COUNTESS ROSTOV, with her daughters and the greater number of the guests, was sitting in the drawing-room. The count led the gentlemen of the party to his room, calling their attention to his connoisseur's collection of Turkish pipes. Now and then he went out and inquired, had she come yet? They were waiting for Marya Dmitryevna Ahrosimov, known in society as le terrible dragon, a lady who owed her renown not to her wealth or her rank, but to her mental directness and her open, unconventional behaviour. Marya Dmitryevna was known to the imperial family; she was known to all Moscow and all Petersburg, and both cities, while they marvelled at her, laughed in their sleeves at her rudeness, and told good stories about her, nevertheless, all without exception respected and feared her.
In the count's room, full of smoke, there was talk of the war, which had been declared in a manifesto, and of the levies of troops. The manifesto no one had yet read, but every one knew of its appearance. The count was sitting on an ottoman with a man smoking and talking on each side of him. The count himself was neither smoking nor talking, but, with his head cocked first on one side and then on the other, gazed with evident satisfaction at the smokers, and listened to the argument he had got up between his two neighbours.
One of these two was a civilian with a thin, wrinkled, bilious, close-shaven face, a man past middle age, though dressed like the most fashionable young man. He sat with his leg up on the ottoman, as though he were at home, and with the amber mouthpiece in the side of his mouth, he smoked spasmodically, puckering up his face. This was an old bachelor, Shinshin, a cousin of the countess's, famed in Moscow drawing-rooms for his biting wit. He seemed supercilious in his manner to his companion, a fresh, rosy officer of the Guards, irreproachably washed and brushed and buttoned. He held his pipe in the middle of his mouth, and drawing in a little smoke, sent it coiling in rings out of his fine red lips. He was Lieutenant Berg, an officer in the Semenovsky regiment with whom Boris was to go away, and about whom Natasha had taunted Vera, calling Berg her suitor. The count sat between these two listening intently to them. The count's favourite entertainment, next to playing boston, of which he was very fond, was that of listening to conversation, especially when he had succeeded in getting up a dispute between two talkative friends.
“Come, how is it, mon très honorable Alphonse Karlitch,” said Shinshin, chuckling, and using a combination of the most popular Russian colloquialisms and the most recherchès French expressions, which constituted the peculiarity of his phraseology. “You reckon you'll get an income from the government, and you want to get a little something from your company too?”
“No, Pyotr Nikolaitch, I only want to show that in the cavalry the advantages are few as compared with the infantry. Consider my position now, for instance, Pyotr Nikolaitch.” Berg talked very precisely, serenely, and politely. All he said was always concerning himself. He always maintained a serene silence when any subject was discussed that had no direct bearing on himself. And he could be silent in that way for several hours at a time, neither experiencing nor causing in others the slightest embarrassment. But as soon as the conversation concerned him personally, he began to talk at length and with visible satisfaction.
“Consider my position, Pyotr Nikolaitch: if I were in the cavalry, I should get no more than two hundred roubles every four months, even at the rank of lieutenant, while as it is I get two hundred and thirty,” he explained with a beaming, friendly smile, looking at Shinshin and the count as though he had no doubt that his success would always be the chief goal of all other people's wishes. “Besides that, Pyotr Nikolaitch, exchanging into the Guards, I'm so much nearer the front,” pursued Berg, “and vacancies occur so much more frequently in the infantry guards. Then you can fancy how well I can manage on two hundred and thirty roubles. Why, I'm putting by and sending some off to my father too,” he pursued, letting off a ring of smoke.
“There is a balance. A German will thrash wheat out of the head of an axe, as the Russian proverb has it,” said Shinshin, shifting his pipe to the other side of his mouth and winking to the count.
The count chuckled. The other visitors seeing that Shinshin was talking came up to listen. Berg, without perceiving either their sneers or their lack of interest, proceeded to explain how by exchanging into the guards he had already gained a step in advance of his old comrades in the corps; how in war-time the commander of a company may so easily be killed, and he as next in command might very easily succeed him, and how every one in the regiment liked him, and how pleased his father was with him. Berg was unmistakably enjoying himself as he told all this, and seemed never to suspect that other people too might have their own interests. But all he said was so nice, so sedate, the naïveté of his youthful egoism was so undisguised, that he disarmed his listeners.
“Well, my good fellow, whether you're in the infantry or in the cavalry, you'll always get on all right, that I venture to predict,” said Shinshin, patting him on the shoulder, and setting his feet down off the ottoman. Berg smiled gleefully. The count and the guests after him went into the drawing-room.
It was that interval just before a dinner when the assembled guests do not care to enter on a lengthy conversation, expecting to be summoned to the dining-room; while they feel it incumbent on them to move about and not to be silent, so as to show that they are not impatient to sit down to table. The host and hostess look towards the door, and occasionally at one another. The guests try from these glances to divine whom or what they are waiting for; some important relation late in arriving, or some dish which is not ready.
Pierre arrived just at dinner-time, and awkwardly sat down in the middle of the drawing-room in the first easy-chair he came across, blocking up the way for every one. The countess tried to make him talk, but he looked naïvely round him over his spectacles as though he were looking for some one, and replied in monosyllables to all the countess's questions. He was in the way, and was the only person unaware of it. The greater number of the guests, knowing the story of the bear, looked inquisitively at this big, stout, inoffensive-looking person, puzzled to think how such a spiritless and staid young man could have played such a prank.
“You have only lately arrived?” the countess asked him.
“You have not seen my husband?”
“Non, madame.” He smiled very inappropriately.
“You have lately been in Paris, I believe? I suppose it's very interesting.”
The countess exchanged glances with Anna Mihalovna. Anna Mihalovna saw that she was asked to undertake the young man, and sitting down by him she began talking of his father. But to her as to the countess he replied only in monosyllables. The other guests were all busily engaged together. “The Razumovskys … It was very charming … You are so kind … Countess Apraxin …” rose in murmurs on all sides. The countess got up and went into the reception hall.
“Marya Dmitryevna?” her voice was heard asking from there.
“Herself,” a rough voice was heard in reply, and immediately after, Marya Dmitryevna walked into the room. All the girls and even the ladies, except the very old ones, got up. Marya Dmitryevna, a stout woman of fifty, stopped in the doorway, and holding her head with its grey curls erect, she looked down at the guests and as though tucking up her cuffs, she deliberately arranged the wide sleeves of her gown. Marya Dmitryevna always spoke Russian.
“Health and happiness to the lady whose name-day we are keeping and to her children,” she said in her loud, rich voice that dominated all other sounds. “Well, you old sinner,” she turned to the count who was kissing her hand. “I suppose you are tired of Moscow—nowhere to go out with the dogs? Well, my good man, what's to be done? these nestlings will grow up.…” She pointed to the girls. “Willy-nilly, you must look out for young men for them.”
“Well, my Cossack?” (Marya Dmitryevna used to call Natasha a Cossack) she said, stroking the hand of Natasha, who came up to kiss her hand gaily without shyness. “I know you're a wicked girl, but I like you.”
She took out of her huge reticule some amber earrings with drops, and giving them to Natasha, whose beaming birthday face flushed rosy red, she turned away immediately and addressed Pierre.
“Ay, ay! come here, sir!” she said in an intentionally quiet and gentle voice. “Come here, sir …” And she tucked her sleeve up higher in an ominous manner.
Pierre went up, looking innocently at her over his spectacles.
“Come along, come along, sir! I was the only person that told your father the truth when he was in high favour, and in your case it is a sacred duty.” She paused. Every one was mutely expectant of what was to follow, feeling that this was merely a prelude. “A pretty fellow, there's no denying! a pretty fellow! … His father is lying on his deathbed, and he's amusing himself, setting a police-constable astride on a bear! For shame, sir, for shame! You had better have gone to the war.”
She turned away and gave her hand to the count, who could hardly keep from laughing.
“Well, I suppose dinner's ready, eh?” said Marya Dmitrvevna. The count led the way with Marya Dmitryevna, then followed the countess, taken in by a colonel of hussars, a person of importance, as Nikolay was to travel in his company to join the regiment; then Anna Mihalovna with Shinshin. Berg gave his arm to Vera, Julie Karagin walked in smiling with Nikolay. They were followed by a string of other couples, stretching right across the hall, and behind all, the children with their tutors and governesses trooped in, walked singly. There was a bustle among the waiters and a creaking of chairs; the orchestra began playing, as the guests took their places. Then the strains of the count's household band were succeeded by the clatter of knives and forks, the conversation of the guests, and the subdued tread of the waiters. The countess presided at one end of the table. On her right was Marya Dmitryevna; on her left Anna Mihalovna and the other ladies of the party. At the other end sat the count, with the colonel of hussars on his left, and on his right Shinshin and the other guests of the male sex. On one side of the large table sat the more grown-up of the young people: Vera beside Berg, Pierre beside Boris. On the other side were the children with their tutors and governesses. The count peeped from behind the crystal of the decanters and fruit-dishes at his wife and her high cap with blue ribbons, and zealously poured out wine for his neighbours, not overlooking himself. The countess, too, while mindful of her duties as hostess, cast significant glances from behind the pineapples at her husband, whose face and bald head struck her as looking particularly red against his grey hair. At the ladies' end there was a rhythmic murmur of talk, but at the other end of the table the men's voices grew louder and louder, especially the voice of the colonel of hussars, who, getting more and more flushed, ate and drank so much that the count held him up as a pattern to the rest. Berg with a tender smile was telling Vera that love was an emotion not of earth but of heaven. Boris was telling his new friend Pierre the names of the guests, while he exchanged glances with Natasha sitting opposite him. Pierre said little, looked about at the new faces, and ate a great deal. Of the two soups he chose à la tortue, and from that course to the fish-pasties and the grouse, he did not let a single dish pass, and took every sort of wine that the butler offered him, as he mysteriously poked a bottle wrapped in a napkin over his neighbour's shoulder, murmuring, “Dry Madeira,” or “Hungarian,” or “Rhine wine.” Pierre took a wine-glass at random out of the four crystal glasses engraved with the count's crest that were set at each place, and drank with relish, staring at the guests with a countenance that became more and more amiable as the dinner went on. Natasha, who sat opposite him, gazed at Boris as girls of thirteen gaze at the boy whom they have just kissed for the first time, and with whom they are in love. This gaze sometimes strayed to Pierre, and at the look on the funny, excited little girl's face, he felt an impulse to laugh himself without knowing why.
Nikolay was sitting a long way from Sonya, beside Julie Karagin, and again smiling the same unconscious smile, he was talking to her. Sonya wore a company smile, but she was visibly in agonies of jealousy; at one moment she turned pale, then she crimsoned, and all her energies were concentrated on listening to what Nikolay and Julie were saying. The governess looked nervously about her, as though preparing to resent any slight that might be offered to the children. The German tutor was trying to learn by heart a list of all the kinds of dishes, desserts, and wines, in order to write a detailed description of them to the folks at home in Germany, and was greatly mortified that the butler with the bottle in the napkin had passed him over. The German knitted his brows, and tried to look as though he would not have cared to take that wine, but he was mortified because no one would understand that he had not wanted the wine to quench his thirst, or through greed, but from a conscientious desire for knowledge.