On returning late in the evening Sonya went to Natasha's room, and to her surprise found her still dressed and asleep on the sofa. Open on the table, beside her lay Anatole's letter. Sonya picked it up and read it.
As she read she glanced at the sleeping Natasha, trying to find in her face an explanation of what she was reading, but did not find it. Her face was calm, gentle, and happy. Clutching her breast to keep herself from choking, Sonya, pale and trembling with fear and agitation, sat down in an armchair and burst into tears.
"How was it I noticed nothing? How could it go so far? Can she have left off loving Prince Andrew? And how could she let Kuragin go to such lengths? He is a deceiver and a villain, that's plain! What will Nicholas, dear noble Nicholas, do when he hears of it? So this is the meaning of her excited, resolute, unnatural look the day before yesterday, yesterday, and today," thought Sonya."But it can't be that she loves him! She probably opened the letter without knowing who it was from. Probably she is offended by it. She could not do such a thing!"
Sonya wiped away her tears and went up to Natasha, again scanning her face.
"Natasha!" she said, just audibly.
Natasha awoke and saw Sonya.
"Ah, you're back?"
And with the decision and tenderness that often come at the moment of awakening, she embraced her friend, but noticing Sonya's look of embarrassment, her own face expressed confusion and suspicion.
"Sonya, you've read that letter?" she demanded.
"Yes," answered Sonya softly.
Natasha smiled rapturously.
"No, Sonya, I can't any longer!" she said."I can't hide it from you any longer. You know, we love one another! Sonya, darling, he writes . . . Sonya . . ."
Sonya stared open-eyed at Natasha, unable to believe her ears.
"And Bolkonski?" she asked.
"Ah, Sonya, if you only knew how happy I am!" cried Natasha."You don't know what love is . . . ."
"But, Natasha, can that be all over?"
Natasha looked at Sonya with wide-open eyes as if she could not grasp the question.
"Well, then, are you refusing Prince Andrew?" said Sonya.
"Oh, you don't understand anything! Don't talk nonsense, just listen!" said Natasha, with momentary vexation.
"But I can't believe it," insisted Sonya."I don't understand. How is it you have loved a man for a whole year and suddenly . . . Why, you have only seen him three times! Natasha, I don't believe you, you're joking! In three days to forget everything and so . . ."
"Three days?" said Natasha."It seems to me I've loved him a hundred years. It seems to me that I have never loved anyone before. You can't understand it . . . . Sonya, wait a bit, sit here," and Natasha embraced and kissed her.
"I had heard that it happens like this, and you must have heard it too, but it's only now that I feel such love. It's not the same as before. As soon as I saw him I felt he was my master and I his slave, and that I could not help loving him. Yes, his slave! Whatever he orders I shall do. You don't understand that. What can I do? What can I do, Sonya?" cried Natasha with a happy yet frightened expression.
"But think what you are doing," cried Sonya."I can't leave it like this. This secret correspondence . . . How could you let him go so far?" she went on, with a horror and disgust she could hardly conceal.
"I told you that I have no will," Natasha replied."Why can't you understand? I love him!"
"Then I won't let it come to that . . . I shall tell!" cried Sonya, bursting into tears.
"What do you mean? For God's sake . . . If you tell, you are my enemy!" declared Natasha."You want me to be miserable, you want us to be separated . . . ."
When she saw Natasha's fright, Sonya shed tears of shame and pity for her friend.
"But what has happened between you?" she asked."What has he said to you? Why doesn't he come to the house?"
Natasha did not answer her questions.
"For God's sake, Sonya, don't tell anyone, don't torture me," Natasha entreated."Remember no one ought to interfere in such matters! I have confided in you . . . ."
"But why this secrecy? Why doesn't he come to the house?" asked Sonya."Why doesn't he openly ask for your hand? You know Prince Andrew gave you complete freedom — if it is really so; but I don't believe it! Natasha, have you considered what these secret reasons can be?"
Natasha looked at Sonya with astonishment. Evidently this question presented itself to her mind for the first time and she did not know how to answer it.
"I don't know what the reasons are. But there must be reasons!"
Sonya sighed and shook her head incredulously.
"If there were reasons . . ." she began.
But Natasha, guessing her doubts, interrupted her in alarm.
"Sonya, one can't doubt him! One can't, one can't! Don't you understand?" she cried.
"Does he love you?"
"Does he love me?" Natasha repeated with a smile of pity at her friend's lack of comprehension."Why, you have read his letter and you have seen him."
"But if he is dishonorable?"
"He! dishonorable? If you only knew!" exclaimed Natasha.
"If he is an honorable man he should either declare his intentions or cease seeing you; and if you won't do this, I will. I will write to him, and I will tell Papa!" said Sonya resolutely.
"But I can't live without him!" cried Natasha.
"Natasha, I don't understand you. And what are you saying! Think of your father and of Nicholas."
"I don't want anyone, I don't love anyone but him. How dare you say he is dishonorable? Don't you know that I love him?" screamed Natasha."Go away, Sonya! I don't want to quarrel with you, but go, for God's sake go! You see how I am suffering!" Natasha cried angrily, in a voice of despair and repressed irritation. Sonya burst into sobs and ran from the room.
Natasha went to the table and without a moment's reflection wrote that answer to Princess Mary which she had been unable to write all the morning. In this letter she said briefly that all their misunderstandings were at an end; that availing herself of the magnanimity of Prince Andrew who when he went abroad had given her her freedom, she begged Princess Mary to forget everything and forgive her if she had been to blame toward her, but that she could not be his wife. At that moment this all seemed quite easy, simple, and clear to Natasha.
On Friday the Rostovs were to return to the country, but on Wednesday the count went with the prospective purchaser to his estate near Moscow.
On the day the count left, Sonya and Natasha were invited to a big dinner party at the Karagins', and Marya Dmitrievna took them there. At that party Natasha again met Anatole, and Sonya noticed that she spoke to him, trying not to be overheard, and that all through dinner she was more agitated than ever. When they got home Natasha was the first to begin the explanation Sonya expected.
"There, Sonya, you were talking all sorts of nonsense about him," Natasha began in a mild voice such as children use when they wish to be praised."We have had an explanation today."
"Well, what happened? What did he say? Natasha, how glad I am you're not angry with me! Tell me everything — the whole truth. What did he say?"