THE CARD-TABLES were opened, parties were made up for boston, and the count's guests settled themselves in the two drawing-rooms, the divan-room, and the library.
The count, holding his cards in a fan, with some difficulty kept himself from dropping into his customary after-dinner nap, and laughed at everything. The young people, at the countess's suggestion, gathered about the clavichord and the harp. Julie was first pressed by every one to perform, and played a piece with variations on the harp. Then she joined the other young ladies in begging Natasha and Nikolay, who were noted for their musical talents, to sing something. Natasha, who was treated by every one as though she were grown-up, was visibly very proud of it, and at the same time made shy by it.
“What are we to sing?” she asked.
“The ‘Spring,' ” answered Nikolay.
“Well, then, let's make haste. Boris, come here,” said Natasha. “But where's Sonya?” She looked round, and seeing that her friend was not in the room, she ran off to find her.
After running to Sonya's room, and not finding her there, Natasha ran to the nursery: Sonya was not there either. Natasha knew that she must be on the chest in the corridor. The chest in the corridor was the scene of the woes of the younger feminine generation of the house of Rostov. Yes, Sonya was on the chest, lying face downwards, crushing her gossamer pink frock on their old nurse's dirty striped feather-bed. Her face hidden in her fingers, she was sobbing, and her little bare shoulders were heaving. Natasha's birthday face that had been festive and excited all day, changed at once; her eyes wore a fixed look, then her broad neck quivered, and the corners of her lips drooped.
“Sonya! what is it? … what's the matter with you? Oo-oo-oo! …” and Natasha, letting her big mouth drop open and becoming quite ugly, wailed like a baby, not knowing why, simply because Sonya was crying. Sonya tried to lift up her head, tried to answer, but could not, and buried her face more than ever. Natasha cried, sitting on the edge of the blue feather-bed and hugging her friend. Making an effort, Sonya got up, began to dry her tears and to talk.
“Nikolinka's going away in a week, his … paper … has come … he told me himself. … But still I shouldn't cry …” (she showed a sheet of paper she was holding in her hand; on it were verses written by Nikolay). “I shouldn't have cried; but you can't … no one can understand … what a soul he has.”
And again she fell to weeping at the thought of how noble his soul was.
“It's all right for you … I'm not envious … I love you and Boris too,” she said, controlling herself a little; “he's so nice … there are no difficulties in your way. But Nikolay's my cousin … the metropolitan chief priest himself … has to … or else it's impossible. And so, if mamma's told” (Sonya looked on the countess and addressed her as a mother), “she'll say that I'm spoiling Nikolay's career, that I have no heart, that I'm ungrateful, though really … in God's name” (she made the sign of the cross) “I love her so, and all of you, only Vera … Why is it? What have I done to her? I am so grateful to you that I would be glad to sacrifice everything for you, but I have nothing. …”
Sonya could say no more, and again she buried her head in her hands and the feather-bed. Natasha tried to comfort her, but her face showed that she grasped all the gravity of her friend's trouble.
“Sonya!” she said all at once, as though she had guessed the real cause of her cousin's misery, “of course Vera's been talking to you since dinner? Yes?”
“Yes, these verses Nikolay wrote himself, and I copied some others; and she found them on my table, and said she should show them to mamma, and she said too that I was ungrateful, and that mamma would never allow him to marry me, but that he would marry Julie. You see how he has been with her all day … Natasha! why is it?”
And again she sobbed more bitterly than ever. Natasha lifted her up, hugged her, and, smiling through her tears, began comforting her.
“Sonya, don't you believe her, darling; don't believe her. Do you remember how we talked with Nikolay, all three of us together, in the divan-room, do you remember, after supper? Why, we settled how it should all be. I don't quite remember now, but do you remember, it was all right and all possible. Why, uncle Shinshin's brother is married to his first cousin, and we're only second cousins, you know. And Boris said that it's quite easily arranged. You know I told him all about it. He's so clever and so good,” said Natasha. … “Don't cry, Sonya, darling, sweet one, precious, Sonya,” and she kissed her, laughing. “Vera is spiteful; never mind her! and it will all come right and she won't tell mamma. Nikolinka will tell her himself, and he's never thought of Julie.”
And she kissed her on the head. Sonya got up, and the kitten revived; its eyes sparkled, and it was ready, it seemed, to wag its tail, spring on its soft paws and begin to play with a ball, in its own natural, kittenish way.
“Do you think so? Really? Truly?” she said rapidly, smoothing her frock and her hair.
“Really, truly,” answered Natasha, putting back a stray coil of rough hair on her friend's head; and they both laughed. “Well, come along and sing the ‘Spring.' ”
“Let's go, then.”
“And do you know that fat Pierre, who was sitting opposite me, he's so funny!” Natasha said suddenly, stopping. “I am enjoying myself so,” and Natasha ran along the corridor.
Brushing off the feather fluff from her frock, and thrusting the verses into her bodice next her little throat and prominent breast-bones, Sonya ran with flushed face and light, happy steps, following Natasha along the corridor to the divan-room. At the request of their guests the young people sang the quartette the “Spring,” with which every one was delighted; then Nikolay sang a song he had lately learnt.
In fancy to thyself to say,
That earth holds still one dear to thee!
Whose thoughts, whose dreams are all of thee!
That her fair fingers as of old
Stray still upon the harp of gold,
Making sweet, passionate harmony,
That to her side doth summon thee!
To-morrow and thy bliss is near!
Alas! all's past! she is not here!”
And he had hardly sung the last words when the young people were getting ready to dance in the big hall, and the musicians began stamping with their feet and coughing in the orchestra.
Pierre was sitting in the drawing-room, where Shinshin had started a conversation with him on the political situation, as a subject likely to be of interest to any one who had just come home from abroad, though it did not in fact interest Pierre. Several other persons joined in the conversation. When the orchestra struck up, Natasha walked into the drawing-room, and going straight up to Pierre, laughing and blushing, she said, “Mamma told me to ask you to dance.”
“I'm afraid of muddling the figures,” said Pierre, “but if you will be my teacher …” and he gave his fat hand to the slim little girl, putting his arm low down to reach her level.
While the couples were placing themselves and the musicians were tuning up, Pierre sat down with his little partner. Natasha was perfectly happy; she was dancing with a grown-up person, with a man who had just come from abroad. She was sitting in view of every one and talking to him like a grown-up person. She had in her hand a fan, which some lady had given her to hold, and taking the most modish pose (God knows where and when she had learnt it), fanning herself and smiling all over her face, she talked to her partner.
“What a girl! Just look at her, look at her!” said the old countess, crossing the big hall and pointing to Natasha. Natasha coloured and laughed.
“Why, what do you mean, mamma? Why should you laugh? Is there anything strange about it?”
In the middle of the third écossaise there was a clatter of chairs in the drawing-room, where the count and Marya Dmitryevna were playing, and the greater number of the more honoured guests and elderly people stretching themselves after sitting so long, put their pocket-books and purses in their pockets and came out to the door of the big hall. In front of all came Marya Dmitryevna and the count, both with radiant faces. The count gave his arm, curved into a hoop, to Marya Dmitryevna with playfully exaggerated ceremony, like a ballet-dancer. He drew himself up, and his face beamed with a peculiar, jauntily-knowing smile, and as soon as they had finished dancing the last figure of the écossaise, he clapped his hands to the orchestra, and shouted to the first violin: “Semyon! do you know ‘Daniel Cooper'?”
That was the count's favourite dance that he had danced in his youth. (Daniel Cooper was the name of a figure of the anglaise.)
“Look at papa!” Natasha shouted to all the room (entirely forgetting that she was dancing with a grown-up partner), and ducking down till her curly head almost touched her knees, she went off into her ringing laugh that filled the hall. Every one in the hall was, in fact, looking with a smile of delight at the gleeful old gentleman. Standing beside his majestic partner, Marya Dmitryevna, who was taller than he was, he curved his arms, swaying them in time to the music, moved his shoulders, twirled with his legs, lightly tapping with his heels, and with a broadening grin on his round face, prepared the spectators for what was to come. As soon as the orchestra played the gay, irresistible air of Daniel Cooper, somewhat like a livelier Russian trepak, all the doorways of the big hall were suddenly filled with the smiling faces of the house-serfs—men on one side, and women on the other—come to look at their master making merry.
“Our little father! An eagle he is!” the old nurse said out loud at one door.
The count danced well and knew that he did, but his partner could not dance at all, and did not care about dancing well. Her portly figure stood erect, with her mighty arms hanging by her side (she had handed her reticule to the countess). It was only her stern, but comely face that danced. What was expressed by the whole round person of the count, was expressed by Marya Dmitryevna in her more and more beaming countenance and puckered nose. While the count, with greater and greater expenditure of energy, enchanted the spectators by the unexpectedness of the nimble pirouettes and capers of his supple legs, Marya Dmitryevna with the slightest effort in the movement of her shoulders or curving of her arms, when they turned or marked the time with their feet, produced no less impression from the contrast, which everyone appreciated, with her portliness and her habitual severity of demeanour. The dance grew more and more animated. The vis-à-vis could not obtain one moment's attention, and did not attempt to do so. All attention was absorbed by the count and Marya Dmitryevna. Natasha pulled at the sleeve or gown of every one present, urging them to look at papa, though they never took their eyes off the dancers. In the pauses in the dance the count drew a deep breath, waved his hands and shouted to the musician to play faster. More and more quickly, more and more nimbly the count pirouetted, turning now on his toes and now on his heels, round Marya Dmitryevna. At last, twisting his lady round to her place, he executed the last steps, kicking his supple legs up behind him, and bowing his perspiring head and smiling face, with a round sweep of his right arm, amidst a thunder of applause and laughter, in which Natasha's laugh was loudest. Both partners stood still, breathing heavily, and mopping their faces with their batiste handkerchiefs.
“That's how they used to dance in our day, ma chère, said the count.
“Bravo, Daniel Cooper!” said Marya Dmitryevna, tucking up her sleeves and drawing a deep, prolonged breath.