“Well, this young countess here—forward, quick march!—I have never seen her like!” he said, giving a long pipe to Rostov, while with a practised motion of three fingers he filled another—a short broken one—for himself.

“She’s been in the saddle all day—something for a man to boast of—and she’s just as fresh as if nothing had happened!”

Soon the door was opened obviously, from the sound, by a barefoot servant-girl, and a stout, red-cheeked, handsome woman of about forty, with a double chin and full red lips, walked in, with a big tray in her hands. With hospitable dignity and cordiality in her eyes and in every gesture, she looked round at the guests, and with a genial smile bowed to them respectfully.

In spite of her exceptional stoutness, which made her hold her head flung back, while her bosom and all her portly person was thrust forward, this woman (the uncle’s housekeeper) stepped with extreme lightness. She went to the table, put the tray down, and deftly with her plump, white hands set the bottles and dishes on the table. When she had finished this task she went away, standing for a moment in the doorway with a smile on her face. “Here I am—I am she! Now do you understand the uncle?” her appearance had said to Rostov. Who could fail to understand? Not Nikolay only, but even Natasha understood the uncle now and the significance of his knitted brows, and the happy, complacent smile, which puckered his lips as Anisya Fyodorovna came in. On the tray there were liqueurs, herb-brandy, mushrooms, biscuits of rye flour made with buttermilk, honey in the comb, foaming mead made from honey, apples, nuts raw and nuts baked, and nuts preserved in honey. Then Anisya Fyodorovna brought in preserves made with honey and with sugar, and ham and a chicken that had just been roasted.

All these delicacies were of Anisya Fyodorovna’s preparing, cooking or preserving. All seemed to smell and taste, as it were, of Anisya Fyodorovna. All seemed to recall her buxomness, cleanliness, whiteness, and cordial smile.

“A little of this, please, little countess,” she kept saying, as she handed Natasha first one thing, then another. Natasha ate of everything, and it seemed to her that such buttermilk biscuits, such delicious preserves, such nuts in honey, such a chicken, she had never seen nor tasted anywhere. Anisya Fyodorovna withdrew. Rostov and the uncle, as they sipped cherry brandy after supper, talked of hunts past and to come, of Rugay and Ilagin’s dogs. Natasha sat upright on the sofa, listening with sparkling eyes. She tried several times to waken Petya, and make him eat something, but he made incoherent replies, evidently in his sleep. Natasha felt so gay, so well content in these new surroundings, that her only fear was that the trap would come too soon for her. After a silence had chanced to fall upon them, as almost always happens when any one receives friends for the first time in his own house, the uncle said, in response to the thought in his guests’ minds:

“Yes, so you see how I am finishing my days.… One dies—forward, quick march!—nothing is left. So why sin!”

The uncle’s face was full of significance and even beauty as he said this. Rostov could not help recalling as he spoke all the good things he had heard said by his father and the neighbours about him. Through the whole district the uncle had the reputation of being a most generous and disinterested eccentric. He was asked to arbitrate in family quarrels; he was chosen executor; secrets were entrusted to him; he was elected a justice, and asked to fill other similar posts; but he had always persisted in refusing all public appointments, spending the autumn and spring in the fields on his bay horse, the winter sitting at home, and the summer lying in his overgrown garden.

“Why don’t you enter the service, uncle?”

“I have been in the service, but I flung it up. I’m not fit for it. I can’t make anything of it. That’s your affair. I haven’t the wit for it. The chase, now, is a very different matter; there it’s all forward and quick march! Open the door there!” he shouted. “Why have you shut it?” A door at the end of the corridor

  By PanEris using Melati.

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