The ball was only just beginning as Kitty and her mother walked up the great staircase, flooded with light, and lined with flowers and footmen in powder and red coats. From the rooms came a constant, steady noise, like that of a hive aswarm; and as they were giving the final little touches to hair and dresses before a mirror on the landing between potted trees, they heard, coming from the ballroom, the gently distinct notes of the fiddles of the orchestra, beginning the first waltz. A little ancient in civilian dress, arranging his gray curls before another mirror, and diffusing an odor of scent, stumbled against them on the stairs, and stood aside, evidently admiring Kitty, whom he did not know. A beardless youth, one of those society youths whom the old Prince Shcherbatsky called whelps, in an exceedingly open waistcoat, straightening his white tie as he went, bowed to them and after running by, came back to ask Kitty for a quadrille. As the first quadrille had already been given to Vronsky, she had to promise this youth the second. An officer, buttoning his glove, stood aside in the doorway, and, stroking his mustache, admired the rosy Kitty.
Although her dress, her coiffure, and all the preparations for the ball had cost Kitty much trouble and planning, at this moment she walked into the ballroom in the elaborate tulle dress over a pink slip as unconcernedly and simply as though all the rosettes and lace, all the minute details of her attire, had not cost her or her family a moment's attention, as though she had been born in this tulle and lace, with this towering coiffure, surmounted by a rose and two small leaves.
When, just before entering the ballroom, the old Princess tried to adjust a sash ribbon that had become twisted, Kitty had drawn back a little. She felt that everything must be right of itself, and graceful, and that nothing could need setting straight.
Kitty had one of her good days. Her dress was not uncomfortable anywhere; her lace bertha did not droop anywhere; her rosettes were neither crushed nor torn off; her pink slippers with high, curving heels did not pinch, but gladdened her tiny feet; and the thick bandeaux of fair hair kept up on her head. All the three buttons buttoned up without tearing on the long glove that covered her hand without concealing its lines. The black velvet ribbon of her locket nestled with special tenderness round her neck. This velvet ribbon was a darling; at home, regarding her neck in the looking glass, Kitty had felt that that velvet was speaking. About all the rest there might be a doubt, but the velvet ribbon was a darling. Kitty smiled here too, at the ball, when she glanced at it in the glass. Her bare shoulders and arms gave Kitty a sensation of chill marble- a sensation she particularly liked. Her eyes sparkled, and her rosy lips could not help but smile from the consciousness of their own attractiveness. She had scarcely entered the ballroom and reached the tulle-ribbon-lace-colored throng of ladies, waiting to be asked to dance- Kitty was never one of that throng- when she was asked for a waltz, and asked by the best partner, the first star in the hierarchy of the ballroom, a renowned conductor of the dances and master of ceremonies, married man, handsome and well built, Iegorushka Korsunsky. He had only just left the Countess Banina, with whom he had danced the first turn of the waltz, and, scanning his demesne- that is to say, a few couples who had started dancing- he caught sight of Kitty entering, and flew up to her with that peculiar, easy amble which is confined to conductors of the dances. Bowing and without even asking her if she cared to dance, he put out his arm to encircle her slender waist. She looked round for someone to give her fan to, and their hostess, smiling to her, took it.
"How good of you to come in good time," he said to her, embracing her waist; "such a bad habit to be late."
Bending her left arm, she laid it on his shoulder, and her little feet in their pink slippers began swiftly, lightly, and rhythmically moving over the slippery floor in time to the music.
"It's a rest to waltz with you," he said to her, as they fell into the first slow steps of the waltz. "It's charming- such lightness, precision." He said to her the same thing he said to almost all his partners whom he knew well.
She smiled at his praise, and continued to look about the room over his shoulder. She was not like a girl at her first ball, for whom all faces in the ballroom melt into one vision of fairyland. And she was not a girl who had gone the stale round of balls till every face in the ballroom was familiar and tiresome. But she was in the middle stage between these two; she was excited, and at the same time she had sufficient self-possession to be able to observe. In the left corner of the ballroom she saw the very flower of society grouped together. There- impossibly naked- was the beauty Liddy, Korsunsky's wife; there was the lady of the house; there shone the bald pate of Krivin, always to be found wherever the best people were; in that direction gazed the young men, not venturing to approach; there, too, she descried Stiva, and there she saw the charming figure and head of Anna in a black velvet gown. And he was there. Kitty had not seen him since the evening she refused Levin. With her farsighted eyes, knew him at once, and was even aware that he was looking at her.
"Another turn, eh? You're not tired?" said Korsunsky, a little out of breath.
"No, thank you!"
"Where shall I take you?"
"Madame Karenina's here, I think.... Take me to her."
"Wherever you command."
And Korsunsky began waltzing with measured steps straight toward the group in the left corner, continually saying, "Pardon, mesdames, pardon, pardon, mesdames," and steering his course through the sea of lace, tulle and ribbon, and not disarranging a feather, he turned his partner sharply round, so that her slim ankles, in light, transparent stockings, were exposed to view, and her train floated out in fan shape and covered Krivin's knees. Korsunsky bowed, set straight his open shirt front, and gave her his arm to conduct her to Anna Arkadyevna. Kitty, flushed, took her train from Krivin's knees, and, a little giddy, looked round, seeking Anna. Anna was not in lilac, as Kitty had so urgently wished, but in a black, low-cut, velvet gown, showing her full shoulders and bosom, that looked as though carved in old ivory, and her rounded arms, with tiny, slender hands. The whole gown was trimmed with Venetian guipure. On her head, among her black hair- her own, with no false additions- was a little wreath of pansies, and a similar one on the black ribbon of her sash, among white lace. Her coiffure was not striking. All that was noticeable was the little willful tendrils of her curly hair that persisted in escaping on the nape of her neck, and on her temples. Encircling her sculptured, strong neck was a thread of pearls.
Kitty had been seeing Anna every day; she adored her, and had pictured her invariably in lilac. But now, seeing her in black, she felt that she had not fully perceived her charm. She saw her now as someone quite new and surprising to her. Now she understood that Anna could not have been in lilac, and that her charm was precisely in that she always stood out against her attire, that her dress could never be noticeable on her. And her black dress, with its sumptuous lace, was not noticeable on her; it was only the frame and all that was seen was she- simple, natural, elegant, and at the same time gay and animated.
She was standing, as always, very erect, and when Kitty drew near the group she was speaking to the master of the house, her head slightly turned toward him.
"No, I won't cast a stone," she was saying, in answer to something, "though I can't understand it she went on, shrugging her shoulders, and she turned at once with a soft smile of protection toward Kitty. With a cursory feminine glance she scanned her attire, and made a movement of her head, hardly perceptible, but understood by Kitty, signifying approval of her dress and her looks. "You came into the room dancing," she added.
"This is one of my most faithful supporters," said Korsunsky, bowing to Anna Arkadyevna, whom he had not yet seen. "The Princess helps to make any ball festive and successful. Anna Arkadyevna, a waltz?" he said, bending down to her.
"Why, have you met?" inquired their host.
"Is there anyone we have not met? My wife and I are like white wolves- everyone knows us," answered Korsunsky. "A waltz, Anna Arkadyevna?"
"I don't dance whenever it's possible not to," she said.
"But tonight it's impossible," answered Korsunsky.
During the conversation Vronsky was approaching them.
"Well, since it's impossible tonight, let us start," she said, not noticing Vronsky's bow, and hastily put her hand on Korsunsky's shoulder.
"What is she vexed with him about?" thought Kitty, discerning that Anna had intentionally not responded to Vronsky's bow. Vronsky went up to Kitty, reminding her of the first quadrille, and expressing his regret at not having seen her all this time. Kitty gazed in admiration at Anna waltzing, as she listened to him. She expected him to ask her for a waltz, but he did not, and she glanced wonderingly at him. He flushed, and hurriedly asked her to waltz, but he had barely put his arm round her slender waist and taken the first step when the music suddenly stopped. Kitty looked into his face, which was so close to her own, and long afterward- for several years- this look, full of love, to which he made no response, cut her to the heart with an agony of shame.
"Pardon! Pardon! Waltz! Waltz!" shouted Korsunsky from the other side of the room, and, seizing the first young lady he came across he began dancing.