WITH A SMILE that never left his lips, Nikolay sat bent a little forward on a low chair, and stooping close over his blonde beauty, he paid her mythological compliments.
Jauntily shifting the posture of his legs in his tight riding-breeches, diffusing a scent of perfume, and admiring his fair companion and himself and the fine lines of his legs in the tight breeches, Nikolay told the blonde lady that he wanted to elope with a lady here, in Voronezh.
“What is she like?”
“Charming, divine. Her eyes” (Nikolay gazed at his companion) “are blue, her lips are coral, her whiteness…” he gazed at her shoulders, “the shape of Diana…”
The husband came up to them and asked his wife gloomily what she was talking of.
“Ah! Nikita Ivanitch,” said Nikolay, rising courteously. And as though anxious for Nikita Ivanitch to take a share in his jests, he began to tell him too of his intention of running away with a blonde lady.
The husband smiled grimly, the wife gaily.
The good-natured governor's wife came up to them with a disapproving air.
“Anna Ignatyevna wants to see you, Nikolay,” she said, pronouncing the name in such a way that Rostov was at once aware that Anna Ignatyevna was a very great lady. “Come, Nikolay. You let me call you so, don't you?”
“Oh, yes, ma tante. Who is she?”
“Anna Ignatyevna Malvintsev. She has heard about you from her niece, how you rescued her…Do you guess?…”
“Oh, I rescued so many!” cried Nikolay.
“Her niece, Princess Bolkonsky. She is here in Voronezh with her aunt. Oho! how he blushes! Eh?”
“Not a bit of it, nonsense, ma tante.”
“Oh, very well, very well. Oh! oh! what a boy it is!”
The governor's wife led him up to a tall and very stout lady in a blue toque, who had just finished a game of cards with the personages of greatest consequence in the town. This was Madame Malvintsev, Princess Marya's aunt on her mother's side, a wealthy, childless widow, who always lived in Voronezh. She was standing up, reckoning her losses, when Rostov came up to her.
She dropped her eyelids with a severe and dignified air, glanced at him, and went on upbraiding the general who had been winning from her.
“Delighted, my dear boy,” she said, holding out her hand to him. “Pray come and see me.”
After saying a few words about Princess Marya and her late father, whom Madame Malvintsev had evidently disliked, and inquiring what Nikolay knew about Prince Andrey, who was apparently also not in her good graces, the dignified old lady dismissed him, repeating her invitation to come and see her.
Nikolay promised to do so and blushed again as he took leave of Madame Malvintsev. At the mention of Princess Marya's name, Rostov experienced a sensation of shyness, even of terror, which he could not have explained to himself.
On leaving Madame Malvintsev, Rostov would have gone back to the dance, but the little governor's wife laid her plump little hand on his sleeve, and saying that she wanted to have a few words with him, led him into the divan-room; the persons in that room promptly withdrew that they might not be in her way.
“Do you know, mon cher,” said the governor's wife with a serious expression on her good-natured, little face, “this is really the match for you; if you like, I will try and arrange it.”
“Whom do you mean, ma tante?” asked Nikolay.
“I will make a match for you with the princess. Katerina Petrovna talks of Lili, but I say, no—the princess. Do you wish it? I am sure your mamma will be grateful. Really, she is such a splendid girl, charming! And she is by no means so very plain.”
“Not at all so,” said Nikolay, as though offended at the idea. “As for me, ma tante, as a soldier should, I don't force myself on any one, nor refuse anything that turns up,” said Rostov, before he had time to consider what he was saying.
“So remember then; this is no jesting matter.”
“How could it be!”
“Yes, yes,” said the governor's wife, as though talking to herself. “And entre autres, mon cher, you are too assiduous with the other—the blonde. One feels sorry for the husband, really…”
“Oh no, we are quite friendly,” said Nikolay in the simplicity of his heart: it had never occurred to him that such an agreeable pastime for him could be other than agreeable to any one else.
“What a stupid thing I said to the governor's wife though!” suddenly came into Nikolay's mind at supper. “She really will begin to arrange a match, and Sonya?…”
And on taking leave of the governor's wife, as she said to him once more with a smile, “Well, remember then,” he drew her aside.
“But there is something…To tell you the truth, ma tante…”
“What is it, what is it, my dear? Come, let us sit down here.”
Nikolay had a sudden desire, an irresistible impulse to talk of all his most secret feelings (such as he would never have spoken of to his mother, to his sister, to an intimate friend) to this woman, who was almost a stranger. Whenever Nikolay thought afterwards of this uncalled-for outbursts of inexplicable frankness—though it had most important consequences for him—it seemed to him (as it always seems to people in such cases) that it had happened by chance, through a sudden fit of folly. But at the same time this outburst of frankness, together with other insignificant events, had consequences of immense importance to him and to all his family.
“It's like this, ma tante. It has long been maman's wish to marry me to an heiress; but the mere idea of it—marrying for money—is revolting to me.”
“Oh yes, I can understand that,” said the governor's wife.
“But Princess Bolkonsky, that's a different matter. In the first place, I'll tell you the truth, I like her very much, I feel drawn to her, and then, ever since I came across her in such a position, so strangely, it has often struck me, that it was fate. Only think: mamma has long been dreaming of it, but I had never happened to meet her before—it always so happened that we didn't meet. And then when my sister, Natasha, was engaged to her brother, of course it was impossible to think of a match between us then. It seems it was to happen that I met her first just when Natasha's engagement had been broken off; and well, everything afterwards…So you see how it is. I have never said all this to any one, and I never shall. I only say it to you.”
The governor's wife pressed his elbow gratefully.
“Do you know Sophie, my cousin? I love her; I have promised to marry her, and I am going to marry her…So you see it's no use talking of such a thing,” Nikolay concluded lamely, flushing crimson.
“My dearest boy, how can you talk so? Why, Sophie hasn't a farthing, and you told me yourself that your papa's affairs are terribly straitened. And your maman? It would kill her—for one thing. Then Sophie, if she is a girl of any heart, what a life it would be for her! Your mother in despair, your position ruined…No, my dear, Sophie and you ought to realise that.”
Nikolay did not speak. It was comforting to him to hear these arguments.
“All the same, ma tante, it cannot be,” he said, with a sigh, after a brief silence. “And besides would the princess accept me? And again she is in mourning; can such a thing be thought of?”
“Why, do you suppose I am going to marry you out of hand on the spot? There are ways of doing everything,” said the governor's wife.
“What a match-maker you are, ma tante…” said Nikolay, kissing her plump little hand.