Chapter 9

IT was on the eve of St. Nikolay’s day, the 5th of December, 1820. That year Natasha with her husband and children had been staying at Bleak Hills since the beginning of autumn. Pierre was in Petersburg, where he had gone on private business of his own, as he said, for three weeks. He had already been away for six, and was expected home every minute.

On this 5th of December there was also staying with the Rostovs Nikolay’s old friend, the general on half-pay, Vassily Fedorovitch Denisov.

Countess Marya was sitting at the opposite end of the table. As soon as her husband sat down to the table, from the gesture with which he took up his table-napkin and quickly pushed back the tumbler and wineglass set at his place, she knew that he was out of humour, as he sometimes was, particularly before the soup, and when he came straight in to dinner from his work. Countess Marya understood this mood in her husband very well, and when she was herself in a good temper, she used to wait quietly till he had swallowed his soup, and only then began to talk to him and to make him admit that he had no reason to be out of temper. But to-day she totally forgot this principle of hers; she had a miserable sense of his being vexed with her without cause, and she felt wretched. She asked him where he had been. He answered. She asked again whether everything were going well on the estate. He frowned disagreeably at her unnatural tone, and made a hasty reply.

‘‘I was right then,’’ thought Countess Marya, ‘‘and what is he cross with me for?’’ In the tone of his answer she read ill-will towards her and a desire to cut short the conversation. She felt that her words were unnatural; but she could not restrain herself, and asked a few more questions.

The conversation at dinner, thanks to Denisov, soon became general and animated, and she did not say more to her husband. When they rose from table, and according to custom came up to thank the old countess, Countess Marya kissed her husband, offering him her hand, and asked why he was cross with her.

‘‘You always have such strange ideas; I never thought of being cross,’’ he said.

But that word always answered her: Yes, I am angry, and I don’t choose to say.

Nikolay lived on such excellent terms with his wife that even Sonya and the old countess, who from jealousy would have been pleased to see disagreement between them, could find nothing to reproach them with; but there were moments of antagonism even between them. Sometimes, particularly just after their happiest periods, they had a sudden feeling of estrangement and antagonism; that feeling was most frequent during the times when Countess Marya was with child. They happened to be just now at such a period of antagonism.

‘‘Well, messieurs et mesdames,’’ said Nikolay loudly, and with a show of cheerfulness (it seemed to his wife that this was on purpose to mortify her), ‘‘I have been since six o’clock on my legs. To-morrow will be an infliction, so to-day I’ll go and rest.’’ And saying nothing more to Countess Marya, he went off to the little divan-room, and lay down on the sofa.

‘‘That’s how it always is,’’ thought his wife. ‘‘He talks to everybody but not to me. I see, I see that I am repulsive to him, especially in this condition.’’ She looked down at her high waist and then into the looking- glass at her sallow and sunken face, in which the eyes looked bigger than ever.

And everything jarred upon her: Denisov’s shout and guffaw and Natasha’s chatter, and above all the hasty glance Sonya stole at her.

Sonya was always the first excuse Countess Marya pitched on for her irritability.

After sitting a little while with her guests, not understanding a word they were saying, she slipped out and went to the nursery.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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