War And Peace

CHAPTER XIII

Chinese

IN THE INN, before which was standing the doctor's covered cart, there were already some half-dozen officers. Marya Hendrihovna, a plump, flaxen-headed little German in a dressing-jacket and nightcap, was sitting on a board bench in the foremost corner. Her husband, the doctor, lay asleep behind her. Rostov and Ilyin entered the room, welcomed with merry shouts and laughter.

“I say! You are having a jolly time here!” said Rostov, laughing.

“And what are you yawning over?”

“Pretty figures you look! There's a perfect waterfall from them! Don't swamp our drawing-room.”

“Mind you don't spatter Marya Hendrihovna's dress,” chimed in voices.

Rostov and Ilyin made haste to look for a retreat where, without offence to the modesty of Marya Hendrihovna, they might change their wet clothes. They went behind a partition wall to change; but in the little recess were three officers, who completely filled it up. They were sitting playing cards by the light of a single candle on an empty box, and nothing would induce them to budge from their places. Marya Hendrihovna lent them her petticoat to be hung by way of a curtain; and screened by it, Rostov and Ilyin took off their wet things and put on dry clothes, with the aid of Lavrushka, who had brought their packages.

They made up a fire in the broken-down stove. They got hold of a board, propped it on two saddles, and covered it with a horse-cloth; then brought out a little samovar, a case of wine, and half a bottle of rum. All crowded round Marya Hendrihovna, begging her to preside. One offered her a clean handkerchief, to wipe her charming hands; another put his tunic under her little feet, to keep them from the damp floor; a third hung a cape over the window, to screen her from the draught; while a fourth brushed the flies off her husband's face, to prevent their waking him.

“Let him alone,” said Marya Hendrihovna, with a timid and happy smile; “he will sleep well anyhow after being up all night.”

“Oh no, Marya Hendrihovna,” answered the officer, “one must look after the doctor well! Anything may happen; and he will be kind to me, I dare say, when he has to cut off my leg or my arm.”

There were only three glasses; the water was so dirty that there was no telling whether the tea were strong or weak, and the samovar would only hold water enough for six glasses. But that made it all the more fun to take turns in order of seniority to receive a glass from the plump, short-nailed, and not over clean fingers of Marya Hendrihovna. All the officers seemed indeed to be genuinely in love for that evening with Marya Hendrihovna. Even the officers who had been playing cards behind the screen soon threw up their game, and gathered round the samovar, catching the general mood, and joining in the homage paid to Marya Hendrihovna. The latter, seeing herself surrounded by these splendid and devoted young men, beamed with delight, which she sought in vain to conceal, though she was unmistakably alarmed at every movement made by her husband, who was slumbering behind her. There was only one spoon; sugar there was in plenty, but it took so long for all to stir their glasses, that it was settled that Marya Hendrihovna must stir the sugar for each in turn. Rostov took his glass of tea, and adding rum to it, begged Marya Hendrihovna to stir it for him.

“But you take it without sugar?” she said, smiling all the while, as though whatever she said or the others said had a quite different and very amusing meaning.

“I don't care about sugar, all I want is for you to stir it with your little hand.”

Marya Hendrihovna began looking for the spoon, which some one had pounced upon.

“Use your little finger, Marya Hendrihovna,” said Rostov; “it will be all the sweeter.”

“It's hot,” said Marya Hendrihovna, blushing with pleasure.

Ilyin took the bucket of water, and pouring a few drops of rum in it, went up to Marya Hendrihovna, begging her to stir it with her finger.

“This is my cup,” he said. “Only dip your finger in and I'll drink it all up.”

When the samovar was empty, Rostov took up the cards and proposed a game of “Kings” with Marya Hendrihovna. They tossed to decide which was to have the lady for a partner. Rostov proposed as a rule of the game that the one who was “king” should have the right to kiss Marya Hendrihovna's hand, and the one who was left knave should have to fetch another samovar for the doctor, when he waked.

“Well, but what if Marya Hendrihovna is king?” asked Ilyin.

“She is our queen already! And her commands are law.”

The game was just beginning when the doctor's dishevelled head popped up behind his wife. He had been awake for some time and listening to the conversation, and apparently he saw nothing agreeable, funny, or amusing in what was being said and done. His face looked depressed and weary. He did not greet the officers, but scratching himself, he asked them to move to let him pass. As soon as he had left the room, all the officers broke into loud peals of laughter, and Marya Hendrihovna blushed till the tears came, making her even more charming in the eyes of the officers. Coming in again from the yard, the doctor told his wife (who had lost her radiant smile, and looked at him in dismay in expectation of the sentence in store for her) that the rain was over and they must spend the night in their covered cart, or they would have all their things stolen.

“But I'll put an orderly on guard … two, indeed!” said Rostov. “That's nonsense, doctor.”

“I'll be sentinel myself!” said Ilyin.

“No, gentlemen, you have had plenty of sleep, but I have been up these two nights,” said the doctor, and he sat gloomily by his wife's side, waiting for the end of the game.

Looking at the doctor's gloomy face and sidelong glances at his wife, the officers grew even more lively, and many of them could not suppress their laughter, for which they hastily sought presentable pretexts. When the doctor had led his wife away, and settled himself with her in their cart, the officers lay down in the inn, covering themselves with their wet overcoats. But for a long while they stayed awake, chatting, recalling the dismay of the doctor, and the delight of the doctor's wife, or running out on to the steps to report on what was going on in the cart. Several times Rostov muffled his head up and tried to go to sleep. But again some remark roused him, again a conversation sprang up, and again there were peals of causeless, merry, childish laughter.

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