“Immediately, immediately.… And are you ready, mamma?”

“Only my cap to fasten on.”

“Don’t do it without me,” shouted Natasha; “you don’t know how to!”

“But it’s ten o’clock already.”

It had been arranged to be at the ball at half-past ten, and Natasha still had to dress, and they had to drive to Tavritchesky Garden.

When her coiffure was finished, Natasha, in her mother’s dressing-jacket and a short petticoat under which her dancing-shoes could be seen, ran up to Sonya, looked her over, and then ran to her mother. Turning her head round, she pinned on her cap, and hurriedly kissing her grey hair, ran back to the maids who were shortening her skirt.

All attention was now centred on Natasha’s skirt, which was too long. Two maids were running it up round the edge, hurriedly biting off the threads. A third one, with pins in her teeth and lips, was running from the countess to Sonya; a fourth was holding up the whole tulle dress in her arms.

“Mavrushka, quicker, darling!”

“Give me that thimble, miss.”

“Will you be quick?” said the count from outside the door, coming in. “Here are your smelling-salts. Madame Peronsky must be tired of waiting.”

“Ready, miss,” said the maid, lifting up the shortened tulle skirt on two fingers, blowing something off it, and giving it a shake to show her appreciation of the transparency and purity of what she had in her hands.

Natasha began putting on the dress.

“In a minute, in a minute, don’t come in, papa,” she shouted to her father at the door, from under the tulle of the dress that concealed all her face. Sonya slammed the door. A minute later the count was admitted. He was wearing a blue frock coat, stockings, and dancing-shoes, and was perfumed and pomaded.

“Ah, papa, how nice you look, lovely!” said Natasha, standing in the middle of the room, stroking out the folds of her tulle.

“If you please, miss, if you please…” said a maid, pulling up the skirt and turning the pins from one corner of her mouth to the other with her tongue.

“Say what you like!” cried Sonya, with despair in her voice, as she gazed at Natasha’s skirt, “say what you like!—it’s too long still!”

Natasha walked a little further off to look at herself in the pierglass. The skirt was too long.

“My goodness, madam, it’s not a bit too long,” said Mavrushka, creeping along the floor on her knees after her young lady.

“Well, if it’s long, we’ll tack it up, in one minute, we’ll tack it up,” said Dunyasha, a resolute character. And taking a needle out of the kerchief on her bosom she set to work again on the floor.

At that moment the countess in her cap and velvet gown walked shyly with soft steps into the room.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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