Chapter 12

BEFORE THE BEGINNING of the campaign Rostov had received a letter from his parents, in which they informed him briefly of Natasha’s illness and the breaking off of her engagement, and again begged him to retire from the army and come home to them. Natasha had, they explained, broken off the engagement by her own wish. On receiving this letter Nikolay did not even attempt to retire from the army or to obtain leave, but wrote to his parents that he was very sorry to hear of Natasha’s illness and her rupture with her betrothed, and that he would do everything in his power to follow their wishes. To Sonya he wrote separately.

“Adored friend of my heart,” he wrote; “nothing but honour could avail to keep me from returning to the country. But now, at the beginning of a campaign, I should feel myself dishonoured in my comrades’ eyes, as well as my own, if I put my own happiness before my duty and my love for my country. But this shall be our last separation. Believe me, immediately after the war, if I be living and still loved by thee, I shall throw up everything and fly to thee to press thee for ever to my ardent breast.”

It was, in fact, only the outbreak of the war that detained Rostov and hindered him from returning home, as he had promised, and marrying Sonya. The autumn at Otradnoe with the hunting, and the winter with the Christmas festivities and Sonya’s love had opened before his imagination a vista of peace and quiet country delights unknown to him before, and this prospect now lured him back. “A charming wife, children, a good pack of hounds, ten to twelve leashes of swift harriers, the estate to look after, the neighbours, election to offices, perhaps, by the provincial nobility,” he mused. But now war was breaking out, and he had to remain with his regiment. And since this had to be, Nikolay Rostov was characteristically able to be content too with the life he led in the regiment, and to make that life a pleasant one.

On his return from his leave, Nikolay had been joyfully welcomed by his comrades and sent off for remounts. He succeeded in bringing back from Little Russia some first-rate horses that gave him great satisfaction, and won him the commendation of his superior officers. In his absence he had been promoted to be captain, and when the regiment was being made ready with reinforcements for active service, he was again put in command of his old squadron.

The campaign was beginning, pay was doubled, the regiment was reinforced with new officers, new men, and fresh horses, and had moved into Poland. The temper of eager cheerfulness, always common at the beginning of a war, was general in the army, and Rostov, fully conscious of his improved position in the regiment, gave himself up heart and soul to the pleasures and interests of the army, though he knew that sooner or later he would have to leave it.

The army had been compelled to retreat from Vilna owing to various complex considerations of state, of policy, and tactics. Every step of that retreat had been accompanied by a complicated play of interests, arguments, and passions at headquarters. For the hussars of the Pavlograd regiment, however, this whole march in the finest part of the summer, with ample supplies of provisions, was a most simple and agreeable business. Depression, uneasiness, and intrigue were possible only at headquarters; the rank and file of the army never even wondered where and why they were going. If the retreat was a subject of regret, it was simply owing to the necessity of leaving quarters one had grown used to or a pretty Polish hostess. If the idea did occur to any one that things were amiss, he tried, as a good soldier should, to put a cheerful face on it; and to keep his thoughts fixed on the duty that lay nearest, and not on the general progress of the war. At first they had been very pleasantly stationed near Vilna, where they made acquaintance with the Polish gentry of the neighbourhood, prepared for reviews, and were reviewed by the Tsar and various commanders of high authority. Then came the command to retreat to Sventsyany, and to destroy all the stores that could not be carried away. Sventsyany was memorable to the hussars simply as the drunken camp, the name given to the encampment there by the whole army, and as the scene of many complaints against the troops, who had taken advantage of orders to collect stores, and under the head of stores had carried off horses and carriages and carpets from the Polish landowners. Rostov remembered Sventsyany, because on the very day of his arrival there he had dismissed his quartermaster and did not know how to manage the men of his squadron, who had, without his knowledge, carried off five barrels of strong old ale and were all drunk. From Sventsyany

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