IT was long since Rostov had derived such enjoyment from music as on that day. But as soon as Natasha had finished her barcarolle, the reality forced itself upon his mind again. Saying nothing, he went out, and went down stairs to his own room. A quarter of an hour later, the old prince came in, good-humoured and satisfied from his club. Nikolay heard him come in, and went in to him.
“Well, had a good time?” said Ilya Andreivitch, smiling proudly and joyfully to his son. Nikolay tried to say “Yes,” but could not; he was on the point of sobbing. The count was lighting his pipe, and did not notice his son's condition.
“Ugh, it's inevitable!” thought Nikolay, for the first and last time. And all at once, as though he were asking for the carriage to drive into town, he said to his father in the most casual tone, that made him feel vile to himself:
“Papa, I have come to you on a matter of business I was almost forgetting. I want some money.”
“You don't say so?” said his father, who happened to be in particularly good spirits. “I told you that we shouldn't be having any. Do you want a large sum?”
“Very large,” said Nikolay, flushing and smiling a stupid, careless smile, for which long after he could not forgive himself. “I have lost a little at cards, that is, a good deal, really, a great deal, forty-three thousand.”
“What! To whom? … You're joking!” cried the count, flushing, as old people flush, an apoplectic red over his neck and the back of his head.
“I have promised to pay it to-morrow,” said Nikolay.
“Oh!” … said the count, flinging up his arms; and he dropped helplessly on the sofa.
“It can't be helped! It happens to every one,” said his son in a free and easy tone, while in his heart he was feeling himself a low scoundrel, whose whole life could not atone for his crime. He would have liked to kiss his father's hands, to beg his forgiveness on his knees, while carelessly, rudely even, he was telling him that it happened to every one.
Count Ilya Andreivitch dropped his eyes when he heard those words from his son, and began moving hurriedly, as though looking for something.
“Yes, yes,” he brought out, “it will be difficult, I fear, difficult to raise …happens to every one! yes, it happens to every one …” And the count cast a fleeting glance at his son's face and walked out of the room.… Nikolay had been prepared to face resistance, but he had not expected this.
“Papa! pa … pa!” he cried after him, sobbing; “forgive me!” And clutching at his father's hand, he pressed it to his lips and burst into tears.
While the father and son were having this interview, another, hardly less important, was taking place between the mother and daughter. Natasha, in great excitement, had run in to her mother.
“Mamma! … Mamma!… he has made me …”
“Made you what?”
“He's made, made an offer. Mamma! Mamma!” she kept crying.
The countess could not believe her ears. Denisov had made an offer … to whom? … To this chit of a girl Natasha, who had only just given up playing with dolls, and was still having lessons.
“Natasha, enough of this silliness!” she said, hoping it was a joke.
“Silliness indeed! I am telling you the fact,” said Natasha angrily. “I have come to ask you what to do, and you talk to me of ‘silliness' …”
The countess shrugged her shoulders.
“If it is true that Monsieur Denisov has made you an offer, then tell him he is a fool, that's all.”
“No, he's not a fool,” said Natasha, resentfully and seriously.
“Well, what would you have, then? You are all in love, it seems, nowadays. Oh, well, if you're in love with him, better marry him,” said the countess, laughing angrily, “and God bless 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, darling; it's not my fault, is it?”
“No, but upon my word, my dear, if you like, I will go and tell him so,” said the countess, smiling.
“No, I'll do it myself; only tell me how to say it. Everything comes easy to you,” she added, responding to her smile. “And if you could have seen how he said it to me! I know he did not mean to say it, but said it by accident.”
“Well, any way you must refuse him.”
“No, I mustn't. I feel so sorry for him! He's so nice.”
“Oh, well, accept his proposal, then. High time you were married, I suppose,” said her mother angrily and ironically.
“No, mamma, but I'm so sorry for him. I don't know how to say it.”
“Well, there's no need for you to say anything. I'll speak to him myself,” said the countess, indignant that any one should have dared to treat this little Natasha as grown up.
“No, not on any account; I'll go myself, and you listen at the door,”— and Natasha ran across the drawing-room to the hall, where Denisov, his face in his hands, was still sitting in the same chair at the clavichord. He jumped up at the sound of her light footsteps.
“Natalie,” he said, moving with rapid steps towards her, “decide my fate. It is in your hands!”
“Vassily Dmitritch, I'm so sorry for you! … No, but you are so nice … but it won't do … that … but I shall always love you as I do now.”
Denisov bent over her, and she heard strange sounds that she did not understand. She kissed his tangled curly black head. At that moment they heard the hurried rustle of the countess's skirts. She came up to them.
“Vassily Dmitritch, I thank you for the honour you do us,” said the countess, in an embarrassed voice, which sounded severe to Denisov, “but my daughter is so young, and I should have thought that as my son's friend you would have come first to me. In that case you would not have forced me to make this refusal.”
“Countess! …” said Denisov, with downcast eyes and a guilty face; he tried to say more, and stammered.
Natasha could not see him in such a piteous plight without emotion. She began to whimper loudly.
“Countess, I have acted wrongly,” Denisov went on in a breaking voice, “but believe me, I so adore your daughter and all your family that I'd give my life twice over …” He looked at the countess and noticed her stern face.… “Well, good-bye, countess,” he said, kissing her hand, and without glancing at Natasha he walked with rapid and resolute steps out of the room.
Next day Rostov saw Denisov off, as he was unwilling to remain another day in Moscow. All his Moscow friends gave him a farewell entertainment at the Gypsies', and he had no recollection of how they got him into his sledge, or of the first three stations he passed.
After Denisov's departure Rostov spent another fortnight in Moscow, waiting for the money to pay his debt, which the count was unable to raise all at once. He hardly left the house, and spent most of his time in the young girls' room.
Sonya was more affectionate and devoted to him then ever. She seemed to want to show him that his loss at cards was an exploit for which she loved him more than ever. But now Nikolay regarded himself as unworthy of her.
He copied music for the girls, and wrote verses in their albums, and after at last sending off all the forty-three thousand roubles, and receiving Dolohov's receipt for it, he left Moscow towards the end of November without taking leave of any of his acquaintances, and overtook his regiment, which was already in Poland.