Chapter 6

IT was a long while since the Rostovs had had news of their Nikolushka. But in the middle of the winter a letter was handed to Count Rostov, on the envelope of which he recognised his son’s handwriting. On receiving the letter the count, in alarm and in haste, ran on tiptoe to his room, trying to escape notice, shut himself in and read the letter. Anna Mihalovna had learned (as she always did learn all that passed in the house) that he had received a letter, and treading softly, she went in to the count and found him with the letter in his hand, sobbing and laughing at once. Anna Mihalovna, though her fortunes had been looking up, was still an inmate of the Rostov household.

“My dear friend?” Anna Mihalovna brought out in a voice of melancholy inquiry, equally ready for sympathy in any direction. The count sobbed more violently

“Nikolushka … letter … wounded … he would … my dear … wounded … my darling boy … the little countess … promoted … thank God … how are we to tell the little countess?”

Anna Mihalovna sat down by his side, with her own handkerchief wiped the tears from his eyes and from the letter, then dried her own tears, read the letter, soothed the count, and decided that before dinner and before tea she would prepare the countess; and after tea, with God’s help, tell her all. During dinner Anna Mihalovna talked of the rumours from the war, of dear Nikolay, inquired twice when his last letter had been received, though she knew perfectly well, and observed that they might well be getting a letter from him to-day. Every time that the countess began to be uneasy under these hints and looked in trepidation from the count to Anna Mihalovna, the latter turned the conversation in the most unnoticeable way to insignificant subjects. Natasha, who was of all the family the one most gifted with the faculty of catching the shades of intonations, of glances, and expressions, had been on the alert from the beginning of dinner, and was certain that there was some secret between her father and Anna Mihalovna, and that it had something to do with her brother, and that Anna Mihalovna was paving the way for it. Natasha knew how easily upset her mother was by any references to news from Nikolushka, and in spite of all her recklessness she did not venture at dinner to ask a question. But she was too much excited to eat any dinner and kept wriggling about on her chair, regardless of the protests of her governess. After dinner she rushed headlong to overtake Anna Mihalovna, and in the divan-room dashed at her and flung herself on her neck: “Auntie, darling, do tell me what it is.”

“Nothing, my dear.”

“No, darling, sweet, precious peach, I won’t leave off; I know you know something.”

Anna Mihalovna shook her head. “You are sharp, my child!” she said.

“A letter from Nikolinka? I’m sure of it!” cried Natasha, reading an affirmative answer on the face of Anna Mihalovna.

“But, for God’s sake, be more careful; you know what a shock it may be to your mamma.”

“I will be, I will, but tell me about it. You won’t? Well, then, I’ll run and tell her this minute.”

Anna Mihalovna gave Natasha a brief account of what was in the letter, on condition that she would not tell a soul.

“On my word of honour,” said Natasha, crossing herself, “I won’t tell any one,” and she ran at once to Sonya. “Nikolinka … wounded … a letter …” she proclaimed in gleeful triumph

“Nikolinka!” was all Sonya could articulate, instantly turning white. Natasha seeing the effect of the news of her brother’s wound on Sonya, for the first time felt the painful aspect of the news.

She rushed at Sonya, hugged her, and began to cry. “A little wounded, but promoted to be an officer; he’s all right now, he writes himself,” she said through her tears.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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