To return to the army, where at the next promotion he would have been colonel, was out of the question, because his mother now clung to her son as her one hold on life. And so in spite of his disinclination to remain in Moscow, in the midst of a circle of acquaintances who had known him in former days, in spite of his distaste for the civil service, he accepted a civilian post in Moscow, and taking off his beloved uniform, established himself in a little lodging in Sivtsevoy Vrazhok with his mother and Sonya.

Natasha and Pierre were living at this period in Petersburg, and had no very distinct idea of Nikolay’s position. After having borrowed money from his brother-in-law, Nikolay did his utmost to conceal his poverty-stricken position from him. His situation was rendered the more difficult, as with his twelve hundred roubles of salary he had not only to keep himself, Sonya, and his mother, but to keep his mother in such a way that she would not be sensible of their poverty. The countess could not conceive of life being possible without the luxurious surroundings to which she had been accustomed from her childhood; and without any idea of its being difficult for her son, she was continually insisting on having a carriage, which they had not, to send for a friend, or an expensive delicacy for herself, or wine for her son, or money to buy a present, as a surprise for Natasha, for Sonya, or for Nikolay himself.

Sonya kept house, waited on her aunt, read aloud to her, bore with her caprices and her secret dislike, and helped Nikolay to conceal from the old countess their poverty-stricken position. Nikolay felt himself under a debt of gratitude to Sonya that he could never repay, for all she did for his mother; he admired her patience and devotion, but he tried to keep himself aloof from her.

In his heart he seemed to feel a sort of grudge against her for being too perfect, and for there being no fault to find with her. She had all the good qualities for which people are valued, but little of what would have made him love her. And he felt that the more he valued her the less he loved her. He had taken her at her word when she had written to him giving him his freedom, and now he behaved with her as though what had passed between them had been long, long ago forgotten, and could never under any circumstances be renewed.

Nikolay’s position was becoming worse and worse. His hope of laying by something out of his salary proved to be an idle dream. Far from saving anything, he was even running up some small debts to satisfy his mother’s exigencies. There seemed no means of escape from his position. The idea of marrying a rich heiress, which his female relatives suggested, was repulsive to him. The only other solution of his difficulties—the death of his mother—never entered his head. He desired nothing, and hoped for nothing; and at the bottom of his heart he took a stern and gloomy satisfaction in the unrepining endurance of his position. He tried to avoid his old acquaintances, with their commiseration and their mortifying offers of assistance; shunned every sort of entertainment and amusement; and even at home did nothing but play patience with his mother, pace silently about the room, and smoke pipe after pipe. He seemed studiously to maintain in himself that gloomy temper, which alone enabled him to bear his position.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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