And again she sobbed more bitterly than ever. Natasha lifted her up, hugged her, and, smiling through her tears, began comforting her.

“Sonya, don’t you believe her, darling; don’t believe her. Do you remember how we talked with Nikolay, all three of us together, in the divan-room, do you remember, after supper? Why, we settled how it should all be. I don’t quite remember now, but do you remember, it was all right and all possible. Why, uncle Shinshin’s brother is married to his first cousin, and we’re only second cousins, you know. And Boris said that it’s quite easily arranged. You know I told him all about it. He’s so clever and so good,” said Natasha. … “Don’t cry, Sonya, darling, sweet one, precious, Sonya,” and she kissed her, laughing. “Vera is spiteful; never mind her! and it will all come right and she won’t tell mamma. Nikolinka will tell her himself, and he’s never thought of Julie.”

And she kissed her on the head. Sonya got up, and the kitten revived; its eyes sparkled, and it was ready, it seemed, to wag its tail, spring on its soft paws and begin to play with a ball, in its own natural, kittenish way.

“Do you think so? Really? Truly?” she said rapidly, smoothing her frock and her hair.

“Really, truly,” answered Natasha, putting back a stray coil of rough hair on her friend’s head; and they both laughed. “Well, come along and sing the ‘Spring.’ ”

“Let’s go, then.”

“And do you know that fat Pierre, who was sitting opposite me, he’s so funny!” Natasha said suddenly, stopping. “I am enjoying myself so,” and Natasha ran along the corridor.

Brushing off the feather fluff from her frock, and thrusting the verses into her bodice next her little throat and prominent breast-bones, Sonya ran with flushed face and light, happy steps, following Natasha along the corridor to the divan-room. At the request of their guests the young people sang the quartette the “Spring,” with which every one was delighted; then Nikolay sang a song he had lately learnt.

“How sweet in the moon’s kindly ray,
In fancy to thyself to say,
That earth holds still one dear to thee!
Whose thoughts, whose dreams are all of thee!
That her fair fingers as of old
Stray still upon the harp of gold,
Making sweet, passionate harmony,
That to her side doth summon thee!
To-morrow and thy bliss is near!
Alas! all’s past! she is not here!”

And he had hardly sung the last words when the young people were getting ready to dance in the big hall, and the musicians began stamping with their feet and coughing in the orchestra.

Pierre was sitting in the drawing-room, where Shinshin had started a conversation with him on the political situation, as a subject likely to be of interest to any one who had just come home from abroad, though it did not in fact interest Pierre. Several other persons joined in the conversation. When the orchestra struck up, Natasha walked into the drawing-room, and going straight up to Pierre, laughing and blushing, she said, “Mamma told me to ask you to dance.”

“I’m afraid of muddling the figures,” said Pierre, “but if you will be my teacher …” and he gave his fat hand to the slim little girl, putting his arm low down to reach her level.

While the couples were placing themselves and the musicians were tuning up, Pierre sat down with his little partner. Natasha was perfectly happy; she was dancing with a grown-up person, with a man who had just come from abroad. She was sitting in view of every one and talking to him like a grown-up person. She had in her hand a fan, which some lady had given her to hold, and taking the most modish pose (God knows where and when she had learnt it), fanning herself and smiling all over her face, she talked to her partner.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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