BOOK TWELVE: 1812
In Petersburg at that time a complicated struggle was being carried on with greater heat than ever in the highest circles, between the parties of Rumyantsev, the French, Marya Fedorovna, the Tsarevich, and others, drowned as usual by the buzzing of the court drones. But the calm, luxurious life of Petersburg, concerned only about phantoms and reflections of real life, went on in its old way and made it hard, except by a great effort, to realize the danger and the difficult position of the Russian people. There were the same receptions and balls, the same French theater, the same court interests and service interests and intrigues as usual. Only in the very highest circles were attempts made to keep in mind the difficulties of the actual position. Stories were whispered of how differently the two Empresses behaved in these difficult circumstances. The Empress Marya, concerned for the welfare of the charitable and educational institutions under her patronage, had given directions that they should all be removed to Kazan, and the things belonging to these institutions had already been packed up. The Empress Elisabeth, however, when asked what instructions she would be pleased to give--with her characteristic Russian patriotism had replied that she could give no directions about state institutions for that was the affair of the sovereign, but as far as she personally was concerned she would be the last to quit Petersburg.
At Anna Pavlovna's on the twenty-sixth of August, the very day of the battle of Borodino, there was a soiree, the chief feature of which was to be the reading of a letter from His Lordship the Bishop when sending the Emperor an icon of the Venerable Sergius. It was regarded as a model of ecclesiastical, patriotic eloquence. Prince Vasili himself, famed for his elocution, was to read it. (He used to read at the Empress'.) The art of his reading was supposed to lie in rolling out the words, quite independently of their meaning, in a loud and singsong voice alternating between a despairing wail and a tender murmur, so that the wail fell quite at random on one word and the murmur on another. This reading, as was always the case at Anna Pavlovna's soirees, had a political significance. That evening she expected several important personages who had to be made ashamed of their visits to the French theater and aroused to a patriotic temper. A good many people had already arrived, but Anna Pavlovna, not yet seeing all those whom she wanted in her drawing room, did not let the reading begin but wound up the springs of a general conversation.
The news of the day in Petersburg was the illness of Countess Bezukhova. She had fallen ill unexpectedly a few days previously, had missed several gatherings of which she was usually ornament, and was said to be receiving no one, and instead of the celebrated Petersburg doctors who usually attended her had entrusted herself to some Italian doctor who was treating her in some new and unusual way.
They all knew very well that the enchanting countess' illness arose from an inconvenience resulting from marrying two husbands at the same time, and that the Italian's cure consisted in removing such inconvenience; but in Anna Pavlovna's presence no one dared to think of this or even appear to know it.
"They say the poor countess is very ill. The doctor says it is angina pectoris."
"Angina? Oh, that's a terrible illness!"
"They say that the rivals are reconciled, thanks to the angina..." and the word angina was repeated with great satisfaction.
"The count is pathetic, they say. He cried like a child when the doctor told him the case was dangerous."
"Oh, it would be a terrible loss, she is an enchanting woman."
"You are speaking of the poor countess?" said Anna Pavlovna, coming up just then. "I sent to ask for news, and hear that she is a little better. Oh, she is certainly the most charming woman in the world," she went on, with a smile at her own enthusiasm. "We belong to different camps, but that does not prevent my esteeming her as she deserves. She is very unfortunate!" added Anna Pavlovna.
Supposing that by these words Anna Pavlovna was somewhat lifting the veil from the secret of the countess' malady, an unwary young man ventured to express surprise that well known doctors had not been called in and that the countess was being attended by a charlatan who might employ dangerous remedies.
"Your information maybe better than mine," Anna Pavlovna suddenly and venomously retorted on the inexperienced young man, "but I know on good authority that this doctor is a very learned and able man. He is private physician to the Queen of Spain."
And having thus demolished the young man, Anna Pavlovna turned to another group where Bilibin was talking about the Austrians: having wrinkled up his face he was evidently preparing to smooth it out again and utter one of his mots.
"I think it is delightful," he said, referring to a diplomatic note that had been sent to Vienna with some Austrian banners captured from the French by Wittgenstein, "the hero of Petropol" as he was then called in Petersburg.
"What? What's that?" asked Anna Pavlovna, securing silence for the mot, which she had heard before.
And Bilibin repeated the actual words of the diplomatic dispatch, which he had himself composed.
"The Emperor returns these Austrian banners," said Bilibin, "friendly banners gone astray and found on a wrong path," and his brow became smooth again.
"Charming, charming!" observed Prince Vasili.
"The path to Warsaw, perhaps," Prince Hippolyte remarked loudly and unexpectedly. Everybody looked at him, understanding what he meant. Prince Hippolyte himself glanced around with amused surprise. He knew no more than the others what his words meant. During his diplomatic career he had more than once noticed that such utterances were received as very witty, and at every opportunity he uttered in that way the first words that entered his head. "It may turn out very well," he thought, "but if not, they'll know how to arrange matters." And really, during the awkward silence that ensued, that insufficiently patriotic person entered whom Anna Pavlovna had been waiting for and wished to convert, and she, smiling and shaking a finger at Hippolyte, invited Prince Vasili to the table and bringing him two candles and the manuscript begged him to begin. Everyone became silent.
"Most Gracious Sovereign and Emperor!" Prince Vasili sternly declaimed, looking round at his audience as if to inquire whether anyone had anything to say to the contrary. But no one said anything. "Moscow, our ancient capital, the New Jerusalem, receives her Christ"--he placed a sudden emphasis on the word her--"as a mother receives her zealous sons into her arms, and through the gathering mists, foreseeing the brilliant glory of thy rule, sings in exultation, 'Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh!'"
Prince Vasili pronounced these last words in a tearful voice.
Bilibin attentively examined his nails, and many of those present appeared intimidated, as if asking in what they were to blame. Anna Pavlovna whispered the next words in advance, like an old woman muttering the prayer at Communion: "Let the bold and insolent Goliath..." she whispered.
Prince Vasili continued.
"Let the bold and insolent Goliath from the borders of France encompass the realms of Russia with death-bearing terrors; humble Faith, the sling of the Russian David, shall suddenly smite his head in his blood-thirsty pride. This icon of the Venerable Sergius, the servant of God and zealous champion of old of our country's weal, is offered to Your Imperial Majesty. I grieve that my waning strength prevents rejoicing in the sight of your most gracious presence. I raise fervent prayers to Heaven that the Almighty may exalt the race of the just, and mercifully fulfill the desires of Your Majesty."
"What force! What a style!" was uttered in approval both of reader and of author.
Animated by that address Anna Pavlovna's guests talked for a long time of the state of the fatherland and offered various conjectures as to the result of the battle to be fought in a few days.
"You will see," said Anna Pavlovna, "that tomorrow, on the Emperor's birthday, we shall receive news. I have a favorable presentiment!"
Anna Pavlovna's presentiment was in fact fulfilled. Next day during the service at the palace church in honor of the Emperor's birthday, Prince Volkonski was called out of the church and received a dispatch from Prince Kutuzov. It was Kutuzov's report, written from Tatarinova on the day of the battle. Kutuzov wrote that the Russians had not retreated a step, that the French losses were much heavier than ours, and that he was writing in haste from the field of battle before collecting full information. It followed that there must have been a victory. And at once, without leaving the church, thanks were rendered to the Creator for His help and for the victory.
Anna Pavlovna's presentiment was justified, and all that morning a joyously festive mood reigned in the city. Everyone believed the victory to have been complete, and some even spoke of Napoleon's having been captured, of his deposition, and of the choice of a new ruler for France.
It is very difficult for events to be reflected in their real strength and completeness amid the conditions of court life and far from the scene of action. General events involuntarily group themselves around some particular incident. So now the courtiers' pleasure was based as much on the fact that the news had arrived on the Emperor's birthday as on the fact of the victory itself. It was like a successfully arranged surprise. Mention was made in Kutuzov's report of the Russian losses, among which figured the names of Tuchkov, Bagration, and Kutaysov. In the Petersburg world this sad side of the affair again involuntarily centered round a single incident: Kutaysov's death. Everybody knew him, the Emperor liked him, and he was young and interesting. That day everyone met with the words:
"What a wonderful coincidence! Just during the service. But what a loss Kutaysov is! How sorry I am!"
"What did I tell about Kutuzov?" Prince Vasili now said with a prophet's pride. "I always said he was the only man capable of defeating Napoleon."
But next day no news arrived from the army and the public mood grew anxious. The courtiers suffered because of the suffering the suspense occasioned the Emperor.
"Fancy the Emperor's position!" said they, and instead of extolling Kutuzov as they had done the day before, they condemned him as the cause of the Emperor's anxiety. That day Prince Vasili no longer boasted of his protege Kutuzov, but remained silent when the commander in chief was mentioned. Moreover, toward evening, as if everything conspired to make Petersburg society anxious and uneasy, a terrible piece of news was added. Countess Helene Bezukhova had suddenly died of that terrible malady it had been so agreeable to mention. Officially, at large gatherings, everyone said that Countess Bezukhova had died of a terrible attack of angina pectoris, but in intimate circles details were mentioned of how the private physician of the Queen of Spain had prescribed small doses of a certain drug to produce a certain effect; but Helene, tortured by the fact that the old count suspected her and that her husband to whom she had written (that wretched, profligate Pierre) had not replied, had suddenly taken a very large dose of the drug, and had died in agony before assistance could be rendered her. It was said that Prince Vasili and the old count had turned upon the Italian, but the latter had produced such letters from the unfortunate deceased that they had immediately let the matter drop.
Talk in general centered round three melancholy facts: the Emperor's lack of news, the loss of Kutuzov, and the death of Helene.
On the third day after Kutuzov's report a country gentleman arrived from Moscow, and news of the surrender of Moscow to the French spread through the whole town. This was terrible! What a position for the Emperor to be in! Kutuzov was a traitor, and Prince Vasili during the visits of condolence paid to him on the occasion of his daughter's death said of Kutuzov, whom he had formerly praised (it was excusable for him in his grief to forget what he had said), that it was impossible to expect anything else from a blind and depraved old man.
"I only wonder that the fate of Russia could have been entrusted to such a man."
As long as this news remained unofficial it was possible to doubt it, but the next day the following communication was received from Count Rostopchin:
Prince Kutuzov's adjutant has brought me a letter in which he demands police officers to guide the army to the Ryazan road. He writes that he is regretfully abandoning Moscow. Sire! Kutuzov's action decides the fate of the capital and of your empire! Russia will shudder to learn of the abandonment of the city in which her greatness is centered and in which lie the ashes of your ancestors! I shall follow the army. I have had everything removed, and it only remains for me to weep over the fate of my fatherland.
On receiving this dispatch the Emperor sent Prince Volkonski to Kutuzov with the following rescript:
Prince Michael Ilarionovich! Since the twenty-ninth of August I have received no communication from you, yet on the first of September I received from the commander in chief of Moscow, via Yaroslavl, the sad news that you, with the army, have decided to abandon Moscow. You can yourself imagine the effect this news has had on me, and your silence increases my astonishment. I am sending this by Adjutant-General Prince Volkonski, to hear from you the situation of the army and the reasons that have induced you to take this melancholy decision.
Nine days after the abandonment of Moscow, a messenger from Kutuzov reached Petersburg with the official announcement of that event. This messenger was Michaud, a Frenchman who did not know Russian, but who was quoique etranger, russe de coeur et d'ame,* as he said of himself.
*Though a foreigner, Russian in heart and soul.
The Emperor at once received this messenger in his study at the palace on Stone Island. Michaud, who had never seen Moscow before the campaign and who did not know Russian, yet felt deeply moved (as he wrote) when he appeared before notre tres gracieux souverain* with the news of the burning of Moscow, dont les flammes eclairaient sa route.*
*Our most gracious sovereign.
* Whose flames illumined his route.
Though the source of M. Michaud's chagrin must have been different from that which caused Russians to grieve, he had such a sad face when shown into the Emperor's study that the latter at once asked:
"Have you brought me sad news, Colonel?"
"Very sad, sire," replied Michaud, lowering his eyes with a sigh. "The abandonment of Moscow."
"Have they surrendered my ancient capital without a battle?" asked the Emperor quickly, his face suddenly flushing.
Michaud respectfully delivered the message Kutuzov had entrusted to him, which was that it had been impossible to fight before Moscow, and that as the only remaining choice was between losing the army as well as Moscow, or losing Moscow alone, the field marshal had to choose the latter.
The Emperor listened in silence, not looking at Michaud.
"Has the enemy entered the city?" he asked.
"Yes, sire, and Moscow is now in ashes. I left it all in flames," replied Michaud in a decided tone, but glancing at the Emperor he was frightened by what he had done.
The Emperor began to breathe heavily and rapidly, his lower lip trembled, and tears instantly appeared in his fine blue eyes.
But this lasted only a moment. He suddenly frowned, as if blaming himself for his weakness, and raising his head addressed Michaud in a firm voice:
"I see, Colonel, from all that is happening, that Providence requires great sacrifices of us... I am ready to submit myself in all things to His will; but tell me, Michaud, how did you leave the army when it saw my ancient capital abandoned without a battle? Did you not notice discouragement?..."
Seeing that his most gracious ruler was calm once more, Michaud also grew calm, but was not immediately ready to reply to the Emperor's direct and relevant question which required a direct answer.
"Sire, will you allow me to speak frankly as befits a loyal soldier?" he asked to gain time.
"Colonel, I always require it," replied the Emperor. "Conceal nothing from me, I wish to know absolutely how things are."
"Sire!" said Michaud with a subtle, scarcely perceptible smile on his lips, having now prepared a well-phrased reply, "sire, I left the whole army, from its chiefs to the lowest soldier, without exception in desperate and agonized terror..."
"How is that?" the Emperor interrupted him, frowning sternly. "Would misfortune make my Russians lose heart?... Never!"
Michaud had only waited for this to bring out the phrase he had prepared.
"Sire," he said, with respectful playfulness, "they are only afraid lest Your Majesty, in the goodness of your heart, should allow yourself to be persuaded to make peace. They are burning for the combat," declared this representative of the Russian nation, "and to prove to Your Majesty by the sacrifice of their lives how devoted they are...."
"Ah!" said the Emperor reassured, and with a kindly gleam in his eyes, he patted Michaud on the shoulder. "You set me at ease, Colonel."
He bent his head and was silent for some time.
"Well, then, go back to the army," he said, drawing himself up to his full height and addressing Michaud with a gracious and majestic gesture, "and tell our brave men and all my good subjects wherever you go that when I have not a soldier left I shall put myself at the head of my beloved nobility and my good peasants and so use the last resources of my empire. It still offers me more than my enemies suppose," said the Emperor growing more and more animated; "but should it ever be ordained by Divine Providence," he continued, raising to heaven his fine eyes shining with emotion, "that my dynasty should cease to reign on the throne of my ancestors, then after exhausting all the means at my command, I shall let my beard grow to here" (he pointed halfway down his chest) "and go and eat potatoes with the meanest of my peasants, rather than sign the disgrace of my country and of my beloved people whose sacrifices I know how to appreciate."
Having uttered these words in an agitated voice the Emperor suddenly turned away as if to hide from Michaud the tears that rose to his eyes, and went to the further end of his study. Having stood there a few moments, he strode back to Michaud and pressed his arm below the elbow with a vigorous movement. The Emperor's mild and handsome face was flushed and his eyes gleamed with resolution and anger.
"Colonel Michaud, do not forget what I say to you here, perhaps we may recall it with pleasure someday... Napoleon or I," said the Emperor, touching his breast. "We can no longer both reign together. I have learned to know him, and he will not deceive me any more...."
And the Emperor paused, with a frown.
When he heard these words and saw the expression of firm resolution in the Emperor's eyes, Michaud--quoique etranger, russe de coeur et d'ame--at that solemn moment felt himself enraptured by all that he had heard (as he used afterwards to say), and gave expression to his own feelings and those of the Russian people whose representative he considered himself to be, in the following words:
"Sire!" said he, "Your Majesty is at this moment signing the glory of the nation and the salvation of Europe!"
With an inclination of the head the Emperor dismissed him.
It is natural for us who were not living in those days to imagine that when half Russia had been conquered and the inhabitants were fleeing to distant provinces, and one levy after another was being raised for the defense of the fatherland, all Russians from the greatest to the least were solely engaged in sacrificing themselves, saving their fatherland, or weeping over its downfall. The tales and descriptions of that time without exception speak only of the self-sacrifice, patriotic devotion, despair, grief, and the heroism of the Russians. But it was not really so. It appears so to us because we see only the general historic interest of that time and do not see all the personal human interests that people had. Yet in reality those personal interests of the moment so much transcend the general interests that they always prevent the public interest from being felt or even noticed. Most of the people at that time paid no attention to the general progress of events but were guided only by their private interests, and they were the very people whose activities at that period were most useful.
Those who tried to understand the general course of events and to take part in it by self-sacrifice and heroism were the most useless members of society, they saw everything upside down, and all they did for the common good turned out to be useless and foolish--like Pierre's and Mamonov's regiments which looted Russian villages, and the lint the young ladies prepared and that never reached the wounded, and so on. Even those, fond of intellectual talk and of expressing their feelings, who discussed Russia's position at the time involuntarily introduced into their conversation either a shade of pretense and falsehood or useless condemnation and anger directed against people accused of actions no one could possibly be guilty of. In historic events the rule forbidding us to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is specially applicable. Only unconscious action bears fruit, and he who plays a part in an historic event never understands its significance. If he tries to realize it his efforts are fruitless.
The more closely a man was engaged in the events then taking place in Russia the less did he realize their significance. In Petersburg and in the provinces at a distance from Moscow, ladies, and gentlemen in militia uniforms, wept for Russia and its ancient capital and talked of self-sacrifice and so on; but in the army which retired beyond Moscow there was little talk or thought of Moscow, and when they caught sight of its burned ruins no one swore to be avenged on the French, but they thought about their next pay, their next quarters, of Matreshka the vivandiere, and like matters.
As the war had caught him in the service, Nicholas Rostov took a close and prolonged part in the defense of his country, but did so casually, without any aim at self-sacrifice, and he therefore looked at what was going on in Russia without despair and without dismally racking his brains over it. Had he been asked what he thought of the state of Russia, he would have said that it was not his business to think about it, that Kutuzov and others were there for that purpose, but that he had heard that the regiments were to be made up to their full strength, that fighting would probably go on for a long time yet, and that things being so it was quite likely he might be in command of a regiment in a couple of years' time.
As he looked at the matter in this way, he learned that he was being sent to Voronezh to buy remounts for his division, not only without regret at being prevented from taking part in the coming battle, but with the greatest pleasure--which he did not conceal and which his comrades fully understood.
A few days before the battle of Borodino, Nicholas received the necessary money and warrants, and having sent some hussars on in advance, he set out with post horses for Voronezh.
Only a man who has experienced it--that is, has passed some months continuously in an atmosphere of campaigning and war--can understand the delight Nicholas felt when he escaped from the region covered by the army's foraging operations, provision trains, and hospitals. When- free from soldiers, wagons, and the filthy traces of a camp--he saw villages with peasants and peasant women, gentlemen's country houses, fields where cattle were grazing, posthouses with stationmasters asleep in them, he rejoiced as though seeing all this for the first time. What for a long while specially surprised and delighted him were the women, young and healthy, without a dozen officers making up to each of them; women, too, who were pleased and flattered that a passing officer should joke with them.
In the highest spirits Nicholas arrived at night at a hotel in Voronezh, ordered things he had long been deprived of in camp, and next day, very clean-shaven and in a full-dress uniform he had not worn for a long time, went to present himself to the authorities.
The commander of the militia was a civilian general, an old man who was evidently pleased with his military designation and rank. He received Nicholas brusquely (imagining this to be characteristically military) and questioned him with an important air, as if considering the general progress of affairs and approving and disapproving with full right to do so. Nicholas was in such good spirits that this merely amused him.
From the commander of the militia he drove to the governor. The governor was a brisk little man, very simple and affable. He indicated the stud farms at which Nicholas might procure horses, recommended to him a horse dealer in the town and a landowner fourteen miles out of town who had the best horses, and promised to assist him in every way.
"You are Count Ilya Rostov's son? My wife was a great friend of your mother's. We are at home on Thursdays--today is Thursday, so please come and see us quite informally," said the governor, taking leave of him.
Immediately on leaving the governor's, Nicholas hired post horses and, taking his squadron quartermaster with him, drove at a gallop to the landowner, fourteen miles away, who had the stud. Everything seemed to him pleasant and easy during that first part of his stay in Voronezh and, as usually happens when a man is in a pleasant state of mind, everything went well and easily.
The landowner to whom Nicholas went was a bachelor, an old cavalryman, a horse fancier, a sportsman, the possessor of some century-old brandy and some old Hungarian wine, who had a snuggery where he smoked, and who owned some splendid horses.
In very few words Nicholas bought seventeen picked stallions for six thousand rubles--to serve, as he said, as samples of his remounts. After dining and taking rather too much of the Hungarian wine, Nicholas--having exchanged kisses with the landowner, with whom he was already on the friendliest terms--galloped back over abominable roads, in the brightest frame of mind, continually urging on the driver so as to be in time for the governor's party.
When he had changed, poured water over his head, and scented himself, Nicholas arrived at the governor's rather late, but with the phrase "better late than never" on his lips.
It was not a ball, nor had dancing been announced, but everyone knew that Catherine Petrovna would play valses and the ecossaise on the clavichord and that there would be dancing, and so everyone had come as to a ball.
Provincial life in 1812 went on very much as usual, but with this difference, that it was livelier in the towns in consequence of the arrival of many wealthy families from Moscow, and as in everything that went on in Russia at that time a special recklessness was noticeable, an "in for a penny, in for a pound--who cares?" spirit, and the inevitable small talk, instead of turning on the weather and mutual acquaintances, now turned on Moscow, the army, and Napoleon.
The society gathered together at the governor's was the best in Voronezh.
There were a great many ladies and some of Nicholas' Moscow acquaintances, but there were no men who could at all vie with the cavalier of St. George, the hussar remount officer, the good-natured and well-bred Count Rostov. Among the men was an Italian prisoner, an officer of the French army; and Nicholas felt that the presence of that prisoner enhanced his own importance as a Russian hero. The Italian was, as it were, a war trophy. Nicholas felt this, it seemed to him that everyone regarded the Italian in the same light, and he treated him cordially though with dignity and restraint.
As soon as Nicholas entered in his hussar uniform, diffusing around him a fragrance of perfume and wine, and had uttered the words "better late than never" and heard them repeated several times by others, people clustered around him; all eyes turned on him, and he felt at once that he had entered into his proper position in the province--that of a universal favorite: a very pleasant position, and intoxicatingly so after his long privations. At posting stations, at inns, and in the landowner's snuggery, maidservants had been flattered by his notice, and here too at the governor's party there were (as it seemed to Nicholas) an inexhaustible number of pretty young women, married and unmarried, impatiently awaiting his notice. The women and girls flirted with him and, from the first day, the people concerned themselves to get this fine young daredevil of an hussar married and settled down. Among these was the governor's wife herself, who welcomed Rostov as a near relative and called him "Nicholas."
Catherine Petrovna did actually play valses and the ecossaise, and dancing began in which Nicholas still further captivated the provincial society by his agility. His particularly free manner of dancing even surprised them all. Nicholas was himself rather surprised at the way he danced that evening. He had never danced like that in Moscow and would even have considered such a very free and easy manner improper and in bad form, but here he felt it incumbent on him to astonish them all by something unusual, something they would have to accept as the regular thing in the capital though new to them in the provinces.
All the evening Nicholas paid attention to a blue-eyed, plump and pleasing little blonde, the wife of one of the provincial officials. With the naive conviction of young men in a merry mood that other men's wives were created for them, Rostov did not leave the lady's side and treated her husband in a friendly and conspiratorial style, as if, without speaking of it, they knew how capitally Nicholas and the lady would get on together. The husband, however, did not seem to share that conviction and tried to behave morosely with Rostov. But the latter's good-natured naivete was so boundless that sometimes even he involuntarily yielded to Nicholas' good humor. Toward the end of the evening, however, as the wife's face grew more flushed and animated, the husband's became more and more melancholy and solemn, as though there were but a given amount of animation between them and as the wife's share increased the husband's diminished.
Nicholas sat leaning slightly forward in an armchair, bending closely over the blonde lady and paying her mythological compliments with a smile that never left his face. Jauntily shifting the position of his legs in their tight riding breeches, diffusing an odor of perfume, and admiring his partner, himself, and the fine outlines of his legs in their well-fitting Hessian boots, Nicholas told the blonde lady that he wished to run away with a certain lady here in Voronezh.
"A charming lady, a divine one. Her eyes" (Nicholas looked at his partner) "are blue, her mouth coral and ivory; her figure" (he glanced at her shoulders) "like Diana's...."
The husband came up and sullenly asked his wife what she was talking about.
"Ah, Nikita Ivanych!" cried Nicholas, rising politely, and as if wishing Nikita Ivanych to share his joke, he began to tell him of his intention to elope with a blonde lady.
The husband smiled gloomily, the wife gaily. The governor's good-natured wife came up with a look of disapproval.
"Anna Ignatyevna wants to see you, Nicholas," said she, pronouncing the name so that Nicholas at once understood that Anna Ignatyevna was a very important person. "Come, Nicholas! You know you let me call you so?"
"Oh, yes, Aunt. Who is she?"
"Anna Ignatyevna Malvintseva. She has heard from her niece how you rescued her... Can you guess?"
"I rescued such a lot of them!" said Nicholas.
"Her niece, Princess Bolkonskaya. She is here in Voronezh with her aunt. Oho! How you blush. Why, are...?"
"Not a bit! Please don't, Aunt!"
"Very well, very well!... Oh, what a fellow you are!"
The governor's wife led him up to a tall and very stout old lady with a blue headdress, who had just finished her game of cards with the most important personages of the town. This was Malvintseva, Princess Mary's aunt on her mother's side, a rich, childless widow who always lived in Voronezh. When Rostov approached her she was standing settling up for the game. She looked at him and, screwing up her eyes sternly, continued to upbraid the general who had won from her.
"Very pleased, mon cher," she then said, holding out her hand to Nicholas. "Pray come and see me."
After a few words about Princess Mary and her late father, whom Malvintseva had evidently not liked, and having asked what Nicholas knew of Prince Andrew, who also was evidently no favorite of hers, the important old lady dismissed Nicholas after repeating her invitation to come to see her.
Nicholas promised to come and blushed again as he bowed. At the mention of Princess Mary he experienced a feeling of shyness and even of fear, which he himself did not understand.
When he had parted from Malvintseva Nicholas wished to return to the dancing, but the governor's little wife placed her plump hand on his sleeve and, saying that she wanted to have a talk with him, led him to her sitting room, from which those who were there immediately withdrew so as not to be in her way.
"Do you know, dear boy," began the governor's wife with a serious expression on her kind little face, "that really would be the match for you: would you like me to arrange it?"
"Whom do you mean, Aunt?" asked Nicholas.
"I will make a match for you with the princess. Catherine Petrovna speaks of Lily, but I say, no--the princess! Do you want me to do it? I am sure your mother will be grateful to me. What a charming girl she is, really! And she is not at all so plain, either."
"Not at all," replied Nicholas as if offended at the idea. "As befits a soldier, Aunt, I don't force myself on anyone or refuse anything," he said before he had time to consider what he was saying.
"Well then, remember, this is not a joke!"
"Of course not!"
"Yes, yes," the governor's wife said as if talking to herself. "But, my dear boy, among other things you are too attentive to the other, the blonde. One is sorry for the husband, really...."
"Oh no, we are good friends with him," said Nicholas in the simplicity of his heart; it did not enter his head that a pastime so pleasant to himself might not be pleasant to someone else.
"But what nonsense I have been saying to the governor's wife!" thought Nicholas suddenly at supper. "She will really begin to arrange a match... and Soyna...?" And on taking leave of the governor's wife, when she again smilingly said to him, "Well then, remember!" he drew her aside.
"But see here, to tell the truth, Aunt..."
"What is it, my dear? Come, let's sit down here," said she.
Nicholas suddenly felt a desire and need to tell his most intimate thoughts (which he would not have told to his mother, his sister, or his friend) to this woman who was almost a stranger. When he afterwards recalled that impulse to unsolicited and inexplicable frankness which had very important results for him, it seemed to him--as it seems to everyone in such cases--that it was merely some silly whim that seized him: yet that burst of frankness, together with other trifling events, had immense consequences for him and for all his family.
"You see, Aunt, Mamma has long wanted me to marry an heiress, but the very idea of marrying for money is repugnant to me."
"Oh yes, I understand," said the governor's wife.
"But Princess Bolkonskaya--that's another matter. I will tell you the truth. In the first place I like her very much, I feel drawn to her; and then, after I met her under such circumstances--so strangely, the idea often occurred to me: 'This is fate.' Especially if you remember that Mamma had long been thinking of it; but I had never happened to meet her before, somehow it had always happened that we did not meet. And as long as my sister Natasha was engaged to her brother it was of course out of the question for me to think of marrying her. And it must needs happen that I should meet her just when Natasha's engagement had been broken off... and then everything... So you see... I never told this to anyone and never will, only to you."
The governor's wife pressed his elbow gratefully.
"You know Sonya, my cousin? I love her, and promised to marry her, and will do so.... So you see there can be no question about-" said Nicholas incoherently and blushing.
"My dear boy, what a way to look at it! You know Sonya has nothing and you yourself say your Papa's affairs are in a very bad way. And what about your mother? It would kill her, that's one thing. And what sort of life would it be for Sonya--if she's a girl with a heart? Your mother in despair, and you all ruined.... No, my dear, you and Sonya ought to understand that."
Nicholas remained silent. It comforted him to hear these arguments.
"All the same, Aunt, it is impossible," he rejoined with a sigh, after a short pause. "Besides, would the princess have me? And besides, she is now in mourning. How can one think of it!"
"But you don't suppose I'm going to get you married at once? There is always a right way of doing things," replied the governor's wife.
"What a matchmaker you are, Aunt..." said Nicholas, kissing her plump little hand.