In the society of the nobility of the province Nikolay was respected but not liked. The local politics of the nobility did not interest him. And in consequence he was looked upon by some people as proud and by others as a fool. In summer his whole time from the spring sowing to the harvest was spent in looking after the land. In the autumn he gave himself up with the same business-like seriousness to hunting, going out for a month or two at a time with his huntsmen, dogs, and horses on hunting expeditions. In the winter he visited their other properties and spent his time in reading, chiefly historical books, on which he spent a certain sum regularly every year. He was forming for himself, as he used to say, a serious library, and he made it a principle to read through every book he bought. He would sit over his book in his study with an important air; and what he had at first undertaken as a duty became an habitual pursuit, which afforded him a special sort of gratification in the feeling that he was engaged in serious study. Except when he went on business to visit their other estates, he spent the winter at home with his family, entering into all the petty cares and interests of the mother and children. With his wife he got on better and better, every day discovering fresh spiritual treasures in her.

From the time of Nikolay’s marriage Sonya had lived in his house. Before their marriage, Nikolay had told his wife all that had passed between him and Sonya, blaming himself and praising her conduct. He begged Princess Marya to be kind and affectionate to his cousin. His wife was fully sensible of the wrong her husband had done his cousin; she felt herself too guilty toward Sonya; she fancied her wealth had influenced Nikolay in his choice, could find no fault in Sonya, and wished to love her. But she could not like her, and often found evil feelings in her soul in regard to her, which she could not overcome.

One day she was talking with her friend Natasha of Sonya and her own injustice towards her.

‘‘Do you know what,’’ said Natasha; ‘‘you have read the Gospel a great deal; there is a passage there that applies exactly to Sonya.’’

‘‘What is it?’’ Countess Marya asked in surprise.

‘‘ ‘To him that hath shall be given, and to him that hath not shall be taken even that that he hath,’ do you remember? She is the one that hath not; why, I don’t know; perhaps she has no egoism. I don’t know; but from her is taken away, and everything has been taken away. I am sometimes awfully sorry for her. I used in old days to want Nikolay to marry her but I always had a sort of presentiment that it would not happen. She is a barren flower, you know, like what one finds among the strawberry flowers. Sometimes I am sorry for her, and sometimes I think she does not feel it as we should have felt it.’’

And although Countess Marya argued with Natasha that those words of the Gospel must not be taken in that sense, looking at Sonya, she agreed with the explanation given by Natasha. It did seem really as though Sonya did not feel her position irksome, and was quite reconciled to her fate as a barren flower. She seemed to be fond not so much of people as of the whole family. Like a cat, she had attached herself not to persons but to the house. She waited on the old countess, petted and spoiled the children, was always ready to perform small services, which she seemed particularly clever at; but all she did was unconsciously taken for granted, without much gratitude.…

The Bleak Hills house had been built up again, but not on the same scale as under the old prince.

The buildings, begun in days of straitened means, were more than simple. The immense mansion on the old stone foundation was of wood, plastered only on the inside. The great rambling house, with its unstained plank floors, was furnished with the simplest rough sofas and chairs and tables made of their own birch-trees by the labor of their serf carpenters. The house was very roomy, with quarters for the house-serfs and accommodation for visitors.

The relations of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys would sometimes come on visits to Bleak Hills with their families, sixteen horses and dozens of servants, and stay for months. And four times a year—on the namedays and birthdays of the master and mistress—as many as a hundred visitors would be put up for a day or two. The rest of the year the regular life of the household went on in unbroken routine,

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