THE STAGE consisted of a boarded floor in the middle, with painted cardboard representing trees at the sides, and linen stretched over the boards at the back. In the middle of the stage there were sitting maidens in red bodices and white skirts. An excessively stout woman in a white silk dress was sitting apart on a low bench with green cardboard fixed on the back of it. They were all singing something. When they had finished their song, the woman in white moved towards the prompter's box, and a man, with his stout legs encased in silk tights, with a plume and a dagger, went up to her and began singing and waving his arms.
The man in the tights sang alone, then she sang alone. The both paused, while the music played, and the man fumbled with the hand of the woman in white, obviously waiting for the bar at which he was to begin singing with her. They sang a duet, and every one in the theatre began clapping and shouting, while the man and woman on the stage, supposed to represent lovers, began bowing with smiles and gesticulations.
After the country, and in her serious mood, Natasha felt it all grotesque and extraordinary. She could not follow the opera; she could not even listen to the music: she saw nothing but painted cardboard and strangely dressed-up men and women, talking, singing, and moving strangely about in the bright light. She knew what it all was meant to represent; but it was all so grotesquely false and unnatural that she felt alternately ashamed and amused at the actors. She looked about her at the faces of the spectators, seeking in them signs of the same irony and bewilderment that she was feeling herself. But all the faces were watching what was passing on the stage, and expressed nothing but an affected—so Natasha thought—rapture. “I suppose it is meant to be like this!” thought Natasha. She looked alternately at the rows of pomaded masculine heads in the stalls, and at the naked women in the boxes, especially at her next neighbour Ellen, who, quite undressed, sat gazing intently, with a quiet and serene smile. at the stage, and basking in the bright light that flooded the theatre, and the warm air, heated by the crowd. Natasha began gradually to pass into a state of intoxication she had not experienced for a long while. She lost all sense of what she was and where she was and what was going on before her eyes. She gazed and dreamed, and the strangest ideas flashed unexpectedly and disconnectedly into her mind. At one moment the idea occurred to her to leap over the footlights and sing that air the actress was singing; then she felt inclined to hook her fan into an old gentleman sitting near her, or to bend over to Ellen and tickle her.
At a moment when there was a lull on the stage before the beginning of a song, the door opening to the stalls creaked on the side nearest the Rostovs' box, and there was the sound of a man's footsteps. “Here he is, Kuragin!” whispered Shinshin. Countess Bezuhov turned smiling to the new-comer. Natasha looked in the direction of the Countess Bezuhov's eyes, and saw an exceedingly handsome adjutant coming towards their box with a confident, but yet courteous, bearing. It was Anatole Kuragin, whom she had seen long before, and noticed at the Petersburg ball. He was now wearing an adjutant's uniform, with one epaulette and a shoulder knot. He walked with a jaunty strut, which would have been ridiculous if he had not been so handsome, and if his good-looking face had not expressed such simple-hearted satisfaction and good spirits. Although the performance was going on he walked lightly, without haste, along the carpeted corridor, holding his scented, handsome head high, and accompanied by a slight clank of spurs and sword. Glancing at Natasha, he went up to his sister, laid his hand in a close-fitting glove on the edge of her box, nodded his head at her, and, bending down, asked her a question, with a motion towards Natasha.
“Very, very charming!” he said, obviously speaking of Natasha. She did not exactly hear the words, but divined them from the movement of his lips. Then he went on to the front row and sat down beside Dolohov, giving a friendly and careless nudge with his elbow to the man whom other people treated with such punctilio. With a merry wink, he smiled at him, and leaned with his foot against the footlights.
“How like the brother is to his sister!” said the count. “And how handsome they both are!”
Shinshin began telling the count in an undertone some story of an intrigue of Kuragin's in Moscow, to which Natasha listened, simply because he had said of her “very charming.”
The first act was over; every one stood up in the stalls, changed places, and began going out and coming in.
Boris came to the Rostovs' box, received their congratulations very simply, and lifting his eyebrows with an absent-minded smile, gave Natasha and Sonya his fiancée's message, begging them to come to her wedding, and went away. Natasha, with a gay and coquettish smile, talked to him and congratulated him on his approaching marriage—the very Boris she had once been in love with. In the condition of emotional intoxication in which she found herself everything seemed simple and natural.
Ellen sat in her nakedness close by her, and smiled on all alike, and just such a smile Natasha bestowed on Boris.
Ellen's box was filled and surrounded on the side of the stalls by the most distinguished and intellectual men, who seemed vying with one another in their desire to show every one that they knew her.
All throughout that entr'acte Kuragin stood with Dolohov in front of the footlights staring at the Rostovs' box. Natasha knew he was talking about her, and that afforded her satisfaction. She even turned so that he could see her profile from what she believed to be the most becoming angle. Before the beginning of the second act she observed in the stalls the figure of Pierre, whom the Rostovs had not seen since their arrival. His face looked sad, and he had grown stouter since Natasha had seen him last. He walked up to the front rows, not noticing any one. Anatole went up to him, and began saying something to him, with a look and a gesture towards the Rostovs' box. Pierre looked pleased at seeing Natasha, and walked hurriedly along the rows of stalls towards their box. Leaning on his elbow, he talked smiling to Natasha for a long while. While she was talking to Pierre, Natasha heard a man's voice speaking in Countess Bezuhov's box, and something told her it was Kuragin. She looked round and met his eyes. He looked her straight in the eyes, almost smiling, with a look of such warmth and admiration that it seemed strange to be so near him, to look at him like that, to be so certain that he admired her, and not to be acquainted with him.
In the second act there was scenery representing monuments, and a hold in the drop at the back that represented the moon, and shades were put over the footlights, and trumpets and bassoons began playing, and a number of people came in on the right and on the left wearing black cloaks. These people began waving their arms, and in their hands they had something of the nature of a dagger. Then some more people ran in and began dragging away the woman who had been in white but who was now in a blue dress. They did not drag her away at once; they spent a long while singing with her; but finally they did drag her away, and behind the scenes they struck something metallic three times, and then all knelt down and began singing a prayer. All these performances were interrupted several times by the enthusiastic shouts of the spectators.
During that act, every time Natasha glanced towards the stalls, she saw Anatole Kuragin, with one arm flung across the back of his chair, staring at her. It pleased her to see that he was so captivated by her, and it never entered her head that there could be anything amiss in it.
When the second act was over, Countess Bezuhov got up, turned towards the Rostovs' box (the whole of her bosom was completely exposed), with her gloved little finger beckoned the old count to her, and taking no notice of the men who were thronging about her box, began with an amiable smile talking to him.
“Oh, do make me acquainted with your charming daughters,” she said. “All the town is singing their praises, and I don't know them.”
Natasha got up and curtseyed to the magnificent countess. Natasha was so delighted at the praise from this brilliant beauty that she blushed with pleasure.
“I quite want to become a Moscow resident myself,” said Ellen. “What a shame of you to bury such pearls in the country!”
Countess Bezuhov had some right to her reputation of being a fascinating woman. She could say what she did not think, especially what was flattering, with perfect simplicity and naturalness.
“No, dear count, you must let me help to entertain your daughters, though I'm not here now for very long, nor you either. But I'll do my best to amuse them. I have heard a great deal about you in Petersburg, and wanted to know you,” she said to Natasha, with her unvarying beautiful smile. “I have heard of you, too, from my page, Drubetskoy—you have heard he is to be married—and from my husband's friend, Bolkonsky, Prince Andrey Bolkonsky,” she said, with peculiar emphasis, by which she meant to signify that she knew in what relation he stood to Natasha. She asked that one of the young ladies might be allowed to sit through the rest of the performance in her box that they might become better acquainted, and Natasha moved into it.
In the third act the scene was a palace in which a great many candles were burning, and pictures were hanging on the walls, representing knights with beards. In the middle stood a man and a woman; probably meant for a king and a queen. The king waved his right hand, and, obviously nervous, sang something very badly, and sat down on a crimson throne. The actress, who had been in white at first and then in blue, was now in nothing but a smock, and had let her hair down. She was standing near the throne, singing something very mournful, addressed to the queen. But the king waved his hand sternly, and from the sides there came in men and women with bare legs who began dancing all together. Then the violins played very shrilly and merrily: one of the actresses, with thick, bare legs and thin arms, leaving the rest, went to the side to set straight her bodice, then walked into the middle of the stage and began skipping into the air and kicking one leg very rapidly with the other. Every one in the stalls clapped their hands and roared “bravo!” Then one man stood alone at one corner of the stage. The cymbals and trumpets struck up more loudly in the orchestra, and this man began leaping very high in the air and rapidly waving his legs. (This was Duport, who earned sixty thousand a year by this accomplishment.) Every one in the boxes and in the stalls began clapping and shouting with all their might, and the man stood still and began smiling and bowing in all directions. Then other men and women with bare legs danced; then again the king shouted something to music, and they all began singing. But suddenly a storm came on, chromatic scales and chords with the diminishing sevenths could be heard in the orchestra, and they all ran off, dragging one of the performers again behind the scenes, and the curtain dropped. Again a fearful uproar of applause arose among the spectators, and all began screaming with rapturous faces:
“Duport! Duport! Duport!”
Natasha did not now feel this strange. She looked about her with pleasure, smiling joyfully.
“Isn't Duport admirable?” said Ellen, turning to her.
“Oh yes,” answered Natasha.