The princess did not speak. All that was heard was the sound of a scuffle over the portfolio. There could be no doubt that if she were to speak, she would say nothing complimentary to Anna Mihalovna. The latter kept a tight grip, but in spite of that her voice retained all its sweet gravity and softness.

Pierre, come here, my dear boy. He will not be one too many, I should imagine, in a family council; eh, prince?”

“Why don’t you speak, mon cousin?” the princess shrieked all of a sudden, so loudly that they heard her voice, and were alarmed by it in the drawing-room. “Why don’t you speak when here a meddling outsider takes upon herself to interfere, and make a scene on the very threshold of a dying man’s room? Scheming creature,” she muttered viciously, and tugged at the portfolio with all her might, but Anna Mihalovna took a few steps forward so as not to lose her grasp of it and changed hands.

“Ah,” said Prince Vassily, in reproachful wonder. He got up. “It is ridiculous. Come, let go. I tell you.” The princess let go.

“And you.”

Anna Mihalovna did not heed him.

“Let go, I tell you. I will take it all upon myself. I will go and ask him. I … you let it alone.”

“But, prince,” said Anna Mihalovna, “after this solemn sacrament, let him have a moment’s peace. Here, Pierre, tell me your opinion,” she turned to the young man, who going up to them was staring in surprise at the exasperated face of the princess, which had thrown off all appearance of decorum, and the twitching cheeks of Prince Vassily.

“Remember that you will have to answer for all the consequences,” said Prince Vassily sternly; “you don’t know what you are doing.”

“Infamous woman,” shrieked the princess, suddenly pouncing on Anna Mihalovna and tearing the portfolio from her. Prince Vassily bowed his head and flung up his hands.

At that instant the door, the dreadful door at which Pierre had gazed so long, and which had opened so softly, was flung rapidly, noisily open, banging against the wall, and the second princess ran out wringing her hands.

“What are you about?” she said, in despair. “He is passing away, and you leave me alone.”

The eldest princess dropped the portfolio. Swiftly Anna Mihalovna stooped and, snatching up the object of dispute, ran into the bedroom. The eldest princess and Prince Vassily recovering themselves followed her. A few minutes later the eldest princess came out again with a pale, dry face, biting her underlip. At the sight of Pierre her face expressed irrepressible hatred.

“Yes, now you can give yourself airs,” she said, “you have got what you wanted.” And breaking into sobs, she hid her face in her handkerchief and ran out of the room.

The next to emerge was Prince Vassily. He staggered to the sofa, on which Pierre was sitting, and sank on to it, covering his eyes with his hand. Pierre noticed that he was pale, and that his lower jaw was quivering and working as though in ague.

“Ah, my dear boy,” he said, taking Pierre by the elbow—and there was a sincerity and a weakness in his voice that Pierre had never observed in him before—“what sins, what frauds we commit, and all for what? I’m over fifty, my dear boy. … I too. … It all ends in death, all. Death is awful.” He burst into tears.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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