After receiving her visitors, the countess was so tired that she gave orders to admit no more, but the porter was told to be sure to invite to dinner all who came"to congratulate." The countess wished to have a tete-a-tete talk with the friend of her childhood, Princess Anna Mikhaylovna, whom she had not seen properly since she returned from Petersburg. Anna Mikhaylovna, with her tear-worn but pleasant face, drew her chair nearer to that of the countess.
"With you I will be quite frank," said Anna Mikhaylovna."There are not many left of us old friends! That's why I so value your friendship."
Anna Mikhaylovna looked at Vera and paused. The countess pressed her friend's hand.
"Vera," she said to her eldest daughter who was evidently not a favorite,"how is it you have so little tact? Don't you see you are not wanted here? Go to the other girls, or . . ."
The handsome Vera smiled contemptuously but did not seem at all hurt.
"If you had told me sooner, Mamma, I would have gone," she replied as she rose to go to her own room.
But as she passed the sitting room she noticed two couples sitting, one pair at each window. She stopped and smiled scornfully. Sonya was sitting close to Nicholas who was copying out some verses for her, the first he had ever written. Boris and Natasha were at the other window and ceased talking when Vera entered. Sonya and Natasha looked at Vera with guilty, happy faces.
It was pleasant and touching to see these little girls in love; but apparently the sight of them roused no pleasant feeling in Vera.
"How often have I asked you not to take my things?" she said."You have a room of your own," and she took the inkstand from Nicholas.
"In a minute, in a minute," he said, dipping his pen.
"You always manage to do things at the wrong time," continued Vera."You came rushing into the drawing room so that everyone felt ashamed of you."
Though what she said was quite just, perhaps for that very reason no one replied, and the four simply looked at one another. She lingered in the room with the inkstand in her hand.
"And at your age what secrets can there be between Natasha and Boris, or between you two? It's all nonsense!"
"Now, Vera, what does it matter to you?" said Natasha in defense, speaking very gently.
She seemed that day to be more than ever kind and affectionate to everyone.
"Very silly," said Vera."I am ashamed of you. Secrets indeed!"
"All have secrets of their own," answered Natasha, getting warmer."We don't interfere with you and Berg."
"I should think not," said Vera,"because there can never be anything wrong in my behavior. But I'll just tell Mamma how you are behaving with Boris."
"Natalya Ilynichna behaves very well to me," remarked Boris."I have nothing to complain of."
"Don't, Boris! You are such a diplomat that it is really tiresome," said Natasha in a mortified voice that trembled slightly. (She used the word"diplomat," which was just then much in vogue among the children, in the special sense they attached to it.)"Why does she bother me?" And she added, turning to Vera,"You'll never understand it, because you've never loved anyone. You have no heart! You are a Madame de Genlis and nothing more" (this nickname, bestowed on Vera by Nicholas, was considered very stinging),"and your greatest pleasure is to be unpleasant to people! Go and flirt with Berg as much as you please," she finished quickly.
"I shall at any rate not run after a young man before visitors . . ."
"Well, now you've done what you wanted," put in Nicholas —"said unpleasant things to everyone and upset them. Let's go to the nursery."
All four, like a flock of scared birds, got up and left the room.
"The unpleasant things were said to me," remarked Vera,"I said none to anyone."
"Madame de Genlis! Madame de Genlis!" shouted laughing voices through the door.
The handsome Vera, who produced such an irritating and unpleasant effect on everyone, smiled and, evidently unmoved by what had been said to her, went to the looking glass and arranged her hair and scarf. Looking at her own handsome face she seemed to become still colder and calmer.
In the drawing room the conversation was still going on.