NATASHA was sixteen, and it was the year 1809, that year to which she had reckoned up on her fingers with Boris, after she had kissed him four years before. Since then she had not once seen him. When Boris was mentioned she would speak quite freely of it before Sonya and her mother, treating it as a settled thing that all that had passed between them was childish nonsense, not worth talking of and long ago forgotten. But in the most secret recesses of her soul the question whether her engagement to Boris were really a mere jest or a solemn, binding promise worried her.
Ever since Boris had left Moscow in 1805 to go into the army he had not once seen the Rostovs. Several times he had been in Moscow, and in travelling had passed not far from Otradnoe, but he had not once been at the Rostovs'.
It had sometimes occurred to Natasha that he did not want to see her, and her surmises had been confirmed by the mournful tone in which he was referred to by her elders.
“Old friends are soon forgotten nowadays,” the countess would say after Boris had been mentioned.
Anna Mihalovna had taken in these latter days to seeing less of the Rostovs. There was a marked dignity, too, in her manner with them, and she spoke on every occasion with thankfulness and enthusiasm of her son's great abilities and brilliant career. When the Rostovs arrived in Petersburg Boris came to call on them.
It was not without emotion that he came to see them. His reminiscences of Natasha were Boris's most poetic memories. But at the same time he came to call on them firmly resolved to make her and her relations feel that the childish vows between Natasha and him could have no binding force for her or for him. He had a brilliant position in society, thanks to his intimacy with Countess Bezuhov; a brilliant position in the service, thanks to the protection of a great person whose confidence he had completely won; and he was beginning to make plans for marrying one of the richest heiresses in Petersburg, plans which might very easily be realised. When Boris went into the Rostovs' drawing-room, Natasha was in her own room. On hearing of his arrival she almost ran with a flushed face into the drawing-room, radiant with a smile that was more than cordial.
Boris had thought of Natasha as the little girl he had known four years before in a short frock, with black eyes glancing under her curls, and a desperate, childish giggle; and so, when a quite different Natasha came in, he was taken aback and his face expressed surprise and admiration. His expression delighted Natasha.
“Well, would you know your mischievous little playmate?” said the countess. Boris kissed Natasha's hand, and said he was surprised at the change in her.
“How pretty you have grown!”
“I should hope so!” was the answer in Natasha's laughing eyes.
“And does papa look older?” she asked.
Natasha sat still, taking no part in the talk between Boris and her mother. Silently and minutely she scrutinised the young man who had been her suitor in her childhood. He felt oppressed by that persistent, friendly gaze, and glanced once or twice at her.
The uniform, the spurs, the tie, the way Boris had brushed his hair,—it was all fashionable and comme il faut. That Natasha noticed at once. He sat a little sideways on a low chair beside the countess, with his right hand smacking the exquisitely clean and perfectly fitting glove on his left. He talked with a peculiar, refined compression of the lips about the divisions of the best society in Petersburg; with faint irony referred to old days in Moscow and old Moscow acquaintances. Not unintentionally, as Natasha felt, he mentioned some of the highest aristocracy, alluded to the ambassador's ball, at which he had been present, and to invitations from N. N. and from S. S.
Natasha sat the whole time without speaking, looking up from under her brows at him. Her eyes made Boris more and more uneasy and embarrassed. He looked round more frequently at Natasha, and broke off in his sentences. After staying no more than ten minutes he got up and took leave. Still the same curious, challenging, and rather ironical eyes gazed at him. After his first visit, Boris said to himself that Natasha was as attractive to him as she had been in the past, but that he must not give way to his feelings, because to marry her—a girl almost without fortune—would be the ruin of his career, and to renew their old relations without any intention of marriage would be dishonourable. Boris resolved to avoid meeting Natasha; but in spite of this resolution he came a few days later, and began to come often, and to spend whole days at the Rostovs'. He fancied that it was essential for him to have a frank explanation with Natasha, to tell her that all the past must be forgotten, that in spite of everything…she could not be his wife, that he had no means, and that they would never consent to her marrying him. But he always failed to do so, and felt an awkwardness in approaching the subject. Every day he became more and more entangled. Natasha—so her mother and Sonya judged—seemed to be in love with Boris, as in the past. She sang for him her favourite songs, showed him her album, made him write in it, would not let him refer to the past, making him feel how delightful she considered the present; and every day he went home in a whirl without having said what he meant to say, not knowing what he was doing, why he had come, and how it would end. Boris gave up visiting Ellen, received reproachful notes every day from her, and still spent whole days together at the Rostovs'.