Nicholas lowered his legs, rose, and took his daughter in his arms.
"Come in, Mary," he said to his wife.
She went in and sat down by her husband.
"I did not notice him following me," she said timidly."I just looked in."
Holding his little girl with one arm, Nicholas glanced at his wife and, seeing her guilty expression, put his other arm around her and kissed her hair.
"May I kiss Mamma?" he asked Natasha.
Natasha smiled bashfully.
"Again!" she commanded, pointing with a peremptory gesture to the spot where Nicholas had placed the kiss.
"I don't know why you think I am cross," said Nicholas, replying to the question he knew was in his wife's mind.
"You have no idea how unhappy, how lonely, I feel when you are like that. It always seems to me . . ."
"Mary, don't talk nonsense. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" he said gaily.
"It seems to be that you can't love me, that I am so plain . . . always . . . and now . . . in this cond . . ."
"Oh, how absurd you are! It is not beauty that endears, it's love that makes us see beauty. It is only Malvinas and women of that kind who are loved for their beauty. But do I love my wife? I don't love her, but . . . I don't know how to put it. Without you, or when something comes between us like this, I seem lost and can't do anything. Now do I love my finger? I don't love it, but just try to cut it off!"
"I'm not like that myself, but I understand. So you're not angry with me?"
"Awfully angry!" he said, smiling and getting up. And smoothing his hair he began to pace the room.
"Do you know, Mary, what I've been thinking?" he began, immediately thinking aloud in his wife's presence now that they had made it up.
He did not ask if she was ready to listen to him. He did not care. A thought had occurred to him and so it belonged to her also. And he told her of his intention to persuade Pierre to stay with them till spring.
Countess Mary listened till he had finished, made some remark, and in her turn began thinking aloud. Her thoughts were about the children.
"You can see the woman in her already," she said in French, pointing to little Natasha."You reproach us women with being illogical. Here is our logic. I say: 'Papa wants to sleep!' but she says, 'No, he's laughing.' And she was right," said Countess Mary with a happy smile.
"Yes, yes." And Nicholas, taking his little daughter in his strong hand, lifted her high, placed her on his shoulder, held her by the legs, and paced the room with her. There was an expression of carefree happiness on the faces of both father and daughter.
"But you know you may be unfair. You are too fond of this one," his wife whispered in French.
"Yes, but what am I to do? . . . I try not to show . . ."
At that moment they heard the sound of the door pulley and footsteps in the hall and anteroom, as if someone had arrived.
"Somebody has come."
"I am sure it is Pierre. I will go and see," said Countess Mary and left the room.
In her absence Nicholas allowed himself to give his little daughter a gallop round the room. Out of breath, he took the laughing child quickly from his shoulder and pressed her to his heart. His capers reminded him of dancing, and looking at the child's round happy little face he thought of what she would be like when he was an old man, taking her into society and dancing the mazurka with her as his old father had danced Daniel Cooper with his daughter.
"It is he, it is he, Nicholas!" said Countess Mary, re-entering the room a few minutes later."Now our Natasha has come to life. You should have seen her ecstasy, and how he caught it for having stayed away so long. Well, come along now, quick, quick! It's time you two were parted," she added, looking smilingly at the little girl who clung to her father.
Nicholas went out holding the child by the hand.
Countess Mary remained in the sitting room.
"I should never, never have believed that one could be so happy," she whispered to herself. A smile lit up her face but at the same time she sighed, and her deep eyes expressed a quiet sadness as though she felt, through her happiness, that there is another sort of happiness unattainable in this life and of which she involuntarily thought at that instant.