Prince Andrew needed his father's consent to his marriage, and to obtain thi_e started for the country next day.
His father received his son's communication with external composure, bu_nward wrath. He could not comprehend how anyone could wish to alter his lif_r introduce anything new into it, when his own life was already ending. "I_nly they would let me end my days as I want to," thought the old man, "the_hey might do as they please." With his son, however, he employed th_iplomacy he reserved for important occasions and, adopting a quiet tone, discussed the whole matter.
In the first place the marriage was not a brilliant one as regards birth, wealth, or rank. Secondly, Prince Andrew was no longer as young as he had bee_nd his health was poor (the old man laid special stress on this), while sh_as very young. Thirdly, he had a son whom it would be a pity to entrust to _hit of a girl. "Fourthly and finally," the father said, looking ironically a_is son, "I beg you to put it off for a year: go abroad, take a cure, look ou_s you wanted to for a German tutor for Prince Nicholas. Then if your love o_assion or obstinacy—as you please—is still as great, marry! And that's m_ast word on it. Mind, the last… " concluded the prince, in a tone whic_howed that nothing would make him alter his decision.
Prince Andrew saw clearly that the old man hoped that his feelings, or hi_iancee's, would not stand a year's test, or that he (the old prince himself) would die before then, and he decided to conform to his father's wish—t_ropose, and postpone the wedding for a year.
Three weeks after the last evening he had spent with the Rostovs, Princ_ndrew returned to Petersburg.
Next day after her talk with her mother Natasha expected Bolkonski all day, but he did not come. On the second and third day it was the same. Pierre di_ot come either and Natasha, not knowing that Prince Andrew had gone to se_is father, could not explain his absence to herself.
Three weeks passed in this way. Natasha had no desire to go out anywhere an_andered from room to room like a shadow, idle and listless; she wept secretl_t night and did not go to her mother in the evenings. She blushed continuall_nd was irritable. It seemed to her that everybody knew about he_isappointment and was laughing at her and pitying her. Strong as was he_nward grief, this wound to her vanity intensified her misery.
Once she came to her mother, tried to say something, and suddenly began t_ry. Her tears were those of an offended child who does not know why it i_eing punished.
The countess began to soothe Natasha, who after first listening to he_other's words, suddenly interrupted her:
"Leave off, Mamma! I don't think, and don't want to think about it! He jus_ame and then left off, left off… "
Her voice trembled, and she again nearly cried, but recovered and went o_uietly:
"And I don't at all want to get married. And I am afraid of him; I have no_ecome quite calm, quite calm."
The day after this conversation Natasha put on the old dress which she kne_ad the peculiar property of conducing to cheerfulness in the mornings, an_hat day she returned to the old way of life which she had abandoned since th_all. Having finished her morning tea she went to the ballroom, which sh_articularly liked for its loud resonance, and began singing her solfeggio.
When she had finished her first exercise she stood still in the middle of th_oom and sang a musical phrase that particularly pleased her. She listene_oyfully (as though she had not expected it) to the charm of the note_everberating, filling the whole empty ballroom, and slowly dying away; an_ll at once she felt cheerful. "What's the good of making so much of it?
Things are nice as it is," she said to herself, and she began walking up an_own the room, not stepping simply on the resounding parquet but treading wit_ach step from the heel to the toe (she had on a new and favorite pair o_hoes) and listening to the regular tap of the heel and creak of the toe a_ladly as she had to the sounds of her own voice. Passing a mirror she glance_nto it. "There, that's me!" the expression of her face seemed to say as sh_aught sight of herself. "Well, and very nice too! I need nobody."
A footman wanted to come in to clear away something in the room but she woul_ot let him, and having closed the door behind him continued her walk. Tha_orning she had returned to her favorite mood—love of, and delight in, herself. "How charming that Natasha is!" she said again, speaking as som_hird, collective, male person. "Pretty, a good voice, young, and in nobody'_ay if only they leave her in peace." But however much they left her in peac_he could not now be at peace, and immediately felt this.
In the hall the porch door opened, and someone asked, "At home?" and the_ootsteps were heard. Natasha was looking at the mirror, but did not se_erself. She listened to the sounds in the hall. When she saw herself, he_ace was pale. It was he. She knew this for certain, though she hardly hear_is voice through the closed doors.
Pale and agitated, Natasha ran into the drawing room.
"Mamma! Bolkonski has come!" she said. "Mamma, it is awful, it is unbearable!
I don't want… to be tormented? What am I to do?… "
Before the countess could answer, Prince Andrew entered the room with a_gitated and serious face. As soon as he saw Natasha his face brightened. H_issed the countess' hand and Natasha's, and sat down beside the sofa.
"It is long since we had the pleasure… " began the countess, but Prince Andre_nterrupted her by answering her intended question, obviously in haste to sa_hat he had to.
"I have not been to see all this time because I have been at my father's. _ad to talk over a very important matter with him. I only got back las_ight," he said glancing at Natasha; "I want to have a talk with you, Countess," he added after a moment's pause.
The countess lowered her eyes, sighing deeply.
"I am at your disposal," she murmured.
Natasha knew that she ought to go away, but was unable to do so: somethin_ripped her throat, and regardless of manners she stared straight at Princ_ndrew with wide-open eyes.
"At once? This instant!… No, it can't be!" she thought.
Again he glanced at her, and that glance convinced her that she was no_istaken. Yes, at once, that very instant, her fate would be decided.
"Go, Natasha! I will call you," said the countess in a whisper.
Natasha glanced with frightened imploring eyes at Prince Andrew and at he_other and went out.
"I have come, Countess, to ask for your daughter's hand," said Prince Andrew.
The countess' face flushed hotly, but she said nothing.
"Your offer… " she began at last sedately. He remained silent, looking int_er eyes. "Your offer… " (she grew confused) "is agreeable to us, and I accep_our offer. I am glad. And my husband… I hope… but it will depend on her… ."
"I will speak to her when I have your consent… . Do you give it to me?" sai_rince Andrew.
"Yes," replied the countess. She held out her hand to him, and with a mixe_eeling of estrangement and tenderness pressed her lips to his forehead as h_tooped to kiss her hand. She wished to love him as a son, but felt that t_er he was a stranger and a terrifying man. "I am sure my husband wil_onsent," said the countess, "but your father… "
"My father, to whom I have told my plans, has made it an express condition o_is consent that the wedding is not to take place for a year. And I wished t_ell you of that," said Prince Andrew.
"It is true that Natasha is still young, but—so long as that?… "
"It is unavoidable," said Prince Andrew with a sigh.
"I will send her to you," said the countess, and left the room.
"Lord have mercy upon us!" she repeated while seeking her daughter.
Sonya said that Natasha was in her bedroom. Natasha was sitting on the bed, pale and dry eyed, and was gazing at the icons and whispering something as sh_apidly crossed herself. Seeing her mother she jumped up and flew to her.
"Well, Mamma?… Well?… "
"Go, go to him. He is asking for your hand," said the countess, coldly i_eemed to Natasha. "Go… go," said the mother, sadly and reproachfully, with _eep sigh, as her daughter ran away.
Natasha never remembered how she entered the drawing room. When she came i_nd saw him she paused. "Is it possible that this stranger has now becom_verything to me?" she asked herself, and immediately answered, "Yes, everything! He alone is now dearer to me than everything in the world." Princ_ndrew came up to her with downcast eyes.
"I have loved you from the very first moment I saw you. May I hope?"
He looked at her and was struck by the serious impassioned expression of he_ace. Her face said: "Why ask? Why doubt what you cannot but know? Why speak, when words cannot express what one feels?"
She drew near to him and stopped. He took her hand and kissed it.
"Do you love me?"
"Yes, yes!" Natasha murmured as if in vexation. Then she sighed loudly and, catching her breath more and more quickly, began to sob.
"What is it? What's the matter?"
"Oh, I am so happy!" she replied, smiled through her tears, bent over close_o him, paused for an instant as if asking herself whether she might, and the_issed him.
Prince Andrew held her hands, looked into her eyes, and did not find in hi_eart his former love for her. Something in him had suddenly changed; ther_as no longer the former poetic and mystic charm of desire, but there was pit_or her feminine and childish weakness, fear at her devotion and trustfulness, and an oppressive yet joyful sense of the duty that now bound him to he_orever. The present feeling, though not so bright and poetic as the former, was stronger and more serious.
"Did your mother tell you that it cannot be for a year?" asked Prince Andrew, still looking into her eyes.
"Is it possible that I—the 'chit of a girl,' as everybody called me," though_atasha—"is it possible that I am now to be the wife and the equal of thi_trange, dear, clever man whom even my father looks up to? Can it be true? Ca_t be true that there can be no more playing with life, that now I am grow_p, that on me now lies a responsibility for my every word and deed? Yes, bu_hat did he ask me?"
"No," she replied, but she had not understood his question.
"Forgive me!" he said. "But you are so young, and I have already been throug_o much in life. I am afraid for you, you do not yet know yourself."
Natasha listened with concentrated attention, trying but failing to take i_he meaning of his words.
"Hard as this year which delays my happiness will be," continued Princ_ndrew, "it will give you time to be sure of yourself. I ask you to make m_appy in a year, but you are free: our engagement shall remain a secret, an_hould you find that you do not love me, or should you come to love… " sai_rince Andrew with an unnatural smile.
"Why do you say that?" Natasha interrupted him. "You know that from the ver_ay you first came to Otradnoe I have loved you," she cried, quite convince_hat she spoke the truth.
"In a year you will learn to know yourself… ."
"A whole year!" Natasha repeated suddenly, only now realizing that th_arriage was to be postponed for a year. "But why a year? Why a year?… "
Prince Andrew began to explain to her the reasons for this delay. Natasha di_ot hear him.
"And can't it be helped?" she asked. Prince Andrew did not reply, but his fac_xpressed the impossibility of altering that decision.
"It's awful! Oh, it's awful! awful!" Natasha suddenly cried, and again burs_nto sobs. "I shall die, waiting a year: it's impossible, it's awful!" Sh_ooked into her lover's face and saw in it a look of commiseration an_erplexity.
"No, no! I'll do anything!" she said, suddenly checking her tears. "I am s_appy."
The father and mother came into the room and gave the betrothed couple thei_lessing.
From that day Prince Andrew began to frequent the Rostovs' as Natasha'_ffianced lover.