War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book XI: Chapters 13–29

CHAPTER XVI

Berg, the Rostovs' son-in-law, was already a colonel wearing the orders of Vladimir and Anna, and he still filled the quiet and agreeable post of assistant to the head of the staff of the assistant commander of the first division of the Second Army.

On the first of September he had come to Moscow from the army.

He had nothing to do in Moscow, but he had noticed that everyone in the army was asking for leave to visit Moscow and had something to do there. So he considered it necessary to ask for leave of absence for family and domestic reasons.

Berg drove up to his father-in-law's house in his spruce little trap with a pair of sleek roans, exactly like those of a certain prince. He looked attentively at the carts in the yard and while going up to the porch took out a clean pocket handkerchief and tied a knot in it.

From the anteroom Berg ran with smooth though impatient steps into the drawing room, where he embraced the count, kissed the hands of Natasha and Sonya, and hastened to inquire after"Mamma's" health.

"Health, at a time like this?" said the count."Come, tell us the news! Is the army retreating or will there be another battle?"

"God Almighty alone can decide the fate of our fatherland, Papa," said Berg."The army is burning with a spirit of heroism and the leaders, so to say, have now assembled in council. No one knows what is coming. But in general I can tell you, Papa, that such a heroic spirit, the truly antique valor of the Russian army, which they — which it" (he corrected himself)"has shown or displayed in the battle of the twenty-sixth — there are no words worthy to do it justice! I tell you, Papa" (he smote himself on the breast as a general he had heard speaking had done, but Berg did it a trifle late for he should have struck his breast at the words"Russian army"),"I tell you frankly that we, the commanders, far from having to urge the men on or anything of that kind, could hardly restrain those . . . those . . . yes, those exploits of antique valor," he went on rapidly."General Barclay de Tolly risked his life everywhere at the head of the troops, I can assure you. Our corps was stationed on a hillside. You can imagine!"

And Berg related all that he remembered of the various tales he had heard those days. Natasha watched him with an intent gaze that confused him, as if she were trying to find in his face the answer to some question.

"Altogether such heroism as was displayed by the Russian warriors cannot be imagined or adequately praised!" said Berg, glancing round at Natasha, and as if anxious to conciliate her, replying to her intent look with a smile."'Russia is not in Moscow, she lives in the hearts of her sons!' Isn't it so, Papa?" said he.

Just then the countess came in from the sitting room with a weary and dissatisfied expression. Berg hurriedly jumped up, kissed her hand, asked about her health, and, swaying his head from side to side to express sympathy, remained standing beside her.

"Yes, Mamma, I tell you sincerely that these are hard and sad times for every Russian. But why are you so anxious? You have still time to get away . . . ."

"I can't think what the servants are about," said the countess, turning to her husband."I have just been told that nothing is ready yet. Somebody after all must see to things. One misses Mitenka at such times. There won't be any end to it."

The count was about to say something, but evidently restrained himself. He got up from his chair and went to the door.

At that moment Berg drew out his handkerchief as if to blow his nose and, seeing the knot in it, pondered, shaking his head sadly and significantly.

"And I have a great favor to ask of you, Papa," said he.

"Hm . . ." said the count, and stopped.

"I was driving past Yusupov's house just now," said Berg with a laugh,"when the steward, a man I know, ran out and asked me whether I wouldn't buy something. I went in out of curiosity, you know, and there is a small chiffonier and a dressing table. You know how dear Vera wanted a chiffonier like that and how we had a dispute about it." (At the mention of the chiffonier and dressing table Berg involuntarily changed his tone to one of pleasure at his admirable domestic arrangements.)"And it's such a beauty! It pulls out and has a secret English drawer, you know! And dear Vera has long wanted one. I wish to give her a surprise, you see. I saw so many of those peasant carts in your yard. Please let me have one, I will pay the man well, and . . ."

The count frowned and coughed.

"Ask the countess, I don't give orders."

"If it's inconvenient, please don't," said Berg."Only I so wanted it, for dear Vera's sake."

"Oh, go to the devil, all of you! To the devil, the devil, the devil . . ." cried the old count."My head's in a whirl!"

And he left the room. The countess began to cry.

"Yes, Mamma! Yes, these are very hard times!" said Berg.

Natasha left the room with her father and, as if finding it difficult to reach some decision, first followed him and then ran downstairs.

Petya was in the porch, engaged in giving out weapons to the servants who were to leave Moscow. The loaded carts were still standing in the yard. Two of them had been uncorded and a wounded officer was climbing into one of them helped by an orderly.

"Do you know what it's about?" Petya asked Natasha.

She understood that he meant what were their parents quarreling about. She did not answer.

"It's because Papa wanted to give up all the carts to the wounded," said Petya."Vasilich told me. I consider . . ."

"I consider," Natasha suddenly almost shouted, turning her angry face to Petya,"I consider it so horrid, so abominable, so . . . I don't know what. Are we despicable Germans?"

Her throat quivered with convulsive sobs and, afraid of weakening and letting the force of her anger run to waste, she turned and rushed headlong up the stairs.

Berg was sitting beside the countess consoling her with the respectful attention of a relative. The count, pipe in hand, was pacing up and down the room, when Natasha, her face distorted by anger, burst in like a tempest and approached her mother with rapid steps.

"It's horrid! It's abominable!" she screamed."You can't possibly have ordered it!"

Berg and the countess looked at her, perplexed and frightened. The count stood still at the window and listened.

"Mamma, it's impossible: see what is going on in the yard!" she cried."They will be left! . . ."

"What's the matter with you? Who are 'they'? What do you want?"

"Why, the wounded! It's impossible, Mamma. It's monstrous! . . . No, Mamma darling, it's not the thing. Please forgive me, darling . . . . Mamma, what does it matter what we take away? Only look what is going on in the yard . . . Mamma! . . . It's impossible!"

The count stood by the window and listened without turning round. Suddenly he sniffed and put his face closer to the window.

The countess glanced at her daughter, saw her face full of shame for her mother, saw her agitation, and understood why her husband did not turn to look at her now, and she glanced round quite disconcerted.

"Oh, do as you like! Am I hindering anyone?" she said, not surrendering at once.

"Mamma, darling, forgive me!"

But the countess pushed her daughter away and went up to her husband.

"My dear, you order what is right . . . . You know I don't understand about it," said she, dropping her eyes shamefacedly.

"The eggs . . . the eggs are teaching the hen," muttered the count through tears of joy, and he embraced his wife who was glad to hide her look of shame on his breast.

"Papa! Mamma! May I see to it? May I? . . ." asked Natasha."We will still take all the most necessary things."

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After leaving his wife, what does Pierre do that gives him new hope?




Quiz