Chapter 7

WHEN ILAGIN TOOK LEAVE of them in the evening, Nikolay found himself so great a distance from home that he accepted the uncle’s invitation to stop hunting and to stay the night at the uncle’s little place, Mihailovka.

“And if you all come to me—forward, quick march!” said the uncle, “it would be even better; you see, the weather’s damp, you could rest, and the little countess could be driven back in a trap.” The invitation was accepted; a huntsman was sent to Otradnoe for a trap, and Nikolay, Natasha, and Petya rode to the uncle’s house.

Five men servants—little and big—ran out on to the front steps to meet their master. Dozens of women, old and big and little, popped out at the back entrance to have a look at the huntsmen as they arrived. The presence of Natasha—a woman, a lady, on horseback—excited the curiosity of the uncle’s house- serfs to such a pitch that many of them went up to her, stared her in the face, and, unrestrained by her presence, made remarks about her, as though she were some prodigy on show, not a human being, and not capable of hearing and understanding what was said about her.

“Arinka, look-ée, she sits sideways! Sits on so, while her skirt flies about.… And look at the little horn!”

“Sakes alive! and the knife too.…”

“A regular Tatar woman!”

“How do you manage not to tumble off?” said the forwardest of them, addressing Natasha boldly.

The uncle got off his horse at the steps of his little wooden house, which was shut in by an overgrown garden. Looking from one to another of his household, he shouted peremptorily to those who were not wanted to retire, and for the others to do all that was needed for the reception of his guests.

They all ran off in different directions. The uncle helped Natasha to dismount, and gave her his arm up the shaky, plank steps.

Inside, the house, with boarded, unplastered walls, was not very clean; there was nothing to show that the chief aim of the persons living in it was the removal of every spot, yet there were not signs of neglect. There was a smell of fresh apples in the entry, and the walls were hung with foxskins and wolfskins.

The uncle led his guests through the vestibule into a little hall with a folding-table and red chairs, then into a drawing-room with a round birchwood table and a sofa, and then into his study, with a ragged sofa, a threadbare carpet, and portraits of Suvorov, of his father and mother, and of himself in military uniform. The study smelt strongly of tobacco and dogs. In the study the uncle asked his guests to sit down and make themselves at home, and he left them. Rugay came in, his back still covered with mud, and lay on the sofa, cleaning himself with his tongue and his teeth. There was a corridor leading from the study, and in it they could see a screen with ragged curtains. Behind the screen they heard feminine laughter and whispering. Natasha, Nikolay, and Petya took off their wraps and sat down on the sofa. Petya leaned on his arm and fell asleep at once; Natasha and Nikolay sat without speaking. Their faces were burning; they were very hungry and very cheerful. They looked at one another—now that the hunt was over and they were indoors, Nikolay did not feel called upon to show his masculine superiority over his sister. Natasha winked at her brother; and they could neither of them restrain themselves long, and broke into a ringing laugh before they had time to invent a pretext for their mirth.

After a brief interval, the uncle came in wearing a Cossack coat, blue breeches, and little top-boots. And this very costume, at which Natasha had looked with surprise and amusement when the uncle wore it at Otradnoe, seemed to her now the right costume here, and in no way inferior to frock coats or ordinary jackets. The uncle, too, was in good spirits; far from feeling mortified at the laughter of the brother and sister (he was incapable of imagining that they could be laughing at his mode of life), he joined in their causeless mirth himself.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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