Chapter 13

ONE EVENING the old countess in her bed-jacket, without her false curls and with only one poor wisp of hair peeping out from under her white cotton nightcap, was bowing down on the carpet, sighing and moaning as she repeated her evening prayers. Her door creaked, and Natasha, also in a bed-jacket, ran in, bare-legged, with her feet in slippers, and her hair in curl papers. The countess looked round and frowned. She was repeating her last prayer. “Can it be this couch will be my bier?” Her devotional mood was dispelled. Natasha, flushed and eager, stopped suddenly short in her rapid movement as she saw her mother at her prayers. She half-sat down and unconsciously put out her tongue at herself.

Seeing that her mother was still praying, she ran on tiptoe to the bed; and rapidly slipping one little foot against the other, pushed off her slippers and sprang on to that couch which the countess in her prayer feared might become her bier. That couch was a high feather-bed, with five pillows, each smaller than the one below. Natasha skipped in, sank into the feather-bed, rolled over towards the side, and began snuggling up under the quilt, tucking herself up, bending her knees up to her chin, kicking out and giving a faintly audible giggle as she alternately hid her face under the quilt and peeped out at her mother. The countess had finished her prayers, and was approaching her bed with a stern face, but seeing that Natasha was playing bo-peep with her she smiled her good-natured, weak smile.

“Come, come, come!” said the mother.

“Mamma, may I speak; yes?” said Natasha. “Come, under the chin, one, and now another, and enough.” And she clutched at her mother’s neck and kissed her favourite place on her chin. In Natasha’s behaviour to her mother there was a superficial roughness of manner, but she had a natural tact and knack of doing things, so that, however she snatched her mother in her arms, she always managed so that she was not hurt, nor uncomfortable, nor displeased by it.

“Well, what is it to-night?” said her mother, settling herself in the pillows and waiting for Natasha, who had already rolled over twice, to lie down by her side under the bedclothes, to put out her arms and assume a serious expression.

These visits of Natasha to her mother at night before the count came home from the club were one of the greatest pleasures both of mother and daughter.

“What is it to-night? And I want to talk to you…” Natasha put her hand on her mother’s lips.

“About Boris…I know,” she said seriously; “that’s what I have come about. Don’t say it; I know. No, do say it!” She took her hand away. “Say it, mamma! He’s nice, eh?”

“Natasha, you are sixteen! At your age I was married. You say Boris is nice. He is very nice, and I love him like a son! But what do you want? …What are you thinking about? You have quite turned his head, I can see that…”

As she said this, the countess looked round at her daughter. Natasha was lying, looking steadily straight before her at one of the mahogany sphinxes carved on a corner of the bedstead, so that the countess could only see her daughter’s face in profile. Her face impressed the countess by its strikingly serious and concentrated expression.

Natasha was listening and considering.

“Well, so what then?” she said.

“You have completely turned his head, and what for? What do you want of him? You know you can’t marry him.”

“Why not?” said Natasha, with no change in her attitude.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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