THE BIBLICAL TRADITION tells us that the absence of work—idleness—was a condition of the first man's blessedness before the Fall. The love of idleness has remained the same in fallen man; but the curse still lies heavy upon man, and not only because in the sweat of our brow we must eat bread, but because from our moral qualities we are unable to be idle and at peace. A secret voice tells us that we must be to blame for being idle. If a man could find a state in which while being idle he could feel himself to be of use and to be doing his duty, he would have attained to one side of primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is enjoyed by a whole class—the military class. It is in that obligatory and irreproachable idleness that the chief attraction of military service has always consisted, and will always consist.
Nikolay Rostov was enjoying this blessed privilege to the full, as after the year 1807 he remained in the Pavlograd regiment, in command of the squadron that had been Denisov's.
Rostov had become a bluff, good-natured fellow, who would have been thought rather bad form by his old acquaintances in Moscow, though he was loved and respected by his comrades, his subordinates, and his superior officers, and was well content with his life. Of late—in the year 1809—he had found more and more frequently in letters from home complaints on the part of his mother that their pecuniary position was going from bad to worse, and that it was high time for him to come home, to gladden and comfort the hearts of his old parents.
As he read those letters, Nikolay felt a pang of dread at their wanting to drag him out of the surroundings in which, by fencing himself off from all the complexities of existence, he was living so quietly and peacefully. He felt that sooner or later he would have to plunge again into that whirlpool of life, with many difficulties and business to attend to, with the steward's accounts, with quarrels and intrigues, and ties, with society, with Sonya's love and his promise to her. All that was terribly difficult and complicated; and he answered his mother's letters with cold letters in French on the classic model, beginning “Ma chère maman,” and ending: “Votre obéissant fils,” saying nothing of any intention of coming home. In 1810 he received letters from home in which he was told of Natasha's engagement to Bolkonsky, and of the marriage being deferred for a year, because the old prince would not consent to it. This letter chagrined and mortified Nikolay. In the first place, he was sorry to be losing from home Natasha, whom he cared more for than all the rest of the family. Secondly, from his hussar point of view, he regretted not having been at home at the time, as he would have shown this Bolkonsky that it was by no means such an honour to be connected with him, and that if he cared for Natasha he could get on just as well without his crazy old father's consent. For a moment he hesitated whether to ask for leave, so as to see Natasha engaged, but then the manœuvres were just coming on, and thoughts of Sonya, of complications, recurred to him, and again he put it off. But in the spring of the same year he got a letter from his mother, written without his father's knowledge, and that letter decided him. She wrote that if Nikolay did not come and look after things, their whole estate would have to be sold by auction, and they would all be beggars. The count was so weak, put such entire confidence in Mitenka, and was so good-natured, and every one took advantage of him, so that things were going from bad to worse. “I beseech you, for God's sake, to come at once, if you don't want to make me and all your family miserable,” wrote the countess.
That letter produced an effect on Nikolay. He had that common sense of mediocrity which showed him what was his duty.
His duty now was, if not to retire from the army, at least to go home on leave. Why he had to go, he could not have said; but, after his after-dinner nap, he ordered his grey mare to be saddled, a terribly vicious beast that he had not ridden for a long while.
He returned home with his horse in a lather, and told Lavrushka—he had kept on Denisov's old valet—and the comrades who dropped in that evening, that he had applied for leave and was going home. It was strange and difficult for him to believe that he was going away without hearing from the staff whether he had been promoted to be a captain or had received the St. Anne for the last manœuvres (a matter of the greatest interest to him). It was strange to him to think of going away like this without having sold Count Goluhovsky his three roan horses, over which the Polish count was haggling with him. Rostov had taken a bet that he would get two thousand for them. It seemed inconceivable that without him the ball could take place which the hussars were to give in honour of their favourite Polish belle, Madame Pshazdetsky, to outdo the Uhlans, who had given a ball to their favourite belle, Madame Borzhozovsky. Yet he knew he must leave world, where all was well and all was clear, to go where all was nonsensical and complicated. A week later his leave came. His comrades—not only in the regiment, but throughout the whole brigade—gave Rostov a dinner that cost a subscription of fifteen roubles a head. Two bands of musicians played, two choruses sang; Rostov danced the trepak with Major Bazov; the drunken officers tossed him in the air, hugged him, dropped him; the soldiers of the third squadron tossed him once more and shouted hurrah! Then they put Rostov in a sledge and escorted him as far as the first posting-station on his way.
For the first half of the journey, from Krementchug to Kiev, all Rostov's thoughts—as is apt to be the case with travellers—turned to what he had left behind—to his squadron. But after being jolted over the first half of the journey, he had begun to forget his three roans and his quartermaster, Dozhoyveyky, and was beginning to wonder uneasily what he should find on reaching Otradnoe. The nearer he got, the more intense, far more intense, were his thoughts of home (as though moral feeling were subject to the law of acceleration in inverse ratio with the square of the distance). At the station nearest to Otradnoe he gave the sledge-driver a tip of three roubles, and ran breathless up the steps of his home, like a boy.
After the excitement of the first meeting, and the strange feeling of disappointment after his expectations—the feeling that “it's just the same; why was I in such a hurry?”—Nikolay began to settle down in his old world of home. His father and mother were just the same, only a little older. All that was new in them was a certain uneasiness and at times a difference of opinion, which he had never seen between them before, and soon learned to be due to the difficulties of their position.
Sonya was now nearly twenty. She would grow no prettier now; there was no promise in her of more to come; but what she had was enough. She was brimming over with love and happiness as soon as Nikolay came home, and this girl's faithful, steadfast love for him gladdened his heart. Petya and Natasha surprised Nikolay more than all the rest. Petya was a big, handsome lad of thirteen, whose voice was already cracking; he was full of gaiety and clever pranks. Nikolay did not get over his wonder at Natasha for a long while, and laughed as he looked at her.
“You're utterly different,” he told her.
“No, quite the contrary; but what dignity! A real princess!” he whispered to her.
“Yes, yes, yes,” cried Natasha gleefully.
Natasha told him all the story of Prince Andrey's lovemaking, of his visit to Otradnoe, and showed him his last letter.
“Well, are you glad?” asked Natasha. “I'm so at peace and happy now.”
“Very glad,” answered Nikolay. “He's a splendid fellow. Are you very much in love, then?”
“How shall I say?” answered Natasha. “I was in love with Boris, with our teacher, with Denisov; but this is utterly different. I feel calm, settled. I know there is no one better than he in the world, and so I am calm now and content. It's utterly different from anything before…”
Nikolay expressed his dissatisfaction at the marriage being put off for a year. But Natasha fell on him with exasperation, proving to him that no other course was possible, that it would be a horrid thing to enter a family against the father's will, and that she would not consent to it herself.
“You don't understand at all, at all,” she kept saying.
Nikolay paused a moment, and then said he agreed with her.
Her brother often wondered as he looked at her. It seemed quite incredible that she was a girl in love and parted from her betrothed lover. She was even-tempered, serene, and quite as light-hearted as ever. This made Nikolay wonder, and look on the engagement to Bolkonsky rather sceptically. He could not believe that her fate was by now sealed, especially as he had never seen her with Prince Andrey. It still seemed to him that there was something not real in this proposed marriage.
“Why this delay? Why were they not formally betrothed?” he thought.
Once in talking to his mother about his sister, he found to his surprise, and partly to his satisfaction, that at the bottom of her heart his mother sometimes regarded the marriage as sceptically as he did.
“Here, you see, he writes,” she said, showing her son a letter from Prince Andrey with that latent feeling of grudge which mothers always have in regard to their daughter's happiness in marriage, “he writes that he won't be coming before December. What can it be that keeps him? Illness, no doubt! His health is very weak. Don't tell Natasha. Don't make a mistake, because she seems in good spirits; it's the last she has of her girlhood, and I know how she is when she gets his letters. Still, God grant, all may be well yet,” she always concluded: “he's a splendid fellow.”