Though he was the most absent-minded and forgetful of men, by the help of a list his wife made for him, he had bought everything, not forgetting a single commission from his mother-in-law or brother-in- law, nor the presents of a dress for Madame Byelov and toys for his nephews.

In the early days of his married life his wife’s expectation that he should forget nothing he had undertaken to buy had struck him as strange, and he had been impressed by her serious chagrin when after his first absence he had returned having forgotten everything. But in time he had grown used to this. Knowing that Natasha gave him no commissions on her own account, and for others only asked him to get things when he had himself offered to do so, he now took a childish pleasure, that was a surprise to himself, in those purchases of presents for all the household, and never forgot anything. If he incurred Natasha’s censure now, it was only for buying too much, and paying too much for his purchases. To her other defects in the eyes of the world—good qualities in Pierre’s eyes—her untidiness and negligence, Natasha added that of stinginess.

Ever since Pierre had begun living a home life, involving increased expenses in a large house, he had noticed to his astonishment that he was spending half what he had spent in the past, and that his circumstances, somewhat straitened latterly, especially by his first wife’s debts, were beginning to improve.

Living was much cheaper, because his life was coherent; the most expensive luxury in his former manner of life, that is, the possibility of a complete change in it at any moment, Pierre had not now, and had no desire for. He felt that his manner of life was settled now once for all till death; that to change it was not in his power, and therefore that manner of life was cheaper.

With a beaming, smiling countenance, Pierre was unpacking his purchases.

‘‘Look!’’ he said, unfolding a piece of material like a shopman. Natasha was sitting opposite him with her eldest girl on her knee, and she turned her sparkling eyes from her husband to what he was showing her.

‘‘That’s for Madame Byelov? Splendid.’’ She touched it to feel the goodness of the material. ‘‘It must have been a rouble a yard?’’

Pierre mentioned the price.

‘‘Very dear,’’ said Natasha. ‘‘Well, how pleased the children will be and maman too. Only you shouldn’t have bought me this,’’ she added, unable to suppress a smile, as she admired the gold and pearl comb, of a pattern just then coming into fashion.

‘‘Adèle kept on at me to buy it,’’ said Pierre.

‘‘When shall I wear it?’’ Natasha put it in her coil of hair. ‘‘It will do when I have to bring little Masha out; perhaps they will come in again then. Well, let us go in.’’

And gathering up the presents, they went first into the nursery, and then in to see the countess.

The countess, as her habit was, was sitting playing patience with Madame Byelov when Pierre and Natasha went into the drawing-room with parcels under their arms.

The countess was by now over sixty. Her hair was completely grey, and she wore a cap that surrounded her whole face with a frill. Her face was wrinkled, her upper lip had sunk, and her eyes were dim.

After the deaths of her son and her husband that had followed so quickly on one another, she had felt herself a creature accidentally forgotten in this world, with no object and no interest in life. She ate and drank, slept and lay awake, but she did not live. Life gave her no impressions. She wanted nothing from life but peace, and that peace she could find only in death. But until death came to her she had to go on living— that is, using her vital forces. There was in the highest degree noticeable in her what

  By PanEris using Melati.

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