“No, mamma, I’ll lie here on the floor,” said Natasha irritably; she went to the window and opened it. The moans of the adjutant could be heard more distinctly from the open window. She put her head out into the damp night air, and the countess saw her slender neck shaking with sobs and heaving against the window frame. Natasha knew it was not Prince Andrey moaning. She knew that Prince Andrey was in the same block of huts as they were in, that he was in the next hut just across the porch, but that fearful never-ceasing moan made her sob. The countess exchanged glances with Sonya.

“Go to bed, darling, go to bed, my pet,” said the countess, lightly touching Natasha’s shoulder. “Come, go to bed.”

“Oh yes … I’ll go to bed at once, at once,” said Natasha, hurriedly undressing, and breaking the strings of her petticoats. Dropping off her dress, and putting on a dressing-jacket, she sat down on the bed made up on the floor, tucking her feet under her, and flinging her short, fine hair over her shoulder, began plaiting it. Her thin, long, practised fingers rapidly and deftly divided, plaited, and tied up her hair. Natasha’s head turned from side to side as usual as she did this, but her eyes, feverishly wide, looked straight before her with the same fixed stare. When her toilet for the night was over, Natasha sank softly down on to the sheet laid on the hay nearest the door.

“Natasha, you lie in the middle,” said Sonya.

“I’ll stay here,” said Natasha. “And do go to bed,” she added in a tone of annoyance. And she buried her face in the pillow.

The countess, Madame Schoss, and Sonya hurriedly undressed and went to bed. The lamp before the holy images was the only light left in the room. But out of doors the fire at Little Mytishtchy lighted the country up for two versts round, and there was a noisy clamour of peasants shouting at the tavern across the street, which Mamonov’s Cossacks had broken into, and the moan of the adjutant could be heard unceasingly through everything.

For a long while Natasha listened to the sounds that reached her from within and without, and she did not stir. She heard at first her mother’s prayers and sighs, the creaking of her bed under her, Madame Schoss’s familiar, whistling snore, Sonya’s soft breathing. Then the countess called to Natasha. Natasha did not answer.

“I think she’s asleep, mamma,” answered Sonya.

The countess, after a brief silence, spoke again, but this time no one answered her.

Soon after this Natasha caught the sound of her mother’s even breathing. Natasha did not stir, though her little bare foot, poking out below the quilt, felt frozen against the uncovered floor.

A cricket chirped in a crack, as though celebrating a victory over all the world. A cock crowed far away, and another answered close by. The shouts had died away in the tavern, but the adjutant’s moaning went on still the same. Natasha sat up.

“Sonya! Are you asleep? Mamma!” she whispered. No one answered. Slowly and cautiously, Natasha got up, crossed herself, and stepped cautiously with her slender, supple, bare feet on to the dirty, cold floor. The boards creaked. With nimble feet she ran like a kitten a few steps, and took hold of the cold door-handle.

It seemed to her that something with heavy, rhythmical strokes was banging on all the walls of the hut; it was the beating of her own heart, torn with dread, with love and terror.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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