Agrafena Ivanovna went in to wake Natasha at three o’clock in the night, and frequently found her not asleep. Natasha was afraid of sleeping too late for the early morning service. Hurriedly washing, and in all humility putting on her shabbiest dress and old mantle, Natasha, shuddering at the chill air, went out into the deserted streets, in the limpid light of the early dawn. By the advice of Agrafena Ivanovna, Natasha did not attend the services of her own parish church, but went to a church where the priest was esteemed by the devout Madame Byelov as being of a particularly severe and exemplary life. There were few people in the church. Natasha and Madame Byelov always took the same seat before an image of the Mother of God, carved at the back of the left choir; and a new feeling of humility before the great mystery came over Natasha, as at that unusual hour in the morning she gazed at the black outline of the Mother of God, with the light of the candles burning in front of it, and the morning light falling on it from the window. She listened to the words of the service, and tried to follow and understand them. When she did understand them, all the shades of her personal feeling blended with her prayer; when she did not understand, it was still sweeter for her to think that the desire to understand all was pride, that she could not comprehend all; that she had but to believe and give herself up to God, Who was, she felt, at those moments guiding her soul. She crossed herself, bowed to the ground, and when she did not follow, simply prayed to God to forgive her everything, everything, and to have mercy on her, in horror at her own vileness. The prayer into which she threw herself heart and soul was the prayer of repentance. On the way home in the early morning, when they met no one but masons going to their work, or porters cleaning the streets, and every one was asleep in the houses, Natasha had a new sense of the possibility of correcting herself of her sins and leading a new life of purity and happiness.

During the week she spent in this way, that feeling grew stronger with every day. And the joy of “communication,” as Agrafena Ivanovna liked to call taking the Communion, seemed to her so great that she fancied she could not live till that blissful Sunday.

But the happy day did come. And when on that memorable Sunday Natasha returned from the Sacrament wearing a white muslin dress, for the first time for many months she felt at peace, and not oppressed by the life that lay before her.

The doctor came that day to see Natasha, and gave directions for the powders to be continued that he had begun prescribing a fortnight ago. “She must certainly go on taking them morning and evening,” he said, with visible and simple-hearted satisfaction at the success of his treatment. “Please, don’t forget them. You may set your mind at rest, countess,” the doctor said playfully, as he deftly received the gold in the hollow of his palm. “She will soon be singing and dancing again. The last medicine has done her great, great good. She is very much better.”

The countess looked at her finger-nails and spat, to avert the ill-omen of such words, as with a cheerful face she went back to the drawing-room.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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