Chapter 15

NATASHA had not had a free moment all that day, and had not once had time to think of what lay before her.

In the damp, chill air, in the closeness and half dark of the swaying carriage, she pictured to herself for the first time what was in store for her there, at the ball, in the brightly lighted halls—music, flowers, dancing, the Tsar, all the brilliant young people of Petersburg. The prospect before her was so splendid that she could not even believe that it would come to pass: so incongruous it seemed with the chilliness, darkness, and closeness of the carriage. She could only grasp all that awaited her when, walking over the red cloth, she went into the vestibule, took off her cloak, and walked beside Sonya in front of her mother between the flowers up the lighted staircase. Only then she remembered how she must behave at a ball, and tried to assume the majestic manner that she considered indispensable for a girl at a ball. But luckily she felt that there was a mist before her eyes; she could see nothing clearly, her pulse beat a hundred times a minute, and the blood throbbed at her heart. She was unable to assume the manner that would have made her absurd; and moved on, thrilling with excitement, and trying with all her might simply to conceal it. And it was just in this mood that she looked her best. In front and behind them walked guests dressed in similar ball-dresses and conversing in similarly subdued tones. The looking- glasses on the stair-cases reflected ladies in white, blue, and pink dresses, with diamonds and pearls on their bare arms and necks.

Natasha looked into the looking-glasses and could not distinguish herself from the rest. All was mingled into one brilliant procession. At the entrance into the first room, the regular hum of voices, footsteps, greetings, deafened Natasha; the light and brilliance dazzled her still more. The host and hostess who had been already standing at the door for half an hour, saying exactly the same words to every guest on arrival, Charmé de vous voir, gave the same greeting to the Rostovs and Madame Peronsky. The two young girls in their white dresses, with roses alike in their black hair, made curtsies just alike, but unconsciously the hostess’s eyes rested longer on the slender figure of Natasha. She looked at her, and smiled at her a smile that was something more than the smile of welcome she had for all. Looking at her, the hostess was reminded perhaps of her golden days of girlhood, gone never to return, of her own first ball. The host too followed Natasha with his eyes, and asked the count which of the girls was his daughter.

“Charming!” he said, kissing his own finger-tips.

In the ballroom, guests stood crowding about the entry in expectation of the Tsar. The countess took up her position in the front row of this crowd. Natasha heard and felt that several voices were asking who she was, that many pairs of eyes were fixed on her. She knew that she was making a good impression on those who noticed her, and this observation calmed her somewhat.

“There are some like ourselves, and some not as good,” she thought.

Madame Peronsky was pointing out to the countess the most distinguished persons at the ball.

“That is the Dutch ambassador, do you see, the grey-haired man,” Madame Peronsky was saying, indicating an old man with a profusion of silver-grey curls, who was surrounded by ladies laughing at some story he was telling. “And here she comes, the queen of Petersburg society, Countess Bezuhov,” she said, pointing to Ellen who had just come in.

“How lovely! She’s quite equal to Marya Antonovna. Look how attentive all the men are to her, young and old alike. She’s both lovely and clever.… They say Prince So-and-So is wild about her. And you see these two, though they are not good-looking, they are even more run after.”

She pointed out a lady who was crossing the room accompanied by a very ugly daughter.

“That’s the heiress of a million,” said Madame Peronsky. “And, look, here come her suitors.…That’s Countess Bezuhov’s brother, Anatole Kuragin,” she said, pointing to a handsome officer in the Horse Guards, who

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