Chapter 11

THE COUNTESS was so tired from seeing visitors that she gave orders that she would see no one else, and the doorkeeper was told to be sure and invite to dinner every one who should call with congratulations. The countess was longing for a tête-à-tête talk with the friend of her childhood, Anna Mihalovna, whom she had not seen properly since she had arrived from Petersburg. Anna Mihalovna, with her tear-worn and amiable face, moved closer up to the countess’s easy-chair.

“With you I will be perfectly open,” said Anna Mihalovna. “We haven’t many old friends left. That’s how it is I value your friendship so.”

Anna Mihalovna looked at Vera and stopped. The countess pressed her friend’s hand.

“Vera,” said the countess to her eldest daughter, unmistakably not her favourite, “how is it you have no notion about anything? Don’t you feel that you’re not wanted here? Go to your sister or …”

The handsome young countess smiled scornfully, apparently not in the least mortified.

“If you had told me, mamma, I would have gone away long ago,” she said, and went off towards her own room. But passing through the divan-room, she noticed two couples sitting symmetrically in the two windows. She stopped and smiled contemptuously at them. Sonya was sitting close beside Nikolay, who was copying out some verses for her, the first he had ever written. Boris and Natasha were sitting in the other window, and were silent when Vera came in. Sonya and Natasha looked at Vera with guilty, happy faces.

It was an amusing and touching sight to see these little girls in love, but the sight of them did not apparently arouse any agreeable feeling in Vera. “How often have I asked you,” she said, “not to take my things? You have a room of your own.” She took the inkstand away from Nikolay.

“One minute, one minute,” he said, dipping his pen in.

“You always manage to do things just at the wrong moment,” said Vera. “First you burst into the drawing- room so that every one was ashamed of you.” Although or just because what she said was perfectly true, no one answered; all the four simply looked at one another. She lingered in the room with the inkstand in her hand. “And what sort of secrets can you have at your age, Natasha and Boris, and you two!—it’s all simply silly nonsense!”

“Well, what has it to do with you, Vera?” Natasha said in defence, speaking very gently. She was evidently more good-humoured and affectionate than usual that day with every one.

“It’s very silly,” said Vera; “I am ashamed of you. What sort of secret…”

“Every one has secrets. We don’t interfere with you and Berg,” said Natasha, getting warmer.

“I should think you didn’t interfere,” said Vera, “because there could be no harm in any conduct of mine. But I shall tell mamma how you behave with Boris.”

“Natalya Ilyinishna behaves very well to me,” said Boris. “I have nothing to complain of,” he said.

“Leave off, Boris, you’re such a diplomatist” (the world diplomatist was much in use among the children in the special sense they attached to the word). “It’s tiresome, really,” said Natasha, in a mortified and shaking voice; “why does she set upon me?”

“You’ll never understand it,” she said, addressing Vera, “because you’ve never cared for any one; you’ve no heart; you’re simply Madame de Genlis” (this nickname, considered most offensive, had been given to Vera by Nikolay), “and your greatest delight is in getting other people into trouble. You can flirt with Berg, as much as you like,” she said quickly.

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