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War And Peace 283


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he had to. "I have not been to see you all this time because I have been at my fathers. I had to talk over a very important matter with him. I only got back last night," he said glancing at Natasha; "I want to have a talk with you, Countess," he added after a moments pause. The countess lowered her eyes, sighing deeply. "I am at your disposal," she murmured. Natasha knew that she ought to go away, but was unable to do so: something gripped her throat, and regardless of manners she stared straight at Prince Andrew with wide-open eyes. "At once? This instant!... No, it cant be!" she thought. Again he glanced at her, and that glance convinced her that she was not mistaken. Yes, at once, that very instant, her fate would be decided. "Go, Natasha! I will call you," said the countess in a whisper. Natasha glanced with frightened imploring eyes at Prince Andrew and at her mother and went out. "I have come, Countess, to ask for your daughters hand," said Prince Andrew. The countess face flushed hotly, but she said nothing. "Your offer..." she began at last sedately. He remained silent, looking into her eyes. "Your offer..." (she grew confused) "is agreeable to us, and I accept your offer. I am glad. And my husband... I hope... but it will depend on her...." "I will speak to her when I have your consent.... Do you give it to me?" said Prince Andrew. "Yes," replied the countess. She held out her hand to him, and with a mixed feeling of estrangement and tenderness pressed her lips to his forehead as he stooped to kiss her hand. She wished to love him as a son, but felt that to her he was a stranger and a terrifying man. "I am sure my husband will consent," said the countess, "but your father..." "My father, to whom I have told my plans, has made it an express condition of his consent that the wedding is not to take place for a year. And I wished to tell you of that," said Prince Andrew. "It is true that Natasha is still young, but--so long as that?..." "It is unavoidable," said Prince Andrew with a sigh. "I will send her to you," said the countess, and left the room. "Lord have mercy upon us!" she repeated while seeking her daughter. Sonya said that Natasha was in her bedroom. Natasha was sitting on the bed, pale and dry eyed, and was gazing at the icons and whispering something as she rapidly crossed herself. Seeing her mother she jumped up and flew to her. "Well, Mamma?... Well?..." "Go, go to him. He is asking for your hand," said the countess, coldly it seemed to Natasha. "Go... go," said the mother, sadly and reproachfully, with a deep sigh, as her daughter ran away. Natasha never remembered how she entered the drawing room. When she came in and saw him she paused. "Is it possible that this stranger has now become everything to me?" she asked herself, and immediately answered, "Yes, everything! He alone is now dearer to me than everything in the world." Prince Andrew came up to her with downcast eyes. "I have loved you from the very first moment I saw you. May I hope?" He looked at her and was struck by the serious impassioned expression of her face. Her face said: "Why ask? Why doubt what you cannot but know? Why speak, when words cannot express what one feels?" She drew near to him and stopped. He took her hand and kissed it. "Do you love me?" "Yes, yes!" Natasha murmured as if in vexation. Then she sighed loudly and, catching her breath more and more quickly, began to sob. "What is it? Whats the matter?" "Oh, I am so happy!" she replied, smiled through her tears, bent over closer to him, paused for an instant as if asking herself whether she might, and then kissed him. Prince Andrew held her hands, looked into her eyes, and did not find in his heart his former love for her. Something in him had suddenly changed; there was no longer the former poetic and mystic charm of desire, but there was pity for her feminine and childish weakness, fear at her devotion and trustfulness, and an oppressive yet joyful sense of the duty that now bound him to her forever. The present feeling, though not so bright and poetic as the former, was stronger and more serious. "Did your mother tell you that it cannot be for a year?" asked Prince Andrew, still looking

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