Chapter 23

THE GREY-HAIRED VALET was sitting in the waiting-room dozing and listening to the prince’s snoring in his immense study. From a far-off part of the house there came through closed doors the sound of difficult passages of a sonata of Dusseck’s repeated twenty times over.

At that moment a carriage and a little cart drove up to the steps, and Prince Andrey got out of the carriage, helped his little wife out and let her pass into the house before him. Grey Tihon in his wig, popping out at the door of the waiting-room, informed him in a whisper that the prince was taking a nap and made haste to close the door. Tihon knew that no extraordinary event, not even the arrival of his son, would be permitted to break through the routine of the day. Prince Andrey was apparently as well aware of the fact as Tihon. He looked at his watch as though to ascertain whether his father’s habits had changed during the time he had not seen him, and satisfying himself that they were unchanged, he turned to his wife.

“He will get up in twenty minutes. Let’s go to Marie,” he said.

The little princess had grown stouter during this time, but her short upper lip, with a smile and the faint moustache on it, rose as gaily and charmingly as ever when she spoke.

“Why, it is a palace,” she said to her husband, looking round her with exactly the expression with which people pay compliments to the host at a ball. “Come, quick, quick!” As she looked about her, she smiled at Tihon and at her husband, and at the footman who was showing them in.

“It is Marie practising? Let us go quietly, we must surprise her.” Prince Andrey followed her with a courteous and depressed expression.

“You’re looking older, Tihon,” he said as he passed to the old man, who was kissing his hand.

Before they had reached the room, from which the sounds of the clavichord were coming, the pretty, fair-haired Frenchwoman emerged from a side-door. Mademoiselle Bourienne seemed overwhelmed with delight.

“Ah, what a pleasure for the princess!” she exclaimed. “At last! I must tell her.”

“No, no, please not” … said the little princess, kissing her. “You are Mademoiselle Bourienne; I know you already through my sister-in-law’s friendship for you. She does not expect us!”

They went up to the door of the divan-room, from which came the sound of the same passage repeated over and over again. Prince Andrey stood still frowning as though in expectation of something unpleasant.

The little princess went in. The passage broke off in the middle; he heard an exclamation, the heavy tread of Princess Marya, and the sound of kissing. When Prince Andrey went in, the two ladies, who had only seen each other once for a short time at Prince Andrey’s wedding, were clasped in each other’s arms, warmly pressing their lips to the first place each had chanced upon. Mademoiselle Bourienne was standing near them, her hands pressed to her heart; she was smiling devoutly, apparently equally ready to weep and to laugh. Prince Andrey shrugged his shoulders, and scowled as lovers of music scowl when they hear a false note. The two ladies let each other go; then hastened again, as though each afraid of being remiss, to hug each other, began kissing each other’s hands and pulling them away, and then fell to kissing each other on the face again. Then they quite astonished Prince Andrey by both suddenly bursting into tears and beginning the kissing over again. Mademoiselle Bourienne cried too. Prince Andrey was unmistakably ill at ease. But to the two women it seemed such a natural thing that they should weep; it seemed never to have occurred to them that their meeting could have taken place without tears.

Ah, ma chère!… Ah, Marie!” … both the ladies began talking at once, and they laughed. “I had a dream last night. Then you did not expect us? O Marie, you have got thinner.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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