September 10, 1812
I know you don't want to hear from me. You were very clear at our last meeting. I was not to see you, I was not to speak to you, I was not to write to you. I understood that. But he asked me to, and you know I've never been able to deny him anything, not even when I should.
Your brother and I fought beside one another at the Battle of Borodino. You're a smart woman, Hélène. You already know how this letter's going to end.
He fought like a hero. I know you won't believe me. You knew him as well as I did, better even, so you know full well Anatole didn't have the makings of a hero. Unless it's heroic to proclaim undying love to seven women and four men in a weekend, in which case Anatole was the Achilles of the nineteenth century. But war does strange things to men. It turns them into monsters we don't recognize, or heroes we recognize even less. Anatole was a hero. Really.
He saved my life. I know this will only make you hate me more. He shielded me from a French shell that would've blown me to pieces if it hit. I didn't ask him to. I would never have asked him. Some nights I hate him for doing it. For making me wake up every morning knowing the shell that struck your brother, that struck the man I loved, was meant for me.
Honestly, Hélène, I'd rather die than have to know that.
Tolya never thought about consequences. Say the word "consequences" around him and he'd look at you, head tilted to the side, like you'd started speaking Chinese. I don't think he understood what his sacrifice would mean for me, or for you. I wouldn't have expected him to think that far ahead. His brain told him what to do, and his body did it, and the rest of us have to pick up the pieces. Always have. You and I, Hélène, we're always the ones left to deal with what happens next.
I'll tell you what happened, but you don't need to read it if you don't want to. You can put this letter in a drawer and never look at the rest of it, never find out, and I won't judge you. But I respect you, Hélène. I respect you enough to give you the choice. To know or not to know. A choice I wish someone gave me.
When Anatole took the shell meant for me, a piece of shrapnel the size of my forearm tore through his leg. It lodged two inches into the bone, severed a main artery, and leached lead into his blood, which was already infected with tetanus. At least, that's what the field surgeon told me, and I believe him.
They amputated the leg. They had no opium left to give him for the pain. The surgeon gave him a leather strap to bite down on and took the leg off then and there. I wish I could tell you he lost consciousness before the surgeon finished. I wish I could tell you that. But I don't think I'll ever forget the way he screamed.
I stayed with him. I didn't let go of his hand. He was never alone, Hélène. I made sure of that.
They amputated the leg, but it was too late. The lead had already poisoned his blood. He was unconscious at the end. I don't think he felt anything. The last few hours, he didn't look like he was in pain.
Anatole died the day after the battle, in the field hospital at Borodino.
I fought to have his body sent home to Petersburg, but I couldn't. Too many dead. Thousands. Tens of thousands. They were burying generals in pits along with the rest. I've sent word to your father, telling him what happened, though Anatole never asked me to do that, and he'd probably yell at me if he were here to know I'd done it.
My grief is different from yours, I know that. You were two halves of the same person. I can't imagine what you feel. But I know my own grief. It seems impossible that I won't see him again. That he won't walk into the middle of an opera or a ball or a whorehouse or a battlefield with that stupid swagger and that arrogant smile, as if he's better than all of us, because only idiots show up where they're supposed to be at the time they're supposed to be there. It seems impossible that I won't hear him say my name again. See him smile. Listen to him tease me. Hear him spout off six different reckless ideas in a breath, all of them half in French, and then see him wrinkle his nose at me when I explain why they're stupid ideas, and then kiss the pout off his lips, and—God, Hélène, a thousand things, a hundred thousand things now that he's gone.
Did he love me, Hélène? If anyone would know, you would. Tell me, if you do. I know he cared for me. I know he died for me. But neither of those are really the same thing.
I won't write to you again. I know you'd rather I didn't. I'll be stationed near Moscow for the time being, though I doubt that post will last long. The war keeps turning, even if the world has stopped.
He died so I could keep fighting. He didn't give a damn about the war, and I know that, but he died so I could fight. So I could protect you, and protect everything he loved about this cruel and stupid life. So I'll do it. I don't know what happens after the war. I don't know what I'll do then without him. Maybe the French will take care of that for me, maybe I won't live that long and I won't have to decide. But for now, I fight.
I loved Anatole, Hélène. Whatever you might think. I wanted you to know that.
P.S. Please find a way to deliver the enclosed note to Natasha. I promised him I'd send it, but I don't know her address, now that Marya Dmitrievna no longer lives in Nikitsky Boulevard. But I assume you know where Natasha lives now. If you don't, your husband does.
September 10, 1812
Countess Natalya Rostova,
I doubt you remember me. We were briefly introduced at a performance of Le Nozze di Figaro last winter, but I can't imagine I made much of an impression that night, given the competition I faced for your attention. Captain Dolokhov, seventy-first infantry regiment. I was a friend of Anatole Kuragin. I know that likely doesn't endear me to you. I apologize for writing to you this way, but it can't be helped.
Anatole died at the Battle of Borodino on September 8, of injuries sustained in battle. He died a hero's death. This may surprise you. It surprised me. It's no less true for the surprise.
I was with him when he died. He asked me to write to you. At first, he didn't tell me what to say. When I pressed him—I didn't want to compose a message like that myself, Countess—he said this:
"Tell Natalie I love her. I would have loved her forever. I would. Tell her, and make her believe it."
Countess, please believe me when I say I wish I didn't have to write to you with this news. I know your acquaintance with Anatole was painful. So was mine—in its way. I hate to remind you of it.
But I promised him I'd tell you. I'm a soldier, which means I'm cruel in many ways. I've never been cruel enough to deny Anatole Kuragin anything.
I loved him, and should have told him so every day I knew him.
He deserved better from us, Countess, and we deserved better from him.
— Captain Fyodor Ivanovich Dolokhov
The letters, sent by military courier, arrived in Moscow the following morning.
Hélène didn't need to break the seal to know what was inside. When she saw the courier in his filthy uniform and Dolokhov's familiar scrawled handwriting on the outside of the letter, she knew. She knew on sight.
Startled by the sound, Pierre rushed downstairs from his study. He stared, eyes wide, still in his dressing gown. He tried to take Hélène in his arms, to comfort her as best he could. She shoved him aside and sank to the floor.
Screaming, still screaming, as though she would never stop.
She felt nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing, not at first. It wasn't possible. Not Anatole. Not her brother. Her brother was life, he didn't know how to do anything else but be alive, more alive than anyone else, too alive for his own good. Anatole dead was not-Anatole, and not-Anatole was no one.
"Hélène," Pierre murmured, and sat down beside her on the floor.
The door was still open, though the messenger had left. A rush of cold air swept through the entry hall of the Bezukhovs' home. Pierre shivered. Hélène barely seemed to notice.
"Hélène, what's happened?" Pierre asked.
Hélène opened her mouth to speak, but the scream had taken the rest of her words. Without thinking, she flung her arms around Pierre—this man she hated, the closest person at hand—and sobbed into his shoulder.
She felt him stiffen in surprise at first, but only for a moment. Then he held her, not understanding her grief, not knowing the cause. Trying his best. Coming nowhere close to good enough.
"It's all right," Pierre said, still holding her close. "I'm sorry…"
"It isn't," she said, finding her voice through the tears. The words were muffled into his shoulder. "It isn't all right, and you aren't sorry. You'd have done it yourself."
"I'd have done what?"
She pushed him aside, as if realizing what she'd done, and shoved the longer letter into his hand. Pierre nudged his spectacles down his nose, squinting at the words. Hélène saw in his eyes the moment he knew. She watched, for his reaction. Satisfaction, or horror, or a faint whispering pride.
What she saw in her husband's eyes was shame.
She hated that shame more than anything else.
"Dolokhov," Pierre said under his breath. "They were…"
"That's what matters to you?" Hélène said. She stood up, snatching the letter out of Pierre's grasp. He stared at her, wide-eyed like a startled animal. She wanted to howl. She wanted to spit in his face. "Toto is dead, Pierre. He's dead, my brother is dead, he's—"
She was repeating herself. She couldn't stop. The words meant nothing. They dug claws into her, whispering for her to believe, but she couldn't, they weren't—
"Hélène," Pierre said, and stood, as if to embrace her again.
Hélène turned her back on Pierre and left the room.
She shut herself in the bedroom, locked the door, and did not emerge for three days. Pierre, quiet and cautious, slept badly on the sofa.
When she re-entered the house, Hélène sent a messenger to the army outpost outside the city, demanding that Dolokhov come to Moscow. She had to speak with him, she had to hear it from his own mouth before she would believe it. It would hurt him, that conversation. She remembered the look in Fedya's eyes when he'd learned of the intended elopement. She hadn't thought he'd survive news like that, let alone—let alone news like this.
The messenger set off that morning.
He was back by night, alone.
Captain Dolokhov's regiment had already decamped from the outpost, he said. All of them had. No one could tell him where. Nothing remained of the outpost but a wreck of stirred-up mud and the smoking corpses of campfires.
Beyond the camp, the messenger said to Hélène, he had seen the blur of torchlight and gleaming cannons lighting the horizon. The French army marched on Moscow.