"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? What's 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 into her eyes.
"Is it possible that I — the 'chit of a girl,' as everybody called me," thought Natasha —"is it possible that I am now to be the wife and the equal of this strange, dear, clever man whom even my father looks up to? Can it be true? Can it be true that there can be no more playing with life, that now I am grown up, that on me now lies a responsibility for my every word and deed? Yes, but what did he ask me?"
"No," she replied, but she had not understood his question.
"Forgive me!" he said."But you are so young, and I have already been through so much in life. I am afraid for you, you do not yet know yourself."
Natasha listened with concentrated attention, trying but failing to take in the meaning of his words.
"Hard as this year which delays my happiness will be," continued Prince Andrew,"it will give you time to be sure of yourself. I ask you to make me happy in a year, but you are free: our engagement shall remain a secret, and should you find that you do not love me, or should you come to love . . ." said Prince Andrew with an unnatural smile.
"Why do you say that?" Natasha interrupted him."You know that from the very day you first came to Otradnoe I have loved you," she cried, quite convinced that she spoke the truth.
"In a year you will learn to know yourself . . . ."
"A whole year!" Natasha repeated suddenly, only now realizing that the marriage was to be postponed for a year."But why a year? Why a year? . . ."
Prince Andrew began to explain to her the reasons for this delay. Natasha did not hear him.
"And can't it be helped?" she asked. Prince Andrew did not reply, but his face expressed the impossibility of altering that decision.
"It's awful! Oh, it's awful! awful!" Natasha suddenly cried, and again burst into sobs."I shall die, waiting a year: it's impossible, it's awful!" She looked into her lover's face and saw in it a look of commiseration and perplexity.
"No, no! I'll do anything!" she said, suddenly checking her tears."I am so happy."
The father and mother came into the room and gave the betrothed couple their blessing.
From that day Prince Andrew began to frequent the Rostovs' as Natasha's affianced lover.