Helene understood that the question was very simple and easy from th_cclesiastical point of view, and that her directors were making difficultie_nly because they were apprehensive as to how the matter would be regarded b_he secular authorities.
So she decided that it was necessary to prepare the opinion of society. Sh_rovoked the jealousy of the elderly magnate and told him what she had tol_er other suitor; that is, she put the matter so that the only way for him t_btain a right over her was to marry her. The elderly magnate was at first a_uch taken aback by this suggestion of marriage with a woman whose husband wa_live, as the younger man had been, but Helene's imperturbable conviction tha_t was as simple and natural as marrying a maiden had its effect on him too.
Had Helene herself shown the least sign of hesitation, shame, or secrecy, he_ause would certainly have been lost; but not only did she show no signs o_ecrecy or shame, on the contrary, with good-natured naivete she told he_ntimate friends (and these were all Petersburg) that both the prince and th_agnate had proposed to her and that she loved both and was afraid of grievin_ither.
A rumor immediately spread in Petersburg, not that Helene wanted to b_ivorced from her husband (had such a report spread many would have opposed s_llegal an intention) but simply that the unfortunate and interesting Helen_as in doubt which of the two men she should marry. The question was no longe_hether this was possible, but only which was the better match and how th_atter would be regarded at court. There were, it is true, some rigi_ndividuals unable to rise to the height of such a question, who saw in th_roject a desecration of the sacrament of marriage, but there were not man_uch and they remained silent, while the majority were interested in Helene'_ood fortune and in the question which match would be the more advantageous.
Whether it was right or wrong to remarry while one had a husband living the_id not discuss, for that question had evidently been settled by people "wise_han you or me," as they said, and to doubt the correctness of that decisio_ould be to risk exposing one's stupidity and incapacity to live in society.
Only Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova, had come to Petersburg that summer to se_ne of her sons, allowed herself plainly to express an opinion contrary to th_eneral one. Meeting Helene at a ball she stopped her in the middle of th_oom and, amid general silence, said in her gruff voice: "So wives of livin_en have started marrying again! Perhaps you think you have invented _ovelty? You have been forestalled, my dear! It was thought of long ago. It i_one in all the brothels," and with these words Marya Dmitrievna, turning u_er wide sleeves with her usual threatening gesture and glancing sternl_ound, moved across the room.
Though people were afraid of Marya Dmitrievna she was regarded in Petersbur_s a buffoon, and so of what she had said they only noticed, and repeated in _hisper, the one coarse word she had used, supposing the whole sting of he_emark to lie in that word.
Prince Vasili, who of late very often forgot what he had said and repeated on_nd the same thing a hundred times, remarked to his daughter whenever h_hanced to see her:
"Helene, I have a word to say to you," and he would lead her aside, drawin_er hand downward. "I have heard of certain projects concerning… you know.
Well my dear child, you know how your father's heart rejoices to know tha_ou… You have suffered so much… . But, my dear child, consult only your ow_eart. That is all I have to say," and concealing his unvarying emotion h_ould press his cheek against his daughter's and move away.
Bilibin, who had not lost his reputation of an exceedingly clever man, and wh_as one of the disinterested friends so brilliant a woman as Helene alway_as—men friends who can never change into lovers—once gave her his view of th_atter at a small and intimate gathering.
"Listen, Bilibin," said Helene (she always called friends of that sort b_heir surnames), and she touched his coat sleeve with her white, beringe_ingers. "Tell me, as you would a sister, what I ought to do. Which of th_wo?"
Bilibin wrinkled up the skin over his eyebrows and pondered, with a smile o_is lips.
"You are not taking me unawares, you know," said he. "As a true friend, I hav_hought and thought again about your affair. You see, if you marry th_rince"—he meant the younger man—and he crooked one finger, "you forever los_he chance of marrying the other, and you will displease the court besides.
(You know there is some kind of connection.) But if you marry the old coun_ou will make his last days happy, and as widow of the Grand… the prince woul_o longer be making a mesalliance by marrying you," and Bilibin smoothed ou_is forehead.
"That's a true friend!" said Helene beaming, and again touching Bilibin'_leeve. "But I love them, you know, and don't want to distress either of them.
I would give my life for the happiness of them both."
Bilibin shrugged his shoulders, as much as to say that not even he could hel_n that difficulty.
"Une maitresse-femme![](footnotes.xml#footnote_91) That's what is calle_utting things squarely. She would like to be married to all three at the sam_ime," thought he. "But tell me, how will your husband look at the matter?"
Bilibin asked, his reputation being so well established that he did not fea_o ask so naive a question. "Will he agree?" "Oh, he loves me so!" sai_elene, who for some reason imagined that Pierre too loved her. "He will d_nything for me." Bilibin puckered his skin in preparation for somethin_itty. "Even divorce you?" said he. Helene laughed. Among those who venture_o doubt the justifiability of the proposed marriage was Helene's mother,
Princess Kuragina. She was continually tormented by jealousy of her daughter,
and now that jealousy concerned a subject near to her own heart, she could no_econcile herself to the idea. She consulted a Russian priest as to th_ossibility of divorce and remarriage during a husband's lifetime, and th_riest told her that it was impossible, and to her delight showed her a tex_n the Gospel which (as it seemed to him) plainly remarriage while the husban_s alive. Armed with these arguments, which appeared to her unanswerable, sh_rove to her daughter's early one morning so as to find her alone. Havin_istened to her mother's objections, Helene smiled blandly and ironically.
"But it says plainly: 'Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced… '" said th_ld princess. "Ah, Maman, ne dites pas de betises. Vous ne comprenez rein.
Dans ma position j'ai des devoirs,"[](footnotes.xml#footnote_92) sai_elene changing from Russian, in which language she always felt that her cas_id not sound quite clear, into French which suited it better. "But, my dear…
." "Oh, Mamma, how is it you don't understand that the Holy Father, who ha_he right to grant dispensations… " Just then the lady companion who live_ith Helene came in to announce that His Highness was in the ballroom an_ished to see her. "Non, dites-lui que je ne veux pas le voir, que je sui_urieuse contre lui, parce qu'il m' a manqu_arole."[](footnotes.xml#footnote_93) "Comtesse, a tout pech_isericorde,"[](footnotes.xml#footnote_94) said a fair-haired young ma_ith a long face and nose, as he entered the room. The old princess ros_espectfully and curtsied. The young man who had entered took no notice o_er. The princess nodded to her daughter and sidled out of the room. "Yes, sh_s right," thought the old princess, all her convictions dissipated by th_ppearance of His Highness. "She is right, but how is it that we in ou_rrecoverable youth did not know it? Yet it is so simple," she thought as sh_ot into her carriage. By the beginning of August Helene's affairs wer_learly defined and she wrote a letter to her husband—who, as she imagined,
loved her very much—informing him of her intention to marry N.N. and of he_aving embraced the one true faith, and asking him to carry out all th_ormalities necessary for a divorce, which would be explained to him by th_earer of the letter. And so I pray God to have you, my friend, in His hol_nd powerful keeping—Your friend Helene. This letter was brought to Pierre'_ouse when he was on the field of Borodino.