Chapter 17

PIERRE was conducted into the big, lighted-up dining-room. In a few minutes he heard footsteps and the princess and Natasha came into the room. Natasha was calm, though the stern, unsmiling expression had come back again now into her face. Princess Marya, Natasha, and Pierre all equally experienced that feeling of awkwardness which usually follows when a serious and deeply felt conversation is over. To continue on the same subject is impossible; to speak of trivial matters seems desecration, and to be silent is unpleasant, because one wants to talk, and this silence seems a sort of affectation. In silence they came to the table. The footmen drew back and pushed up the chairs. Pierre unfolded his cold dinner napkin, and making up his mind to break the silence he glanced at Natasha and at Princess Marya. Both had plainly reached the same decision at the same moment; in the eyes of both there gleamed a satisfaction with life, and an admission that there was gladness in it as well as sorrow.

“Do you drink vodka?” said Princess Marya, and those words at once dispelled the shadows of the past.

“Tell us about yourself,” said Princess Marya; “such incredibly marvellous stories are being told about you.”

“Yes,” answered Pierre, with the gentle smile of irony that had now become habitual with him. “I myself am told of marvels that I never dreamed of. Marya Abramovna invited me to come and see her and kept telling me what had happened to me, or ought to have happened. Stepan Stepanovitch too instructed me how I was to tell my story. Altogether I have noticed that to be an interesting person is a very easy position (I am now an interesting person); people invite me and then tell me all about it.”

Natasha smiled and was about to say something.

“We have been told that you lost two millions in Moscow. Is that true?”

“Oh, I am three times as rich,” said Pierre. In spite of the strain on his fortune, of his wife’s debts, and the necessity of rebuilding, Pierre still said that he had become three times as rich.

“What I have undoubtedly gained,” he said, “is freedom …” he was beginning seriously; but on second thoughts he did not continue, feeling that it was too egoistic a subject.

“And you are building?”

“Yes, such are Savelitch’s orders.”

“Tell me, you had not heard of the countess’s death when you stayed in Moscow?” said Princess Marya; and she flushed crimson at once, conscious that in putting this question to him after his mention of “freedom,” she was ascribing a significance to his words which was possibly not intended.

“No,” answered Pierre, obviously unconscious of any awkwardness in the interpretation Princess Marya had put on his allusion to his freedom. “I heard of it in Orel, and you cannot imagine how it affected me. We were not an exemplary couple,” he said quickly, glancing at Natasha and detecting in her face curiosity as to how he would speak of his wife. “But her death affected me greatly. When two people quarrel, both are always in fault. And one becomes terribly aware of one’s shortcomings towards any one who is no more. And then such a death … apart from friends and consolation. I felt very sorry for her,” he concluded, and noticed with satisfaction a glad look of approval on Natasha’s face.

“And so you are once more an eligible parti,” said Princess Marya.

Pierre flushed suddenly crimson; and for a long while he tried not to look at Natasha. When he did venture to glance at her, her face was cold and severe, even, he fancied, disdainful.

“But did you really see and talk to Napoleon, as we have been told?” said Princess Marya.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.