Chapter 17

THE CARD-TABLES were opened, parties were made up for boston, and the count’s guests settled themselves in the two drawing-rooms, the divan-room, and the library.

The count, holding his cards in a fan, with some difficulty kept himself from dropping into his customary after-dinner nap, and laughed at everything. The young people, at the countess’s suggestion, gathered about the clavichord and the harp. Julie was first pressed by every one to perform, and played a piece with variations on the harp. Then she joined the other young ladies in begging Natasha and Nikolay, who were noted for their musical talents, to sing something. Natasha, who was treated by every one as though she were grown-up, was visibly very proud of it, and at the same time made shy by it.

“What are we to sing?” she asked.

“The ‘Spring,’ ” answered Nikolay.

“Well, then, let’s make haste. Boris, come here,” said Natasha. “But where’s Sonya?” She looked round, and seeing that her friend was not in the room, she ran off to find her.

After running to Sonya’s room, and not finding her there, Natasha ran to the nursery: Sonya was not there either. Natasha knew that she must be on the chest in the corridor. The chest in the corridor was the scene of the woes of the younger feminine generation of the house of Rostov. Yes, Sonya was on the chest, lying face downwards, crushing her gossamer pink frock on their old nurse’s dirty striped feather- bed. Her face hidden in her fingers, she was sobbing, and her little bare shoulders were heaving. Natasha’s birthday face that had been festive and excited all day, changed at once; her eyes wore a fixed look, then her broad neck quivered, and the corners of her lips drooped.

“Sonya! what is it? … what’s the matter with you? Oo-oo-oo! …” and Natasha, letting her big mouth drop open and becoming quite ugly, wailed like a baby, not knowing why, simply because Sonya was crying. Sonya tried to lift up her head, tried to answer, but could not, and buried her face more than ever. Natasha cried, sitting on the edge of the blue feather-bed and hugging her friend. Making an effort, Sonya got up, began to dry her tears and to talk.

“Nikolinka’s going away in a week, his … paper … has come … he told me himself. … But still I shouldn’t cry …” (she showed a sheet of paper she was holding in her hand; on it were verses written by Nikolay). “I shouldn’t have cried; but you can’t … no one can understand … what a soul he has.”

And again she fell to weeping at the thought of how noble his soul was.

“It’s all right for you … I’m not envious … I love you and Boris too,” she said, controlling herself a little; “he’s so nice … there are no difficulties in your way. But Nikolay’s my cousin … the metropolitan chief priest himself … has to … or else it’s impossible. And so, if mamma’s told” (Sonya looked on the countess and addressed her as a mother), “she’ll say that I’m spoiling Nikolay’s career, that I have no heart, that I’m ungrateful, though really … in God’s name” (she made the sign of the cross) “I love her so, and all of you, only Vera … Why is it? What have I done to her? I am so grateful to you that I would be glad to sacrifice everything for you, but I have nothing. …”

Sonya could say no more, and again she buried her head in her hands and the feather-bed. Natasha tried to comfort her, but her face showed that she grasped all the gravity of her friend’s trouble.

“Sonya!” she said all at once, as though she had guessed the real cause of her cousin’s misery, “of course Vera’s been talking to you since dinner? Yes?”

“Yes, these verses Nikolay wrote himself, and I copied some others; and she found them on my table, and said she should show them to mamma, and she said too that I was ungrateful, and that mamma would never allow him to marry me, but that he would marry Julie. You see how he has been with her all day … Natasha! why is it?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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