Chapter 17

NATASHA was calmer, but no happier. She did not merely shun every external form of amusement—balls, skating, concerts, and theatres—but she never even laughed without the sound of tears behind her laughter. She could not sing. As soon as she began to laugh or attempted to sing all by herself, tears choked her: tears of remorse; tears of regret for that time of pure happiness that could never return; tears of vexation that she should so wantonly have ruined her young life, that might have been so happy. Laughter and singing especially seemed to her like scoffing at her grief. She never even thought of desiring admiration; she had no impulse of vanity to restrain. She said and felt at that time that all men were no more to her than Nastasya Ivanovna, the buffoon. An inner sentinel seemed to guard against every sort of pleasure. And, indeed, she seemed to have lost all the old interests of her girlish, careless life, that had been so full of hope. Most often, and with most pining, she brooded over the memory of those autumn months, the hunting, the old uncle, and the Christmas holidays spent with Nikolay at Otradnoe. What would she not have given to bring back one single day of that time! But it was all over for her. Her presentiment at the time had not deceived her, that such a time of freedom and readiness for every enjoyment would never come again. But yet she had to live.

It comforted her to think, not that she was better, as she had once fancied, but worse, far worse than any one, than any one in the whole world. But that meant little to her. She believed it; but then she asked: “And what next?” And there was nothing to come. There was no gladness in life, but life was passing. All Natasha tried after was plainly to be no burden to others, and not to hinder other people’s enjoyment; but for herself she wanted nothing. She held aloof from all the household. It was only with her brother, Petya, that she felt at ease. She liked being with him better than being with the rest, and sometimes even laughed when she was alone with him. She hardly left the house to go anywhere; and of the guests who came to the house she was only glad to see one person—Pierre. No one could have been more tender, circumspect, and at the same time serious, than Count Bezuhov in his manner to her. Natasha was unconsciously aware of this tenderness, and it was owing to it that she found more pleasure in his society. But she was not even grateful to him for it. Nothing good in him seemed to her due to an effort on Pierre’s part. It seemed so natural to Pierre to be kind that there was no merit in his kindness. Sometimes Natasha noticed some confusion or awkwardness in Pierre in her presence, especially when he was trying to do something for her pleasure or afraid something in the conversation might suggest to her painful reminiscences. She observed this, and put it down to his general kindliness and shyness, which she supposed would be the same with every one else. Ever since those unforeseen words—that if he had been free, he would have asked on his knees for her hand and her love—uttered in a moment full of violent emotion for her, Pierre had said nothing of his feelings to Natasha; and it seemed to her clear that those words, which had so comforted her, had been uttered, just as one says any meaningless nonsense to console a weeping child. It was not because Pierre was a married man, but because Natasha felt between herself and him the force of that moral barrier—of the absence of which she had been so conscious with Kuragin—that the idea never occurred to her that her relations with Pierre might develop into love on her side, and still less on his, or even into that tender, self-conscious, romantic friendship between a man and a woman, of which she had known several instances.

Towards the end of St. Peter’s fast, Agrafena Ivanovna Byelov, a country neighbour of the Rostovs, came to Moscow to pay her devotions to the saints there. She suggested to Natasha that she should prepare herself for the Sacrament, and Natasha caught eagerly at the suggestion. Although the doctors forbade her going out early in the morning, Natasha insisted on keeping the fast, and not simply as it was kept in the Rostovs’ household, by taking part in three services in the house, but keeping it as Agrafena Ivanova was doing, that is to say, for a whole week, not missing a single early morning service, or litany, or vesper.

The countess was pleased at these signs of religious fervour in Natasha. After the poor results of medical treatment, at the bottom of her heart she hoped that prayer would do more for her than medicine; and though she concealed it from the doctors and had some inward misgivings, she fell in with Natasha’s wishes, and intrusted her to Madame Byelov.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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