On the third day after Christmas Nicholas dined at home, a thing he had rarely done of late. It was a grand farewell dinner, as he and Denisov were leaving to join their regiment after Epiphany. About twenty people were present, including Dolokhov and Denisov.
Never had love been so much in the air, and never had the amorous atmosphere made itself so strongly felt in the Rostovs' house as at this holiday time. "Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here," said the spirit of the place.
Nicholas, having as usual exhausted two pairs of horses, without visiting all the places he meant to go to and where he had been invited, returned home just before dinner. As soon as he entered he noticed and felt the tension of the amorous air in the house, and also noticed a curious embarrassment among some of those present. Sonya, Dolokhov, and the old countess were especially disturbed, and to a lesser degree Natasha. Nicholas understood that something must have happened between Sonya and Dolokhov before dinner, and with the kindly sensitiveness natural to him was very gentle and wary with them both at dinner. On that same evening there was to be one of the balls that Iogel (the dancing master) gave for his pupils durings the holidays.
"Nicholas, will you come to Iogel's? Please do!" said Natasha. "He asked you, and Vasili Dmitrich* is also going."
"Where would I not go at the countess' command!" said Denisov, who at the Rostovs' had jocularly assumed the role of Natasha's knight. "I'm even weady to dance the pas de chale."
"If I have time," answered Nicholas. "But I promised the Arkharovs; they have a party."
"And you?" he asked Dolokhov, but as soon as he had asked the question he noticed that it should not have been put.
"Perhaps," coldly and angrily replied Dolokhov, glancing at Sonya, and, scowling, he gave Nicholas just such a look as he had given Pierre at the Club dinner.
"There is something up," thought Nicholas, and he was further confirmed in this conclusion by the fact that Dolokhov left immediately after dinner. He called Natasha and asked her what was the matter.
"And I was looking for you," said Natasha running out to him. "I told you, but you would not believe it," she said triumphantly. "He has proposed to Sonya!"
Little as Nicholas had occupied himself with Sonya of late, something seemed to give way within him at this news. Dolokhov was a suitable and in some respects a brilliant match for the dowerless, orphan girl. From the point of view of the old countess and of society it was out of the question for her to refuse him. And therefore Nicholas' first feeling on hearing the news was one of anger with Sonya.... He tried to say, "That's capital; of course she'll forget her childish promises and accept the offer," but before he had time to say it Natasha began again.
"And fancy! she refused him quite definitely!" adding, after a pause, "she told him she loved another."
"Yes, my Sonya could not have done otherwise!" thought Nicholas.
"Much as Mamma pressed her, she refused, and I know she won't change once she has said..."
"And Mamma pressed her!" said Nicholas reproachfully.
"Yes," said Natasha. "Do you know, Nicholas--don't be angry--but I know you will not marry her. I know, heaven knows how, but I know for certain that you won't marry her."
"Now don't know that at all!" said Nicholas. "But I must talk to her. What a darling Sonya is!" he added with a smile.
"Ah, she is indeed a darling! I'll send her to you."
And Natasha kissed her brother and ran away.
A minute later Sonya came in with a frightened, guilty, and scared look. Nicholas went up to her and kissed her hand. This was the first time since his return that they had talked alone and about their love.
"Sophie," he began, timidly at first and then more and more boldly, "if you wish to refuse one who is not only a brilliant and advantageous match but a splendid, noble fellow... he is my friend..."
Sonya interrupted him.
"I have already refused," she said hurriedly.
"If you are refusing for my sake, I am afraid that I..."
Sonya again interrupted. She gave him an imploring, frightened look.
"Nicholas, don't tell me that!" she said.
"No, but I must. It may be arrogant of me, but still it is best to say it. If you refuse him on my account, I must tell you the whole truth. I love you, and I think I love you more than anyone else...."
"That is enough for me," said Sonya, blushing.
"No, but I have been in love a thousand times and shall fall in love again, though for no one have I such a feeling of friendship, confidence, and love as I have for you. Then I am young. Mamma does not wish it. In a word, I make no promise. And I beg you to consider Dolokhov's offer," he said, articulating his friend's name with difficulty.
"Don't say that to me! I want nothing. I love you as a brother and always shall, and I want nothing more."
"You are an angel: I am not worthy of you, but I am afraid of misleading you."
And Nicholas again kissed her hand.
Iogel's were the most enjoyable balls in Moscow. So said the mothers as they watched their young people executing their newly learned steps, and so said the youths and maidens themselves as they danced till they were ready to drop, and so said the grown-up young men and women who came to these balls with an air of condescension and found them most enjoyable. That year two marriages had come of these balls. The two pretty young Princesses Gorchakov met suitors there and were married and so further increased the fame of these dances. What distinguished them from others was the absence of host or hostess and the presence of the good-natured Iogel, flying about like a feather and bowing according to the rules of his art, as he collected the tickets from all his visitors. There was the fact that only those came who wished to dance and amuse themselves as girls of thirteen and fourteen do who are wearing long dresses for the first time. With scarcely any exceptions they all were, or seemed to be, pretty--so rapturous were their smiles and so sparkling their eyes. Sometimes the best of the pupils, of whom Natasha, who was exceptionally graceful, was first, even danced the pas de chale, but at this last ball only the ecossaise, the anglaise, and the mazurka, which was just coming into fashion, were danced. Iogel had taken a ballroom in Bezukhov's house, and the ball, as everyone said, was a great success. There were many pretty girls and the Rostov girls were among the prettiest. They were both particularly happy and gay. That evening, proud of Dolokhov's proposal, her refusal, and her explanation with Nicholas, Sonya twirled about before she left home so that the maid could hardly get her hair plaited, and she was transparently radiant with impulsive joy.
Natasha no less proud of her first long dress and of being at a real ball was even happier. They were both dressed in white muslin with pink ribbons.
Natasha fell in love the very moment she entered the ballroom. She was not in love with anyone in particular, but with everyone. Whatever person she happened to look at she was in love with for that moment.
"Oh, how delightful it is!" she kept saying, running up to Sonya.
Nicholas and Denisov were walking up and down, looking with kindly patronage at the dancers.
"How sweet she is--she will be a weal beauty!" said Denisov.
"Countess Natasha," answered Denisov.
"And how she dances! What gwace!" he said again after a pause.
"Who are you talking about?"
"About your sister," ejaculated Denisov testily.
"My dear count, you were one of my best pupils--you must dance," said little Iogel coming up to Nicholas. "Look how many charming young ladies-" He turned with the same request to Denisov who was also a former pupil of his.
"No, my dear fellow, I'll be a wallflower," said Denisov. "Don't you wecollect what bad use I made of your lessons?"
"Oh no!" said Iogel, hastening to reassure him. "You were only inattentive, but you had talent--oh yes, you had talent!"
The band struck up the newly introduced mazurka. Nicholas could not refuse Iogel and asked Sonya to dance. Denisov sat down by the old ladies and, leaning on his saber and beating time with his foot, told them something funny and kept them amused, while he watched the young people dancing, Iogel with Natasha, his pride and his best pupil, were the first couple. Noiselessly, skillfully stepping with his little feet in low shoes, Iogel flew first across the hall with Natasha, who, though shy, went on carefully executing her steps. Denisov did not take his eyes off her and beat time with his saber in a way that clearly indicated that if he was not dancing it was because he would not and not because he could not. In the middle of a figure he beckoned to Rostov who was passing:
"This is not at all the thing," he said. "What sort of Polish mazuwka is this? But she does dance splendidly."
Knowing that Denisov had a reputation even in Poland for the masterly way in which he danced the mazurka, Nicholas ran up to Natasha:
"Go and choose Denisov. He is a real dancer, a wonder!" he said.
When it came to Natasha's turn to choose a partner, she rose and, tripping rapidly across in her little shoes trimmed with bows, ran timidly to the corner where Denisov sat. She saw that everybody was looking at her and waiting. Nicholas saw that Denisov was refusing though he smiled delightedly. He ran up to them.
"Please, Vasili Dmitrich," Natasha was saying, "do come!"
"Oh no, let me off, Countess," Denisov replied.
"Now then, Vaska," said Nicholas.
"They coax me as if I were Vaska the cat!" said Denisov jokingly.
"I'll sing for you a whole evening," said Natasha.
"Oh, the faiwy! She can do anything with me!" said Denisov, and he unhooked his saber. He came out from behind the chairs, clasped his partner's hand firmly, threw back his head, and advanced his foot, waiting for the beat. Only on horse back and in the mazurka was Denisov's short stature not noticeable and he looked the fine fellow he felt himself to be. At the right beat of the music he looked sideways at his partner with a merry and triumphant air, suddenly stamped with one foot, bounded from the floor like a ball, and flew round the room taking his partner with him. He glided silently on one foot half across the room, and seeming not to notice the chairs was dashing straight at them, when suddenly, clinking his spurs and spreading out his legs, he stopped short on his heels, stood so a second, stamped on the spot clanking his spurs, whirled rapidly round, and, striking his left heel against his right, flew round again in a circle. Natasha guessed what he meant to do, and abandoning herself to him followed his lead hardly knowing how. First he spun her round, holding her now with his left, now with his right hand, then falling on one knee he twirled her round him, and again jumping up, dashed so impetuously forward that it seemed as if he would rush through the whole suite of rooms without drawing breath, and then he suddenly stopped and performed some new and unexpected steps. When at last, smartly whirling his partner round in front of her chair, he drew up with a click of his spurs and bowed to her, Natasha did not even make him a curtsy. She fixed her eyes on him in amazement, smiling as if she did not recognize him.
"What does this mean?" she brought out.
Although Iogel did not acknowledge this to be the real mazurka, everyone was delighted with Denisov's skill, he was asked again and again as a partner, and the old men began smilingly to talk about Poland and the good old days. Denisov, flushed after the mazurka and mopping himself with his handkerchief, sat down by Natasha and did not leave her for the rest of the evening.
For two days after that Rostov did not see Dolokhov at his own or at Dolokhov's home: on the third day he received a note from him:
As I do not intend to be at your house again for reasons you know of, and am going to rejoin my regiment, I am giving a farewell supper tonight to my friends--come to the English Hotel.
About ten o'clock Rostov went to the English Hotel straight from the theater, where he had been with his family and Denisov. He was at once shown to the best room, which Dolokhov had taken for that evening. Some twenty men were gathered round a table at which Dolokhov sat between two candles. On the table was a pile of gold and paper money, and he was keeping the bank. Rostov had not seen him since his proposal and Sonya's refusal and felt uncomfortable at the thought of how they would meet.
Dolokhov's clear, cold glance met Rostov as soon as he entered the door, as though he had long expected him.
"It's a long time since we met," he said. "Thanks for coming. I'll just finish dealing, and then Ilyushka will come with his chorus."
"I called once or twice at your house," said Rostov, reddening.
Dolokhov made no reply.
"You may punt," he said.
Rostov recalled at that moment a strange conversation he had once had with Dolokhov. "None but fools trust to luck in play," Dolokhov had then said.
"Or are you afraid to play with me?" Dolokhov now asked as if guessing Rostov's thought.
Beneath his smile Rostov saw in him the mood he had shown at the Club dinner and at other times, when as if tired of everyday life he had felt a need to escape from it by some strange, and usually cruel, action.
Rostov felt ill at ease. He tried, but failed, to find some joke with which to reply to Dolokhov's words. But before he had thought of anything, Dolokhov, looking straight in his face, said slowly and deliberately so that everyone could hear:
"Do you remember we had a talk about cards... 'He's a fool who trusts to luck, one should make certain,' and I want to try."
"To try his luck or the certainty?" Rostov asked himself.
"Well, you'd better not play," Dolokhov added, and springing a new pack of cards said: "Bank, gentlemen!"
Moving the money forward he prepared to deal. Rostov sat down by his side and at first did not play. Dolokhov kept glancing at him.
"Why don't you play?" he asked.
And strange to say Nicholas felt that he could not help taking up a card, putting a small stake on it, and beginning to play.
"I have no money with me," he said.
"I'll trust you."
Rostov staked five rubles on a card and lost, staked again, and again lost. Dolokhov "killed," that is, beat, ten cards of Rostov's running.
"Gentlemen," said Dolokhov after he had dealt for some time. "Please place your money on the cards or I may get muddled in the reckoning."
One of the players said he hoped he might be trusted.
"Yes, you might, but I am afraid of getting the accounts mixed. So I ask you to put the money on your cards," replied Dolokhov. "Don't stint yourself, we'll settle afterwards," he added, turning to Rostov.
The game continued; a waiter kept handing round champagne.
All Rostov's cards were beaten and he had eight hundred rubles scored up against him. He wrote "800 rubles" on a card, but while the waiter filled his glass he changed his mind and altered it to his usual stake of twenty rubles.
"Leave it," said Dolokhov, though he did not seem to be even looking at Rostov, "you'll win it back all the sooner. I lose to the others but win from you. Or are you afraid of me?" he asked again.
Rostov submitted. He let the eight hundred remain and laid down a seven of hearts with a torn corner, which he had picked up from the floor. He well remembered that seven afterwards. He laid down the seven of hearts, on which with a broken bit of chalk he had written "800 rubles" in clear upright figures; he emptied the glass of warm champagne that was handed him, smiled at Dolokhov's words, and with a sinking heart, waiting for a seven to turn up, gazed at Dolokhov's hands which held the pack. Much depended on Rostov's winning or losing on that seven of hearts. On the previous Sunday the old count had given his son two thousand rubles, and though he always disliked speaking of money difficulties had told Nicholas that this was all he could let him have till May, and asked him to be more economical this time. Nicholas had replied that it would be more than enough for him and that he gave his word of honor not to take anything more till the spring. Now only twelve hundred rubles was left of that money, so that this seven of hearts meant for him not only the loss of sixteen hundred rubles, but the necessity of going back on his word. With a sinking heart he watched Dolokhov's hands and thought, "Now then, make haste and let me have this card and I'll take my cap and drive home to supper with Denisov, Natasha, and Sonya, and will certainly never touch a card again." At that moment his home life, jokes with Petya, talks with Sonya, duets with Natasha, piquet with his father, and even his comfortable bed in the house on the Povarskaya rose before him with such vividness, clearness, and charm that it seemed as if it were all a lost and unappreciated bliss, long past. He could not conceive that a stupid chance, letting the seven be dealt to the right rather than to the left, might deprive him of all this happiness, newly appreciated and newly illumined, and plunge him into the depths of unknown and undefined misery. That could not be, yet he awaited with a sinking heart the movement of Dolokhov's hands. Those broad, reddish hands, with hairy wrists visible from under the shirt cuffs, laid down the pack and took up a glass and a pipe that were handed him.
"So you are not afraid to play with me?" repeated Dolokhov, and as if about to tell a good story he put down the cards, leaned back in his chair, and began deliberately with a smile:
"Yes, gentlemen, I've been told there's a rumor going about Moscow that I'm a sharper, so I advise you to be careful."
"Come now, deal!" exclaimed Rostov.
"Oh, those Moscow gossips!" said Dolokhov, and he took up the cards with a smile.
"Aah!" Rostov almost screamed lifting both hands to his head. The seven he needed was lying uppermost, the first card in the pack. He had lost more than he could pay.
"Still, don't ruin yourself!" said Dolokhov with a side glance at Rostov as he continued to deal.
An hour and a half later most of the players were but little interested in their own play.
The whole interest was concentrated on Rostov. Instead of sixteen hundred rubles he had a long column of figures scored against him, which he had reckoned up to ten thousand, but that now, as he vaguely supposed, must have risen to fifteen thousand. In reality it already exceeded twenty thousand rubles. Dolokhov was no longer listening to stories or telling them, but followed every movement of Rostov's hands and occasionally ran his eyes over the score against him. He had decided to play until that score reached forty-three thousand. He had fixed on that number because forty-three was the sum of his and Sonya's joint ages. Rostov, leaning his head on both hands, sat at the table which was scrawled over with figures, wet with spilled wine, and littered with cards. One tormenting impression did not leave him: that those broad-boned reddish hands with hairy wrists visible from under the shirt sleeves, those hands which he loved and hated, held him in their power.
"Six hundred rubles, ace, a corner, a nine... winning it back's impossible... Oh, how pleasant it was at home!... The knave, double or quits... it can't be!... And why is he doing this to me?" Rostov pondered. Sometimes he staked a large sum, but Dolokhov refused to accept it and fixed the stake himself. Nicholas submitted to him, and at one moment prayed to God as he had done on the battlefield at the bridge over the Enns, and then guessed that the card that came first to hand from the crumpled heap under the table would save him, now counted the cords on his coat and took a card with that number and tried staking the total of his losses on it, then he looked round for aid from the other players, or peered at the now cold face of Dolokhov and tried to read what was passing in his mind.
"He knows of course what this loss means to me. He can't want my ruin. Wasn't he my friend? Wasn't I fond of him? But it's not his fault. What's he to do if he has such luck?... And it's not my fault either," he thought to himself, "I have done nothing wrong. Have I killed anyone, or insulted or wished harm to anyone? Why such a terrible misfortune? And when did it begin? Such a little while ago I came to this table with the thought of winning a hundred rubles to buy that casket for Mamma's name day and then going home. I was so happy, so free, so lighthearted! And I did not realize how happy I was! When did that end and when did this new, terrible state of things begin? What marked the change? I sat all the time in this same place at this table, chose and placed cards, and watched those broad-boned agile hands in the same way. When did it happen and what has happened? I am well and strong and still the same and in the same place. No, it can't be! Surely it will all end in nothing!"
He was flushed and bathed in perspiration, though the room was not hot. His face was terrible and piteous to see, especially from its helpless efforts to seem calm.
The score against him reached the fateful sum of forty-three thousand. Rostov had just prepared a card, by bending the corner of which he meant to double the three thousand just put down to his score, when Dolokhov, slamming down the pack of cards, put it aside and began rapidly adding up the total of Rostov's debt, breaking the chalk as he marked the figures in his clear, bold hand.
"Supper, it's time for supper! And here are the gypsies!"
Some swarthy men and women were really entering from the cold outside and saying something in their gypsy accents. Nicholas understood that it was all over; but he said in an indifferent tone:
"Well, won't you go on? I had a splendid card all ready," as if it were the fun of the game which interested him most.
"It's all up! I'm lost!" thought he. "Now a bullet through my brain- that's all that's left me!" And at the same time he said in a cheerful voice:
"Come now, just this one more little card!"
"All right!" said Dolokhov, having finished the addition. "All right! Twenty-one rubles," he said, pointing to the figure twenty-one by which the total exceeded the round sum of forty-three thousand; and taking up a pack he prepared to deal. Rostov submissively unbent the corner of his card and, instead of the six thousand he had intended, carefully wrote twenty-one.
"It's all the same to me," he said. "I only want to see whether you will let me win this ten, or beat it."
Dolokhov began to deal seriously. Oh, how Rostov detested at that moment those hands with their short reddish fingers and hairy wrists, which held him in their power.... The ten fell to him.
"You owe forty-three thousand, Count," said Dolokhov, and stretching himself he rose from the table. "One does get tired sitting so long," he added.
"Yes, I'm tired too," said Rostov.
Dolokhov cut him short, as if to remind him that it was not for him to jest.
"When am I to receive the money, Count?"
Rostov, flushing, drew Dolokhov into the next room.
"I cannot pay it all immediately. Will you take an I.O.U.?" he said.
"I say, Rostov," said Dolokhov clearly, smiling and looking Nicholas straight in the eyes, "you know the saying, 'Lucky in love, unlucky at cards.' Your cousin is in love with you, I know."
"Oh, it's terrible to feel oneself so in this man's power," thought Rostov. He knew what a shock he would inflict on his father and mother by the news of this loss, he knew what a relief it would be to escape it all, and felt that Dolokhov knew that he could save him from all this shame and sorrow, but wanted now to play with him as a cat does with a mouse.
"Your cousin..." Dolokhov started to say, but Nicholas interrupted him.
"My cousin has nothing to do with this and it's not necessary to mention her!" he exclaimed fiercely.
"Then when am I to have it?"
"Tomorrow," replied Rostov and left the room.
To say "tomorrow" and keep up a dignified tone was not difficult, but to go home alone, see his sisters, brother, mother, and father, confess and ask for money he had no right to after giving his word of honor, was terrible.
At home, they had not yet gone to bed. The young people, after returning from the theater, had had supper and were grouped round the clavichord. As soon as Nicholas entered, he was enfolded in that poetic atmosphere of love which pervaded the Rostov household that winter and, now after Dolokhov's proposal and Iogel's ball, seemed to have grown thicker round Sonya and Natasha as the air does before a thunderstorm. Sonya and Natasha, in the light-blue dresses they had worn at the theater, looking pretty and conscious of it, were standing by the clavichord, happy and smiling. Vera was playing chess with Shinshin in the drawing room. The old countess, waiting for the return of her husband and son, sat playing patience with the old gentlewoman who lived in their house. Denisov, with sparkling eyes and ruffled hair, sat at the clavichord striking chords with his short fingers, his legs thrown back and his eyes rolling as he sang, with his small, husky, but true voice, some verses called "Enchantress," which he had composed, and to which he was trying to fit music:
Enchantress, say, to my forsaken lyre
What magic power is this recalls me still?
What spark has set my inmost soul on fire,
What is this bliss that makes my fingers thrill?
He was singing in passionate tones, gazing with his sparkling black-agate eyes at the frightened and happy Natasha.
"Splendid! Excellent!" exclaimed Natasha. "Another verse," she said, without noticing Nicholas.
"Everything's still the same with them," thought Nicholas, glancing into the drawing room, where he saw Vera and his mother with the old lady.
"Ah, and here's Nicholas!" cried Natasha, running up to him.
"Is Papa at home?" he asked.
"I am so glad you've come!" said Natasha, without answering him. "We are enjoying ourselves! Vasili Dmitrich is staying a day longer for my sake! Did you know?"
"No, Papa is not back yet," said Sonya.
"Nicholas, have you come? Come here, dear!" called the old countess from the drawing room.
Nicholas went to her, kissed her hand, and sitting down silently at her table began to watch her hands arranging the cards. From the dancing room, they still heard the laughter and merry voices trying to persuade Natasha to sing.
"All wight! All wight!" shouted Denisov. "It's no good making excuses now! It's your turn to sing the ba'cawolla--I entweat you!"
The countess glanced at her silent son.
"What is the matter?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing," said he, as if weary of being continually asked the same question. "Will Papa be back soon?"
"I expect so."
"Everything's the same with them. They know nothing about it! Where am I to go?" thought Nicholas, and went again into the dancing room where the clavichord stood.
Sonya was sitting at the clavichord, playing the prelude to Denisov's favorite barcarolle. Natasha was preparing to sing. Denisov was looking at her with enraptured eyes.
Nicholas began pacing up and down the room.
"Why do they want to make her sing? How can she sing? There's nothing to be happy about!" thought he.
Sonya struck the first chord of the prelude.
"My God, I'm a ruined and dishonored man! A bullet through my brain is the only thing left me--not singing!" his thoughts ran on. "Go away? But where to? It's one--let them sing!"
He continued to pace the room, looking gloomily at Denisov and the girls and avoiding their eyes.
"Nikolenka, what is the matter?" Sonya's eyes fixed on him seemed to ask. She noticed at once that something had happened to him.
Nicholas turned away from her. Natasha too, with her quick instinct, had instantly noticed her brother's condition. But, though she noticed it, she was herself in such high spirits at that moment, so far from sorrow, sadness, or self-reproach, that she purposely deceived herself as young people often do. "No, I am too happy now to spoil my enjoyment by sympathy with anyone's sorrow," she felt, and she said to herself: "No, I must be mistaken, he must be feeling happy, just as I am."
"Now, Sonya!" she said, going to the very middle of the room, where she considered the resonance was best.
Having lifted her head and let her arms droop lifelessly, as ballet dancers do, Natasha, rising energetically from her heels to her toes, stepped to the middle of the room and stood still.
"Yes, that's me!" she seemed to say, answering the rapt gaze with which Denisov followed her.
"And what is she so pleased about?" thought Nicholas, looking at his sister. "Why isn't she dull and ashamed?"
Natasha took the first note, her throat swelled, her chest rose, her eyes became serious. At that moment she was oblivious of her surroundings, and from her smiling lips flowed sounds which anyone may produce at the same intervals hold for the same time, but which leave you cold a thousand times and the thousand and first time thrill you and make you weep.
Natasha, that winter, had for the first time begun to sing seriously, mainly because Denisov so delighted in her singing. She no longer sang as a child, there was no longer in her singing that comical, childish, painstaking effect that had been in it before; but she did not yet sing well, as all the connoisseurs who heard her said: "It is not trained, but it is a beautiful voice that must be trained." Only they generally said this some time after she had finished singing. While that untrained voice, with its incorrect breathing and labored transitions, was sounding, even the connoisseurs said nothing, but only delighted in it and wished to hear it again. In her voice there was a virginal freshness, an unconsciousness of her own powers, and an as yet untrained velvety softness, which so mingled with her lack of art in singing that it seemed as if nothing in that voice could be altered without spoiling it.
"What is this?" thought Nicholas, listening to her with widely opened eyes. "What has happened to her? How she is singing today!" And suddenly the whole world centered for him on anticipation of the next note, the next phrase, and everything in the world was divided into three beats: "Oh mio crudele affetto."... One, two, three... one, two, three... One... "Oh mio crudele affetto."... One, two, three... One. "Oh, this senseless life of ours!" thought Nicholas. "All this misery, and money, and Dolokhov, and anger, and honor--it's all nonsense... but this is real.... Now then, Natasha, now then, dearest! Now then, darling! How will she take that si? She's taken it! Thank God!" And without noticing that he was singing, to strengthen the si he sung a second, a third below the high note. "Ah, God! How fine! Did I really take it? How fortunate!" he thought.
Oh, how that chord vibrated, and how moved was something that was finest in Rostov's soul! And this something was apart from everything else in the world and above everything in the world. "What were losses, and Dolokhov, and words of honor?... All nonsense! One might kill and rob and yet be happy..."
It was long since Rostov had felt such enjoyment from music as he did that day. But no sooner had Natasha finished her barcarolle than reality again presented itself. He got up without saying a word and went downstairs to his own room. A quarter of an hour later the old count came in from his Club, cheerful and contented. Nicholas, hearing him drive up, went to meet him.
"Well--had a good time?" said the old count, smiling gaily and proudly at his son.
Nicholas tried to say "Yes," but could not: and he nearly burst into sobs. The count was lighting his pipe and did not notice his son's condition.
"Ah, it can't be avoided!" thought Nicholas, for the first and last time. And suddenly, in the most casual tone, which made him feel ashamed of himself, he said, as if merely asking his father to let him have the carriage to drive to town:
"Papa, I have come on a matter of business. I was nearly forgetting. I need some money."
"Dear me!" said his father, who was in a specially good humor. "I told you it would not be enough. How much?"
"Very much," said Nicholas flushing, and with a stupid careless smile, for which he was long unable to forgive himself, "I have lost a little, I mean a good deal, a great deal--forty three thousand."
"What! To whom?... Nonsense!" cried the count, suddenly reddening with an apoplectic flush over neck and nape as old people do.
"I promised to pay tomorrow," said Nicholas.
"Well!..." said the old count, spreading out his arms and sinking helplessly on the sofa.
"It can't be helped It happens to everyone!" said the son, with a bold, free, and easy tone, while in his soul he regarded himself as a worthless scoundrel whose whole life could not atone for his crime. He longed to kiss his father's hands and kneel to beg his forgiveness, but said, in a careless and even rude voice, that it happens to everyone!
The old count cast down his eyes on hearing his son's words and began bustlingly searching for something.
"Yes, yes," he muttered, "it will be difficult, I fear, difficult to raise... happens to everybody! Yes, who has not done it?"
And with a furtive glance at his son's face, the count went out of the room.... Nicholas had been prepared for resistance, but had not at all expected this.
"Papa! Pa-pa!" he called after him, sobbing, "forgive me!" And seizing his father's hand, he pressed it to his lips and burst into tears.
While father and son were having their explanation, the mother and daughter were having one not less important. Natasha came running to her mother, quite excited.
"Mamma!... Mamma!... He has made me..."
"Made, made me an offer, Mamma! Mamma!" she exclaimed.
The countess did not believe her ears. Denisov had proposed. To whom? To this chit of a girl, Natasha, who not so long ago was playing with dolls and who was still having lessons.
"Don't, Natasha! What nonsense!" she said, hoping it was a joke.
"Nonsense, indeed! I am telling you the fact," said Natasha indignantly. "I come to ask you what to do, and you call it 'nonsense!'"
The countess shrugged her shoulders.
"If it true that Monsieur Denisov has made you a proposal, tell him he is a fool, that's all!"
"No, he's not a fool!" replied Natasha indignantly and seriously.
"Well then, what do you want? You're all in love nowadays. Well, if you are in love, marry him!" said the countess, with a laugh of annoyance. "Good luck to you!"
"No, Mamma, I'm not in love with him, I suppose I'm not in love with him."
"Well then, tell him so."
"Mamma, are you cross? Don't be cross, dear! Is it my fault?"
"No, but what is it, my dear? Do you want me to go and tell him?" said the countess smiling.
"No, I will do it myself, only tell me what to say. It's all very well for you," said Natasha, with a responsive smile. "You should have seen how he said it! I know he did not mean to say it, but it came out accidently."
"Well, all the same, you must refuse him."
"No, I mustn't. I am so sorry for him! He's so nice."
"Well then, accept his offer. It's high time for you to be married," answered the countess sharply and sarcastically.
"No, Mamma, but I'm so sorry for him. I don't know how I'm to say it."
"And there's nothing for you to say. I shall speak to him myself," said the countess, indignant that they should have dared to treat this little Natasha as grown up.
"No, not on any account! I will tell him myself, and you'll listen at the door," and Natasha ran across the drawing room to the dancing hall, where Denisov was sitting on the same chair by the clavichord with his face in his hands.
He jumped up at the sound of her light step.
"Nataly," he said, moving with rapid steps toward her, "decide my fate. It is in your hands."
"Vasili Dmitrich, I'm so sorry for you!... No, but you are so nice... but it won't do...not that... but as a friend, I shall always love you."
Denisov bent over her hand and she heard strange sounds she did not understand. She kissed his rough curly black head. At this instant, they heard the quick rustle of the countess' dress. She came up to them.
"Vasili Dmitrich, I thank you for the honor," she said, with an embarrassed voice, though it sounded severe to Denisov--"but my daughter is so young, and I thought that, as my son's friend, you would have addressed yourself first to me. In that case you would not have obliged me to give this refusal."
"Countess..." said Denisov, with downcast eyes and a guilty face. He tried to say more, but faltered.
Natasha could not remain calm, seeing him in such a plight. She began to sob aloud.
"Countess, I have done w'ong," Denisov went on in an unsteady voice, "but believe me, I so adore your daughter and all your family that I would give my life twice over..." He looked at the countess, and seeing her severe face said: "Well, good-by, Countess," and kissing her hand, he left the room with quick resolute strides, without looking at Natasha.
Next day Rostov saw Denisov off. He not wish to stay another day in Moscow. All Denisov's Moscow friends gave him a farewell entertainment at the gypsies', with the result that he had no recollection of how he was put in the sleigh or of the first three stages of his journey.
After Denisov's departure, Rostov spent another fortnight in Moscow, without going out of the house, waiting for the money his father could not at once raise, and he spent most of his time in the girls' room.
Sonya was more tender and devoted to him than ever. It was as if she wanted to show him that his losses were an achievement that made her love him all the more, but Nicholas now considered himself unworthy of her.
He filled the girls' albums with verses and music, and having at last sent Dolokhov the whole forty-three thousand rubles and received his receipt, he left at the end of November, without taking leave of any of his acquaintances, to overtake his regiment which was already in Poland.