War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, chapter name CHAPTER XXV


At Bald Hills, Prince Nicholas Andréevich Bolkónski’s estate, the arrival of young Prince
Andrew and his wife was daily expected, but this expectation did not upset the regular
routine of life in the old prince’s household. General in Chief Prince Nicholas Andréevich
(nicknamed in society, “the King of Prussia”) ever since the Emperor Paul had exiled him to
his country estate had lived there continuously with his daughter, Princess Mary, and her
companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne. Though in the new reign he was free to return to the
capitals, he still continued to live in the country, remarking that anyone who wanted to see
him could come the hundred miles from Moscow to Bald Hills, while he himself needed no
one and nothing. He used to say that there are only two sources of human vice—idleness
and superstition, and only two virtues—activity and intelligence. He himself undertook his
daughter’s education, and to develop these two cardinal virtues in her gave her lessons in
algebra and geometry till she was twenty, and arranged her life so that her whole time was
occupied. He was himself always occupied: writing his memoirs, solving problems in higher
mathematics, turning snuffboxes on a lathe, working in the garden, or superintending the
building that was always going on at his estate. As regularity is a prime condition
facilitating activity, regularity in his household was carried to the highest point of
exactitude. He always came to table under precisely the same conditions, and not only at
the same hour but at the same minute. With those about him, from his daughter to his serfs,
the prince was sharp and invariably exacting, so that without being a hardhearted man he
inspired such fear and respect as few hardhearted men would have aroused. Although he
was in retirement and had now no influence in political affairs, every high official
appointed to the province in which the prince’s estate lay considered it his duty to visit him
and waited in the lofty antechamber just as the architect, gardener, or Princess Mary did,
till the prince appeared punctually to the appointed hour. Everyone sitting in this
antechamber experienced the same feeling of respect and even fear when the enormously
high study door opened and showed the figure of a rather small old man, with powdered
wig, small withered hands, and bushy gray eyebrows which, when he frowned, sometimes
hid the gleam of his shrewd, youthfully glittering eyes.
On the morning of the day that the young couple were to arrive, Princess Mary entered
the antechamber as usual at the time appointed for the morning greeting, crossing herself
with trepidation and repeating a silent prayer. Every morning she came in like that, and
every morning prayed that the daily interview might pass off well.
An old powdered manservant who was sitting in the antechamber rose quietly and said
in a whisper: “Please walk in.”
Through the door came the regular hum of a lathe. The princess timidly opened the door
which moved noiselessly and easily. She paused at the entrance. The prince was working at
the lathe and after glancing round continued his work.
The enormous study was full of things evidently in constant use. The large table covered
with books and plans, the tall glass-fronted bookcases with keys in the locks, the high desk
for writing while standing up, on which lay an open exercise book, and the lathe with tools

laid ready to hand and shavings scattered around—all indicated continuous, varied, and
orderly activity. The motion of the small foot shod in a Tartar boot embroidered with silver,
and the firm pressure of the lean sinewy hand, showed that the prince still possessed the
tenacious endurance and vigor of hardy old age. After a few more turns of the lathe he
removed his foot from the pedal, wiped his chisel, dropped it into a leather pouch attached
to the lathe, and, approaching the table, summoned his daughter. He never gave his
children a blessing, so he simply held out his bristly cheek (as yet unshaven) and, regarding
her tenderly and attentively, said severely:
“Quite well? All right then, sit down.” He took the exercise book containing lessons in
geometry written by himself and drew up a chair with his foot.
“For tomorrow!” said he, quickly finding the page and making a scratch from one
paragraph to another with his hard nail.
The princess bent over the exercise book on the table.
“Wait a bit, here’s a letter for you,” said the old man suddenly, taking a letter addressed
in a woman’s hand from a bag hanging above the table, onto which he threw it.
At the sight of the letter red patches showed themselves on the princess’ face. She took it
quickly and bent her head over it.
“From Héloïse?” asked the prince with a cold smile that showed his still sound, yellowish
“Yes, it’s from Julie,” replied the princess with a timid glance and a timid smile.
“I’ll let two more letters pass, but the third I’ll read,” said the prince sternly; “I’m afraid
you write much nonsense. I’ll read the third!”
“Read this if you like, Father,” said the princess, blushing still more and holding out the
“The third, I said the third!” cried the prince abruptly, pushing the letter away, and
leaning his elbows on the table he drew toward him the exercise book containing
geometrical figures.
“Well, madam,” he began, stooping over the book close to his daughter and placing an
arm on the back of the chair on which she sat, so that she felt herself surrounded on all
sides by the acrid scent of old age and tobacco, which she had known so long. “Now,
madam, these triangles are equal; please note that the angle ABC...”
The princess looked in a scared way at her father’s eyes glittering close to her; the red
patches on her face came and went, and it was plain that she understood nothing and was
so frightened that her fear would prevent her understanding any of her father’s further
explanations, however clear they might be. Whether it was the teacher’s fault or the pupil’s,
this same thing happened every day: the princess’ eyes grew dim, she could not see and
could not hear anything, but was only conscious of her stern father’s withered face close to
her, of his breath and the smell of him, and could think only of how to get away quickly to
her own room to make out the problem in peace. The old man was beside himself: moved
the chair on which he was sitting noisily backward and forward, made efforts to control
himself and not become vehement, but almost always did become vehement, scolded, and
sometimes flung the exercise book away.

The princess gave a wrong answer.
“Well now, isn’t she a fool!” shouted the prince, pushing the book aside and turning
sharply away; but rising immediately, he paced up and down, lightly touched his daughter’s
hair and sat down again.
He drew up his chair, and continued to explain.
“This won’t do, Princess; it won’t do,” said he, when Princess Mary, having taken and
closed the exercise book with the next day’s lesson, was about to leave: “Mathematics are
most important, madam! I don’t want to have you like our silly ladies. Get used to it and
you’ll like it,” and he patted her cheek. “It will drive all the nonsense out of your head.”
She turned to go, but he stopped her with a gesture and took an uncut book from the
high desk.
“Here is some sort of Key to the Mysteries that your Héloïse has sent you. Religious! I
don’t interfere with anyone’s belief... I have looked at it. Take it. Well, now go. Go.”
He patted her on the shoulder and himself closed the door after her.
Princess Mary went back to her room with the sad, scared expression that rarely left her
and which made her plain, sickly face yet plainer. She sat down at her writing table, on
which stood miniature portraits and which was littered with books and papers. The
princess was as untidy as her father was tidy. She put down the geometry book and eagerly
broke the seal of her letter. It was from her most intimate friend from childhood; that same
Julie Karágina who had been at the Rostóvs’ name-day party.
Julie wrote in French:
Dear and precious Friend, How terrible and frightful a thing is separation! Though I tell
myself that half my life and half my happiness are wrapped up in you, and that in spite of
the distance separating us our hearts are united by indissoluble bonds, my heart rebels
against fate and in spite of the pleasures and distractions around me I cannot overcome a
certain secret sorrow that has been in my heart ever since we parted. Why are we not
together as we were last summer, in your big study, on the blue sofa, the confidential sofa?
Why cannot I now, as three months ago, draw fresh moral strength from your look, so
gentle, calm, and penetrating, a look I loved so well and seem to see before me as I write?
Having read thus far, Princess Mary sighed and glanced into the mirror which stood on
her right. It reflected a weak, ungraceful figure and thin face. Her eyes, always sad, now
looked with particular hopelessness at her reflection in the glass. “She flatters me,” thought
the princess, turning away and continuing to read. But Julie did not flatter her friend, the
princess’ eyes—large, deep and luminous (it seemed as if at times there radiated from them
shafts of warm light)—were so beautiful that very often in spite of the plainness of her face
they gave her an attraction more powerful than that of beauty. But the princess never saw
the beautiful expression of her own eyes—the look they had when she was not thinking of
herself. As with everyone, her face assumed a forced unnatural expression as soon as she
looked in a glass. She went on reading:
All Moscow talks of nothing but war. One of my two brothers is already abroad, the other
is with the Guards, who are starting on their march to the frontier. Our dear Emperor has
left Petersburg and it is thought intends to expose his precious person to the chances of

war. God grant that the Corsican monster who is destroying the peace of Europe may be
overthrown by the angel whom it has pleased the Almighty, in His goodness, to give us as
sovereign! To say nothing of my brothers, this war has deprived me of one of the
associations nearest my heart. I mean young Nicholas Rostóv, who with his enthusiasm
could not bear to remain inactive and has left the university to join the army. I will confess
to you, dear Mary, that in spite of his extreme youth his departure for the army was a great
grief to me. This young man, of whom I spoke to you last summer, is so noble-minded and
full of that real youthfulness which one seldom finds nowadays among our old men of
twenty and, particularly, he is so frank and has so much heart. He is so pure and poetic that
my relations with him, transient as they were, have been one of the sweetest comforts to
my poor heart, which has already suffered so much. Someday I will tell you about our
parting and all that was said then. That is still too fresh. Ah, dear friend, you are happy not
to know these poignant joys and sorrows. You are fortunate, for the latter are generally the
stronger! I know very well that Count Nicholas is too young ever to be more to me than a
friend, but this sweet friendship, this poetic and pure intimacy, were what my heart
needed. But enough of this! The chief news, about which all Moscow gossips, is the death of
old Count Bezúkhov, and his inheritance. Fancy! The three princesses have received very
little, Prince Vasíli nothing, and it is Monsieur Pierre who has inherited all the property and
has besides been recognized as legitimate; so that he is now Count Bezúkhov and possessor
of the finest fortune in Russia. It is rumored that Prince Vasíli played a very despicable part
in this affair and that he returned to Petersburg quite crestfallen.
I confess I understand very little about all these matters of wills and inheritance; but I do
know that since this young man, whom we all used to know as plain Monsieur Pierre, has
become Count Bezúkhov and the owner of one of the largest fortunes in Russia, I am much
amused to watch the change in the tone and manners of the mammas burdened by
marriageable daughters, and of the young ladies themselves, toward him, though, between
you and me, he always seemed to me a poor sort of fellow. As for the past two years people
have amused themselves by finding husbands for me (most of whom I don’t even know),
the matchmaking chronicles of Moscow now speak of me as the future Countess
Bezúkhova. But you will understand that I have no desire for the post. À propos of
marriages: do you know that a while ago that universal auntie Anna Mikháylovna told me,
under the seal of strict secrecy, of a plan of marriage for you. It is neither more nor less
than with Prince Vasíli’s son Anatole, whom they wish to reform by marrying him to
someone rich and distinguée, and it is on you that his relations’ choice has fallen. I don’t
know what you will think of it, but I consider it my duty to let you know of it. He is said to
be very handsome and a terrible scapegrace. That is all I have been able to find out about
But enough of gossip. I am at the end of my second sheet of paper, and Mamma has sent
for me to go and dine at the Apráksins’. Read the mystical book I am sending you; it has an
enormous success here. Though there are things in it difficult for the feeble human mind to
grasp, it is an admirable book which calms and elevates the soul. Adieu! Give my respects to
monsieur your father and my compliments to Mademoiselle Bourienne. I embrace you as I
love you.

P.S. Let me have news of your brother and his charming little wife.
The princess pondered awhile with a thoughtful smile and her luminous eyes lit up so
that her face was entirely transformed. Then she suddenly rose and with her heavy tread
went up to the table. She took a sheet of paper and her hand moved rapidly over it. This is
the reply she wrote, also in French:
Dear and precious Friend, Your letter of the 13th has given me great delight. So you still
love me, my romantic Julie? Separation, of which you say so much that is bad, does not
seem to have had its usual effect on you. You complain of our separation. What then should
I say, if I dared complain, I who am deprived of all who are dear to me? Ah, if we had not
religion to console us life would be very sad. Why do you suppose that I should look
severely on your affection for that young man? On such matters I am only severe with
myself. I understand such feelings in others, and if never having felt them I cannot approve
of them, neither do I condemn them. Only it seems to me that Christian love, love of one’s
neighbor, love of one’s enemy, is worthier, sweeter, and better than the feelings which the
beautiful eyes of a young man can inspire in a romantic and loving young girl like yourself.
The news of Count Bezúkhov’s death reached us before your letter and my father was
much affected by it. He says the count was the last representative but one of the great
century, and that it is his own turn now, but that he will do all he can to let his turn come as
late as possible. God preserve us from that terrible misfortune!
I cannot agree with you about Pierre, whom I knew as a child. He always seemed to me to
have an excellent heart, and that is the quality I value most in people. As to his inheritance
and the part played by Prince Vasíli, it is very sad for both. Ah, my dear friend, our divine
Saviour’s words, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich
man to enter the Kingdom of God, are terribly true. I pity Prince Vasíli but am still more
sorry for Pierre. So young, and burdened with such riches—to what temptations he will be
exposed! If I were asked what I desire most on earth, it would be to be poorer than the
poorest beggar. A thousand thanks, dear friend, for the volume you have sent me and which
has such success in Moscow. Yet since you tell me that among some good things it contains
others which our weak human understanding cannot grasp, it seems to me rather useless
to spend time in reading what is unintelligible and can therefore bear no fruit. I never could
understand the fondness some people have for confusing their minds by dwelling on
mystical books that merely awaken their doubts and excite their imagination, giving them a
bent for exaggeration quite contrary to Christian simplicity. Let us rather read the Epistles
and Gospels. Let us not seek to penetrate what mysteries they contain; for how can we,
miserable sinners that we are, know the terrible and holy secrets of Providence while we
remain in this flesh which forms an impenetrable veil between us and the Eternal? Let us
rather confine ourselves to studying those sublime rules which our divine Saviour has left
for our guidance here below. Let us try to conform to them and follow them, and let us be
persuaded that the less we let our feeble human minds roam, the better we shall please
God, who rejects all knowledge that does not come from Him; and the less we seek to
fathom what He has been pleased to conceal from us, the sooner will He vouchsafe its
revelation to us through His divine Spirit.

My father has not spoken to me of a suitor, but has only told me that he has received a
letter and is expecting a visit from Prince Vasíli. In regard to this project of marriage for me,
I will tell you, dear sweet friend, that I look on marriage as a divine institution to which we
must conform. However painful it may be to me, should the Almighty lay the duties of wife
and mother upon me I shall try to perform them as faithfully as I can, without disquieting
myself by examining my feelings toward him whom He may give me for husband.
I have had a letter from my brother, who announces his speedy arrival at Bald Hills with
his wife. This pleasure will be but a brief one, however, for he will leave us again to take
part in this unhappy war into which we have been drawn, God knows how or why. Not only
where you are—at the heart of affairs and of the world—is the talk all of war, even here
amid fieldwork and the calm of nature—which townsfolk consider characteristic of the
country—rumors of war are heard and painfully felt. My father talks of nothing but
marches and countermarches, things of which I understand nothing; and the day before
yesterday during my daily walk through the village I witnessed a heartrending scene.... It
was a convoy of conscripts enrolled from our people and starting to join the army. You
should have seen the state of the mothers, wives, and children of the men who were going
and should have heard the sobs. It seems as though mankind has forgotten the laws of its
divine Saviour, Who preached love and forgiveness of injuries—and that men attribute the
greatest merit to skill in killing one another.
Adieu, dear and kind friend; may our divine Saviour and His most Holy Mother keep you
in their holy and all-powerful care!
“Ah, you are sending off a letter, Princess? I have already dispatched mine. I have written
to my poor mother,” said the smiling Mademoiselle Bourienne rapidly, in her pleasant
mellow tones and with guttural r’s. She brought into Princess Mary’s strenuous, mournful,
and gloomy world a quite different atmosphere, careless, lighthearted, and self-satisfied.
“Princess, I must warn you,” she added, lowering her voice and evidently listening to
herself with pleasure, and speaking with exaggerated grasseyement, “the prince has been
scolding Michael Ivánovich. He is in a very bad humor, very morose. Be prepared.”
“Ah, dear friend,” replied Princess Mary, “I have asked you never to warn me of the
humor my father is in. I do not allow myself to judge him and would not have others do so.”
The princess glanced at her watch and, seeing that she was five minutes late in starting
her practice on the clavichord, went into the sitting room with a look of alarm. Between
twelve and two o’clock, as the day was mapped out, the prince rested and the princess
played the clavichord.