Chapter 21

THERE WAS by now no one in the reception-room except Prince Vassily and the eldest princess, who were in eager conversation together, sitting under the portrait of Catherine. They were mute at once on seeing Pierre and his companion, and the princess concealed something as Pierre fancied and murmured: “I can’t stand the sight of that woman.”

“Katish has had tea served in the little drawing-room,” Prince Vassily said to Anna Mihalovna. “Go, my poor Anna Mihalovna, take something or you will not hold out.”

To Pierre he said nothing; he simply pressed his arm sympathetically. Pierre and Anna Mihalovna went on into the little drawing-room.

“There is nothing so reviving as a cup of this excellent Russian tea, after a sleepless night,” said Lorrain with an air of restrained briskness, sipping it out of a delicate china cup without a handle, as he stood in the little circular drawing-room close to a table laid with tea-things and cold supper-dishes. All who were in Count Bezuhov’s house on that night had, with a view to fortifying themselves, gathered around the table. Pierre remembered well that little circular drawing-room with its mirrors and little tables. When there had been balls in the count’s house, Pierre, who could not dance, had liked sitting in that little room full of mirrors, watching the ladies in ball-dresses with pearls and diamonds on their bare shoulders, as they crossed that room and looked at themselves in the brightly lighted mirrors that repeated their reflections several times. Now the same room was dimly lighted with two candles, and in the middle of the night the tea-set and supper-dishes stood in disorder on one of the little tables, and heterogeneous, plainly dressed persons were sitting at it, whispering together, and showing in every word that no one could forget what was passing at that moment and what was still to come in the bedroom. Pierre did not eat anything, though he felt very much inclined to. He looked round inquiringly towards his monitress, and perceived that she had gone out again on tiptoe into the reception-room where Prince Vassily had remained with the eldest princess. Pierre supposed that this too was an inevitable part of the proceedings, and, after a little delay, he followed her. Anna Mihalovna was standing beside the princess, and they were both talking at once in excited tones.

“Allow me, madam, to know what is and what is not to be done,” said the princess, who was apparently in the same exasperated temper as she had been when she slammed the door of her room.

“But, dear princess,” Anna Mihalovna was saying mildly and persuasively, blocking up the way towards the bedroom and not letting the princess pass. “Would that not be too great a tax on poor uncle at such a moment, when he needs repose? At such moments to talk of worldly matters when his soul is already prepared …”

Prince Vassily was sitting in a low chair in his habitual attitude, with one leg crossed high above the other. His cheeks were twitching violently, and when they relaxed, they looked heavier below; but he wore the air of a man little interested in the two ladies’ discussion.

“No, my dear Anna Mihalovna, let Katish act on her own discretion. You know how the count loves her.”

“I don’t even know what is in this document,” said the princess, addressing Prince Vassily, and pointing to the inlaid portfolio which she held in her hand. “All I know is that the real will is in the bureau, and this is a paper that has been forgotten. …”

She tried to get round Anna Mihalovna, but the latter, with another little skip, barred her way again.

“I know, dear, sweet princess,” said Anna Mihalovna, taking hold of the portfolio, and so firmly that it was clear she would not readily let go of it again. “Dear princess, I beg you, I beseech you, spare him. I entreat you.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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