Chapter 11

PELAGEA DANILOVNA MELYUKOV, a broad-shouldered, energetic woman in spectacles and a loose house dress, was sitting in her drawing-room, surrounded by her daughters, and doing her utmost to keep them amused. They were quietly occupied in dropping melted wax into water and watching the shadows of the shapes it assumed, when they heard the noise of steps in the vestibule, and the voices of people arriving.

The hussars, fine ladies, witches, clowns, and bears, coughing and rubbing the hoar-frost off their faces, came into the hall, where they were hurriedly lighting candles. The clown—Dimmler—and the old lady—Nikolay—opened the dance. Surrounded by the shrieking children, the mummers hid their faces, and disguising their voices, bowed to their hostess and dispersed about the room.

“Oh, there’s no recognising them. And Natasha! See what she looks like! Really, she reminds me of some one. How good Edward Karlitch is! I didn’t know him. And how he dances! Oh, my goodness, and here’s a Circassian too, upon my word; how it suits Sonyushka! And who’s this? Well, you have brought us some fun! Take away the tables, Nikita Vanya. And we were sitting so quiet and dull!”

“Ha—ha—he!…The hussar, the hussar! Just like a boy; and the legs!…I can’t look at him,…” voices cried.

Natasha, the favourite of the young Melyukovs, disappeared with them into rooms at the back of the house, and burnt cork and various dressing-gowns and masculine garments were sent for and taken from the footman by bare, girlish arms through the crack of the half-open door. In ten minutes all the younger members of the Melyukov family reappeared in fancy dresses too.

Pelagea Danilovna, busily giving orders for clearing the room for the guests and preparing for their entertainment, walked about among the mummers in her spectacles, with a suppressed smile, looking close at them and not recognising any one. She not only failed to recognise the Rostovs and Dimmler, but did not even know her own daughters, or identify the masculine dressing-gowns and uniforms in which they were disguised.

“And who is this?” she kept saying, addressing her governess and gazing into the face of her own daughter disguised as a Tatar of Kazan. “One of the Rostovs, I fancy. And you, my hussar, what regiment are you in, pray?” she asked Natasha. “Give the Turk a preserved fruit,” she said to the footman carrying round refreshments; “that’s not forbidden by his law.”

Sometimes, looking at the strange and ludicrous capers cut by the dancers, who, having made up their minds once for all that no one recognised them, were quite free from shyness, Pelagea Danilovna hid her face in her handkerchief, and all her portly person shook with irrepressible, good-natured, elderly laughter.

“My Sashinette, my Sashinette!” she said.

After Russian dances and songs in chorus, Pelagea Danilovna made all the party, servants and gentry alike, join in one large circle. They brought in a string, a ring, and a silver rouble, and began playing games.

An hour later all the fancy dresses were crumpled and untidy. The corked moustaches and eyebrows were wearing off the heated, perspiring, and merry faces. Pelagea Danilovna began to recognise the mummers. She was enthusiastic over the cleverness of the dresses and the way they suited them, especially the young ladies, and thanked them all for giving them such good fun. The guests were invited into the drawing-room for supper, while the servants were regaled in the hall.

“Oh, trying one’s fate in the bath-house, that’s awful!” was said at the supper-table by an old maiden lady who lived with the Melyukovs.

“Why so?” asked the eldest daughter of the Melyukovs.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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