One night when the old countess, in nightcap and dressing jacket, without her false curls, and with her poor little knob of hair showing under her white cotton cap, knelt sighing and groaning on a rug and bowing to the ground in prayer, her door creaked and Natásha, also in a dressing jacket with slippers on her bare feet and her hair in curlpapers, ran in. The countess—her prayerful mood dispelled—looked round and frowned. She was finishing her last prayer: “Can it be that this couch will be my grave?” Natásha, flushed and eager, seeing her mother in prayer, suddenly checked her rush, half sat down, and unconsciously put out her tongue as if chiding herself. Seeing that her mother was still praying she ran on tiptoe to the bed and, rapidly slipping one little foot against the other, pushed off her slippers and jumped onto the bed the countess had feared might become her grave. This couch was high, with a feather bed and five pillows each smaller than the one below. Natásha jumped on it, sank into the feather bed, rolled over to the wall, and began snuggling up the bedclothes as she settled down, raising her knees to her chin, kicking out and laughing almost inaudibly, now covering herself up head and all, and now peeping at her mother. The countess finished her prayers and came to the bed with a stern face, but seeing, that Natásha’s head was covered, she smiled in her kind, weak way.
“Now then, now then!” said she.
“Mamma, can we have a talk? Yes?” said Natásha. “Now, just one on your throat and another... that’ll do!” And seizing her mother round the neck, she kissed her on the throat. In her behavior to her mother Natásha seemed rough, but she was so sensitive and tactful that however she clasped her mother she always managed to do it without hurting her or making her feel uncomfortable or displeased.
“Well, what is it tonight?” said the mother, having arranged her pillows and waited until Natásha, after turning over a couple of times, had settled down beside her under the quilt, spread out her arms, and assumed a serious expression.
These visits of Natásha’s at night before the count returned from his club were one of the greatest pleasures of both mother, and daughter.
“What is it tonight?—But I have to tell you...”
Natásha put her hand on her mother’s mouth.
“About Borís... I know,” she said seriously; “that’s what I have come about. Don’t say it—I know. No, do tell me!” and she removed her hand. “Tell me, Mamma! He’s nice?”
“Natásha, you are sixteen. At your age I was married. You say Borís is nice. He is very nice, and I love him like a son. But what then?... What are you thinking about? You have quite turned his head, I can see that....”
As she said this the countess looked round at her daughter. Natásha was lying looking steadily straight before her at one of the mahogany sphinxes carved on the corners of the bedstead, so that the countess only saw her daughter’s face in profile. That face struck her by its peculiarly serious and concentrated expression.
Natásha was listening and considering.
“Well, what then?” said she.
“You have quite turned his head, and why? What do you want of him? You know you can’t marry him.”
“Why not?” said Natásha, without changing her position.
“Because he is young, because he is poor, because he is a relation... and because you yourself don’t love him.”
“How do you know?”
“I know. It is not right, darling!”
“But if I want to...” said Natásha.
“Leave off talking nonsense,” said the countess.
“But if I want to...”
“Natásha, I am in earnest...”
Natásha did not let her finish. She drew the countess’ large hand to her, kissed it on the back and then on the palm, then again turned it over and began kissing first one knuckle, then the space between the knuckles, then the next knuckle, whispering, “January, February, March, April, May. Speak, Mamma, why don’t you say anything? Speak!” said she, turning to her mother, who was tenderly gazing at her daughter and in that contemplation seemed to have forgotten all she had wished to say.
“It won’t do, my love! Not everyone will understand this friendship dating from your childish days, and to see him so intimate with you may injure you in the eyes of other young men who visit us, and above all it torments him for nothing. He may already have found a suitable and wealthy match, and now he’s half crazy.”
“Crazy?” repeated Natásha.
“I’ll tell you some things about myself. I had a cousin...”
“I know! Cyril Matvéich... but he is old.”
“He was not always old. But this is what I’ll do, Natásha, I’ll have a talk with Borís. He need not come so often....”
“Why not, if he likes to?”
“Because I know it will end in nothing....”
“How can you know? No, Mamma, don’t speak to him! What nonsense!” said Natásha in the tone of one being deprived of her property. “Well, I won’t marry, but let him come if he enjoys it and I enjoy it.” Natásha smiled and looked at her mother. “Not to marry, but just so,” she added.
“How so, my pet?”
“Just so. There’s no need for me to marry him. But... just so.”
“Just so, just so,” repeated the countess, and shaking all over, she went off into a good humored, unexpected, elderly laugh.
“Don’t laugh, stop!” cried Natásha. “You’re shaking the whole bed! You’re awfully like me, just such another giggler.... Wait...” and she seized the countess’ hands and kissed a knuckle of the little finger, saying, “June,” and continued, kissing, “July, August,” on the other hand. “But, Mamma, is he very much in love? What do you think? Was anybody ever so much in love with you? And he’s very nice, very, very nice. Only not quite my taste—he is so narrow, like the dining-room clock.... Don’t you understand? Narrow, you know—gray, light gray...”
“What rubbish you’re talking!” said the countess.
Natásha continued: “Don’t you really understand? Nicholas would understand.... Bezúkhov, now, is blue, dark-blue and red, and he is square.”
“You flirt with him too,” said the countess, laughing.
“No, he is a Freemason, I have found out. He is fine, dark-blue and red.... How can I explain it to you?”
“Little countess!” the count’s voice called from behind the door. “You’re not asleep?” Natásha jumped up, snatched up her slippers, and ran barefoot to her own room.
It was a long time before she could sleep. She kept thinking that no one could understand all that she understood and all there was in her.
“Sónya?” she thought, glancing at that curled-up, sleeping little kitten with her enormous plait of hair. “No, how could she? She’s virtuous. She fell in love with Nicholas and does not wish to know anything more. Even Mamma does not understand. It is wonderful how clever I am and how... charming she is,” she went on, speaking of herself in the third person, and imagining it was some very wise man—the wisest and best of men—who was saying it of her. “There is everything, everything in her,” continued this man. “She is unusually intelligent, charming... and then she is pretty, uncommonly pretty, and agile—she swims and rides splendidly... and her voice! One can really say it’s a wonderful voice!”
She hummed a scrap from her favorite opera by Cherubini, threw herself on her bed, laughed at the pleasant thought that she would immediately fall asleep, called Dunyásha the maid to put out the candle, and before Dunyásha had left the room had already passed into yet another happier world of dreams, where everything was as light and beautiful as in reality, and even more so because it was different.
Next day the countess called Borís aside and had a talk with him, after which he ceased coming to the Rostóvs’.
On the thirty-first of December, New Year’s Eve, 1809 - 10 an old grandee of Catherine’s day was giving a ball and midnight supper. The diplomatic corps and the Emperor himself were to be present.
The grandee’s well-known mansion on the English Quay glittered with innumerable lights. Police were stationed at the brightly lit entrance which was carpeted with red baize, and not only gendarmes but dozens of police officers and even the police master himself stood at the porch. Carriages kept driving away and fresh ones arriving, with red-liveried footmen and footmen in plumed hats. From the carriages emerged men wearing uniforms, stars, and ribbons, while ladies in satin and ermine cautiously descended the carriage steps which were let down for them with a clatter, and then walked hurriedly and noiselessly over the baize at the entrance.
Almost every time a new carriage drove up a whisper ran through the crowd and caps were doffed.
“The Emperor?... No, a minister... prince... ambassador. Don’t you see the plumes?...” was whispered among the crowd.
One person, better dressed than the rest, seemed to know everyone and mentioned by name the greatest dignitaries of the day.
A third of the visitors had already arrived, but the Rostóvs, who were to be present, were still hurrying to get dressed.
There had been many discussions and preparations for this ball in the Rostóv family, many fears that the invitation would not arrive, that the dresses would not be ready, or that something would not be arranged as it should be.
Márya Ignátevna Perónskaya, a thin and shallow maid of honor at the court of the Dowager Empress, who was a friend and relation of the countess and piloted the provincial Rostóvs in Petersburg high society, was to accompany them to the ball.
They were to call for her at her house in the Taurida Gardens at ten o’clock, but it was already five minutes to ten, and the girls were not yet dressed.
Natásha was going to her first grand ball. She had got up at eight that morning and had been in a fever of excitement and activity all day. All her powers since morning had been concentrated on ensuring that they all—she herself, Mamma, and Sónya—should be as well dressed as possible. Sónya and her mother put themselves entirely in her hands. The countess was to wear a claret-colored velvet dress, and the two girls white gauze over pink silk slips, with roses on their bodices and their hair dressed à la grecque.
Everything essential had already been done; feet, hands, necks, and ears washed, perfumed, and powdered, as befits a ball; the openwork silk stockings and white satin shoes with ribbons were already on; the hairdressing was almost done. Sónya was finishing dressing and so was the countess, but Natásha, who had bustled about helping them all, was behindhand. She was still sitting before a looking-glass with a dressing jacket thrown over her slender shoulders. Sónya stood ready dressed in the middle of the room and, pressing the head of a pin till it hurt her dainty finger, was fixing on a last ribbon that squeaked as the pin went through it.
“That’s not the way, that’s not the way, Sónya!” cried Natásha turning her head and clutching with both hands at her hair which the maid who was dressing it had not time to release. “That bow is not right. Come here!”
Sónya sat down and Natásha pinned the ribbon on differently.
“Allow me, Miss! I can’t do it like that,” said the maid who was holding Natásha’s hair.
“Oh, dear! Well then, wait. That’s right, Sónya.”
“Aren’t you ready? It is nearly ten,” came the countess’ voice.
“Directly! Directly! And you, Mamma?”
“I have only my cap to pin on.”
“Don’t do it without me!” called Natásha. “You won’t do it right.”
“But it’s already ten.”
They had decided to be at the ball by half-past ten, and Natásha had still to get dressed and they had to call at the Taurida Gardens.
When her hair was done, Natásha, in her short petticoat from under which her dancing shoes showed, and in her mother’s dressing jacket, ran up to Sónya, scrutinized her, and then ran to her mother. Turning her mother’s head this way and that, she fastened on the cap and, hurriedly kissing her gray hair, ran back to the maids who were turning up the hem of her skirt.
The cause of the delay was Natásha’s skirt, which was too long. Two maids were turning up the hem and hurriedly biting off the ends of thread. A third with pins in her mouth was running about between the countess and Sónya, and a fourth held the whole of the gossamer garment up high on one uplifted hand.
“Mávra, quicker, darling!”
“Give me my thimble, Miss, from there...”
“Whenever will you be ready?” asked the count coming to the door. “Here is some scent. Perónskaya must be tired of waiting.”
“It’s ready, Miss,” said the maid, holding up the shortened gauze dress with two fingers, and blowing and shaking something off it, as if by this to express a consciousness of the airiness and purity of what she held.
Natásha began putting on the dress.
“In a minute! In a minute! Don’t come in, Papa!” she cried to her father as he opened the door—speaking from under the filmy skirt which still covered her whole face.
Sónya slammed the door to. A minute later they let the count in. He was wearing a blue swallow-tail coat, shoes and stockings, and was perfumed and his hair pomaded.
“Oh, Papa! how nice you look! Charming!” cried Natásha, as she stood in the middle of the room smoothing out the folds of the gauze.
“If you please, Miss! allow me,” said the maid, who on her knees was pulling the skirt straight and shifting the pins from one side of her mouth to the other with her tongue.
“Say what you like,” exclaimed Sónya, in a despairing voice as she looked at Natásha, “say what you like, it’s still too long.”
Natásha stepped back to look at herself in the pier glass. The dress was too long.
“Really, madam, it is not at all too long,” said Mávra, crawling on her knees after her young lady.
“Well, if it’s too long we’ll tack it up... we’ll tack it up in one minute,” said the resolute Dunyásha taking a needle that was stuck on the front of her little shawl and, still kneeling on the floor, set to work once more.
At that moment, with soft steps, the countess came in shyly, in her cap and velvet gown.
“Oo-oo, my beauty!” exclaimed the count, “she looks better than any of you!”
He would have embraced her but, blushing, she stepped aside fearing to be rumpled.
“Mamma, your cap, more to this side,” said Natásha. “I’ll arrange it,” and she rushed forward so that the maids who were tacking up her skirt could not move fast enough and a piece of gauze was torn off.
“Oh goodness! What has happened? Really it was not my fault!”
“Never mind, I’ll run it up, it won’t show,” said Dunyásha.
“What a beauty—a very queen!” said the nurse as she came to the door. “And Sónya! They are lovely!”
At a quarter past ten they at last got into their carriages and started. But they had still to call at the Taurida Gardens.
Perónskaya was quite ready. In spite of her age and plainness she had gone through the same process as the Rostóvs, but with less flurry—for to her it was a matter of routine. Her ugly old body was washed, perfumed, and powdered in just the same way. She had washed behind her ears just as carefully, and when she entered her drawing room in her yellow dress, wearing her badge as maid of honor, her old lady’s maid was as full of rapturous admiration as the Rostóvs’ servants had been.
She praised the Rostóvs’ toilets. They praised her taste and toilet, and at eleven o’clock, careful of their coiffures and dresses, they settled themselves in their carriages and drove off.
Natásha had not had a moment free since early morning and had not once had time to think of what lay before her.
In the damp chill air and crowded closeness of the swaying carriage, she for the first time vividly imagined what was in store for her there at the ball, in those brightly lighted rooms—with music, flowers, dances, the Emperor, and all the brilliant young people of Petersburg. The prospect was so splendid that she hardly believed it would come true, so out of keeping was it with the chill darkness and closeness of the carriage. She understood all that awaited her only when, after stepping over the red baize at the entrance, she entered the hall, took off her fur cloak, and, beside Sónya and in front of her mother, mounted the brightly illuminated stairs between the flowers. Only then did she remember how she must behave at a ball, and tried to assume the majestic air she considered indispensable for a girl on such an occasion. But, fortunately for her, she felt her eyes growing misty, she saw nothing clearly, her pulse beat a hundred to the minute, and the blood throbbed at her heart. She could not assume that pose, which would have made her ridiculous, and she moved on almost fainting from excitement and trying with all her might to conceal it. And this was the very attitude that became her best. Before and behind them other visitors were entering, also talking in low tones and wearing ball dresses. The mirrors on the landing reflected ladies in white, pale-blue, and pink dresses, with diamonds and pearls on their bare necks and arms.
Natásha looked in the mirrors and could not distinguish her reflection from the others. All was blended into one brilliant procession. On entering the ballroom the regular hum of voices, footsteps, and greetings deafened Natásha, and the light and glitter dazzled her still more. The host and hostess, who had already been standing at the door for half an hour repeating the same words to the various arrivals, “Charmé de vous voir,” * greeted the Rostóvs and Perónskaya in the same manner.
The two girls in their white dresses, each with a rose in her black hair, both curtsied in the same way, but the hostess’ eye involuntarily rested longer on the slim Natásha. She looked at her and gave her alone a special smile in addition to her usual smile as hostess. Looking at her she may have recalled the golden, irrecoverable days of her own girlhood and her own first ball. The host also followed Natásha with his eyes and asked the count which was his daughter.
“Charming!” said he, kissing the tips of his fingers.
In the ballroom guests stood crowding at the entrance doors awaiting the Emperor. The countess took up a position in one of the front rows of that crowd. Natásha heard and felt that several people were asking about her and looking at her. She realized that those noticing her liked her, and this observation helped to calm her.
“There are some like ourselves and some worse,” she thought.
Perónskaya was pointing out to the countess the most important people at the ball.
“That is the Dutch ambassador, do you see? That gray-haired man,” she said, indicating an old man with a profusion of silver-gray curly hair, who was surrounded by ladies laughing at something he said.
“Ah, here she is, the Queen of Petersburg, Countess Bezúkhova,” said Perónskaya, indicating Hélène who had just entered. “How lovely! She is quite equal to Márya Antónovna. See how the men, young and old, pay court to her. Beautiful and clever... they say Prince —— is quite mad about her. But see, those two, though not good-looking, are even more run after.”
She pointed to a lady who was crossing the room followed by a very plain daughter.
“She is a splendid match, a millionairess,” said Perónskaya. “And look, here come her suitors.”
“That is Bezúkhova’s brother, Anatole Kurágin,” she said, indicating a handsome officer of the Horse Guards who passed by them with head erect, looking at something over the heads of the ladies. “He’s handsome, isn’t he? I hear they will marry him to that rich girl. But your cousin, Drubetskóy, is also very attentive to her. They say she has millions. Oh yes, that’s the French ambassador himself!” she replied to the countess’ inquiry about Caulaincourt. “Looks as if he were a king! All the same, the French are charming, very charming. No one more charming in society. Ah, here she is! Yes, she is still the most beautiful of them all, our Márya Antónovna! And how simply she is dressed! Lovely! And that stout one in spectacles is the universal Freemason,” she went on, indicating Pierre. “Put him beside his wife and he looks a regular buffoon!”
Pierre, swaying his stout body, advanced, making way through the crowd and nodding to right and left as casually and good-naturedly as if he were passing through a crowd at a fair. He pushed through, evidently looking for someone.
Natásha looked joyfully at the familiar face of Pierre, “the buffoon,” as Perónskaya had called him, and knew he was looking for them, and for her in particular. He had promised to be at the ball and introduce partners to her.
But before he reached them Pierre stopped beside a very handsome, dark man of middle height, and in a white uniform, who stood by a window talking to a tall man wearing stars and a ribbon. Natásha at once recognized the shorter and younger man in the white uniform: it was Bolkónski, who seemed to her to have grown much younger, happier, and better-looking.
“There’s someone else we know—Bolkónski, do you see, Mamma?” said Natásha, pointing out Prince Andrew. “You remember, he stayed a night with us at Otrádnoe.”
“Oh, you know him?” said Perónskaya. “I can’t bear him. Il fait à présent la pluie et le beau temps. * He’s too proud for anything. Takes after his father. And he’s hand in glove with Speránski, writing some project or other. Just look how he treats the ladies! There’s one talking to him and he has turned away,” she said, pointing at him. “I’d give it to him if he treated me as he does those ladies.”
Suddenly everybody stirred, began talking, and pressed forward and then back, and between the two rows, which separated, the Emperor entered to the sounds of music that had immediately struck up. Behind him walked his host and hostess. He walked in rapidly, bowing to right and left as if anxious to get the first moments of the reception over. The band played the polonaise in vogue at that time on account of the words that had been set to it, beginning: “Alexander, Elisaveta, all our hearts you ravish quite...” The Emperor passed on to the drawing room, the crowd made a rush for the doors, and several persons with excited faces hurried there and back again. Then the crowd hastily retired from the drawing room door, at which the Emperor reappeared talking to the hostess. A young man, looking distraught, pounced down on the ladies, asking them to move aside. Some ladies, with faces betraying complete forgetfulness of all the rules of decorum, pushed forward to the detriment of their toilets. The men began to choose partners and take their places for the polonaise.
Everyone moved back, and the Emperor came smiling out of the drawing room leading his hostess by the hand but not keeping time to the music. The host followed with Márya Antónovna Narýshkina; then came ambassadors, ministers, and various generals, whom Perónskaya diligently named. More than half the ladies already had partners and were taking up, or preparing to take up, their positions for the polonaise. Natásha felt that she would be left with her mother and Sónya among a minority of women who crowded near the wall, not having been invited to dance. She stood with her slender arms hanging down, her scarcely defined bosom rising and falling regularly, and with bated breath and glittering, frightened eyes gazed straight before her, evidently prepared for the height of joy or misery. She was not concerned about the Emperor or any of those great people whom Perónskaya was pointing out—she had but one thought: “Is it possible no one will ask me, that I shall not be among the first to dance? Is it possible that not one of all these men will notice me? They do not even seem to see me, or if they do they look as if they were saying, ‘Ah, she’s not the one I’m after, so it’s not worth looking at her!’ No, it’s impossible,” she thought. “They must know how I long to dance, how splendidly I dance, and how they would enjoy dancing with me.”
The strains of the polonaise, which had continued for a considerable time, had begun to sound like a sad reminiscence to Natásha’s ears. She wanted to cry. Perónskaya had left them. The count was at the other end of the room. She and the countess and Sónya were standing by themselves as in the depths of a forest amid that crowd of strangers, with no one interested in them and not wanted by anyone. Prince Andrew with a lady passed by, evidently not recognizing them. The handsome Anatole was smilingly talking to a partner on his arm and looked at Natásha as one looks at a wall. Borís passed them twice and each time turned away. Berg and his wife, who were not dancing, came up to them.
This family gathering seemed humiliating to Natásha—as if there were nowhere else for the family to talk but here at the ball. She did not listen to or look at Véra, who was telling her something about her own green dress.
At last the Emperor stopped beside his last partner (he had danced with three) and the music ceased. A worried aide-de-camp ran up to the Rostóvs requesting them to stand farther back, though as it was they were already close to the wall, and from the gallery resounded the distinct, precise, enticingly rhythmical strains of a waltz. The Emperor looked smilingly down the room. A minute passed but no one had yet begun dancing. An aide-de-camp, the Master of Ceremonies, went up to Countess Bezúkhova and asked her to dance. She smilingly raised her hand and laid it on his shoulder without looking at him. The aide-de-camp, an adept in his art, grasping his partner firmly round her waist, with confident deliberation started smoothly, gliding first round the edge of the circle, then at the corner of the room he caught Hélène’s left hand and turned her, the only sound audible, apart from the ever-quickening music, being the rhythmic click of the spurs on his rapid, agile feet, while at every third beat his partner’s velvet dress spread out and seemed to flash as she whirled round. Natásha gazed at them and was ready to cry because it was not she who was dancing that first turn of the waltz.
Prince Andrew, in the white uniform of a cavalry colonel, wearing stockings and dancing shoes, stood looking animated and bright in the front row of the circle not far from the Rostóvs. Baron Firhoff was talking to him about the first sitting of the Council of State to be held next day. Prince Andrew, as one closely connected with Speránski and participating in the work of the legislative commission, could give reliable information about that sitting, concerning which various rumors were current. But not listening to what Firhoff was saying, he was gazing now at the sovereign and now at the men intending to dance who had not yet gathered courage to enter the circle.
Prince Andrew was watching these men abashed by the Emperor’s presence, and the women who were breathlessly longing to be asked to dance.
Pierre came up to him and caught him by the arm.
“You always dance. I have a protégée, the young Rostóva, here. Ask her,” he said.
“Where is she?” asked Bolkónski. “Excuse me!” he added, turning to the baron, “we will finish this conversation elsewhere—at a ball one must dance.” He stepped forward in the direction Pierre indicated. The despairing, dejected expression of Natásha’s face caught his eye. He recognized her, guessed her feelings, saw that it was her début, remembered her conversation at the window, and with an expression of pleasure on his face approached Countess Rostóva.
“Allow me to introduce you to my daughter,” said the countess, with heightened color.
“I have the pleasure of being already acquainted, if the countess remembers me,” said Prince Andrew with a low and courteous bow quite belying Perónskaya’s remarks about his rudeness, and approaching Natásha he held out his arm to grasp her waist before he had completed his invitation. He asked her to waltz. That tremulous expression on Natásha’s face, prepared either for despair or rapture, suddenly brightened into a happy, grateful, childlike smile.
“I have long been waiting for you,” that frightened happy little girl seemed to say by the smile that replaced the threatened tears, as she raised her hand to Prince Andrew’s shoulder. They were the second couple to enter the circle. Prince Andrew was one of the best dancers of his day and Natásha danced exquisitely. Her little feet in their white satin dancing shoes did their work swiftly, lightly, and independently of herself, while her face beamed with ecstatic happiness. Her slender bare arms and neck were not beautiful—compared to Hélène’s her shoulders looked thin and her bosom undeveloped. But Hélène seemed, as it were, hardened by a varnish left by the thousands of looks that had scanned her person, while Natásha was like a girl exposed for the first time, who would have felt very much ashamed had she not been assured that this was absolutely necessary.
Prince Andrew liked dancing, and wishing to escape as quickly as possible from the political and clever talk which everyone addressed to him, wishing also to break up the circle of restraint he disliked, caused by the Emperor’s presence, he danced, and had chosen Natásha because Pierre pointed her out to him and because she was the first pretty girl who caught his eye; but scarcely had he embraced that slender supple figure and felt her stirring so close to him and smiling so near him than the wine of her charm rose to his head, and he felt himself revived and rejuvenated when after leaving her he stood breathing deeply and watching the other dancers.
After Prince Andrew, Borís came up to ask Natásha for a dance, and then the aide-de-camp who had opened the ball, and several other young men, so that, flushed and happy, and passing on her superfluous partners to Sónya, she did not cease dancing all the evening. She noticed and saw nothing of what occupied everyone else. Not only did she fail to notice that the Emperor talked a long time with the French ambassador, and how particularly gracious he was to a certain lady, or that Prince So-and-so and So-and-so did and said this and that, and that Hélène had great success and was honored by the special attention of So-and-so, but she did not even see the Emperor, and only noticed that he had gone because the ball became livelier after his departure. For one of the merry cotillions before supper Prince Andrew was again her partner. He reminded her of their first encounter in the Otrádnoe avenue, and how she had been unable to sleep that moonlight night, and told her how he had involuntarily overheard her. Natásha blushed at that recollection and tried to excuse herself, as if there had been something to be ashamed of in what Prince Andrew had overheard.
Like all men who have grown up in society, Prince Andrew liked meeting someone there not of the conventional society stamp. And such was Natásha, with her surprise, her delight, her shyness, and even her mistakes in speaking French. With her he behaved with special care and tenderness, sitting beside her and talking of the simplest and most unimportant matters; he admired her shy grace. In the middle of the cotillion, having completed one of the figures, Natásha, still out of breath, was returning to her seat when another dancer chose her. She was tired and panting and evidently thought of declining, but immediately put her hand gaily on the man’s shoulder, smiling at Prince Andrew.
“I’d be glad to sit beside you and rest: I’m tired; but you see how they keep asking me, and I’m glad of it, I’m happy and I love everybody, and you and I understand it all,” and much, much more was said in her smile. When her partner left her Natásha ran across the room to choose two ladies for the figure.
“If she goes to her cousin first and then to another lady, she will be my wife,” said Prince Andrew to himself quite to his own surprise, as he watched her. She did go first to her cousin.
“What rubbish sometimes enters one’s head!” thought Prince Andrew, “but what is certain is that that girl is so charming, so original, that she won’t be dancing here a month before she will be married.... Such as she are rare here,” he thought, as Natásha, readjusting a rose that was slipping on her bodice, settled herself beside him.
When the cotillion was over the old count in his blue coat came up to the dancers. He invited Prince Andrew to come and see them, and asked his daughter whether she was enjoying herself. Natásha did not answer at once but only looked up with a smile that said reproachfully: “How can you ask such a question?”
“I have never enjoyed myself so much before!” she said, and Prince Andrew noticed how her thin arms rose quickly as if to embrace her father and instantly dropped again. Natásha was happier than she had ever been in her life. She was at that height of bliss when one becomes completely kind and good and does not believe in the possibility of evil, unhappiness, or sorrow.
At that ball Pierre for the first time felt humiliated by the position his wife occupied in court circles. He was gloomy and absent-minded. A deep furrow ran across his forehead, and standing by a window he stared over his spectacles seeing no one.
On her way to supper Natásha passed him.
Pierre’s gloomy, unhappy look struck her. She stopped in front of him. She wished to help him, to bestow on him the superabundance of her own happiness.
“How delightful it is, Count!” said she. “Isn’t it?”
Pierre smiled absent-mindedly, evidently not grasping what she said.
“Yes, I am very glad,” he said.
“How can people be dissatisfied with anything?” thought Natásha. “Especially such a capital fellow as Bezúkhov!” In Natásha’s eyes all the people at the ball alike were good, kind, and splendid people, loving one another; none of them capable of injuring another—and so they ought all to be happy.
Next day Prince Andrew thought of the ball, but his mind did not dwell on it long. “Yes, it was a very brilliant ball,” and then... “Yes, that little Rostóva is very charming. There’s something fresh, original, un-Petersburg-like about her that distinguishes her.” That was all he thought about yesterday’s ball, and after his morning tea he set to work.
But either from fatigue or want of sleep he was ill-disposed for work and could get nothing done. He kept criticizing his own work, as he often did, and was glad when he heard someone coming.
The visitor was Bítski, who served on various committees, frequented all the societies in Petersburg, and a passionate devotee of the new ideas and of Speránski, and a diligent Petersburg newsmonger—one of those men who choose their opinions like their clothes according to the fashion, but who for that very reason appear to be the warmest partisans. Hardly had he got rid of his hat before he ran into Prince Andrew’s room with a preoccupied air and at once began talking. He had just heard particulars of that morning’s sitting of the Council of State opened by the Emperor, and he spoke of it enthusiastically. The Emperor’s speech had been extraordinary. It had been a speech such as only constitutional monarchs deliver. “The Sovereign plainly said that the Council and Senate are estates of the realm, he said that the government must rest not on authority but on secure bases. The Emperor said that the fiscal system must be reorganized and the accounts published,” recounted Bítski, emphasizing certain words and opening his eyes significantly.
“Ah, yes! Today’s events mark an epoch, the greatest epoch in our history,” he concluded.
Prince Andrew listened to the account of the opening of the Council of State, which he had so impatiently awaited and to which he had attached such importance, and was surprised that this event, now that it had taken place, did not affect him, and even seemed quite insignificant. He listened with quiet irony to Bítski’s enthusiastic account of it. A very simple thought occurred to him: “What does it matter to me or to Bítski what the Emperor was pleased to say at the Council? Can all that make me any happier or better?”
And this simple reflection suddenly destroyed all the interest Prince Andrew had felt in the impending reforms. He was going to dine that evening at Speránski’s, “with only a few friends,” as the host had said when inviting him. The prospect of that dinner in the intimate home circle of the man he so admired had greatly interested Prince Andrew, especially as he had not yet seen Speránski in his domestic surroundings, but now he felt disinclined to go to it.
At the appointed hour, however, he entered the modest house Speránski owned in the Taurida Gardens. In the parqueted dining room this small house, remarkable for its extreme cleanliness (suggesting that of a monastery), Prince Andrew, who was rather late, found the friendly gathering of Speránski’s intimate acquaintances already assembled at five o’clock. There were no ladies present except Speránski’s little daughter (long-faced like her father) and her governess. The other guests were Gervais, Magnítski, and Stolýpin. While still in the anteroom Prince Andrew heard loud voices and a ringing staccato laugh—a laugh such as one hears on the stage. Someone—it sounded like Speránski—was distinctly ejaculating ha-ha-ha. Prince Andrew had never before heard Speránski’s famous laugh, and this ringing, high-pitched laughter from a statesman made a strange impression on him.
He entered the dining room. The whole company were standing between two windows at a small table laid with hors-d’oeuvres. Speránski, wearing a gray swallow-tail coat with a star on the breast, and evidently still the same waistcoat and high white stock he had worn at the meeting of the Council of State, stood at the table with a beaming countenance. His guests surrounded him. Magnítski, addressing himself to Speránski, was relating an anecdote, and Speránski was laughing in advance at what Magnítski was going to say. When Prince Andrew entered the room Magnítski’s words were again crowned by laughter. Stolýpin gave a deep bass guffaw as he munched a piece of bread and cheese. Gervais laughed softly with a hissing chuckle, and Speránski in a high-pitched staccato manner.
Still laughing, Speránski held out his soft white hand to Prince Andrew.
“Very pleased to see you, Prince,” he said. “One moment...” he went on, turning to Magnítski and interrupting his story. “We have agreed that this is a dinner for recreation, with not a word about business!” and turning again to the narrator he began to laugh afresh.
Prince Andrew looked at the laughing Speránski with astonishment, regret, and disillusionment. It seemed to him that this was not Speránski but someone else. Everything that had formerly appeared mysterious and fascinating in Speránski suddenly became plain and unattractive.
At dinner the conversation did not cease for a moment and seemed to consist of the contents of a book of funny anecdotes. Before Magnítski had finished his story someone else was anxious to relate something still funnier. Most of the anecdotes, if not relating to the state service, related to people in the service. It seemed that in this company the insignificance of those people was so definitely accepted that the only possible attitude toward them was one of good humored ridicule. Speránski related how at the Council that morning a deaf dignitary, when asked his opinion, replied that he thought so too. Gervais gave a long account of an official revision, remarkable for the stupidity of everybody concerned. Stolýpin, stuttering, broke into the conversation and began excitedly talking of the abuses that existed under the former order of things—threatening to give a serious turn to the conversation. Magnítski starting quizzing Stolýpin about his vehemence. Gervais intervened with a joke, and the talk reverted to its former lively tone.
Evidently Speránski liked to rest after his labors and find amusement in a circle of friends, and his guests, understanding his wish, tried to enliven him and amuse themselves. But their gaiety seemed to Prince Andrew mirthless and tiresome. Speránski’s high-pitched voice struck him unpleasantly, and the incessant laughter grated on him like a false note. Prince Andrew did not laugh and feared that he would be a damper on the spirits of the company, but no one took any notice of his being out of harmony with the general mood. They all seemed very gay.
He tried several times to join in the conversation, but his remarks were tossed aside each time like a cork thrown out of the water, and he could not jest with them.
There was nothing wrong or unseemly in what they said, it was witty and might have been funny, but it lacked just that something which is the salt of mirth, and they were not even aware that such a thing existed.
After dinner Speránski’s daughter and her governess rose. He patted the little girl with his white hand and kissed her. And that gesture, too, seemed unnatural to Prince Andrew.
The men remained at table over their port—English fashion. In the midst of a conversation that was started about Napoleon’s Spanish affairs, which they all agreed in approving, Prince Andrew began to express a contrary opinion. Speránski smiled and, with an evident wish to prevent the conversation from taking an unpleasant course, told a story that had no connection with the previous conversation. For a few moments all were silent.
Having sat some time at table, Speránski corked a bottle of wine and, remarking, “Nowadays good wine rides in a carriage and pair,” passed it to the servant and got up. All rose and continuing to talk loudly went into the drawing room. Two letters brought by a courier were handed to Speránski and he took them to his study. As soon as he had left the room the general merriment stopped and the guests began to converse sensibly and quietly with one another.
“Now for the recitation!” said Speránski on returning from his study. “A wonderful talent!” he said to Prince Andrew, and Magnítski immediately assumed a pose and began reciting some humorous verses in French which he had composed about various well-known Petersburg people. He was interrupted several times by applause. When the verses were finished Prince Andrew went up to Speránski and took his leave.
“Where are you off to so early?” asked Speránski.
“I promised to go to a reception.”
They said no more. Prince Andrew looked closely into those mirrorlike, impenetrable eyes, and felt that it had been ridiculous of him to have expected anything from Speránski and from any of his own activities connected with him, or ever to have attributed importance to what Speránski was doing. That precise, mirthless laughter rang in Prince Andrew’s ears long after he had left the house.
When he reached home Prince Andrew began thinking of his life in Petersburg during those last four months as if it were something new. He recalled his exertions and solicitations, and the history of his project of army reform, which had been accepted for consideration and which they were trying to pass over in silence simply because another, a very poor one, had already been prepared and submitted to the Emperor. He thought of the meetings of a committee of which Berg was a member. He remembered how carefully and at what length everything relating to form and procedure was discussed at those meetings, and how sedulously and promptly all that related to the gist of the business was evaded. He recalled his labors on the Legal Code, and how painstakingly he had translated the articles of the Roman and French codes into Russian, and he felt ashamed of himself. Then he vividly pictured to himself Boguchárovo, his occupations in the country, his journey to Ryazán; he remembered the peasants and Dron the village elder, and mentally applying to them the Personal Rights he had divided into paragraphs, he felt astonished that he could have spent so much time on such useless work.