Chapter 22

AT BLEAK HILLS, the estate of Prince Nikolay Andreivitch Bolkonsky, the arrival of young Prince Andrey and his wife was daily expected. But this expectation did not disturb the regular routine in which life moved in the old prince’s household. Prince Nikolay Andreivitch, once a commander-in-chief, known in the fashionable world by the nickname of “the Prussian king,” had been exiled to his estate in the reign of Paul, and had remained at Bleak Hills ever since with his daughter, Princess Marya, and her companion, Mademoiselle Bourienne. Even in the new reign, though he had received permission to return to the capital, he had never left his home in the country, saying that if any one wanted to see him, he could travel the hundred and fifty versts from Moscow to Bleak Hills, and, for his part, he wanted nobody and nothing. He used to maintain that human vices all sprang from only two sources—idleness and superstition, and that there were but two virtues—energy and intelligence. He had himself undertaken the education of his daughter; and to develop in her these important qualities, he continued giving her lessons in algebra and geometry up to her twentieth year, and mapped out her whole life in uninterrupted occupation. He was himself always occupied in writing his memoirs, working out problems in higher mathematics, turning snuff-boxes on his lathe, working in his garden, or looking after the erection of farm buildings which were always being built on his estate. Since the great thing for enabling one to get through work is regularity, he had carried regularity in his manner of life to the highest point of exactitude. His meals were served in a fixed and invariable manner, and not only at a certain hour, but at a certain minute. With those about him, from his daughter to his servants, the count was sharp and invariably exacting, and so, without being cruel, he inspired a degree of respect and awe that the most cruel man could not readily have commanded. In spite of the fact that he was now on the retired list, and had no influence whatever in political circles, every high official in the province in which was the prince’s estate felt obliged to call upon him, and had, just like the architect, the gardener, or Princess Marya, to wait till the regular hour at which the prince always made his appearance in the lofty waiting-room. And every one in the waiting-room felt the same veneration, and even awe, when the immensely high door of the study opened and showed the small figure of the old man in a powdered wig, with his little withered hands and grey, overhanging eyebrows, that, at times when he scowled, hid the gleam in his shrewd, youthful-looking eyes.

On the day that the young people were expected to arrive, Princess Marya went as usual at the fixed hour in the morning into the waiting-room to say good-morning to her father, and with dread in her heart crossed herself and mentally repeated a prayer. Every day she went in to her father in the same way, and every day she prayed that her interview with her father might pass off well that day. The old man- servant, wearing powder, softly got up from his seat in the waiting-room and whispered: “Walk in.”

Through the door came the regular sounds of the lathe. The princess kept timidly hold of the door, which opened smoothly and easily, and stood still in the doorway. The prince was working at his lathe, and glancing round, he went on with what he was doing.

The immense room was filled with things obviously in constant use. The large table, on which lay books and plans, the high bookcases with keys in the glass-covered doors, the high table for the prince to write at, standing up, with an open manuscript-book upon it, the carpenter’s lathe, with tools ranged about it and shavings scattered around, all suggested continual, varied, and orderly activity. The movements of the prince’s small foot in its Tatar, silver-embroidered boot, the firm pressure of his sinewy, lean hand, showed the strength of vigorous old age still strong-willed and wiry. After making a few more turns, he took his foot from the pedal of the lathe, wiped the plane, dropped it into a leather pouch attached to the lathe, and going up to the table called his daughter. He never gave the usual blessing to his children; he simply offered her his scrubby, not yet shaved cheek, and said sternly and yet at the same time with intense tenderness, as he looked her over: “Quite well? … All right, then, sit down!” He took a geometry exercise-book written by his own hand, and drew his chair up with his leg.

“For to-morrow,” he said quickly, turning to the page and marking it from one paragraph to the next with his rough nail. The princess bent over the exercise-book. “Stop, there’s a letter for you,” the old man said suddenly, pulling out of a pocket hanging over the table an envelope addressed in a feminine hand, and putting it on the table.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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