Count Ilyá Rostóv had resigned the position of Marshal of the Nobility because it involved him in too much expense, but still his affairs did not improve. Natásha and Nicholas often noticed their parents conferring together anxiously and privately and heard suggestions of selling the fine ancestral Rostóv house and estate near Moscow. It was not necessary to entertain so freely as when the count had been Marshal, and life at Otrádnoe was quieter than in former years, but still the enormous house and its lodges were full of people and more than twenty sat down to table every day. These were all their own people who had settled down in the house almost as members of the family, or persons who were, it seemed, obliged to live in the count’s house. Such were Dimmler the musician and his wife, Vogel the dancing master and his family, Belóva, an old maiden lady, an inmate of the house, and many others such as Pétya’s tutors, the girls’ former governess, and other people who simply found it preferable and more advantageous to live in the count’s house than at home. They had not as many visitors as before, but the old habits of life without which the count and countess could not conceive of existence remained unchanged. There was still the hunting establishment which Nicholas had even enlarged, the same fifty horses and fifteen grooms in the stables, the same expensive presents and dinner parties to the whole district on name days; there were still the count’s games of whist and boston, at which—spreading out his cards so that everybody could see them—he let himself be plundered of hundreds of rubles every day by his neighbors, who looked upon an opportunity to play a rubber with Count Rostóv as a most profitable source of income.
The count moved in his affairs as in a huge net, trying not to believe that he was entangled but becoming more and more so at every step, and feeling too feeble to break the meshes or to set to work carefully and patiently to disentangle them. The countess, with her loving heart, felt that her children were being ruined, that it was not the count’s fault for he could not help being what he was—that (though he tried to hide it) he himself suffered from the consciousness of his own and his children’s ruin, and she tried to find means of remedying the position. From her feminine point of view she could see only one solution, namely, for Nicholas to marry a rich heiress. She felt this to be their last hope and that if Nicholas refused the match she had found for him, she would have to abandon the hope of ever getting matters right. This match was with Julie Karágina, the daughter of excellent and virtuous parents, a girl the Rostóvs had known from childhood, and who had now become a wealthy heiress through the death of the last of her brothers.
The countess had written direct to Julie’s mother in Moscow suggesting a marriage between their children and had received a favorable answer from her. Karágina had replied that for her part she was agreeable, and everything depend on her daughter’s inclination. She invited Nicholas to come to Moscow.
Several times the countess, with tears in her eyes, told her son that now both her daughters were settled, her only wish was to see him married. She said she could lie down in her grave peacefully if that were accomplished. Then she told him that she knew of a splendid girl and tried to discover what he thought about marriage.
At other times she praised Julie to him and advised him to go to Moscow during the holidays to amuse himself. Nicholas guessed what his mother’s remarks were leading to and during one of these conversations induced her to speak quite frankly. She told him that her only hope of getting their affairs disentangled now lay in his marrying Julie Karágina.
“But, Mamma, suppose I loved a girl who has no fortune, would you expect me to sacrifice my feelings and my honor for the sake of money?” he asked his mother, not realizing the cruelty of his question and only wishing to show his noble-mindedness.
“No, you have not understood me,” said his mother, not knowing how to justify herself. “You have not understood me, Nikólenka. It is your happiness I wish for,” she added, feeling that she was telling an untruth and was becoming entangled. She began to cry.
“Mamma, don’t cry! Only tell me that you wish it, and you know I will give my life, anything, to put you at ease,” said Nicholas. “I would sacrifice anything for you—even my feelings.”
But the countess did not want the question put like that: she did not want a sacrifice from her son, she herself wished to make a sacrifice for him.
“No, you have not understood me, don’t let us talk about it,” she replied, wiping away her tears.
“Maybe I do love a poor girl,” said Nicholas to himself. “Am I to sacrifice my feelings and my honor for money? I wonder how Mamma could speak so to me. Because Sónya is poor I must not love her,” he thought, “must not respond to her faithful, devoted love? Yet I should certainly be happier with her than with some doll-like Julie. I can always sacrifice my feelings for my family’s welfare,” he said to himself, “but I can’t coerce my feelings. If I love Sónya, that feeling is for me stronger and higher than all else.”
Nicholas did not go to Moscow, and the countess did not renew the conversation with him about marriage. She saw with sorrow, and sometimes with exasperation, symptoms of a growing attachment between her son and the portionless Sónya. Though she blamed herself for it, she could not refrain from grumbling at and worrying Sónya, often pulling her up without reason, addressing her stiffly as “my dear,” and using the formal “you” instead of the intimate “thou” in speaking to her. The kindhearted countess was the more vexed with Sónya because that poor, dark-eyed niece of hers was so meek, so kind, so devotedly grateful to her benefactors, and so faithfully, unchangingly, and unselfishly in love with Nicholas, that there were no grounds for finding fault with her.
Nicholas was spending the last of his leave at home. A fourth letter had come from Prince Andrew, from Rome, in which he wrote that he would have been on his way back to Russia long ago had not his wound unexpectedly reopened in the warm climate, which obliged him to defer his return till the beginning of the new year. Natásha was still as much in love with her betrothed, found the same comfort in that love, and was still as ready to throw herself into all the pleasures of life as before; but at the end of the fourth month of their separation she began to have fits of depression which she could not master. She felt sorry for herself: sorry that she was being wasted all this time and of no use to anyone—while she felt herself so capable of loving and being loved.
Things were not cheerful in the Rostóvs’ home.
Christmas came and except for the ceremonial Mass, the solemn and wearisome Christmas congratulations from neighbors and servants, and the new dresses everyone put on, there were no special festivities, though the calm frost of twenty degrees Réaumur, the dazzling sunshine by day, and the starlight of the winter nights seemed to call for some special celebration of the season.
On the third day of Christmas week, after the midday dinner, all the inmates of the house dispersed to various rooms. It was the dullest time of the day. Nicholas, who had been visiting some neighbors that morning, was asleep on the sitting-room sofa. The old count was resting in his study. Sónya sat in the drawing room at the round table, copying a design for embroidery. The countess was playing patience. Nastásya Ivánovna the buffoon sat with a sad face at the window with two old ladies. Natásha came into the room, went up to Sónya, glanced at what she was doing, and then went up to her mother and stood without speaking.
“Why are you wandering about like an outcast?” asked her mother. “What do you want?”
“Him... I want him... now, this minute! I want him!” said Natásha, with glittering eyes and no sign of a smile.
The countess lifted her head and looked attentively at her daughter.
“Don’t look at me, Mamma! Don’t look; I shall cry directly.”
“Sit down with me a little,” said the countess.
“Mamma, I want him. Why should I be wasted like this, Mamma?”
Her voice broke, tears gushed from her eyes, and she turned quickly to hide them and left the room.
She passed into the sitting room, stood there thinking awhile, and then went into the maids’ room. There an old maidservant was grumbling at a young girl who stood panting, having just run in through the cold from the serfs’ quarters.
“Stop playing—there’s a time for everything,” said the old woman.
“Let her alone, Kondrátevna,” said Natásha. “Go, Mavrúshka, go.”
Having released Mavrúshka, Natásha crossed the dancing hall and went to the vestibule. There an old footman and two young ones were playing cards. They broke off and rose as she entered.
“What can I do with them?” thought Natásha.
“Oh, Nikíta, please go... where can I send him?... Yes, go to the yard and fetch a fowl, please, a cock, and you, Misha, bring me some oats.”
“Just a few oats?” said Misha, cheerfully and readily.
“Go, go quickly,” the old man urged him.
“And you, Theodore, get me a piece of chalk.”
On her way past the butler’s pantry she told them to set a samovar, though it was not at all the time for tea.
Fóka, the butler, was the most ill-tempered person in the house. Natásha liked to test her power over him. He distrusted the order and asked whether the samovar was really wanted.
“Oh dear, what a young lady!” said Fóka, pretending to frown at Natásha.
No one in the house sent people about or gave them as much trouble as Natásha did. She could not see people unconcernedly, but had to send them on some errand. She seemed to be trying whether any of them would get angry or sulky with her; but the serfs fulfilled no one’s orders so readily as they did hers. “What can I do, where can I go?” thought she, as she went slowly along the passage.
“Nastásya Ivánovna, what sort of children shall I have?” she asked the buffoon, who was coming toward her in a woman’s jacket.
“Why, fleas, crickets, grasshoppers,” answered the buffoon.
“O Lord, O Lord, it’s always the same! Oh, where am I to go? What am I to do with myself?” And tapping with her heels, she ran quickly upstairs to see Vogel and his wife who lived on the upper story.
Two governesses were sitting with the Vogels at a table, on which were plates of raisins, walnuts, and almonds. The governesses were discussing whether it was cheaper to live in Moscow or Odessa. Natásha sat down, listened to their talk with a serious and thoughtful air, and then got up again.
“The island of Madagascar,” she said, “Ma-da-gas-car,” she repeated, articulating each syllable distinctly, and, not replying to Madame Schoss who asked her what she was saying, she went out of the room.
Her brother Pétya was upstairs too; with the man in attendance on him he was preparing fireworks to let off that night.
“Pétya! Pétya!” she called to him. “Carry me downstairs.”
Pétya ran up and offered her his back. She jumped on it, putting her arms round his neck, and he pranced along with her.
“No, don’t... the island of Madagascar!” she said, and jumping off his back she went downstairs.
Having as it were reviewed her kingdom, tested her power, and made sure that everyone was submissive, but that all the same it was dull, Natásha betook herself to the ballroom, picked up her guitar, sat down in a dark corner behind a bookcase, and began to run her fingers over the strings in the bass, picking out a passage she recalled from an opera she had heard in Petersburg with Prince Andrew. What she drew from the guitar would have had no meaning for other listeners, but in her imagination a whole series of reminiscences arose from those sounds. She sat behind the bookcase with her eyes fixed on a streak of light escaping from the pantry door and listened to herself and pondered. She was in a mood for brooding on the past.
Sónya passed to the pantry with a glass in her hand. Natásha glanced at her and at the crack in the pantry door, and it seemed to her that she remembered the light falling through that crack once before and Sónya passing with a glass in her hand. “Yes it was exactly the same,” thought Natásha.
“Sónya, what is this?” she cried, twanging a thick string.
“Oh, you are there!” said Sónya with a start, and came near and listened. “I don’t know. A storm?” she ventured timidly, afraid of being wrong.
“There! That’s just how she started and just how she came up smiling timidly when all this happened before,” thought Natásha, “and in just the same way I thought there was something lacking in her.”
“No, it’s the chorus from The Water-Carrier, listen!” and Natásha sang the air of the chorus so that Sónya should catch it. “Where were you going?” she asked.
“To change the water in this glass. I am just finishing the design.”
“You always find something to do, but I can’t,” said Natásha. “And where’s Nicholas?”
“Asleep, I think.”
“Sónya, go and wake him,” said Natásha. “Tell him I want him to come and sing.”
She sat awhile, wondering what the meaning of it all having happened before could be, and without solving this problem, or at all regretting not having done so, she again passed in fancy to the time when she was with him and he was looking at her with a lover’s eyes.
“Oh, if only he would come quicker! I am so afraid it will never be! And, worst of all, I am growing old—that’s the thing! There won’t then be in me what there is now. But perhaps he’ll come today, will come immediately. Perhaps he has come and is sitting in the drawing room. Perhaps he came yesterday and I have forgotten it.” She rose, put down the guitar, and went to the drawing room.
All the domestic circle, tutors, governesses, and guests, were already at the tea table. The servants stood round the table—but Prince Andrew was not there and life was going on as before.
“Ah, here she is!” said the old count, when he saw Natásha enter. “Well, sit down by me.” But Natásha stayed by her mother and glanced round as if looking for something.
“Mamma!” she muttered, “give him to me, give him, Mamma, quickly, quickly!” and she again had difficulty in repressing her sobs.
She sat down at the table and listened to the conversation between the elders and Nicholas, who had also come to the table. “My God, my God! The same faces, the same talk, Papa holding his cup and blowing in the same way!” thought Natásha, feeling with horror a sense of repulsion rising up in her for the whole household, because they were always the same.
After tea, Nicholas, Sónya, and Natásha went to the sitting room, to their favorite corner where their most intimate talks always began.
“Does it ever happen to you,” said Natásha to her brother, when they settled down in the sitting room, “does it ever happen to you to feel as if there were nothing more to come—nothing; that everything good is past? And to feel not exactly dull, but sad?”
“I should think so!” he replied. “I have felt like that when everything was all right and everyone was cheerful. The thought has come into my mind that I was already tired of it all, and that we must all die. Once in the regiment I had not gone to some merrymaking where there was music... and suddenly I felt so depressed...”
“Oh yes, I know, I know, I know!” Natásha interrupted him. “When I was quite little that used to be so with me. Do you remember when I was punished once about some plums? You were all dancing, and I sat sobbing in the schoolroom? I shall never forget it: I felt sad and sorry for everyone, for myself, and for everyone. And I was innocent—that was the chief thing,” said Natásha. “Do you remember?”
“I remember,” answered Nicholas. “I remember that I came to you afterwards and wanted to comfort you, but do you know, I felt ashamed to. We were terribly absurd. I had a funny doll then and wanted to give it to you. Do you remember?”
“And do you remember,” Natásha asked with a pensive smile, “how once, long, long ago, when we were quite little, Uncle called us into the study—that was in the old house—and it was dark—we went in and suddenly there stood...”
“A Negro,” chimed in Nicholas with a smile of delight. “Of course I remember. Even now I don’t know whether there really was a Negro, or if we only dreamed it or were told about him.”
“He was gray, you remember, and had white teeth, and stood and looked at us....”
“Sónya, do you remember?” asked Nicholas.
“Yes, yes, I do remember something too,” Sónya answered timidly.
“You know I have asked Papa and Mamma about that Negro,” said Natásha, “and they say there was no Negro at all. But you see, you remember!”
“Of course I do, I remember his teeth as if I had just seen them.”
“How strange it is! It’s as if it were a dream! I like that.”
“And do you remember how we rolled hard-boiled eggs in the ballroom, and suddenly two old women began spinning round on the carpet? Was that real or not? Do you remember what fun it was?”
“Yes, and you remember how Papa in his blue overcoat fired a gun in the porch?”
So they went through their memories, smiling with pleasure: not the sad memories of old age, but poetic, youthful ones—those impressions of one’s most distant past in which dreams and realities blend—and they laughed with quiet enjoyment.
Sónya, as always, did not quite keep pace with them, though they shared the same reminiscences.
Much that they remembered had slipped from her mind, and what she recalled did not arouse the same poetic feeling as they experienced. She simply enjoyed their pleasure and tried to fit in with it.
She only really took part when they recalled Sónya’s first arrival. She told them how afraid she had been of Nicholas because he had on a corded jacket and her nurse had told her that she, too, would be sewn up with cords.
“And I remember their telling me that you had been born under a cabbage,” said Natásha, “and I remember that I dared not disbelieve it then, but knew that it was not true, and I felt so uncomfortable.”
While they were talking a maid thrust her head in at the other door of the sitting room.
“They have brought the cock, Miss,” she said in a whisper.
“It isn’t wanted, Pólya. Tell them to take it away,” replied Natásha.
In the middle of their talk in the sitting room, Dimmler came in and went up to the harp that stood there in a corner. He took off its cloth covering, and the harp gave out a jarring sound.
“Mr. Dimmler, please play my favorite nocturne by Field,” came the old countess’ voice from the drawing room.
Dimmler struck a chord and, turning to Natásha, Nicholas, and Sónya, remarked: “How quiet you young people are!”
“Yes, we’re philosophizing,” said Natásha, glancing round for a moment and then continuing the conversation. They were now discussing dreams.
Dimmler began to play; Natásha went on tiptoe noiselessly to the table, took up a candle, carried it out, and returned, seating herself quietly in her former place. It was dark in the room especially where they were sitting on the sofa, but through the big windows the silvery light of the full moon fell on the floor. Dimmler had finished the piece but still sat softly running his fingers over the strings, evidently uncertain whether to stop or to play something else.
“Do you know,” said Natásha in a whisper, moving closer to Nicholas and Sónya, “that when one goes on and on recalling memories, one at last begins to remember what happened before one was in the world....”
“That is metempsychosis,” said Sónya, who had always learned well, and remembered everything. “The Egyptians believed that our souls have lived in animals, and will go back into animals again.”
“No, I don’t believe we ever were in animals,” said Natásha, still in a whisper though the music had ceased. “But I am certain that we were angels somewhere there, and have been here, and that is why we remember....”
“May I join you?” said Dimmler who had come up quietly, and he sat down by them.
“If we have been angels, why have we fallen lower?” said Nicholas. “No, that can’t be!”
“Not lower, who said we were lower?... How do I know what I was before?” Natásha rejoined with conviction. “The soul is immortal—well then, if I shall always live I must have lived before, lived for a whole eternity.”
“Yes, but it is hard for us to imagine eternity,” remarked Dimmler, who had joined the young folk with a mildly condescending smile but now spoke as quietly and seriously as they.
“Why is it hard to imagine eternity?” said Natásha. “It is now today, and it will be tomorrow, and always; and there was yesterday, and the day before....”
“Natásha! Now it’s your turn. Sing me something,” they heard the countess say. “Why are you sitting there like conspirators?”
“Mamma, I don’t at all want to,” replied Natásha, but all the same she rose.
None of them, not even the middle-aged Dimmler, wanted to break off their conversation and quit that corner in the sitting room, but Natásha got up and Nicholas sat down at the clavichord. Standing as usual in the middle of the hall and choosing the place where the resonance was best, Natásha began to sing her mother’s favorite song.
She had said she did not want to sing, but it was long since she had sung, and long before she again sang, as she did that evening. The count, from his study where he was talking to Mítenka, heard her and, like a schoolboy in a hurry to run out to play, blundered in his talk while giving orders to the steward, and at last stopped, while Mítenka stood in front of him also listening and smiling. Nicholas did not take his eyes off his sister and drew breath in time with her. Sónya, as she listened, thought of the immense difference there was between herself and her friend, and how impossible it was for her to be anything like as bewitching as her cousin. The old countess sat with a blissful yet sad smile and with tears in her eyes, occasionally shaking her head. She thought of Natásha and of her own youth, and of how there was something unnatural and dreadful in this impending marriage of Natásha and Prince Andrew.
Dimmler, who had seated himself beside the countess, listened with closed eyes.
“Ah, Countess,” he said at last, “that’s a European talent, she has nothing to learn—what softness, tenderness, and strength....”
“Ah, how afraid I am for her, how afraid I am!” said the countess, not realizing to whom she was speaking. Her maternal instinct told her that Natásha had too much of something, and that because of this she would not be happy. Before Natásha had finished singing, fourteen-year-old Pétya rushed in delightedly, to say that some mummers had arrived.
Natásha stopped abruptly.
“Idiot!” she screamed at her brother and, running to a chair, threw herself on it, sobbing so violently that she could not stop for a long time.
“It’s nothing, Mamma, really it’s nothing; only Pétya startled me,” she said, trying to smile, but her tears still flowed and sobs still choked her.
The mummers (some of the house serfs) dressed up as bears, Turks, innkeepers, and ladies—frightening and funny—bringing in with them the cold from outside and a feeling of gaiety, crowded, at first timidly, into the anteroom, then hiding behind one another they pushed into the ballroom where, shyly at first and then more and more merrily and heartily, they started singing, dancing, and playing Christmas games. The countess, when she had identified them and laughed at their costumes, went into the drawing room. The count sat in the ballroom, smiling radiantly and applauding the players. The young people had disappeared.
Half an hour later there appeared among the other mummers in the ballroom an old lady in a hooped skirt—this was Nicholas. A Turkish girl was Pétya. A clown was Dimmler. An hussar was Natásha, and a Circassian was Sónya with burnt-cork mustache and eyebrows.
After the condescending surprise, nonrecognition, and praise, from those who were not themselves dressed up, the young people decided that their costumes were so good that they ought to be shown elsewhere.
Nicholas, who, as the roads were in splendid condition, wanted to take them all for a drive in his troyka, proposed to take with them about a dozen of the serf mummers and drive to “Uncle’s.”
“No, why disturb the old fellow?” said the countess. “Besides, you wouldn’t have room to turn round there. If you must go, go to the Melyukóvs’.”
Melyukóva was a widow, who, with her family and their tutors and governesses, lived three miles from the Rostóvs.
“That’s right, my dear,” chimed in the old count, thoroughly aroused. “I’ll dress up at once and go with them. I’ll make Pashette open her eyes.”
But the countess would not agree to his going; he had had a bad leg all these last days. It was decided that the count must not go, but that if Louisa Ivánovna (Madame Schoss) would go with them, the young ladies might go to the Melyukóvs’, Sónya, generally so timid and shy, more urgently than anyone begging Louisa Ivánovna not to refuse.
Sónya’s costume was the best of all. Her mustache and eyebrows were extraordinarily becoming. Everyone told her she looked very handsome, and she was in a spirited and energetic mood unusual with her. Some inner voice told her that now or never her fate would be decided, and in her male attire she seemed quite a different person. Louisa Ivánovna consented to go, and in half an hour four troyka sleighs with large and small bells, their runners squeaking and whistling over the frozen snow, drove up to the porch.
Natásha was foremost in setting a merry holiday tone, which, passing from one to another, grew stronger and reached its climax when they all came out into the frost and got into the sleighs, talking, calling to one another, laughing, and shouting.
Two of the troykas were the usual household sleighs, the third was the old count’s with a trotter from the Orlóv stud as shaft horse, the fourth was Nicholas’ own with a short shaggy black shaft horse. Nicholas, in his old lady’s dress over which he had belted his hussar overcoat, stood in the middle of the sleigh, reins in hand.
It was so light that he could see the moonlight reflected from the metal harness disks and from the eyes of the horses, who looked round in alarm at the noisy party under the shadow of the porch roof.
Natásha, Sónya, Madame Schoss, and two maids got into Nicholas’ sleigh; Dimmler, his wife, and Pétya, into the old count’s, and the rest of the mummers seated themselves in the other two sleighs.
“You go ahead, Zakhár!” shouted Nicholas to his father’s coachman, wishing for a chance to race past him.
The old count’s troyka, with Dimmler and his party, started forward, squeaking on its runners as though freezing to the snow, its deep-toned bell clanging. The side horses, pressing against the shafts of the middle horse, sank in the snow, which was dry and glittered like sugar, and threw it up.
Nicholas set off, following the first sleigh; behind him the others moved noisily, their runners squeaking. At first they drove at a steady trot along the narrow road. While they drove past the garden the shadows of the bare trees often fell across the road and hid the brilliant moonlight, but as soon as they were past the fence, the snowy plain bathed in moonlight and motionless spread out before them glittering like diamonds and dappled with bluish shadows. Bang, bang! went the first sleigh over a cradle hole in the snow of the road, and each of the other sleighs jolted in the same way, and rudely breaking the frost-bound stillness, the troykas began to speed along the road, one after the other.
“A hare’s track, a lot of tracks!” rang out Natásha’s voice through the frost-bound air.
“How light it is, Nicholas!” came Sónya’s voice.
Nicholas glanced round at Sónya, and bent down to see her face closer. Quite a new, sweet face with black eyebrows and mustaches peeped up at him from her sable furs—so close and yet so distant—in the moonlight.
“That used to be Sónya,” thought he, and looked at her closer and smiled.
“What is it, Nicholas?”
“Nothing,” said he and turned again to the horses.
When they came out onto the beaten highroad—polished by sleigh runners and cut up by rough-shod hoofs, the marks of which were visible in the moonlight—the horses began to tug at the reins of their own accord and increased their pace. The near side horse, arching his head and breaking into a short canter, tugged at his traces. The shaft horse swayed from side to side, moving his ears as if asking: “Isn’t it time to begin now?” In front, already far ahead the deep bell of the sleigh ringing farther and farther off, the black horses driven by Zakhár could be clearly seen against the white snow. From that sleigh one could hear the shouts, laughter, and voices of the mummers.
“Gee up, my darlings!” shouted Nicholas, pulling the reins to one side and flourishing the whip.
It was only by the keener wind that met them and the jerks given by the side horses who pulled harder—ever increasing their gallop—that one noticed how fast the troyka was flying. Nicholas looked back. With screams, squeals, and waving of whips that caused even the shaft horses to gallop—the other sleighs followed. The shaft horse swung steadily beneath the bow over its head, with no thought of slackening pace and ready to put on speed when required.
Nicholas overtook the first sleigh. They were driving downhill and coming out upon a broad trodden track across a meadow, near a river.
“Where are we?” thought he. “It’s the Kosóy meadow, I suppose. But no—this is something new I’ve never seen before. This isn’t the Kosóy meadow nor the Dëmkin hill, and heaven only knows what it is! It is something new and enchanted. Well, whatever it may be...” And shouting to his horses, he began to pass the first sleigh.
Zakhár held back his horses and turned his face, which was already covered with hoarfrost to his eyebrows.
Nicholas gave the horses the rein, and Zakhár, stretching out his arms, clucked his tongue and let his horses go.
“Now, look out, master!” he cried.
Faster still the two troykas flew side by side, and faster moved the feet of the galloping side horses. Nicholas began to draw ahead. Zakhár, while still keeping his arms extended, raised one hand with the reins.
“No you won’t, master!” he shouted.
Nicholas put all his horses to a gallop and passed Zakhár. The horses showered the fine dry snow on the faces of those in the sleigh—beside them sounded quick ringing bells and they caught confused glimpses of swiftly moving legs and the shadows of the troyka they were passing. The whistling sound of the runners on the snow and the voices of girls shrieking were heard from different sides.
Again checking his horses, Nicholas looked around him. They were still surrounded by the magic plain bathed in moonlight and spangled with stars.
“Zakhár is shouting that I should turn to the left, but why to the left?” thought Nicholas. “Are we getting to the Melyukóvs’? Is this Melyukóvka? Heaven only knows where we are going, and heaven knows what is happening to us—but it is very strange and pleasant whatever it is.” And he looked round in the sleigh.
“Look, his mustache and eyelashes are all white!” said one of the strange, pretty, unfamiliar people—the one with fine eyebrows and mustache.
“I think this used to be Natásha,” thought Nicholas, “and that was Madame Schoss, but perhaps it’s not, and this Circassian with the mustache I don’t know, but I love her.”
“Aren’t you cold?” he asked.
They did not answer but began to laugh. Dimmler from the sleigh behind shouted something—probably something funny—but they could not make out what he said.
“Yes, yes!” some voices answered, laughing.
“But here was a fairy forest with black moving shadows, and a glitter of diamonds and a flight of marble steps and the silver roofs of fairy buildings and the shrill yells of some animals. And if this is really Melyukóvka, it is still stranger that we drove heaven knows where and have come to Melyukóvka,” thought Nicholas.
It really was Melyukóvka, and maids and footmen with merry faces came running, out to the porch carrying candles.
“Who is it?” asked someone in the porch.
“The mummers from the count’s. I know by the horses,” replied some voices.
Pelagéya Danílovna Melyukóva, a broadly built, energetic woman wearing spectacles, sat in the drawing room in a loose dress, surrounded by her daughters whom she was trying to keep from feeling dull. They were quietly dropping melted wax into snow and looking at the shadows the wax figures would throw on the wall, when they heard the steps and voices of new arrivals in the vestibule.
Hussars, ladies, witches, clowns, and bears, after clearing their throats and wiping the hoarfrost from their faces in the vestibule, came into the ballroom where candles were hurriedly lighted. The clown—Dimmler—and the lady—Nicholas—started a dance. Surrounded by the screaming children the mummers, covering their faces and disguising their voices, bowed to their hostess and arranged themselves about the room.
“Dear me! there’s no recognizing them! And Natásha! See whom she looks like! She really reminds me of somebody. But Herr Dimmler—isn’t he good! I didn’t know him! And how he dances. Dear me, there’s a Circassian. Really, how becoming it is to dear Sónya. And who is that? Well, you have cheered us up! Nikíta and Vanya—clear away the tables! And we were sitting so quietly. Ha, ha, ha!... The hussar, the hussar! Just like a boy! And the legs!... I can’t look at him...” different voices were saying.
Natásha, the young Melyukóvs’ favorite, disappeared with them into the back rooms where a cork and various dressing gowns and male garments were called for and received from the footman by bare girlish arms from behind the door. Ten minutes later, all the young Melyukóvs joined the mummers.
Pelagéya Danílovna, having given orders to clear the rooms for the visitors and arranged about refreshments for the gentry and the serfs, went about among the mummers without removing her spectacles, peering into their faces with a suppressed smile and failing to recognize any of them. It was not merely Dimmler and the Rostóvs she failed to recognize, she did not even recognize her own daughters, or her late husband’s, dressing gowns and uniforms, which they had put on.
“And who is this?” she asked her governess, peering into the face of her own daughter dressed up as a Kazán-Tartar. “I suppose it is one of the Rostóvs! Well, Mr. Hussar, and what regiment do you serve in?” she asked Natásha. “Here, hand some fruit jelly to the Turk!” she ordered the butler who was handing things round. “That’s not forbidden by his law.”
Sometimes, as she looked at the strange but amusing capers cut by the dancers, who—having decided once for all that being disguised, no one would recognize them—were not at all shy, Pelagéya Danílovna hid her face in her handkerchief, and her whole stout body shook with irrepressible, kindly, elderly laughter.
“My little Sásha! Look at Sásha!” she said.
After Russian country dances and chorus dances, Pelagéya Danílovna made the serfs and gentry join in one large circle: a ring, a string, and a silver ruble were fetched and they all played games together.
In an hour, all the costumes were crumpled and disordered. The corked eyebrows and mustaches were smeared over the perspiring, flushed, and merry faces. Pelagéya Danílovna began to recognize the mummers, admired their cleverly contrived costumes, and particularly how they suited the young ladies, and she thanked them all for having entertained her so well. The visitors were invited to supper in the drawing room, and the serfs had something served to them in the ballroom.
“Now to tell one’s fortune in the empty bathhouse is frightening!” said an old maid who lived with the Melyukóvs, during supper.
“Why?” said the eldest Melyukóv girl.
“You wouldn’t go, it takes courage....”
“I’ll go,” said Sónya.
“Tell what happened to the young lady!” said the second Melyukóv girl.
“Well,” began the old maid, “a young lady once went out, took a cock, laid the table for two, all properly, and sat down. After sitting a while, she suddenly hears someone coming... a sleigh drives up with harness bells; she hears him coming! He comes in, just in the shape of a man, like an officer—comes in and sits down to table with her.”
“Ah! ah!” screamed Natásha, rolling her eyes with horror.
“Yes? And how... did he speak?”
“Yes, like a man. Everything quite all right, and he began persuading her; and she should have kept him talking till cockcrow, but she got frightened, just got frightened and hid her face in her hands. Then he caught her up. It was lucky the maids ran in just then....”
“Now, why frighten them?” said Pelagéya Danílovna.
“Mamma, you used to try your fate yourself...” said her daughter.
“And how does one do it in a barn?” inquired Sónya.
“Well, say you went to the barn now, and listened. It depends on what you hear; hammering and knocking—that’s bad; but a sound of shifting grain is good and one sometimes hears that, too.”
“Mamma, tell us what happened to you in the barn.”
Pelagéya Danílovna smiled.
“Oh, I’ve forgotten...” she replied. “But none of you would go?”
“Yes, I will; Pelagéya Danílovna, let me! I’ll go,” said Sónya.
“Well, why not, if you’re not afraid?”
“Louisa Ivánovna, may I?” asked Sónya.
Whether they were playing the ring and string game or the ruble game or talking as now, Nicholas did not leave Sónya’s side, and gazed at her with quite new eyes. It seemed to him that it was only today, thanks to that burnt-cork mustache, that he had fully learned to know her. And really, that evening, Sónya was brighter, more animated, and prettier than Nicholas had ever seen her before.
“So that’s what she is like; what a fool I have been!” he thought gazing at her sparkling eyes, and under the mustache a happy rapturous smile dimpled her cheeks, a smile he had never seen before.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” said Sónya. “May I go at once?” She got up.
They told her where the barn was and how she should stand and listen, and they handed her a fur cloak. She threw this over her head and shoulders and glanced at Nicholas.
“What a darling that girl is!” thought he. “And what have I been thinking of till now?”
Sónya went out into the passage to go to the barn. Nicholas went hastily to the front porch, saying he felt too hot. The crowd of people really had made the house stuffy.
Outside, there was the same cold stillness and the same moon, but even brighter than before. The light was so strong and the snow sparkled with so many stars that one did not wish to look up at the sky and the real stars were unnoticed. The sky was black and dreary, while the earth was gay.
“I am a fool, a fool! what have I been waiting for?” thought Nicholas, and running out from the porch he went round the corner of the house and along the path that led to the back porch. He knew Sónya would pass that way. Halfway lay some snow-covered piles of firewood and across and along them a network of shadows from the bare old lime trees fell on the snow and on the path. This path led to the barn. The log walls of the barn and its snow-covered roof, that looked as if hewn out of some precious stone, sparkled in the moonlight. A tree in the garden snapped with the frost, and then all was again perfectly silent. His bosom seemed to inhale not air but the strength of eternal youth and gladness.
From the back porch came the sound of feet descending the steps, the bottom step upon which snow had fallen gave a ringing creak and he heard the voice of an old maidservant saying, “Straight, straight, along the path, Miss. Only, don’t look back.”
“I am not afraid,” answered Sónya’s voice, and along the path toward Nicholas came the crunching, whistling sound of Sónya’s feet in her thin shoes.
Sónya came along, wrapped in her cloak. She was only a couple of paces away when she saw him, and to her too he was not the Nicholas she had known and always slightly feared. He was in a woman’s dress, with tousled hair and a happy smile new to Sónya. She ran rapidly toward him.
“Quite different and yet the same,” thought Nicholas, looking at her face all lit up by the moonlight. He slipped his arms under the cloak that covered her head, embraced her, pressed her to him, and kissed her on the lips that wore a mustache and had a smell of burnt cork. Sónya kissed him full on the lips, and disengaging her little hands pressed them to his cheeks.
“Sónya!... Nicholas!”... was all they said. They ran to the barn and then back again, re-entering, he by the front and she by the back porch.