War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book VII

CHAPTER II

After reaching home Nicholas was at first serious and even dull. He was worried by the impending necessity of interfering in the stupid business matters for which his mother had called him home. To throw off this burden as quickly as possible, on the third day after his arrival he went, angry and scowling and without answering questions as to where he was going, to Mitenka's lodge and demanded an account of everything. But what an account of everything might be Nicholas knew even less than the frightened and bewildered Mitenka. The conversation and the examination of the accounts with Mitenka did not last long. The village elder, a peasant delegate, and the village clerk, who were waiting in the passage, heard with fear and delight first the young count's voice roaring and snapping and rising louder and louder, and then words of abuse, dreadful words, ejaculated one after the other.

"Robber! . . . Ungrateful wretch! . . . I'll hack the dog to pieces! I'm not my father! . . . Robbing us! . . ." and so on.

Then with no less fear and delight they saw how the young count, red in the face and with bloodshot eyes, dragged Mitenka out by the scruff of the neck and applied his foot and knee to his behind with great agility at convenient moments between the words, shouting,"Be off! Never let me see your face here again, you villain!"

Mitenka flew headlong down the six steps and ran away into the shrubbery. (This shrubbery was a well-known haven of refuge for culprits at Otradnoe. Mitenka himself, returning tipsy from the town, used to hide there, and many of the residents at Otradnoe, hiding from Mitenka, knew of its protective qualities.)

Mitenka's wife and sisters-in-law thrust their heads and frightened faces out of the door of a room where a bright samovar was boiling and where the steward's high bedstead stood with its patchwork quilt.

The young count paid no heed to them, but, breathing hard, passed by with resolute strides and went into the house.

The countess, who heard at once from the maids what had happened at the lodge, was calmed by the thought that now their affairs would certainly improve, but on the other hand felt anxious as to the effect this excitement might have on her son. She went several times to his door on tiptoe and listened, as he lighted one pipe after another.

Next day the old count called his son aside and, with an embarrassed smile, said to him:

"But you know, my dear boy, it's a pity you got excited! Mitenka has told me all about it."

"I knew," thought Nicholas,"that I should never understand anything in this crazy world."

"You were angry that he had not entered those 700 rubles. But they were carried forward — and you did not look at the other page."

"Papa, he is a blackguard and a thief! I know he is! And what I have done, I have done; but, if you like, I won't speak to him again."

"No, my dear boy" (the count, too, felt embarrassed. He knew he had mismanaged his wife's property and was to blame toward his children, but he did not know how to remedy it)."No, I beg you to attend to the business. I am old. I . . ."

"No, Papa. Forgive me if I have caused you unpleasantness. I understand it all less than you do."

"Devil take all these peasants, and money matters, and carryings forward from page to page," he thought."I used to understand what a 'corner' and the stakes at cards meant, but carrying forward to another page I don't understand at all," said he to himself, and after that he did not meddle in business affairs. But once the countess called her son and informed him that she had a promissory note from Anna Mikhaylovna for two thousand rubles, and asked him what he thought of doing with it.

"This," answered Nicholas."You say it rests with me. Well, I don't like Anna Mikhaylovna and I don't like Boris, but they were our friends and poor. Well then, this!" and he tore up the note, and by so doing caused the old countess to weep tears of joy. After that, young Rostov took no further part in any business affairs, but devoted himself with passionate enthusiasm to what was to him a new pursuit — the chase — for which his father kept a large establishment.

CHAPTER III

The weather was already growing wintry and morning frosts congealed an earth saturated by autumn rains. The verdure had thickened and its bright green stood out sharply against the brownish strips of winter rye trodden down by the cattle, and against the pale-yellow stubble of the spring buckwheat. The wooded ravines and the copses, which at the end of August had still been green islands amid black fields and stubble, had become golden and bright-red islands amid the green winter rye. The hares had already half changed their summer coats, the fox cubs were beginning to scatter, and the young wolves were bigger than dogs. It was the best time of the year for the chase. The hounds of that ardent young sportsman Rostov had not merely reached hard winter condition, but were so jaded that at a meeting of the huntsmen it was decided to give them a three days' rest and then, on the sixteenth of September, to go on a distant expedition, starting from the oak grove where there was an undisturbed litter of wolf cubs.

All that day the hounds remained at home. It was frosty and the air was sharp, but toward evening the sky became overcast and it began to thaw. On the fifteenth, when young Rostov, in his dressing gown, looked out of the window, he saw it was an unsurpassable morning for hunting: it was as if the sky were melting and sinking to the earth without any wind. The only motion in the air was that of the dripping, microscopic particles of drizzling mist. The bare twigs in the garden were hung with transparent drops which fell on the freshly fallen leaves. The earth in the kitchen garden looked wet and black and glistened like poppy seed and at a short distance merged into the dull, moist veil of mist. Nicholas went out into the wet and muddy porch. There was a smell of decaying leaves and of dog. Milka, a black-spotted, broad-haunched bitch with prominent black eyes, got up on seeing her master, stretched her hind legs, lay down like a hare, and then suddenly jumped up and licked him right on his nose and mustache. Another borzoi, a dog, catching sight of his master from the garden path, arched his back and, rushing headlong toward the porch with lifted tail, began rubbing himself against his legs.

"O-hoy!" came at that moment, that inimitable huntsman's call which unites the deepest bass with the shrillest tenor, and round the corner came Daniel the head huntsman and head kennelman, a gray, wrinkled old man with hair cut straight over his forehead, Ukrainian fashion, a long bent whip in his hand, and that look of independence and scorn of everything that is only seen in huntsmen. He doffed his Circassian cap to his master and looked at him scornfully. This scorn was not offensive to his master. Nicholas knew that this Daniel, disdainful of everybody and who considered himself above them, was all the same his serf and huntsman.

"Daniel!" Nicholas said timidly, conscious at the sight of the weather, the hounds, and the huntsman that he was being carried away by that irresistible passion for sport which makes a man forget all his previous resolutions, as a lover forgets in the presence of his mistress.

"What orders, your excellency?" said the huntsman in his deep bass, deep as a proto-deacon's and hoarse with hallooing — and two flashing black eyes gazed from under his brows at his master, who was silent."Can you resist it?" those eyes seemed to be asking.

"It's a good day, eh? For a hunt and a gallop, eh?" asked Nicholas, scratching Milka behind the ears.

Daniel did not answer, but winked instead.

"I sent Uvarka at dawn to listen," his bass boomed out after a minute's pause."He says she's moved them into the Otradnoe enclosure. They were howling there." (This meant that the she-wolf, about whom they both knew, had moved with her cubs to the Otradnoe copse, a small place a mile and a half from the house.)

"We ought to go, don't you think so?" said Nicholas."Come to me with Uvarka."

"As you please."

"Then put off feeding them."

"Yes, sir."

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