Chapter 11

THE ROSTOVS’ PECUNIARY POSITION had not improved during the two years they had spent in the country. Although Nikolay Rostov had kept firmly to his resolution, and was still living in a modest way in an obscure regiment, spending comparatively little, the manner of life at Otradnoe, and still more Mitenka’s management of affairs, were such that debts went on unchecked, growing bigger every year. The sole resource that presented itself to the old count as the obvious thing to do was to enter the government service, and he had come to Petersburg to seek a post and at the same time, as he said, to let his poor wenches enjoy themselves for the last time.

Soon after the Rostovs’ arrival in Petersburg, Berg made Vera an offer, and his offer was accepted. Although in Moscow the Rostovs belonged to the best society—themselves unaware of the fact, and never troubling themselves to consider what society they belonged to—yet in Petersburg their position was an uncertain and indefinite one. In Petersburg they were provincials; and were not visited by the very people who in Moscow had dined at the Rostovs’ expense without their inquiring to what society they belonged.

The Rostovs kept open house in Petersburg, just as they used to do in Moscow; and at their suppers people of the most diverse sorts could be seen together—country neighbours, old and not well-to-do country gentlemen with their daughters, and the old maid-of-honour, Madame Peronsky, Pierre Bezuhov, and the son of their district postmaster, who was in an office in Petersburg. Of the men who were constantly at the Rostovs’ house in Petersburg, the most intimate friends of the family were very soon Boris, Pierre, who had been met in the street by the old count and dragged home by him, and Berg, who spent whole days with the Rostovs, and paid the elder of the young countesses, Vera, every attention a young man can pay who intends to make a proposal.

Not in vain had Berg shown everybody his right hand that had been wounded at Austerlitz, and the sword quite unnecessarily held in his left. He had related this episode to everybody so persistently and with such an air of importance, that every one had come to believe in the utility and merit of the feat, and Berg had received two decorations for Austerlitz.

In the war in Finland, too, he had succeeded in distinguishing himself. He had picked up a fragment of a grenade, by which an adjutant had been killed close to the commander-in-chief, and had carried this fragment to his commander. Again, as after Austerlitz, he talked to every one at such length and with such persistency about this incident that people ended by believing that this, too, was something that ought to have been done, and Berg received two decorations for the Finnish war too. In 1809 he was a captain in the guards with decorations on his breast, and was filling some particularly profitable posts in Petersburg.

Though there were some sceptics who smiled when Berg’s merits were mentioned before them, it could not be denied that Berg was a gallant officer, punctual in the discharge of his duties, in excellent repute with the authorities, and a conscientious young man with a brilliant career before him and a secure position, indeed, in society.

Four years before, on meeting a German comrade in the parterre of a Moscow theatre, Berg had pointed out to him Vera Rostov, and said to him in German, “That girl will be my wife.” From that moment he had made up his mind to marry her. Now in Petersburg, after duly considering the Rostovs’ position and his own, he decided that the time had come and made his offer.

Berg’s proposal was received at first with a hesitation by no means flattering for him. It seemed a strange idea at first that the son of an obscure Livonian gentleman should propose for the hand of a Countess Rostov. But Berg’s leading characteristic was an egoism so naïve and good-natured that the Rostovs unconsciously began to think that it must be a good thing since he was himself so firmly convinced that it would be a good thing, and indeed a very good thing. The Rostovs were, moreover, seriously embarrassed in their pecuniary affairs, a fact of which the suitor could not but be aware; and what was the chief consideration,

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