COUNT ILYA ANDREITCH had given up being a marshal of nobility, because that position involved too heavy an expenditure. But his difficulties were not removed by that. Often Natasha and Nikolay knew of uneasy, private consultations between their parents, and heard talk of selling the sumptuous ancestral house of the Rostovs and the estate near Moscow. When the count was no longer marshal it was not necessary to entertain on such a large scale, and they led a quieter life at Otradnoe than in former years. But the immense house and the lodges were still full of people; more than twenty persons still sat down to table with them. These were all their own people, time-honoured inmates of their household, almost members of the family, or persons who must, it seemed, inevitably live in the count's house. Such were Dimmler, the music-master, and his wife; Vogel the dancing-master, with his family; an old Madame Byelov, and many others besides; Petya's tutors, the girls' old governess, and persons who simply found it better or more profitable to live at the count's than in a house of their own. They did not entertain so many guests as before, but they still lived in that manner, apart from which the count and countess could not have conceived of life at all. There was still the same hunting establishment, increased indeed by Nikolay. There were still the same fifty horses and fifteen grooms in the stables; the same costly presents on name-days, and ceremonial dinners to the whole neighbourhood. There were still the count's games of whist and boston, at which, letting every one see his cards, he allowed himself to be plundered every day of hundreds by his neighbours, who looked upon the privilege of making up a rubber with Count Ilya Andreitch as a profitable investment.
The count went into his affairs as though walking into a huge net, trying not to believe that he was entangled, and at every step getting more and more entangled, and feeling too feeble either to tear the nets that held him fast, or with care and patience to set about disentangling them. The countess with her loving heart felt that her children were being ruined, that the count was not to blame, that he could not help being what he was, that he was distressed himself (though he tried to conceal it) at the consciousness of his own and his children's ruin, and was seeking means to improve their position. To her feminine mind only one way of doing so occurred—that was, to marry Nikolay to a wealthy heiress. She felt that this was their last hope, and that if Nikolay were to refuse the match she had found for him she must bid farewell for ever to all chance of improving their position. This match was Julie Karagin, the daughter of excellent and virtuous parents, known to the Rostovs from childhood, and now left a wealthy heiress by the death of her last surviving brother.
The countess wrote directly to Madame Karagin in Moscow, suggesting to her the marriage of her daughter to her own son, and received a favourable reply from her. Madame Karagin replied that she was quite ready for her part to consent to the match, but everything must depend on her daughter's inclinations. Madame Karagin invited Nikolay to come to Moscow. Several times the countess, with tears in her eyes, had told her son that now that both her daughters were settled, her only wish was to see him married. She said that she could rest quietly in her grave if this were settled. Then she would say that she had an excellent girl in her eye, and would try and get from him his views on matrimony.
On other occasions she praised Julie and advised Nikolay to go to Moscow for the holidays to amuse himself a little. Nikolay guessed what his mother's hints were aiming at, and on one such occasion he forced her to complete frankness. She told him plainly that all hope of improving their position rested now on his marrying Julie Karagin.
“What, if I loved a girl with no fortune would you really desire me, mamma, to sacrifice my feeling and my honour for the sake of money?” he asked his mother, with no notion of the cruelty of his question, but simply wishing to show his noble sentiments.
“No; you misunderstand me,” said his mother, not knowing how to retrieve her mistake. “You misunderstand me, Nikolenka. It is your happiness I wish for,” she added, and she felt she was speaking falsely, that she was blundering. She burst into tears.
“Mamma, don't cry, and only tell me that you wish it, and you know that I would give my whole life, everything for your peace of mind,” said Nikolay; “I will sacrifice everything for you, even my feelings.”
But the countess did not want the question put like that; she did not want to receive sacrifices from her son, she would have liked to sacrifice herself to him.
“No; you don't understand me, don't let us talk of it,” she said, wiping away her tears.
“Yes, perhaps I really do love a poor girl,” Nikolay said to himself; “what, am I to sacrifice my feeling and my honour for fortune? I wonder how mamma could say such a thing. Because Sonya is poor I must not love her,” he thought; “I must not respond to her faithful, devoted love. And it is certain I should be happier with her than with any doll of a Julie. To sacrifice my feelings for the welfare of my family I can always do,” he said to himself, “but I can't control my feelings. If I love Sonya, that feeling is more than anything and above anything for me.”
Nikolay did not go to Moscow, the countess did not renew her conversations with him about matrimony, and with grief, and sometimes with exasperation, saw symptoms of a growing attachment between her son and the portionless Sonya. She blamed herself for it, yet could not refrain from scolding and upbraiding Sonya, often reproving her without cause and addressing her as “my good girl.” What irritated the kind-hearted countess more than anything was that this poor, dark-eyed niece was so meek, so good, so devoutly grateful to her benefactors, and so truly, so constantly, and so unselfishly in love with Nikolay that it was impossible to find any fault with her.
Nikolay went on spending his term of leave with his parents. From Prince Andrey a fourth letter had been received from Rome. In it he wrote that he would long ago have been on his way back to Russia, but that in the warm climate his wound had suddenly re-opened, which would compel him to defer his return till the beginning of the new year. Natasha was as much in love with her betrothed, as untroubled in her love, and as ready to throw herself into all the pleasures of life as ever. But towards the end of the fourth month of their separation she began to suffer from fits of depression, against which she was unable to contend. She felt sorry for herself, sorry that all this time should be wasted and be of no use to any one, while she felt such capacity for loving and being loved.
Life was not gay in the Rostovs' household.