A Year of War and Peace+ Day 14
In which Countess Rostóva shares the wealth and we glimpse a moment of deep friendship
Welcome! New readers may find an introduction to A Year of War and Peace+ and a table of contents here. Please consider following me on Medium. I publish weekly essays on diverse topics, but mostly on books and film. Finally, feel free to share with your friends.
War and Peace — Book One, Part One
After Anna Mikháylovna had driven off with her son to visit Count Cyril Vladímirovich Bezúkhov, Countess Rostóva sat for a long time all alone applying her handkerchief to her eyes. At last she rang. “What is the matter with you, my dear?” she said crossly to the maid who kept her waiting some minutes. “Don’t you wish to serve me? Then I’ll find you another place.”
The countess was upset by her friend’s sorrow and humiliating poverty, and was therefore out of sorts, a state of mind which with her always found expression in calling her maid “my dear” and speaking to her with exaggerated politeness.
“I am very sorry, ma’am,” answered the maid.
“Ask the count to come to me.”
The count came waddling in to see his wife with a rather guilty look as usual.
“Well, little countess? What a sauté of game au madère we are to have, my dear! I tasted it. The thousand rubles I paid for Tarás were not ill-spent. He is worth it!”
He sat down by his wife, his elbows on his knees and his hands ruffling his gray hair.
“What are your commands, little countess?”
“You see, my dear… What’s that mess?” she said, pointing to his waistcoat. “It’s the sauté, most likely,” she added with a smile. “Well, you see, Count, I want some money.”
Her face became sad.
“Oh, little countess!” … and the count began bustling to get out his pocketbook.
“I want a great deal, Count! I want five hundred rubles,” and taking out her cambric handkerchief she began wiping her husband’s waistcoat.
“Yes, immediately, immediately! Hey, who’s there?” he called out in a tone only used by persons who are certain that those they call will rush to obey the summons. “Send Dmítri to me!”
Dmítri, a man of good family who had been brought up in the count’s house and now managed all his affairs, stepped softly into the room.
“This is what I want, my dear fellow,” said the count to the deferential young man who had entered. “Bring me…” he reflected a moment, “yes, bring me seven hundred rubles, yes! But mind, don’t bring me such tattered and dirty notes as last time, but nice clean ones for the countess.”
“Yes, Dmítri, clean ones, please,” said the countess, sighing deeply.
“When would you like them, your excellency?” asked Dmítri. “Allow me to inform you… But, don’t be uneasy,” he added, noticing that the count was beginning to breathe heavily and quickly which was always a sign of approaching anger. “I was forgetting… Do you wish it brought at once?”
“Yes, yes; just so! Bring it. Give it to the countess.”
“What a treasure that Dmítri is,” added the count with a smile when the young man had departed. “There is never any ‘impossible’ with him. That’s a thing I hate! Everything is possible.”
“Ah, money, Count, money! How much sorrow it causes in the world,” said the countess. “But I am in great need of this sum.”
“You, my little countess, are a notorious spendthrift,” said the count, and having kissed his wife’s hand he went back to his study.
When Anna Mikháylovna returned from Count Bezúkhov’s the money, all in clean notes, was lying ready under a handkerchief on the countess’ little table, and Anna Mikháylovna noticed that something was agitating her.
“Well, my dear?” asked the countess.
“Oh, what a terrible state he is in! One would not know him, he is so ill! I was only there a few moments and hardly said a word…”
“Annette, for heaven’s sake don’t refuse me,” the countess began, with a blush that looked very strange on her thin, dignified, elderly face, and she took the money from under the handkerchief.
Anna Mikháylovna instantly guessed her intention and stooped to be ready to embrace the countess at the appropriate moment.
“This is for Borís from me, for his outfit.”
Anna Mikháylovna was already embracing her and weeping. The countess wept too. They wept because they were friends, and because they were kindhearted, and because they — friends from childhood — had to think about such a base thing as money, and because their youth was over…. But those tears were pleasant to them both.
A Year of War and Peace — Day 14
Meanwhile, back at the Rostóvs, the old Countess is crying. The old Countess is crying in contemplation of the plight of her cherished friend, Anna Mikháylovna, who has been reduced to rushing about from city to city in an effort to procure for her son the money she cannot supply for his upkeep herself. Something must be done to help. The Old Countess calls in her husband.
Count Rostóv enters — “waddles over” as Tolstoy has it — and immediately declares that the thousand rubles he spent on the chef that evening was entirely worth it. Funny he should mention money though because money is exactly what the Countess needs from him. Though it saddens the fool that he’ll soon be parted with even more of his money before the night is finished, he agrees to supply his wife with the cash. He summons Dmítri, the man in charge of Rostóv affairs, and demands seven hundred rubles. At first Dmítri hesitates, wishing to discuss personal finance with the Count but the Old Count is no Suze Orman and Dmítri probably just wants to keep his job rather than do the right thing so the money is mustered.
Later Anna Mikháylovna returns. The gift is given and the two old friends cry with each other in honor of their friendship: “They wept because they were friends, and because they were kind-hearted, and because they — friends from childhood — had to think about such base things as money, and because their youth was over . . . But those tears were pleasant to them both.”
These are the words Tolstoy uses to close out today’s chapter. I’ve always liked them. He leaves the reader with a nice portrait of friendship. Here we have a friend in need and a friend with means (kind of, we’ll learn more later). The one helps the other not out of a sense of duty but, rather, because, as Michel Montaigne writes of friendship, their “souls are mingled and confounded in a universal blending that they efface the seam which joins them together so that it cannot be found.”
Seeing a rich man in the company of a poor one, he asked, ‘Who are these people who are associating together?’, and when someone replied, ‘They’re friends’, he said, ‘And how is it, then, that one is wretchedly poor and the other exceptionally rich?’
Diogenes the Cynic, On Friendship and Enmity