Chapter 10

IN THE ENTR’ACTE there was a current of chill air in Ellen’s box, the door was opened, and Anatole walked in, bending and trying not to brush against any one.

“Allow me to introduce my brother,” said Ellen, her eyes shifting uneasily from Natasha to Anatole. Natasha turned her pretty little head towards the handsome adjutant and smiled over her bare shoulder. Anatole, who was as handsome on a closer view as he was from a distance, sat down beside her, and said he had long wished to have this pleasure, ever since the Narishkins’ ball, at which he had had the pleasure he had not forgotten of seeing her. Kuragin was far more sensible and straightforward with women than he was in men’s society. He talked boldly and simply, and Natasha was strangely and agreeably impressed by finding nothing so formidable in this man, of whom such stories were told, but, on the contrary, seeing on his face the most innocent, merry, and simple-hearted smile.

Kuragin asked her what she thought of the performance, and told her that at the last performance Semyonovna had fallen down while she was acting.

“And do you know, countess,” said he, suddenly addressing her as though she were an old friend, “we are getting up a costume ball; you ought to take part in it; it will be great fun. They are all assembling at the Karagins’. Please, do come, really now, eh?” he said. As he said this he never took his smiling eyes off the face, the neck, the bare arms of Natasha. Natasha knew beyond all doubt that he was fascinated by her. That pleased her, yet she felt for some reason constrained and oppressed in his presence. When she was not looking at him she felt that he was looking at her shoulders, and she could not help trying to catch his eyes that he might rather look in her face. But as she looked into his eyes she felt with horror that, between him and her, there was not that barrier of modest reserve she had always been conscious of between herself and other men. In five minutes she felt—she did not know how—that she had come fearfully close to this man. When she turned away, she felt afraid he might take her from behind by her bare arm and kiss her on the neck. They talked of the simplest things, and she felt that they were close as she had never been with any man. Natasha looked round at Ellen and at her father, as though to ask them what was the meaning of it. But Ellen was absorbed in talking to a general and did not respond to her glance, and her father’s eyes said nothing to her but what they always said: “Enjoying yourself? Well, I’m glad then.”

In one of the moments of awkward silence, during which Anatole gazed calmly and persistently at her, Natasha, to break the silence, asked him how he liked Moscow. Natasha asked this question and blushed as she did so; she was feeling all the while that there she was doing something improper in talking to him. Anatole smiled as though to encourage her.

“At first I didn’t like it much, for what is it makes one like a town? It’s the pretty women, isn’t it? Well, but now I like it awfully,” he said, with a meaning look at her. “You’ll come to the fancy dress ball, countess? Do come,” he said, and putting his hand out to her bouquet he said, dropping his voice, “You will be the prettiest. Come, dear countess, and as a pledge give me this flower.”

Natasha did not understand what he was saying, nor did he himself; but she felt that in his uncomprehended words there was some improper intention. She did not know what to say, and turned away as though she had not heard what he said. But as soon as she turned away she felt that he was here behind her, so close to her.

“What is he feeling now? Is he confused? Is he angry? Must I set it right?” she wondered. She could not refrain from looking round. She glanced straight into his eyes, and his nearness and confidence, and the simple-hearted warmth of his smile vanquished her. She smiled exactly as he did, looking straight into his eyes. And again, she felt with horror that no barrier lay between him and her.

The curtain rose again. Anatole walked out of the box, serene and good-humoured. Natasha went back to her father’s box, completely under the spell of the world in which she found herself. All that passed before her eyes now seemed to her perfectly natural. But on the other hand all previous thoughts of her

  By PanEris using Melati.

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