Several wounded men passed along the road, and words of abuse, screams, and groans mingled in a general hubbub, then the firing died down. Rostóv learned later that Russian and Austrian soldiers had been firing at one another.
“My God! What does it all mean?” thought he. “And here, where at any moment the Emperor may see them.... But no, these must be only a handful of scoundrels. It will soon be over, it can’t be that, it can’t be! Only to get past them quicker, quicker!”
The idea of defeat and flight could not enter Rostóv’s head. Though he saw French cannon and French troops on the Pratzen Heights just where he had been ordered to look for the commander in chief, he could not, did not wish to, believe that.
Rostóv had been ordered to look for Kutúzov and the Emperor near the village of Pratzen. But neither they nor a single commanding officer were there, only disorganized crowds of troops of various kinds. He urged on his already weary horse to get quickly past these crowds, but the farther he went the more disorganized they were. The highroad on which he had come out was thronged with calèches, carriages of all sorts, and Russian and Austrian soldiers of all arms, some wounded and some not. This whole mass droned and jostled in confusion under the dismal influence of cannon balls flying from the French batteries stationed on the Pratzen Heights.
“Where is the Emperor? Where is Kutúzov?” Rostóv kept asking everyone he could stop, but got no answer from anyone.
At last seizing a soldier by his collar he forced him to answer.
“Eh, brother! They’ve all bolted long ago!” said the soldier, laughing for some reason and shaking himself free.
Having left that soldier who was evidently drunk, Rostóv stopped the horse of a batman or groom of some important personage and began to question him. The man announced that the Tsar had been driven in a carriage at full speed about an hour before along that very road and that he was dangerously wounded.
“It can’t be!” said Rostóv. “It must have been someone else.”
“I saw him myself,” replied the man with a self-confident smile of derision. “I ought to know the Emperor by now, after the times I’ve seen him in Petersburg. I saw him just as I see you.... There he sat in the carriage as pale as anything. How they made the four black horses fly! Gracious me, they did rattle past! It’s time I knew the Imperial horses and Ilyá Iványch. I don’t think Ilyá drives anyone except the Tsar!”
Rostóv let go of the horse and was about to ride on, when a wounded officer passing by addressed him:
“Who is it you want?” he asked. “The commander in chief? He was killed by a cannon ball—struck in the breast before our regiment.”
“Not killed—wounded!” another officer corrected him.
“Who? Kutúzov?” asked Rostóv.
“Not Kutúzov, but what’s his name—well, never mind... there are not many left alive. Go that way, to that village, all the commanders are there,” said the officer, pointing to the village of Hosjeradek, and he walked on.
Rostóv rode on at a footpace not knowing why or to whom he was now going. The Emperor was wounded, the battle lost. It was impossible to doubt it now. Rostóv rode in the direction pointed out to him, in which he saw turrets and a church. What need to hurry? What was he now to say to the Tsar or to Kutúzov, even if they were alive and unwounded?
“Take this road, your honor, that way you will be killed at once!” a soldier shouted to him. “They’d kill you there!”
“Oh, what are you talking about?” said another. “Where is he to go? That way is nearer.”
Rostóv considered, and then went in the direction where they said he would be killed.
“It’s all the same now. If the Emperor is wounded, am I to try to save myself?” he thought. He rode on to the region where the greatest number of men had perished in fleeing from Pratzen. The French had not yet occupied that region, and the Russians—the uninjured and slightly wounded—had left it long ago. All about the field, like heaps of manure on well-kept plowland, lay from ten to fifteen dead and wounded to each couple of acres. The wounded crept together in twos and threes and one could hear their distressing screams and groans, sometimes feigned—or so it seemed to Rostóv. He put his horse to a trot to avoid seeing all these suffering men, and he felt afraid—afraid not for his life, but for the courage he needed and which he knew would not stand the sight of these unfortunates.
The French, who had ceased firing at this field strewn with dead and wounded where there was no one left to fire at, on seeing an adjutant riding over it trained a gun on him and fired several shots. The sensation of those terrible whistling sounds and of the corpses around him merged in Rostóv’s mind into a single feeling of terror and pity for himself. He remembered his mother’s last letter. “What would she feel,” thought he, “if she saw me here now on this field with the cannon aimed at me?”
In the village of Hosjeradek there were Russian troops retiring from the field of battle, who though still in some confusion were less disordered. The French cannon did not reach there and the musketry fire sounded far away. Here everyone clearly saw and said that the battle was lost. No one whom Rostóv asked could tell him where the Emperor or Kutúzov was. Some said the report that the Emperor was wounded was correct, others that it was not, and explained the false rumor that had spread by the fact that the Emperor’s carriage had really galloped from the field of battle with the pale and terrified Ober-Hofmarschal Count Tolstóy, who had ridden out to the battlefield with others in the Emperor’s suite. One officer told Rostóv that he had seen someone from headquarters behind the village to the left, and thither Rostóv rode, not hoping to find anyone but merely to ease his conscience. When he had ridden about two miles and had passed the last of the Russian troops, he saw, near a kitchen garden with a ditch round it, two men on horseback facing the ditch. One with a white plume in his hat seemed familiar to Rostóv; the other on a beautiful chestnut horse (which Rostóv fancied he had seen before) rode up to the ditch, struck his horse with his spurs, and giving it the rein leaped lightly over. Only a little earth crumbled from the bank under the horse’s hind hoofs. Turning the horse sharply, he again jumped the ditch, and deferentially addressed the horseman with the white plumes, evidently suggesting that he should do the same. The rider, whose figure seemed familiar to Rostóv and involuntarily riveted his attention, made a gesture of refusal with his head and hand and by that gesture Rostóv instantly recognized his lamented and adored monarch.
“But it can’t be he, alone in the midst of this empty field!” thought Rostóv. At that moment Alexander turned his head and Rostóv saw the beloved features that were so deeply engraved on his memory. The Emperor was pale, his cheeks sunken and his eyes hollow, but the charm, the mildness of his features, was all the greater. Rostóv was happy in the assurance that the rumors about the Emperor being wounded were false. He was happy to be seeing him. He knew that he might and even ought to go straight to him and give the message Dolgorúkov had ordered him to deliver.
But as a youth in love trembles, is unnerved, and dares not utter the thoughts he has dreamed of for nights, but looks around for help or a chance of delay and flight when the longed-for moment comes and he is alone with her, so Rostóv, now that he had attained what he had longed for more than anything else in the world, did not know how to approach the Emperor, and a thousand reasons occurred to him why it would be inconvenient, unseemly, and impossible to do so.
“What! It is as if I were glad of a chance to take advantage of his being alone and despondent! A strange face may seem unpleasant or painful to him at this moment of sorrow; besides, what can I say to him now, when my heart fails me and my mouth feels dry at the mere sight of him?” Not one of the innumerable speeches addressed to the Emperor that he had composed in his imagination could he now recall. Those speeches were intended for quite other conditions, they were for the most part to be spoken at a moment of victory and triumph, generally when he was dying of wounds and the sovereign had thanked him for heroic deeds, and while dying he expressed the love his actions had proved.
“Besides how can I ask the Emperor for his instructions for the right flank now that it is nearly four o’clock and the battle is lost? No, certainly I must not approach him, I must not intrude on his reflections. Better die a thousand times than risk receiving an unkind look or bad opinion from him,” Rostóv decided; and sorrowfully and with a heart full despair he rode away, continually looking back at the Tsar, who still remained in the same attitude of indecision.
While Rostóv was thus arguing with himself and riding sadly away, Captain von Toll chanced to ride to the same spot, and seeing the Emperor at once rode up to him, offered his services, and assisted him to cross the ditch on foot. The Emperor, wishing to rest and feeling unwell, sat down under an apple tree and von Toll remained beside him. Rostóv from a distance saw with envy and remorse how von Toll spoke long and warmly to the Emperor and how the Emperor, evidently weeping, covered his eyes with his hand and pressed von Toll’s hand.
“And I might have been in his place!” thought Rostóv, and hardly restraining his tears of pity for the Emperor, he rode on in utter despair, not knowing where to or why he was now riding.
His despair was all the greater from feeling that his own weakness was the cause of his grief.
He might... not only might but should, have gone up to the sovereign. It was a unique chance to show his devotion to the Emperor and he had not made use of it.... “What have I done?” thought he. And he turned round and galloped back to the place where he had seen the Emperor, but there was no one beyond the ditch now. Only some carts and carriages were passing by. From one of the drivers he learned that Kutúzov’s staff were not far off, in the village the vehicles were going to. Rostóv followed them. In front of him walked Kutúzov’s groom leading horses in horsecloths. Then came a cart, and behind that walked an old, bandy-legged domestic serf in a peaked cap and sheepskin coat.
“Tit! I say, Tit!” said the groom.
“What?” answered the old man absent-mindedly.
“Go, Tit! Thresh a bit!”
“Oh, you fool!” said the old man, spitting angrily. Some time passed in silence, and then the same joke was repeated.
Before five in the evening the battle had been lost at all points. More than a hundred cannon were already in the hands of the French.
Przebyszéwski and his corps had laid down their arms. Other columns after losing half their men were retreating in disorderly confused masses.
The remains of Langeron’s and Dokhtúrov’s mingled forces were crowding around the dams and banks of the ponds near the village of Augesd.
After five o’clock it was only at the Augesd Dam that a hot cannonade (delivered by the French alone) was still to be heard from numerous batteries ranged on the slopes of the Pratzen Heights, directed at our retreating forces.
In the rearguard, Dokhtúrov and others rallying some battalions kept up a musketry fire at the French cavalry that was pursuing our troops. It was growing dusk. On the narrow Augesd Dam where for so many years the old miller had been accustomed to sit in his tasseled cap peacefully angling, while his grandson, with shirt sleeves rolled up, handled the floundering silvery fish in the watering can, on that dam over which for so many years Moravians in shaggy caps and blue jackets had peacefully driven their two-horse carts loaded with wheat and had returned dusty with flour whitening their carts—on that narrow dam amid the wagons and the cannon, under the horses’ hoofs and between the wagon wheels, men disfigured by fear of death now crowded together, crushing one another, dying, stepping over the dying and killing one another, only to move on a few steps and be killed themselves in the same way.
Every ten seconds a cannon ball flew compressing the air around, or a shell burst in the midst of that dense throng, killing some and splashing with blood those near them.
Dólokhov—now an officer—wounded in the arm, and on foot, with the regimental commander on horseback and some ten men of his company, represented all that was left of that whole regiment. Impelled by the crowd, they had got wedged in at the approach to the dam and, jammed in on all sides, had stopped because a horse in front had fallen under a cannon and the crowd were dragging it out. A cannon ball killed someone behind them, another fell in front and splashed Dólokhov with blood. The crowd, pushing forward desperately, squeezed together, moved a few steps, and again stopped.
“Move on a hundred yards and we are certainly saved, remain here another two minutes and it is certain death,” thought each one.
Dólokhov who was in the midst of the crowd forced his way to the edge of the dam, throwing two soldiers off their feet, and ran onto the slippery ice that covered the millpool.
“Turn this way!” he shouted, jumping over the ice which creaked under him; “turn this way!” he shouted to those with the gun. “It bears!...”
The ice bore him but it swayed and creaked, and it was plain that it would give way not only under a cannon or a crowd, but very soon even under his weight alone. The men looked at him and pressed to the bank, hesitating to step onto the ice. The general on horseback at the entrance to the dam raised his hand and opened his mouth to address Dólokhov. Suddenly a cannon ball hissed so low above the crowd that everyone ducked. It flopped into something moist, and the general fell from his horse in a pool of blood. Nobody gave him a look or thought of raising him.
“Get onto the ice, over the ice! Go on! Turn! Don’t you hear? Go on!” innumerable voices suddenly shouted after the ball had struck the general, the men themselves not knowing what, or why, they were shouting.
One of the hindmost guns that was going onto the dam turned off onto the ice. Crowds of soldiers from the dam began running onto the frozen pond. The ice gave way under one of the foremost soldiers, and one leg slipped into the water. He tried to right himself but fell in up to his waist. The nearest soldiers shrank back, the gun driver stopped his horse, but from behind still came the shouts: “Onto the ice, why do you stop? Go on! Go on!” And cries of horror were heard in the crowd. The soldiers near the gun waved their arms and beat the horses to make them turn and move on. The horses moved off the bank. The ice, that had held under those on foot, collapsed in a great mass, and some forty men who were on it dashed, some forward and some back, drowning one another.
Still the cannon balls continued regularly to whistle and flop onto the ice and into the water and oftenest of all among the crowd that covered the dam, the pond, and the bank.
On the Pratzen Heights, where he had fallen with the flagstaff in his hand, lay Prince Andrew Bolkónski bleeding profusely and unconsciously uttering a gentle, piteous, and childlike moan.
Toward evening he ceased moaning and became quite still. He did not know how long his unconsciousness lasted. Suddenly he again felt that he was alive and suffering from a burning, lacerating pain in his head.
“Where is it, that lofty sky that I did not know till now, but saw today?” was his first thought. “And I did not know this suffering either,” he thought. “Yes, I did not know anything, anything at all till now. But where am I?”
He listened and heard the sound of approaching horses, and voices speaking French. He opened his eyes. Above him again was the same lofty sky with clouds that had risen and were floating still higher, and between them gleamed blue infinity. He did not turn his head and did not see those who, judging by the sound of hoofs and voices, had ridden up and stopped near him.
It was Napoleon accompanied by two aides-de-camp. Bonaparte riding over the battlefield had given final orders to strengthen the batteries firing at the Augesd Dam and was looking at the killed and wounded left on the field.
“Fine men!” remarked Napoleon, looking at a dead Russian grenadier, who, with his face buried in the ground and a blackened nape, lay on his stomach with an already stiffened arm flung wide.
“The ammunition for the guns in position is exhausted, Your Majesty,” said an adjutant who had come from the batteries that were firing at Augesd.
“Have some brought from the reserve,” said Napoleon, and having gone on a few steps he stopped before Prince Andrew, who lay on his back with the flagstaff that had been dropped beside him. (The flag had already been taken by the French as a trophy.)
“That’s a fine death!” said Napoleon as he gazed at Bolkónski.
Prince Andrew understood that this was said of him and that it was Napoleon who said it. He heard the speaker addressed as Sire. But he heard the words as he might have heard the buzzing of a fly. Not only did they not interest him, but he took no notice of them and at once forgot them. His head was burning, he felt himself bleeding to death, and he saw above him the remote, lofty, and everlasting sky. He knew it was Napoleon—his hero—but at that moment Napoleon seemed to him such a small, insignificant creature compared with what was passing now between himself and that lofty infinite sky with the clouds flying over it. At that moment it meant nothing to him who might be standing over him, or what was said of him; he was only glad that people were standing near him and only wished that they would help him and bring him back to life, which seemed to him so beautiful now that he had today learned to understand it so differently. He collected all his strength, to stir and utter a sound. He feebly moved his leg and uttered a weak, sickly groan which aroused his own pity.
“Ah! He is alive,” said Napoleon. “Lift this young man up and carry him to the dressing station.”
Having said this, Napoleon rode on to meet Marshal Lannes, who, hat in hand, rode up smiling to the Emperor to congratulate him on the victory.
Prince Andrew remembered nothing more: he lost consciousness from the terrible pain of being lifted onto the stretcher, the jolting while being moved, and the probing of his wound at the dressing station. He did not regain consciousness till late in the day, when with other wounded and captured Russian officers he was carried to the hospital. During this transfer he felt a little stronger and was able to look about him and even speak.
The first words he heard on coming to his senses were those of a French convoy officer, who said rapidly: “We must halt here: the Emperor will pass here immediately; it will please him to see these gentlemen prisoners.”
“There are so many prisoners today, nearly the whole Russian army, that he is probably tired of them,” said another officer.
“All the same! They say this one is the commander of all the Emperor Alexander’s Guards,” said the first one, indicating a Russian officer in the white uniform of the Horse Guards.
Bolkónski recognized Prince Repnín whom he had met in Petersburg society. Beside him stood a lad of nineteen, also a wounded officer of the Horse Guards.
Bonaparte, having come up at a gallop, stopped his horse.
“Which is the senior?” he asked, on seeing the prisoners.
They named the colonel, Prince Repnín.
“You are the commander of the Emperor Alexander’s regiment of Horse Guards?” asked Napoleon.
“I commanded a squadron,” replied Repnín.
“Your regiment fulfilled its duty honorably,” said Napoleon.
“The praise of a great commander is a soldier’s highest reward,” said Repnín.
“I bestow it with pleasure,” said Napoleon. “And who is that young man beside you?”
Prince Repnín named Lieutenant Sukhtélen.
After looking at him Napoleon smiled.
“He’s very young to come to meddle with us.”
“Youth is no hindrance to courage,” muttered Sukhtélen in a failing voice.
“A splendid reply!” said Napoleon. “Young man, you will go far!”
Prince Andrew, who had also been brought forward before the Emperor’s eyes to complete the show of prisoners, could not fail to attract his attention. Napoleon apparently remembered seeing him on the battlefield and, addressing him, again used the epithet “young man” that was connected in his memory with Prince Andrew.
“Well, and you, young man,” said he. “How do you feel, mon brave?”
Though five minutes before, Prince Andrew had been able to say a few words to the soldiers who were carrying him, now with his eyes fixed straight on Napoleon, he was silent.... So insignificant at that moment seemed to him all the interests that engrossed Napoleon, so mean did his hero himself with his paltry vanity and joy in victory appear, compared to the lofty, equitable, and kindly sky which he had seen and understood, that he could not answer him.
Everything seemed so futile and insignificant in comparison with the stern and solemn train of thought that weakness from loss of blood, suffering, and the nearness of death aroused in him. Looking into Napoleon’s eyes Prince Andrew thought of the insignificance of greatness, the unimportance of life which no one could understand, and the still greater unimportance of death, the meaning of which no one alive could understand or explain.
The Emperor without waiting for an answer turned away and said to one of the officers as he went: “Have these gentlemen attended to and taken to my bivouac; let my doctor, Larrey, examine their wounds. Au revoir, Prince Repnín!” and he spurred his horse and galloped away.
His face shone with self-satisfaction and pleasure.
The soldiers who had carried Prince Andrew had noticed and taken the little gold icon Princess Mary had hung round her brother’s neck, but seeing the favor the Emperor showed the prisoners, they now hastened to return the holy image.
Prince Andrew did not see how and by whom it was replaced, but the little icon with its thin gold chain suddenly appeared upon his chest outside his uniform.
“It would be good,” thought Prince Andrew, glancing at the icon his sister had hung round his neck with such emotion and reverence, “it would be good if everything were as clear and simple as it seems to Mary. How good it would be to know where to seek for help in this life, and what to expect after it beyond the grave! How happy and calm I should be if I could now say: ‘Lord, have mercy on me!’... But to whom should I say that? Either to a Power indefinable, incomprehensible, which I not only cannot address but which I cannot even express in words—the Great All or Nothing-” said he to himself, “or to that God who has been sewn into this amulet by Mary! There is nothing certain, nothing at all except the unimportance of everything I understand, and the greatness of something incomprehensible but all-important.”
The stretchers moved on. At every jolt he again felt unendurable pain; his feverishness increased and he grew delirious. Visions of his father, wife, sister, and future son, and the tenderness he had felt the night before the battle, the figure of the insignificant little Napoleon, and above all this the lofty sky, formed the chief subjects of his delirious fancies.
The quiet home life and peaceful happiness of Bald Hills presented itself to him. He was already enjoying that happiness when that little Napoleon had suddenly appeared with his unsympathizing look of shortsighted delight at the misery of others, and doubts and torments had followed, and only the heavens promised peace. Toward morning all these dreams melted and merged into the chaos and darkness of unconciousness and oblivion which in the opinion of Napoleon’s doctor, Larrey, was much more likely to end in death than in convalescence.
“He is a nervous, bilious subject,” said Larrey, “and will not recover.”
And Prince Andrew, with others fatally wounded, was left to the care of the inhabitants of the district.
BOOK FOUR: 1806
Early in the year 1806 Nicholas Rostóv returned home on leave. Denísov was going home to Vorónezh and Rostóv persuaded him to travel with him as far as Moscow and to stay with him there. Meeting a comrade at the last post station but one before Moscow, Denísov had drunk three bottles of wine with him and, despite the jolting ruts across the snow-covered road, did not once wake up on the way to Moscow, but lay at the bottom of the sleigh beside Rostóv, who grew more and more impatient the nearer they got to Moscow.
“How much longer? How much longer? Oh, these insufferable streets, shops, bakers’ signboards, street lamps, and sleighs!” thought Rostóv, when their leave permits had been passed at the town gate and they had entered Moscow.
“Denísov! We’re here! He’s asleep,” he added, leaning forward with his whole body as if in that position he hoped to hasten the speed of the sleigh.
Denísov gave no answer.
“There’s the corner at the crossroads, where the cabman, Zakhár, has his stand, and there’s Zakhár himself and still the same horse! And here’s the little shop where we used to buy gingerbread! Can’t you hurry up? Now then!”
“Which house is it?” asked the driver.
“Why, that one, right at the end, the big one. Don’t you see? That’s our house,” said Rostóv. “Of course, it’s our house! Denísov, Denísov! We’re almost there!”
Denísov raised his head, coughed, and made no answer.
“Dmítri,” said Rostóv to his valet on the box, “those lights are in our house, aren’t they?”
“Yes, sir, and there’s a light in your father’s study.”
“Then they’ve not gone to bed yet? What do you think? Mind now, don’t forget to put out my new coat,” added Rostóv, fingering his new mustache. “Now then, get on,” he shouted to the driver. “Do wake up, Váska!” he went on, turning to Denísov, whose head was again nodding. “Come, get on! You shall have three rubles for vodka—get on!” Rostóv shouted, when the sleigh was only three houses from his door. It seemed to him the horses were not moving at all. At last the sleigh bore to the right, drew up at an entrance, and Rostóv saw overhead the old familiar cornice with a bit of plaster broken off, the porch, and the post by the side of the pavement. He sprang out before the sleigh stopped, and ran into the hall. The house stood cold and silent, as if quite regardless of who had come to it. There was no one in the hall. “Oh God! Is everyone all right?” he thought, stopping for a moment with a sinking heart, and then immediately starting to run along the hall and up the warped steps of the familiar staircase. The well-known old door handle, which always angered the countess when it was not properly cleaned, turned as loosely as ever. A solitary tallow candle burned in the anteroom.
Old Michael was asleep on the chest. Prokófy, the footman, who was so strong that he could lift the back of the carriage from behind, sat plaiting slippers out of cloth selvedges. He looked up at the opening door and his expression of sleepy indifference suddenly changed to one of delighted amazement.
“Gracious heavens! The young count!” he cried, recognizing his young master. “Can it be? My treasure!” and Prokófy, trembling with excitement, rushed toward the drawing room door, probably in order to announce him, but, changing his mind, came back and stooped to kiss the young man’s shoulder.
“All well?” asked Rostóv, drawing away his arm.
“Yes, God be thanked! Yes! They’ve just finished supper. Let me have a look at you, your excellency.”
“Is everything quite all right?”
“The Lord be thanked, yes!”
Rostóv, who had completely forgotten Denísov, not wishing anyone to forestall him, threw off his fur coat and ran on tiptoe through the large dark ballroom. All was the same: there were the same old card tables and the same chandelier with a cover over it; but someone had already seen the young master, and, before he had reached the drawing room, something flew out from a side door like a tornado and began hugging and kissing him. Another and yet another creature of the same kind sprang from a second door and a third; more hugging, more kissing, more outcries, and tears of joy. He could not distinguish which was Papa, which Natásha, and which Pétya. Everyone shouted, talked, and kissed him at the same time. Only his mother was not there, he noticed that.
“And I did not know... Nicholas... My darling!...”
“Here he is... our own... Kólya, * dear fellow... How he has changed!... Where are the candles?... Tea!...”
“And me, kiss me!”
“Dearest... and me!”
Sónya, Natásha, Pétya, Anna Mikháylovna, Véra, and the old count were all hugging him, and the serfs, men and maids, flocked into the room, exclaiming and oh-ing and ah-ing.
Pétya, clinging to his legs, kept shouting, “And me too!”
Natásha, after she had pulled him down toward her and covered his face with kisses, holding him tight by the skirt of his coat, sprang away and pranced up and down in one place like a goat and shrieked piercingly.
All around were loving eyes glistening with tears of joy, and all around were lips seeking a kiss.
Sónya too, all rosy red, clung to his arm and, radiant with bliss, looked eagerly toward his eyes, waiting for the look for which she longed. Sónya now was sixteen and she was very pretty, especially at this moment of happy, rapturous excitement. She gazed at him, not taking her eyes off him, and smiling and holding her breath. He gave her a grateful look, but was still expectant and looking for someone. The old countess had not yet come. But now steps were heard at the door, steps so rapid that they could hardly be his mother’s.
Yet it was she, dressed in a new gown which he did not know, made since he had left. All the others let him go, and he ran to her. When they met, she fell on his breast, sobbing. She could not lift her face, but only pressed it to the cold braiding of his hussar’s jacket. Denísov, who had come into the room unnoticed by anyone, stood there and wiped his eyes at the sight.
“Vasíli Denísov, your son’s friend,” he said, introducing himself to the count, who was looking inquiringly at him.
“You are most welcome! I know, I know,” said the count, kissing and embracing Denísov. “Nicholas wrote us... Natásha, Véra, look! Here is Denísov!”
The same happy, rapturous faces turned to the shaggy figure of Denísov.
“Darling Denísov!” screamed Natásha, beside herself with rapture, springing to him, putting her arms round him, and kissing him. This escapade made everybody feel confused. Denísov blushed too, but smiled and, taking Natásha’s hand, kissed it.
Denísov was shown to the room prepared for him, and the Rostóvs all gathered round Nicholas in the sitting room.
The old countess, not letting go of his hand and kissing it every moment, sat beside him: the rest, crowding round him, watched every movement, word, or look of his, never taking their blissfully adoring eyes off him. His brother and sisters struggled for the places nearest to him and disputed with one another who should bring him his tea, handkerchief, and pipe.
Rostóv was very happy in the love they showed him; but the first moment of meeting had been so beatific that his present joy seemed insufficient, and he kept expecting something more, more and yet more.
Next morning, after the fatigues of their journey, the travelers slept till ten o’clock.
In the room next their bedroom there was a confusion of sabers, satchels, sabretaches, open portmanteaus, and dirty boots. Two freshly cleaned pairs with spurs had just been placed by the wall. The servants were bringing in jugs and basins, hot water for shaving, and their well-brushed clothes. There was a masculine odor and a smell of tobacco.
“Hallo, Gwíska—my pipe!” came Vasíli Denísov’s husky voice. “Wostóv, get up!”
Rostóv, rubbing his eyes that seemed glued together, raised his disheveled head from the hot pillow.
“Why, is it late?”
“Late! It’s nearly ten o’clock,” answered Natásha’s voice. A rustle of starched petticoats and the whispering and laughter of girls’ voices came from the adjoining room. The door was opened a crack and there was a glimpse of something blue, of ribbons, black hair, and merry faces. It was Natásha, Sónya, and Pétya, who had come to see whether they were getting up.
“Nicholas! Get up!” Natásha’s voice was again heard at the door.
Meanwhile, Pétya, having found and seized the sabers in the outer room, with the delight boys feel at the sight of a military elder brother, and forgetting that it was unbecoming for the girls to see men undressed, opened the bedroom door.
“Is this your saber?” he shouted.
The girls sprang aside. Denísov hid his hairy legs under the blanket, looking with a scared face at his comrade for help. The door, having let Pétya in, closed again. A sound of laughter came from behind it.
“Nicholas! Come out in your dressing gown!” said Natásha’s voice.
“Is this your saber?” asked Pétya. “Or is it yours?” he said, addressing the black-mustached Denísov with servile deference.
Rostóv hurriedly put something on his feet, drew on his dressing gown, and went out. Natásha had put on one spurred boot and was just getting her foot into the other. Sónya, when he came in, was twirling round and was about to expand her dresses into a balloon and sit down. They were dressed alike, in new pale-blue frocks, and were both fresh, rosy, and bright. Sónya ran away, but Natásha, taking her brother’s arm, led him into the sitting room, where they began talking. They hardly gave one another time to ask questions and give replies concerning a thousand little matters which could not interest anyone but themselves. Natásha laughed at every word he said or that she said herself, not because what they were saying was amusing, but because she felt happy and was unable to control her joy which expressed itself by laughter.
“Oh, how nice, how splendid!” she said to everything.
Rostóv felt that, under the influence of the warm rays of love, that childlike smile which had not once appeared on his face since he left home now for the first time after eighteen months again brightened his soul and his face.
“No, but listen,” she said, “now you are quite a man, aren’t you? I’m awfully glad you’re my brother.” She touched his mustache. “I want to know what you men are like. Are you the same as we? No?”
“Why did Sónya run away?” asked Rostóv.
“Ah, yes! That’s a whole long story! How are you going to speak to her—thou or you?”
“As may happen,” said Rostóv.
“No, call her you, please! I’ll tell you all about it some other time. No, I’ll tell you now. You know Sónya’s my dearest friend. Such a friend that I burned my arm for her sake. Look here!”
She pulled up her muslin sleeve and showed him a red scar on her long, slender, delicate arm, high above the elbow on that part that is covered even by a ball dress.
“I burned this to prove my love for her. I just heated a ruler in the fire and pressed it there!”
Sitting on the sofa with the little cushions on its arms, in what used to be his old schoolroom, and looking into Natásha’s wildly bright eyes, Rostóv re-entered that world of home and childhood which had no meaning for anyone else, but gave him some of the best joys of his life; and the burning of an arm with a ruler as a proof of love did not seem to him senseless, he understood and was not surprised at it.
“Well, and is that all?” he asked.
“We are such friends, such friends! All that ruler business was just nonsense, but we are friends forever. She, if she loves anyone, does it for life, but I don’t understand that, I forget quickly.”
“Well, what then?”
“Well, she loves me and you like that.”
Natásha suddenly flushed.
“Why, you remember before you went away?... Well, she says you are to forget all that.... She says: ‘I shall love him always, but let him be free.’ Isn’t that lovely and noble! Yes, very noble? Isn’t it?” asked Natásha, so seriously and excitedly that it was evident that what she was now saying she had talked of before, with tears.
Rostóv became thoughtful.
“I never go back on my word,” he said. “Besides, Sónya is so charming that only a fool would renounce such happiness.”
“No, no!” cried Natásha, “she and I have already talked it over. We knew you’d say so. But it won’t do, because you see, if you say that—if you consider yourself bound by your promise—it will seem as if she had not meant it seriously. It makes it as if you were marrying her because you must, and that wouldn’t do at all.”
Rostóv saw that it had been well considered by them. Sónya had already struck him by her beauty on the preceding day. Today, when he had caught a glimpse of her, she seemed still more lovely. She was a charming girl of sixteen, evidently passionately in love with him (he did not doubt that for an instant). Why should he not love her now, and even marry her, Rostóv thought, but just now there were so many other pleasures and interests before him! “Yes, they have taken a wise decision,” he thought, “I must remain free.”
“Well then, that’s excellent,” said he. “We’ll talk it over later on. Oh, how glad I am to have you!”
“Well, and are you still true to Borís?” he continued.
“Oh, what nonsense!” cried Natásha, laughing. “I don’t think about him or anyone else, and I don’t want anything of the kind.”
“Dear me! Then what are you up to now?”
“Now?” repeated Natásha, and a happy smile lit up her face. “Have you seen Duport?”
“Not seen Duport—the famous dancer? Well then, you won’t understand. That’s what I’m up to.”
Curving her arms, Natásha held out her skirts as dancers do, ran back a few steps, turned, cut a caper, brought her little feet sharply together, and made some steps on the very tips of her toes.
“See, I’m standing! See!” she said, but could not maintain herself on her toes any longer. “So that’s what I’m up to! I’ll never marry anyone, but will be a dancer. Only don’t tell anyone.”
Rostóv laughed so loud and merrily that Denísov, in his bedroom, felt envious and Natásha could not help joining in.
“No, but don’t you think it’s nice?” she kept repeating.
“Nice! And so you no longer wish to marry Borís?”
Natásha flared up. “I don’t want to marry anyone. And I’ll tell him so when I see him!”
“Dear me!” said Rostóv.
“But that’s all rubbish,” Natásha chattered on. “And is Denísov nice?” she asked.
“Oh, well then, good-by: go and dress. Is he very terrible, Denísov?”
“Why terrible?” asked Nicholas. “No, Váska is a splendid fellow.”
“You call him Váska? That’s funny! And is he very nice?”
“Well then, be quick. We’ll all have breakfast together.”
And Natásha rose and went out of the room on tiptoe, like a ballet dancer, but smiling as only happy girls of fifteen can smile. When Rostóv met Sónya in the drawing room, he reddened. He did not know how to behave with her. The evening before, in the first happy moment of meeting, they had kissed each other, but today they felt it could not be done; he felt that everybody, including his mother and sisters, was looking inquiringly at him and watching to see how he would behave with her. He kissed her hand and addressed her not as thou but as you—Sónya. But their eyes met and said thou, and exchanged tender kisses. Her looks asked him to forgive her for having dared, by Natásha’s intermediacy, to remind him of his promise, and then thanked him for his love. His looks thanked her for offering him his freedom and told her that one way or another he would never cease to love her, for that would be impossible.
“How strange it is,” said Véra, selecting a moment when all were silent, “that Sónya and Nicholas now say you to one another and meet like strangers.”
Véra’s remark was correct, as her remarks always were, but, like most of her observations, it made everyone feel uncomfortable, not only Sónya, Nicholas, and Natásha, but even the old countess, who—dreading this love affair which might hinder Nicholas from making a brilliant match—blushed like a girl.
Denísov, to Rostóv’s surprise, appeared in the drawing room with pomaded hair, perfumed, and in a new uniform, looking just as smart as he made himself when going into battle, and he was more amiable to the ladies and gentlemen than Rostóv had ever expected to see him.