with which she had listened to the sound of her own voice. Passing by the looking-glass, she glanced into it. “Yes, that’s me!” the expression of her face seemed to say at the sight of herself. “Well, and very nice too. And I need nobody.”

A footman would have come in to clear away something in the room, but she would not let him come in. She shut the door after him, and continued her promenade about the room. She had come back that morning to her favourite mood of loving herself and being ecstatic over herself. “What a charming creature that Natasha is!” she said again of herself, speaking as some third person, a generic, masculine person.

“Pretty, a voice, young, and she’s in nobody’s way, only leave her in peace.” But, however much she might be left in peace, she could not now be at peace, and she felt that immediately.

In the vestibule the hall-door opened; someone was asking, “At home?” and steps were audible. Natasha was looking at herself in the glass, but she did not see herself. She heard sounds in the vestibule. When she saw herself, her face was pale. It was he. She knew it for certain, though she herself caught the sound of his voice at the opened door.

Natasha, pale and panic-stricken, flew into the drawing-room.

“Mamma, Bolkonsky has come,” she said. “Mamma, this is awful, unbearable! … I don’t want … to be tortured! What am I to do?”

The countess had not time to answer her before Prince Andrey with a troubled and serious face walked into the drawing-room. As soon as he saw Natasha his face beamed with delight. He kissed the countess’s hand and Natasha’s, and sat down beside the sofa.

“It’s a long while since we have had the pleasure …” the countess was beginning, but Prince Andrey cut her short, answering her implied question, and obviously in haste to say what he had to say.

“I have not been to see you all this time because I have been to see my father; I had to talk over a very important matter with him. I only returned last night,” he said, glancing at Natasha. “I want to have a talk with you, countess,” he added after a moment’s silence.

The countess dropped her eyes, sighing heavily.

“I am at your disposal,” she brought out.

Natasha knew she ought to go, but she was unable to do so: something seemed gripping her throat, and, regardless of civility, she stared straight at Prince Andrey with wide-open eyes.

“At once? … This minute? … No, it cannot be!” she was thinking.

He glanced at her again, and that glance convinced her that she was not mistaken. Yes, at once, this very minute her fate was to be decided.

“Run away, Natasha; I will call you,” the countess whispered.

With frightened and imploring eyes Natasha glanced at Prince Andrey and at her mother, and went out.

“I have come, countess, to ask for your daughter’s hand,” said Prince Andrey.

The countess’s face flushed hotly, but she said nothing.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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