THE ROSTOVS remained in Moscow till the 1st of September, the day before the enemy entered the city.
After Petya had joined Obolensky's regiment of Cossacks and had gone away to Byely Tserkov, where the regiment was being enrolled, the countess fell into a panic of terror. The idea that both her sons were at the war, that they had both escaped from under her wing, that any day either of them—and possibly even both at once, like the three sons of a lady of her acquaintance—might be killed, seemed for the first time that summer to strike her imagination with cruel vividness. She tried to get Nikolay back, wanted to go herself after Petya, or to obtain some post for him in Petersburg; but all these seemed equally impossible. Petya could not be brought back except by the return of his regiment, or through being transferred to another regiment on active service. Nikolay was somewhere at the front, and nothing had been heard from him since the letter in which he had given a detailed account of his meeting with Princess Marya. The countess could not sleep at nights, and when she did sleep, she dreamed that her sons had been killed. After much talking the matter over, and many consultations of friends, the count at last hit on a means for soothing the countess. He got Petya transferred from Obolensky's regiment to Bezuhov's, which was in formation near Moscow. Though, even so, Petya remained in the army, by this exchange the countess had the consolation of seeing one son at least again under her wing; and she hoped to manage not to let her Petya escape her again, but to succeed in getting him always appointed to places where there would be no risk of his being in battle. While Nikolay had been the only one in danger, the countess had fancied (and had suffered some pricks of conscience on the subject) that she loved her elder son better than the other children. But now that her younger boy, the scapegrace Petya, always idle at his lessons, always in mischief, and teasing every one, her little Petya, with his snub-nose, his merry black eyes, his fresh colour, and the soft down just showing on his cheeks, had slipped away into the company of those big, dreadful, cruel men, who were fighting away somewhere about something, and finding a sort of pleasure in it—now it seemed to the mother that she loved him more, far more, than all the rest. The nearer the time came for the return of her longed-for Petya to Moscow, the greater was the uneasiness of the countess. She positively thought she would never live to see such happiness. Not only Sonya's presence, even her favourite Natasha's, even her husband's company, irritated the countess. “What do I want with them, I want no one but Petya!” she thought. One day towards the end of August, the Rostovs received a second letter from Nikolay. He wrote from the province of Voronezh, where he had been sent to procure remounts. This letter did not soothe the countess. Knowing that one son was out of danger, she seemed to feel even greater alarm on Petya's account.
Although by the 20th of August almost all the Rostovs' acquaintances had left Moscow; although everybody was trying to persuade the countess to get away as quickly as possible, she would not hear of leaving till her treasure, her idolised Petya, had come back. On the 28th of August Petya arrived. The morbidly passionate tenderness with which his mother received him was by no means gratifying to the sixteen-year-old officer. Though his mother concealed her intention of never letting him escape from under her wing again, Petya divined her plans, and instinctively afraid of his mother's making him too soft, of her “making a ninny” of him (as he expressed it in his own mind), he treated her rather coolly, avoided being with her, and during his stay in Moscow devoted himself exclusively to Natasha, for whom he had always had the warmest brotherly affection, almost approaching adoration.
The count, with his characteristic carelessness, had by the 28th made no preparations for leaving, and the waggons that were to come from their Moscow and Ryazan estate to remove all their property out of the house only arrived on the 30th.
From the 28th to the 31st, Moscow was all bustle and movement. Every day thousands of wounded from the field of Borodino were brought in at the Dorogomilov gate and conveyed across Moscow, and thousands of vehicles, full of residents and their belongings, were driving out at the gates on the opposite side of the city. In spite of Rastoptchin's placards—either arising independently of them, or perhaps in consequence of them—the strangest and most contradictory rumours were circulating about the town. Some said that every one was forbidden to leave the city; others asserted that all the holy pictures had been taken from the churches, and every one was to be driven out of Moscow by force. Some said there had been another battle after Borodino, in which the French had been utterly defeated; others declared that the whole Russian army had been annihilated. Some talked of the Moscow militia, which was to advance, preceded by priests, to Three Hills; others whispered that Father Augustin had been forbidden to leave, that traitors had been caught, that the peasants were in revolt, and were plundering those who left the town, and so on. But all this was only talk: in reality even though the council at Fili, at which it was decided to abandon Moscow, had not yet taken place, all—those who were leaving and those who were staying—felt that Moscow would be surrendered, though they did not say so freely, and felt that they must make all haste to escape, and to save their property. There was a feeling that there must come a general crash and change, yet till the 1st of September everything went on unchanged. Like a criminal being led to the gallows, who knows in a minute he must die, and yet stares about, and puts straight the cap awry on his head, Moscow instinctively went on with the daily routine of life, though aware that the hour of ruin was approaching, when all the customary conditions of life would be at an end.
During the three days preceding the occupation of Moscow, the whole Rostov family was busily engaged in various practical ways. The head of the family, Count Ilya Andreitch, was continually driving about the town, picking up all the rumours that were in circulation, and while at home, gave superficial and hasty directions for the preparations for departure.
The countess superintended the sorting out of things to be packed; she was out of humour with every one, and was in continual pursuit of Petya, who was as continually escaping from her, and exciting her jealousy by spending all his time with Natasha. Sonya was the only person who really undertook the practical business of getting things packed. But Sonya had been particularly silent and melancholy of late. She had been present when Nikolay's letter mentioning Princess Marya had elicited the most delighted deductions from the countess, who saw in Nikolay's meeting with Princess Marya the direct intervention of Providence.
“I was never really happy,” said the countess, “when Bolkonsky was engaged to Natasha, but I had always longed for Nikolay to marry the princess, and I have always had a presentiment about it. And what a good thing it would be!”
Sonya felt that this was true; that the only possibility of retrieving the Rostovs' position was by Nikolay's marriage to an heiress, and that the princess would be an excellent match for him. But this reflection was very bitter for her. In spite, or perhaps in consequence, of her sadness, she undertook the difficult task of seeing after the sorting and packing of the household goods, and for whole days together she was busily employed. The count and countess referred to her when they had any orders to give. Petya and Natasha, on the contrary, did nothing to help their parents, but were generally in every one's way, and were only a hindrance. And all day long the house resounded with their flying footsteps and shouts and shrieks of causeless mirth. They laughed and were gay, not in the least because there was reason for laughter. But they were gay and glad at heart, and so everything that happened was reason enough for gaiety and laughter in them. Petya was in high spirits because he had left home a boy, and come back (so every one told him) a fine young man, because he was at home, because he had left Byely Tserkov, where there seemed no hope of being soon on active service, and come to Moscow where there would be fighting in a few days, and above all, because Natasha, whose lead he always followed, was in high spirits. Natasha was gay, because she had too long been sad, and now nothing reminded her of the cause of her sadness, and she was quite strong again. She was gay too, because she needed some one to adore her (the adoration of others was like the grease on the wheels, without which her mechanism never worked quite smoothly), and Petya did adore her. And above all, they were both gay, because there was war at the very gates of Moscow, because there would be fighting at the barriers, because arms were being given out, and everybody was rushing about, and altogether something extraordinary was happening, which is always inspiriting, especially for the young.