Pelageya Danilovna Melyukova, a broadly built, energetic woman wearing spectacles, sat in the drawing room in a loose dress, surrounded by her daughters whom she was trying to keep from feeling dull. They were quietly dropping melted wax into snow and looking at the shadows the wax figures would throw on the wall, when they heard the steps and voices of new arrivals in the vestibule.
Hussars, ladies, witches, clowns, and bears, after clearing their throats and wiping the hoarfrost from their faces in the vestibule, came into the ballroom where candles were hurriedly lighted. The clown--Dimmler--and the lady--Nicholas--started a dance. Surrounded by the screaming children the mummers, covering their faces and disguising their voices, bowed to their hostess and arranged themselves about the room.
"Dear me! there's no recognizing them! And Natasha! See whom she looks like! She really reminds me of somebody. But Herr Dimmler--isn't he good! I didn't know him! And how he dances. Dear me, there's a Circassian. Really, how becoming it is to dear Sonya. And who is that? Well, you have cheered us up! Nikita and Vanya--clear away the tables! And we were sitting so quietly. Ha, ha, ha!... The hussar, the hussar! Just like a boy! And the legs!... I can't look at him..." different voices were saying.
Natasha, the young Melyukovs' favorite, disappeared with them into the back rooms where a cork and various dressing gowns and male garments were called for and received from the footman by bare girlish arms from behind the door. Ten minutes later, all the young Melyukovs joined the mummers.
Pelageya Danilovna, having given orders to clear the rooms for the visitors and arranged about refreshments for the gentry and the serfs, went about among the mummers without removing her spectacles, peering into their faces with a suppressed smile and failing to recognize any of them. It was not merely Dimmler and the Rostovs she failed to recognize, she did not even recognize her own daughters, or her late husband's, dressing gowns and uniforms, which they had put on.
"And who is is this?" she asked her governess, peering into the face of her own daughter dressed up as a Kazan-Tartar. "I suppose it is one of the Rostovs! Well, Mr. Hussar, and what regiment do you serve in?" she asked Natasha. "Here, hand some fruit jelly to the Turk!" she ordered the butler who was handing things round. "That's not forbidden by his law."
Sometimes, as she looked at the strange but amusing capers cut by the dancers, who--having decided once for all that being disguised, no one would recognize them--were not at all shy, Pelageya Danilovna hid her face in her handkerchief, and her whole stout body shook with irrepressible, kindly, elderly laughter.
"My little Sasha! Look at Sasha!" she said.
After Russian country dances and chorus dances, Pelageya Danilovna made the serfs and gentry join in one large circle: a ring, a string, and a silver ruble were fetched and they all played games together.
In an hour, all the costumes were crumpled and disordered. The corked eyebrows and mustaches were smeared over the perspiring, flushed, and merry faces. Pelageya Danilovna began to recognize the mummers, admired their cleverly contrived costumes, and particularly how they suited the young ladies, and she thanked them all for having entertained her so well. The visitors were invited to supper in the drawing room, and the serfs had something served to them in the ballroom.
"Now to tell one's fortune in the empty bathhouse is frightening!" said an old maid who lived with the Melyukovs, during supper.
"Why?" said the eldest Melyukov girl.
"You wouldn't go, it takes courage..."
"I'll go," said Sonya.
"Tell what happened to the young lady!" said the second Melyukov girl.
"Well," began the old maid, "a young lady once went out, took a cock, laid the table for two, all properly, and sat down. After sitting a while, she suddenly hears someone coming... a sleigh drives up with harness bells; she hears him coming! He comes in, just in the shape of a man, like an officer--comes in and sits down to table with her."
"Ah! ah!" screamed Natasha, rolling her eyes with horror.
"Yes? And how... did he speak?"
"Yes, like a man. Everything quite all right, and he began persuading her; and she should have kept him talking till cockcrow, but she got frightened, just got frightened and hid her face in her hands. Then he caught her up. It was lucky the maids ran in just then..."
"Now, why frighten them?" said Pelageya Danilovna.
"Mamma, you used to try your fate yourself..." said her daughter.
"And how does one do it in a barn?" inquired Sonya.
"Well, say you went to the barn now, and listened. It depends on what you hear; hammering and knocking--that's bad; but a sound of shifting grain is good and one sometimes hears that, too."
"Mamma, tell us what happened to you in the barn."
Pelageya Danilovna smiled.
"Oh, I've forgotten..." she replied. "But none of you would go?"
"Yes, I will; Pelageya Danilovna, let me! I'll go," said Sonya.
"Well, why not, if you're not afraid?"
"Louisa Ivanovna, may I?" asked Sonya.
Whether they were playing the ring and string game or the ruble game or talking as now, Nicholas did not leave Sonya's side, and gazed at her with quite new eyes. It seemed to him that it was only today, thanks to that burnt-cork mustache, that he had fully learned to know her. And really, that evening, Sonya was brighter, more animated, and prettier than Nicholas had ever seen her before.
"So that's what she is like; what a fool I have been!" he thought gazing at her sparkling eyes, and under the mustache a happy rapturous smile dimpled her cheeks, a smile he had never seen before.
"I'm not afraid of anything," said Sonya. "May I go at once?" She got up.
They told her where the barn was and how she should stand and listen, and they handed her a fur cloak. She threw this over her head and shoulders and glanced at Nicholas.
"What a darling that girl is!" thought he. "And what have I been thinking of till now?"
Sonya went out into the passage to go to the barn. Nicholas went hastily to the front porch, saying he felt too hot. The crowd of people really had made the house stuffy.
Outside, there was the same cold stillness and the same moon, but even brighter than before. The light was so strong and the snow sparkled with so many stars that one did not wish to look up at the sky and the real stars were unnoticed. The sky was black and dreary, while the earth was gay.
"I am a fool, a fool! what have I been waiting for?" thought Nicholas, and running out from the porch he went round the corner of the house and along the path that led to the back porch. He knew Sonya would pass that way. Halfway lay some snow-covered piles of firewood and across and along them a network of shadows from the bare old lime trees fell on the snow and on the path. This path led to the barn. The log walls of the barn and its snow-covered roof, that looked as if hewn out of some precious stone, sparkled in the moonlight. A tree in the garden snapped with the frost, and then all was again perfectly silent. His bosom seemed to inhale not air but the strength of eternal youth and gladness.
From the back porch came the sound of feet descending the steps, the bottom step upon which snow had fallen gave a ringing creak and he heard the voice of an old maidservant saying, "Straight, straight, along the path, Miss. Only, don't look back."
"I am not afraid," answered Sonya's voice, and along the path toward Nicholas came the crunching, whistling sound of Sonya's feet in her thin shoes.
Sonya came along, wrapped in her cloak. She was only a couple of paces away when she saw him, and to her too he was not the Nicholas she had known and always slightly feared. He was in a woman's dress, with tousled hair and a happy smile new to Sonya. She ran rapidly toward him.
"Quite different and yet the same," thought Nicholas, looking at her face all lit up by the moonlight. He slipped his arms under the cloak that covered her head, embraced her, pressed her to him, and kissed her on the lips that wore a mustache and had a smell of burnt cork. Sonya kissed him full on the lips, and disengaging her little hands pressed them to his cheeks.
"Sonya!... Nicholas!"... was all they said. They ran to the barn and then back again, re-entering, he by the front and she by the back porch.
When they all drove back from Pelageya Danilovna's, Natasha, who always saw and noticed everything, arranged that she and Madame Schoss should go back in the sleigh with Dimmler, and Sonya with Nicholas and the maids.
On the way back Nicholas drove at a steady pace instead of racing and kept peering by that fantastic all-transforming light into Sonya's face and searching beneath the eyebrows and mustache for his former and his present Sonya from whom he had resolved never to be parted again. He looked and recognizing in her both the old and the new Sonya, and being reminded by the smell of burnt cork of the sensation of her kiss, inhaled the frosty air with a full breast and, looking at the ground flying beneath him and at the sparkling sky, felt himself again in fairyland.
"Sonya, is it well with thee?" he asked from time to time.
"Yes!" she replied. "And with thee?"
When halfway home Nicholas handed the reins to the coachman and ran for a moment to Natasha's sleigh and stood on its wing.
"Natasha!" he whispered in French, "do you know I have made up my mind about Sonya?"
"Have you told her?" asked Natasha, suddenly beaming all over with joy.
"Oh, how strange you are with that mustache and those eyebrows!... Natasha--are you glad?"
"I am so glad, so glad! I was beginning to be vexed with you. I did not tell you, but you have been treating her badly. What a heart she has, Nicholas! I am horrid sometimes, but I was ashamed to be happy while Sonya was not," continued Natasha. "Now I am so glad! Well, run back to her."
"No, wait a bit.... Oh, how funny you look!" cried Nicholas, peering into her face and finding in his sister too something new, unusual, and bewitchingly tender that he had not seen in her before. "Natasha, it's magical, isn't it?"
"Yes," she replied. "You have done splendidly."
"Had I seen her before as she is now," thought Nicholas, "I should long ago have asked her what to do and have done whatever she told me, and all would have been well."
"So you are glad and I have done right?"
"Oh, quite right! I had a quarrel with Mamma some time ago about it. Mamma said she was angling for you. How could she say such a thing! I nearly stormed at Mamma. I will never let anyone say anything bad of Sonya, for there is nothing but good in her."
"Then it's all right?" said Nicholas, again scrutinizing the expression of his sister's face to see if she was in earnest. Then he jumped down and, his boots scrunching the snow, ran back to his sleigh. The same happy, smiling Circassian, with mustache and beaming eyes looking up from under a sable hood, was still sitting there, and that Circassian was Sonya, and that Sonya was certainly his future happy and loving wife.
When they reached home and had told their mother how they had spent the evening at the Melyukovs', the girls went to their bedroom. When they had undressed, but without washing off the cork mustaches, they sat a long time talking of their happiness. They talked of how they would live when they were married, how their husbands would be friends, and how happy they would be. On Natasha's table stood two looking glasses which Dunyasha had prepared beforehand.
"Only when will all that be? I am afraid never.... It would be too good!" said Natasha, rising and going to the looking glasses.
"Sit down, Natasha; perhaps you'll see him," said Sonya.
Natasha lit the candles, one on each side of one of the looking glasses, and sat down.
"I see someone with a mustache," said Natasha, seeing her own face.
"You mustn't laugh, Miss," said Dunyasha.
With Sonya's help and the maid's, Natasha got the glass she held into the right position opposite the other; her face assumed a serious expression and she sat silent. She sat a long time looking at the receding line of candles reflected in the glasses and expecting (from tales she had heard) to see a coffin, or him, Prince Andrew, in that last dim, indistinctly outlined square. But ready as she was to take the smallest speck for the image of a man or of a coffin, she saw nothing. She began blinking rapidly and moved away from the looking glasses.
"Why is it others see things and I don't?" she said. "You sit down now, Sonya. You absolutely must, tonight! Do it for me.... Today I feel so frightened!"
Sonya sat down before the glasses, got the right position, and began looking.
"Now, Miss Sonya is sure to see something," whispered Dunyasha; "while you do nothing but laugh."
Sonya heard this and Natasha's whisper:
"I know she will. She saw something last year."
For about three minutes all were silent.
"Of course she will!" whispered Natasha, but did not finish... suddenly Sonya pushed away the glass she was holding and covered her eyes with her hand.
"Oh, Natasha!" she cried.
"Did you see? Did you? What was it?" exclaimed Natasha, holding up the looking glass.
Sonya had not seen anything, she was just wanting to blink and to get up when she heard Natasha say, "Of course she will!" She did not wish to disappoint either Dunyasha or Natasha, but it was hard to sit still. She did not herself know how or why the exclamation escaped her when she covered her eyes.
"You saw him?" urged Natasha, seizing her hand.
"Yes. Wait a bit... I... saw him," Sonya could not help saying, not yet knowing whom Natasha meant by him, Nicholas or Prince Andrew.
"But why shouldn't I say I saw something? Others do see! Besides who can tell whether I saw anything or not?" flashed through Sonya's mind.
"Yes, I saw him," she said.
"How? Standing or lying?"
"No, I saw... At first there was nothing, then I saw him lying down."
"Andrew lying? Is he ill?" asked Natasha, her frightened eyes fixed on her friend.
"No, on the contrary, on the contrary! His face was cheerful, and he turned to me." And when saying this she herself fancied she had really seen what she described.
"Well, and then, Sonya?..."
"After that, I could not make out what there was; something blue and red..."
"Sonya! When will he come back? When shall I see him! O, God, how afraid I am for him and for myself and about everything!..." Natasha began, and without replying to Sonya's words of comfort she got into bed, and long after her candle was out lay open-eyed and motionless, gazing at the moonlight through the frosty windowpanes.
Soon after the Christmas holidays Nicholas told his mother of his love for Sonya and of his firm resolve to marry her. The countess, who had long noticed what was going on between them and was expecting this declaration, listened to him in silence and then told her son that he might marry whom he pleased, but that neither she nor his father would give their blessing to such a marriage. Nicholas, for the first time, felt that his mother was displeased with him and that, despite her love for him, she would not give way. Coldly, without looking at her son, she sent for her husband and, when he came, tried briefly and coldly to inform him of the facts, in her son's presence, but unable to restrain herself she burst into tears of vexation and left the room. The old count began irresolutely to admonish Nicholas and beg him to abandon his purpose. Nicholas replied that he could not go back on his word, and his father, sighing and evidently disconcerted, very soon became silent and went in to the countess. In all his encounters with his son, the count was always conscious of his own guilt toward him for having wasted the family fortune, and so he could not be angry with him for refusing to marry an heiress and choosing the dowerless Sonya. On this occasion, he was only more vividly conscious of the fact that if his affairs had not been in disorder, no better wife for Nicholas than Sonya could have been wished for, and that no one but himself with his Mitenka and his uncomfortable habits was to blame for the condition of the family finances.
The father and mother did not speak of the matter to their son again, but a few days later the countess sent for Sonya and, with a cruelty neither of them expected, reproached her niece for trying to catch Nicholas and for ingratitude. Sonya listened silently with downcast eyes to the countess' cruel words, without understanding what was required of her. She was ready to sacrifice everything for her benefactors. Self-sacrifice was her most cherished idea but in this case she could not see what she ought to sacrifice, or for whom. She could not help loving the countess and the whole Rostov family, but neither could she help loving Nicholas and knowing that his happiness depended on that love. She was silent and sad and did not reply. Nicholas felt the situation to be intolerable and went to have an explanation with his mother. He first implored her to forgive him and Sonya and consent to their marriage, then he threatened that if she molested Sonya he would at once marry her secretly.
The countess, with a coldness her son had never seen in her before, replied that he was of age, that Prince Andrew was marrying without his father's consent, and he could do the same, but that she would never receive that intriguer as her daughter.
Exploding at the word intriguer, Nicholas, raising his voice, told his mother he had never expected her to try to force him to sell his feelings, but if that were so, he would say for the last time.... But he had no time to utter the decisive word which the expression of his face caused his mother to await with terror, and which would perhaps have forever remained a cruel memory to them both. He had not time to say it, for Natasha, with a pale and set face, entered the room from the door at which she had been listening.
"Nicholas, you are talking nonsense! Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, I tell you!..." she almost screamed, so as to drown his voice.
"Mamma darling, it's not at all so... my poor, sweet darling," she said to her mother, who conscious that they had been on the brink of a rupture gazed at her son with terror, but in the obstinacy and excitement of the conflict could not and would not give way.
"Nicholas, I'll explain to you. Go away! Listen, Mamma darling," said Natasha.
Her words were incoherent, but they attained the purpose at which she was aiming.
The countess, sobbing heavily, hid her face on her daughter's breast, while Nicholas rose, clutching his head, and left the room.
Natasha set to work to effect a reconciliation, and so far succeeded that Nicholas received a promise from his mother that Sonya should not be troubled, while he on his side promised not to undertake anything without his parents' knowledge.
Firmly resolved, after putting his affairs in order in the regiment, to retire from the army and return and marry Sonya, Nicholas, serious, sorrowful, and at variance with his parents, but, as it seemed to him, passionately in love, left at the beginning of January to rejoin his regiment.
After Nicholas had gone things in the Rostov household were more depressing than ever, and the countess fell ill from mental agitation.
Sonya was unhappy at the separation from Nicholas and still more so on account of the hostile tone the countess could not help adopting toward her. The count was more perturbed than ever by the condition of his affairs, which called for some decisive action. Their town house and estate near Moscow had inevitably to be sold, and for this they had to go to Moscow. But the countess' health obliged them to delay their departure from day to day.
Natasha, who had borne the first period of separation from her betrothed lightly and even cheerfully, now grew more agitated and impatient every day. The thought that her best days, which she would have employed in loving him, were being vainly wasted, with no advantage to anyone, tormented her incessantly. His letters for the most part irritated her. It hurt her to think that while she lived only in the thought of him, he was living a real life, seeing new places and new people that interested him. The more interesting his letters were the more vexed she felt. Her letters to him, far from giving her any comfort, seemed to her a wearisome and artificial obligation. She could not write, because she could not conceive the possibility of expressing sincerely in a letter even a thousandth part of what she expressed by voice, smile, and glance. She wrote to him formal, monotonous, and dry letters, to which she attached no importance herself, and in the rough copies of which the countess corrected her mistakes in spelling.
There was still no improvement in the countess' health, but it was impossible to defer the journey to Moscow any longer. Natasha's trousseau had to be ordered and the house sold. Moreover, Prince Andrew was expected in Moscow, where old Prince Bolkonski was spending the winter, and Natasha felt sure he had already arrived.
So the countess remained in the country, and the count, taking Sonya and Natasha with him, went to Moscow at the end of January.