Princess Mary postponed her departure. Sonya and the count tried to replace Natasha but could not. They saw that she alone was able to restrain her mother from unreasoning despair. For three weeks Natasha remained constantly at her mother's side, sleeping on a lounge chair in her room, making her eat and drink, and talking to her incessantly because the mere sound of her tender, caressing tones soothed her mother.
The mother's wounded spirit could not could not heal. Petya's death had torn from her half her life. When the news of Petya's death had come she had been a fresh and vigorous woman of fifty, but a month later she left her room a listless old woman taking no interest in life. But the same blow that almost killed the countess, this second blow, restored Natasha to life.
A spiritual wound produced by a rending of the spiritual body is like a physical wound and, strange as it may seem, just as a deep wound may heal and its edges join, physical and spiritual wounds alike can yet heal completely only as the result of a vital force from within.
Natasha's wound healed in that way. She thought her life was ended, but her love for her mother unexpectedly showed her that the essence of life- love- was still active within her. Love awoke and so did life.
Prince Andrew's last days had bound Princess Mary and Natasha together; this new sorrow brought them still closer to one another. Princess Mary put off her departure, and for three weeks looked after Natasha as if she had been a sick child. The last weeks passed in her mother's bedroom had strained Natasha's physical strength.
One afternoon noticing Natasha shivering with fever, Princess Mary took her to her own room and made her lie down on the bed. Natasha lay down, but when Princess Mary had drawn the blinds and was going away she called her back.
"I don't want to sleep, Mary, sit by me a little."
"You are tired- try to sleep."
"No, no. Why did you bring me away? She will be asking for me."
"She is much better. She spoke so well today," said Princess Mary.
Natasha lay on the bed and in the semidarkness of the room scanned Princess Mary's face.
"Is she like him?" thought Natasha. "Yes, like and yet not like. But she is quite original, strange, new, and unknown. And she loves me. What is in her heart? All that is good. But how? What is her mind like? What does she think about me? Yes, she is splendid!"
"Mary," she said timidly, drawing Princess Mary's hand to herself, "Mary, you mustn't think me wicked. No? Mary darling, how I love you! Let us be quite, quite friends."
And Natasha, embracing her, began kissing her face and hands, making Princess Mary feel shy but happy by this demonstration of her feelings.
From that day a tender and passionate friendship such as exists only between women was established between Princess Mary and Natasha. They were continually kissing and saying tender things to one another and spent most of their time together. When one went out the other became restless and hastened to rejoin her. Together they felt more in harmony with one another than either of them felt with herself when alone. A feeling stronger than friendship sprang up between them; an exclusive feeling of life being possible only in each other's presence.
Sometimes they were silent for hours; sometimes after they were already in bed they would begin talking and go on till morning. They spoke most of what was long past. Princess Mary spoke of her childhood, of her mother, her father, and her daydreams; and Natasha, who with a passive lack of understanding had formerly turned away from that life of devotion, submission, and the poetry of Christian self-sacrifice, now feeling herself bound to Princess Mary by affection, learned to love her past too and to understand a side of life previously incomprehensible to her. She did not think of applying submission and self-abnegation to her own life, for she was accustomed to seek other joys, but she understood and loved in another those previously incomprehensible virtues. For Princess Mary, listening to Natasha's tales of childhood and early youth, there also opened out a new and hitherto uncomprehended side of life: belief in life and its enjoyment.
Just as before, they never mentioned him so as not to lower (as they thought) their exalted feelings by words; but this silence about him had the effect of making them gradually begin to forget him without being conscious of it.
Natasha had grown thin and pale and physically so weak that they all talked about her health, and this pleased her. But sometimes she was suddenly overcome by fear not only of death but of sickness, weakness, and loss of good looks, and involuntarily she examined her bare arm carefully, surprised at its thinness, and in the morning noticed her drawn and, as it seemed to her, piteous face in her glass. It seemed to her that things must be so, and yet it was dreadfully sad.
One day she went quickly upstairs and found herself out of breath. Unconsciously she immediately invented a reason for going down, and then, testing her strength, ran upstairs again, observing the result.
Another time when she called Dunyasha her voice trembled, so she called again- though she could hear Dunyasha coming- called her in the deep chest tones in which she had been wont to sing, sing, and listened attentively to herself.
She did not know and would not have believed it, but beneath the layer of slime that covered her soul and seemed to her impenetrable, delicate young shoots of grass were already sprouting, which taking root would so cover with their living verdure the grief that weighed her down that it would soon no longer be seen or noticed. The wound had begun to heal from within.
At the end of January Princess Mary left for Moscow, and the count insisted on Natasha's going with her to consult the doctors.
Eric von Hippel
Erik S. Raymond