Pierre, as one of the principal guests, had to sit down to boston with Count Rostov, the general, and the colonel. At the card table he happened to be directly facing Natasha, and was struck by a curious change that had come over her since the ball. She was silent, and not only less pretty than at the ball, but only redeemed from plainness by her look of gentle indifference to everything around.
"What's the matter with her?" thought Pierre, glancing at her. She was sitting by her sister at the tea table, and reluctantly, without looking at him, made some reply to Boris who sat down beside her. After playing out a whole suit and to his partner's delight taking five tricks, Pierre, hearing greetings and the steps of someone who had entered the room while he was picking up his tricks, glanced again at Natasha.
"What has happened to her?" he asked himself with still greater surprise.
Prince Andrew was standing before her, saying something to her with a look of tender solicitude. She, having raised her head, was looking up at him, flushed and evidently trying to master her rapid breathing. And the bright glow of some inner fire that had been suppressed was again alight in her. She was completely transformed and from a plain girl had again become what she had been at the ball.
Prince Andrew went up to Pierre, and the latter noticed a new and youthful expression in his friend's face.
Pierre changed places several times during the game, sitting now with his back to Natasha and now facing her, but during the whole of the six rubbers he watched her and his friend.
"Something very important is happening between them," thought Pierre, and a feeling that was both joyful and painful agitated him and made him neglect the game.
After six rubbers the general got up, saying that it was no use playing like that, and Pierre was released. Natasha on one side was talking with Sonya and Boris, and Vera with a subtle smile was saying something to Prince Andrew. Pierre went up to his friend and, asking whether they were talking secrets, sat down beside them. Vera, having noticed Prince Andrew's attentions to Natasha, decided that at a party, a real evening party, subtle allusions to the tender passion were absolutely necessary and, seizing a moment when Prince Andrew was alone, began a conversation with him about feelings in general and about her sister. With so intellectual a guest as she considered Prince Andrew to be, she felt that she had to employ her diplomatic tact.
When Pierre went up to them he noticed that Vera was being carried away by her self-satisfied talk, but that Prince Andrew seemed embarrassed, a thing that rarely happened with him.
"What do you think?" Vera was saying with an arch smile. "You are so discerning, Prince, and understand people's characters so well at a glance. What do you think of Natalie? Could she be constant in her attachments? Could she, like other women" (Vera meant herself), "love a man once for all and remain true to him forever? That is what I consider true love. What do you think, Prince?"
"I know your sister too little," replied Prince Andrew, with a sarcastic smile under which he wished to hide his embarrassment, "to be able to solve so delicate a question, and then I have noticed that the less attractive a woman is the more constant she is likely to be," he added, and looked up at Pierre who was just approaching them.
"Yes, that is true, Prince. In our days," continued Vera—mentioning "our days" as people of limited intelligence are fond of doing, imagining that they have discovered and appraised the peculiarities of "our days" and that human characteristics change with the times—"in our days a girl has so much freedom that the pleasure of being courted often stifles real feeling in her. And it must be confessed that Natalie is very susceptible." This return to the subject of Natalie caused Prince Andrew to knit his brows with discomfort: he was about to rise, but Vera continued with a still more subtle smile:
"I think no one has been more courted than she," she went on, "but till quite lately she never cared seriously for anyone. Now you know, Count," she said to Pierre, "even our dear cousin Boris, who, between ourselves, was very far gone in the land of tenderness..." (alluding to a map of love much in vogue at that time).
Prince Andrew frowned and remained silent.
"You are friendly with Boris, aren't you?" asked Vera.
"Yes, I know him..."
"I expect he has told you of his childish love for Natasha?"
"Oh, there was childish love?" suddenly asked Prince Andrew, blushing unexpectedly.
"Yes, you know between cousins intimacy often leads to love. Le cousinage est un dangereux voisinage. * Don't you think so?"
* "Cousinhood is a dangerous neighborhood."
"Oh, undoubtedly!" said Prince Andrew, and with sudden and unnatural liveliness he began chaffing Pierre about the need to be very careful with his fifty-year-old Moscow cousins, and in the midst of these jesting remarks he rose, taking Pierre by the arm, and drew him aside.
"Well?" asked Pierre, seeing his friend's strange animation with surprise, and noticing the glance he turned on Natasha as he rose.
"I must... I must have a talk with you," said Prince Andrew. "You know that pair of women's gloves?" (He referred to the Masonic gloves given to a newly initiated Brother to present to the woman he loved.) "I... but no, I will talk to you later on," and with a strange light in his eyes and restlessness in his movements, Prince Andrew approached Natasha and sat down beside her. Pierre saw how Prince Andrew asked her something and how she flushed as she replied.
But at that moment Berg came to Pierre and began insisting that he should take part in an argument between the general and the colonel on the affairs in Spain.
Berg was satisfied and happy. The smile of pleasure never left his face. The party was very successful and quite like other parties he had seen. Everything was similar: the ladies' subtle talk, the cards, the general raising his voice at the card table, and the samovar and the tea cakes; only one thing was lacking that he had always seen at the evening parties he wished to imitate. They had not yet had a loud conversation among the men and a dispute about something important and clever. Now the general had begun such a discussion and so Berg drew Pierre to it.