“But he didn’t disdain it; I believe he cared for me, but he was a dutiful son...”
“Yes, but if it hadn’t been on account of his mother, if it had been his own doing?...” said Kitty, feeling she was giving away her secret, and that her face, burning with the flush of shame, had betrayed her already.
“In that case he would have done wrong, and I should not have regretted him,” answered Varenka, evidently realizing that they were now talking not of her, but of Kitty.
“But the humiliation,” said Kitty, “the humiliation one can never forget, can never forget,” she said, remembering her look at the last ball during the pause in the music.
“Where is the humiliation? Why, you did nothing wrong?”
“Worse than wrong—shameful.”
Varenka shook her head and laid her hand on Kitty’s hand.
“Why, what is there shameful?” she said. “You didn’t tell a man, who didn’t care for you, that you loved him, did you?”
“Of course not; I never said a word, but he knew it. No, no, there are looks, there are ways; I can’t forget it, if I live a hundred years.”
“Why so? I don’t understand. The whole point is whether you love him now or not,” said Varenka, who called everything by its name.
“I hate him; I can’t forgive myself.”
“Why, what for?”
“The shame, the humiliation!”
“Oh! if everyone were as sensitive as you are!” said Varenka. “There isn’t a girl who hasn’t been through the same. And it’s all so unimportant.”
“Why, what is important?” said Kitty, looking into her face with inquisitive wonder.
“Oh, there’s so much that’s important,” said Varenka, smiling.
“Oh, so much that’s more important,” answered Varenka, not knowing what to say. But at that instant they heard the princess’s voice from the window. “Kitty, it’s cold! Either get a shawl, or come indoors.”
“It really is time to go in!” said Varenka, getting up. “I have to go on to Madame Berthe’s; she asked me to.”
Kitty held her by the hand, and with passionate curiosity and entreaty her eyes asked her: “What is it, what is this of such importance that gives you such tranquillity? You know, tell me!” But Varenka did not even know what Kitty’s eyes were asking her. She merely thought that she had to go to see Madame Berthe too that evening, and to make haste home in time for maman’s tea at twelve o’clock. She went indoors, collected her music, and saying good-bye to everyone, was about to go.
“Allow me to see you home,” said the colonel.
“Yes, how can you go alone at night like this?” chimed in the princess. “Anyway, I’ll send Parasha.”
Kitty saw that Varenka could hardly restrain a smile at the idea that she needed an escort.
“No, I always go about alone and nothing ever happens to me,” she said, taking her hat. And kissing Kitty once more, without saying what was important, she stepped out courageously with the music under her arm and vanished into the twilight of the summer night, bearing away with her her secret of what was important and what gave her the calm and dignity so much to be envied.