Prince Andrey, in his white uniform of a cavalry colonel, wearing stockings and dancing-shoes, stood looking eager and lively, in the front of the ring not far from the Rostovs. Baron Firhoff was talking to him of the proposed first sitting of the State Council to be held next day. From his intimacy with Speransky, and the part he was taking in the labours of the legislative commission, Prince Andrey was in a position to give authoritative information in regard to that sitting, about which the most diverse rumours were current. But he did not hear what Firhoff was saying to him, and looked from the Tsar to the gentlemen preparing to dance, who had not yet stepped out into the ring.

Prince Andrey was watching these gentlemen, who were timid in the presence of the Tsar, and the ladies, who were dying to be asked to dance.

Pierre went up to Prince Andrey and took him by the arm.

“You always dance. Here is my protégée, the younger Rostov girl, ask her,” he said.

“Where?” asked Bolkonsky. “I beg your pardon,” he said, turning to the baron, “we will finish this conversation in another place, but at a ball one must dance.” He went forward in the direction indicated by Pierre. Natasha’s despairing, tremulous face broke upon Prince Andrey. He recognised her, guessed her feelings, saw that it was her debut, remembered what she had said at the window, and with an expression of pleasure on his face he approached Countess Rostov.

“Permit me to introduce you to my daughter,” said the countess, reddening.

“I have the pleasure of her acquaintance already, if the countess remembers me,” said Prince Andrey, with a low and courteous bow, which seemed a direct contradiction to Madame Peronsky’s remarks about his rudeness. He went up to Natasha, and raised his hand to put it round her waist before he had fully uttered the invitation to dance. He proposed a waltz to her. The tremulous expression of Natasha’s face, ready for despair or for ecstasy, brightened at once into a happy, grateful, childlike smile.

“I have been a long while waiting for you,” that alarmed and happy young girl seemed to say to him in the smile that peeped out through the starting tears as she raised her hand to Prince Andrey’s shoulder. They were the second couple that walked forward into the ring.

Prince Andrey was one of the best dancers of his day. Natasha danced exquisitely. Her little feet in their satin dancing-shoes performed their task lightly and independently of her, and her face beamed with a rapture of happiness.

Her bare neck and arms were thin, and not beautiful compared with Ellen’s shoulders. Her shoulders were thin, her bosom undefined, her arms were slender. But Ellen was, as it were, covered with the hard varnish of those thousands of eyes that had scanned her person, while Natasha seemed like a young girl stripped for the first time, who would have been greatly ashamed if she had not been assured by every one that it must be so.

Prince Andrey loved dancing. He was anxious to escape as quickly as he could from the political and intellectual conversations into which every one tried to draw him, and anxious too to break through that burdensome barrier of constraint arising from the presence of the Tsar; so he made haste to dance, and chose Natasha for a partner because Pierre pointed her out to him, and because she was the first pretty girl who caught his eyes. But he had no sooner put his arm round that slender, supple waist, and felt her stirring so close to him, and smiling so close to him, than the intoxication of her beauty flew to his head. He felt full of life and youth again as, drawing a deep breath, he brought her to a standstill and began to watch the other couples.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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