Chapter 25

THE HEALTH AND CHARACTER of Prince Nikolay Andreitch Bolkonsky had, during that year, after his son had left him, grown considerably feebler. He became more irritable than ever, and it was Princess Marya who as a rule bore the brunt of his outbursts of causeless fury. He seemed studiously to seek out all the tender spots in her consciousness so as to inflict on her the cruellest wounds possible. Princess Marya had two passions and consequently two joys: her nephew, Nikolushka, and religion; and both were favourite subjects for the old prince’s attacks and jeers. Whatever was being spoken of, he would bring the conversation round to the superstitiousness of old maids, or the petting and spoiling of children. “You want to make him” (Nikolushka) “just such another old maid as you are yourself. Prince Andrey wants a son and not an old maid,” he would say. Or addressing Mademoiselle Bourienne he would ask her, before Princess Marya, how she liked our village priests and holy pictures, and make jests about them.…

He was constantly wounding Princess Marya’s feelings, but his daughter needed no effort to forgive him. Could he be to blame in anything he did to her, could her father, who as she knew in spite of it all, loved her, be unjust? And indeed what is justice? Princess Marya never gave a thought to that proud word, “justice.” All the complex laws of humanity were summed up for her in one clear and simple law—the law of love and self-sacrifice, laid down by Him who had in His love suffered for humanity, though He was God Himself. What had she to do with the justice or injustice of other people? All she had to do was to suffer and to love; and that she did.

In the winter Prince Andrey had come to Bleak Hills, had been gay, gentle, and affectionate, as Princess Marya had not seen him for years. She felt that something had happened to him, but he said nothing to his sister of his love. Before his departure, Prince Andrey had a long conversation with his father, and Princess Marya noticed that they were ill pleased with each other at parting.

Soon after Prince Andrey had gone, Princess Marya wrote from Bleak Hills to her friend in Petersburg, Julie Karagin, whom Princess Marya had dreamed—as girls always do dream—of marrying to her brother. She was at this time in mourning for the death of a brother, who had been killed in Turkey.

“Sorrow, it seems, is our common lot, my sweet and tender friend Julie.

“Your loss is so terrible that I can only explain it to myself, as a special sign of the grace of God, who in His love for you would chasten you and your incomparable mother.

“Ah, my dear, religion, and religion alone can—I don’t say comfort us—but save us from despair. Religion alone can interpret to us what, without its aid, man cannot comprehend: to what end, for what cause, good, elevated beings who are able to find happiness in life, not injuring others, but indispensable to their happiness, are called away to God, while the wicked, the useless, injuring others and a burden to themselves and others, are left living. The first death which I have seen, and which I shall never forget—the death of my dear little sister-in-law—made on me just the same impression. Just as you question destiny, and ask why your noble brother had to die, so did I wonder what reason there was for that angel Liza to die—who had never done the slightest harm to any one, never even had a thought in her heart that was not kind. And yet—do you know, dear friend—five years have passed since then, and even I, with my poor intelligence, begin now to understand clearly why it was needful she should die, and in what way that death was but an expression of the boundless grace of the Creator, all of whose acts, though for the most part we comprehend them not, are but manifestations of His infinite love for His creatures. Perhaps, I often think, she was of too angelic an innocence to have the force to perform all a mother’s duties. As a young wife, she was irreproachable; possibly she could not have been equally so as a mother. As it is, not only has she left us, and particularly Prince Andrey, the purest memories and regrets, but there she is in all likelihood receiving a place for which I dare not hope for myself. But not to speak of her alone, that early and terrible death has had the most blessed influence on me and on my brother, in spite of all our grief. At the time, at the moment of our loss, I could not have entertained such thoughts; at that time I should have dismissed them in horror, but now it seems clear and incontestable. I write all this to you, dear friend, simply to convince you of the Gospel truth, which has become a principle

  By PanEris using Melati.

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