Nikolay sighed, and bit his moustache, and dealt the cards, trying to draw his mother’s attention to another subject.

After her visit to the Rostovs, and the unexpectedly cold reception she had met with from Nikolay, Princess Marya acknowledged to herself that she had been right in not wanting to be the first to call.

‘‘It was just what I expected,’’ she said to herself, summoning her pride to her aid. ‘‘I have no concern with him, and I only wanted to see the old lady, who was always kind to me, and to whom I am under obligation for many things.’’

But she could not tranquillise herself with these reflections: a feeling akin to remorse fretted her, when she thought of her visit. Although she was firmly resolved not to call again on the Rostovs, and to forget all about it, she was continually feeling herself in an undefined position. And when she asked herself what it was that worried her, she was obliged to admit that it was her relation to Rostov. His cold, ceremonious tone did not proceed from his feeling for her (of that she was convinced), but that tone covered something. What that something was, she wanted to see clearly, and till then she felt that she could not be at peace.

In the middle of the winter she was sitting in the schoolroom, supervising her nephew’s lessons, when the servant announced that Rostov was below. With the firm determination not to betray her secret, and not to manifest any embarrassment, she summoned Mademoiselle Bourienne, and with her went into the drawing-room.

At the first glance at Nikolay’s face, she saw that he had come merely to perform the obligations of civility, and she determined to keep to the tone he adopted towards her.

They talked of the health of the countess, of common acquaintances, of the latest news of the war, and when the ten minutes required by propriety had elapsed, Nikolay got up to say good-bye.

With the aid of Mademoiselle Bourienne, Princess Marya had kept up the conversation very well. But at the very last moment, just when he was getting up, she was so weary of talking of what did not interest her, and she was so absorbed in wondering why to her alone so little joy had been vouchsafed in life, that in a fit of abstraction, she sat motionless gazing straight before her with her luminous eyes, and not noticing that he was getting up.

Nikolay looked at her, and anxious to appear not to notice her abstraction, he said a few words to Mademoiselle Bourienne, and again glanced at the princess. She was sitting in the same immovable pose, and there was a look of suffering on her soft face. He felt suddenly sorry for her, and vaguely conscious that he might be the cause of the sadness he saw in her face. He longed to help her, to say something pleasant to her, but he could not think what to say to her.

‘‘Good-bye, princess,’’ he said. She started, flushed, and sighed heavily.

‘‘Oh, I beg your pardon,’’ she said, as though waking from sleep. ‘‘You are going already, count; well, good-bye! Oh, the cushion for the countess?’’

‘‘Wait a minute, I will fetch it,’’ said Mademoiselle Bourienne, and she left the room.

They were both silent, glancing at each other now and then.

‘‘Yes, princess,’’ said Nikolay at last, with a mournful smile, ‘‘it seems not long ago, but how much has happened since the first time we met at Bogutcharovo. We all seemed in such trouble then, but I would give a great deal to have that time back … and there’s no bringing it back.’’

Princess Marya was looking intently at him with her luminous eyes, as he said that. She seemed trying to divine the secret import of his words, which would make clear his feeling towards her.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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