On the third day after Christmas Nicholas dined at home, a thing he had rarely done of late. It was a grand farewell dinner, as he and Denisov were leaving to join their regiment after Epiphany. About twenty people were present, including Dolokhov and Denisov.
Never had love been so much in the air, and never had the amorous atmosphere made itself so strongly felt in the Rostovs' house as at this holiday time. "Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here," said the spirit of the place.
Nicholas, having as usual exhausted two pairs of horses, without visiting all the places he meant to go to and where he had been invited, returned home just before dinner. As soon as he entered he noticed and felt the tension of the amorous air in the house, and also noticed a curious embarrassment among some of those present. Sonya, Dolokhov, and the old countess were especially disturbed, and to a lesser degree Natasha. Nicholas understood that something must have happened between Sonya and Dolokhov before dinner, and with the kindly sensitiveness natural to him was very gentle and wary with them both at dinner. On that same evening there was to be one of the balls that Iogel (the dancing master) gave for his pupils during the holidays.
"Nicholas, will you come to Iogel's? Please do!" said Natasha. "He asked you, and Vasili Dmitrich* is also going."
"Where would I not go at the countess' command!" said Denisov, who at the Rostovs' had jocularly assumed the role of Natasha's knight. "I'm even weady to dance the pas de chale."
"If I have time," answered Nicholas. "But I promised the Arkharovs; they have a party."
"And you?" he asked Dolokhov, but as soon as he had asked the question he noticed that it should not have been put.
"Perhaps," coldly and angrily replied Dolokhov, glancing at Sonya, and, scowling, he gave Nicholas just such a look as he had given Pierre at the Club dinner.
"There is something up," thought Nicholas, and he was further confirmed in this conclusion by the fact that Dolokhov left immediately after dinner. He called Natasha and asked her what was the matter.
"And I was looking for you," said Natasha running out to him. "I told you, but you would not believe it," she said triumphantly. "He has proposed to Sonya!"
Little as Nicholas had occupied himself with Sonya of late, something seemed to give way within him at this news. Dolokhov was a suitable and in some respects a brilliant match for the dowerless, orphan girl. From the point of view of the old countess and of society it was out of the question for her to refuse him. And therefore Nicholas' first feeling on hearing the news was one of anger with Sonya.... He tried to say, "That's capital; of course she'll forget her childish promises and accept the offer," but before he had time to say it Natasha began again.
"And fancy! she refused him quite definitely!" adding, after a pause, "she told him she loved another."
"Yes, my Sonya could not have done otherwise!" thought Nicholas.
"Much as Mamma pressed her, she refused, and I know she won't change once she has said..."
"And Mamma pressed her!" said Nicholas reproachfully.
"Yes," said Natasha. "Do you know, Nicholas--don't be angry--but I know you will not marry her. I know, heaven knows how, but I know for certain that you won't marry her."
"Now you don't know that at all!" said Nicholas. "But I must talk to her. What a darling Sonya is!" he added with a smile.
"Ah, she is indeed a darling! I'll send her to you."
And Natasha kissed her brother and ran away.
A minute later Sonya came in with a frightened, guilty, and scared look. Nicholas went up to her and kissed her hand. This was the first time since his return that they had talked alone and about their love.
"Sophie," he began, timidly at first and then more and more boldly, "if you wish to refuse one who is not only a brilliant and advantageous match but a splendid, noble fellow... he is my friend..."
Sonya interrupted him.
"I have already refused," she said hurriedly.
"If you are refusing for my sake, I am afraid that I..."
Sonya again interrupted. She gave him an imploring, frightened look.
"Nicholas, don't tell me that!" she said.
"No, but I must. It may be arrogant of me, but still it is best to say it. If you refuse him on my account, I must tell you the whole truth. I love you, and I think I love you more than anyone else...."
"That is enough for me," said Sonya, blushing.
"No, but I have been in love a thousand times and shall fall in love again, though for no one have I such a feeling of friendship, confidence, and love as I have for you. Then I am young. Mamma does not wish it. In a word, I make no promise. And I beg you to consider Dolokhov's offer," he said, articulating his friend's name with difficulty.
"Don't say that to me! I want nothing. I love you as a brother and always shall, and I want nothing more."
"You are an angel: I am not worthy of you, but I am afraid of misleading you."
And Nicholas again kissed her hand.