Chapter 26

IN THE MIDDLE of the summer Princess Marya, to her surprise, received a letter from Prince Andrey, who was in Switzerland. In it he told her strange and surprising news. He informed his sister of his engagement to the younger Rostov. His whole letter was full of loving enthusiasm for his betrothed, and tender and confiding affection for his sister. He wrote that he had never loved as he loved now, and that it was only now that he saw all the value and meaning of life. He begged his sister to forgive him for having said nothing of his plans to her on his last visit to Bleak Hills, though he had spoken of it to his father. He had said nothing to her for fear Princess Marya would beg her father to give his consent, and, without attaining her object, would irritate her father and draw all the weight of his displeasure upon herself. The matter was not, however, then, he wrote to her, so completely settled as now. “At that time our father insisted on a delay of a year, and now six months, half of the period specified, is over, and I remain firmer than ever in my resolution. If it were not for the doctors keeping me here at the waters I should be back in Russia myself; but, as it is, I must put off my return for another three months. You know me and my relations with our father. I want nothing from him. I have been, and always shall be, independent; but to act in opposition to his will, to incur his anger when he has perhaps not long left to be with us, would destroy half my happiness. I am writing a letter to him now, and I beg you to choose a favourable moment to give him the letter, and to let me know how he looks at the whole matter, and if there is any hope of his agreeing to shorten the year by three months.”

After long hesitations, doubts, and prayers, Princess Marya gave the letter to her father. The next day the old prince said to her calmly:

“Write to your brother to wait till I’m dead.… He won’t have long to wait. I shall soon set him free.”

The princess tried to make some reply, but her father would not let her speak, and went on, getting louder and louder. “Let him marry, let him marry, the dear fellow.… A nice connection!… Clever people, eh? Rich, eh? Oh yes, a fine stepmother for Nikolushka she’ll make! You write to him he can marry her to- morrow. Nikolushka shall have her for a stepmother, and I’ll marry little Bourienne!… Ha, ha, ha, and so he shall have a stepmother too! Only there’s one thing, I won’t have any more women-folk about my house; he may marry and go and live by himself. Perhaps you’ll go and live with him too?” He turned to Princess Marya: “You’re welcome to, and good luck to you!”

After this outburst the prince did not once allude to the subject again. But his repressed anger at his son’s poor-spirited behaviour found a vent in his treatment of his daughter. He now added to his former subjects for jeering and annoying her a new one—allusions to a stepmother and gallantries to Mademoiselle Bourienne.

“Why shouldn’t I marry her?” he would say to his daughter. “A capital princess she will make!” And latterly, to her perplexity and amazement, Princess Marya began to notice that her father was really beginning to attach himself more and more closely to the French-woman. Princess Marya wrote to Prince Andrey and told him how their father had taken the letter, but comforted her brother with hopes that he would become reconciled to the idea.

Nikolushka and his education, her brother Andrey and religion, were Princess Marya’s joys and consolations. But apart from those, since every one must have personal hopes, Princess Marya cherished, in the deepest secrecy of her heart, a hidden dream and hope that was the source of the chief comfort in her life. This comforting dream and hope was given her by “God’s folk”—the crazy prophets and the pilgrims, who visited her without the prince’s knowledge. The longer Princess Marya lived, the more experience and observation she had of life, the more she wondered at the shortsightedness of men, who seek here on earth for enjoyment, toil, suffer, strive and do each other harm to attain that impossible, visionary, and sinful happiness. Prince Andrey had loved a wife; she died; that was not enough for him, he wanted to bind his happiness to another woman. Her father did not want that, because he coveted a more distinguished or a wealthier match for Andrey. And they were all striving, and suffering, and in torment, and sullying their souls, their eternal souls, to attain a bliss the duration of which was but a moment. Not only do we know that for ourselves. Christ, the Son of God, came down upon earth

  By PanEris using Melati.

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