During that year after his son’s departure, Prince Nicholas Bolkónski’s health and temper became much worse. He grew still more irritable, and it was Princess Mary who generally bore the brunt of his frequent fits of unprovoked anger. He seemed carefully to seek out her tender spots so as to torture her mentally as harshly as possible. Princess Mary had two passions and consequently two joys—her nephew, little Nicholas, and religion—and these were the favorite subjects of the prince’s attacks and ridicule. Whatever was spoken of he would bring round to the superstitiousness of old maids, or the petting and spoiling of children. “You want to make him”—little Nicholas—“into an old maid like yourself! A pity! Prince Andrew wants a son and not an old maid,” he would say. Or, turning to Mademoiselle Bourienne, he would ask her in Princess Mary’s presence how she liked our village priests and icons and would joke about them.
He continually hurt Princess Mary’s feelings and tormented her, but it cost her no effort to forgive him. Could he be to blame toward her, or could her father, whom she knew loved her in spite of it all, be unjust? And what is justice? The princess never thought of that proud word “justice.” All the complex laws of man centered for her in one clear and simple law—the law of love and self-sacrifice taught us by Him who lovingly suffered for mankind though He Himself was God. What had she to do with the justice or injustice of other people? She had to endure and love, and that she did.
During the winter Prince Andrew had come to Bald Hills and had been gay, gentle, and more affectionate than Princess Mary had known him for a long time past. She felt that something had happened to him, but he said nothing to her about his love. Before he left he had a long talk with his father about something, and Princess Mary noticed that before his departure they were dissatisfied with one another.
Soon after Prince Andrew had gone, Princess Mary wrote to her friend Julie Karágina in Petersburg, whom she had dreamed (as all girls dream) of marrying to her brother, and who was at that time in mourning for her own brother, killed in Turkey.
Sorrow, it seems, is our common lot, my dear, tender friend Julie.
Your loss is so terrible that I can only explain it to myself as a special providence of God who, loving you, wishes to try you and your excellent mother. Oh, my friend! Religion, and religion alone, can—I will not say comfort us—but save us from despair. Religion alone can explain to us what without its help man cannot comprehend: why, for what cause, kind and noble beings able to find happiness in life—not merely harming no one but necessary to the happiness of others—are called away to God, while cruel, useless, harmful persons, or such as are a burden to themselves and to others, are left living. The first death I saw, and one I shall never forget—that of my dear sister-in-law—left that impression on me. Just as you ask destiny why your splendid brother had to die, so I asked why that angel Lise, who not only never wronged anyone, but in whose soul there were never any unkind thoughts, had to die. And what do you think, dear friend? Five years have passed since then, and already I, with my petty understanding, begin to see clearly why she had to die, and in what way that death was but an expression of the infinite goodness of the Creator, whose every action, though generally incomprehensible to us, is but a manifestation of His infinite love for His creatures. Perhaps, I often think, she was too angelically innocent to have the strength to perform all a mother’s duties. As a young wife she was irreproachable; perhaps she could not have been so as a mother. As it is, not only has she left us, and particularly Prince Andrew, with the purest regrets and memories, but probably she will there receive a place I dare not hope for myself. But not to speak of her alone, that early and terrible death has had the most beneficent influence on me and on my brother in spite of all our grief. Then, at the moment of our loss, these thoughts could not occur to me; I should then have dismissed them with horror, but now they are very clear and certain. I write all this to you, dear friend, only to convince you of the Gospel truth which has become for me a principle of life: not a single hair of our heads will fall without His will. And His will is governed only by infinite love for us, and so whatever befalls us is for our good.
You ask whether we shall spend next winter in Moscow. In spite of my wish to see you, I do not think so and do not want to do so. You will be surprised to hear that the reason for this is Buonaparte! The case is this: my father’s health is growing noticeably worse, he cannot stand any contradiction and is becoming irritable. This irritability is, as you know, chiefly directed to political questions. He cannot endure the notion that Buonaparte is negotiating on equal terms with all the sovereigns of Europe and particularly with our own, the grandson of the Great Catherine! As you know, I am quite indifferent to politics, but from my father’s remarks and his talks with Michael Ivánovich I know all that goes on in the world and especially about the honors conferred on Buonaparte, who only at Bald Hills in the whole world, it seems, is not accepted as a great man, still less as Emperor of France. And my father cannot stand this. It seems to me that it is chiefly because of his political views that my father is reluctant to speak of going to Moscow; for he foresees the encounters that would result from his way of expressing his views regardless of anybody. All the benefit he might derive from a course of treatment he would lose as a result of the disputes about Buonaparte which would be inevitable. In any case it will be decided very shortly.
Our family life goes on in the old way except for my brother Andrew’s absence. He, as I wrote you before, has changed very much of late. After his sorrow he only this year quite recovered his spirits. He has again become as I used to know him when a child: kind, affectionate, with that heart of gold to which I know no equal. He has realized, it seems to me, that life is not over for him. But together with this mental change he has grown physically much weaker. He has become thinner and more nervous. I am anxious about him and glad he is taking this trip abroad which the doctors recommended long ago. I hope it will cure him. You write that in Petersburg he is spoken of as one of the most active, cultivated, and capable of the young men. Forgive my vanity as a relation, but I never doubted it. The good he has done to everybody here, from his peasants up to the gentry, is incalculable. On his arrival in Petersburg he received only his due. I always wonder at the way rumors fly from Petersburg to Moscow, especially such false ones as that you write about—I mean the report of my brother’s betrothal to the little Rostóva. I do not think my brother will ever marry again, and certainly not her; and this is why: first, I know that though he rarely speaks about the wife he has lost, the grief of that loss has gone too deep in his heart for him ever to decide to give her a successor and our little angel a stepmother. Secondly because, as far as I know, that girl is not the kind of girl who could please Prince Andrew. I do not think he would choose her for a wife, and frankly I do not wish it. But I am running on too long and am at the end of my second sheet. Good-by, my dear friend. May God keep you in His holy and mighty care. My dear friend, Mademoiselle Bourienne, sends you kisses.
In the middle of the summer Princess Mary received an unexpected letter from Prince Andrew in Switzerland in which he gave her strange and surprising news. He informed her of his engagement to Natásha Rostóva. The whole letter breathed loving rapture for his betrothed and tender and confiding affection for his sister. He wrote that he had never loved as he did now and that only now did he understand and know what life was. He asked his sister to forgive him for not having told her of his resolve when he had last visited Bald Hills, though he had spoken of it to his father. He had not done so for fear Princess Mary should ask her father to give his consent, irritating him and having to bear the brunt of his displeasure without attaining her object. “Besides,” he wrote, “the matter was not then so definitely settled as it is now. My father then insisted on a delay of a year and now already six months, half of that period, have passed, and my resolution is firmer than ever. If the doctors did not keep me here at the spas I should be back in Russia, but as it is I have to postpone my return for three months. You know me and my relations with Father. I want nothing from him. I have been and always shall be independent; but to go against his will and arouse his anger, now that he may perhaps remain with us such a short time, would destroy half my happiness. I am now writing to him about the same question, and beg you to choose a good moment to hand him the letter and to let me know how he looks at the whole matter and whether there is hope that he may consent to reduce the term by four months.”
After long hesitations, doubts, and prayers, Princess Mary gave the letter to her father. The next day the old prince said to her quietly:
“Write and tell your brother to wait till I am dead.... It won’t be long—I shall soon set him free.”
The princess was about to reply, but her father would not let her speak and, raising his voice more and more, cried:
“Marry, marry, my boy!... A good family!... Clever people, eh? Rich, eh? Yes, a nice stepmother little Nicholas will have! Write and tell him that he may marry tomorrow if he likes. She will be little Nicholas’ stepmother and I’ll marry Bourienne!... Ha, ha, ha! He mustn’t be without a stepmother either! Only one thing, no more women are wanted in my house—let him marry and live by himself. Perhaps you will go and live with him too?” he added, turning to Princess Mary. “Go in heaven’s name! Go out into the frost... the frost... the frost!”
After this outburst the prince did not speak any more about the matter. But repressed vexation at his son’s poor-spirited behavior found expression in his treatment of his daughter. To his former pretexts for irony a fresh one was now added—allusions to stepmothers and amiabilities to Mademoiselle Bourienne.
“Why shouldn’t I marry her?” he asked his daughter. “She’ll make a splendid princess!”
And latterly, to her surprise and bewilderment, Princess Mary noticed that her father was really associating more and more with the Frenchwoman. She wrote to Prince Andrew about the reception of his letter, but comforted him with hopes of reconciling their father to the idea.
Little Nicholas and his education, her brother Andrew, and religion were Princess Mary’s joys and consolations; but besides that, since everyone must have personal hopes, Princess Mary in the profoundest depths of her heart had a hidden dream and hope that supplied the chief consolation of her life. This comforting dream and hope were given her by God’s folk—the half-witted and other pilgrims who visited her without the prince’s knowledge. The longer she lived, the more experience and observation she had of life, the greater was her wonder at the short-sightedness of men who seek enjoyment and happiness here on earth: toiling, suffering, struggling, and harming one another, to obtain that impossible, visionary, sinful happiness. Prince Andrew had loved his wife, she died, but that was not enough: he wanted to bind his happiness to another woman. Her father objected to this because he wanted a more distinguished and wealthier match for Andrew. And they all struggled and suffered and tormented one another and injured their souls, their eternal souls, for the attainment of benefits which endure but for an instant. Not only do we know this ourselves, but Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth and told us that this life is but for a moment and is a probation; yet we cling to it and think to find happiness in it. “How is it that no one realizes this?” thought Princess Mary. “No one except these despised God’s folk who, wallet on back, come to me by the back door, afraid of being seen by the prince, not for fear of ill-usage by him but for fear of causing him to sin. To leave family, home, and all the cares of worldly welfare, in order without clinging to anything to wander in hempen rags from place to place under an assumed name, doing no one any harm but praying for all—for those who drive one away as well as for those who protect one: higher than that life and truth there is no life or truth!”
There was one pilgrim, a quiet pockmarked little woman of fifty called Theodosia, who for over thirty years had gone about barefoot and worn heavy chains. Princess Mary was particularly fond of her. Once, when in a room with a lamp dimly lit before the icon Theodosia was talking of her life, the thought that Theodosia alone had found the true path of life suddenly came to Princess Mary with such force that she resolved to become a pilgrim herself. When Theodosia had gone to sleep Princess Mary thought about this for a long time, and at last made up her mind that, strange as it might seem, she must go on a pilgrimage. She disclosed this thought to no one but to her confessor, Father Akínfi, the monk, and he approved of her intention. Under guise of a present for the pilgrims, Princess Mary prepared a pilgrim’s complete costume for herself: a coarse smock, bast shoes, a rough coat, and a black kerchief. Often, approaching the chest of drawers containing this secret treasure, Princess Mary paused, uncertain whether the time had not already come to put her project into execution.
Often, listening to the pilgrims’ tales, she was so stimulated by their simple speech, mechanical to them but to her so full of deep meaning, that several times she was on the point of abandoning everything and running away from home. In imagination she already pictured herself by Theodosia’s side, dressed in coarse rags, walking with a staff, a wallet on her back, along the dusty road, directing her wanderings from one saint’s shrine to another, free from envy, earthly love, or desire, and reaching at last the place where there is no more sorrow or sighing, but eternal joy and bliss.
“I shall come to a place and pray there, and before having time to get used to it or getting to love it, I shall go farther. I will go on till my legs fail, and I’ll lie down and die somewhere, and shall at last reach that eternal, quiet haven, where there is neither sorrow nor sighing...” thought Princess Mary.
But afterwards, when she saw her father and especially little Koko (Nicholas), her resolve weakened. She wept quietly, and felt that she was a sinner who loved her father and little nephew more than God.
BOOK SEVEN: 1810 - 11
The Bible legend tells us that the absence of labor—idleness—was a condition of the first man’s blessedness before the Fall. Fallen man has retained a love of idleness, but the curse weighs on the race not only because we have to seek our bread in the sweat of our brows, but because our moral nature is such that we cannot be both idle and at ease. An inner voice tells us we are in the wrong if we are idle. If man could find a state in which he felt that though idle he was fulfilling his duty, he would have found one of the conditions of man’s primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is the lot of a whole class—the military. The chief attraction of military service has consisted and will consist in this compulsory and irreproachable idleness.
Nicholas Rostóv experienced this blissful condition to the full when, after 1807, he continued to serve in the Pávlograd regiment, in which he already commanded the squadron he had taken over from Denísov.
Rostóv had become a bluff, good-natured fellow, whom his Moscow acquaintances would have considered rather bad form, but who was liked and respected by his comrades, subordinates, and superiors, and was well contented with his life. Of late, in 1809, he found in letters from home more frequent complaints from his mother that their affairs were falling into greater and greater disorder, and that it was time for him to come back to gladden and comfort his old parents.
Reading these letters, Nicholas felt a dread of their wanting to take him away from surroundings in which, protected from all the entanglements of life, he was living so calmly and quietly. He felt that sooner or later he would have to re-enter that whirlpool of life, with its embarrassments and affairs to be straightened out, its accounts with stewards, quarrels, and intrigues, its ties, society, and with Sónya’s love and his promise to her. It was all dreadfully difficult and complicated; and he replied to his mother in cold, formal letters in French, beginning: “My dear Mamma,” and ending: “Your obedient son,” which said nothing of when he would return. In 1810 he received letters from his parents, in which they told him of Natásha’s engagement to Bolkónski, and that the wedding would be in a year’s time because the old prince made difficulties. This letter grieved and mortified Nicholas. In the first place he was sorry that Natásha, for whom he cared more than for anyone else in the family, should be lost to the home; and secondly, from his hussar point of view, he regretted not to have been there to show that fellow Bolkónski that connection with him was no such great honor after all, and that if he loved Natásha he might dispense with permission from his dotard father. For a moment he hesitated whether he should not apply for leave in order to see Natásha before she was married, but then came the maneuvers, and considerations about Sónya and about the confusion of their affairs, and Nicholas again put it off. But in the spring of that year, he received a letter from his mother, written without his father’s knowledge, and that letter persuaded him to return. She wrote that if he did not come and take matters in hand, their whole property would be sold by auction and they would all have to go begging. The count was so weak, and trusted Mítenka so much, and was so good-natured, that everybody took advantage of him and things were going from bad to worse. “For God’s sake, I implore you, come at once if you do not wish to make me and the whole family wretched,” wrote the countess.
This letter touched Nicholas. He had that common sense of a matter-of-fact man which showed him what he ought to do.
The right thing now was, if not to retire from the service, at any rate to go home on leave. Why he had to go he did not know; but after his after-dinner nap he gave orders to saddle Mars, an extremely vicious gray stallion that had not been ridden for a long time, and when he returned with the horse all in a lather, he informed Lavrúshka (Denísov’s servant who had remained with him) and his comrades who turned up in the evening that he was applying for leave and was going home. Difficult and strange as it was for him to reflect that he would go away without having heard from the staff—and this interested him extremely—whether he was promoted to a captaincy or would receive the Order of St. Anne for the last maneuvers; strange as it was to think that he would go away without having sold his three roans to the Polish Count Golukhovski, who was bargaining for the horses Rostóv had betted he would sell for two thousand rubles; incomprehensible as it seemed that the ball the hussars were giving in honor of the Polish Mademoiselle Przazdziecka (out of rivalry to the Uhlans who had given one in honor of their Polish Mademoiselle Borzozowska) would take place without him—he knew he must go away from this good, bright world to somewhere where everything was stupid and confused. A week later he obtained his leave. His hussar comrades—not only those of his own regiment, but the whole brigade—gave Rostóv a dinner to which the subscription was fifteen rubles a head, and at which there were two bands and two choirs of singers. Rostóv danced the Trepák with Major Básov; the tipsy officers tossed, embraced, and dropped Rostóv; the soldiers of the third squadron tossed him too, and shouted “hurrah!” and then they put him in his sleigh and escorted him as far as the first post station.
During the first half of the journey—from Kremenchúg to Kiev—all Rostóv’s thoughts, as is usual in such cases, were behind him, with the squadron; but when he had gone more than halfway he began to forget his three roans and Dozhoyvéyko, his quartermaster, and to wonder anxiously how things would be at Otrádnoe and what he would find there. Thoughts of home grew stronger the nearer he approached it—far stronger, as though this feeling of his was subject to the law by which the force of attraction is in inverse proportion to the square of the distance. At the last post station before Otrádnoe he gave the driver a three-ruble tip, and on arriving he ran breathlessly, like a boy, up the steps of his home.
After the rapture of meeting, and after that odd feeling of unsatisfied expectation—the feeling that “everything is just the same, so why did I hurry?”—Nicholas began to settle down in his old home world. His father and mother were much the same, only a little older. What was new in them was a certain uneasiness and occasional discord, which there used not to be, and which, as Nicholas soon found out, was due to the bad state of their affairs. Sónya was nearly twenty; she had stopped growing prettier and promised nothing more than she was already, but that was enough. She exhaled happiness and love from the time Nicholas returned, and the faithful, unalterable love of this girl had a gladdening effect on him. Pétya and Natásha surprised Nicholas most. Pétya was a big handsome boy of thirteen, merry, witty, and mischievous, with a voice that was already breaking. As for Natásha, for a long while Nicholas wondered and laughed whenever he looked at her.
“You’re not the same at all,” he said.
“How? Am I uglier?”
“On the contrary, but what dignity? A princess!” he whispered to her.
“Yes, yes, yes!” cried Natásha, joyfully.
She told him about her romance with Prince Andrew and of his visit to Otrádnoe and showed him his last letter.
“Well, are you glad?” Natásha asked. “I am so tranquil and happy now.”
“Very glad,” answered Nicholas. “He is an excellent fellow.... And are you very much in love?”
“How shall I put it?” replied Natásha. “I was in love with Borís, with my teacher, and with Denísov, but this is quite different. I feel at peace and settled. I know that no better man than he exists, and I am calm and contented now. Not at all as before.”
Nicholas expressed his disapproval of the postponement of the marriage for a year; but Natásha attacked her brother with exasperation, proving to him that it could not be otherwise, and that it would be a bad thing to enter a family against the father’s will, and that she herself wished it so.
“You don’t at all understand,” she said.
Nicholas was silent and agreed with her.
Her brother often wondered as he looked at her. She did not seem at all like a girl in love and parted from her affianced husband. She was even-tempered and calm and quite as cheerful as of old. This amazed Nicholas and even made him regard Bolkónski’s courtship skeptically. He could not believe that her fate was sealed, especially as he had not seen her with Prince Andrew. It always seemed to him that there was something not quite right about this intended marriage.
“Why this delay? Why no betrothal?” he thought. Once, when he had touched on this topic with his mother, he discovered, to his surprise and somewhat to his satisfaction, that in the depth of her soul she too had doubts about this marriage.
“You see he writes,” said she, showing her son a letter of Prince Andrew’s, with that latent grudge a mother always has in regard to a daughter’s future married happiness, “he writes that he won’t come before December. What can be keeping him? Illness, probably! His health is very delicate. Don’t tell Natásha. And don’t attach importance to her being so bright: that’s because she’s living through the last days of her girlhood, but I know what she is like every time we receive a letter from him! However, God grant that everything turns out well!” (She always ended with these words.) “He is an excellent man!”
After reaching home Nicholas was at first serious and even dull. He was worried by the impending necessity of interfering in the stupid business matters for which his mother had called him home. To throw off this burden as quickly as possible, on the third day after his arrival he went, angry and scowling and without answering questions as to where he was going, to Mítenka’s lodge and demanded an account of everything. But what an account of everything might be Nicholas knew even less than the frightened and bewildered Mítenka. The conversation and the examination of the accounts with Mítenka did not last long. The village elder, a peasant delegate, and the village clerk, who were waiting in the passage, heard with fear and delight first the young count’s voice roaring and snapping and rising louder and louder, and then words of abuse, dreadful words, ejaculated one after the other.
“Robber!... Ungrateful wretch!... I’ll hack the dog to pieces! I’m not my father!... Robbing us!...” and so on.
Then with no less fear and delight they saw how the young count, red in the face and with bloodshot eyes, dragged Mítenka out by the scruff of the neck and applied his foot and knee to his behind with great agility at convenient moments between the words, shouting, “Be off! Never let me see your face here again, you villain!”
Mítenka flew headlong down the six steps and ran away into the shrubbery. (This shrubbery was a well-known haven of refuge for culprits at Otrádnoe. Mítenka himself, returning tipsy from the town, used to hide there, and many of the residents at Otrádnoe, hiding from Mítenka, knew of its protective qualities.)
Mítenka’s wife and sisters-in-law thrust their heads and frightened faces out of the door of a room where a bright samovar was boiling and where the steward’s high bedstead stood with its patchwork quilt.
The young count paid no heed to them, but, breathing hard, passed by with resolute strides and went into the house.
The countess, who heard at once from the maids what had happened at the lodge, was calmed by the thought that now their affairs would certainly improve, but on the other hand felt anxious as to the effect this excitement might have on her son. She went several times to his door on tiptoe and listened, as he lighted one pipe after another.
Next day the old count called his son aside and, with an embarrassed smile, said to him:
“But you know, my dear boy, it’s a pity you got excited! Mítenka has told me all about it.”
“I knew,” thought Nicholas, “that I should never understand anything in this crazy world.”
“You were angry that he had not entered those 700 rubles. But they were carried forward—and you did not look at the other page.”
“Papa, he is a blackguard and a thief! I know he is! And what I have done, I have done; but, if you like, I won’t speak to him again.”
“No, my dear boy” (the count, too, felt embarrassed. He knew he had mismanaged his wife’s property and was to blame toward his children, but he did not know how to remedy it). “No, I beg you to attend to the business. I am old. I...”
“No, Papa. Forgive me if I have caused you unpleasantness. I understand it all less than you do.”
“Devil take all these peasants, and money matters, and carryings forward from page to page,” he thought. “I used to understand what a ‘corner’ and the stakes at cards meant, but carrying forward to another page I don’t understand at all,” said he to himself, and after that he did not meddle in business affairs. But once the countess called her son and informed him that she had a promissory note from Anna Mikháylovna for two thousand rubles, and asked him what he thought of doing with it.
“This,” answered Nicholas. “You say it rests with me. Well, I don’t like Anna Mikháylovna and I don’t like Borís, but they were our friends and poor. Well then, this!” and he tore up the note, and by so doing caused the old countess to weep tears of joy. After that, young Rostóv took no further part in any business affairs, but devoted himself with passionate enthusiasm to what was to him a new pursuit—the chase—for which his father kept a large establishment.
The weather was already growing wintry and morning frosts congealed an earth saturated by autumn rains. The verdure had thickened and its bright green stood out sharply against the brownish strips of winter rye trodden down by the cattle, and against the pale-yellow stubble of the spring buckwheat. The wooded ravines and the copses, which at the end of August had still been green islands amid black fields and stubble, had become golden and bright-red islands amid the green winter rye. The hares had already half changed their summer coats, the fox cubs were beginning to scatter, and the young wolves were bigger than dogs. It was the best time of the year for the chase. The hounds of that ardent young sportsman Rostóv had not merely reached hard winter condition, but were so jaded that at a meeting of the huntsmen it was decided to give them a three days’ rest and then, on the sixteenth of September, to go on a distant expedition, starting from the oak grove where there was an undisturbed litter of wolf cubs.
All that day the hounds remained at home. It was frosty and the air was sharp, but toward evening the sky became overcast and it began to thaw. On the fifteenth, when young Rostóv, in his dressing gown, looked out of the window, he saw it was an unsurpassable morning for hunting: it was as if the sky were melting and sinking to the earth without any wind. The only motion in the air was that of the dripping, microscopic particles of drizzling mist. The bare twigs in the garden were hung with transparent drops which fell on the freshly fallen leaves. The earth in the kitchen garden looked wet and black and glistened like poppy seed and at a short distance merged into the dull, moist veil of mist. Nicholas went out into the wet and muddy porch. There was a smell of decaying leaves and of dog. Mílka, a black-spotted, broad-haunched bitch with prominent black eyes, got up on seeing her master, stretched her hind legs, lay down like a hare, and then suddenly jumped up and licked him right on his nose and mustache. Another borzoi, a dog, catching sight of his master from the garden path, arched his back and, rushing headlong toward the porch with lifted tail, began rubbing himself against his legs.
“O-hoy!” came at that moment, that inimitable huntsman’s call which unites the deepest bass with the shrillest tenor, and round the corner came Daniel the head huntsman and head kennelman, a gray, wrinkled old man with hair cut straight over his forehead, Ukrainian fashion, a long bent whip in his hand, and that look of independence and scorn of everything that is only seen in huntsmen. He doffed his Circassian cap to his master and looked at him scornfully. This scorn was not offensive to his master. Nicholas knew that this Daniel, disdainful of everybody and who considered himself above them, was all the same his serf and huntsman.
“Daniel!” Nicholas said timidly, conscious at the sight of the weather, the hounds, and the huntsman that he was being carried away by that irresistible passion for sport which makes a man forget all his previous resolutions, as a lover forgets in the presence of his mistress.
“What orders, your excellency?” said the huntsman in his deep bass, deep as a proto-deacon’s and hoarse with hallooing—and two flashing black eyes gazed from under his brows at his master, who was silent. “Can you resist it?” those eyes seemed to be asking.
“It’s a good day, eh? For a hunt and a gallop, eh?” asked Nicholas, scratching Mílka behind the ears.
Daniel did not answer, but winked instead.
“I sent Uvárka at dawn to listen,” his bass boomed out after a minute’s pause. “He says she’s moved them into the Otrádnoe enclosure. They were howling there.” (This meant that the she-wolf, about whom they both knew, had moved with her cubs to the Otrádnoe copse, a small place a mile and a half from the house.)
“We ought to go, don’t you think so?” said Nicholas. “Come to me with Uvárka.”
“As you please.”
“Then put off feeding them.”
Five minutes later Daniel and Uvárka were standing in Nicholas’ big study. Though Daniel was not a big man, to see him in a room was like seeing a horse or a bear on the floor among the furniture and surroundings of human life. Daniel himself felt this, and as usual stood just inside the door, trying to speak softly and not move, for fear of breaking something in the master’s apartment, and he hastened to say all that was necessary so as to get from under that ceiling, out into the open under the sky once more.
Having finished his inquiries and extorted from Daniel an opinion that the hounds were fit (Daniel himself wished to go hunting), Nicholas ordered the horses to be saddled. But just as Daniel was about to go Natásha came in with rapid steps, not having done up her hair or finished dressing and with her old nurse’s big shawl wrapped round her. Pétya ran in at the same time.
“You are going?” asked Natásha. “I knew you would! Sónya said you wouldn’t go, but I knew that today is the sort of day when you couldn’t help going.”
“Yes, we are going,” replied Nicholas reluctantly, for today, as he intended to hunt seriously, he did not want to take Natásha and Pétya. “We are going, but only wolf hunting: it would be dull for you.”
“You know it is my greatest pleasure,” said Natásha. “It’s not fair; you are going by yourself, are having the horses saddled and said nothing to us about it.”
“‘No barrier bars a Russian’s path’—we’ll go!” shouted Pétya.
“But you can’t. Mamma said you mustn’t,” said Nicholas to Natásha.
“Yes, I’ll go. I shall certainly go,” said Natásha decisively. “Daniel, tell them to saddle for us, and Michael must come with my dogs,” she added to the huntsman.
It seemed to Daniel irksome and improper to be in a room at all, but to have anything to do with a young lady seemed to him impossible. He cast down his eyes and hurried out as if it were none of his business, careful as he went not to inflict any accidental injury on the young lady.
The old count, who had always kept up an enormous hunting establishment but had now handed it all completely over to his son’s care, being in very good spirits on this fifteenth of September, prepared to go out with the others.
In an hour’s time the whole hunting party was at the porch. Nicholas, with a stern and serious air which showed that now was no time for attending to trifles, went past Natásha and Pétya who were trying to tell him something. He had a look at all the details of the hunt, sent a pack of hounds and huntsmen on ahead to find the quarry, mounted his chestnut Donéts, and whistling to his own leash of borzois, set off across the threshing ground to a field leading to the Otrádnoe wood. The old count’s horse, a sorrel gelding called Viflyánka, was led by the groom in attendance on him, while the count himself was to drive in a small trap straight to a spot reserved for him.
They were taking fifty-four hounds, with six hunt attendants and whippers-in. Besides the family, there were eight borzoi kennelmen and more than forty borzois, so that, with the borzois on the leash belonging to members of the family, there were about a hundred and thirty dogs and twenty horsemen.
Each dog knew its master and its call. Each man in the hunt knew his business, his place, what he had to do. As soon as they had passed the fence they all spread out evenly and quietly, without noise or talk, along the road and field leading to the Otrádnoe covert.
The horses stepped over the field as over a thick carpet, now and then splashing into puddles as they crossed a road. The misty sky still seemed to descend evenly and imperceptibly toward the earth, the air was still, warm, and silent. Occasionally the whistle of a huntsman, the snort of a horse, the crack of a whip, or the whine of a straggling hound could be heard.
When they had gone a little less than a mile, five more riders with dogs appeared out of the mist, approaching the Rostóvs. In front rode a fresh-looking, handsome old man with a large gray mustache.
“Good morning, Uncle!” said Nicholas, when the old man drew near.
“That’s it. Come on!... I was sure of it,” began “Uncle.” (He was a distant relative of the Rostóvs’, a man of small means, and their neighbor.) “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist it and it’s a good thing you’re going. That’s it! Come on!” (This was “Uncle’s” favorite expression.) “Take the covert at once, for my Gírchik says the Ilágins are at Kornikí with their hounds. That’s it. Come on!... They’ll take the cubs from under your very nose.”
“That’s where I’m going. Shall we join up our packs?” asked Nicholas.
The hounds were joined into one pack, and “Uncle” and Nicholas rode on side by side. Natásha, muffled up in shawls which did not hide her eager face and shining eyes, galloped up to them. She was followed by Pétya who always kept close to her, by Michael, a huntsman, and by a groom appointed to look after her. Pétya, who was laughing, whipped and pulled at his horse. Natásha sat easily and confidently on her black Arábchik and reined him in without effort with a firm hand.
“Uncle” looked round disapprovingly at Pétya and Natásha. He did not like to combine frivolity with the serious business of hunting.
“Good morning, Uncle! We are going too!” shouted Pétya.
“Good morning, good morning! But don’t go overriding the hounds,” said “Uncle” sternly.
“Nicholas, what a fine dog Truníla is! He knew me,” said Natásha, referring to her favorite hound.
“In the first place, Truníla is not a ‘dog,’ but a harrier,” thought Nicholas, and looked sternly at his sister, trying to make her feel the distance that ought to separate them at that moment. Natásha understood it.
“You mustn’t think we’ll be in anyone’s way, Uncle,” she said. “We’ll go to our places and won’t budge.”
“A good thing too, little countess,” said “Uncle,” “only mind you don’t fall off your horse,” he added, “because—that’s it, come on!—you’ve nothing to hold on to.”
The oasis of the Otrádnoe covert came in sight a few hundred yards off, the huntsmen were already nearing it. Rostóv, having finally settled with “Uncle” where they should set on the hounds, and having shown Natásha where she was to stand—a spot where nothing could possibly run out—went round above the ravine.
“Well, nephew, you’re going for a big wolf,” said “Uncle.” “Mind and don’t let her slip!”
“That’s as may happen,” answered Rostóv. “Karáy, here!” he shouted, answering “Uncle’s” remark by this call to his borzoi. Karáy was a shaggy old dog with a hanging jowl, famous for having tackled a big wolf unaided. They all took up their places.
The old count, knowing his son’s ardor in the hunt, hurried so as not to be late, and the huntsmen had not yet reached their places when Count Ilyá Rostóv, cheerful, flushed, and with quivering cheeks, drove up with his black horses over the winter rye to the place reserved for him, where a wolf might come out. Having straightened his coat and fastened on his hunting knives and horn, he mounted his good, sleek, well-fed, and comfortable horse, Viflyánka, which was turning gray, like himself. His horses and trap were sent home. Count Ilyá Rostóv, though not at heart a keen sportsman, knew the rules of the hunt well, and rode to the bushy edge of the road where he was to stand, arranged his reins, settled himself in the saddle, and, feeling that he was ready, looked about with a smile.
Beside him was Simon Chekmár, his personal attendant, an old horseman now somewhat stiff in the saddle. Chekmár held in leash three formidable wolfhounds, who had, however, grown fat like their master and his horse. Two wise old dogs lay down unleashed. Some hundred paces farther along the edge of the wood stood Mítka, the count’s other groom, a daring horseman and keen rider to hounds. Before the hunt, by old custom, the count had drunk a silver cupful of mulled brandy, taken a snack, and washed it down with half a bottle of his favorite Bordeaux.
He was somewhat flushed with the wine and the drive. His eyes were rather moist and glittered more than usual, and as he sat in his saddle, wrapped up in his fur coat, he looked like a child taken out for an outing.
The thin, hollow-cheeked Chekmár, having got everything ready, kept glancing at his master with whom he had lived on the best of terms for thirty years, and understanding the mood he was in expected a pleasant chat. A third person rode up circumspectly through the wood (it was plain that he had had a lesson) and stopped behind the count. This person was a gray-bearded old man in a woman’s cloak, with a tall peaked cap on his head. He was the buffoon, who went by a woman’s name, Nastásya Ivánovna.
“Well, Nastásya Ivánovna!” whispered the count, winking at him. “If you scare away the beast, Daniel’ll give it you!”
“I know a thing or two myself!” said Nastásya Ivánovna.
“Hush!” whispered the count and turned to Simon. “Have you seen the young countess?” he asked. “Where is she?”
“With young Count Peter, by the Zhárov rank grass,” answered Simon, smiling. “Though she’s a lady, she’s very fond of hunting.”
“And you’re surprised at the way she rides, Simon, eh?” said the count. “She’s as good as many a man!”
“Of course! It’s marvelous. So bold, so easy!”
“And Nicholas? Where is he? By the Lyádov upland, isn’t he?”
“Yes, sir. He knows where to stand. He understands the matter so well that Daniel and I are often quite astounded,” said Simon, well knowing what would please his master.
“Rides well, eh? And how well he looks on his horse, eh?”
“A perfect picture! How he chased a fox out of the rank grass by the Zavárzinsk thicket the other day! Leaped a fearful place; what a sight when they rushed from the covert... the horse worth a thousand rubles and the rider beyond all price! Yes, one would have to search far to find another as smart.”
“To search far...” repeated the count, evidently sorry Simon had not said more. “To search far,” he said, turning back the skirt of his coat to get at his snuffbox.
“The other day when he came out from Mass in full uniform, Michael Sidórych...” Simon did not finish, for on the still air he had distinctly caught the music of the hunt with only two or three hounds giving tongue. He bent down his head and listened, shaking a warning finger at his master. “They are on the scent of the cubs...” he whispered, “straight to the Lyádov uplands.”
The count, forgetting to smooth out the smile on his face, looked into the distance straight before him, down the narrow open space, holding the snuffbox in his hand but not taking any. After the cry of the hounds came the deep tones of the wolf call from Daniel’s hunting horn; the pack joined the first three hounds and they could be heard in full cry, with that peculiar lift in the note that indicates that they are after a wolf. The whippers-in no longer set on the hounds, but changed to the cry of ulyulyu, and above the others rose Daniel’s voice, now a deep bass, now piercingly shrill. His voice seemed to fill the whole wood and carried far beyond out into the open field.
After listening a few moments in silence, the count and his attendant convinced themselves that the hounds had separated into two packs: the sound of the larger pack, eagerly giving tongue, began to die away in the distance, the other pack rushed by the wood past the count, and it was with this that Daniel’s voice was heard calling ulyulyu. The sounds of both packs mingled and broke apart again, but both were becoming more distant.
Simon sighed and stooped to straighten the leash a young borzoi had entangled; the count too sighed and, noticing the snuffbox in his hand, opened it and took a pinch. “Back!” cried Simon to a borzoi that was pushing forward out of the wood. The count started and dropped the snuffbox. Nastásya Ivánovna dismounted to pick it up. The count and Simon were looking at him.
Then, unexpectedly, as often happens, the sound of the hunt suddenly approached, as if the hounds in full cry and Daniel ulyulyuing were just in front of them.
The count turned and saw on his right Mítka staring at him with eyes starting out of his head, raising his cap and pointing before him to the other side.
“Look out!” he shouted, in a voice plainly showing that he had long fretted to utter that word, and letting the borzois slip he galloped toward the count.
The count and Simon galloped out of the wood and saw on their left a wolf which, softly swaying from side to side, was coming at a quiet lope farther to the left to the very place where they were standing. The angry borzois whined and getting free of the leash rushed past the horses’ feet at the wolf.
The wolf paused, turned its heavy forehead toward the dogs awkwardly, like a man suffering from the quinsy, and, still slightly swaying from side to side, gave a couple of leaps and with a swish of its tail disappeared into the skirt of the wood. At the same instant, with a cry like a wail, first one hound, then another, and then another, sprang helter-skelter from the wood opposite and the whole pack rushed across the field toward the very spot where the wolf had disappeared. The hazel bushes parted behind the hounds and Daniel’s chestnut horse appeared, dark with sweat. On its long back sat Daniel, hunched forward, capless, his disheveled gray hair hanging over his flushed, perspiring face.
“Ulyulyulyu! ulyulyu!...” he cried. When he caught sight of the count his eyes flashed lightning.
“Blast you!” he shouted, holding up his whip threateningly at the count.
“You’ve let the wolf go!... What sportsmen!” and as if scorning to say more to the frightened and shamefaced count, he lashed the heaving flanks of his sweating chestnut gelding with all the anger the count had aroused and flew off after the hounds. The count, like a punished schoolboy, looked round, trying by a smile to win Simon’s sympathy for his plight. But Simon was no longer there. He was galloping round by the bushes while the field was coming up on both sides, all trying to head the wolf, but it vanished into the wood before they could do so.