Chapter 3

ANNA PAVLOVNA’S soirée was in full swing. The spindles kept up their regular hum on all sides without pause. Except the aunt, beside whom was sitting no one but an elderly lady with a thin, careworn face, who seemed rather out of her element in this brilliant society, the company was broken up into three groups. In one of these, the more masculine, the centre was the abbé; in the other, the group of young people, the chief attractions were the beautiful Princess Ellen, Prince Vassily’s daughter, and the little Princess Bolkonsky, with her rosy prettiness, too plump for her years. In the third group were Mortemart and Anna Pavlovna.

The vicomte was a pretty young gentleman with soft features and manners, who obviously regarded himself as a celebrity, but with good breeding modestly allowed the company the benefit of his society. Anna Pavlovna unmistakably regarded him as the chief entertainment she was giving her guests. As a clever maître d’hôtel serves as something superlatively good the piece of beef which no one would have cared to eat seeing it in the dirty kitchen, Anna Pavlovna that evening served up to her guests — first, the vicomte and then the abbé, as something superlatively subtle. In Mortemart’s group the talk turned at once on the execution of the duc d’Enghien. The vicomte said that the duc d’Enghien had been lost by his own magnanimity and that there were special reasons for Bonaparte’s bitterness against him.

“Ah, come! Tell us about that, vicomte,” said Anna Pavlovna gleefully, feeling that the phrase had a peculiarly Louis Quinze note about it: “Contez-nous cela, vicomte.”

The vicomte bowed and smiled courteously in token of his readiness to obey. Anna Pavlovna made a circle round the vicomte and invited every one to hear his story.

“The vicomte was personally acquainted with his highness,” Anna Pavlovna whispered to one. “The vicomte tells a story perfectly,” she said to another. “How one sees the man of quality,” she said to a third, and the vicomte was presented to the company in the most elegant and advantageous light, like the roast-beef on the hot dish garnished with green parsley.

The vicomte was about to begin his narrative, and he smiled subtly.

“Come over here, chère Hélène,” said Anna Pavlovna to the young beauty who was sitting a little way off, the centre of another group.

Princess Ellen smiled. She got up with the same unchanging smile of the acknowledged beauty with which she had entered the drawing-room. Her white ball-dress adorned with ivy and moss rustled lightly; her white shoulders, glossy hair, and diamonds glittered, as she passed between the men who moved apart to make way for her. Not looking directly at any one, but smiling at every one, as it were courteously allowing to all the right to admire the beauty of her figure, her full shoulders, her bosom and back, which were extremely exposed in the mode of the day, she moved up to Anna Pavlovna, seeming to bring with her the brilliance of the ballroom. Ellen was so lovely that she was not merely free from the slightest shade of coquetry, she seemed on the contrary ashamed of the too evident, too violent and all-conquering influence of her beauty. She seemed to wish but to be unable to soften the effect of her beauty.

“What a beautiful woman!” every one said on seeing her. As though struck by something extraordinary, the vicomte shrugged his shoulders and dropped his eyes, when she seated herself near him and dazzled him too with the same unchanging smile.

“Madame, I doubt my abilities before such an audience,” he said, bowing with a smile.

The princess leaned her plump, bare arm on the table and did not find it necessary to say anything. She waited, smiling. During the vicomte’s story she sat upright, looking from time to time at her beautiful, plump arm, which lay with its line changed by pressure on the table, then at her still lovelier bosom, on which she set straight her diamond necklace. Several times she settled the folds of her gown and when the narrative made a sensation upon the audience, she glanced at Anna Pavlovna and at once assumed

  By PanEris using Melati.

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