War And Peace

CHAPTER XI

Chinese

TWO MONTHS PREVIOUSLY, Pierre was already settled at the Rostovs' when he received a letter from a certain Prince Fyodor, urging him to come to Petersburg for the discussion of various important questions that were agitating the Petersburg members of a society, of which Pierre had been one of the chief founders.

Natasha read this letter, as she did indeed all her husband's letters, and bitterly as she always felt his absence, she urged him herself to go to Petersburg. To everything appertaining to her husband's intellectual, abstract pursuits, she ascribed immense consequence, though she had no understanding of them, and she was always in dread of being a hindrance to her husband in such matters. To Pierre's timid glance of inquiry after reading the letter, she replied by begging him to go, and all she asked was that he would fix an absolutely certain date for his return. And leave of absence was given him for four weeks.

Ever since the day fixed for his return, a fortnight before, Natasha had been in a continual condition of alarm, depression, and irritability.

Denisov, a general on the retired list, very much dissatisfied at the present position of public affairs, had arrived during that fortnight, and he looked at Natasha with melancholy wonder, as at a bad likeness of a person once loved. A bored, dejected glance, random replies, and incessant talk of the nursery was all he saw and heard of his enchantress of old days.

All that fortnight Natasha had been melancholy and irritable, especially when her mother, her brother, Sonya, or Countess Marya tried to console her by excusing Pierre, and inventing good reasons for his delay in returning.

“It's all nonsense, all idiocy,” Natasha would say; “all his projects that never lead to anything, and all those fools of societies,” she would declare of the very matters in the immense importance of which she firmly believed. And she would march off to the nursery to nurse her only boy, the baby Petya.

No one could give her such sensible and soothing consolation as that little three months' old creature, when it lay at her breast, and she felt the movement of its lips and the snuffling of its nose. That little creature said to her: “You are angry, you are jealous, you would like to punish him, you are afraid, but here am I—I am he. Here, I am he …” And there was no answering that. It was more than true.

Natasha had so often during that fortnight had recourse to her baby for comfort, that she had over-nursed him, and he had fallen ill. She was terrified at his illness, but still this was just what she needed. In looking after him, she was able to bear her uneasiness about her husband better.

She was nursing the baby when Pierre's carriage drove noisily up to the entrance, and the nurse, knowing how to please her mistress, came inaudibly but quickly to the door with a beaming face.

“He has come?” asked Natasha in a rapid whisper, afraid to stir for fear of waking the baby, who was dropping asleep.

“He has come, ma'am,” whispered the nurse.

The blood rushed to Natasha's face, and her feet involuntarily moved, but to jump up and run was out of the question. The baby opened its little eyes again, glanced, as though to say, “You are here,” and gave another lazy smack with its lips.

Cautiously withdrawing her breast, Natasha dandled him, handed him to the nurse, and went with swift steps towards the door. But at the door she stopped as though her conscience pricked her for being in such haste and joy to leave the baby, and she looked back. The nurse, with her elbows raised, was lifting the baby over the rail of the cot.

“Yes, go along, go along, ma'am, don't worry, run along,” whispered the nurse, smiling with the familiarity that was common between nurse and mistress.

With light steps Natasha ran to the vestibule. Denisov, coming out of the study into the hall with a pipe in his mouth, seemed to see Natasha again for the first time. A vivid radiance of joy shed streams of light from her transfigured countenance.

“He has come!” she called to him, as she flew by, and Denisov felt that he was thrilled to hear that Pierre had come, though he did not particularly care for him. Running into the vestibule, Natasha saw a tall figure in a fur cloak fumbling at his scarf.

“He! he! It's true. Here he is,” she said to herself, and darting up to him, she hugged him, squeezing her head to his breast, and then drawing back, glanced at the frosty, red, and happy face of Pierre. “Yes, here he is; happy, satisfied …”

And all at once she remembered all the tortures of suspense she had passed through during the last fortnight. The joy beaming in her face vanished; she frowned, and a torrent of reproaches and angry words broke upon Pierre.

“Yes, you are all right, you have been happy, you have been enjoying yourself … But what about me! You might at least think of your children. I am nursing, my milk went wrong … Petya nearly died of it. And you have been enjoying yourself. Yes, enjoying yourself …”

Pierre knew he was not to blame, because he could not have come sooner. He knew this outburst on her part was unseemly, and would be all over in two minutes. Above all, he knew that he was himself happy and joyful. He would have liked to smile, but dared not even think of that. He made a piteous, dismayed face, and bowed before the storm.

“I could not, upon my word. But how is Petya?”

“He is all right now, come along. Aren't you ashamed? If you could see what I am like without you, how wretched I am …”

“Are you quite well?”

“Come along, come along,” she said, not letting go of his hand. And they went off to their rooms. When Nikolay and his wife came to look for Pierre, they found him in the nursery, with his baby son awake in his arms, and he was dandling him. There was a gleeful smile on the baby's broad face and open, toothless mouth. The storm had long blown over, and a bright, sunny radiance of joy flowed all over Natasha's face, as she gazed tenderly at her husband and son.

“And did you have a good talk over everything with Prince Fyodor?” Natasha was saying.

“Yes, capital.”

“You see, he holds his head up” (Natasha meant the baby). “Oh, what a fright he gave me. And did you see the princess? Is it true that she is in love with that …”

“Yes, can you fancy …”

At that moment Nikolay came in with his wife. Pierre, not letting go of his son, stooped down, kissed them, and answered their inquiries. But it was obvious that in spite of the many interesting things they had to discuss, the baby, with the wobbling head in the little cap, was absorbing Pierre's whole attention.

“How sweet he is!” said Countess Marya, looking at the baby and playing with him. “That's thing I can't understand, Nikolay,” she said, turning to her husband, “how it is you don't feel the charm of these exquisite little creatures?”

“Well, I don't, I can't,” said Nikolay, looking coldly at the baby. “Just a morsel of flesh. Come along, Pierre.”

“The great thing is, that he is really a devoted father,” said Countess Marya, apologising for her husband, “but only after a year or so …”

“Oh, Pierre is a capital nurse,” said Natasha; “he says his hand is just made for a baby's back. Just look.”

“Oh yes, but not for this,” Pierre cried laughing, and hurriedly snatching up the baby, he handed him back to his nurse.

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