Chapter 16

THERE was a sudden stir, the crowd began talking, rushed forward, then moved apart again, and down the space left open through it, the Tsar walked to the strains of the band, which struck up at once. Behind him walked the host and hostess. The Tsar walked in rapidly, bowing to right and to left, as though trying to hurry over the first moments of greeting. The musicians played the polonaise in vogue at the time on account of the words set to it. The words began: “Alexander, Elisaveta, our hearts ye ravish quite.” The Tsar went into the drawing-room, the crowd made a dash for the door; several persons ran hurriedly to the door and back with excited faces. The crowd made another rush back, away from the drawing-room door at which the Tsar appeared in conversation with the hostess. A young man, looking distraught, pounced down on the ladies and begged them to move aside. Several, with faces that betrayed a total oblivion of all the rules of decorum, squeezed forward, to the destruction of their dresses. The men began approaching the ladies, and couples were formed for the polonaise.

There was a general movement of retreat, and the Tsar, smiling, came out of the drawing-room door, leading out the lady of the house, and not keeping time to the music. He was followed by the host with Marya Antonovna Narishkin; then came ambassadors, ministers, and various generals, whose names Madame Peronsky never tired of reciting. More than half the ladies had partners, and were taking part, or preparing to take part, in the polonaise.

Natasha felt that she would be left with her mother and Sonya in that minority of the ladies who were crowded back against the wall, and not invited to dance the polonaise. She stood, her thin arms hanging at her sides, and her scarcely outlined bosom heaving regularly. She held her breath, and gazed before her with shining, frightened eyes, with an expression of equal readiness for the utmost bliss or the utmost misery. She took no interest in the Tsar, nor in all the great people Madame Peronsky was pointing out; her mind was filled by one thought: “Is it possible no one will come up to me? Is it possible that I shall not dance among the foremost? Is it possible I shall not be noticed by all these men, who now don’t even seem to see me, but if they look at me, look with an expression as though they would say: ‘Ah! that’s not she, so it’s no use looking’?” “No, it cannot be!” she thought. “They must know how I long to dance, how well I dance, and how they would enjoy dancing with me.”

The strains of the polonaise, which had already lasted some time, were beginning to sound like a melancholy reminiscence in the ears of Natasha. She wanted to cry. Madame Peronsky had left them. The count was at the other end of the ballroom, the countess, Sonya, and she stood in that crowd of strangers as lonely as in a forest, of no interest, of no use to any one. Prince Andrey with a lady passed close by them, obviously not recognising them. The handsome Anatole said something smiling to the lady on his arm, and he glanced at Natasha’s face as one looks at a wall. Boris passed by them, twice, and each time turned away. Berg and his wife, who were not dancing, came towards them.

This family meeting here, in a ballroom, seemed a humiliating thing to Natasha, as though there were nowhere else for family talk but here at a ball. She did not listen, and did not look at Vera, who said something to her about her own green dress.

At last the Tsar stood still beside the last of his partners (he had danced with three), the music ceased. An anxious-looking adjutant ran up to the Rostovs, begging them to move a little further back, though they were already close to the wall, and from the orchestra came the circumspect, precise, seductively, stately rhythm of the waltz. The Tsar glanced with a smile down the ballroom. A moment passed; no one had yet begun. An adjutant, who was a steward, went up to Countess Bezuhov and asked her to dance. Smiling, she raised her hand and laid it on the adjutant’s shoulder without looking at him. The adjutant-steward, a master of his art, grasped his partner firmly, and with confident deliberation and smoothness broke with her into the first gallop round the edge of the circle, then at the corner of the ballroom caught his partner’s left hand, turned her; and through the quickening strains of the music nothing could be heard but the regular jingle of the spurs on the adjutant’s rapid, practised feet, and at every third beat the swish of his partner’s flying velvet skirt as she whirled round.

Natasha looked at them, and was ready to cry that it was not she dancing that first round of the waltz.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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