Again the princess glanced still more uneasily at the companion, and would have spoken; but Pierre interrupted her.

“Only imagine, I knew nothing about him,” he said. “I believed he had been killed. All I have heard has been through others, at third-hand. I only know that he fell in with the Rostovs.… What a strange stroke of destiny!”

Pierre talked rapidly, eagerly. He glanced once at the companion’s face, saw attentively friendly, inquiring eyes fixed upon him; and as often happens, while talking, he vaguely felt that this lady-companion in the black dress was a good, kind, friendly creature, who need be no hindrance to his talking freely to Princess Marya.

But as he uttered the last words about the Rostovs, the embarrassment in Princess Marya’s face became even more marked. Again her eyes shifted from Pierre’s face to the face of the lady in the black dress, and she said:

“You don’t recognise her?”

Pierre glanced once more at the pale, thin face of her companion, with its black eyes and strange mouth. Something very near to him, long forgotten, and more than sweet, gazed at him out of those intent eyes.

“But no, it cannot be,” he thought. “That stern, thin, pale face that looks so much older? It cannot be she. It is only a reminder of it.”

But at that moment Princess Marya said, “Natasha!”

And the face with the intent eyes—painfully, with effort, like a rusty door opening—smiled, and through that opened door there floated to Pierre a sudden, overwhelming rush of long-forgotten bliss, of which, especially now, he had no thought. It breathed upon him, overwhelmed him, and swallowed him up entirely. When she smiled, there could be no doubt. It was Natasha, and he loved her.

In that first minute Pierre unwittingly betrayed to her and to Princess Marya, and most of all to himself, the secret of which he had been himself unaware. He flushed joyfully, and with agonising distress. He tried to conceal his emotion. But the more he tried to conceal it, the more clearly—more clearly than if he had uttered the most definite words—he betrayed to himself, and to her, and to Princess Marya, that he loved her.

“No, it is nothing; it’s the sudden surprise,” Pierre thought. But as soon as he tried to go on with the conversation with Princess Marya, he glanced again at Natasha, and a still deeper flush spread over his face, and a still more violent wave of rapture and terror flooded his heart. He stammered in his speech, and stopped short in the middle of a sentence.

Pierre had not noticed Natasha because he had never expected to see her here; but he had not recognised her because the change that had taken place in her since he had seen her was immense. She had grown thin and pale. But it was not that that made her unrecognisable. No one could have recognised her at the moment when he entered, because when he first glanced at her there was no trace of a smile in the eyes that in old days had always beamed with a suppressed smile of the joy of life. They were intent, kindly eyes, full of mournful inquiry, and nothing more.

Pierre’s embarrassment was not reflected in a corresponding embarrassment in Natasha, but only in a look of pleasure, that faintly lighted up her whole face.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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