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Chapter 23

  • 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.