AT THE END of January Pierre arrived in Moscow and settled in the lodge of his mansion, as that had escaped the fire. He called on Count Rastoptchin and several acquaintances, and was intending in three days to set off to Petersburg. Every one was triumphant at victory; the ruined and reviving city was bubbling over with life. Every one was glad to see Pierre; everybody was eager to see him, and to ask him about all he had seen. Pierre had a particularly friendly feeling towards every one he met. But unconsciously he was a little on his guard with people to avoid fettering his freedom in any way. To all the questions put to him—important or trivial—whether they asked him where he meant to live, whether he were going to build, when he was starting for Petersburg, or whether he could take a parcel there for someone, he answered, “Yes, very possibly,” “I dare say I may,” and so on.
He heard that the Rostovs were in Kostroma, and the thought of Natasha rarely came to his mind, and when it did occur to him it was as a pleasant memory of time long past. He felt himself set free, not only from the cares of daily life, but also from that feeling which, it seemed to him, he had voluntarily brought upon himself.
The third day after his arrival in Moscow he learnt from the Drubetskoys that Princess Marya was in Moscow. The death, the sufferings, and the last days of Prince Andrey had often engaged Pierre's thoughts, and now recurred to him with fresh vividness. He heard at dinner that Princess Marya was in Moscow, and living in her own house in Vosdvizhenka, which had escaped the fire, and he went to call upon her the same evening.
On the way to Princess Marya's Pierre's mind was full of Prince Andrey, of his friendship for him, of the different occasions when they had met, and especially of their last interview at Borodino.
“Can he possibly have died in the bitter mood he was in then? Was not the meaning of life revealed to him before death?” Pierre wondered. He thought of Karataev, of his death, and unconsciously compared those two men, so different, and yet alike, in the love he had felt for both, and in that both had lived, and both were dead.
In the most serious frame of mind Pierre drove up to the old prince's house. The house had remained entire. There were traces to be seen of the havoc wrought in it, but the character of the house was unchanged. The old footman met Pierre with a stern face, that seemed to wish to make the guest feel that the absence of the old prince did make no difference in the severe routine of the household, and said that the princess had retired to her own apartments, and received on Sundays.
“Take my name to her, perhaps she will see me,” said Pierre.
“Yes, your excellency,” answered the footman; “kindly walk into the portrait-gallery.”
A few minutes later the footman returned accompanied by Dessalle. Dessalle brought a message from the princess that she would be very glad to see Pierre, and begged him, if he would excuse the lack of ceremony, to come upstairs to her apartment.
In a low-pitched room, lighted by a single candle, he found the princess, and some one with her in a black dress. Pierre recollected that the princess had always had lady-companions of some sort with her, but who those companions were, and what they were like, he did not remember. “That is one of her companions,” he thought, glancing at the lady in the black dress.
The princess rose swiftly to meet him, and held out her hand.
“Yes,” she said, scrutinising his altered face, after he had kissed her hand; “so this is how we meet again. He often talked of you at the last,” she said, turning her eyes from Pierre to the companion with a sort of bashfulness that struck him.
“I was so glad to hear of your safety. It was the only piece of good news we had had for a long time.”
Again the princess glanced still more uneasily at the companion, and would have spoken; but Pierre interrupted her.
“Only imagine, I knew nothing about him,” he said. “I believed he had been killed. All I have heard has been through others, at third-hand. I only know that he fell in with the Rostovs.… What a strange stroke of destiny!”
Pierre talked rapidly, eagerly. He glanced once at the companion's face, saw attentively friendly, inquiring eyes fixed upon him; and as often happens, while talking, he vaguely felt that this lady-companion in the black dress was a good, kind, friendly creature, who need be no hindrance to his talking freely to Princess Marya.
But as he uttered the last words about the Rostovs, the embarrassment in Princess Marya's face became even more marked. Again her eyes shifted from Pierre's face to the face of the lady in the black dress, and she said:
“You don't recognise her?”
Pierre glanced once more at the pale, thin face of her companion, with its black eyes and strange mouth. Something very near to him, long forgotten, and more than sweet, gazed at him out of those intent eyes.
“But no, it cannot be,” he thought. “That stern, thin, pale face that looks so much older? It cannot be she. It is only a reminder of it.”
But at that moment Princess Marya said, “Natasha!”
And the face with the intent eyes—painfully, with effort, like a rusty door opening—smiled, and through that opened door there floated to Pierre a sudden, overwhelming rush of long-forgotten bliss, of which, especially now, he had no thought. It breathed upon him, overwhelmed him, and swallowed him up entirely. When she smiled, there could be no doubt. It was Natasha, and he loved her.
In that first minute Pierre unwittingly betrayed to her and to Princess Marya, and most of all to himself, the secret of which he had been himself unaware. He flushed joyfully, and with agonising distress. He tried to conceal his emotion. But the more he tried to conceal it, the more clearly—more clearly than if he had uttered the most definite words—he betrayed to himself, and to her, and to Princess Marya, that he loved her.
“No, it is nothing; it's the sudden surprise,” Pierre thought. But as soon as he tried to go on with the conversation with Princess Marya, he glanced again at Natasha, and a still deeper flush spread over his face, and a still more violent wave of rapture and terror flooded his heart. He stammered in his speech, and stopped short in the middle of a sentence.
Pierre had not noticed Natasha because he had never expected to see her here; but he had not recognised her because the change that had taken place in her since he had seen her was immense. She had grown thin and pale. But it was not that that made her unrecognisable. No one could have recognised her at the moment when he entered, because when he first glanced at her there was no trace of a smile in the eyes that in old days had always beamed with a suppressed smile of the joy of life. They were intent, kindly eyes, full of mournful inquiry, and nothing more.
Pierre's embarrassment was not reflected in a corresponding embarrassment in Natasha, but only in a look of pleasure, that faintly lighted up her whole face.