Pelageya Danilovna Melyukova, a broadly built, energetic woman wearin_pectacles, sat in the drawing room in a loose dress, surrounded by he_aughters whom she was trying to keep from feeling dull. They were quietl_ropping melted wax into snow and looking at the shadows the wax figures woul_hrow on the wall, when they heard the steps and voices of new arrivals in th_estibule.
Hussars, ladies, witches, clowns, and bears, after clearing their throats an_iping the hoarfrost from their faces in the vestibule, came into the ballroo_here candles were hurriedly lighted. The clown—Dimmler—and th_ady—Nicholas—started a dance. Surrounded by the screaming children th_ummers, covering their faces and disguising their voices, bowed to thei_ostess and arranged themselves about the room.
"Dear me! there's no recognizing them! And Natasha! See whom she looks like!
She really reminds me of somebody. But Herr Dimmler—isn't he good! I didn'_now him! And how he dances. Dear me, there's a Circassian. Really, ho_ecoming it is to dear Sonya. And who is that? Well, you have cheered us up!
Nikita and Vanya—clear away the tables! And we were sitting so quietly. Ha,
ha, ha!… The hussar, the hussar! Just like a boy! And the legs!… I can't loo_t him… " different voices were saying.
Natasha, the young Melyukovs' favorite, disappeared with them into the bac_ooms where a cork and various dressing gowns and male garments were calle_or and received from the footman by bare girlish arms from behind the door.
Ten minutes later, all the young Melyukovs joined the mummers.
Pelageya Danilovna, having given orders to clear the rooms for the visitor_nd arranged about refreshments for the gentry and the serfs, went about amon_he mummers without removing her spectacles, peering into their faces with _uppressed smile and failing to recognize any of them. It was not merel_immler and the Rostovs she failed to recognize, she did not even recogniz_er own daughters, or her late husband's, dressing gowns and uniforms, whic_hey had put on.
"And who is is this?" she asked her governess, peering into the face of he_wn daughter dressed up as a Kazan-Tartar. "I suppose it is one of th_ostovs! Well, Mr. Hussar, and what regiment do you serve in?" she aske_atasha. "Here, hand some fruit jelly to the Turk!" she ordered the butler wh_as handing things round. "That's not forbidden by his law."
Sometimes, as she looked at the strange but amusing capers cut by the dancers,
who—having decided once for all that being disguised, no one would recogniz_hem—were not at all shy, Pelageya Danilovna hid her face in her handkerchief,
and her whole stout body shook with irrepressible, kindly, elderly laughter.
"My little Sasha! Look at Sasha!" she said.
After Russian country dances and chorus dances, Pelageya Danilovna made th_erfs and gentry join in one large circle: a ring, a string, and a silve_uble were fetched and they all played games together.
In an hour, all the costumes were crumpled and disordered. The corked eyebrow_nd mustaches were smeared over the perspiring, flushed, and merry faces.
Pelageya Danilovna began to recognize the mummers, admired their cleverl_ontrived costumes, and particularly how they suited the young ladies, and sh_hanked them all for having entertained her so well. The visitors were invite_o supper in the drawing room, and the serfs had something served to them i_he ballroom.
"Now to tell one's fortune in the empty bathhouse is frightening!" said an ol_aid who lived with the Melyukovs, during supper.
"Why?" said the eldest Melyukov girl.
"You wouldn't go, it takes courage… "
"I'll go," said Sonya.
"Tell what happened to the young lady!" said the second Melyukov girl.
"Well," began the old maid, "a young lady once went out, took a cock, laid th_able for two, all properly, and sat down. After sitting a while, she suddenl_ears someone coming… a sleigh drives up with harness bells; she hears hi_oming! He comes in, just in the shape of a man, like an officer—comes in an_its down to table with her."
"Ah! ah!" screamed Natasha, rolling her eyes with horror.
"Yes? And how… did he speak?"
"Yes, like a man. Everything quite all right, and he began persuading her; an_he should have kept him talking till cockcrow, but she got frightened, jus_ot frightened and hid her face in her hands. Then he caught her up. It wa_ucky the maids ran in just then… "
"Now, why frighten them?" said Pelageya Danilovna.
"Mamma, you used to try your fate yourself… " said her daughter.
"And how does one do it in a barn?" inquired Sonya.
"Well, say you went to the barn now, and listened. It depends on what yo_ear; hammering and knocking—that's bad; but a sound of shifting grain is goo_nd one sometimes hears that, too."
"Mamma, tell us what happened to you in the barn."
Pelageya Danilovna smiled.
"Oh, I've forgotten… " she replied. "But none of you would go?"
"Yes, I will; Pelageya Danilovna, let me! I'll go," said Sonya.
"Well, why not, if you're not afraid?"
"Louisa Ivanovna, may I?" asked Sonya.
Whether they were playing the ring and string game or the ruble game o_alking as now, Nicholas did not leave Sonya's side, and gazed at her wit_uite new eyes. It seemed to him that it was only today, thanks to that burnt-
cork mustache, that he had fully learned to know her. And really, tha_vening, Sonya was brighter, more animated, and prettier than Nicholas ha_ver seen her before.
"So that's what she is like; what a fool I have been!" he thought gazing a_er sparkling eyes, and under the mustache a happy rapturous smile dimpled he_heeks, a smile he had never seen before.
"I'm not afraid of anything," said Sonya. "May I go at once?" She got up.
They told her where the barn was and how she should stand and listen, and the_anded her a fur cloak. She threw this over her head and shoulders and glance_t Nicholas.
"What a darling that girl is!" thought he. "And what have I been thinking o_ill now?"
Sonya went out into the passage to go to the barn. Nicholas went hastily t_he front porch, saying he felt too hot. The crowd of people really had mad_he house stuffy.
Outside, there was the same cold stillness and the same moon, but eve_righter than before. The light was so strong and the snow sparkled with s_any stars that one did not wish to look up at the sky and the real stars wer_nnoticed. The sky was black and dreary, while the earth was gay.
"I am a fool, a fool! what have I been waiting for?" thought Nicholas, an_unning out from the porch he went round the corner of the house and along th_ath that led to the back porch. He knew Sonya would pass that way. Halfwa_ay some snow-covered piles of firewood and across and along them a network o_hadows from the bare old lime trees fell on the snow and on the path. Thi_ath led to the barn. The log walls of the barn and its snow-covered roof,
that looked as if hewn out of some precious stone, sparkled in the moonlight.
A tree in the garden snapped with the frost, and then all was again perfectl_ilent. His bosom seemed to inhale not air but the strength of eternal yout_nd gladness.
From the back porch came the sound of feet descending the steps, the botto_tep upon which snow had fallen gave a ringing creak and he heard the voice o_n old maidservant saying, "Straight, straight, along the path, Miss. Only,
don't look back."
"I am not afraid," answered Sonya's voice, and along the path toward Nichola_ame the crunching, whistling sound of Sonya's feet in her thin shoes.
Sonya came along, wrapped in her cloak. She was only a couple of paces awa_hen she saw him, and to her too he was not the Nicholas she had known an_lways slightly feared. He was in a woman's dress, with tousled hair and _appy smile new to Sonya. She ran rapidly toward him.
"Quite different and yet the same," thought Nicholas, looking at her face al_it up by the moonlight. He slipped his arms under the cloak that covered he_ead, embraced her, pressed her to him, and kissed her on the lips that wore _ustache and had a smell of burnt cork. Sonya kissed him full on the lips, an_isengaging her little hands pressed them to his cheeks.
"Sonya!… Nicholas!"… was all they said. They ran to the barn and then bac_gain, re-entering, he by the front and she by the back porch.