Chapter 1

THE BIBLICAL TRADITION tells us that the absence of work—idleness—was a condition of the first man’s blessedness before the Fall. The love of idleness has remained the same in fallen man; but the curse still lies heavy upon man, and not only because in the sweat of our brow we must eat bread, but because from our moral qualities we are unable to be idle and at peace. A secret voice tells us that we must be to blame for being idle. If a man could find a state in which while being idle he could feel himself to be of use and to be doing his duty, he would have attained to one side of primitive blessedness. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is enjoyed by a whole class—the military class. It is in that obligatory and irreproachable idleness that the chief attraction of military service has always consisted, and will always consist.

Nikolay Rostov was enjoying this blessed privilege to the full, as after the year 1807 he remained in the Pavlograd regiment, in command of the squadron that had been Denisov’s.

Rostov had become a bluff, good-natured fellow, who would have been thought rather bad form by his old acquaintances in Moscow, though he was loved and respected by his comrades, his subordinates, and his superior officers, and was well content with his life. Of late—in the year 1809—he had found more and more frequently in letters from home complaints on the part of his mother that their pecuniary position was going from bad to worse, and that it was high time for him to come home, to gladden and comfort the hearts of his old parents.

As he read those letters, Nikolay felt a pang of dread at their wanting to drag him out of the surroundings in which, by fencing himself off from all the complexities of existence, he was living so quietly and peacefully. He felt that sooner or later he would have to plunge again into that whirlpool of life, with many difficulties and business to attend to, with the steward’s accounts, with quarrels and intrigues, and ties, with society, with Sonya’s love and his promise to her. All that was terribly difficult and complicated; and he answered his mother’s letters with cold letters in French on the classic model, beginning “Ma chère maman,” and ending: “Votre obéissant fils,” saying nothing of any intention of coming home. In 1810 he received letters from home in which he was told of Natasha’s engagement to Bolkonsky, and of the marriage being deferred for a year, because the old prince would not consent to it. This letter chagrined and mortified Nikolay. In the first place, he was sorry to be losing from home Natasha, whom he cared more for than all the rest of the family. Secondly, from his hussar point of view, he regretted not having been at home at the time, as he would have shown this Bolkonsky that it was by no means such an honour to be connected with him, and that if he cared for Natasha he could get on just as well without his crazy old father’s consent. For a moment he hesitated whether to ask for leave, so as to see Natasha engaged, but then the manœuvres were just coming on, and thoughts of Sonya, of complications, recurred to him, and again he put it off. But in the spring of the same year he got a letter from his mother, written without his father’s knowledge, and that letter decided him. She wrote that if Nikolay did not come and look after things, their whole estate would have to be sold by auction, and they would all be beggars. The count was so weak, put such entire confidence in Mitenka, and was so good-natured, and every one took advantage of him, so that things were going from bad to worse. “I beseech you, for God’s sake, to come at once, if you don’t want to make me and all your family miserable,” wrote the countess.

That letter produced an effect on Nikolay. He had that common sense of mediocrity which showed him what was his duty.

His duty now was, if not to retire from the army, at least to go home on leave. Why he had to go, he could not have said; but, after his after-dinner nap, he ordered his grey mare to be saddled, a terribly vicious beast that he had not ridden for a long while.

He returned home with his horse in a lather, and told Lavrushka—he had kept on Denisov’s old valet—and the comrades who dropped in that evening, that he had applied for leave and was going home. It was strange and difficult for him to believe that he was going away without hearing from the staff whether he had been promoted to be a captain or had received the St. Anne for the last manœuvres (a matter of the greatest interest to him). It was strange to him to think of going away like this without having sold

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