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 grown-up 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.