On August 30th, Pierre returns to Moscow. He immediately runs into Count Rastopchin’s adjutant who says Pierre must go to the Count’s at once. At Rastopchin’s, Pierre finds a crowd of officials. They all know that Moscow is about to fall into French hands, and they’ve come to ask Rastopchin how to avoid blame. An adjutant shows Pierre a new poster. The poster tells the populace to remain calm—the prince is going to confront the French and will eventually summon the people to defend Moscow with pitchforks. The same adjutant mentions that he’s heard of Pierre’s “family troubles.” Pierre doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
With a French invasion of Moscow imminent, the main concern of most powerful people is to avoid the consequences for themselves, whether blame from their fellow citizens or enemy oppression. Perpetually out of step with society, however, Pierre has other things on his mind. He doesn’t realize that Moscow is full of rumors about his failed marriage.
Pierre is called into Rastopchin’s study. Rastopchin sternly asks him if he’s one of those Masons who wants to ruin Russia. Pierre admits to being a Mason, and Rastopchin warns him to avoid Masons like Klyucharev who’ve been accused of supporting France. Pierre leaves Rastopchin’s study in anger.
Klyucharev was a Moscow postmaster and Mason who, though innocent, got in trouble with Rastopchin for supposedly colluding in the distribution of Napoleon’s proclamations. Having just risked his life on the battlefield, Pierre is affronted by Rastopchin’s accusation that he’s unpatriotic.
At home that evening, Pierre reads Hélène’s letter, but he cannot make sense of it and collapses into bed. The next morning, his butler informs him that Count Rastopchin has sent a police official to see whether Pierre is still there. Pierre immediately gets dressed and goes out the back door.
Pierre can’t transition smoothly back into Moscow life. He’s surrounded by demands that don’t make sense to him—at this point, he can’t even accept his wife’s request for a divorce—and he has no opportunity to make sense of what he’s just experienced at Borodino.
The Rostovs stay in Moscow until September 1st. Now that Petya, too, has joined the army, the Countess is constantly fearful. The Count, in an effort to calm his wife’s fears, has Petya transferred into Count Bezukhov’s regiment, which is currently gathered outside Moscow. When this youngest, most mischievous son is in danger, the Countess feels that she loves him most of all her children. When Petya finally arrives on August 28th, he’s uncomfortable with his mother’s doting and treats her coldly, preferring Natasha’s company.
The Countess’s world revolves around her family’s wellbeing, and the Count lives to make the Countess happy. The Countess is most devoted to whichever one of her children is most vulnerable at a given time. Having two enlisted sons is particularly catastrophic to her.
The last days of August are chaotic, as citizens leave Moscow on carts piled with possessions, and thousands of wounded Borodino veterans are brought into the city at the same time. Wild, contradictory rumors circulate, and nobody knows for sure what’s happening in the war. Yet everyone instinctively senses that catastrophe is about to befall Moscow and that they should escape while they can.
The war affects soldiers and ordinary citizens equally, and their interests literally collide in the panicked city; the cultural heart of Russia is under threat, adding to the overall disorientation.
In the bustle surrounding Petya’s visit, Sonya is the only Rostov who deals with the practical details of leaving. Yet she feels depressed about Nikolai’s recent letter, in which he spoke of Princess Marya. The Countess is happy about this development, claiming she always predicted that Nikolai would marry Marya Bolkonsky. From a rational standpoint, Sonya agrees that a wealthy marriage is the only way for the Rostovs to resolve their money problems. But she feels bitter about it.
As usual, Sonya sacrificially cares for the rest of the Rostov family—this while grieving the fact that it looks like her relationship with Nikolai won’t work out after all. As the dependent cousin, her happiness is dispensable.
Petya and Natasha, on the other hand, don’t help with packing. Instead they spend their time laughing together and running through the house like children. Petya is happy because army service has turned him from a boy into a man (at least that’s what everyone says) and he knows there will be battle in Moscow any day; Natasha is happy because she is finally well, and because the rumors of war are exhilarating for any young person.
As things turn out, this is Petya and Natasha’s last chance to just be the children of the family. They’ll both be disillusioned soon enough—Petya from his boyish enthusiasm for war and Natasha from her naïve exhilaration.
On the last day of August, the Rostovs’ house is in disarray. Natasha is sitting on the floor of her bedroom, looking at the dress she’d worn to her first Petersburg ball. She’s ashamed to not be helping with the preparations, but she’s unable to do anything halfheartedly, and her heart isn’t in packing. She’s distracted from her thoughts by the commotion of a huge parade of wounded soldiers moving through the streets. She runs outside and, seeing the pale face of a soldier, asks the major if the wounded can stay at the Rostovs’ house. He says yes. Natasha and the Rostovs’ old housekeeper, Mavra Kuzminishna, begin inviting wounded soldiers to stop in their courtyard.
Natasha can only do things wholeheartedly, and at her best, she’s generous. These traits lead her to the fateful decision to open the Rostovs’ home to suffering veterans who have nowhere else to go.
Mavra Kuzminishna reminds Natasha that she’d better ask for permission, so she goes inside and, in a rush, asks the Countess—who’s drowsy from a headache—if the wounded can lodge there. Both she and the Count, who’s come home with bad news about the abandonment of Moscow, absentmindedly agree to Natasha’s request. At dinner, Petya excitedly talks about the battle that’s expected tomorrow. The countess begs her husband to take them away from Moscow as quickly as possible so that Petya won’t fight.
The count and countess are both somewhat oblivious to the immediate impact of war on Moscow, their thoughts are focused on escape, while the children are both eager to be right in the thick of events. For both Natasha and Petya, however, the war—both housing soldiers and dubious rumors of battle—isn’t so much a flesh-and-blood reality as an exciting diversion.
When Countess Rostov hears that there are drunken riots in the streets, the family starts packing more hastily. Once Natasha gets into the spirit of things, she suddenly takes charge, repacking things more efficiently and leaving unnecessary things aside. Before long, the servants are looking to her for direction, and even the Count doesn’t protest.
Natasha goes from avoiding preparations to overseeing the family’s evacuation. As usual, Count Rostov is ready to avoid unpleasant realities by ceding responsibility to someone else.
That night, while the rest of the household is asleep, Mavra Kuzminishna admits another wounded soldier at the gate. The soldier is traveling in a closed vehicle with a doctor following, so he seems important. The man, whose outlook isn’t good, turns out to be Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.
Prince Andrei’s arrival creates great dramatic irony. Natasha’s hospitality has literally opened the door to an unforeseen reunion.