Suddenly everybody stirred, began talking, and pressed forward and then back,
and between the two rows, which separated, the Emperor entered to the sound_f music that had immediately struck up. Behind him walked his host an_ostess. He walked in rapidly, bowing to right and left as if anxious to ge_he first moments of the reception over. The band played the polonaise i_ogue at that time on account of the words that had been set to it, beginning:
"Alexander, Elisaveta, all our hearts you ravish quite… " The Emperor passe_n to the drawing room, the crowd made a rush for the doors, and severa_ersons with excited faces hurried there and back again. Then the crow_astily retired from the drawing-room door, at which the Emperor reappeare_alking to the hostess. A young man, looking distraught, pounced down on th_adies, asking them to move aside. Some ladies, with faces betraying complet_orgetfulness of all the rules of decorum, pushed forward to the detriment o_heir toilets. The men began to choose partners and take their places for th_olonaise.
Everyone moved back, and the Emperor came smiling out of the drawing roo_eading his hostess by the hand but not keeping time to the music. The hos_ollowed with Marya Antonovna Naryshkina; then came ambassadors, ministers,
and various generals, whom Peronskaya diligently named. More than half th_adies already had partners and were taking up, or preparing to take up, thei_ositions for the polonaise. Natasha felt that she would be left with he_other and Sonya among a minority of women who crowded near the wall, no_aving been invited to dance. She stood with her slender arms hanging down,
her scarcely defined bosom rising and falling regularly, and with bated breat_nd glittering, frightened eyes gazed straight before her, evidently prepare_or the height of joy or misery. She was not concerned about the Emperor o_ny of those great people whom Peronskaya was pointing out—she had but on_hought: "Is it possible no one will ask me, that I shall not be among th_irst to dance? Is it possible that not one of all these men will notice me?
They do not even seem to see me, or if they do they look as if they wer_aying, 'Ah, she's not the one I'm after, so it's not worth looking at her!'
No, it's impossible," she thought. "They must know how I long to dance, ho_plendidly I dance, and how they would enjoy dancing with me."
The strains of the polonaise, which had continued for a considerable time, ha_egun to sound like a sad reminiscence to Natasha's ears. She wanted to cry.
Peronskaya had left them. The count was at the other end of the room. She an_he countess and Sonya were standing by themselves as in the depths of _orest amid that crowd of strangers, with no one interested in them and no_anted by anyone. Prince Andrew with a lady passed by, evidently no_ecognizing them. The handsome Anatole was smilingly talking to a partner o_is arm and looked at Natasha as one looks at a wall. Boris passed them twic_nd each time turned away. Berg and his wife, who were not dancing, came up t_hem.
This family gathering seemed humiliating to Natasha—as if there were nowher_lse for the family to talk but here at the ball. She did not listen to o_ook at Vera, who was telling her something about her own green dress.
At last the Emperor stopped beside his last partner (he had danced with three)
and the music ceased. A worried aide-de-camp ran up to the Rostovs requestin_hem to stand farther back, though as it was they were already close to th_all, and from the gallery resounded the distinct, precise, enticingl_hythmical strains of a waltz. The Emperor looked smilingly down the room. _inute passed but no one had yet begun dancing. An aide-de-camp, the Master o_eremonies, went up to Countess Bezukhova and asked her to dance. Sh_milingly raised her hand and laid it on his shoulder without looking at him.
The aide-de-camp, an adept in his art, grasping his partner firmly round he_aist, with confident deliberation started smoothly, gliding first round th_dge of the circle, then at the corner of the room he caught Helene's lef_and and turned her, the only sound audible, apart from the ever-quickenin_usic, being the rhythmic click of the spurs on his rapid, agile feet, whil_t every third beat his partner's velvet dress spread out and seemed to flas_s she whirled round. Natasha gazed at them and was ready to cry because i_as not she who was dancing that first turn of the waltz.
Prince Andrew, in the white uniform of a cavalry colonel, wearing stocking_nd dancing shoes, stood looking animated and bright in the front row of th_ircle not far from the Rostovs. Baron Firhoff was talking to him about th_irst sitting of the Council of State to be held next day. Prince Andrew, a_ne closely connected with Speranski and participating in the work of th_egislative commission, could give reliable information about that sitting,
concerning which various rumors were current. But not listening to wha_irhoff was saying, he was gazing now at the sovereign and now at the me_ntending to dance who had not yet gathered courage to enter the circle.
Prince Andrew was watching these men abashed by the Emperor's presence, an_he women who were breathlessly longing to be asked to dance.
Pierre came up to him and caught him by the arm.
"You always dance. I have a protegee, the young Rostova, here. Ask her," h_aid.
"Where is she?" asked Bolkonski. "Excuse me!" he added, turning to the baron,
"we will finish this conversation elsewhere—at a ball one must dance." H_tepped forward in the direction Pierre indicated. The despairing, dejecte_xpression of Natasha's face caught his eye. He recognized her, guessed he_eelings, saw that it was her debut, remembered her conversation at th_indow, and with an expression of pleasure on his face approached Countes_ostova.
"Allow me to introduce you to my daughter," said the countess, with heightene_olor.
"I have the pleasure of being already acquainted, if the countess remember_e," said Prince Andrew with a low and courteous bow quite belyin_eronskaya's remarks about his rudeness, and approaching Natasha he held ou_is arm to grasp her waist before he had completed his invitation. He aske_er to waltz. That tremulous expression on Natasha's face, prepared either fo_espair or rapture, suddenly brightened into a happy, grateful, childlik_mile.
"I have long been waiting for you," that frightened happy little girl seeme_o say by the smile that replaced the threatened tears, as she raised her han_o Prince Andrew's shoulder. They were the second couple to enter the circle.
Prince Andrew was one of the best dancers of his day and Natasha dance_xquisitely. Her little feet in their white satin dancing shoes did their wor_wiftly, lightly, and independently of herself, while her face beamed wit_cstatic happiness. Her slender bare arms and neck were not beautiful—compare_o Helene's her shoulders looked thin and her bosom undeveloped. But Helen_eemed, as it were, hardened by a varnish left by the thousands of looks tha_ad scanned her person, while Natasha was like a girl exposed for the firs_ime, who would have felt very much ashamed had she not been assured that thi_as absolutely necessary.
Prince Andrew liked dancing, and wishing to escape as quickly as possible fro_he political and clever talk which everyone addressed to him, wishing also t_reak up the circle of restraint he disliked, caused by the Emperor'_resence, he danced, and had chosen Natasha because Pierre pointed her out t_im and because she was the first pretty girl who caught his eye; but scarcel_ad he embraced that slender supple figure and felt her stirring so close t_im and smiling so near him than the wine of her charm rose to his head, an_e felt himself revived and rejuvenated when after leaving her he stoo_reathing deeply and watching the other dancers.