The count chuckled. The other visitors seeing that Shinshin was talking came up to listen. Berg, without perceiving either their sneers or their lack of interest, proceeded to explain how by exchanging into the guards he had already gained a step in advance of his old comrades in the corps; how in war-time the commander of a company may so easily be killed, and he as next in command might very easily succeed him, and how every one in the regiment liked him, and how pleased his father was with him. Berg was unmistakably enjoying himself as he told all this, and seemed never to suspect that other people too might have their own interests. But all he said was so nice, so sedate, the naïveté of his youthful egoism was so undisguised, that he disarmed his listeners.

“Well, my good fellow, whether you’re in the infantry or in the cavalry, you’ll always get on all right, that I venture to predict,” said Shinshin, patting him on the shoulder, and setting his feet down off the ottoman. Berg smiled gleefully. The count and the guests after him went into the drawing-room.

It was that interval just before a dinner when the assembled guests do not care to enter on a lengthy conversation, expecting to be summoned to the dining-room; while they feel it incumbent on them to move about and not to be silent, so as to show that they are not impatient to sit down to table. The host and hostess look towards the door, and occasionally at one another. The guests try from these glances to divine whom or what they are waiting for; some important relation late in arriving, or some dish which is not ready.

Pierre arrived just at dinner-time, and awkwardly sat down in the middle of the drawing-room in the first easy-chair he came across, blocking up the way for every one. The countess tried to make him talk, but he looked naïvely round him over his spectacles as though he were looking for some one, and replied in monosyllables to all the countess’s questions. He was in the way, and was the only person unaware of it. The greater number of the guests, knowing the story of the bear, looked inquisitively at this big, stout, inoffensive-looking person, puzzled to think how such a spiritless and staid young man could have played such a prank.

“You have only lately arrived?” the countess asked him.

Oui, madame.”

“You have not seen my husband?”

Non, madame.” He smiled very inappropriately.

“You have lately been in Paris, I believe? I suppose it’s very interesting.”

“Very interesting.”

The countess exchanged glances with Anna Mihalovna. Anna Mihalovna saw that she was asked to undertake the young man, and sitting down by him she began talking of his father. But to her as to the countess he replied only in monosyllables. The other guests were all busily engaged together. “The Razumovskys … It was very charming … You are so kind … Countess Apraxin …” rose in murmurs on all sides. The countess got up and went into the reception hall.

“Marya Dmitryevna?” her voice was heard asking from there.

“Herself,” a rough voice was heard in reply, and immediately after, Marya Dmitryevna walked into the room. All the girls and even the ladies, except the very old ones, got up. Marya Dmitryevna, a stout woman of fifty, stopped in the doorway, and holding her head with its grey curls erect, she looked down at the guests and as though tucking up her cuffs, she deliberately arranged the wide sleeves of her gown. Marya Dmitryevna always spoke Russian.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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