Chapter 5

NATASHA’S MARRIAGE to Bezuhov, which took place in 1813, was the last happy event in the family of the old Rostovs. Count Ilya Andreivitch died the same year; and as is always the case, with the death of the father the family was broken up.

The events of the previous year: the burning of Moscow and the flight from that city; the death of Prince Andrey and Natasha’s despair; the death of Petya and the grief of the countess fell like one blow after another on the old count’s head. He seemed not to understand, and to feel himself incapable of understanding, the significance of all these events, and figuratively speaking, bowed his old head to the storm, as though expecting and seeking fresh blows to make an end of him. By turns he seemed scared and distraught, and then unnaturally lively and active.

Natasha’s marriage for a time occupied him on its external side. He arranged dinners and suppers in honour of it, and obviously tried to be cheerful; but his cheerfulness was not infectious as in old days, but, on the contrary, aroused the commiseration of those who knew and liked him.

After Pierre and his wife had left, he collapsed and began to complain of depression. A few days later he fell ill and took to his bed. In spite of the doctor’s assurances, he knew from the first days of his illness that he would never get up again. For a whole fortnight the countess sat in a low chair by his pillow, never taking off her clothes. Every time she gave him his medicine, he mutely kissed her hand, weeping. On the last day, sobbing, he begged forgiveness of his wife, and of his absent son, too, for squandering their property, the chief sin that lay on his conscience. After receiving absolution and the last unction, he quietly died; and next day a crowd of acquaintances, come to pay the last debt of respect to the deceased, filled the Rostovs’ hired lodgings. All those acquaintances, who had so often dined and danced in his house, and had so often laughed at his expense, were saying now with the same inward feeling of contrition and self-reproach, as though seeking to justify themselves: ‘‘Yes, whatever he may have been, he was a splendid man. One doesn’t meet such men nowadays … And who has not his weaknesses?…’’

It was precisely when the count’s fortunes were so irretrievably embroiled that he could not conceive how, in another year, it would end, that he suddenly died.

Nikolay was with the Russian army in Paris when the news of his father’s death reached him. He at once applied for his discharge, and without waiting for it, obtained leave and went to Moscow. Within a month after the count’s death the financial position had been made perfectly clear, astounding every one by the immense sum of various petty debts, the existence of which no one had suspected. The debts were more than double the assets of the estate.

The friends and relations advised Nikolay to refuse to accept his inheritance. But Nikolay looked on such a refusal as a slur on the honoured memory of his father; and so he would not hear of such a course, and accepted the inheritance with the obligation of paying the debts.

The creditors, who had so long been silent, held in check during the old count’s lifetime by the vague but powerful influence of his easy good-nature, all beset Nikolay at once. There seemed, as so often happens, a sort of rivalry among them, which should get paid first; and the very people, such as Mitenka and others, who held promissory notes, not received in discharge of debts, but as presents, were now the most importunate of the creditors. They would give Nikolay no peace and no respite, and those who had shown pity for the old man, who was responsible for their losses (if they really had lost money by him), were now ruthless in their persecution of the young heir, who was obviously guiltless as far as they were concerned, and had voluntarily undertaken to pay them.

Not one of the plans that Nikolay resorted to was successful: the estate was sold by auction at half its value, and half the debts remained still unpaid. Nikolay accepted a loan of thirty thousand roubles offered him by his brother-in-law Bezuhov; and paid that portion of the debts that he recognised as genuine obligations. And to avoid being thrown into prison for the remainder, as the creditors threatened, he once more entered the government service.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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