"Does it ever happen to you," said Natasha to her brother, when they settled down in the sitting room,"does it ever happen to you to feel as if there were nothing more to come — nothing; that everything good is past? And to feel not exactly dull, but sad?"
"I should think so!" he replied."I have felt like that when everything was all right and everyone was cheerful. The thought has come into my mind that I was already tired of it all, and that we must all die. Once in the regiment I had not gone to some merrymaking where there was music . . . and suddenly I felt so depressed . . ."
"Oh yes, I know, I know, I know!" Natasha interrupted him."When I was quite little that used to be so with me. Do you remember when I was punished once about some plums? You were all dancing, and I sat sobbing in the schoolroom? I shall never forget it: I felt sad and sorry for everyone, for myself, and for everyone. And I was innocent — that was the chief thing," said Natasha."Do you remember?"
"I remember," answered Nicholas."I remember that I came to you afterwards and wanted to comfort you, but do you know, I felt ashamed to. We were terribly absurd. I had a funny doll then and wanted to give it to you. Do you remember?"
"And do you remember," Natasha asked with a pensive smile,"how once, long, long ago, when we were quite little, Uncle called us into the study — that was in the old house — and it was dark — we went in and suddenly there stood . . ."
"A Negro," chimed in Nicholas with a smile of delight."Of course I remember. Even now I don't know whether there really was a Negro, or if we only dreamed it or were told about him."
"He was gray, you remember, and had white teeth, and stood and looked at us . . ."
"Sonya, do you remember?" asked Nicholas.
"Yes, yes, I do remember something too," Sonya answered timidly.
"You know I have asked Papa and Mamma about that Negro," said Natasha,"and they say there was no Negro at all. But you see, you remember!"
"Of course I do, I remember his teeth as if I had just seen them."
"How strange it is! It's as if it were a dream! I like that."
"And do you remember how we rolled hard-boiled eggs in the ballroom, and suddenly two old women began spinning round on the carpet? Was that real or not? Do you remember what fun it was?"
"Yes, and you remember how Papa in his blue overcoat fired a gun in the porch?"
So they went through their memories, smiling with pleasure: not the sad memories of old age, but poetic, youthful ones — those impressions of one's most distant past in which dreams and realities blend — and they laughed with quiet enjoyment.
Sonya, as always, did not quite keep pace with them, though they shared the same reminiscences.
Much that they remembered had slipped from her mind, and what she recalled did not arouse the same poetic feeling as they experienced. She simply enjoyed their pleasure and tried to fit in with it.
She only really took part when they recalled Sonya's first arrival. She told them how afraid she had been of Nicholas because he had on a corded jacket and her nurse had told her that she, too, would be sewn up with cords.
"And I remember their telling me that you had been born under a cabbage," said Natasha,"and I remember that I dared not disbelieve it then, but knew that it was not true, and I felt so uncomfortable."
While they were talking a maid thrust her head in at the other door of the sitting room.
"They have brought the cock, Miss," she said in a whisper.
"It isn't wanted, Petya. Tell them to take it away," replied Natasha.
In the middle of their talk in the sitting room, Dimmler came in and went up to the harp that stood there in a corner. He took off its cloth covering, and the harp gave out a jarring sound.
"Mr. Dimmler, please play my favorite nocturne by Field," came the old countess' voice from the drawing room.
Dimmler struck a chord and, turning to Natasha, Nicholas, and Sonya, remarked:"How quiet you young people are!"
"Yes, we're philosophizing," said Natasha, glancing round for a moment and then continuing the conversation. They were now discussing dreams.
Dimmler began to play; Natasha went on tiptoe noiselessly to the table, took up a candle, carried it out, and returned, seating herself quietly in her former place. It was dark in the room especially where they were sitting on the sofa, but through the big windows the silvery light of the full moon fell on the floor. Dimmler had finished the piece but still sat softly running his fingers over the strings, evidently uncertain whether to stop or to play something else.
"Do you know," said Natasha in a whisper, moving closer to Nicholas and Sonya,"that when one goes on and on recalling memories, one at last begins to remember what happened before one was in the world . . ."
"That is metempsychosis," said Sonya, who had always learned well, and remembered everything."The Egyptians believed that our souls have lived in animals, and will go back into animals again."
"No, I don't believe we ever were in animals," said Natasha, still in a whisper though the music had ceased."But I am certain that we were angels somewhere there, and have been here, and that is why we remember . . . ."
"May I join you?" said Dimmler who had come up quietly, and he sat down by them.
"If we have been angels, why have we fallen lower?" said Nicholas."No, that can't be!"
"Not lower, who said we were lower? . . . How do I know what I was before?" Natasha rejoined with conviction."The soul is immortal — well then, if I shall always live I must have lived before, lived for a whole eternity."
"Yes, but it is hard for us to imagine eternity," remarked Dimmler, who had joined the young folk with a mildly condescending smile but now spoke as quietly and seriously as they.
"Why is it hard to imagine eternity?" said Natasha."It is now today, and it will be tomorrow, and always; and there was yesterday, and the day before . . ."
"Natasha! Now it's your turn. Sing me something," they heard the countess say."Why are you sitting there like conspirators?"
"Mamma, I don't at all want to," replied Natasha, but all the same she rose.
None of them, not even the middle-aged Dimmler, wanted to break off their conversation and quit that corner in the sitting room, but Natasha got up and Nicholas sat down at the clavichord. Standing as usual in the middle of the hall and choosing the place where the resonance was best, Natasha began to sing her mother's favorite song.
She had said she did not want to sing, but it was long since she had sung, and long before she again sang, as she did that evening. The count, from his study where he was talking to Mitenka, heard her and, like a schoolboy in a hurry to run out to play, blundered in his talk while giving orders to the steward, and at last stopped, while Mitenka stood in front of him also listening and smiling. Nicholas did not take his eyes off his sister and drew breath in time with her. Sonya, as she listened, thought of the immense difference there was between herself and her friend, and how impossible it was for her to be anything like as bewitching as her cousin. The old countess sat with a blissful yet sad smile and with tears in her eyes, occasionally shaking her head. She thought of Natasha and of her own youth, and of how there was something unnatural and dreadful in this impending marriage of Natasha and Prince Andrew.