Chapter 21

PIERRE, as one of the most honoured guests, was obliged to sit down to boston with the old count, the general, and the colonel. As he sat at the boston-table he happened to be directly facing Natasha and he was struck by the curious change that had come over her since the day of the ball. Natasha was silent, and not only was she not so pretty as she had been at the ball, she would have been positively plain but for the look of gentle indifference to everything in her face

“What is wrong with her?” Pierre wondered, glancing at her. She was sitting by her sister at the tea- table; she gave reluctant answers to Boris at her side and did not look at him. After playing all of one suit and taking five tricks to his partner’s satisfaction, Pierre, having caught the sound of greetings and the steps of some one entering while he took his tricks glanced at her again.

“Why, what has happened to her?” he said to himself in still greater wonder.

Prince Andrey was standing before her saying something to her with an expression of guarded tenderness on his face. She, lifting her head, was looking at him, flushing crimson, and visibly trying to control her breathing, which came in panting gasps. And the vivid glow of some inner fire that had been quenched before was alight in her again. She was utterly transformed. From a plain girl she was once more the beautiful creature she had been at the ball.

Prince Andrey went up to Pierre, and Pierre noticed a new, youthful expression in his friend’s face. Several times Pierre changed his seat during the play, sitting sometimes with his back to Natasha, sometimes facing her, and during all the six rubbers he was observing her and his friend.

“Something very serious is happening between them,” thought Pierre, and a feeling at once of gladness and of bitterness made him agitated and forgetful of the game.

After six rubbers the general got up, saying it was of no use playing like that, and Pierre was at liberty. Natasha, at one side of the room, was talking to Sonya and Boris. Vera, with a subtle smile, was saying something to Prince Andrey. Pierre went up to his friend, and, asking whether they were talking secrets, sat down beside them. Vera, noticing Prince Andrey’s attention to Natasha, felt that at a soirée, at a real soirée, it was absolutely necessary there should be delicate allusions to the tender passion, and seizing an opportunity when Prince Andrey was alone, began a conversation with him upon the emotions generally, and her sister in particular. She felt that, with a guest so intellectual as she considered Prince Andrey, she must put all her diplomatic tact into the task before her. When Pierre went up to them he noticed that Vera was in full flow of self-complacent talk, while Prince Andrey seemed embarrassed—a thing that rarely happened to him.

“What do you think?” Vera was saying with a subtle smile. “You, prince, have so much penetration and see into people’s characters at once. What do you think about Natalie? Is she capable of constancy in her attachments? Is she capable, like other women” (Vera meant herself) “of loving a man once for all and remaining faithful to him for ever? That’s what I regard as true love! What do you think, prince?”

“I know your sister too little,” answered Prince Andrey, with a sarcastic smile, under which he tried to conceal his embarrassment, “to decide a question so delicate; and, besides, I have noticed that the less attractive a woman is, the more constant she is apt to be,” he added, and he looked at Pierre, who at that moment joined them.

“Yes, that is true, prince. In these days,” pursued Vera (talking of “these days,” as persons of limited intellect as a rule love to do, supposing they have discovered and estimated the peculiarities of the times and that human characteristics do change with the times), “in these days a girl has so much liberty that the pleasure of being paid attention often stifles these feelings in her. And Natalie, it must be confessed, is very susceptible on that side.”

This going back to Natasha again made Prince Andrey contract his brows disagreeably. He tried to get up, but Vera persisted with a still more subtle smile.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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