WHEN NATASHA ran out of the drawing-room she only ran as far as the conservatory. There she stopped listening to the talk in the drawing-room, and waiting for Boris to come out. She was beginning to get impatient, and stamping her foot was almost ready to cry at his not coming at once, when she heard the young man's footsteps coming out discreetly, not too slowly nor too quickly. Natasha darted swiftly away and hid among the tubs of shrubs.
Boris stood still in the middle of the room, looked round him, brushed a speck of dirt off the sleeve of his uniform, and going up to the looking-glass examined his handsome face. Natasha, keeping quiet, peeped out of her hiding-place, waiting to see what he would do. He stood a little while before the glass, smiled at his reflection, and walked towards the other door. Natasha was on the point of calling to him, but she changed her mind. “Let him look for me,” she said to herself. Boris had only just gone out, when at the other door Sonya came in, flushed and muttering something angrily through her tears. Natasha checked her first impulse to run out to her, and remained in her hiding-place, as it were under the invisible cap, looking on at what was going on in the world. She began to feel a peculiar novel sort of enjoyment in it. Sonya was murmuring something as she looked towards the drawing-room door. The door opened and Nikolay came in.
“Sonya! what is the matter? how can you?” said Nikolay, running up to her.
“Nothing, nothing, leave me alone!” Sonya was sobbing.
“No, I know what it is.”
“Very well, you do, so much the better then, and you can go back to her.”
“So-o-onya! one word! How can you torture me and yourself for a mere fancy?” said Nikolay, taking her hand. Sonya did not pull her hand away, and left off crying.
Natasha, not stirring and hardly breathing, looked with shining eyes from her hiding-place. “What's coming now?” she thought.
“Sonya! I care for nothing in the whole world! You're everything to me,” said Nikolay. “I'll prove it to you.”
“I don't like you to talk like that.”
“Well, I won't then; come, forgive me, Sonya.” He drew her to him and kissed her.
“Oh, that's nice,” thought Natasha, and when Sonya and Nikolay had gone out of the room she followed them and called Boris to her.
“Boris, come here,” she said with a sly and significant look. “I've something I want to tell you. Here, here,” she said, and she led him into the conservatory, to the place where she had hidden between the tubs. Boris followed her, smiling.
“What is the something?” he inquired. She was a little embarrassed; she looked round her, and seeing her doll flung down on a tub she picked it up.
“Kiss the doll,” she said. Boris looked with observant, affectionate eyes at her eager face and made no answer. “Don't you want to? Well, then come here,” she said, and went further in among the shrubs and tossed away the doll. “Closer, closer!” she whispered. She caught hold of the young officer's arms above the cuff, and her flushed face had a look of solemnity and awe.
“Would you like to kiss me?” she whispered, hardly audibly, peeping up at him from under her eyelids, smiling and almost crying with excitement.
Boris reddened. “How absurd you are!” he said, bending down to her, flushing redder still, but doing nothing, waiting what would come next. Suddenly she jumped on to a tub, so that as she stood she was taller than he, flung both arms round him so that her slender, bare arms clasped him above his neck, and flinging back her hair with a toss of her head, she kissed him just on his lips.
She slipped away among the flower-pots on the other side, and stood with hanging head.
“Natasha,” he said, “you know I love you, but—”
“You're in love with me,” Natasha broke in.
“Yes I am, but, please, don't let us do like that.… In another four years… Then I shall ask for your hand.” Natasha pondered a moment.
“Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen …” she said, counting on her thin little fingers.
“Very well. Then it's settled?” And her excited face beamed with a smile of delight and relief.
“Settled!” said Boris.
“For ever?” said the little girl. “Till death?” And taking his arm, with a happy face she walked quietly beside him into the next room.