The next morning, Natasha tries hard to act normal. After breakfast, Marya Dmitrievna calls Natasha and Count Rostov over. She tells them what happened at the Bolkonskys’ yesterday—she and Prince Nikolai got into a shouting match. She recommends that the Rostovs return to Otradnoe and wait until Prince Andrei returns and sets things straight. She hands Natasha a letter from Princess Marya. Reluctantly, Natasha reads Marya’s kind letter, which asks her not to think ill of Prince Nikolai. Natasha tries to recall her former devotion to Prince Andrei, yet now, just a day later, it’s overshadowed by her new passion for Anatole.
Natasha is confused and torn between her affection for Andrei, her awkward reception by the Bolkonskys, and her new feelings for Anatole. It all goes to show her innocence and inexperience in a status-driven, often amoral society.
That evening, a maid hands Natasha another letter, looking secretive. It’s from Anatole. When she reads the passionate letter, Natasha believes her own feelings are echoed in it. Anatole promises that if Natasha only says “yes,” love will triumph, and he’ll carry her off. Natasha reads the letter over and over and avoids company, claiming she has a headache.
Natasha is too young to distinguish between love and passion. Anatole doesn’t promise Natasha anything real or concrete, just targets her innocence by vaguely extolling “love.”
When Sonya gets home that evening, she finds Natasha asleep in her room with the letter lying nearby. She reads it. She bursts into tears and wakes her friend. Natasha immediately tells Sonya that she loves Anatole. When Sonya asks how she can reject Prince Andrei, Natasha impatiently tells her not to say stupid things. Though it’s only been a few days, she feels as if she’s loved Anatole forever; Sonya doesn’t understand such love.
When Sonya quite sensibly confronts her, Natasha cruelly claims her cousin is being the immature one—a heartless jibe at Sonya’s love for Nikolai. Her obsession with Anatole leads her to scorn one of the truest friends she has.
Horrified, Sonya threatens to tell on Natasha; she feels ashamed for her friend. If Anatole isn’t comfortable seeing Natasha openly, she insists, there must be reasons for that. Natasha refuses to hear this, sends Sonya out, and writes back to Princess Marya. She writes that Prince Andrei had given her full freedom, and that she now knows she can’t be his wife. It all seems very clear to her.
Again, Sonya is the one showing wise discernment in this situation. But, befitting her immature passion, Natasha has been convinced by her fit of her emotion that what she’s doing is right. Her manipulated feelings lead her to an irrevocable step.
On one of their final days in Moscow, Natasha tries to talk to Sonya about Anatole, but they end up arguing about how Natasha will “ruin” herself. Sonya watches Natasha closely for the next few days. She notices that Natasha signals to someone outside the window, and that she’s behaving distractedly. It dawns on her that Natasha must be planning to elope with Anatole. Count Rostov is away dealing with the Moscow estate, and Sonya doesn’t know what to do. But she’s determined to prove her loyalty to the Rostovs, who’ve done so much for her.
Perhaps because of her vulnerable status as a subject of family charity, Sonya is more aware of the consequences of indiscretion than her spoiled cousin. Showing considerable courage, she’s willing to harm her relationship with her best friend in order to spare her and her beloved family those consequences.
Anatole has been staying with Dolokhov, and together they’ve made a plan to abduct Natasha. Natasha is supposed to sneak out of the house late in the evening. Anatole will conceal her in a troika and drive them to Kamenka, a village 40 miles away, where a defrocked priest will be waiting to marry them. After that they’ll flee abroad. He’s got documents and money prepared, and two witnesses are waiting.
Anatole’s intended actions could get them both in tremendous trouble—he’s proposing to enter a bigamous marriage, something neither the law nor the church would recognize. It would also effectively ruin Natasha’s reputation—again showing that, indulged throughout her life as well as sheltered, she’s not used to looking out for her best interests.
Anatole paces Dolokhov’s house, smiling. Dolokhov urges him to drop the plan—his marriage will be discovered, and Anatole will end up in criminal court. Anatole refuses to consider the future. After his troika driver arrives, Anatole speeds off to Marya Dmitrievna’s. But when he runs to the back porch to find Natasha, he’s met instead by a huge footman, who says that he must take Anatole to the mistress of the house. He’s been betrayed. Anatole dodges the footman and runs.
In a dramatic finale to this subplot, Anatole’s elopement with Natasha is foiled at the last moment. For the time being, however, Anatole still evades being held accountable for his reckless actions.