The children were sitting on chairs playing at driving to Moscow, and invited her to join them. She sat down and played with them, but the thought of her husband and his causeless ill-temper worried her all the time. She got up, and walked with difficulty on tiptoe to the little divan-room

‘‘Perhaps he is not asleep. I will speak plainly to him,’’ she said to herself. Andryusha, her elder boy, followed her on tiptoe, imitating her. His mother did not notice him.

‘‘Dear Marie, I believe he is asleep; he was so tired,’’ said Sonya, meeting her in the next room (it seemed to Countess Marya that she was everywhere). ‘‘Andryusha had better not wake him.’’

Countess Marya looked round, saw Andryusha behind her, felt that Sonya was right, and for that very reason flushed angrily, and with evident difficulty restrained herself from a cruel retort. She said nothing, and, so as not to obey her, let Andryusha follow her, but signed to him to be quiet, and went up to the door. Sonya went out by the other door. From the room where Nikolay was asleep, his wife could hear his even breathing, every tone of which was so familiar. As she listened to it, she could see his smooth, handsome brow, his moustaches, the whole face she had so often gazed at in the stillness of the night when he was asleep. Nikolay suddenly stirred and cleared his throat. And at the same instant Andryusha shouted from the door, ‘‘Papa, mamma’s here!’’ His mother turned pale with dismay and made signs to the boy. He was quiet, and there followed a terrible silence that lasted a minute. She knew how Nikolay disliked being waked. Suddenly she heard him stir and clear his throat again, and in a tone of displeasure he said:

‘‘I’m never given a moment’s peace. Marie, is it you? Why did you bring him here?’’

‘‘I only came to look … I did not see … I’m so sorry …’’

Nikolay coughed and said no more. His wife went away, and took her son back to the nursery. Five minutes later little, black-eyed, three-year-old Natasha, her father’s favourite, hearing from her brother that papa was asleep, and mamma in the next room, ran in to her father, unnoticed by her mother.

The black-eyed little girl boldly rattled at the door, and her fat, little feet ran with vigorous steps up to the sofa. After examining the position of her father, who was asleep with his back to her, she stood on tiptoe and kissed the hand that lay under his head. Nikolay turned round to her with a smile of tenderness on his face.

‘‘Natasha, Natasha!’’ he heard his wife whisper in dismay from the door. ‘‘Papa is sleepy.’’

‘‘No, mamma, he isn’t sleepy,’’ little Natasha answered with conviction. ‘‘He’s laughing.’’

Nikolay set his feet down, got up, and picked his little daughter up in his arms.

‘‘Come in, Masha,’’ he said to his wife. She went in and sat down beside him.

‘‘I did not see him run in after me,’’ she said timidly. ‘‘I just looked in …’’

Holding his little girl on one arm, Nikolay looked at his wife, and noticing her guilty expression, he put the other arm round her and kissed her on the hair.

‘‘May I kiss mamma?’’ he asked Natasha. The little girl smiled demurely. ‘‘Again,’’ she said, with a peremptory gesture, pointing to the spot where Nikolay had kissed her mother.

‘‘I don’t know why you should think I am cross,’’ said Nikolay, replying to the question which he knew was in his wife’s heart.

‘‘You can’t imagine how unhappy, how lonely, I am when you are like that. It always seems to me …’’

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