temper. I couldn’t help it. He is such a child. I don’t know what would become of him if Natasha didn’t keep him at her apron-strings. Can you imagine what he went to Petersburg about?…They have made a…’’

‘‘Yes, I know,’’ said Countess Marya. ‘‘Natasha told me.’’

‘‘Oh, well, you know, then,’’ Nikolay went on, getting hot at the mere recollection of the discussion. ‘‘He wants to persuade me that it’s the duty of every honest man to work against the government when one’s sworn allegiance and duty.…I am sorry you were not there. As it was, they all fell upon me, Denisov, and Natasha, too.…Natasha is too amusing. We know she twists him round her little finger, but when it comes to discussion—she hasn’t an idea to call her own—she simply repeats his words,’’ added Nikolay, yielding to that irresistible impulse that tempts one to criticise one’s nearest and dearest. Nikolay was unaware that what he was saying of Natasha might be said word for word of himself in relation to his wife.

‘‘Yes, I have noticed that,’’ said Countess Marya.

‘‘When I told him that duty and sworn allegiance come before everything, he began arguing God knows what. It was a pity you were not there. What would you have said?’’

‘‘To my thinking, you were quite right. I told Natasha so. Pierre says that every one is suffering, and being ill-treated and corrupted, and that it’s our duty to help our neighbours. Of course, he is right,’’ said Countess Marya; ‘‘but he forgets that we have other nearer duties, which God Himself has marked out for us, and that we may run risks for ourselves, but not for our children.’’

‘‘Yes, yes, that’s just what I told him,’’ cried Nikolay, who actually fancied he had said just that. ‘‘And they had all their say out about loving one’s neighbour, and Christianity, and all the rest of it, before Nikolinka, who had slipped in there, and was pulling all my things to pieces.’’

‘‘Ah, do you know, Nikolay, I am so often worried about Nikolinka,’’ said Countess Marya. ‘‘He is such an exceptional boy. And I am afraid I neglect him for my own. All of us have our children; we all have our own ties; while he has nobody. He is always alone with his thoughts.’’

‘‘Well, I don’t think you have anything to reproach yourself with on his account. Everything the fondest mother could do for her son you have done, and are doing, for him. And of course I am glad you do. He is a splendid boy, splendid! This evening he was lost in a sort of dream listening to Pierre. And only fancy, we got up to go in to supper. I look; and there he has broken everything on my table to fragments, and he told me of it at once. I have never known him to tell a fib. He’s a splendid boy!’’ repeated Nikolay, who did not in his heart like Nikolinka, but always felt moved to acknowledge that he was a splendid fellow.

‘‘Still I am not the same as a mother,’’ said Countess Marya. ‘‘I feel that it’s not the same, and it worries me. He’s a wonderful boy; but I am awfully afraid for him. Companionship will be good for him.’’

‘‘Oh, well, it’s not for long; next summer I shall take him to Petersburg,’’ said Nikolay. ‘‘Yes, Pierre always was, and always will be, a dreamer,’’ he went on, returning to the discussion in the study, which had evidently worked on his feelings. ‘‘Why, what concern is all that of mine—Araktcheev’s misdoings, and all the rest of it—what concern was it of mine, when at the time of our marriage I had so many debts that they were going to put me in prison, and a mother who couldn’t see it or understand it. And then you, and the children, and my work. It’s not for my own pleasure I am from morning to night looking after the men, or in the counting-house. No, I know I must work to comfort my mother, repay you, and not leave my children in beggary, as I was left myself.’’

Countess Marya wanted to tell him that man does not live by bread alone; that he attached too much importance to this work. But she knew that she must not say this, and that it would be useless. She only took his hand and kissed it. He accepted this gesture on his wife’s part as a sign of assent and approval of his words, and after a few moments of silent thought he went on thinking aloud.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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