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War and Peace

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CHAPTER XI


Silence ensued. The countess looked at her callers, smiling affably, but not concealing the fact that she would not be distressed if they now rose and took their leave. The visitor’s daughter was already smoothing down her dress with an inquiring look at her mother, when suddenly from the next room were heard the footsteps of boys and girls running to the door and the noise of a chair falling over, and a girl of thirteen, hiding something in the folds of her short muslin frock, darted in and stopped short in the middle of the room. It was evident that she had not intended her flight to bring her so far. Behind her in the doorway appeared a student with a crimson coat collar, an officer of the Guards, a girl of fifteen, and a plump rosy-faced boy in a short jacket.

The count jumped up and, swaying from side to side, spread his arms wide and threw them round the little girl who had run in.

“Ah, here she is!” he exclaimed laughing. “My pet, whose name day it is. My dear pet!”

“Ma chère, there is a time for everything,” said the countess with feigned severity. “You spoil her, Ilyá,” she added, turning to her husband.

“How do you do, my dear? I wish you many happy returns of your name day,” said the visitor. “What a charming child,” she added, addressing the mother.

This black-eyed, wide-mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life—with childish bare shoulders which after her run heaved and shook her bodice, with black curls tossed backward, thin bare arms, little legs in lace-frilled drawers, and feet in low slippers—was just at that charming age when a girl is no longer a child, though the child is not yet a young woman. Escaping from her father she ran to hide her flushed face in the lace of her mother’s mantilla—not paying the least attention to her severe remark—and began to laugh. She laughed, and in fragmentary sentences tried to explain about a doll which she produced from the folds of her frock.

“Do you see?... My doll... Mimi... You see...” was all Natásha managed to utter (to her everything seemed funny). She leaned against her mother and burst into such a loud, ringing fit of laughter that even the prim visitor could not help joining in.

“Now then, go away and take your monstrosity with you,” said the mother, pushing away her daughter with pretended sternness, and turning to the visitor she added: “She is my youngest girl.”

Natásha, raising her face for a moment from her mother’s mantilla, glanced up at her through tears of laughter, and again hid her face.

The visitor, compelled to look on at this family scene, thought it necessary to take some part in it.

“Tell me, my dear,” said she to Natásha, “is Mimi a relation of yours? A daughter, I suppose?”

Natásha did not like the visitor’s tone of condescension to childish things. She did not reply, but looked at her seriously.

Meanwhile the younger generation: Borís, the officer, Anna Mikháylovna’s son; Nicholas, the undergraduate, the count’s eldest son; Sónya, the count’s fifteen-year-old niece, and little Pétya, his youngest boy, had all settled down in the drawing room and were obviously trying to restrain within the bounds of decorum the excitement and mirth that shone in all their faces. Evidently in the back rooms, from which they had dashed out so impetuously, the conversation had been more amusing than the drawing room talk of society scandals, the weather, and Countess Apráksina. Now and then they glanced at one another, hardly able to suppress their laughter.

The two young men, the student and the officer, friends from childhood, were of the same age and both handsome fellows, though not alike. Borís was tall and fair, and his calm and handsome face had regular, delicate features. Nicholas was short with curly hair and an open expression. Dark hairs were already showing on his upper lip, and his whole face expressed impetuosity and enthusiasm. Nicholas blushed when he entered the drawing room. He evidently tried to find something to say, but failed. Borís on the contrary at once found his footing, and related quietly and humorously how he had known that doll Mimi when she was still quite a young lady, before her nose was broken; how she had aged during the five years he had known her, and how her head had cracked right across the skull. Having said this he glanced at Natásha. She turned away from him and glanced at her younger brother, who was screwing up his eyes and shaking with suppressed laughter, and unable to control herself any longer, she jumped up and rushed from the room as fast as her nimble little feet would carry her. Borís did not laugh.

“You were meaning to go out, weren’t you, Mamma? Do you want the carriage?” he asked his mother with a smile.

“Yes, yes, go and tell them to get it ready,” she answered, returning his smile.

Borís quietly left the room and went in search of Natásha. The plump boy ran after them angrily, as if vexed that their program had been disturbed.


CHAPTER XII


The only young people remaining in the drawing room, not counting the young lady visitor and the countess’ eldest daughter (who was four years older than her sister and behaved already like a grown-up person), were Nicholas and Sónya, the niece. Sónya was a slender little brunette with a tender look in her eyes which were veiled by long lashes, thick black plaits coiling twice round her head, and a tawny tint in her complexion and especially in the color of her slender but graceful and muscular arms and neck. By the grace of her movements, by the softness and flexibility of her small limbs, and by a certain coyness and reserve of manner, she reminded one of a pretty, half-grown kitten which promises to become a beautiful little cat. She evidently considered it proper to show an interest in the general conversation by smiling, but in spite of herself her eyes under their thick long lashes watched her cousin who was going to join the army, with such passionate girlish adoration that her smile could not for a single instant impose upon anyone, and it was clear that the kitten had settled down only to spring up with more energy and again play with her cousin as soon as they too could, like Natásha and Borís, escape from the drawing room.

“Ah yes, my dear,” said the count, addressing the visitor and pointing to Nicholas, “his friend Borís has become an officer, and so for friendship’s sake he is leaving the university and me, his old father, and entering the military service, my dear. And there was a place and everything waiting for him in the Archives Department! Isn’t that friendship?” remarked the count in an inquiring tone.

“But they say that war has been declared,” replied the visitor.

“They’ve been saying so a long while,” said the count, “and they’ll say so again and again, and that will be the end of it. My dear, there’s friendship for you,” he repeated. “He’s joining the hussars.”

The visitor, not knowing what to say, shook her head.

“It’s not at all from friendship,” declared Nicholas, flaring up and turning away as if from a shameful aspersion. “It is not from friendship at all; I simply feel that the army is my vocation.”

He glanced at his cousin and the young lady visitor; and they were both regarding him with a smile of approbation.

“Schubert, the colonel of the Pávlograd Hussars, is dining with us today. He has been here on leave and is taking Nicholas back with him. It can’t be helped!” said the count, shrugging his shoulders and speaking playfully of a matter that evidently distressed him.

“I have already told you, Papa,” said his son, “that if you don’t wish to let me go, I’ll stay. But I know I am no use anywhere except in the army; I am not a diplomat or a government clerk.—I don’t know how to hide what I feel.” As he spoke he kept glancing with the flirtatiousness of a handsome youth at Sónya and the young lady visitor.

The little kitten, feasting her eyes on him, seemed ready at any moment to start her gambols again and display her kittenish nature.

“All right, all right!” said the old count. “He always flares up! This Buonaparte has turned all their heads; they all think of how he rose from an ensign and became Emperor. Well, well, God grant it,” he added, not noticing his visitor’s sarcastic smile.

The elders began talking about Bonaparte. Julie Karágina turned to young Rostóv.

“What a pity you weren’t at the Arkhárovs’ on Thursday. It was so dull without you,” said she, giving him a tender smile.

The young man, flattered, sat down nearer to her with a coquettish smile, and engaged the smiling Julie in a confidential conversation without at all noticing that his involuntary smile had stabbed the heart of Sónya, who blushed and smiled unnaturally. In the midst of his talk he glanced round at her. She gave him a passionately angry glance, and hardly able to restrain her tears and maintain the artificial smile on her lips, she got up and left the room. All Nicholas’ animation vanished. He waited for the first pause in the conversation, and then with a distressed face left the room to find Sónya.

“How plainly all these young people wear their hearts on their sleeves!” said Anna Mikháylovna, pointing to Nicholas as he went out. “Cousinage—dangereux voisinage,” * she added.

* Cousinhood is a dangerous neighborhood.

“Yes,” said the countess when the brightness these young people had brought into the room had vanished; and as if answering a question no one had put but which was always in her mind, “and how much suffering, how much anxiety one has had to go through that we might rejoice in them now! And yet really the anxiety is greater now than the joy. One is always, always anxious! Especially just at this age, so dangerous both for girls and boys.”

“It all depends on the bringing up,” remarked the visitor.

“Yes, you’re quite right,” continued the countess. “Till now I have always, thank God, been my children’s friend and had their full confidence,” said she, repeating the mistake of so many parents who imagine that their children have no secrets from them. “I know I shall always be my daughters’ first confidante, and that if Nicholas, with his impulsive nature, does get into mischief (a boy can’t help it), he will all the same never be like those Petersburg young men.”

“Yes, they are splendid, splendid youngsters,” chimed in the count, who always solved questions that seemed to him perplexing by deciding that everything was splendid. “Just fancy: wants to be an hussar. What’s one to do, my dear?”

“What a charming creature your younger girl is,” said the visitor; “a little volcano!”

“Yes, a regular volcano,” said the count. “Takes after me! And what a voice she has; though she’s my daughter, I tell the truth when I say she’ll be a singer, a second Salomoni! We have engaged an Italian to give her lessons.”

“Isn’t she too young? I have heard that it harms the voice to train it at that age.”

“Oh no, not at all too young!” replied the count. “Why, our mothers used to be married at twelve or thirteen.”

“And she’s in love with Borís already. Just fancy!” said the countess with a gentle smile, looking at Borís and went on, evidently concerned with a thought that always occupied her: “Now you see if I were to be severe with her and to forbid it ... goodness knows what they might be up to on the sly” (she meant that they would be kissing), “but as it is, I know every word she utters. She will come running to me of her own accord in the evening and tell me everything. Perhaps I spoil her, but really that seems the best plan. With her elder sister I was stricter.”

“Yes, I was brought up quite differently,” remarked the handsome elder daughter, Countess Véra, with a smile.

But the smile did not enhance Véra’s beauty as smiles generally do; on the contrary it gave her an unnatural, and therefore unpleasant, expression. Véra was good-looking, not at all stupid, quick at learning, was well brought up, and had a pleasant voice; what she said was true and appropriate, yet, strange to say, everyone—the visitors and countess alike—turned to look at her as if wondering why she had said it, and they all felt awkward.

“People are always too clever with their eldest children and try to make something exceptional of them,” said the visitor.

“What’s the good of denying it, my dear? Our dear countess was too clever with Véra,” said the count. “Well, what of that? She’s turned out splendidly all the same,” he added, winking at Véra.

The guests got up and took their leave, promising to return to dinner.

“What manners! I thought they would never go,” said the countess, when she had seen her guests out.


CHAPTER XIII


When Natásha ran out of the drawing room she only went as far as the conservatory. There she paused and stood listening to the conversation in the drawing room, waiting for Borís to come out. She was already growing impatient, and stamped her foot, ready to cry at his not coming at once, when she heard the young man’s discreet steps approaching neither quickly nor slowly. At this Natásha dashed swiftly among the flower tubs and hid there.

Borís paused in the middle of the room, looked round, brushed a little dust from the sleeve of his uniform, and going up to a mirror examined his handsome face. Natásha, very still, peered out from her ambush, waiting to see what he would do. He stood a little while before the glass, smiled, and walked toward the other door. Natásha was about to call him but changed her mind. “Let him look for me,” thought she. Hardly had Borís gone than Sónya, flushed, in tears, and muttering angrily, came in at the other door. Natásha checked her first impulse to run out to her, and remained in her hiding place, watching—as under an invisible cap—to see what went on in the world. She was experiencing a new and peculiar pleasure. Sónya, muttering to herself, kept looking round toward the drawing room door. It opened and Nicholas came in.

“Sónya, what is the matter with you? How can you?” said he, running up to her.

“It’s nothing, nothing; leave me alone!” sobbed Sónya.

“Ah, I know what it is.”

“Well, if you do, so much the better, and you can go back to her!”

“Só-o-onya! Look here! How can you torture me and yourself like that, for a mere fancy?” said Nicholas taking her hand.

Sónya did not pull it away, and left off crying. Natásha, not stirring and scarcely breathing, watched from her ambush with sparkling eyes. “What will happen now?” thought she.

“Sónya! What is anyone in the world to me? You alone are everything!” said Nicholas. “And I will prove it to you.”

“I don’t like you to talk like that.”

“Well, then, I won’t; only forgive me, Sónya!” He drew her to him and kissed her.

“Oh, how nice,” thought Natásha; and when Sónya and Nicholas had gone out of the conservatory she followed and called Borís to her.

“Borís, come here,” said she with a sly and significant look. “I have something to tell you. Here, here!” and she led him into the conservatory to the place among the tubs where she had been hiding.

Borís followed her, smiling.

“What is the something?” asked he.

She grew confused, glanced round, and, seeing the doll she had thrown down on one of the tubs, picked it up.

“Kiss the doll,” said she.

Borís looked attentively and kindly at her eager face, but did not reply.

“Don’t you want to? Well, then, come here,” said she, and went further in among the plants and threw down the doll. “Closer, closer!” she whispered.

She caught the young officer by his cuffs, and a look of solemnity and fear appeared on her flushed face.

“And me? Would you like to kiss me?” she whispered almost inaudibly, glancing up at him from under her brows, smiling, and almost crying from excitement.

Borís blushed.

“How funny you are!” he said, bending down to her and blushing still more, but he waited and did nothing.

Suddenly she jumped up onto a tub to be higher than he, embraced him so that both her slender bare arms clasped him above his neck, and, tossing back her hair, kissed him full on the lips.

Then she slipped down among the flowerpots on the other side of the tubs and stood, hanging her head.

“Natásha,” he said, “you know that I love you, but....”

“You are in love with me?” Natásha broke in.

“Yes, I am, but please don’t let us do like that.... In another four years ... then I will ask for your hand.”

Natásha considered.

“Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen,” she counted on her slender little fingers. “All right! Then it’s settled?”

A smile of joy and satisfaction lit up her eager face.

“Settled!” replied Borís.

“Forever?” said the little girl. “Till death itself?”

She took his arm and with a happy face went with him into the adjoining sitting room.


CHAPTER XIV


After receiving her visitors, the countess was so tired that she gave orders to admit no more, but the porter was told to be sure to invite to dinner all who came “to congratulate.” The countess wished to have a tête-à-tête talk with the friend of her childhood, Princess Anna Mikháylovna, whom she had not seen properly since she returned from Petersburg. Anna Mikháylovna, with her tear-worn but pleasant face, drew her chair nearer to that of the countess.

“With you I will be quite frank,” said Anna Mikháylovna. “There are not many left of us old friends! That’s why I so value your friendship.”

Anna Mikháylovna looked at Véra and paused. The countess pressed her friend’s hand.

“Véra,” she said to her eldest daughter who was evidently not a favorite, “how is it you have so little tact? Don’t you see you are not wanted here? Go to the other girls, or...”

The handsome Véra smiled contemptuously but did not seem at all hurt.

“If you had told me sooner, Mamma, I would have gone,” she replied as she rose to go to her own room.

But as she passed the sitting room she noticed two couples sitting, one pair at each window. She stopped and smiled scornfully. Sónya was sitting close to Nicholas who was copying out some verses for her, the first he had ever written. Borís and Natásha were at the other window and ceased talking when Véra entered. Sónya and Natásha looked at Véra with guilty, happy faces.

It was pleasant and touching to see these little girls in love; but apparently the sight of them roused no pleasant feeling in Véra.

“How often have I asked you not to take my things?” she said. “You have a room of your own,” and she took the inkstand from Nicholas.

“In a minute, in a minute,” he said, dipping his pen.

“You always manage to do things at the wrong time,” continued Véra. “You came rushing into the drawing room so that everyone felt ashamed of you.”

Though what she said was quite just, perhaps for that very reason no one replied, and the four simply looked at one another. She lingered in the room with the inkstand in her hand.

“And at your age what secrets can there be between Natásha and Borís, or between you two? It’s all nonsense!”

“Now, Véra, what does it matter to you?” said Natásha in defense, speaking very gently.

She seemed that day to be more than ever kind and affectionate to everyone.

“Very silly,” said Véra. “I am ashamed of you. Secrets indeed!”

“All have secrets of their own,” answered Natásha, getting warmer. “We don’t interfere with you and Berg.”

“I should think not,” said Véra, “because there can never be anything wrong in my behavior. But I’ll just tell Mamma how you are behaving with Borís.”

“Natálya Ilyníchna behaves very well to me,” remarked Borís. “I have nothing to complain of.”

“Don’t, Borís! You are such a diplomat that it is really tiresome,” said Natásha in a mortified voice that trembled slightly. (She used the word “diplomat,” which was just then much in vogue among the children, in the special sense they attached to it.) “Why does she bother me?” And she added, turning to Véra, “You’ll never understand it, because you’ve never loved anyone. You have no heart! You are a Madame de Genlis and nothing more” (this nickname, bestowed on Véra by Nicholas, was considered very stinging), “and your greatest pleasure is to be unpleasant to people! Go and flirt with Berg as much as you please,” she finished quickly.

“I shall at any rate not run after a young man before visitors...”

“Well, now you’ve done what you wanted,” put in Nicholas—“said unpleasant things to everyone and upset them. Let’s go to the nursery.”

All four, like a flock of scared birds, got up and left the room.

“The unpleasant things were said to me,” remarked Véra, “I said none to anyone.”

“Madame de Genlis! Madame de Genlis!” shouted laughing voices through the door.

The handsome Véra, who produced such an irritating and unpleasant effect on everyone, smiled and, evidently unmoved by what had been said to her, went to the looking glass and arranged her hair and scarf. Looking at her own handsome face she seemed to become still colder and calmer.


In the drawing room the conversation was still going on.

“Ah, my dear,” said the countess, “my life is not all roses either. Don’t I know that at the rate we are living our means won’t last long? It’s all the Club and his easygoing nature. Even in the country do we get any rest? Theatricals, hunting, and heaven knows what besides! But don’t let’s talk about me; tell me how you managed everything. I often wonder at you, Annette—how at your age you can rush off alone in a carriage to Moscow, to Petersburg, to those ministers and great people, and know how to deal with them all! It’s quite astonishing. How did you get things settled? I couldn’t possibly do it.”

“Ah, my love,” answered Anna Mikháylovna, “God grant you never know what it is to be left a widow without means and with a son you love to distraction! One learns many things then,” she added with a certain pride. “That lawsuit taught me much. When I want to see one of those big people I write a note: ‘Princess So-and-So desires an interview with So and-So,’ and then I take a cab and go myself two, three, or four times—till I get what I want. I don’t mind what they think of me.”

“Well, and to whom did you apply about Bóry?” asked the countess. “You see yours is already an officer in the Guards, while my Nicholas is going as a cadet. There’s no one to interest himself for him. To whom did you apply?”

“To Prince Vasíli. He was so kind. He at once agreed to everything, and put the matter before the Emperor,” said Princess Anna Mikháylovna enthusiastically, quite forgetting all the humiliation she had endured to gain her end.

“Has Prince Vasíli aged much?” asked the countess. “I have not seen him since we acted together at the Rumyántsovs’ theatricals. I expect he has forgotten me. He paid me attentions in those days,” said the countess, with a smile.

“He is just the same as ever,” replied Anna Mikháylovna, “overflowing with amiability. His position has not turned his head at all. He said to me, ‘I am sorry I can do so little for you, dear Princess. I am at your command.’ Yes, he is a fine fellow and a very kind relation. But, Nataly, you know my love for my son: I would do anything for his happiness! And my affairs are in such a bad way that my position is now a terrible one,” continued Anna Mikháylovna, sadly, dropping her voice. “My wretched lawsuit takes all I have and makes no progress. Would you believe it, I have literally not a penny and don’t know how to equip Borís.” She took out her handkerchief and began to cry. “I need five hundred rubles, and have only one twenty-five-ruble note. I am in such a state.... My only hope now is in Count Cyril Vladímirovich Bezúkhov. If he will not assist his godson—you know he is Bóry’s godfather—and allow him something for his maintenance, all my trouble will have been thrown away.... I shall not be able to equip him.”

The countess’ eyes filled with tears and she pondered in silence.

“I often think, though, perhaps it’s a sin,” said the princess, “that here lives Count Cyril Vladímirovich Bezúkhov so rich, all alone... that tremendous fortune... and what is his life worth? It’s a burden to him, and Bóry’s life is only just beginning....”

“Surely he will leave something to Borís,” said the countess.

“Heaven only knows, my dear! These rich grandees are so selfish. Still, I will take Borís and go to see him at once, and I shall speak to him straight out. Let people think what they will of me, it’s really all the same to me when my son’s fate is at stake.” The princess rose. “It’s now two o’clock and you dine at four. There will just be time.”

And like a practical Petersburg lady who knows how to make the most of time, Anna Mikháylovna sent someone to call her son, and went into the anteroom with him.

“Good-by, my dear,” said she to the countess who saw her to the door, and added in a whisper so that her son should not hear, “Wish me good luck.”

“Are you going to Count Cyril Vladímirovich, my dear?” said the count coming out from the dining hall into the anteroom, and he added: “If he is better, ask Pierre to dine with us. He has been to the house, you know, and danced with the children. Be sure to invite him, my dear. We will see how Tarás distinguishes himself today. He says Count Orlóv never gave such a dinner as ours will be!”


CHAPTER XV


“My dear Borís,” said Princess Anna Mikháylovna to her son as Countess Rostóva’s carriage in which they were seated drove over the straw covered street and turned into the wide courtyard of Count Cyril Vladímirovich Bezúkhov’s house. “My dear Borís,” said the mother, drawing her hand from beneath her old mantle and laying it timidly and tenderly on her son’s arm, “be affectionate and attentive to him. Count Cyril Vladímirovich is your godfather after all, and your future depends on him. Remember that, my dear, and be nice to him, as you so well know how to be.”

“If only I knew that anything besides humiliation would come of it...” answered her son coldly. “But I have promised and will do it for your sake.”

Although the hall porter saw someone’s carriage standing at the entrance, after scrutinizing the mother and son (who without asking to be announced had passed straight through the glass porch between the rows of statues in niches) and looking significantly at the lady’s old cloak, he asked whether they wanted the count or the princesses, and, hearing that they wished to see the count, said his excellency was worse today, and that his excellency was not receiving anyone.

“We may as well go back,” said the son in French.

“My dear!” exclaimed his mother imploringly, again laying her hand on his arm as if that touch might soothe or rouse him.

Borís said no more, but looked inquiringly at his mother without taking off his cloak.

“My friend,” said Anna Mikháylovna in gentle tones, addressing the hall porter, “I know Count Cyril Vladímirovich is very ill... that’s why I have come... I am a relation. I shall not disturb him, my friend... I only need see Prince Vasíli Sergéevich: he is staying here, is he not? Please announce me.”

The hall porter sullenly pulled a bell that rang upstairs, and turned away.

“Princess Drubetskáya to see Prince Vasíli Sergéevich,” he called to a footman dressed in knee breeches, shoes, and a swallow-tail coat, who ran downstairs and looked over from the halfway landing.

The mother smoothed the folds of her dyed silk dress before a large Venetian mirror in the wall, and in her trodden-down shoes briskly ascended the carpeted stairs.

“My dear,” she said to her son, once more stimulating him by a touch, “you promised me!”

The son, lowering his eyes, followed her quietly.

They entered the large hall, from which one of the doors led to the apartments assigned to Prince Vasíli.

Just as the mother and son, having reached the middle of the hall, were about to ask their way of an elderly footman who had sprung up as they entered, the bronze handle of one of the doors turned and Prince Vasíli came out—wearing a velvet coat with a single star on his breast, as was his custom when at home—taking leave of a good-looking, dark-haired man. This was the celebrated Petersburg doctor, Lorrain.

“Then it is certain?” said the prince.

“Prince, humanum est errare, * but...” replied the doctor, swallowing his r’s, and pronouncing the Latin words with a French accent.

* To err is human.

“Very well, very well...”

Seeing Anna Mikháylovna and her son, Prince Vasíli dismissed the doctor with a bow and approached them silently and with a look of inquiry. The son noticed that an expression of profound sorrow suddenly clouded his mother’s face, and he smiled slightly.

“Ah, Prince! In what sad circumstances we meet again! And how is our dear invalid?” said she, as though unaware of the cold offensive look fixed on her.

Prince Vasíli stared at her and at Borís questioningly and perplexed. Borís bowed politely. Prince Vasíli without acknowledging the bow turned to Anna Mikháylovna, answering her query by a movement of the head and lips indicating very little hope for the patient.

“Is it possible?” exclaimed Anna Mikháylovna. “Oh, how awful! It is terrible to think.... This is my son,” she added, indicating Borís. “He wanted to thank you himself.”

Borís bowed again politely.

“Believe me, Prince, a mother’s heart will never forget what you have done for us.”

“I am glad I was able to do you a service, my dear Anna Mikháylovna,” said Prince Vasíli, arranging his lace frill, and in tone and manner, here in Moscow to Anna Mikháylovna whom he had placed under an obligation, assuming an air of much greater importance than he had done in Petersburg at Anna Schérer’s reception.

“Try to serve well and show yourself worthy,” added he, addressing Borís with severity. “I am glad.... Are you here on leave?” he went on in his usual tone of indifference.

“I am awaiting orders to join my new regiment, your excellency,” replied Borís, betraying neither annoyance at the prince’s brusque manner nor a desire to enter into conversation, but speaking so quietly and respectfully that the prince gave him a searching glance.

“Are you living with your mother?”

“I am living at Countess Rostóva’s,” replied Borís, again adding, “your excellency.”

“That is, with Ilyá Rostóv who married Nataly Shinshiná,” said Anna Mikháylovna.

“I know, I know,” answered Prince Vasíli in his monotonous voice. “I never could understand how Nataly made up her mind to marry that unlicked bear! A perfectly absurd and stupid fellow, and a gambler too, I am told.”

“But a very kind man, Prince,” said Anna Mikháylovna with a pathetic smile, as though she too knew that Count Rostóv deserved this censure, but asked him not to be too hard on the poor old man. “What do the doctors say?” asked the princess after a pause, her worn face again expressing deep sorrow.

“They give little hope,” replied the prince.

“And I should so like to thank Uncle once for all his kindness to me and Borís. He is his godson,” she added, her tone suggesting that this fact ought to give Prince Vasíli much satisfaction.

Prince Vasíli became thoughtful and frowned. Anna Mikháylovna saw that he was afraid of finding in her a rival for Count Bezúkhov’s fortune, and hastened to reassure him.

“If it were not for my sincere affection and devotion to Uncle,” said she, uttering the word with peculiar assurance and unconcern, “I know his character: noble, upright ... but you see he has no one with him except the young princesses.... They are still young....” She bent her head and continued in a whisper: “Has he performed his final duty, Prince? How priceless are those last moments! It can make things no worse, and it is absolutely necessary to prepare him if he is so ill. We women, Prince,” and she smiled tenderly, “always know how to say these things. I absolutely must see him, however painful it may be for me. I am used to suffering.”

Evidently the prince understood her, and also understood, as he had done at Anna Pávlovna’s, that it would be difficult to get rid of Anna Mikháylovna.

“Would not such a meeting be too trying for him, dear Anna Mikháylovna?” said he. “Let us wait until evening. The doctors are expecting a crisis.”

“But one cannot delay, Prince, at such a moment! Consider that the welfare of his soul is at stake. Ah, it is awful: the duties of a Christian...”

A door of one of the inner rooms opened and one of the princesses, the count’s niece, entered with a cold, stern face. The length of her body was strikingly out of proportion to her short legs. Prince Vasíli turned to her.

“Well, how is he?”

“Still the same; but what can you expect, this noise...” said the princess, looking at Anna Mikháylovna as at a stranger.

“Ah, my dear, I hardly knew you,” said Anna Mikháylovna with a happy smile, ambling lightly up to the count’s niece. “I have come, and am at your service to help you nurse my uncle. I imagine what you have gone through,” and she sympathetically turned up her eyes.

The princess gave no reply and did not even smile, but left the room as Anna Mikháylovna took off her gloves and, occupying the position she had conquered, settled down in an armchair, inviting Prince Vasíli to take a seat beside her.

“Borís,” she said to her son with a smile, “I shall go in to see the count, my uncle; but you, my dear, had better go to Pierre meanwhile and don’t forget to give him the Rostóvs’ invitation. They ask him to dinner. I suppose he won’t go?” she continued, turning to the prince.

“On the contrary,” replied the prince, who had plainly become depressed, “I shall be only too glad if you relieve me of that young man.... Here he is, and the count has not once asked for him.”

He shrugged his shoulders. A footman conducted Borís down one flight of stairs and up another, to Pierre’s rooms.