“Because he’s so young, because he’s poor, because he’s a relation…because you don’t care for him yourself.”

“How do you know that?”

“I know. It’s not right, my darling.”

“But if I want to…” said Natasha.

“Leave off talking nonsense,” said the countess.

“But if I want to…”

“Natasha, I am serious…”

Natasha did not let her finish; she drew the countess’s large hand to her, and kissed it on the upper side, and then on the palm, then turned it over again and began kissing it on the knuckle of the top joint of the finger, then on the space between the knuckles, then on a knuckle again, whispering: “January, February, March, April, May.”

“Speak, mamma; why are you silent? Speak,” she said, looking round at her mother, who was gazing tenderly at her daughter, and apparently in gazing at her had forgotten all she meant to say.

“This won’t do, my dear. It’s not every one who will understand your childish feelings for one another, and seeing him on such intimate terms with you may prejudice you in the eyes of other young men who visit us, and what is of more consequence, it’s making him wretched for nothing. He had very likely found a match that would suit him, some wealthy girl, and now he’s half-crazy.”

“Half-crazy?” repeated Natasha.

“I’ll tell you what happened in my own case. I had a cousin…”

“I know—Kirilla Matveitch; but he’s old.”

“He was not always old. But I tell you what, Natasha, I’ll speak to Boris. He mustn’t come so often…”

“Why mustn’t he, if he wants to?”

“Because I know it can’t come to anything.”

“How do you know? No, mamma, don’t speak to him. What nonsense!” said Natasha, in the tone of a man being robbed of his property. “Well, I won’t marry him, so let him come, if he enjoys it and I enjoy it.”

Natasha looked at her mother, smiling. “Not to be married, but—just so,” she repeated.

“How so, my dear?”

“Oh, just so. I see it’s very necessary I shouldn’t marry him, but…just so.”

“Just so, just so,” repeated the countess, and shaking all over, she went off into a good-natured, unexpectedly elderly laugh.

“Don’t laugh, stop,” cried Natasha; “you’re shaking all the bed. You’re awfully like me, just another giggler…Stop…” She snatched both the countess’s hands, kissed one knuckle of the little finger, for June, and went on kissing—July, August—on the other hand. “Mamma, is he very much in love? What do you think? Were

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