Chapter 20

PIERRE KNEW WELL that great room, divided by columns and an arch, and carpeted with Persian rugs. The part of the room behind the columns, where on one side there stood a high mahogany bedstead with silken hangings, and on the other a huge case of holy pictures, was brightly and decoratively lighted up, as churches are lighted for evening service. Under the gleaming ornamentation of the case stood a long invalid chair, and in the chair, on snow-white, uncrumpled, freshly changed pillows, covered to the waist with a bright green quilt, Pierre recognised the majestic figure of his father, Count Bezuhov, with the grey shock of hair like a lion’s mane over his broad forehead, and the characteristically aristocratic, deep lines on his handsome, reddish-yellow face. He was lying directly under the holy pictures: both his great stout arms were lying on the quilt. In his right hand, which lay with the palm downwards, a wax candle had been thrust between the thumb and forefinger, and an old servant bending down over the chair held it in it. About the chair stood the clergy in their shining ceremonial vestments, with their long hair pulled out over them. They held lighted candles in their hands, and were performing the service with deliberate solemnity. A little behind them stood the two younger princesses holding handkerchiefs to their eyes, and in front of them the eldest, Katish, stood with a vindictive and determined air, never for an instant taking her eyes off the holy image, as though she were declaring to all that she would not answer for herself, if she were to look around. Anna Mihalovna with a countenance of meek sorrow and forgiveness stood at the door with the unknown lady. Prince Vassily was standing close to the invalid chair on the other side of the door. He had drawn a carved, velvet chair up to him, and was leaning on the back of it with his left hand, in which he held a candle, while with his right he crossed himself, turning his eyes upwards every time as he put his finger to his forehead. His face expressed quiet piety and submission to the will of God. “If you don’t understand such feelings, so much the worse for you,” his face seemed to say.

Behind him stood the adjutant, the doctors, and the men-servants; the men and the women had separated as though they were in church. All were silently crossing themselves, nothing was audible but the reading of the service, the subdued, deep bass singing, and in the intervals of silence sighs could be heard and the shuffling of feet. With a significant air, which showed she knew what she was about, Anna Mihalovna walked right across the room to Pierre and gave him a candle. He lighted it, and absorbed in watching the people around him, he absent-mindedly crossed himself with the hand in which he held the candle. The youngest princess, Sophie, the rosy, laughing one with the mole, was looking at him. She smiled, hid her face in her handkerchief, and for a long while did not uncover it. But looking at Pierre again, again she laughed. She was apparently unable to look at him without laughing, but could not resist looking at him, and to be out of temptation, she softly moved behind a column. In the middle of the service the voices of the priests suddenly ceased, and they whispered something to one another. The old servant, who was holding the count’s hand, got up and turned to the ladies. Anna Mihalovna stepped forward and, stooping over the sick man, she beckoned behind her back to Lorrain. The French doctor had been leaning against the column without a candle, in the respectful attitude of the foreigner, who would show that in spite of the difference of religion he comprehends all the solemnity of the ceremony and even approves of it. With the noiseless steps of a man in full vigour of his age, he went up to the sick man. His delicate, white fingers lifted his disengaged hand from the quilt, and turning away, the doctor began feeling the pulse in absorbed attention. They gave the sick man some drink; there was a slight bustle around him, then all went back to their places and the service was continued. During this break in the proceedings Pierre noticed that Prince Vassily moved away from his chair-back, and with that same air of being quite sure of what he was about, and of its being so much the worse for others, if they failed to understand it, he did not go up to the sick man, but passed by him and joined the eldest princess. Then together they went away to the further end of the room to the high bedstead under the silk canopy. When they moved away from the bed the prince and princess disappeared together by the further door, but before the end of the service they returned one after the other to their places. Pierre paid no more attention to this circumstance than to all the rest, having once for all made up his mind that all that he saw taking place that evening must inevitably be as it was.

The sounds of the church singing ceased and the voice of the chief ecclesiastic was heard, respectfully congratulating the sick man on his reception of the mystery. The dying man lay as lifeless and immovable

  By PanEris using Melati.

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