Chapter 20

A FEW INTIMATE FRIENDS were, as usual on Sundays, dining with the Rostovs.

Pierre came early, hoping to find them alone.

Pierre had that year grown so stout, that he would have been grotesque, had not he been so tall, so broad-shouldered, and so powerfully built that he carried off his bulky proportions with evident ease.

Puffing, and muttering something to himself, he went up the stairs. His coachman did not even ask whether he should wait. He knew that when the count was at the Rostovs’, it was till midnight. The Rostovs’ footmen ran with eager welcome to take off his cloak, and take his stick and hat. From the habit of the club, Pierre always left his stick and hat in the vestibule.

The first person he saw at the Rostovs’ was Natasha. Before he saw her, while taking off his cloak, he heard her. She was practising her solfa exercises in the hall. He knew she had given up singing since her illness, and so he was surprised and delighted at the sound of her voice. He opened the door softly, and saw Natasha, in the lilac dress she had worn at the service, walking up and down the room singing. She had her back turned to him as he opened the door; but when she turned sharply round and saw his broad, surprised face, she flushed and ran quickly up to him.

“I want to try and sing again,” she said. “It’s something to do, any way,” she added as though in excuse.

“Quite right too!”

“How glad I am you have come! I’m so happy to-day,” she said with the old eagerness that Pierre had not seen for so long. “You know, Nikolenka has got the St. George’s Cross. I’m so proud of him.”

“Of course, I sent you the announcement. Well, I won’t interrupt you,” he added, and would have gone on to the drawing-room.

Natasha stopped him.

“Count, is it wrong of me to sing?” she said, blushing, but still keeping her eyes fixed inquiringly on Pierre.

“No.… Why should it be? On the contrary.… But why do you ask me?”

“I don’t know myself,” Natasha answered quickly; “but I shouldn’t like to do anything you wouldn’t like. I trust you in everything. You don’t know how much you are to me, and what a great deal you have done for me!” …She spoke quickly, and did not notice how Pierre flushed at these words. “I saw in that announcement, he, Bolkonsky” (she uttered the word in a rapid whisper), “he is in Russia, and in the army again. What do you think,” she said hurriedly, evidently in haste to speak because she was afraid her strength would fail her, “will he ever forgive me? Will he not always have an evil feeling for me? What do you think? What do you think?”

“I think…” said Pierre. “He has nothing to forgive… If I were in his place…” From association of ideas, Pierre was instantly carried back in imagination to the time when he had comforted her by saying that if he were not himself, but the best man in the world and free, he would beg on his knees for her hand, and the same feeling of pity, tenderness, and love took possession of him, and the same words rose to his lips. But she did not give him time to utter them.

“Yes, you—you,” she said, uttering that word you with enthusiasm, “that’s a different matter. Any one kinder, more generous than you, I have never known—no one could be. If it had not been for you then, and now too… I don’t know what would have become of me, because…” Tears suddenly came into her eyes: she turned away, held her music before her eyes, and began again singing and walking up and down the room.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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