SOON AFTER THE CHRISTMAS FÊTES were over, Nikolay spoke to his mother of his love for Sonya, and his immovable resolution to marry her. The countess had long before observed what was passing between Sonya and Nikolay, and was expecting this announcement. She listened to his words without comment, and then told her son that he could marry whom he chose, but that neither she nor his father would give their blessing to such a marriage. For the first time in his life Nikolay felt that his mother was displeased with him, that in spite of all her love for him she would not give way to him. Coldly, without looking at her son, she sent for her husband; and when he came in, the countess would have briefly and coldly, in Nikolay's presence, told him her son's intention, but she could not control herself, burst into tears of anger, and went out of the room. The old count began irresolutely persuading and entreating Nikolay to give up his intention. Nikolay replied he could not be false to his word, and his father, sighing and visibly embarrassed, quickly cut short the conversation and went in to the countess. In all difficulties with his son, the old count could never lose his sense of guiltiness to him for having wasted their fortunes, and so he could not feel angry with his son for refusing to marry an heiress and choosing the portionless Sonya. He only felt more keenly that if their fortune had not been squandered, no better wife could have been desired for Nikolay than Sonya; and that he, with his Mitenka and his invincible bad habits, was alone to blame for their fortune having been squandered. The father and mother did not speak of the subject again with their son; but a few days later the countess sent for Sonya to her room, and with a cruelty that surprised them both, the countess upbraided her niece for alluring her son and for ingratitude. Sonya, with downcast eyes, listened in silence to the countess's cruel words, and did not understand what was expected of her. She was ready to sacrifice everything for her benefactors. The idea of self-sacrifice was her favourite idea. But in this case she could not see whom and what she ought to sacrifice. She could not help loving the countess and all the Rostov family, but neither could she help loving Nikolay and knowing that his happiness depended on that love. She was silent and dejected; she made no reply. Nikolay could not, so he fancied, endure this position any longer, and he went in to his mother to have it out with her. Nikolay first besought his mother to forgive him and Sonya and to agree to their marriage; then threatened his mother that if Sonya were persecuted he would at once marry her in secret. The countess, with a coldness her son had never seen before, replied that he was of full age, that Prince Andrey was marrying without his father's consent, and that he could do the same, but that she would never receive that intriguing creature as her daughter.
Stung to fury by the words “intriguing creature,” Nikolay, raising his voice, told his mother that he had never expected her to try and force him to tell his feelings, and that since it was so, then for the last time he … But he had not time to utter the fatal word, which his mother seemed, from her expression, to be awaiting in terror, and which would, perhaps, have remained a cruel memory between them for ever. He had not time to finish, because Natasha, who had been listening at the door, ran into the room with a pale and set face.
“Nikolenka, you are talking nonsense; hush, hush, hush! I tell you hush!” … she almost screamed to overpower his voice.
“Mamma, darling, it's not at all so … my sweet, poor darling,” she said, turning to her mother, who gazed in terror at her son, feeling herself on the edge of an abyss; but in the obstinacy and heat of the conflict unwilling and unable to give in. “Nikolenka, I'll explain to you; you go away—listen, mamma, darling,” she said to her mother.
Her words were incoherent, but they attained the effect at which she was aiming.
The countess, with a deep sob, hid her face on her daughter's bosom, while Nikolay got up, clutched at his head, and went out of the room.
Natasha set to work to bring about a reconciliation, and succeeded so far that Nikolay received a promise from his mother that Sonya should not be worried, and himself made a promise that he would take no step without his parents' knowledge.
Firmly resolved to settle things in his regiment, to retire, come home, and marry Sonya, Nikolay at the beginning of January went back to his regiment, sad and serious at being on bad terms with his parents, but, as it seemed to him, passionately in love.
After Nikolay's departure, it was more depressing than ever in the Rostovs' house. The countess fell ill from the emotional strains she had passed through.
Sonya was depressed at parting from Nikolay, and still more at the hostile tone the countess could not help adopting towards her. The count was more worried than ever by the difficulties of his position, which called for some decisive action. It was necessary to sell the Moscow house and the estate near Moscow, and to do so it was necessary to go to Moscow. But the countess's illness forced them to put off going from day to day. Natasha, who had at first borne the separation from her betrothed so easily and even cheerfully, grew now more impatient and overstrung every day. The thought that her best time, that might have been spent in loving him, was being wasted like this for no object, continually fretted her. Prince Andrey's letters generally angered her. It mortified her to think that while she was simply living in the thought of him, he was living a real life, seeing new places and new people who were interesting to him. The more interesting his letters were, the more they vexed her. Her letters to him, far from giving her comfort, were looked upon by her as a wearisome and artificial duty. She could not write, because she could not attain to expressing truly in a letter a thousandth part of what she habitually expressed in voice and smile and eyes. She wrote him formal letters, all on one pattern. She did not attach the smallest importance to them herself, and the countess corrected the mistakes in spelling in the rough copy of them. The countess's health still did not mend, but the visit to Moscow could be deferred no longer. The trousseau had to be got, the house had to be sold, and Prince Andrey was to arrive first in Moscow, where his father was spending the winter, and Natasha believed that he had already arrived there. The countess was left in the country, and towards the end of January the count took Sonya and Natasha with him to Moscow.