A tall, stout, haughty-looking lady and her round-faced, smiling daughter walked with rustling skirts into the drawing-room.

“Dear countess, it is such a long time…she has been laid up, poor child…at the Razumovskys’ ball, and the Countess Apraxin…I was so glad,” feminine voices chattered briskly, interrupting one another and mingling with the sound of rustling skirts and the scraping of chairs. Conversation began of the sort which is kept up just long enough for the caller to get up at the first pause, rustling her skirts and with a murmur of “I am so charmed; mamma’s health…and the Countess Apraxin…” walk out again with the same rustle to the hall to put on cloak or overcoat and drive away. The conversation touched on the chief items of news in the town, on the illness of the wealthy old Count Bezuhov, a man who had been renowned for his personal beauty in the days of Catherine, and on his illegitimate son, Pierre, who had behaved so improperly at a soirée at Anna Pavlovna’s. “I am very sorry for the poor count,” declared the visitor; “his health in such a precarious state, and now this distress caused him by his son; it will be the death of him!”

“Why, what has happened?” asked the countess, as though she did not know what was meant, though she had heard about the cause of Count Bezuhov’s distress fifteen times already.

“This is what comes of modern education! When he was abroad,” the visitor pursued, “this young man was left to his own devices, and now in Petersburg, they say, he has been doing such atrocious things that he has been sent away under police escort.”

“Really!” said the countess.

“He has made a bad choice of his companions,” put in Princess Anna Mihalovna. “Prince Vassily’s son—he and a young man called Dolohov, they say—God only knows the dreadful things they’ve been doing. And both have suffered for it. Dolohov has been degraded to the rank of a common soldier, while Bezuhov’s son has been banished to Moscow. As to Anatole Kuragin…his father managed to hush it up somehow. But he has been sent out of Petersburg too.”

“Why, what did they do?” asked the countess.

“They’re perfect ruffians, especially Dolohov,” said the visitor. “He’s the son of Marya Ivanovna Dolohov, such a worthy woman, you know, but there! Only fancy, the three of them had got hold of a bear somewhere, put it in a carriage with them, and were taking it to some actress’s. The police ran up to stop them. They took the police officer, tied him back to back to the bear, and dropped the bear into the Moika: the bear swam with the police officer on him.”

“A pretty figure he must have looked, ma chère,” cried the count, helpless with laughter.

“Ah, such a horror! What is there to laugh at in it, count?”

But the ladies could not help laughing at it themselves.

“It was all they could do to rescue the unlucky man,” the visitor went on. “And that’s the intellectual sort of amusement the son of Count Kirill Vladimirovitch Bezuhov indulges in!” she added. “And people said he was so well educated and clever. That’s how foreign education turns out. I hope no one will receive him here, in spite of his great wealth. They tried to introduce him to me. I gave an absolute refusal: I have daughters.”

“What makes you say the young man is so wealthy?” asked the countess, turning away from the girls, who at once looked as though they did not hear. “He has none but illegitimate children. I believe that…Pierre too is illegitimate.”

The visitor waved her hand. “He has a score of them, I suppose.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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