At the end of January old Count Rostov went to Moscow with Natasha and Sonya. The countess was still unwell and unable to travel but it was impossible to wait for her recovery. Prince Andrew was expected in Moscow any day, the trousseau had to be ordered and the estate near Moscow had to be sold, besides which the opportunity of presenting his future daughter-in-law to old Prince Bolkonski while he was in Moscow could not be missed. The Rostovs' Moscow house had not been heated that winter and, as they had come only for a short time and the countess was not with them, the count decided to stay with Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova, who had long been pressing her hospitality on them.
Late one evening the Rostovs' four sleighs drove into Marya Dmitrievna's courtyard in the old Konyusheny street. Marya Dmitrievna lived alone. She had already married off her daughter, and her sons were all in the service.
She held herself as erect, told everyone her opinion as candidly, loudly, and bluntly as ever, and her whole bearing seemed a reproach to others for any weakness, passion, or temptation--the possibility of which she did not admit. From early in the morning, wearing a dressing jacket, she attended to her household affairs, and then she drove out: on holy days to church and after the service to jails and prisons on affairs of which she never spoke to anyone. On ordinary days, after dressing, she received petitioners of various classes, of whom there were always some. Then she had dinner, a substantial and appetizing meal at which there were always three or four guests; after dinner she played a game of boston, and at night she had the newspapers or a new book read to her while she knitted. She rarely made an exception and went out to pay visits, and then only to the most important persons in the town.
She had not yet gone to bed when the Rostovs arrived and the pulley of the hall door squeaked from the cold as it let in the Rostovs and their servants. Marya Dmitrievna, with her spectacles hanging down on her nose and her head flung back, stood in the hall doorway looking with a stern, grim face at the new arrivals. One might have thought she was angry with the travelers and would immediately turn them out, had she not at the same time been giving careful instructions to the servants for the accommodation of the visitors and their belongings.
"The count's things? Bring them here," she said, pointing to the portmanteaus and not greeting anyone. "The young ladies'? There to the left. Now what are you dawdling for?" she cried to the maids. "Get the samovar ready!... You've grown plumper and prettier," she remarked, drawing Natasha (whose cheeks were glowing from the cold) to her by the hood. "Foo! You are cold! Now take off your things, quick!" she shouted to the count who was going to kiss her hand. "You're half frozen, I'm sure! Bring some rum for tea!... Bonjour, Sonya dear!" she added, turning to Sonya and indicating by this French greeting her slightly contemptuous though affectionate attitude toward her.
When they came in to tea, having taken off their outdoor things and tidied themselves up after their journey, Marya Dmitrievna kissed them all in due order.
"I'm heartily glad you have come and are staying with me. It was high time," she said, giving Natasha a significant look. "The old man is here and his son's expected any day. You'll have to make his acquaintance. But we'll speak of that later on," she added, glancing at Sonya with a look that showed she did not want to speak of it in her presence. "Now listen," she said to the count. "What do you want tomorrow? Whom will you send for? Shinshin?" she crooked one of her fingers. "The sniveling Anna Mikhaylovna? That's two. She's here with her son. The son is getting married! Then Bezukhov, eh? He is here too, with his wife. He ran away from her and she came galloping after him. He dined with me on Wednesday. As for them"--and she pointed to the girls--"tomorrow I'll take them first to the Iberian shrine of the Mother of God, and then we'll drive to the Super-Rogue's. I suppose you'll have everything new. Don't judge by me: sleeves nowadays are this size! The other day young Princess Irina Vasilevna came to see me; she was an awful sight--looked as if she had put two barrels on her arms. You know not a day passes now without some new fashion.... And what have you to do yourself?" she asked the count sternly.
"One thing has come on top of another: her rags to buy, and now a purchaser has turned up for the Moscow estate and for the house. If you will be so kind, I'll fix a time and go down to the estate just for a day, and leave my lassies with you."
"All right. All right. They'll be safe with me, as safe as in Chancery! I'll take them where they must go, scold them a bit, and pet them a bit," said Marya Dmitrievna, touching her goddaughter and favorite, Natasha, on the cheek with her large hand.
Next morning Marya Dmitrievna took the young ladies to the Iberian shrine of the Mother of God and to Madame Suppert-Roguet, who was so afraid of Marya Dmitrievna that she always let her have costumes at a loss merely to get rid of her. Marya Dmitrievna ordered almost the whole trousseau. When they got home she turned everybody out of the room except Nataisha, and then called her pet to her armchair.
"Well, now we'll talk. I congratulate you on your betrothed. You've hooked a fine fellow! I am glad for your sake and I've known him since he was so high." She held her hand a couple of feet from the ground. Natasha blushed happily. "I like him and all his family. Now listen! You know that old Prince Nicholas much dislikes his son's marrying. The old fellow's crotchety! Of course Prince Andrew is not a child and can shift without him, but it's not nice to enter a family against a father's will. One wants to do it peacefully and lovingly. You're a clever girl and you'll know how to manage. Be kind, and use your wits. Then all will be well."
Natasha remained silent, from shyness Marya Dmitrievna supposed, but really because she disliked anyone interfering in what touched her love of Prince Andrew, which seemed to her so apart from all human affairs that no one could understand it. She loved and knew Prince Andrew, he loved her only, and was to come one of these days and take her. She wanted nothing more.
"You see I have known him a long time and am also fond of Mary, your future sister-in-law. 'Husbands' sisters bring up blisters,' but this one wouldn't hurt a fly. She has asked me to bring you two together. Tomorrow you'll go with your father to see her. Be very nice and affectionate to her: you're younger than she. When he comes, he'll find you already know his sister and father and are liked by them. Am I right or not? Won't that be best?"
"Yes, it will," Natasha answered reluctantly.
Next day, by Marya Dmitrievna's advice, Count Rostov took Natasha to call on Prince Nicholas Bolkonski. The count did not set out cheerfully on this visit, at heart he felt afraid. He well remembered the last interview he had had with the old prince at the time of the enrollment, when in reply to an invitation to dinner he had had to listen to an angry reprimand for not having provided his full quota of men. Natasha, on the other hand, having put on her best gown, was in the highest spirits. "They can't help liking me," she thought. "Everybody always has liked me, and I am so willing to do anything they wish, so ready to be fond of him--for being his father--and of her--for being his sister--that there is no reason for them not to like me..."
They drove up to the gloomy old house on the Vozdvizhenka and entered the vestibule.
"Well, the Lord have mercy on us!" said the count, half in jest, half in earnest; but Natasha noticed that her father was flurried on entering the anteroom and inquired timidly and softly whether the prince and princess were at home.
When they had been announced a perturbation was noticeable among the servants. The footman who had gone to announce them was stopped by another in the large hall and they whispered to one another. Then a maidservant ran into the hall and hurriedly said something, mentioning the princess. At last an old, cross looking footman came and announced to the Rostovs that the prince was not receiving, but that the princess begged them to walk up. The first person who came to meet the visitors was Mademoiselle Bourienne. She greeted the father and daughter with special politeness and showed them to the princess' room. The princess, looking excited and nervous, her face flushed in patches, ran in to meet the visitors, treading heavily, and vainly trying to appear cordial and at ease. From the first glance Princess Mary did not like Natasha. She thought her too fashionably dressed, frivolously gay and vain. She did not at all realize that before having seen her future sister-in-law she was prejudiced against her by involuntary envy of her beauty, youth, and happiness, as well as by jealousy of her brother's love for her. Apart from this insuperable antipathy to her, Princess Mary was agitated just then because on the Rostovs' being announced, the old prince had shouted that he did not wish to see them, that Princess Mary might do so if she chose, but they were not to be admitted to him. She had decided to receive them, but feared lest the prince might at any moment indulge in some freak, as he seemed much upset by the Rostovs' visit.
"There, my dear princess, I've brought you my songstress," said the count, bowing and looking round uneasily as if afraid the old prince might appear. "I am so glad you should get to know one another... very sorry the prince is still ailing," and after a few more commonplace remarks he rose. "If you'll allow me to leave my Natasha in your hands for a quarter of an hour, Princess, I'll drive round to see Anna Semenovna, it's quite near in the Dogs' Square, and then I'll come back for her."
The count had devised this diplomatic ruse (as he afterwards told his daughter) to give the future sisters-in-law an opportunity to talk to one another freely, but another motive was to avoid the danger of encountering the old prince, of whom he was afraid. He did not mention this to his daughter, but Natasha noticed her father's nervousness and anxiety and felt mortified by it. She blushed for him, grew still angrier at having blushed, and looked at the princess with a bold and defiant expression which said that she was not afraid of anybody. The princess told the count that she would be delighted, and only begged him to stay longer at Anna Semenovna's, and he departed.
Despite the uneasy glances thrown at her by Princess Mary--who wished to have a tete-a-tete with Natasha--Mademoiselle Bourienne remained in the room and persistently talked about Moscow amusements and theaters. Natasha felt offended by the hesitation she had noticed in the anteroom, by her father's nervousness, and by the unnatural manner of the princess who--she thought--was making a favor of receiving her, and so everything displeased her. She did not like Princess Mary, whom she thought very plain, affected, and dry. Natasha suddenly shrank into herself and involuntarily assumed an offhand air which alienated Princess Mary still more. After five minutes of irksome, constrained conversation, they heard the sound of slippered feet rapidly approaching. Princess Mary looked frightened.
The door opened and the old prince, in a dress, ing gown and a white nightcap, came in.
"Ah, madam!" he began. "Madam, Countess... Countess Rostova, if I am not mistaken... I beg you to excuse me, to excuse me... I did not know, madam. God is my witness, I did not know you had honored us with a visit, and I came in such a costume only to see my daughter. I beg you to excuse me... God is my witness, I didn't know-" he repeated, stressing the word "God" so unnaturally and so unpleasantly that Princess Mary stood with downcast eyes not daring to look either at her father or at Natasha.
Nor did the latter, having risen and curtsied, know what to do. Mademoiselle Bourienne alone smiled agreeably.
"I beg you to excuse me, excuse me! God is my witness, I did not know," muttered the old man, and after looking Natasha over from head to foot he went out.
Mademoiselle Bourienne was the first to recover herself after this apparition and began speaking about the prince's indisposition. Natasha and Princess Mary looked at one another in silence, and the longer they did so without saying what they wanted to say, the greater grew their antipathy to one another.
When the count returned, Natasha was impolitely pleased and hastened to get away: at that moment she hated the stiff, elderly princess, who could place her in such an embarrassing position and had spent half an hour with her without once mentioning Prince Andrew. "I couldn't begin talking about him in the presence of that Frenchwoman," thought Natasha. The same thought was meanwhile tormenting Princess Mary. She knew what she ought to have said to Natasha, but she had been unable to say it because Mademoiselle Bourienne was in the way, and because, without knowing why, she felt it very difficult to speak of the marriage. When the count was already leaving the room, Princess Mary went up hurriedly to Natasha, took her by the hand, and said with a deep sigh:
"Wait, I must..."
Natasha glanced at her ironically without knowing why.
"Dear Natalie," said Princess Mary, "I want you to know that I am glad my brother has found happiness...."
She paused, feeling that she was not telling the truth. Natasha noticed this and guessed its reason.
"I think, Princess, it is not convenient to speak of that now," she said with external dignity and coldness, though she felt the tears choking her.
"What have I said and what have I done?" thought she, as soon as she was out of the room.
They waited a long time for Natasha to come to dinner that day. She sat in her room crying like a child, blowing her nose and sobbing. Sonya stood beside her, kissing her hair.
"Natasha, what is it about?" she asked. "What do they matter to you? It will all pass, Natasha."
"But if you only knew how offensive it was... as if I..."
"Don't talk about it, Natasha. It wasn't your fault so why should you mind? Kiss me," said Sonya.
Natasha raised her head and, kissing her friend on the lips, pressed her wet face against her.
"I can't tell you, I don't know. No one's to blame," said Natasha- "It's my fault. But it all hurts terribly. Oh, why doesn't he come?..."
She came in to dinner with red eyes. Marya Dmitrievna, who knew how the prince had received the Rostovs, pretended not to notice how upset Natasha was and jested resolutely and loudly at table with the count and the other guests.
That evening the Rostovs went to the Opera, for which Marya Dmitrievna had taken a box.
Natasha did not want to go, but could not refuse Marya Dmitrievna's kind offer which was intended expressly for her. When she came ready dressed into the ballroom to await her father, and looking in the large mirror there saw that she was pretty, very pretty, she felt even more sad, but it was a sweet, tender sadness.
"O God, if he were here now I would not behave as I did then, but differently. I would not be silly and afraid of things, I would simply embrace him, cling to him, and make him look at me with those searching inquiring eyes with which he has so often looked at me, and then I would make him laugh as he used to laugh. And his eyes--how I see those eyes!" thought Natasha. "And what do his father and sister matter to me? I love him alone, him, him, with that face and those eyes, with his smile, manly and yet childlike.... No, I had better not think of him; not think of him but forget him, quite forget him for the present. I can't bear this waiting and I shall cry in a minute!" and she turned away from the glass, making an effort not to cry. "And how can Sonya love Nicholas so calmly and quietly and wait so long and so patiently?" thought she, looking at Sonya, who also came in quite ready, with a fan in her hand. "No, she's altogether different. I can't!"
Natasha at that moment felt so softened and tender that it was not enough for her to love and know she was beloved, she wanted now, at once, to embrace the man she loved, to speak and hear from him words of love such as filled her heart. While she sat in the carriage beside her father, pensively watching the lights of the street lamps flickering on the frozen window, she felt still sadder and more in love, and forgot where she was going and with whom. Having fallen into the line of carriages, the Rostovs' carriage drove up to the theater, its wheels squeaking over the snow. Natasha and Sonya, holding up their dresses, jumped out quickly. The count got out helped by the footmen, and, passing among men and women who were entering and the program sellers, they all three went along the corridor to the first row of boxes. Through the closed doors the music was already audible.
"Natasha, your hair!..." whispered Sonya.
An attendant deferentially and quickly slipped before the ladies and opened the door of their box. The music sounded louder and through the door rows of brightly lit boxes in which ladies sat with bare arms and shoulders, and noisy stalls brilliant with uniforms, glittered before their eyes. A lady entering the next box shot a glance of feminine envy at Natasha. The curtain had not yet risen and the overture was being played. Natasha, smoothing her gown, went in with Sonya and sat down, scanning the brilliant tiers of boxes opposite. A sensation she had not experienced for a long time--that of hundreds of eyes looking at her bare arms and neck--suddenly affected her both agreeably and disagreeably and called up a whole crowd of memories, desires and emotions associated with that feeling.
The two remarkably pretty girls, Natasha and Sonya, with Count Rostov who had not been seen in Moscow for a long time, attracted general attention. Moreover, everybody knew vaguely of Natasha's engagement to Prince Andrew, and knew that the Rostovs had lived in the country ever since, and all looked with curiosity at a fiancee who was making one of the best matches in Russia.
Natasha's looks, as everyone told her, had improved in the country, and that evening thanks to her agitation she was particularly pretty. She struck those who saw her by her fullness of life and beauty, combined with her indifference to everything about her. Her black eyes looked at the crowd without seeking anyone, and her delicate arm, bare to above the elbow, lay on the velvet edge of the box, while, evidently unconsciously, she opened and closed her hand in time to the music, crumpling her program. "Look, there's Alenina," said Sonya, "with her mother, isn't it?"
"Dear me, Michael Kirilovich has grown still stouter!" remarked the count.
"Look at our Anna Mikhaylovna--what a headdress she has on!"
"The Karagins, Julie--and Boris with them. One can see at once that they're engaged...."
"Drubetskoy has proposed?"
"Oh yes, I heard it today," said Shinshin, coming into the Rostovs' box.
Natasha looked in the direction in which her father's eyes were turned and saw Julie sitting beside her mother with a happy look on her face and a string of pearls round her thick red neck--which Natasha knew was covered with powder. Behind them, wearing a smile and leaning over with an ear to Julie's mouth, was Boris' handsome smoothly brushed head. He looked the Rostovs from under his brows and said something, smiling, to his betrothed.
"They are talking about us, about me and him!" thought Natasha. "And he no doubt is calming her jealousy of me. They needn't trouble themselves! If only they knew how little I am concerned about any of them."
Behind them sat Anna Mikhaylovna wearing a green headdress and with a happy look of resignation to the will of God on her face. Their box was pervaded by that atmosphere of an affianced couple which Natasha knew so well and liked so much. She turned away and suddenly remembered all that had been so humiliating in her morning's visit.
"What right has he not to wish to receive me into his family? Oh, better not think of it--not till he comes back!" she told herself, and began looking at the faces, some strange and some familiar, in the stalls. In the front, in the very center, leaning back against the orchestra rail, stood Dolokhov in a Persian dress, his curly hair brushed up into a huge shock. He stood in full view of the audience, well aware that he was attracting everyone's attention, yet as much at ease as though he were in his own room. Around him thronged Moscow's most brilliant young men, whom he evidently dominated.
The count, laughing, nudged the blushing Sonya and pointed to her former adorer.
"Do you recognize him?" said he. "And where has he sprung from?" he asked, turning to Shinshin. "Didn't he vanish somewhere?"
"He did," replied Shinshin. "He was in the Caucasus and ran away from there. They say he has been acting as minister to some ruling prince in Persia, where he killed the Shah's brother. Now all the Moscow ladies are mad about him! It's 'Dolokhov the Persian' that does it! We never hear a word but Dolokhov is mentioned. They swear by him, they offer him to you as they would a dish of choice sterlet. Dolokhov and Anatole Kuragin have turned all our ladies' heads."
A tall, beautiful woman with a mass of plaited hair and much exposed plump white shoulders and neck, round which she wore a double string of large pearls, entered the adjoining box rustling her heavy silk dress and took a long time settling into her place.
Natasha involuntarily gazed at that neck, those shoulders, and pearls and coiffure, and admired the beauty of the shoulders and the pearls. While Natasha was fixing her gaze on her for the second time the lady looked round and, meeting the count's eyes, nodded to him and smiled. She was the Countess Bezukhova, Pierre's wife, and the count, who knew everyone in society, leaned over and spoke to her.
"Have you been here long, Countess?" he inquired. "I'll call, I'll call to kiss your hand. I'm here on business and have brought my girls with me. They say Semenova acts marvelously. Count Pierre never used to forget us. Is he here?"
"Yes, he meant to look in," answered Helene, and glanced attentively at Natasha.
Count Rostov resumed his seat.
"Handsome, isn't she?" he whispered to Natasha.
"Wonderful!" answered Natasha. "She's a woman one could easily fall in love with."
Just then the last chords of the overture were heard and the conductor tapped with his stick. Some latecomers took their seats in the stalls, and the curtain rose.
As soon as it rose everyone in the boxes and stalls became silent, and all the men, old and young, in uniform and evening dress, and all the women with gems on their bare flesh, turned their whole attention with eager curiosity to the stage. Natasha too began to look at it.
The floor of the stage consisted of smooth boards, at the sides was some painted cardboard representing trees, and at the back was a cloth stretched over boards. In the center of the stage sat some girls in red bodices and white skirts. One very fat girl in a white silk dress sat apart on a low bench, to the back of which a piece of green cardboard was glued. They all sang something. When they had finished their song the girl in white went up to the prompter's box and a man with tight silk trousers over his stout legs, and holding a plume and a dagger, went up to her and began singing, waving his arms about.
First the man in the tight trousers sang alone, then she sang, then they both paused while the orchestra played and the man fingered the hand of the girl in white, obviously awaiting the beat to start singing with her. They sang together and everyone in the theater began clapping and shouting, while the man and woman on the stage--who represented lovers--began smiling, spreading out their arms, and bowing.
After her life in the country, and in her present serious mood, all this seemed grotesque and amazing to Natasha. She could not follow the opera nor even listen to the music; she saw only the painted cardboard and the queerly dressed men and women who moved, spoke, and sang so strangely in that brilliant light. She knew what it was all meant to represent, but it was so pretentiously false and unnatural that she first felt ashamed for the actors and then amused at them. She looked at the faces of the audience, seeking in them the same sense of ridicule and perplexity she herself experienced, but they all seemed attentive to what was happening on the stage, and expressed delight which to Natasha seemed feigned. "I suppose it has to be like this!" she thought. She kept looking round in turn at the rows of pomaded heads in the stalls and then at the seminude women in the boxes, especially at Helene in the next box, who--apparently quite unclothed--sat with a quiet tranquil smile, not taking her eyes off the stage. And feeling the bright light that flooded the whole place and the warm air heated by the crowd, Natasha little by little began to pass into a state of intoxication she had not experienced for a long while. She did not realize who and where she was, nor what was going on before her. As she looked and thought, the strangest fancies unexpectedly and disconnectedly passed through her mind: the idea occurred to her of jumping onto the edge of the box and singing the air the actress was singing, then she wished to touch with her fan an old gentleman sitting not far from her, then to lean over to Helene and tickle her.
At a moment when all was quiet before the commencement of a song, a door leading to the stalls on the side nearest the Rostovs' box creaked, and the steps of a belated arrival were heard. "There's Kuragin!" whispered Shinshin. Countess Bezukhova turned smiling to the newcomer, and Natasha, following the direction of that look, saw an exceptionally handsome adjutant approaching their box with a self-assured yet courteous bearing. This was Anatole Kuragin whom she had seen and noticed long ago at the ball in Petersburg. He was now in an adjutant's uniform with one epaulet and a shoulder knot. He moved with a restrained swagger which would have been ridiculous had he not been so good-looking and had his handsome face not worn such an expression of good-humored complacency and gaiety. Though the performance was proceeding, he walked deliberately down the carpeted gangway, his sword and spurs slightly jingling and his handsome perfumed head held high. Having looked at Natasha he approached his sister, laid his well gloved hand on the edge of her box, nodded to her, and leaning forward asked a question, with a motion toward Natasha.
"Mais charmante!" said he, evidently referring to Natasha, who did not exactly hear his words but understood them from the movement of his lips. Then he took his place in the first row of the stalls and sat down beside Dolokhov, nudging with his elbow in a friendly and offhand way that Dolokhov whom others treated so fawningly. He winked at him gaily, smiled, and rested his foot against the orchestra screen.
"How like the brother is to the sister," remarked the count. "And how handsome they both are!"
Shinshin, lowering his voice, began to tell the count of some intrigue of Kuragin's in Moscow, and Natasha tried to overhear it just because he had said she was "charmante."
The first act was over. In the stalls everyone began moving about, going out and coming in.
Boris came to the Rostovs' box, received their congratulations very simply, and raising his eyebrows with an absent-minded smile conveyed to Natasha and Sonya his fiancee's invitation to her wedding, and went away. Natasha with a gay, coquettish smile talked to him, and congratulated on his approaching wedding that same Boris with whom she had formerly been in love. In the state of intoxication she was in, everything seemed simple and natural.
The scantily clad Helene smiled at everyone in the same way, and Natasha gave Boris a similar smile.
Helene's box was filled and surrounded from the stalls by the most distinguished and intellectual men, who seemed to vie with one another in their wish to let everyone see that they knew her.
During the whole of that entr'acte Kuragin stood with Dolokhov in front of the orchestra partition, looking at the Rostovs' box. Natasha knew he was talking about her and this afforded her pleasure. She even turned so that he should see her profile in what she thought was its most becoming aspect. Before the beginning of the second act Pierre appeared in the stalls. The Rostovs had not seen him since their arrival. His face looked sad, and he had grown still stouter since Natasha last saw him. He passed up to the front rows, not noticing anyone. Anatole went up to him and began speaking to him, looking at and indicating the Rostovs' box. On seeing Natasha Pierre grew animated and, hastily passing between the rows, came toward their box. When he got there he leaned on his elbows and, smiling, talked to her for a long time. While conversing with Pierre, Natasha heard a man's voice in Countess Bezukhova's box and something told her it was Kuragin. She turned and their eyes met. Almost smiling, he gazed straight into her eyes with such an enraptured caressing look that it seemed strange to be so near him, to look at him like that, to be so sure he admired her, and not to be acquainted with him.
In the second act there was scenery representing tombstones, there was a round hole in the canvas to represent the moon, shades were raised over the footlights, and from horns and contrabass came deep notes while many people appeared from right and left wearing black cloaks and holding things like daggers in their hands. They began waving their arms. Then some other people ran in and began dragging away the maiden who had been in white and was now in light blue. They did not drag her away at once, but sang with her for a long time and then at last dragged her off, and behind the scenes something metallic was struck three times and everyone knelt down and sang a prayer. All these things were repeatedly interrupted by the enthusiastic shouts of the audience.
During this act every time Natasha looked toward the stalls she saw Anatole Kuragin with an arm thrown across the back of his chair, staring at her. She was pleased to see that he was captivated by her and it did not occur to her that there was anything wrong in it.
When the second act was over Countess Bezukhova rose, turned to the Rostovs' box--her whole bosom completely exposed--beckoned the old count with a gloved finger, and paying no attention to those who had entered her box began talking to him with an amiable smile.
"Do make me acquainted with your charming daughters," said she. "The whole town is singing their praises and I don't even know then!"
Natasha rose and curtsied to the splendid countess. She was so pleased by praise from this brilliant beauty that she blushed with pleasure.
"I want to become a Moscovite too, now," said Helene. "How is it you're not ashamed to bury such pearls in the country?"
Countess Bezukhova quite deserved her reputation of being a fascinating woman. She could say what she did not think--especially what was flattering--quite simply and naturally.
"Dear count, you must let me look after your daughters! Though I am not staying here long this time--nor are you--I will try to amuse them. I have already heard much of you in Petersburg and wanted to get to know you," said she to Natasha with her stereotyped and lovely smile. "I had heard about you from my page, Drubetskoy. Have you heard he is getting married? And also from my husband's friend Bolkonski, Prince Andrew Bolkonski," she went on with special emphasis, implying that she knew of his relation to Natasha. To get better acquainted she asked that one of the young ladies should come into her box for the rest of the performance, and Natasha moved over to it.
The scene of the third act represented a palace in which many candles were burning and pictures of knights with short beards hung on the walls. In the middle stood what were probably a king and a queen. The king waved his right arm and, evidently nervous, sang something badly and sat down on a crimson throne. The maiden who had been first in white and then in light blue, now wore only a smock, and stood beside the throne with her hair down. She sang something mournfully, addressing the queen, but the king waved his arm severely, and men and women with bare legs came in from both sides and began dancing all together. Then the violins played very shrilly and merrily and one of the women with thick bare legs and thin arms, separating from the others, went behind the wings, adjusted her bodice, returned to the middle of the stage, and began jumping and striking one foot rapidly against the other. In the stalls everyone clapped and shouted "bravo!" Then one of the men went into a corner of the stage. The cymbals and horns in the orchestra struck up more loudly, and this man with bare legs jumped very high and waved his feet about very rapidly. (He was Duport, who received sixty thousand rubles a year for this art.) Everybody in the stalls, boxes, and galleries began clapping and shouting with all their might, and the man stopped and began smiling and bowing to all sides. Then other men and women danced with bare legs. Then the king again shouted to the sound of music, and they all began singing. But suddenly a storm came on, chromatic scales and diminished sevenths were heard in the orchestra, everyone ran off, again dragging one of their number away, and the curtain dropped. Once more there was a terrible noise and clatter among the audience, and with rapturous faces everyone began shouting: "Duport! Duport! Duport!" Natasha no longer thought this strange. She look about with pleasure, smiling joyfully.
"Isn't Duport delightful?" Helene asked her.
"Oh, yes," replied Natasha.
During the entr'acte a whiff of cold air came into Helene's box, the door opened, and Anatole entered, stooping and trying not to brush against anyone.
"Let me introduce my brother to you," said Helene, her eyes shifting uneasily from Natasha to Anatole.
Natasha turned her pretty little head toward the elegant young officer and smiled at him over her bare shoulder. Anatole, who was as handsome at close quarters as at a distance, sat down beside her and told her he had long wished to have this happiness--ever since the Naryshkins' ball in fact, at which he had had the well-remembered pleasure of seeing her. Kuragin was much more sensible and simple with women than among men. He talked boldly and naturally, and Natasha was strangely and agreeably struck by the fact that there was nothing formidable in this man about whom there was so much talk, but that on the contrary his smile was most naive, cheerful, and good-natured.
Kuragin asked her opinion of the performance and told her how at a previous performance Semenova had fallen down on the stage.
"And do you know, Countess," he said, suddenly addressing her as an old, familiar acquaintance, "we are getting up a costume tournament; you ought to take part in it! It will be great fun. We shall all meet at the Karagins'! Please come! No! Really, eh?" said he.
While saying this he never removed his smiling eyes from her face, her neck, and her bare arms. Natasha knew for certain that he was enraptured by her. This pleased her, yet his presence made her feel constrained and oppressed. When she was not looking at him she felt that he was looking at her shoulders, and she involuntarily caught his eye so that he should look into hers rather than this. But looking into his eyes she was frightened, realizing that there was not that barrier of modesty she had always felt between herself and other men. She did not know how it was that within five minutes she had come to feel herself terribly near to this man. When she turned away she feared he might seize her from behind by her bare arm and kiss her on the neck. They spoke of most ordinary things, yet she felt that they were closer to one another than she had ever been to any man. Natasha kept turning to Helene and to her father, as if asking what it all meant, but Helene was engaged in conversation with a general and did not answer her look, and her father's eyes said nothing but what they always said: "Having a good time? Well, I'm glad of it!"
During one of these moments of awkward silence when Anatole's prominent eyes were gazing calmly and fixedly at her, Natasha, to break the silence, asked him how he liked Moscow. She asked the question and blushed. She felt all the time that by talking to him she was doing something improper. Anatole smiled as though to encourage her.
"At first I did not like it much, because what makes a town pleasant ce sont les jolies femmes,* isn't that so? But now I like it very much indeed," he said, looking at her significantly. "You'll come to the costume tournament, Countess? Do come!" and putting out his hand to her bouquet and dropping his voice, he added, "You will be the prettiest there. Do come, dear countess, and give me this flower as a pledge!"
*Are the pretty women.
Natasha did not understand what he was saying any more than he did himself, but she felt that his incomprehensible words had an improper intention. She did not know what to say and turned away as if she had not heard his remark. But as soon as she had turned away she felt that he was there, behind, so close behind her.
"How is he now? Confused? Angry? Ought I to put it right?" she asked herself, and she could not refrain from turning round. She looked straight into his eyes, and his nearness, self-assurance, and the good-natured tenderness of his smile vanquished her. She smiled just as he was doing, gazing straight into his eyes. And again she felt with horror that no barrier lay between him and her.
The curtain rose again. Anatole left the box, serene and gay. Natasha went back to her father in the other box, now quite submissive to the world she found herself in. All that was going on before her now seemed quite natural, but on the other hand all her previous thoughts of her betrothed, of Princess Mary, or of life in the country did not once recur to her mind and were as if belonging to a remote past.
In the fourth act there was some sort of devil who sang waving his arm about, till the boards were withdrawn from under him and he disappeared down below. That was the only part of the fourth act that Natasha saw. She felt agitated and tormented, and the cause of this was Kuragin whom she could not help watching. As they were leaving the theater Anatole came up to them, called their carriage, and helped them in. As he was putting Natasha in he pressed her arm above the elbow. Agitated and flushed she turned round. He was looking at her with glittering eyes, smiling tenderly.
Only after she had reached home was Natasha able clearly to think over what had happened to her, and suddenly remembering Prince Andrew she was horrified, and at tea to which all had sat down after the opera, she gave a loud exclamation, flushed, and ran out of the room.
"O God! I am lost!" she said to herself. "How could I let him?" She sat for a long time hiding her flushed face in her hands trying to realize what had happened to her, but was unable either to understand what had happened or what she felt. Everything seemed dark, obscure, and terrible. There in that enormous, illuminated theater where the bare-legged Duport, in a tinsel-decorated jacket, jumped about to the music on wet boards, and young girls and old men, and the nearly naked Helene with her proud, calm smile, rapturously cried "bravo!"--there in the presence of that Helene it had all seemed clear and simple; but now, alone by herself, it was incomprehensible. "What is it? What was that terror I felt of him? What is this gnawing of conscience I am feeling now?" she thought.
Only to the old countess at night in bed could Natasha have told all she was feeling. She knew that Sonya with her severe and simple views would either not understand it at all or would be horrified at such a confession. So Natasha tried to solve what was torturing her by herself.
"Am I spoiled for Andrew's love or not?" she asked herself, and with soothing irony replied: "What a fool I am to ask that! What did happen to me? Nothing! I have done nothing, I didn't lead him on at all. Nobody will know and I shall never see him again," she told herself. "So it is plain that nothing has happened and there is nothing to repent of, and Andrew can love me still. But why 'still?' O God, why isn't he here?" Natasha quieted herself for a moment, but again some instinct told her that though all this was true, and though nothing had happened, yet the former purity of her love for Prince Andrew had perished. And again in imagination she went over her whole conversation with Kuragin, and again saw the face, gestures, and tender smile of that bold handsome man when he pressed her arm.