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PART THREE : Chapter 8

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Towards the end of May, when everything
had been more or less satisfactorily arranged, she
received her husband’s answer to her complaints
of the disorganized state of things in the country. 
He wrote begging her forgiveness for not having thought
of everything before, and promised to come down at
the first chance.  This chance did not present
itself, and till the beginning of June Darya Alexandrovna
stayed alone in the country.

On the Sunday in St. Peter’s
week Darya Alexandrovna drove to mass for all her
children to take the sacrament.  Darya Alexandrovna
in her intimate, philosophical talks with her sister,
her mother, and her friends very often astonished them
by the freedom of her views in regard to religion. 
She had a strange religion of transmigration of souls
all her own, in which she had firm faith, troubling
herself little about the dogmas of the Church. 
But in her family she was strict in carrying out all
that was required by the Church ­and not
merely in order to set an example, but with all her
heart in it.  The fact that the children had
not been at the sacrament for nearly a year worried
her extremely, and with the full approval and sympathy
of Marya Philimonovna she decided that this should
take place now in the summer.

For several days before, Darya Alexandrovna
was busily deliberating on how to dress all the children. 
Frocks were made or altered and washed, seams and
flounces were let out, buttons were sewn on, and ribbons
got ready.  One dress, Tanya’s, which the
English governess had undertaken, cost Darya Alexandrovna
much loss of temper.  The English governess in
altering it had made the seams in the wrong place,
had taken up the sleeves too much, and altogether
spoilt the dress.  It was so narrow on Tanya’s
shoulders that it was quite painful to look at her. 
But Marya Philimonovna had the happy thought of putting
in gussets, and adding a little shoulder-cape. 
The dress was set right, but there was nearly a quarrel
with the English governess.  On the morning,
however, all was happily arranged, and towards ten
o’clock ­the time at which they had
asked the priest to wait for them for the mass ­the
children in their new dresses, with beaming faces,
stood on the step before the carriage waiting for
their mother.

To the carriage, instead of the restive
Raven, they had harnessed, thanks to the representations
of Marya Philimonovna, the bailiff’s horse,
Brownie, and Darya Alexandrovna, delayed by anxiety
over her own attire, came out and got in, dressed in
a white muslin gown.

Darya Alexandrovna had done her hair,
and dressed with care and excitement.  In the
old days she had dressed for her own sake to look
pretty and be admired.  Later on, as she got older,
dress became more and more distasteful to her. 
She saw that she was losing her good looks. 
But now she began to feel pleasure and interest in
dress again.  Now she did not dress for her own
sake, not for the sake of her own beauty, but simply
that as the mother of those exquisite creatures she
might not spoil the general effect.  And looking
at herself for the last time in the looking-glass
she was satisfied with herself.  She looked nice. 
Not nice as she would have wished to look nice in old
days at a ball, but nice for the object which she
now had in view.

In the church there was no one but
the peasants, the servants and their women-folk. 
But Darya Alexandrovna saw, or fancied she saw, the
sensation produced by her children and her.  The
children were not only beautiful to look at in their
smart little dresses, but they were charming in the
way they behaved.  Aliosha, it is true, did not
stand quite correctly; he kept turning round, trying
to look at his little jacket from behind; but all
the same he was wonderfully sweet.  Tanya behaved
like a grownup person, and looked after the little
ones.  And the smallest, Lily, was bewitching
in her naïve astonishment at everything, and it was
difficult not to smile when, after taking the sacrament,
she said in English, “Please, some more.”

On the way home the children felt
that something solemn had happened, and were very
sedate.

Everything went happily at home too;
but at lunch Grisha began whistling, and, what was
worse, was disobedient to the English governess, and
was forbidden to have any tart.  Darya Alexandrovna
would not have let things go so far on such a day
had she been present; but she had to support the English
governess’s authority, and she upheld her decision
that Grisha should have no tart.  This rather
spoiled the general good humor.  Grisha cried,
declaring that Nikolinka had whistled too, and he
was not punished, and that he wasn’t crying for
the tart ­he didn’t care ­but
at being unjustly treated.  This was really too
tragic, and Darya Alexandrovna made up her mind to
persuade the English governess to forgive Grisha,
and she went to speak to her.  But on the way,
as she passed the drawing room, she beheld a scene,
filling her heart with such pleasure that the tears
came into her eyes, and she forgave the delinquent
herself.

The culprit was sitting at the window
in the corner of the drawing room; beside him was
standing Tanya with a plate.  On the pretext
of wanting to give some dinner to her dolls, she had
asked the governess’s permission to take her
share of tart to the nursery, and had taken it instead
to her brother.  While still weeping over the
injustice of his punishment, he was eating the tart,
and kept saying through his sobs, “Eat yourself;
let’s eat it together…together.”

Tanya had at first been under the
influence of her pity for Grisha, then of a sense
of her noble action, and tears were standing in her
eyes too; but she did not refuse, and ate her share.

On catching sight of their mother
they were dismayed, but, looking into her face, they
saw they were not doing wrong.  They burst out
laughing, and, with their mouths full of tart, they
began wiping their smiling lips with their hands, and
smearing their radiant faces all over with tears and
jam.

“Mercy!  Your new white
frock!  Tanya!  Grisha!” said their
mother, trying to save the frock, but with tears in
her eyes, smiling a blissful, rapturous smile.

The new frocks were taken off, and
orders were given for the little girls to have their
blouses put on, and the boys their old jackets, and
the wagonette to be harnessed; with Brownie, to the
bailiff’s annoyance, again in the shafts, to
drive out for mushroom picking and bathing. 
A roar of delighted shrieks arose in the nursery,
and never ceased till they had set off for the bathing-place.

They gathered a whole basketful of
mushrooms; even Lily found a birch mushroom. 
It had always happened before that Miss Hoole found
them and pointed them out to her; but this time she
found a big one quite of herself, and there was a
general scream of delight, “Lily has found a
mushroom!”

Then they reached the river, put the
horses under the birch trees, and went to the bathing-place. 
The coachman, Terenty, fastened the horses, who kept
whisking away the flies, to a tree, and, treading
down the grass, lay down in the shade of a birch and
smoked his shag, while the never-ceasing shrieks of
delight of the children floated across to him from
the bathing-place.

Though it was hard work to look after
all the children and restrain their wild pranks, though
it was difficult too to keep in one’s head and
not mix up all the stockings, little breeches, and
shoes for the different legs, and to undo and to do
up again all the tapes and buttons, Darya Alexandrovna,
who had always liked bathing herself, and believed
it to be very good for the children, enjoyed nothing
so much as bathing with all the children.  To
go over all those fat little legs, pulling on their
stockings, to take in her arms and dip those little
naked bodies, and to hear their screams of delight
and alarm, to see the breathless faces with wide-open,
scared, and happy eyes of all her splashing cherubs,
was a great pleasure to her.

When half the children had been dressed,
some peasant women in holiday dress, out picking herbs,
came up to the bathing-shed and stopped shyly. 
Marya Philimonovna called one of them and handed
her a sheet and a shirt that had dropped into the water
for her to dry them, and Darya Alexandrovna began
to talk to the women.  At first they laughed behind
their hands and did not understand her questions,
but soon they grew bolder and began to talk, winning
Darya Alexandrovna’s heart at once by the genuine
admiration of the children that they showed.

“My, what a beauty! as white
as sugar,” said one, admiring Tanitchka, and
shaking her head; “but thin…”

“Yes, she has been ill.”

“And so they’ve been bathing you too,”
said another to the baby.

“No; he’s only three months
old,” answered Darya Alexandrovna with pride.

“You don’t say so!”

“And have you any children?”

“I’ve had four; I’ve
two living ­a boy and a girl.  I weaned
her last carnival.”

“How old is she?”

“Why, two years old.”

“Why did you nurse her so long?”

“It’s our custom; for three fasts…”

And the conversation became most interesting
to Darya Alexandrovna.  What sort of time did
she have?  What was the matter with the boy? 
Where was her husband?  Did it often happen?

Darya Alexandrovna felt disinclined
to leave the peasant women, so interesting to her
was their conversation, so completely identical were
all their interests.  What pleased her most of
all was that she saw clearly what all the women admired
more than anything was her having so many children,
and such fine ones.  The peasant women even made
Darya Alexandrovna laugh, and offended the English
governess, because she was the cause of the laughter
she did not understand.  One of the younger women
kept staring at the Englishwoman, who was dressing
after all the rest, and when she put on her third
petticoat she could not refrain from the remark, “My,
she keeps putting on and putting on, and she’ll
never have done!” she said, and they all went
off into roars.

 

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