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Chapter 17

  • Pierre was shown into the large, brightly lit dining room; a few minutes late_e heard footsteps and Princess Mary entered with Natasha. Natasha was calm, though a severe and grave expression had again settled on her face. They al_hree of them now experienced that feeling of awkwardness which usuall_ollows after a serious and heartfelt talk. It is impossible to go back to th_ame conversation, to talk of trifles is awkward, and yet the desire to spea_s there and silence seems like affectation. They went silently to table. Th_ootmen drew back the chairs and pushed them up again. Pierre unfolded hi_old table napkin and, resolving to break the silence, looked at Natasha an_t Princess Mary. They had evidently both formed the same resolution; the eye_f both shone with satisfaction and a confession that besides sorrow life als_as joy.
  • "Do you take vodka, Count?" asked Princess Mary, and those words suddenl_anished the shadows of the past. "Now tell us about yourself," said she. "On_ears such improbable wonders about you."
  • "Yes," replied Pierre with the smile of mild irony now habitual to him. "The_ven tell me wonders I myself never dreamed of! Mary Abramovna invited me t_er house and kept telling me what had happened, or ought to have happened, t_e. Stepan Stepanych also instructed me how I ought to tell of my experiences.
  • In general I have noticed that it is very easy to be an interesting man (I a_n interesting man now); people invite me out and tell me all about myself."
  • Natasha smiled and was on the point of speaking.
  • "We have been told," Princess Mary interrupted her, "that you lost tw_illions in Moscow. Is that true?"
  • "But I am three times as rich as before," returned Pierre.
  • Though the position was now altered by his decision to pay his wife's debt_nd to rebuild his houses, Pierre still maintained that he had become thre_imes as rich as before.
  • "What I have certainly gained is freedom," he began seriously, but did no_ontinue, noticing that this theme was too egotistic.
  • "And are you building?"
  • "Yes. Savelich says I must!"
  • "Tell me, you did not know of the countess' death when you decided to remai_n Moscow?" asked Princess Mary and immediately blushed, noticing that he_uestion, following his mention of freedom, ascribed to his words a meaning h_ad perhaps not intended.
  • "No," answered Pierre, evidently not considering awkward the meaning Princes_ary had given to his words. "I heard of it in Orel and you cannot imagine ho_t shocked me. We were not an exemplary couple," he added quickly, glancing a_atasha and noticing on her face curiosity as to how he would speak of hi_ife, "but her death shocked me terribly. When two people quarrel they ar_lways both in fault, and one's own guilt suddenly becomes terribly seriou_hen the other is no longer alive. And then such a death… without friends an_ithout consolation! I am very, very sorry for her," he concluded, and wa_leased to notice a look of glad approval on Natasha's face.
  • "Yes, and so you are once more an eligible bachelor," said Princess Mary.
  • Pierre suddenly flushed crimson and for a long time tried not to look a_atasha. When he ventured to glance her way again her face was cold, stern, and he fancied even contemptuous.
  • "And did you really see and speak to Napoleon, as we have been told?" sai_rincess Mary.
  • Pierre laughed.
  • "No, not once! Everybody seems to imagine that being taken prisoner mean_eing Napoleon's guest. Not only did I never see him but I heard nothing abou_im—I was in much lower company!"
  • Supper was over, and Pierre who at first declined to speak about his captivit_as gradually led on to do so.
  • "But it's true that you remained in Moscow to kill Napoleon?" Natasha aske_ith a slight smile. "I guessed it then when we met at the Sukharev tower, d_ou remember?"
  • Pierre admitted that it was true, and from that was gradually led by Princes_ary's questions and especially by Natasha's into giving a detailed account o_is adventures.
  • At first he spoke with the amused and mild irony now customary with him towar_verybody and especially toward himself, but when he came to describe th_orrors and sufferings he had witnessed he was unconsciously carried away an_egan speaking with the suppressed emotion of a man re-experiencing i_ecollection strong impressions he has lived through.
  • Princess Mary with a gentle smile looked now at Pierre and now at Natasha. I_he whole narrative she saw only Pierre and his goodness. Natasha, leaning o_er elbow, the expression of her face constantly changing with the narrative, watched Pierre with an attention that never wandered—evidently hersel_xperiencing all that he described. Not only her look, but her exclamation_nd the brief questions she put, showed Pierre that she understood just wha_e wished to convey. It was clear that she understood not only what he sai_ut also what he wished to, but could not, express in words. The accoun_ierre gave of the incident with the child and the woman for protecting who_e was arrested was this: "It was an awful sight—children abandoned, some i_he flames… One was snatched out before my eyes… and there were women who ha_heir things snatched off and their earrings torn out… " he flushed and gre_onfused. "Then a patrol arrived and all the men—all those who were no_ooting, that is—were arrested, and I among them."
  • "I am sure you're not telling us everything; I am sure you did something… "
  • said Natasha and pausing added, "something fine?"
  • Pierre continued. When he spoke of the execution he wanted to pass over th_orrible details, but Natasha insisted that he should not omit anything.
  • Pierre began to tell about Karataev, but paused. By this time he had rise_rom the table and was pacing the room, Natasha following him with her eyes.
  • Then he added:
  • "No, you can't understand what I learned from that illiterate man- that simpl_ellow."
  • "Yes, yes, go on!" said Natasha. "Where is he?"
  • "They killed him almost before my eyes."
  • And Pierre, his voice trembling continually, went on to tell of the last day_f their retreat, of Karataev's illness and his death.
  • He told of his adventures as he had never yet recalled them. He now, as i_ere, saw a new meaning in all he had gone through. Now that he was telling i_ll to Natasha he experienced that pleasure which a man has when women liste_o him—not clever women who when listening either try to remember what the_ear to enrich their minds and when opportunity offers to retell it, or wh_ish to adopt it to some thought of their own and promptly contribute thei_wn clever comments prepared in their little mental workshop—but the pleasur_iven by real women gifted with a capacity to select and absorb the very bes_ man shows of himself. Natasha without knowing it was all attention: she di_ot lose a word, no single quiver in Pierre's voice, no look, no twitch of _uscle in his face, nor a single gesture. She caught the unfinished word i_ts flight and took it straight into her open heart, divining the secre_eaning of all Pierre's mental travail.
  • Princess Mary understood his story and sympathized with him, but she now sa_omething else that absorbed all her attention. She saw the possibility o_ove and happiness between Natasha and Pierre, and the first thought of thi_illed her heart with gladness.
  • It was three o'clock in the morning. The footmen came in with sad and ster_aces to change the candles, but no one noticed them.
  • Pierre finished his story. Natasha continued to look at him intently wit_right, attentive, and animated eyes, as if trying to understand somethin_ore which he had perhaps left untold. Pierre in shamefaced and happ_onfusion glanced occasionally at her, and tried to think what to say next t_ntroduce a fresh subject. Princess Mary was silent. It occurred to none o_hem that it was three o'clock and time to go to bed.
  • "People speak of misfortunes and sufferings," remarked Pierre, "but if at thi_oment I were asked: 'Would you rather be what you were before you were take_risoner, or go through all this again?' then for heaven's sake let me agai_ave captivity and horseflesh! We imagine that when we are thrown out of ou_sual ruts all is lost, but it is only then that what is new and good begins.
  • While there is life there is happiness. There is much, much before us. I sa_his to you," he added, turning to Natasha.
  • "Yes, yes," she said, answering something quite different. "I too should wis_othing but to relive it all from the beginning."
  • Pierre looked intently at her.
  • "Yes, and nothing more." said Natasha.
  • "It's not true, not true!" cried Pierre. "I am not to blame for being aliv_nd wishing to live—nor you either."
  • Suddenly Natasha bent her head, covered her face with her hands, and began t_ry.
  • "What is it, Natasha?" said Princess Mary.
  • "Nothing, nothing." She smiled at Pierre through her tears. "Good night! It i_ime for bed."
  • Pierre rose and took his leave.
  • Princess Mary and Natasha met as usual in the bedroom. They talked of wha_ierre had told them. Princess Mary did not express her opinion of Pierre no_id Natasha speak of him.
  • "Well, good night, Mary!" said Natasha. "Do you know, I am often afraid tha_y not speaking of him" (she meant Prince Andrew) "for fear of not doin_ustice to our feelings, we forget him."
  • Princess Mary sighed deeply and thereby acknowledged the justice of Natasha'_emark, but she did not express agreement in words.
  • "Is it possible to forget?" said she.
  • "It did me so much good to tell all about it today. It was hard and painful, but good, very good!" said Natasha. "I am sure he really loved him. That i_hy I told him… Was it all right?" she added, suddenly blushing.
  • "To tell Pierre? Oh, yes. What a splendid man he is!" said Princess Mary.
  • "Do you know, Mary… " Natasha suddenly said with a mischievous smile such a_rincess Mary had not seen on her face for a long time, "he has somehow grow_o clean, smooth, and fresh—as if he had just come out of a Russian bath; d_ou understand? Out of a moral bath. Isn't it true?"
  • "Yes," replied Princess Mary. "He has greatly improved."
  • "With a short coat and his hair cropped; just as if, well, just as if he ha_ome straight from the bath… Papa used to… "
  • "I understand why he" (Prince Andrew) "liked no one so much as him," sai_rincess Mary.
  • "Yes, and yet he is quite different. They say men are friends when they ar_uite different. That must be true. Really he is quite unlike him—i_verything."
  • "Yes, but he's wonderful."
  • "Well, good night," said Natasha.
  • And the same mischievous smile lingered for a long time on her face as if i_ad been forgotten there.