CHRISTMAS came and except for the High Mass, the solemn and wearisome congratulations to neighbours and house-serfs, and the new gowns donned by every one, nothing special happened to mark the holidays, though the still weather with twenty degrees of frost, the dazzling sunshine by day and the bright, starlit sky at night seemed to call for some special celebration of the season.
On the third day of Christmas week, after dinner, all the members of the household had separated and gone to their respective rooms. It was the dullest time of the day. Nikolay, who had been calling on neighbours in the morning, was asleep in the divan-room. The old count was resting in his own room. In the drawing-room Sonya was sitting at a round table copying a design for embroidery. The countess was playing patience. Nastasya Ivanovna, the buffoon, with a dejected countenance, was sitting in the window with two old ladies. Natasha came into the room, went up to Sonya, looked at what she was doing, then went up to her mother and stood there mutely.
“Why are you wandering about like an unquiet spirit?” said her mother. “What do you want?”
“I want him…I want him at once, this minute,” said Natasha, with a gleam in her eyes and no smile on her lips. The countess raised her head and looked intently at her daughter.
“Don't look at me, mamma; don't look at me like that; I shall cry in a minute.”
“Sit down; come and sit by me,” said the countess.
“Mamma, I want him. Why should I be wasting time like this, Mamma?”…Her voice broke, tears gushed into her eyes, and to hide them, she turned quickly and went out of the room. She went into the divan-room, stood there, thought a moment and went to the maids' room. There an old maid-servant was scolding a young girl who had run in breathless from the cold outside.
“Give over playing,” said the old woman; “there is a time for everything.”
“Let her off, Kondratyevna,” said Natasha. “Run along, Mavrusha, run along.”
And after releasing Mavrusha, Natasha crossed the big hall and went to the vestibule. An old footman and two young ones were playing cards. They broke off and rose at the entrance of their young mistress. “What am I to do with them?” Natasha wondered.
“Yes, Nikita, go out, please…Where am I to send him?…Yes, go to the yard and bring me a cock, please; and you, Misha, bring me some oats.”
“Just a few oats, if you please?” said Misha, with cheerful readiness.
“Run along; make haste,” the old man urged him.
“Fyodor, you get me some chalk.”
As she passed the buffet she ordered the samovar, though it was not the right time for it.
The buffet-waiter, Foka, was the most ill-tempered person in the house. Natasha liked to try her power over him. He did not believe in her order, and went to inquire if it were really wanted.
“Ah, you're a nice young lady!” said Foka, pretending to frown at Natasha.
No one in the house sent people on errands and gave the servants so much work as Natasha. She could not see people without wanting to send them for something. She seemed to be trying to see whether one of them would not be cross or sulky with her; but no one's orders were so readily obeyed by the servants as Natasha's. “What am I to do? Where am I to go?” Natasha wondered, strolling slowly along the corridor.
“Nastasya Ivanovna, what will my children be?” she asked the buffoon, who came towards her in his woman's jacket.
“Fleas, and dragon-flies, and grasshoppers,” answered the buffoon.
“My God! my God! always the same. Oh, where am I to go? What am I to do with myself?” And she ran rapidly upstairs, tapping with her shoes, to see Vogel and his wife, who had rooms on the top floor. The two governesses were sitting with the Vogels and on the table were plates of raisins, walnuts, and almonds. The governesses were discussing the question which was the cheaper town to live in, Moscow or Odessa. Natasha sat down, listened to their talk with a serious and dreamy face, and got up. “The island Madagascar,” she said. “Mada-ga-scar,” she repeated, articulating each syllable distinctly; and making no reply to Madame Schoss's inquiry into her meaning, she went out of the room.
Petya, her brother, was upstairs too. He was engaged with his tutor making fireworks to let off that night.
“Petya! Petya!” she shouted to him, “carry me downstairs.” Petya ran to her and offered her his back, and he pranced along with her. “No, enough. The island Madagascar,” she repeated, and jumping off his back she went downstairs.
Having as it were reviewed her kingdom, tried her power, and made sure that all were submissive, but yet that she was dull, Natasha went into the big hall, took up the guitar, and sat down with it in a dark corner behind a bookcase. She began fingering the strings in the bass, picking out a phrase she recalled from an opera she had heard in Petersburg with Prince Andrey. For other listeners the sounds that came from her guitar would have had no sort of meaning, but these sounds called up in her imagination a whole series of reminiscences. She sat behind the bookcase with her eyes fixed on a streak of light that fell from the crack in the pantry door, and listened to herself and recalled the past. She was in the mood for brooding over memories.
Sonya crossed the hall, and went into the pantry with a glass in her hand. Natasha glanced at her through the crack in the pantry door, and it seemed to her that she remembered the light falling through the crack in the pantry door, and Sonya passing with the glass in just the same way. “Yes, and it was exactly the same in every detail,” thought Natasha.
“Sonya, what is this?” called Natasha, twanging the thick cord with her fingers.
“Oh, are you there?” said Sonya starting, and she came up and listened. “I don't know. A storm?” she said timidly, afraid of being wrong.
“Why, she started in just the same way, and came up and smiled the same timid smile when it all happened before,” thought Natasha; “and just in the same way, too.…I thought there was something wanting in her.”
“No, it's the chorus from the ‘Water Carrier,' listen.” And Natasha hummed the air of the chorus, so that Sonya might catch it. “Where were you going?” asked Natasha.
“To change the water in my glass. I am just finishing colouring the design.”
“You always find something to do, but I can't, you know,” said Natasha. “And where's Nikolenka?”
“I think he's asleep.”
“Sonya, do go and wake him,” said Natasha. “Tell him I want him to sing with me.”
She sat a little longer, pondering on what was the meaning of its all having happened before, and not solving that question, and not in the least chagrined at being unable to do so, she passed again in her imagination to the time when she was with him, and he gazed at her with eyes of love.
“Oh, if he would come quickly! I'm so afraid it will never come! And worst of all, I'm getting older, that's the thing. There won't be in me what there is in me now. Perhaps he is coming to-day, will be here immediately. Perhaps he has come, and is sitting there in the drawing-room. Perhaps he did come yesterday, and I have forgotten.” She got up, put down her guitar, and went into the parlour. All their domestic circle, tutors, governesses, and guests were sitting at the tea-table. The servants were standing round the table. But Prince Andrey was not there, and the same old life was still going on.
“Here she is,” said the count, seeing Natasha coming in. “Come, sit by me.” But Natasha stayed by her mother, looking about her as though seeking for something.
“Mamma!” she said. “Give me him, give me him, mamma, quickly, quickly,” and again she could hardly suppress her sobs. She sat down to the table and listened to the talk of the elders and Nikolay, who had come in to tea. “My God, my God, the same people, the same talk, papa holding his cup, and blowing it just the same as always,” thought Natasha, feeling with horror an aversion rising up in her for all her family, because they were always the same.
After tea Nikolay, Sonya, and Natasha went into the divan-room to their favourite corner, where their most intimate talks always began.