ON SATURDAY, the 31st of August, the whole household of the Rostovs seemed turned upside down. All the doors stood wide open, all the furniture had been moved about or carried out, looking-glasses and pictures had been taken down. The rooms were littered up with boxes, with hay and packing paper and cord. Peasants and house-serfs were tramping about the parquet floors carrying out the baggage. The courtyard was crowded with peasants' carts, some piled high with goods and corded up, others still standing empty.
The voices and steps of the immense multitude of servants and of peasants, who had come with the carts, resounded through the courtyard and the house. The count had been out since early morning. The countess had a headache from the noise and bustle, and was lying down in the new divan-room with compresses steeped in vinegar on her head. Petya was not at home; he had gone off to see a comrade, with whom he was planning to get transferred from the militia to a regiment at the front. Sonya was in the great hall, superintending the packing of the china and glass. Natasha was sitting on the floor in her dismantled room among heaps of dresses, ribbons, and scarfs. She sat gazing immovably at the floor, holding in her hands an old ball-dress, the very dress, now out of fashion, in which she had been to her first Petersburg ball.
Natasha was ashamed of doing nothing when every one in the house was so busy, and several times that morning she had tried to set to work; but her soul was not in it; and she was utterly unable to do anything unless all her heart and soul were in it. She stood over Sonya while she packed the china, and tried to help; but soon threw it up, and went to her room to pack her own things. At first she had found it amusing to give away her dresses and ribbons to the maids, but afterwards when it came to packing what was left, it seemed a wearisome task.
“Dunyasha, you'll pack it all, dear? Yes? yes?”
And when Dunyasha readily undertook to do it all for her, Natasha sat down on the floor with the old ball-dress in her hands, and fell to dreaming on subjects far removed from what should have been occupying her mind then. From the reverie she had fallen into, Natasha was aroused by the talk of the maids in the next room and their hurried footsteps from their room to the backstairs. Natasha got up and looked out of the window. A huge train of carts full of wounded men had stopped in the street.
The maids, the footmen, the housekeeper, the old nurse, the cooks, the coachmen, the grooms, and the scullion-boys were all at the gates, staring at the wounded men.
Natasha flung a white pocket-handkerchief over her hair, and holding the corners in both hands, went out into the street.
The old housekeeper, Mavra Kuzminishna, had left the crowd standing at the gate, and gone up to a cart with a tilt of bast-mats thrown over it. She was talking to a pale young officer who was lying in this cart. Natasha took a few steps forward and stood still timidly, holding her kerchief on and listening to what the housekeeper was saying.
“So you have no one then in Moscow?” Mavra Kuzminishna was saying. “You'd be more comfortable in some apartment.… In our house even. The masters are all leaving.”
“I don't know if it would be allowed,” said the officer in a feeble voice. “There's our chief officer … ask him,” and he pointed to a stout major who had turned back and was walking along the row of carts down the street.
Natasha glanced with frightened eyes into the face of the wounded officer, and at once went to meet the major.
“May the wounded men stay in our house?” she asked.
The major with a smile put his hand to his cap.
“What is your pleasure, ma'mselle?” he said, screwing up his eyes and smiling.
Natasha quietly repeated her question, and her face and her whole manner, though she still kept hold of the corners of the pocket-handkerchief, was so serious, that the major left off smiling, and after a moment's pondering—as though asking himself how far it were possible—he gave her an affirmative answer.
“Oh yes, why not, they may,” he said.
Natasha gave a slight nod, and went back with rapid steps to Mavra Kuzminishna, who was still talking with commiserating sympathy to the young officer.
“They may; he said they might!” whispered Natasha.
The officer in the covered cart turned into the Rostovs' courtyard, and dozens of carts of wounded men began at the invitation of the inhabitants to drive up to the entries of the houses in Povarsky Street. Natasha was evidently delighted at having to do with new people in conditions quite outside the ordinary routine of life. She joined Mavra Kuzminishna in trying to get as many as possible driven into their yard.
“We must ask your papa though,” said Mavra Kuzminishna.
“Nonsense, nonsense. What does it matter? For one day, we'll move into the drawing-room. We can give them all our half of the house.”
“What an idea! what next? The lodge, may be, the men's room, and old nurse's room; and you must ask leave for that.”
“Well, I will ask.”
Natasha ran indoors, and went on tiptoe to the half-open door of the divan-room, where there was a strong smell of vinegar and Hoffmann's drops.
“Are you asleep, mamma?”
“Oh, what chance is there of sleep!” said the countess, who had just dropped into a doze.
“Mamma, darling!” said Natasha, kneeling before her mother and leaning her face against her mother's. “I am sorry, forgive me, I'll never do it again, I waked you. Mavra Kuzminishna sent me; they have brought some wounded men in, officers, will you allow it? They have nowhere to go; I know you will allow it, …” she said rapidly, not taking breath.
“Officers? Who have been brought in? I don't understand,” said the countess.
Natasha laughed, the countess too smiled faintly.
“I knew you would let me … so I will tell them so.” And Natasha, kissing her mother, got up and went to the door.
In the hall she met her father, who had come home with bad news.
“We have lingered on too long!” said the count, with unconscious anger in his voice; “the club's shut up and the police are leaving.”
“Papa, you don't mind my having invited some of the wounded into the house?” said Natasha.
“Of course not,” said the count absently. “But that's not to the point. I beg you now not to let yourself be taken up with any nonsense, but to help to pack and get off—to get off to-morrow …”
And the count gave his butler and servants the same orders. Petya came back at dinner-time, and he too had news to tell them.
He said that the mob was taking up arms to-day in the Kremlin; that though Rastoptchin's placard said he would give the word two days later, it had really been arranged that all the people should go next day in arms to the Three Hills, and there a great battle was to be fought.
The countess looked in timid horror at her son's eager, excited face, as he told them this. She knew that if she said a word to try and dissuade Petya from going to this battle (she knew how he was enjoying the prospect of it), he would say something about the duty of a man, about honour, and the fatherland—something irrational, masculine, and perverse—which it would be useless to oppose, and all hope of preventing him would be gone. And, therefore, hoping to succeed in setting off before this battle, and in taking Petya with her, to guard and protect them on the road, she said nothing to her son, but after dinner called her husband aside, and with tears besought him to take her away as soon as could be, that night if possible. With the instinctive, feminine duplicity of love, though she had till then shown not the slightest sign of alarm, she declared she should die of terror if they did not get away that very night. She was indeed without feigning afraid now of everything.