NATASHA'S MARRIAGE to Bezuhov, which took place in 1813, was the last happy event in the family of the old Rostovs. Count Ilya Andreivitch died the same year; and as is always the case, with the death of the father the family was broken up.
The events of the previous year: the burning of Moscow and the flight from that city; the death of Prince Andrey and Natasha's despair; the death of Petya and the grief of the countess fell like one blow after another on the old count's head. He seemed not to understand, and to feel himself incapable of understanding, the significance of all these events, and figuratively speaking, bowed his old head to the storm, as though expecting and seeking fresh blows to make an end of him. By turns he seemed scared and distraught, and then unnaturally lively and active.
Natasha's marriage for a time occupied him on its external side. He arranged dinners and suppers in honour of it, and obviously tried to be cheerful; but his cheerfulness was not infectious as in old days, but, on the contrary, aroused the commiseration of those who knew and liked him.
After Pierre and his wife had left, he collapsed and began to complain of depression. A few days later he fell ill and took to his bed. In spite of the doctor's assurances, he knew from the first days of his illness that he would never get up again. For a whole fortnight the countess sat in a low chair by his pillow, never taking off her clothes. Every time she gave him his medicine, he mutely kissed her hand, weeping. On the last day, sobbing, he begged forgiveness of his wife, and of his absent son, too, for squandering their property, the chief sin that lay on his conscience. After receiving absolution and the last unction, he quietly died; and next day a crowd of acquaintances, come to pay the last debt of respect to the deceased, filled the Rostovs' hired lodgings. All those acquaintances, who had so often dined and danced in his house, and had so often laughed at his expense, were saying now with the same inward feeling of contrition and self-reproach, as though seeking to justify themselves: “Yes, whatever he may have been, he was a splendid man. One doesn't meet such men nowadays … And who has not his weaknesses?…”
It was precisely when the count's fortunes were so irretrievably embroiled that he could not conceive how, in another year, it would end, that he suddenly died.
Nikolay was with the Russian army in Paris when the news of his father's death reached him. He at once applied for his discharge, and without waiting for it, obtained leave and went to Moscow. Within a month after the count's death the financial position had been made perfectly clear, astounding every one by the immense sum of various petty debts, the existence of which no one had suspected. The debts were more than double the assets of the estate.
The friends and relations advised Nikolay to refuse to accept his inheritance. But Nikolay looked on such a refusal as a slur on the honoured memory of his father; and so he would not hear of such a course, and accepted the inheritance with the obligation of paying the debts.
The creditors, who had so long been silent, held in check during the old count's lifetime by the vague but powerful influence of his easy good-nature, all beset Nikolay at once. There seemed, as so often happens, a sort of rivalry among them, which should get paid first; and the very people, such as Mitenka and others, who held promissory notes, not received in discharge of debts, but as presents, were now the most importunate of the creditors. They would give Nikolay no peace and no respite, and those who had shown pity for the old man, who was responsible for their losses (if they really had lost money by him), were now ruthless in their persecution of the young heir, who was obviously guiltless as far as they were concerned, and had voluntarily undertaken to pay them.
Not one of the plans that Nikolay resorted to was successful: the estate was sold by auction at half its value, and half the debts remained still unpaid. Nikolay accepted a loan of thirty thousand roubles offered him by his brother-in-law Bezuhov; and paid that portion of the debts that he recognised as genuine obligations. And to avoid being thrown into prison for the remainder, as the creditors threatened, he once more entered the government service.
To return to the army, where at the next promotion he would have been colonel, was out of the question, because his mother now clung to her son as her one hold on life. And so in spite of his disinclination to remain in Moscow, in the midst of a circle of acquaintances who had known him in former days, in spite of his distaste for the civil service, he accepted a civilian post in Moscow, and taking off his beloved uniform, established himself in a little lodging in Sivtsevoy Vrazhok with his mother and Sonya.
Natasha and Pierre were living at this period in Petersburg, and had no very distinct idea of Nikolay's position. After having borrowed money from his brother-in-law, Nikolay did his utmost to conceal his poverty-stricken position from him. His situation was rendered the more difficult, as with his twelve hundred roubles of salary he had not only to keep himself, Sonya, and his mother, but to keep his mother in such a way that she would not be sensible of their poverty. The countess could not conceive of life being possible without the luxurious surroundings to which she had been accustomed from her childhood; and without any idea of its being difficult for her son, she was continually insisting on having a carriage, which they had not, to send for a friend, or an expensive delicacy for herself, or wine for her son, or money to buy a present, as a surprise for Natasha, for Sonya, or for Nikolay himself.
Sonya kept house, waited on her aunt, read aloud to her, bore with her caprices and her secret dislike, and helped Nikolay to conceal from the old countess their poverty-stricken position. Nikolay felt himself under a debt of gratitude to Sonya that he could never repay, for all she did for his mother; he admired her patience and devotion, but he tried to keep himself aloof from her.
In his heart he seemed to feel a sort of grudge against her for being too perfect, and for there being no fault to find with her. She had all the good qualities for which people are valued, but little of what would have made him love her. And he felt that the more he valued her the less he loved her. He had taken her at her word when she had written to him giving him his freedom, and now he behaved with her as though what had passed between them had been long, long ago forgotten, and could never under any circumstances be renewed.
Nikolay's position was becoming worse and worse. His hope of laying by something out of his salary proved to be an idle dream. Far from saving anything, he was even running up some small debts to satisfy his mother's exigencies. There seemed no means of escape from his position. The idea of marrying a rich heiress, which his female relatives suggested, was repulsive to him. The only other solution of his difficulties—the death of his mother—never entered his head. He desired nothing, and hoped for nothing; and at the bottom of his heart he took a stern and gloomy satisfaction in the unrepining endurance of his position. He tried to avoid his old acquaintances, with their commiseration and their mortifying offers of assistance; shunned every sort of entertainment and amusement; and even at home did nothing but play patience with his mother, pace silently about the room, and smoke pipe after pipe. He seemed studiously to maintain in himself that gloomy temper, which alone enabled him to bear his position.