“Yes, in what distressing circumstances we were destined to meet again, prince.… Tell me how is our dear patient?” she said, apparently not observing the frigid, offensive glance that was fixed on her. Prince Vassily stared at her, then at Boris with a look of inquiry that amounted to perplexity. Boris bowed politely. Prince Vassily, without acknowledging his bow, turned away to Anna Mihalovna, and to her question he replied by a movement of the head and lips, indicative of the worst fears for the patient.

“Is it possible?” cried Anna Mihalovna. “Ah, this is terrible! It is dreadful to think … This is my son,” she added, indicating Boris. “He wanted to thank you in person.”

Boris once more made a polite bow.

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

“I am glad I have been able to do you any service, my dear Anna Mihalovna,” said Prince Vassily, pulling his lace frill straight, and in voice and manner manifesting here in Moscow, before Anna Mihalovna, who was under obligation to him, an even greater sense of his own dignity than in Petersburg at Anna Pavlovna’s soirée.

“Try to do your duty in the service, and to be worthy of it.” he added, turning severely to him. “I am glad … you are here on leave?” he asked in his expressionless voice.

“I am awaiting orders, your excellency, to join my new regiment,” answered Boris, showing no sign either of resentment at the prince’s abrupt manner, nor of desire to get into conversation, but speaking with such respectful composure that the prince looked at him attentively.

“You are living with your mother?”

“I am living at Countess Rostov’s,” said Boris, again adding: “your excellency.”

“The Ilya Rostov, who married Natalie Shinshin,” said Anna Mihalovna.

“I know, I know,” said Prince Vassily in his monotonous voice. “I have never been able to understand how Natalie Shinshin could make up her mind to marry that unlicked bear. A completely stupid and ridiculous person. And a gambler too, I am told.”

“But a very worthy man, prince,” observed Anna Mihalovna, with a pathetic smile, as though she too recognised that Count Rostov deserved this criticism, but begged him not to be too hard on the poor old fellow. “What do the doctors say?” asked the princess, after a brief pause, and again the expression of deep distress reappeared on her tear-worn face.

“There is little hope,” said the prince.

“And, I was so longing to thank uncle once more for all his kindness to me and to Boris. He is his godson,” she added in a tone that suggested that Prince Vassily would be highly delighted to hear this fact.

Prince Vassily pondered and frowned. Anna Mihalovna saw he was afraid of finding in her a rival with claims on Count Bezuhov’s will. She hastened to reassure him. “If it were not for my genuine love and devotion for uncle,” she said, uttering the last word with peculiar assurance and carelessness, “I know his character,—generous, upright; but with only the princesses about him.… They are young.…” She bent her head and added in a whisper: “Has he performed his last duties, prince? How priceless are these last moments! He is as bad as he could be, it seems; it is absolutely necessary to prepare him, if he is so ill. We women, prince,” she smiled tenderly, “always know how to say these things. I absolutely must see him. Hard as it will be for me, I am used to suffering.”

The prince evidently understood, and understood, too, as he had at Anna Pavlovna’s, that it was no easy task to get rid of Anna Mihalovna.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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