Chapter 8

A SILENCE followed. The countess looked at her guest, smiling affably, but still not disguising the fact that she would not take it at all amiss now if the guest were to get up and go. The daughter was already fingering at the folds of her gown and looking interrogatively at her mother, when suddenly they heard in the next room several girls and boys running to the door, and the grating sound of a chair knocked over and a girl of thirteen ran in, hiding something in her short muslin petticoat, and stopped short in the middle of the room. She had evidently bounded so far by mistake, unable to stop in her flight. At the same instant there appeared in the doorway a student with a crimson band on his collar, a young officer in the Guards, a girl of fifteen, and a fat, rosy-cheeked boy in a child’s smock.

The prince jumped up, and swaying from side to side, held his arms out wide round the little girl.

“Ah, here she is!” he cried, laughing. “Our little darling on her fête day!”

“My dear, there is a time for everything,” said the countess, affecting severity. “You’re always spoiling her, Elie,” she added to her husband.

Bonjour, ma chère, je vous félicite,” said the visitor. “Quelle délicieuse enfant!” she added, turning to her mother.

The dark-eyed little girl, plain, but full of life, with her wide mouth, her childish bare shoulders, which shrugged and panted in her bodice from her rapid motion, her black hair brushed back, her slender bare arms and little legs in lace-edged long drawers and open slippers, was at that charming stage when the girl is no longer a child, while the child is not yet a young girl. Wriggling away from her father, she ran up to her mother, and taking no notice whatever of her severe remarks, she hid her flushed face in her mother’s lace kerchief and broke into laughter. As she laughed she uttered some incoherent phrases about the doll, which was poking out from her petticoat.

“Do you see?…My doll…Mimi…you see…” And Natasha could say no more, it all seemed to her so funny. She sank on her mother’s lap, and went off into such a loud peal of laughter that every one, even the prim visitor, could not help laughing too.

“Come, run along, run along with your monstrosity!” said her mother, pushing her daughter off with a pretence of anger. “This is my younger girl,” she said to the visitor. Natasha, pulling her face away from her mother’s lace kerchief for a minute, peeped down at her through tears of laughter, and hid her face again.

The visitor, forced to admire this domestic scene, thought it suitable to take some part in it.

“Tell me, my dear,” she said, addressing Natasha, “how did you come by your Mimi? Your daughter, I suppose?”

Natasha did not like the tone of condescension to childish things with which the visitor had spoken to her. She made no answer, but stared solemnly at her.

Meanwhile all the younger generation, Boris, the officer, Anna Milhalovna’s son; Nikolay, the student, the count’s elder son; Sonya, the count’s niece; and little Petya, his younger son, had all placed themselves about the drawing-room, and were obviously trying to restrain within the bounds of decorum the excitement and mirth which was brimming over in their faces. Clearly in the back part of the house, from which they had dashed out so impetuously, the conversation had been more amusing than the small-talk in the drawing-room of the scandal of the town, the weather, and Countess Apraxin. Now and then they glanced at one another and could hardly suppress their laughter.

The two young men, the student and the officer, friends from childhood, were of the same age, and both good-looking, but not like each other. Boris was a tall, fair-haired lad with delicate, regular features, and a look of composure on his handsome face. Nikolay was a curly-headed youth, not tall, with an open

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