It was the eve of St. Nicholas, the fifth of December, 1820. Natasha had bee_taying at her brother's with her husband and children since early autumn.
Pierre had gone to Petersburg on business of his own for three weeks as h_aid, but had remained there nearly seven weeks and was expected back ever_inute.
Besides the Bezukhov family, Nicholas' old friend the retired General Vasil_mitrich Denisov was staying with the Rostovs this fifth of December.
On the sixth, which was his name day when the house would be full of visitors, Nicholas knew he would have to exchange his Tartar tunic for a tail coat, an_ut on narrow boots with pointed toes, and drive to the new church he ha_uilt, and then receive visitors who would come to congratulate him, offe_hem refreshments, and talk about the elections of the nobility; but h_onsidered himself entitled to spend the eve of that day in his usual way. H_xamined the bailiff's accounts of the village in Ryazan which belonged to hi_ife's nephew, wrote two business letters, and walked over to the granaries, cattle yards and stables before dinner. Having taken precautions against th_eneral drunkenness to be expected on the morrow because it was a grea_aint's day, he returned to dinner, and without having time for a private tal_ith his wife sat down at the long table laid for twenty persons, at which th_hole household had assembled. At that table were his mother, his mother's ol_ady companion Belova, his wife, their three children with their governess an_utor, his wife's nephew with his tutor, Sonya, Denisov, Natasha, her thre_hildren, their governess, and old Michael Ivanovich, the late prince'_rchitect, who was living on in retirement at Bald Hills.
Countess Mary sat at the other end of the table. When her husband took hi_lace she concluded, from the rapid manner in which after taking up his tabl_apkin he pushed back the tumbler and wineglass standing before him, that h_as out of humor, as was sometimes the case when he came in to dinner straigh_rom the farm—especially before the soup. Countess Mary well knew that mood o_is, and when she herself was in a good frame of mind quietly waited till h_ad had his soup and then began to talk to him and make him admit that ther_as no cause for his ill-humor. But today she quite forgot that and was hur_hat he should be angry with her without any reason, and she felt unhappy. Sh_sked him where he had been. He replied. She again inquired whether everythin_as going well on the farm. Her unnatural tone made him wince unpleasantly an_e replied hastily.
"Then I'm not mistaken," thought Countess Mary. "Why is he cross with me?" Sh_oncluded from his tone that he was vexed with her and wished to end th_onversation. She knew her remarks sounded unnatural, but could not refrai_rom asking some more questions.
Thanks to Denisov the conversation at table soon became general and lively, and she did not talk to her husband. When they left the table and went a_sual to thank the old countess, Countess Mary held out her hand and kisse_er husband, and asked him why he was angry with her.
"You always have such strange fancies! I didn't even think of being angry," h_eplied.
But the word always seemed to her to imply: "Yes, I am angry but I won't tel_ou why."
Nicholas and his wife lived together so happily that even Sonya and the ol_ountess, who felt jealous and would have liked them to disagree, could fin_othing to reproach them with; but even they had their moments of antagonism.
Occasionally, and it was always just after they had been happiest together, they suddenly had a feeling of estrangement and hostility, which occurred mos_requently during Countess Mary's pregnancies, and this was such a time.
"Well, messieurs et mesdames," said Nicholas loudly and with apparen_heerfulness (it seemed to Countess Mary that he did it on purpose to ve_er), "I have been on my feet since six this morning. Tomorrow I shall have t_uffer, so today I'll go and rest."
And without a word to his wife he went to the little sitting room and lay dow_n the sofa.
"That's always the way," thought Countess Mary. "He talks to everyone excep_e. I see… I see that I am repulsive to him, especially when I am in thi_ondition." She looked down at her expanded figure and in the glass at he_ale, sallow, emaciated face in which her eyes now looked larger than ever.
And everything annoyed her—Denisov's shouting and laughter, Natasha's talk, and especially a quick glance Sonya gave her.
Sonya was always the first excuse Countess Mary found for feeling irritated.
Having sat awhile with her visitors without understanding anything of wha_hey were saying, she softly left the room and went to the nursery.
The children were playing at "going to Moscow" in a carriage made of chair_nd invited her to go with them. She sat down and played with them a little, but the thought of her husband and his unreasonable crossness worried her. Sh_ot up and, walking on tiptoe with difficulty, went to the small sitting room.
"Perhaps he is not asleep; I'll have an explanation with him," she said t_erself. Little Andrew, her eldest boy, imitating his mother, followed her o_iptoe. She not notice him.
"Mary, dear, I think he is asleep—he was so tired," said Sonya, meeting her i_he large sitting room (it seemed to Countess Mary that she crossed her pat_verywhere). "Andrew may wake him."
Countess Mary looked round, saw little Andrew following her, felt that Sony_as right, and for that very reason flushed and with evident difficult_efrained from saying something harsh. She made no reply, but to avoid obeyin_onya beckoned to Andrew to follow her quietly and went to the door. Sony_ent away by another door. From the room in which Nicholas was sleeping cam_he sound of his even breathing, every slightest tone of which was familiar t_is wife. As she listened to it she saw before her his smooth handsom_orehead, his mustache, and his whole face, as she had so often seen it in th_tillness of the night when he slept. Nicholas suddenly moved and cleared hi_hroat. And at that moment little Andrew shouted from outside the door: "Papa!
Mamma's standing here!" Countess Mary turned pale with fright and made sign_o the boy. He grew silent, and quiet ensued for a moment, terrible t_ountess Mary. She knew how Nicholas disliked being waked. Then through th_oor she heard Nicholas clearing his throat again and stirring, and his voic_aid crossly:
"I can't get a moment's peace… . Mary, is that you? Why did you bring hi_ere?"
"I only came in to look and did not notice… forgive me… "
Nicholas coughed and said no more. Countess Mary moved away from the door an_ook the boy back to the nursery. Five minutes later little black-eyed three- year-old Natasha, her father's pet, having learned from her brother that Pap_as asleep and Mamma was in the sitting room, ran to her father unobserved b_er mother. The dark-eyed little girl boldly opened the creaking door, went u_o the sofa with energetic steps of her sturdy little legs, and havin_xamined the position of her father, who was asleep with his back to her, ros_n tiptoe and kissed the hand which lay under his head. Nicholas turned with _ender smile on his face.
"Natasha, Natasha!" came Countess Mary's frightened whisper from the door.
"Papa wants to sleep."
"No, Mamma, he doesn't want to sleep," said little Natasha with conviction.
Nicholas lowered his legs, rose, and took his daughter in his arms.
"Come in, Mary," he said to his wife.
She went in and sat down by her husband.
"I did not notice him following me," she said timidly. "I just looked in."
Holding his little girl with one arm, Nicholas glanced at his wife and, seein_er guilty expression, put his other arm around her and kissed her hair.
"May I kiss Mamma?" he asked Natasha.
Natasha smiled bashfully.
"Again!" she commanded, pointing with a peremptory gesture to the spot wher_icholas had placed the kiss.
"I don't know why you think I am cross," said Nicholas, replying to th_uestion he knew was in his wife's mind.
"You have no idea how unhappy, how lonely, I feel when you are like that. I_lways seems to me… "
"Mary, don't talk nonsense. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he sai_aily.
"It seems to be that you can't love me, that I am so plain… always… and now… in this cond… "
"Oh, how absurd you are! It is not beauty that endears, it's love that make_s see beauty. It is only Malvinas and women of that kind who are loved fo_heir beauty. But do I love my wife? I don't love her, but… I don't know ho_o put it. Without you, or when something comes between us like this, I see_ost and can't do anything. Now do I love my finger? I don't love it, but jus_ry to cut it off!"
"I'm not like that myself, but I understand. So you're not angry with me?"
"Awfully angry!" he said, smiling and getting up. And smoothing his hair h_egan to pace the room.
"Do you know, Mary, what I've been thinking?" he began, immediately thinkin_loud in his wife's presence now that they had made it up.
He did not ask if she was ready to listen to him. He did not care. A though_ad occurred to him and so it belonged to her also. And he told her of hi_ntention to persuade Pierre to stay with them till spring.
Countess Mary listened till he had finished, made some remark, and in her tur_egan thinking aloud. Her thoughts were about the children.
"You can see the woman in her already," she said in French, pointing to littl_atasha. "You reproach us women with being illogical. Here is our logic. _ay: 'Papa wants to sleep!' but she says, 'No, he's laughing.' And she wa_ight," said Countess Mary with a happy smile.
"Yes, yes." And Nicholas, taking his little daughter in his strong hand, lifted her high, placed her on his shoulder, held her by the legs, and pace_he room with her. There was an expression of carefree happiness on the face_f both father and daughter.
"But you know you may be unfair. You are too fond of this one," his wif_hispered in French.
"Yes, but what am I to do?… I try not to show… "
At that moment they heard the sound of the door pulley and footsteps in th_all and anteroom, as if someone had arrived.
"Somebody has come."
"I am sure it is Pierre. I will go and see," said Countess Mary and left th_oom.
In her absence Nicholas allowed himself to give his little daughter a gallo_ound the room. Out of breath, he took the laughing child quickly from hi_houlder and pressed her to his heart. His capers reminded him of dancing, an_ooking at the child's round happy little face he thought of what she would b_ike when he was an old man, taking her into society and dancing the mazurk_ith her as his old father had danced Daniel Cooper with his daughter.
"It is he, it is he, Nicholas!" said Countess Mary, re-entering the room a fe_inutes later. "Now our Natasha has come to life. You should have seen he_cstasy, and how he caught it for having stayed away so long. Well, come alon_ow, quick, quick! It's time you two were parted," she added, lookin_milingly at the little girl who clung to her father.
Nicholas went out holding the child by the hand.
Countess Mary remained in the sitting room.
"I should never, never have believed that one could be so happy," sh_hispered to herself. A smile lit up her face but at the same time she sighed, and her deep eyes expressed a quiet sadness as though she felt, through he_appiness, that there is another sort of happiness unattainable in this lif_nd of which she involuntarily thought at that instant.