Chapter 14

ON THE 31ST of December, on the eve of the new year 1810, a ball was given by a grand personage who had been a star of the court of Catherine. The Tsar and the diplomatic corps were to be present at this ball.

The well-known mansion of this grandee in the English Embankment was illuminated by innumerable lights. The police were standing at the lighted entry, laid with red baize; and not merely policemen, but a police commander was at the entrance, and dozens of officers of the police. Carriages kept driving away, and fresh ones kept driving up, with grooms in red livery and grooms in plumed hats. From the carriages emerged men wearing uniforms, stars, and ribbons; while ladies in satin and ermine stepped carefully out on the carriage steps, that were let down with a bang, and then walked hurriedly and noiselessly over the baize of the entry.

Almost every time a new carriage drove up, a whisper ran through the crowd and hats were taken off. “The Emperor?…No, a minister…prince…ambassador…Don’t you see the plumes?…” was audible in the crowd. One person, better dressed than the rest, seemed to know every one, and mentioned by name all the most celebrated personages of the day.

A third of the guests had already arrived at this ball, while the Rostovs, who were to be present at it, were still engaged in hurried preparations.

Many had been the discussions and the preparations for that ball in the Rostov family; many the fears that an invitation might not arrive, that the dresses would not be ready, and that everything would not be arranged as it ought to be.

The Rostovs were to be accompanied by Marya Ignatyevna Peronsky, a friend and relation of the countess, a thin and yellow maid-of-honour of the old court, who was acting as a guide to the provincial Rostovs in the higher circles of Petersburg society.

At ten o’clock the Rostovs were to drive to Tavritchesky Garden to call for the maid-of-honour. Meantime it was five minutes to ten, and the young ladies were not yet dressed.

Natasha was going to her first great ball. She had got up at eight o’clock that morning, and had spent the whole day in feverish agitation and activity. All her energies had since morning been directed to the one aim of getting herself, her mother, and Sonya as well dressed as possible. Sonya and her mother put themselves entirely in her hands. The countess was to wear a dark red velvet dress; the two girls white tulle dresses over pink silk slips, and roses on their bodices. They were to wear their hair à la grecque.

All the essentials were ready. Feet, arms, necks, and ears had been washed, scented, and powdered with peculiar care in readiness for the ball. Openwork silk stockings and white satin shoes with ribbons had been put on. The hairdressing was almost accomplished. Sonya was finishing dressing, so was the countess; but Natasha, who had been busily looking after every one, was behindhand. She was still sitting before the looking-glass with a peignoir thrown over her thin shoulders. Sonya, already dressed, stood in the middle of the room, and was trying to fasten in a last ribbon, hurting her little finger as she pressed the pin with a scrooping sound into the silk.

“Not like that, Sonya, not like that!” said Natasha, turning her head, and clutching her hair in both hands, as the maid arranging it was not quick enough in letting it go. “The ribbon mustn’t go like that; come here.” Sonya squatted down. Natasha pinned the ribbon in her own way.

“Really, miss, you mustn’t do so,” said the maid, holding Natasha’s hair.

“Oh, my goodness! Afterwards! There, that’s right, Sonya.”

“Will you soon be ready?” they heard the countess’s voice. “It will be ten in a minute.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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