Nicholas Rostóv meanwhile remained at his post, waiting for the wolf. By the way the hunt approached and receded, by the cries of the dogs whose notes were familiar to him, by the way the voices of the huntsmen approached, receded, and rose, he realized what was happening at the copse. He knew that young and old wolves were there, that the hounds had separated into two packs, that somewhere a wolf was being chased, and that something had gone wrong. He expected the wolf to come his way any moment. He made thousands of different conjectures as to where and from what side the beast would come and how he would set upon it. Hope alternated with despair. Several times he addressed a prayer to God that the wolf should come his way. He prayed with that passionate and shamefaced feeling with which men pray at moments of great excitement arising from trivial causes. “What would it be to Thee to do this for me?” he said to God. “I know Thou art great, and that it is a sin to ask this of Thee, but for God’s sake do let the old wolf come my way and let Karáy spring at it—in sight of ‘Uncle’ who is watching from over there—and seize it by the throat in a death grip!” A thousand times during that half-hour Rostóv cast eager and restless glances over the edge of the wood, with the two scraggy oaks rising above the aspen undergrowth and the gully with its water-worn side and “Uncle’s” cap just visible above the bush on his right.
“No, I shan’t have such luck,” thought Rostóv, “yet what wouldn’t it be worth! It is not to be! Everywhere, at cards and in war, I am always unlucky.” Memories of Austerlitz and of Dólokhov flashed rapidly and clearly through his mind. “Only once in my life to get an old wolf, I want only that!” thought he, straining eyes and ears and looking to the left and then to the right and listening to the slightest variation of note in the cries of the dogs.
Again he looked to the right and saw something running toward him across the deserted field. “No, it can’t be!” thought Rostóv, taking a deep breath, as a man does at the coming of something long hoped for. The height of happiness was reached—and so simply, without warning, or noise, or display, that Rostóv could not believe his eyes and remained in doubt for over a second. The wolf ran forward and jumped heavily over a gully that lay in her path. She was an old animal with a gray back and big reddish belly. She ran without hurry, evidently feeling sure that no one saw her. Rostóv, holding his breath, looked round at the borzois. They stood or lay not seeing the wolf or understanding the situation. Old Karáy had turned his head and was angrily searching for fleas, baring his yellow teeth and snapping at his hind legs.
“Ulyulyulyu!” whispered Rostóv, pouting his lips. The borzois jumped up, jerking the rings of the leashes and pricking their ears. Karáy finished scratching his hindquarters and, cocking his ears, got up with quivering tail from which tufts of matted hair hung down.
“Shall I loose them or not?” Nicholas asked himself as the wolf approached him coming from the copse. Suddenly the wolf’s whole physiognomy changed: she shuddered, seeing what she had probably never seen before—human eyes fixed upon her—and turning her head a little toward Rostóv, she paused.
“Back or forward? Eh, no matter, forward...” the wolf seemed to say to herself, and she moved forward without again looking round and with a quiet, long, easy yet resolute lope.
“Ulyulyu!” cried Nicholas, in a voice not his own, and of its own accord his good horse darted headlong downhill, leaping over gullies to head off the wolf, and the borzois passed it, running faster still. Nicholas did not hear his own cry nor feel that he was galloping, nor see the borzois, nor the ground over which he went: he saw only the wolf, who, increasing her speed, bounded on in the same direction along the hollow. The first to come into view was Mílka, with her black markings and powerful quarters, gaining upon the wolf. Nearer and nearer... now she was ahead of it; but the wolf turned its head to face her, and instead of putting on speed as she usually did Mílka suddenly raised her tail and stiffened her forelegs.
“Ulyulyulyulyu!” shouted Nicholas.
The reddish Lyubím rushed forward from behind Mílka, sprang impetuously at the wolf, and seized it by its hindquarters, but immediately jumped aside in terror. The wolf crouched, gnashed her teeth, and again rose and bounded forward, followed at the distance of a couple of feet by all the borzois, who did not get any closer to her.
“She’ll get away! No, it’s impossible!” thought Nicholas, still shouting with a hoarse voice.
“Karáy, ulyulyu!...” he shouted, looking round for the old borzoi who was now his only hope. Karáy, with all the strength age had left him, stretched himself to the utmost and, watching the wolf, galloped heavily aside to intercept it. But the quickness of the wolf’s lope and the borzoi’s slower pace made it plain that Karáy had miscalculated. Nicholas could already see not far in front of him the wood where the wolf would certainly escape should she reach it. But, coming toward him, he saw hounds and a huntsman galloping almost straight at the wolf. There was still hope. A long, yellowish young borzoi, one Nicholas did not know, from another leash, rushed impetuously at the wolf from in front and almost knocked her over. But the wolf jumped up more quickly than anyone could have expected and, gnashing her teeth, flew at the yellowish borzoi, which, with a piercing yelp, fell with its head on the ground, bleeding from a gash in its side.
“Karáy? Old fellow!...” wailed Nicholas.
Thanks to the delay caused by this crossing of the wolf’s path, the old dog with its felted hair hanging from its thigh was within five paces of it. As if aware of her danger, the wolf turned her eyes on Karáy, tucked her tail yet further between her legs, and increased her speed. But here Nicholas only saw that something happened to Karáy—the borzoi was suddenly on the wolf, and they rolled together down into a gully just in front of them.
That instant, when Nicholas saw the wolf struggling in the gully with the dogs, while from under them could be seen her gray hair and outstretched hind leg and her frightened choking head, with her ears laid back (Karáy was pinning her by the throat), was the happiest moment of his life. With his hand on his saddlebow, he was ready to dismount and stab the wolf, when she suddenly thrust her head up from among that mass of dogs, and then her forepaws were on the edge of the gully. She clicked her teeth (Karáy no longer had her by the throat), leaped with a movement of her hind legs out of the gully, and having disengaged herself from the dogs, with tail tucked in again, went forward. Karáy, his hair bristling, and probably bruised or wounded, climbed with difficulty out of the gully.
“Oh my God! Why?” Nicholas cried in despair.
“Uncle’s” huntsman was galloping from the other side across the wolf’s path and his borzois once more stopped the animal’s advance. She was again hemmed in.
Nicholas and his attendant, with “Uncle” and his huntsman, were all riding round the wolf, crying “ulyulyu!” shouting and preparing to dismount each moment that the wolf crouched back, and starting forward again every time she shook herself and moved toward the wood where she would be safe.
Already, at the beginning of this chase, Daniel, hearing the ulyulyuing, had rushed out from the wood. He saw Karáy seize the wolf, and checked his horse, supposing the affair to be over. But when he saw that the horsemen did not dismount and that the wolf shook herself and ran for safety, Daniel set his chestnut galloping, not at the wolf but straight toward the wood, just as Karáy had run to cut the animal off. As a result of this, he galloped up to the wolf just when she had been stopped a second time by “Uncle’s” borzois.
Daniel galloped up silently, holding a naked dagger in his left hand and thrashing the laboring sides of his chestnut horse with his whip as if it were a flail.
Nicholas neither saw nor heard Daniel until the chestnut, breathing heavily, panted past him, and he heard the fall of a body and saw Daniel lying on the wolf’s back among the dogs, trying to seize her by the ears. It was evident to the dogs, the hunters, and to the wolf herself that all was now over. The terrified wolf pressed back her ears and tried to rise, but the borzois stuck to her. Daniel rose a little, took a step, and with his whole weight, as if lying down to rest, fell on the wolf, seizing her by the ears. Nicholas was about to stab her, but Daniel whispered, “Don’t! We’ll gag her!” and, changing his position, set his foot on the wolf’s neck. A stick was thrust between her jaws and she was fastened with a leash, as if bridled, her legs were bound together, and Daniel rolled her over once or twice from side to side.
With happy, exhausted faces, they laid the old wolf, alive, on a shying and snorting horse and, accompanied by the dogs yelping at her, took her to the place where they were all to meet. The hounds had killed two of the cubs and the borzois three. The huntsmen assembled with their booty and their stories, and all came to look at the wolf, which, with her broad-browed head hanging down and the bitten stick between her jaws, gazed with great glassy eyes at this crowd of dogs and men surrounding her. When she was touched, she jerked her bound legs and looked wildly yet simply at everybody. Old Count Rostóv also rode up and touched the wolf.
“Oh, what a formidable one!” said he. “A formidable one, eh?” he asked Daniel, who was standing near.
“Yes, your excellency,” answered Daniel, quickly doffing his cap.
The count remembered the wolf he had let slip and his encounter with Daniel.
“Ah, but you are a crusty fellow, friend!” said the count.
For sole reply Daniel gave him a shy, childlike, meek, and amiable smile.
The old count went home, and Natásha and Pétya promised to return very soon, but as it was still early the hunt went farther. At midday they put the hounds into a ravine thickly overgrown with young trees. Nicholas standing in a fallow field could see all his whips.
Facing him lay a field of winter rye, there his own huntsman stood alone in a hollow behind a hazel bush. The hounds had scarcely been loosed before Nicholas heard one he knew, Voltórn, giving tongue at intervals; other hounds joined in, now pausing and now again giving tongue. A moment later he heard a cry from the wooded ravine that a fox had been found, and the whole pack, joining together, rushed along the ravine toward the ryefield and away from Nicholas.
He saw the whips in their red caps galloping along the edge of the ravine, he even saw the hounds, and was expecting a fox to show itself at any moment on the ryefield opposite.
The huntsman standing in the hollow moved and loosed his borzois, and Nicholas saw a queer, short-legged red fox with a fine brush going hard across the field. The borzois bore down on it.... Now they drew close to the fox which began to dodge between the field in sharper and sharper curves, trailing its brush, when suddenly a strange white borzoi dashed in followed by a black one, and everything was in confusion; the borzois formed a star-shaped figure, scarcely swaying their bodies and with tails turned away from the center of the group. Two huntsmen galloped up to the dogs; one in a red cap, the other, a stranger, in a green coat.
“What’s this?” thought Nicholas. “Where’s that huntsman from? He is not ‘Uncle’s’ man.”
The huntsmen got the fox, but stayed there a long time without strapping it to the saddle. Their horses, bridled and with high saddles, stood near them and there too the dogs were lying. The huntsmen waved their arms and did something to the fox. Then from that spot came the sound of a horn, with the signal agreed on in case of a fight.
“That’s Ilágin’s huntsman having a row with our Iván,” said Nicholas’ groom.
Nicholas sent the man to call Natásha and Pétya to him, and rode at a footpace to the place where the whips were getting the hounds together. Several of the field galloped to the spot where the fight was going on.
Nicholas dismounted, and with Natásha and Pétya, who had ridden up, stopped near the hounds, waiting to see how the matter would end. Out of the bushes came the huntsman who had been fighting and rode toward his young master, with the fox tied to his crupper. While still at a distance he took off his cap and tried to speak respectfully, but he was pale and breathless and his face was angry. One of his eyes was black, but he probably was not even aware of it.
“What has happened?” asked Nicholas.
“A likely thing, killing a fox our dogs had hunted! And it was my gray bitch that caught it! Go to law, indeed!... He snatches at the fox! I gave him one with the fox. Here it is on my saddle! Do you want a taste of this?...” said the huntsman, pointing to his dagger and probably imagining himself still speaking to his foe.
Nicholas, not stopping to talk to the man, asked his sister and Pétya to wait for him and rode to the spot where the enemy’s, Ilágin’s, hunting party was.
The victorious huntsman rode off to join the field, and there, surrounded by inquiring sympathizers, recounted his exploits.
The facts were that Ilágin, with whom the Rostóvs had a quarrel and were at law, hunted over places that belonged by custom to the Rostóvs, and had now, as if purposely, sent his men to the very woods the Rostóvs were hunting and let his man snatch a fox their dogs had chased.
Nicholas, though he had never seen Ilágin, with his usual absence of moderation in judgment, hated him cordially from reports of his arbitrariness and violence, and regarded him as his bitterest foe. He rode in angry agitation toward him, firmly grasping his whip and fully prepared to take the most resolute and desperate steps to punish his enemy.
Hardly had he passed an angle of the wood before a stout gentleman in a beaver cap came riding toward him on a handsome raven-black horse, accompanied by two hunt servants.
Instead of an enemy, Nicholas found in Ilágin a stately and courteous gentleman who was particularly anxious to make the young count’s acquaintance. Having ridden up to Nicholas, Ilágin raised his beaver cap and said he much regretted what had occurred and would have the man punished who had allowed himself to seize a fox hunted by someone else’s borzois. He hoped to become better acquainted with the count and invited him to draw his covert.
Natásha, afraid that her brother would do something dreadful, had followed him in some excitement. Seeing the enemies exchanging friendly greetings, she rode up to them. Ilágin lifted his beaver cap still higher to Natásha and said, with a pleasant smile, that the young countess resembled Diana in her passion for the chase as well as in her beauty, of which he had heard much.
To expiate his huntsman’s offense, Ilágin pressed the Rostóvs to come to an upland of his about a mile away which he usually kept for himself and which, he said, swarmed with hares. Nicholas agreed, and the hunt, now doubled, moved on.
The way to Iligin’s upland was across the fields. The hunt servants fell into line. The masters rode together. “Uncle,” Rostóv, and Ilágin kept stealthily glancing at one another’s dogs, trying not to be observed by their companions and searching uneasily for rivals to their own borzois.
Rostóv was particularly struck by the beauty of a small, pure-bred, red-spotted bitch on Ilágin’s leash, slender but with muscles like steel, a delicate muzzle, and prominent black eyes. He had heard of the swiftness of Ilágin’s borzois, and in that beautiful bitch saw a rival to his own Mílka.
In the middle of a sober conversation begun by Ilágin about the year’s harvest, Nicholas pointed to the red-spotted bitch.
“A fine little bitch, that!” said he in a careless tone. “Is she swift?”
“That one? Yes, she’s a good dog, gets what she’s after,” answered Ilágin indifferently, of the red-spotted bitch Erzá, for which, a year before, he had given a neighbor three families of house serfs. “So in your parts, too, the harvest is nothing to boast of, Count?” he went on, continuing the conversation they had begun. And considering it polite to return the young count’s compliment, Ilágin looked at his borzois and picked out Mílka who attracted his attention by her breadth. “That black-spotted one of yours is fine—well shaped!” said he.
“Yes, she’s fast enough,” replied Nicholas, and thought: “If only a full-grown hare would cross the field now I’d show you what sort of borzoi she is,” and turning to his groom, he said he would give a ruble to anyone who found a hare.
“I don’t understand,” continued Ilágin, “how some sportsmen can be so jealous about game and dogs. For myself, I can tell you, Count, I enjoy riding in company such as this... what could be better?” (he again raised his cap to Natásha) “but as for counting skins and what one takes, I don’t care about that.”
“Of course not!”
“Or being upset because someone else’s borzoi and not mine catches something. All I care about is to enjoy seeing the chase, is it not so, Count? For I consider that...”
“A-tu!” came the long-drawn cry of one of the borzoi whippers-in, who had halted. He stood on a knoll in the stubble, holding his whip aloft, and again repeated his long-drawn cry, “A-tu!” (This call and the uplifted whip meant that he saw a sitting hare.)
“Ah, he has found one, I think,” said Ilágin carelessly. “Yes, we must ride up.... Shall we both course it?” answered Nicholas, seeing in Erzá and “Uncle’s” red Rugáy two rivals he had never yet had a chance of pitting against his own borzois. “And suppose they outdo my Mílka at once!” he thought as he rode with “Uncle” and Ilágin toward the hare.
“A full-grown one?” asked Ilágin as he approached the whip who had sighted the hare—and not without agitation he looked round and whistled to Erzá.
“And you, Michael Nikanórovich?” he said, addressing “Uncle.”
The latter was riding with a sullen expression on his face.
“How can I join in? Why, you’ve given a village for each of your borzois! That’s it, come on! Yours are worth thousands. Try yours against one another, you two, and I’ll look on!”
“Rugáy, hey, hey!” he shouted. “Rugáyushka!” he added, involuntarily by this diminutive expressing his affection and the hopes he placed on this red borzoi. Natásha saw and felt the agitation the two elderly men and her brother were trying to conceal, and was herself excited by it.
The huntsman stood halfway up the knoll holding up his whip and the gentlefolk rode up to him at a footpace; the hounds that were far off on the horizon turned away from the hare, and the whips, but not the gentlefolk, also moved away. All were moving slowly and sedately.
“How is it pointing?” asked Nicholas, riding a hundred paces toward the whip who had sighted the hare.
But before the whip could reply, the hare, scenting the frost coming next morning, was unable to rest and leaped up. The pack on leash rushed downhill in full cry after the hare, and from all sides the borzois that were not on leash darted after the hounds and the hare. All the hunt, who had been moving slowly, shouted, “Stop!” calling in the hounds, while the borzoi whips, with a cry of “A-tu!” galloped across the field setting the borzois on the hare. The tranquil Ilágin, Nicholas, Natásha, and “Uncle” flew, reckless of where and how they went, seeing only the borzois and the hare and fearing only to lose sight even for an instant of the chase. The hare they had started was a strong and swift one. When he jumped up he did not run at once, but pricked his ears listening to the shouting and trampling that resounded from all sides at once. He took a dozen bounds, not very quickly, letting the borzois gain on him, and, finally having chosen his direction and realized his danger, laid back his ears and rushed off headlong. He had been lying in the stubble, but in front of him was the autumn sowing where the ground was soft. The two borzois of the huntsman who had sighted him, having been the nearest, were the first to see and pursue him, but they had not gone far before Ilágin’s red-spotted Erzá passed them, got within a length, flew at the hare with terrible swiftness aiming at his scut, and, thinking she had seized him, rolled over like a ball. The hare arched his back and bounded off yet more swiftly. From behind Erzá rushed the broad-haunched, black-spotted Mílka and began rapidly gaining on the hare.
“Miláshka, dear!” rose Nicholas’ triumphant cry. It looked as if Mílka would immediately pounce on the hare, but she overtook him and flew past. The hare had squatted. Again the beautiful Erzá reached him, but when close to the hare’s scut paused as if measuring the distance, so as not to make a mistake this time but seize his hind leg.
“Erzá, darling!” Ilágin wailed in a voice unlike his own. Erzá did not hearken to his appeal. At the very moment when she would have seized her prey, the hare moved and darted along the balk between the winter rye and the stubble. Again Erzá and Mílka were abreast, running like a pair of carriage horses, and began to overtake the hare, but it was easier for the hare to run on the balk and the borzois did not overtake him so quickly.
“Rugáy, Rugáyushka! That’s it, come on!” came a third voice just then, and “Uncle’s” red borzoi, straining and curving its back, caught up with the two foremost borzois, pushed ahead of them regardless of the terrible strain, put on speed close to the hare, knocked it off the balk onto the ryefield, again put on speed still more viciously, sinking to his knees in the muddy field, and all one could see was how, muddying his back, he rolled over with the hare. A ring of borzois surrounded him. A moment later everyone had drawn up round the crowd of dogs. Only the delighted “Uncle” dismounted, and cut off a pad, shaking the hare for the blood to drip off, and anxiously glancing round with restless eyes while his arms and legs twitched. He spoke without himself knowing whom to or what about. “That’s it, come on! That’s a dog!... There, it has beaten them all, the thousand-ruble as well as the one-ruble borzois. That’s it, come on!” said he, panting and looking wrathfully around as if he were abusing someone, as if they were all his enemies and had insulted him, and only now had he at last succeeded in justifying himself. “There are your thousand-ruble ones.... That’s it, come on!...”
“Rugáy, here’s a pad for you!” he said, throwing down the hare’s muddy pad. “You’ve deserved it, that’s it, come on!”
“She’d tired herself out, she’d run it down three times by herself,” said Nicholas, also not listening to anyone and regardless of whether he were heard or not.
“But what is there in running across it like that?” said Ilágin’s groom.
“Once she had missed it and turned it away, any mongrel could take it,” Ilágin was saying at the same time, breathless from his gallop and his excitement. At the same moment Natásha, without drawing breath, screamed joyously, ecstatically, and so piercingly that it set everyone’s ear tingling. By that shriek she expressed what the others expressed by all talking at once, and it was so strange that she must herself have been ashamed of so wild a cry and everyone else would have been amazed at it at any other time. “Uncle” himself twisted up the hare, threw it neatly and smartly across his horse’s back as if by that gesture he meant to rebuke everybody, and, with an air of not wishing to speak to anyone, mounted his bay and rode off. The others all followed, dispirited and shamefaced, and only much later were they able to regain their former affectation of indifference. For a long time they continued to look at red Rugáy who, his arched back spattered with mud and clanking the ring of his leash, walked along just behind “Uncle’s” horse with the serene air of a conqueror.
“Well, I am like any other dog as long as it’s not a question of coursing. But when it is, then look out!” his appearance seemed to Nicholas to be saying.
When, much later, “Uncle” rode up to Nicholas and began talking to him, he felt flattered that, after what had happened, “Uncle” deigned to speak to him.
Toward evening Ilágin took leave of Nicholas, who found that they were so far from home that he accepted “Uncle’s” offer that the hunting party should spend the night in his little village of Mikháylovna.
“And if you put up at my house that will be better still. That’s it, come on!” said “Uncle.” “You see it’s damp weather, and you could rest, and the little countess could be driven home in a trap.”
“Uncle’s” offer was accepted. A huntsman was sent to Otrádnoe for a trap, while Nicholas rode with Natásha and Pétya to “Uncle’s” house.
Some five male domestic serfs, big and little, rushed out to the front porch to meet their master. A score of women serfs, old and young, as well as children, popped out from the back entrance to have a look at the hunters who were arriving. The presence of Natásha—a woman, a lady, and on horseback—raised the curiosity of the serfs to such a degree that many of them came up to her, stared her in the face, and unabashed by her presence made remarks about her as though she were some prodigy on show and not a human being able to hear or understand what was said about her.
“Arínka! Look, she sits sideways! There she sits and her skirt dangles.... See, she’s got a little hunting horn!”
“Goodness gracious! See her knife?...”
“Isn’t she a Tartar!”
“How is it you didn’t go head over heels?” asked the boldest of all, addressing Natásha directly.
“Uncle” dismounted at the porch of his little wooden house which stood in the midst of an overgrown garden and, after a glance at his retainers, shouted authoritatively that the superfluous ones should take themselves off and that all necessary preparations should be made to receive the guests and the visitors.
The serfs all dispersed. “Uncle” lifted Natásha off her horse and taking her hand led her up the rickety wooden steps of the porch. The house, with its bare, unplastered log walls, was not overclean—it did not seem that those living in it aimed at keeping it spotless—but neither was it noticeably neglected. In the entry there was a smell of fresh apples, and wolf and fox skins hung about.
“Uncle” led the visitors through the anteroom into a small hall with a folding table and red chairs, then into the drawing room with a round birchwood table and a sofa, and finally into his private room where there was a tattered sofa, a worn carpet, and portraits of Suvórov, of the host’s father and mother, and of himself in military uniform. The study smelt strongly of tobacco and dogs. “Uncle” asked his visitors to sit down and make themselves at home, and then went out of the room. Rugáy, his back still muddy, came into the room and lay down on the sofa, cleaning himself with his tongue and teeth. Leading from the study was a passage in which a partition with ragged curtains could be seen. From behind this came women’s laughter and whispers. Natásha, Nicholas, and Pétya took off their wraps and sat down on the sofa. Pétya, leaning on his elbow, fell asleep at once. Natásha and Nicholas were silent. Their faces glowed, they were hungry and very cheerful. They looked at one another (now that the hunt was over and they were in the house, Nicholas no longer considered it necessary to show his manly superiority over his sister), Natásha gave him a wink, and neither refrained long from bursting into a peal of ringing laughter even before they had a pretext ready to account for it.
After a while “Uncle” came in, in a Cossack coat, blue trousers, and small top boots. And Natásha felt that this costume, the very one she had regarded with surprise and amusement at Otrádnoe, was just the right thing and not at all worse than a swallow-tail or frock coat. “Uncle” too was in high spirits and far from being offended by the brother’s and sister’s laughter (it could never enter his head that they might be laughing at his way of life) he himself joined in the merriment.
“That’s right, young countess, that’s it, come on! I never saw anyone like her!” said he, offering Nicholas a pipe with a long stem and, with a practiced motion of three fingers, taking down another that had been cut short. “She’s ridden all day like a man, and is as fresh as ever!”
Soon after “Uncle’s” reappearance the door was opened, evidently from the sound by a barefooted girl, and a stout, rosy, good-looking woman of about forty, with a double chin and full red lips, entered carrying a large loaded tray. With hospitable dignity and cordiality in her glance and in every motion, she looked at the visitors and, with a pleasant smile, bowed respectfully. In spite of her exceptional stoutness, which caused her to protrude her chest and stomach and throw back her head, this woman (who was “Uncle’s” housekeeper) trod very lightly. She went to the table, set down the tray, and with her plump white hands deftly took from it the bottles and various hors d’oeuvres and dishes and arranged them on the table. When she had finished, she stepped aside and stopped at the door with a smile on her face. “Here I am. I am she! Now do you understand ‘Uncle’?” her expression said to Rostóv. How could one help understanding? Not only Nicholas, but even Natásha understood the meaning of his puckered brow and the happy complacent smile that slightly puckered his lips when Anísya Fëdorovna entered. On the tray was a bottle of herb wine, different kinds of vodka, pickled mushrooms, rye cakes made with buttermilk, honey in the comb, still mead and sparkling mead, apples, nuts (raw and roasted), and nut-and-honey sweets. Afterwards she brought a freshly roasted chicken, ham, preserves made with honey, and preserves made with sugar.
All this was the fruit of Anísya Fëdorovna’s housekeeping, gathered and prepared by her. The smell and taste of it all had a smack of Anísya Fëdorovna herself: a savor of juiciness, cleanliness, whiteness, and pleasant smiles.
“Take this, little Lady-Countess!” she kept saying, as she offered Natásha first one thing and then another.
Natásha ate of everything and thought she had never seen or eaten such buttermilk cakes, such aromatic jam, such honey-and-nut sweets, or such a chicken anywhere. Anísya Fëdorovna left the room.
After supper, over their cherry brandy, Rostóv and “Uncle” talked of past and future hunts, of Rugáy and Ilágin’s dogs, while Natásha sat upright on the sofa and listened with sparkling eyes. She tried several times to wake Pétya that he might eat something, but he only muttered incoherent words without waking up. Natásha felt so lighthearted and happy in these novel surroundings that she only feared the trap would come for her too soon. After a casual pause, such as often occurs when receiving friends for the first time in one’s own house, “Uncle,” answering a thought that was in his visitors’ minds, said:
“This, you see, is how I am finishing my days... Death will come. That’s it, come on! Nothing will remain. Then why harm anyone?”
“Uncle’s” face was very significant and even handsome as he said this. Involuntarily Rostóv recalled all the good he had heard about him from his father and the neighbors. Throughout the whole province “Uncle” had the reputation of being the most honorable and disinterested of cranks. They called him in to decide family disputes, chose him as executor, confided secrets to him, elected him to be a justice and to other posts; but he always persistently refused public appointments, passing the autumn and spring in the fields on his bay gelding, sitting at home in winter, and lying in his overgrown garden in summer.
“Why don’t you enter the service, Uncle?”
“I did once, but gave it up. I am not fit for it. That’s it, come on! I can’t make head or tail of it. That’s for you—I haven’t brains enough. Now, hunting is another matter—that’s it, come on! Open the door, there!” he shouted. “Why have you shut it?”
The door at the end of the passage led to the huntsmen’s room, as they called the room for the hunt servants.
There was a rapid patter of bare feet, and an unseen hand opened the door into the huntsmen’s room, from which came the clear sounds of a balaláyka on which someone, who was evidently a master of the art, was playing. Natásha had been listening to those strains for some time and now went out into the passage to hear better.
“That’s Mítka, my coachman.... I have got him a good balaláyka. I’m fond of it,” said “Uncle.”
It was the custom for Mítka to play the balaláyka in the huntsmen’s room when “Uncle” returned from the chase. “Uncle” was fond of such music.
“How good! Really very good!” said Nicholas with some unintentional superciliousness, as if ashamed to confess that the sounds pleased him very much.
“Very good?” said Natásha reproachfully, noticing her brother’s tone. “Not ‘very good’ it’s simply delicious!”
Just as “Uncle’s” pickled mushrooms, honey, and cherry brandy had seemed to her the best in the world, so also that song, at that moment, seemed to her the acme of musical delight.
“More, please, more!” cried Natásha at the door as soon as the balaláyka ceased. Mítka tuned up afresh, and recommenced thrumming the balaláyka to the air of My Lady, with trills and variations. “Uncle” sat listening, slightly smiling, with his head on one side. The air was repeated a hundred times. The balaláyka was retuned several times and the same notes were thrummed again, but the listeners did not grow weary of it and wished to hear it again and again. Anísya Fëdorovna came in and leaned her portly person against the doorpost.
“You like listening?” she said to Natásha, with a smile extremely like “Uncle’s.” “That’s a good player of ours,” she added.
“He doesn’t play that part right!” said “Uncle” suddenly, with an energetic gesture. “Here he ought to burst out—that’s it, come on!—ought to burst out.”
“Do you play then?” asked Natásha.
“Uncle” did not answer, but smiled.
“Anísya, go and see if the strings of my guitar are all right. I haven’t touched it for a long time. That’s it—come on! I’ve given it up.”
Anísya Fëdorovna, with her light step, willingly went to fulfill her errand and brought back the guitar.
Without looking at anyone, “Uncle” blew the dust off it and, tapping the case with his bony fingers, tuned the guitar and settled himself in his armchair. He took the guitar a little above the fingerboard, arching his left elbow with a somewhat theatrical gesture, and, with a wink at Anísya Fëdorovna, struck a single chord, pure and sonorous, and then quietly, smoothly, and confidently began playing in very slow time, not My Lady, but the well-known song: Came a maiden down the street. The tune, played with precision and in exact time, began to thrill in the hearts of Nicholas and Natásha, arousing in them the same kind of sober mirth as radiated from Anísya Fëdorovna’s whole being. Anísya Fëdorovna flushed, and drawing her kerchief over her face went laughing out of the room. “Uncle” continued to play correctly, carefully, with energetic firmness, looking with a changed and inspired expression at the spot where Anísya Fëdorovna had just stood. Something seemed to be laughing a little on one side of his face under his gray mustaches, especially as the song grew brisker and the time quicker and when, here and there, as he ran his fingers over the strings, something seemed to snap.
“Lovely, lovely! Go on, Uncle, go on!” shouted Natásha as soon as he had finished. She jumped up and hugged and kissed him. “Nicholas, Nicholas!” she said, turning to her brother, as if asking him: “What is it moves me so?”
Nicholas too was greatly pleased by “Uncle’s” playing, and “Uncle” played the piece over again. Anísya Fëdorovna’s smiling face reappeared in the doorway and behind hers other faces...
Stop, dear maiden, I entreat—
played “Uncle” once more, running his fingers skillfully over the strings, and then he stopped short and jerked his shoulders.
“Go on, Uncle dear,” Natásha wailed in an imploring tone as if her life depended on it.
“Uncle” rose, and it was as if there were two men in him: one of them smiled seriously at the merry fellow, while the merry fellow struck a naïve and precise attitude preparatory to a folk dance.
“Now then, niece!” he exclaimed, waving to Natásha the hand that had just struck a chord.
Natásha threw off the shawl from her shoulders, ran forward to face “Uncle,” and setting her arms akimbo also made a motion with her shoulders and struck an attitude.
Where, how, and when had this young countess, educated by an émigrée French governess, imbibed from the Russian air she breathed that spirit and obtained that manner which the pas de châle * would, one would have supposed, long ago have effaced? But the spirit and the movements were those inimitable and unteachable Russian ones that “Uncle” had expected of her. As soon as she had struck her pose, and smiled triumphantly, proudly, and with sly merriment, the fear that had at first seized Nicholas and the others that she might not do the right thing was at an end, and they were already admiring her.
She did the right thing with such precision, such complete precision, that Anísya Fëdorovna, who had at once handed her the handkerchief she needed for the dance, had tears in her eyes, though she laughed as she watched this slim, graceful countess, reared in silks and velvets and so different from herself, who yet was able to understand all that was in Anísya and in Anísya’s father and mother and aunt, and in every Russian man and woman.
“Well, little countess; that’s it—come on!” cried “Uncle,” with a joyous laugh, having finished the dance. “Well done, niece! Now a fine young fellow must be found as husband for you. That’s it—come on!”
“He’s chosen already,” said Nicholas smiling.
“Oh?” said “Uncle” in surprise, looking inquiringly at Natásha, who nodded her head with a happy smile.
“And such a one!” she said. But as soon as she had said it a new train of thoughts and feelings arose in her. “What did Nicholas’ smile mean when he said ‘chosen already’? Is he glad of it or not? It is as if he thought my Bolkónski would not approve of or understand our gaiety. But he would understand it all. Where is he now?” she thought, and her face suddenly became serious. But this lasted only a second. “Don’t dare to think about it,” she said to herself, and sat down again smilingly beside “Uncle,” begging him to play something more.
“Uncle” played another song and a valse; then after a pause he cleared his throat and sang his favorite hunting song:
Fell the snow so soft and light...
“Uncle” sang as peasants sing, with full and naïve conviction that the whole meaning of a song lies in the words and that the tune comes of itself, and that apart from the words there is no tune, which exists only to give measure to the words. As a result of this the unconsidered tune, like the song of a bird, was extraordinarily good. Natásha was in ecstasies over “Uncle’s” singing. She resolved to give up learning the harp and to play only the guitar. She asked “Uncle” for his guitar and at once found the chords of the song.
After nine o’clock two traps and three mounted men, who had been sent to look for them, arrived to fetch Natásha and Pétya. The count and countess did not know where they were and were very anxious, said one of the men.
Pétya was carried out like a log and laid in the larger of the two traps. Natásha and Nicholas got into the other. “Uncle” wrapped Natásha up warmly and took leave of her with quite a new tenderness. He accompanied them on foot as far as the bridge that could not be crossed, so that they had to go round by the ford, and he sent huntsmen to ride in front with lanterns.
“Good-by, dear niece,” his voice called out of the darkness—not the voice Natásha had known previously, but the one that had sung As ‘twas growing dark last night.
In the village through which they passed there were red lights and a cheerful smell of smoke.
“What a darling Uncle is!” said Natásha, when they had come out onto the highroad.
“Yes,” returned Nicholas. “You’re not cold?”
“No. I’m quite, quite all right. I feel so comfortable!” answered Natásha, almost perplexed by her feelings. They remained silent a long while. The night was dark and damp. They could not see the horses, but only heard them splashing through the unseen mud.
What was passing in that receptive childlike soul that so eagerly caught and assimilated all the diverse impressions of life? How did they all find place in her? But she was very happy. As they were nearing home she suddenly struck up the air of As ‘twas growing dark last night—the tune of which she had all the way been trying to get and had at last caught.
“Got it?” said Nicholas.
“What were you thinking about just now, Nicholas?” inquired Natásha.
They were fond of asking one another that question.
“I?” said Nicholas, trying to remember. “Well, you see, first I thought that Rugáy, the red hound, was like Uncle, and that if he were a man he would always keep Uncle near him, if not for his riding, then for his manner. What a good fellow Uncle is! Don’t you think so?... Well, and you?”
“I? Wait a bit, wait.... Yes, first I thought that we are driving along and imagining that we are going home, but that heaven knows where we are really going in the darkness, and that we shall arrive and suddenly find that we are not in Otrádnoe, but in Fairyland. And then I thought... No, nothing else.”
“I know, I expect you thought of him,” said Nicholas, smiling as Natásha knew by the sound of his voice.
“No,” said Natásha, though she had in reality been thinking about Prince Andrew at the same time as of the rest, and of how he would have liked “Uncle.” “And then I was saying to myself all the way, ‘How well Anísya carried herself, how well!’” And Nicholas heard her spontaneous, happy, ringing laughter. “And do you know,” she suddenly said, “I know that I shall never again be as happy and tranquil as I am now.”
“Rubbish, nonsense, humbug!” exclaimed Nicholas, and he thought: “How charming this Natásha of mine is! I have no other friend like her and never shall have. Why should she marry? We might always drive about together!”
“What a darling this Nicholas of mine is!” thought Natásha.
“Ah, there are still lights in the drawing room!” she said, pointing to the windows of the house that gleamed invitingly in the moist velvety darkness of the night.