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War And Peace 502

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War And Peace

pupils progress, but could not abandon the edifice of argument he had laboriously constructed. "Let us understand one another, Countess," said he with a smile, and began refuting his spiritual daughters arguments. CHAPTER VII Helene understood that the question was very simple and easy from the ecclesiastical point of view, and that her directors were making difficulties only because they were apprehensive as to how the matter would be regarded by the secular authorities. So she decided that it was necessary to prepare the opinion of society. She provoked the jealousy of the elderly magnate and told him what she had told her other suitor; that is, she put the matter so that the only way for him to obtain a right over her was to marry her. The elderly magnate was at first as much taken aback by this suggestion of marriage with a woman whose husband was alive, as the younger man had been, but Helenes imperturbable conviction that it was as simple and natural as marrying a maiden had its effect on him too. Had Helene herself shown the least sign of hesitation, shame, or secrecy, her cause would certainly have been lost; but not only did she show no signs of secrecy or shame, on the contrary, with good-natured naivete she told her intimate friends (and these were all Petersburg) that both the prince and the magnate had proposed to her and that she loved both and was afraid of grieving either. A rumor immediately spread in Petersburg, not that Helene wanted to be divorced from her husband (had such a report spread many would have opposed so illegal an intention) but simply that the unfortunate and interesting Helene was in doubt which of the two men she should marry. The question was no longer whether this was possible, but only which was the better match and how the matter would be regarded at court. There were, it is true, some rigid individuals unable to rise to the height of such a question, who saw in the project a desecration of the sacrament of marriage, but there were not many such and they remained silent, while the majority were interested in Helenes good fortune and in the question which match would be the more advantageous. Whether it was right or wrong to remarry while one had a husband living they did not discuss, for that question had evidently been settled by people "wiser than you or me," as they said, and to doubt the correctness of that decision would be to risk exposing ones stupidity and incapacity to live in society. Only Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova, who had come to Petersburg that summer to see one of her sons, allowed herself plainly to express an opinion contrary to the general one. Meeting Helene at a ball she stopped her in the middle of the room and, amid general silence, said in her gruff voice: "So wives of living men have started marrying again! Perhaps you think you have invented a novelty? You have been forestalled, my dear! It was thought of long ago. It is done in all the brothels," and with these words Marya Dmitrievna, turning up her wide sleeves with her usual threatening gesture and glancing sternly round, moved across the room. Though people were afraid of Marya Dmitrievna she was regarded in Petersburg as a buffoon, and so of what she had said they only noticed, and repeated in a whisper, the one coarse word she had used, supposing the whole sting of her remark to lie in that word. Prince Vasili, who of late very often forgot what he had said and repeated one and the same thing a hundred times, remarked to his daughter whenever he chanced to see her: "Helene, I have a word to say to you," and he would lead her aside, drawing her hand downward. "I have heard of certain projects concerning... you know. Well my dear child, you know how your fathers heart rejoices to know that you... You have suffered so much.... But, my dear child, consult only your own heart. That is all I have to say," and concealing his unvarying emotion he would press his cheek against his daughters and move away. Bilibin, who had not lost his reputation of an exceedingly clever man, and who was one of the disinterested friends so brilliant a woman as Helene always has--men friends who can never change into lovers--once gave her his view of the matter at a small and intimate gathering. "Listen, Bilibin," said Helene (she always called friends of that sort by their

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