On August 17th, Rostov, Ilyin, and Lavrushka go to Bogucharovo in search of hay. The estate is right between the Russian rear guard and the French vanguard. The young men are in good moods. They don’t know anything about Bogucharovo, but they hope to find some pretty girls there. Lavrushka tells them stories about Napoleon, and they race each other on their horses, joking around. Nikolai has no idea that Bogucharovo belongs to his sister’s ex-fiancé. They approach a barn surrounded by muzhiks. They also see two women and a man walking towards the group from the manor house.
The surprising appearance of Rostov and his friends on the Bolkonsky estate shows how close to ordinary Russian life the war has gotten. The young men’s carefree moods—they have nothing on their minds but provisions and girls— contrast with the drama that’s ongoing at Bogucharovo.
Alpatych approach Rostov. Alpatych leads Rostov a little distance from the drunken, singing muzhiks so they can talk privately. He explains that the muzhiks are threatening to unharness the horses so that the mistress cannot leave. Princess Marya’s attempt to reason with the muzhiks backfired, and even Dron has gone over to their side. When Princess Marya saw the hussars approaching just now, she feared they were Frenchmen.
The mutinous peasants are now sabotaging Princess Marya’s retreat. Princess Marya’s situation is dire, as she could easily find herself vulnerable to enemy pillaging or worse.
When Rostov sees Princess Marya’s bright eyes and listens to her trembling account of events, he finds something romantic in the moment. When she mentions her father’s death, tears fill Rostov’s eyes. He bows to her and promises to settle her problems. Princess Marya is touched by his respectful attitude but quickly leaves the room, overcome with tears.
Though he doesn’t yet realize there’s a personal connection between their families, Nikolai’s natural gallantry and honor rise to the surface when he hears Marya’s plight.
When Rostov rejoins Ilyin and Lavrushka, he’s in a much different mood. He walks toward the village with clenched fists, muttering about brigands. Alpatych runs after him, saying it’s best not to stir up the peasants with no military backup available. Rostov ignores him. In the meantime, the muzhiks have begun arguing among themselves. When one of them steps forward to challenge Rostov, Rostov immediately punches him and orders him bound. He has Dron’s hands tied, too, and orders the rest back to their homes. They hurriedly obey, and two hours later, the carts are being loaded for departure from Bogucharovo.
Nikolai quickly succeeds in subduing the angry peasants, showing that when he has an objective—especially when motivated by his sense of honor—he isn’t to be trifled with. Marya’s retreat from Bogucharovo is soon underway.
Rostov keeps his distance from Princess Marya and rides with her as far as the inn of Yankovo. Only then does he kiss her hand. He blushes at her thanks and insists he’s done nothing, but Marya is radiant with gratitude, believing he’s saved her from both the rebel muzhiks and the French. Not only that, he’s kind and sympathetic. Strangely, after Nikolai leaves, Princess Marya wonders if she loves him. When Rostov rejoins his squadron, they tease him about his future bride. Rostov responds angrily, precisely because he’s wondering the same thing. He likes Marya—and her wealth would solve his family’s problems. Yet he made Sonya a promise.
Though Nikolai and Marya’s meeting was brief, they saw each other at their best in those moments—Marya’s bright-eyed earnestness and Nikolai’s eagerness to be of service in a matter of honor. This accounts for their immediate mutual fondness—Tolstoy associates real love with the clarity of seeing people as they really are. However, the novel has also established that love and marriage are two different things, and Nikolai is committed elsewhere.