Soon after the Christmas holidays Nicholas told his mother of his love fo_onya and of his firm resolve to marry her. The countess, who had long notice_hat was going on between them and was expecting this declaration, listened t_im in silence and then told her son that he might marry whom he pleased, bu_hat neither she nor his father would give their blessing to such a marriage.
Nicholas, for the first time, felt that his mother was displeased with him an_hat, despite her love for him, she would not give way. Coldly, withou_ooking at her son, she sent for her husband and, when he came, tried briefl_nd coldly to inform him of the facts, in her son's presence, but unable t_estrain herself she burst into tears of vexation and left the room. The ol_ount began irresolutely to admonish Nicholas and beg him to abandon hi_urpose. Nicholas replied that he could not go back on his word, and hi_ather, sighing and evidently disconcerted, very soon became silent and wen_n to the countess. In all his encounters with his son, the count was alway_onscious of his own guilt toward him for having wasted the family fortune,
and so he could not be angry with him for refusing to marry an heiress an_hoosing the dowerless Sonya. On this occasion, he was only more vividl_onscious of the fact that if his affairs had not been in disorder, no bette_ife for Nicholas than Sonya could have been wished for, and that no one bu_imself with his Mitenka and his uncomfortable habits was to blame for th_ondition of the family finances.
The father and mother did not speak of the matter to their son again, but _ew days later the countess sent for Sonya and, with a cruelty neither of the_xpected, reproached her niece for trying to catch Nicholas and fo_ngratitude. Sonya listened silently with downcast eyes to the countess' crue_ords, without understanding what was required of her. She was ready t_acrifice everything for her benefactors. Self-sacrifice was her mos_herished idea but in this case she could not see what she ought to sacrifice,
or for whom. She could not help loving the countess and the whole Rosto_amily, but neither could she help loving Nicholas and knowing that hi_appiness depended on that love. She was silent and sad and did not reply.
Nicholas felt the situation to be intolerable and went to have an explanatio_ith his mother. He first implored her to forgive him and Sonya and consent t_heir marriage, then he threatened that if she molested Sonya he would at onc_arry her secretly.
The countess, with a coldness her son had never seen in her before, replie_hat he was of age, that Prince Andrew was marrying without his father'_onsent, and he could do the same, but that she would never receive tha_ntriguer as her daughter.
Exploding at the word intriguer, Nicholas, raising his voice, told his mothe_e had never expected her to try to force him to sell his feelings, but i_hat were so, he would say for the last time… . But he had no time to utte_he decisive word which the expression of his face caused his mother to awai_ith terror, and which would perhaps have forever remained a cruel memory t_hem both. He had not time to say it, for Natasha, with a pale and set face,
entered the room from the door at which she had been listening.
"Nicholas, you are talking nonsense! Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, I tel_ou!… " she almost screamed, so as to drown his voice.
"Mamma darling, it's not at all so… my poor, sweet darling," she said to he_other, who conscious that they had been on the brink of a rupture gazed a_er son with terror, but in the obstinacy and excitement of the conflict coul_ot and would not give way.
"Nicholas, I'll explain to you. Go away! Listen, Mamma darling," said Natasha.
Her words were incoherent, but they attained the purpose at which she wa_iming.
The countess, sobbing heavily, hid her face on her daughter's breast, whil_icholas rose, clutching his head, and left the room.
Natasha set to work to effect a reconciliation, and so far succeeded tha_icholas received a promise from his mother that Sonya should not be troubled,
while he on his side promised not to undertake anything without his parents'
Firmly resolved, after putting his affairs in order in the regiment, to retir_rom the army and return and marry Sonya, Nicholas, serious, sorrowful, and a_ariance with his parents, but, as it seemed to him, passionately in love,
left at the beginning of January to rejoin his regiment.
After Nicholas had gone things in the Rostov household were more depressin_han ever, and the countess fell ill from mental agitation.
Sonya was unhappy at the separation from Nicholas and still more so on accoun_f the hostile tone the countess could not help adopting toward her. The coun_as more perturbed than ever by the condition of his affairs, which called fo_ome decisive action. Their town house and estate near Moscow had inevitabl_o be sold, and for this they had to go to Moscow. But the countess' healt_bliged them to delay their departure from day to day.
Natasha, who had borne the first period of separation from her betrothe_ightly and even cheerfully, now grew more agitated and impatient every day.
The thought that her best days, which she would have employed in loving him,
were being vainly wasted, with no advantage to anyone, tormented he_ncessantly. His letters for the most part irritated her. It hurt her to thin_hat while she lived only in the thought of him, he was living a real life,
seeing new places and new people that interested him. The more interesting hi_etters were the more vexed she felt. Her letters to him, far from giving he_ny comfort, seemed to her a wearisome and artificial obligation. She coul_ot write, because she could not conceive the possibility of expressin_incerely in a letter even a thousandth part of what she expressed by voice,
smile, and glance. She wrote to him formal, monotonous, and dry letters, t_hich she attached no importance herself, and in the rough copies of which th_ountess corrected her mistakes in spelling.
There was still no improvement in the countess' health, but it was impossibl_o defer the journey to Moscow any longer. Natasha's trousseau had to b_rdered and the house sold. Moreover, Prince Andrew was expected in Moscow,
where old Prince Bolkonski was spending the winter, and Natasha felt sure h_ad already arrived.
So the countess remained in the country, and the count, taking Sonya an_atasha with him, went to Moscow at the end of January.