began to busy herself with preparations for her journey, she held aloof from her too.
Princess Marya asked the countess to let Natasha come to stay with her in Moscow; and both mother and father eagerly agreed to her suggestion, for they saw their daughter's physical strength failing every day, and they hoped that change of scene and the advice of Moscow doctors might do her good.
“I am not going anywhere,” answered Natasha, when the suggestion was made to her; “all I ask is, please let me alone,” she said, and she ran out of the room, hardly able to restrain tears more of vexation and anger than of sorrow.
Since she felt herself deserted by Princess Marya, and alone in her grief, Natasha had spent most of her time alone in her room, huddled up in a corner of her sofa. While her slender, nervous fingers were busy twisting or tearing something, she kept her eyes fixed in a set stare on the first object that met them. This solitude exhausted and tortured her; but it was what she needed. As soon as any one went in to her, she got up quickly, changed her attitude and expression, and picked up a book or some needlework, obviously waiting with impatience for the intruder to leave her.
It seemed to her continually that she was on the very verge of understanding, of penetrating to the mystery on which her spiritual vision was fastened with a question too terrible for her to bear.
One day towards the end of December, Natasha, thin and pale in a black woollen gown, with her hair fastened up in a careless coil, sat perched up in the corner of her sofa, her fingers nervously crumpling and smoothing out the ends of her sash, while she gazed at the corner of the door.
She was inwardly gazing whither he had gone, to that further shore. And that shore, of which she had never thought in old days, which had seemed to her so far away, so incredible, was now closer to her, and more her own, more comprehensible than this side of life, in which all was emptiness and desolation or suffering and humiliation.
She was gazing into that world where she knew he was. But she could not see him, except as he had been here on earth. She was seeing him again as he had been at Mytishtchy, at Troitsa, at Yaroslavl.
She was seeing his face, hearing his voice, and repeating his words, and words of her own that she had put into his mouth; and sometimes imagining fresh phrases for herself and him which could only have been uttered in the past.
Now she saw him as he had once been, lying on a low chair in his velvet, fur-lined cloak, his head propped on his thin, pale hand. His chest looked fearfully hollow, and his shoulders high. His lips were firmly closed, his eyes shining, and there was a line on his white brow that came and vanished again. There was a rapid tremor just perceptible in one foot. Natasha knew he was struggling to bear horrible pain. “What was that pain like? Why was it there? What was he feeling? How did it hurt?” Natasha had wondered. He had noticed her attention, raised his eyes, and, without smiling, began to speak.
“One thing would be awful,” he said: “to bind oneself for ever to a suffering invalid. It would be an everlasting torture.” And he had looked with searching eyes at her. Natasha, as she always did, had answered without giving herself time to think; she had said: “It can't go on like this, it won't be so, you will get well—quite well.”
She was seeing him now as though it were the first time, and going through all she had felt at that time. She recalled the long, mournful, stern gaze he had given her at those words, and she understood all the reproach and the despair in that prolonged gaze.
“I agreed,” Natasha said to herself now, “that it would be awful if he were to remain always suffering. I said that then only because it would be so awful for him, but he did not understand it so. He thought that it would be awful for me. Then he still wanted to live, and was afraid of death. And I said it so clumsily, so stupidly. I was not thinking that. I was thinking something quite different. If I had said what I was thinking, I should have said: ‘Let him be dying, dying all the time before my eyes, and I should be happy in comparison with what I am now.' Now … there is nothing, no one. Did he know that? No. He did not know, and never will know it. And now it can never, never be made up for.”
And again he was saying the same words; but this time Natasha in her imagination made him a different answer. She stopped him, and said: “Awful for you, but not for me. You know that I have nothing in life but you, and to suffer with you is the greatest happiness possible for me.” And he took her hand and pressed it, just as he had pressed it on that terrible evening four days before his death. And in her imagination she said to him other words of tenderness and love, which she might have said then, which she only said now … “I love thee! … thee … I love, love thee …” she said, wringing her hands convulsively, and setting her teeth with bitter violence.
And a sweeter mood of sorrow was coming over her, and tears were starting into her eyes; but all at once she asked herself: “To whom was she saying that? Where is he, and what is he now?”
And again everything was shrouded in chill, cruel doubt, and again, frowning nervously, she tried to gaze into that world where he was. And now, now, she thought, she was just penetrating the mystery … But at that instant, when the incomprehensible, it seemed, was being unveiled before her eyes, a loud rattle at the door handle broke with a painful shock on her hearing. Her maid, Dunyasha, rushed quickly and abruptly into the room with frightened eyes, that took no heed of her.
“Come to your papa, make haste,” Dunyasha said, with a strange excited expression. “A misfortune … Pyotr Ilyitch … a letter,” she gasped out, sobbing.