Chapter 7

PRINCE VASSILY kept the promise he had made at Anna Pavlovna’s soirée to Princess Drubetskoy, who had petitioned him in favour of her only son Boris. His case had been laid before the Emperor, and though it was not to be a precedent for others, he received a commission as sub-lieutenant in the Guards of the Semenovsky regiment. But the post of an adjutant or attaché in Kutuzov’s service was not to be obtained for Boris by all Anna Mihalovna’s efforts and entreaties. Shortly after the gathering at Anna Pavlovna’s, Anna Mihalovna went back to Moscow to her rich relatives the Rostovs, with whom she stayed in Moscow. It was with these relations that her adored Borinka, who had only recently entered a regiment of the line, and was now at once transferred to the Guards as a sub-lieutenant, had been educated from childhood and had lived for years. The Guards had already left Petersburg on the 10th of August, and her son, who was remaining in Moscow to get his equipment, was to overtake them on the road to Radzivilov.

The Rostovs were keeping the name-day of the mother and the younger daughter, both called Natalya. Ever since the morning, coaches with six horses had been incessantly driving to and from the Countess Rostov’s big house in Povarsky, which was known to all Moscow. The countess and her handsomest eldest daughter were sitting in the drawing-room with their visitors, who came in continual succession to present their congratulations to the elder lady.

The countess was a woman with a thin face of Oriental cast, forty-five years old, and obviously exhausted by child-bearing. She had had twelve children. The deliberate slowness of her movements and conversation, arising from weak health, gave her an air of dignity which inspired respect. Princess Anna Mihalovna Drubetskoy, as an intimate friend of the family, sat with them assisting in the work of receiving and entertaining their guests. The younger members of the family were in the back rooms, not seeing fit to take part in receiving visitors. The count met his visitors and escorted them to the door, inviting all of them to dinner.

“I am very, very grateful to you, mon cher” or “ma chère,” he said to every one without exception (making not the slightest distinction between persons of higher or of lower standing than his own), “for myself and my two dear ones whose name-day we are keeping. Mind you come to dinner. I shall be offended if you don’t, mon cher. I beg you most sincerely from all the family, my dear.” These words, invariably accompanied by the same expression on his full, good-humoured, clean-shaven face, and the same warm pressure of the hand, and repeated short bows, he said to all without exception or variation. When he had escorted one guest to the hall, the count returned to the gentleman or lady who was still in the drawing-room. Moving up a chair, and with the air of a man fond of society and at home in it, he would sit down, his legs jauntily apart, and his hands on his knees, and sway to and fro with dignity as he proffered surmises upon the weather, gave advice about health, sometimes in Russian, sometimes in very bad but complacent French. Then again he would get up, and with the air of a man weary but resolute in the performance of his duty, he would escort guests out, stroking up his grey hair over his bald patch, and again he would urge them to come to dinner. Sometimes on his way back from the hall, he would pass through the conservatory and the butler’s room into a big room with a marble floor, where they were setting a table for eighty guests; and looking at the waiters who were bringing in the silver and china, setting out tables and unfolding damask tablecloths, he would call up Dmitry Vassilyevitch, a young man of good family, who performed the duties of a steward in his household, and would say: “Now then, Mitenka, mind everything’s right. That’s it, that’s it,” he would say, looking round with pleasure at the immense table opened out to its full extent; “the great thing is the service. So, so.” …And he went off again with a sigh of satisfaction to the drawing-room.

“Marya Lvovna Karagin and her daughter,” the countess’s huge footman announced in a deep bass at the drawing-room door. The countess thought a moment, and took a pinch from a golden snuff-box with her husband’s portrait on it.

“I’m worn out with these callers,” she said; “well, this is the last one I’ll see. She’s so affected. Show her up,” she said in a dejected tone, as though she were saying, “Very well, finish me off entirely!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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