Epilogue 1 Chapter 8

THE ONE THING that sometimes troubled Nikolay in his government of his serfs was his hasty temper and his old habit, acquired in the hussars, of making free use of his fists. At first he saw nothing blameworthy in this, but in the second year of his married life his views on that form of correction underwent a sudden change.

One summer day he had sent for the village elder who had taken control at Bogutcharovo on the death of Dron. The man was accused of various acts of fraud and neglect. Nikolay went out to the steps to see him, and at the first answers the village elder made, shouts and blows were heard in the hall. On going back indoors to lunch, Nikolay went up to his wife, who was sitting with her head bent low over her embroidery frame, and began telling her, as he always did, everything that had interested him during the morning, and among other things about the Bogutcharovo elder. Countess Marya, turning red and pale and setting her lips, sat in the same pose, making no reply to her husband.

“The insolent rascal,” he said, getting hot at the mere recollection. “Well, he should have told me he was drunk, he did not see … Why, what is it, Marie?” he asked all at once.

Countess Marya raised her head, tried to say something, but hurriedly looked down again, trying to control her lips.

“What is it? What is wrong, my darling? …” His plain wife always looked her best when she was in tears. She never wept for pain or anger, but always from sadness and pity. And when she wept her luminous eyes gained an indescribable charm.

As soon as Nikolay took her by the hand, she was unable to restrain herself, and burst into tears.

“Nikolay, I saw … he was in fault, but you, why did you! Nikolay!” and she hid her face in her hands.

Nikolay did not speak; he flushed crimson, and walking away from her, began pacing up and down in silence. He knew what she was crying about, but he could not all at once agree with her in his heart that what he had been used to from childhood, what he looked upon as a matter of course, was wrong. “It's sentimental nonsense, old wives' cackle—or is she right?” he said to himself. Unable to decide that question, he glanced once more at her suffering and loving face, and all at once he felt that she was right, and that he had known himself to be in fault a long time before.

“Marie,” he said, softly, going up to her: “it shall never happen again; I give you my word. Never,” he repeated in a shaking voice like a boy begging for forgiveness.

The tears flowed faster from his wife's eyes. She took his hand and kissed it.

“Nikolay, when did you break your cameo?” she said to change the subject, as she scrutinised the finger on which he wore a ring with a cameo of Laocoon.

“To-day; it was all the same thing. O Marie, don't remind me of it!” He flushed again. “I give you my word of honour that it shall never happen again. And let this be a reminder to me for ever,” he said, pointing to the broken ring.

From that time forward, whenever in interviews with his village elders and foremen he felt the blood rush to his face and his fists began to clench, Nikolay turned the ring round on his finger and dropped his eyes before the man who angered him. Twice a year, however, he would forget himself, and then, going to his wife, he confessed, and again promised that this would really be the last time.

“Marie, you must despise me,” he said to her. “I deserve it.”

“You must run away, make haste and run away if you feel yourself unable to control yourself,” his wife said mournfully, trying to comfort him.

In the society of the nobility of the province Nikolay was respected but not liked. The local politics of the nobility did not interest him. And in consequence he was looked upon by some people as proud and by others as a fool. In summer his whole time from the spring sowing to the harvest was spent in looking after the land. In the autumn he gave himself up with the same business-like seriousness to hunting, going out for a month or two at a time with his huntsmen, dogs, and horses on hunting expeditions. In the winter he visited their other properties and spent his time in reading, chiefly historical books, on which he spent a certain sum regularly every year. He was forming for himself, as he used to say, a serious library, and he made it a principle to read through every book he bought. He would sit over his book in his study with an important air; and what he had at first undertaken as a duty became an habitual pursuit, which afforded him a special sort of gratification in the feeling that he was engaged in serious study. Except when he went on business to visit their other estates, he spent the winter at home with his family, entering into all the petty cares and interests of the mother and children. With his wife he got on better and better, every day discovering fresh spiritual treasures in her.

From the time of Nikolay's marriage Sonya had lived in his house. Before their marriage, Nikolay had told his wife all that had passed between him and Sonya, blaming himself and praising her conduct. He begged Princess Marya to be kind and affectionate to his cousin. His wife was fully sensible of the wrong her husband had done his cousin; she felt herself too guilty toward Sonya; she fancied her wealth had influenced Nikolay in his choice, could find no fault in Sonya, and wished to love her. But she could not like her, and often found evil feelings in her soul in regard to her, which she could not overcome.

One day she was talking with her friend Natasha of Sonya and her own injustice towards her.

“Do you know what,” said Natasha; “you have read the Gospel a great deal; there is a passage there that applies exactly to Sonya.”

“What is it?” Countess Marya asked in surprise.

“ ‘To him that hath shall be given, and to him that hath not shall be taken even that that he hath,' do you remember? She is the one that hath not; why, I don't know; perhaps she has no egoism. I don't know; but from her is taken away, and everything has been taken away. I am sometimes awfully sorry for her. I used in old days to want Nikolay to marry her but I always had a sort of presentiment that it would not happen. She is a barren flower, you know, like what one finds among the strawberry flowers. Sometimes I am sorry for her, and sometimes I think she does not feel it as we should have felt it.”

And although Countess Marya argued with Natasha that those words of the Gospel must not be taken in that sense, looking at Sonya, she agreed with the explanation given by Natasha. It did seem really as though Sonya did not feel her position irksome, and was quite reconciled to her fate as a barren flower. She seemed to be fond not so much of people as of the whole family. Like a cat, she had attached herself not to persons but to the house. She waited on the old countess, petted and spoiled the children, was always ready to perform small services, which she seemed particularly clever at; but all she did was unconsciously taken for granted, without much gratitude.…

The Bleak Hills house had been built up again, but not on the same scale as under the old prince.

The buildings, begun in days of straitened means, were more than simple. The immense mansion on the old stone foundation was of wood, plastered only on the inside. The great rambling house, with its unstained plank floors, was furnished with the simplest rough sofas and chairs and tables made of their own birch-trees by the labor of their serf carpenters. The house was very roomy, with quarters for the house-serfs and accommodation for visitors.

The relations of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys would sometimes come on visits to Bleak Hills with their families, sixteen horses and dozens of servants, and stay for months. And four times a year—on the namedays and birthdays of the master and mistress—as many as a hundred visitors would be put up for a day or two. The rest of the year the regular life of the household went on in unbroken routine, with its round of duties, and of teas, breakfasts, dinners, and suppers, all provided out of home-grown produce.