Once, when I went to her room, she appeared to be sitting quietly in her chair, yet with an air which struck me as curious. Though her eyes were wide open, their glance was vacant and meaningless, and she seemed to gaze in my direction without seeing me. Suddenly her lips parted slowly in a smile, and she said in a touchingly, tender voice: "Come here, then, my dearest one; come here, my angel." Thinking that it was myself she was addressing, I moved towards her, but it was not I whom she was beholding at that moment. "Oh, my love," she went on. "if only you could know how distracted I have been, and how delighted I am to see you once more!" I understood then that she believed herself to be looking upon Mamma, and halted where I was. "They told me you were gone," she concluded with a frown; "but what nonsense! As if you could die before ME!" and she laughed a terrible, hysterical laugh.
Only those who can love strongly can experience an overwhelming grief. Yet their very need of loving sometimes serves to throw off their grief from them and to save them. The moral nature of man is more tenacious of life than the physical, and grief never kills.
After a time Grandmamma's power of weeping came back to her, and she began to recover. Her first thought when her reason returned was for us children, and her love for us was greater than ever. We never left her arm-chair, and she would talk of Mamma, and weep softly, and caress us.
Nobody who saw her grief could say that it was consciously exaggerated, for its expression was too strong and touching; yet for some reason or another my sympathy went out more to Natalia Savishna, and to this day I am convinced that nobody loved and regretted Mamma so purely and sincerely as did that simple- hearted, affectionate being.
With Mamma's death the happy time of my childhood came to an end, and a new epoch--the epoch of my boyhood--began; but since my memories of Natalia Savishna (who exercised such a strong and beneficial influence upon the bent of my mind and the development of my sensibility) belong rather to the first period, I will add a few words about her and her death before closing this portion of my life.
I heard later from people in the village that, after our return to Moscow, she found time hang very heavy on her hands. Although the drawers and shelves were still under her charge, and she never ceased to arrange and rearrange them--to take things out and to dispose of them afresh--she sadly missed the din and bustle of the seignorial mansion to which she had been accustomed from her childhood up. Consequently grief, the alteration in her mode of life, and her lack of activity soon combined to develop in her a malady to which she had always been more or less subject.
Scarcely more than a year after Mamma's death dropsy showed itself, and she took to her bed. I can imagine how sad it must have been for her to go on living--still more, to die--alone in that great empty house at Petrovskoe, with no relations or any one near her. Every one there esteemed and loved her, but she had formed no intimate friendships in the place, and was rather proud of the fact. That was because, enjoying her master's confidence as she did, and having so much property under her care, she considered that intimacies would lead to culpable indulgence and condescension, Consequently (and perhaps, also, because she had nothing really in common with the other servants) she kept them all at a distance, and used to say that she "recognised neither kinsman nor godfather in the house, and would permit of no exceptions with regard to her master's property."
Instead, she sought and found consolation in fervent prayers to God. Yet sometimes, in those moments of weakness to which all of us are subject, and when man's best solace is the tears and compassion of his fellow-creatures, she would take her old dog Moska on to her bed, and talk to it, and weep softly over it as it answered her caresses by licking her hands, with its yellow eyes fixed upon her. When Moska began to whine she would say as she quieted it: "Enough, enough! I know without thy telling me that my time is near." A month before her death she took out of her chest of drawers some fine white calico, white cambric, and pink ribbon, and, with the help of the maidservants, fashioned the garments in which she wished to be buried. Next she put everything on her shelves in order and handed the bailiff an inventory which she had made out with scrupulous accuracy. All that she kept back was a couple of silk gowns, an old shawl, and Grandpapa's military uniform--things which had been presented to her absolutely, and which, thanks to her care and orderliness, were in an excellent state of preservation--particularly the handsome gold embroidery on the uniform.