Chapter 4

WHEN PRINCESS MARYA went into the room, Prince Vassily and his son were already in the drawing- room, talking to the little princess and Mademoiselle Bourienne. When she walked in with her heavy step, treading on her heels, the gentlemen and Mademoiselle Bourienne rose, and the little princess, with a gesture indicating her to the gentlemen, said: “Here is Marie!” Princess Marya saw them all and saw them in detail. She saw the face of Prince Vassily, growing serious for an instant at the sight of her, and then hastily smiling, and the face of the little princess, scanning the faces of the guests with curiosity to detect the impression Marie was making on them. She saw Mademoiselle Bourienne, too, with her ribbon and her pretty face, turned towards him with a look of more eagerness than she had ever seen on it. But him she could not see, she could only see something large, bright-coloured, and handsome moving towards her, as she entered the room. Prince Vassily approached her first; and she kissed his bald head, as he bent over to kiss her hand, and in reply to his words said, that on the contrary, she remembered him very well. Then Anatole went up to her. She still could not see him. She only felt a soft hand taking her hand firmly, and she touched with her lips a white forehead, over which there was beautiful fair hair, smelling of pomade. When she glanced at him, she was impressed by his beauty. Anatole was standing with the thumb of his right hand at a button of his uniform, his chest squared and his spine arched; swinging one foot, with his head a little on one side, he was gazing in silence with a beaming face on the princess, obviously not thinking of her at all. Anatole was not quick-witted, he was not ready, not eloquent in conversation, but he had that faculty, so invaluable for social purposes, of composure and imperturbable assurance. If a man of no self-confidence is dumb at first making acquaintance, and betrays a consciousness of the impropriety of this dumbness and an anxiety to find something to say, the effect will be bad. But Anatole was dumb and swung his leg, as he watched the princess’s hair with a radiant face. It was clear that he could be silent with the same serenity for a very long while. “If anybody feels silence awkward, let him talk, but I don’t care about it,” his demeanour seemed to say. Moreover, in his manner to women, Anatole had that air, which does more than anything else to excite curiosity, awe, and even love in women, the air of supercilious consciousness of his own superiority. His manner seemed to say to them: “I know you, I know, but why trouble my head about you? You’d be pleased enough, of course!” Possibly he did not think this on meeting women (it is probable, indeed, that he did not, for he thought very little at any time), but that was the effect of his air and his manner. Princess Marya felt it, and as though to show him she did not even venture to think of inviting his attention, she turned to his father. The conversation was general and animated, thanks to the voice and the little downy lip, that flew up and down over the white teeth of the little princess. She met Prince Vassily in that playful tone so often adopted by chatty and lively persons, the point of which consists in the assumption that there exists a sort of long-established series of jokes and amusing, partly private, humorous reminiscences between the persons so addressed and oneself, even when no such reminiscences are really shared, as indeed was the case with Prince Vassily and the little princess. Prince Vassily readily fell in with this tone, the little princess embellished their supposed common reminiscences with all sorts of droll incidents that had never occurred, and drew Anatole too into them, though she had scarcely known him. Mademoiselle Bourienne too succeeded in taking a part in them, and even Princess Marya felt with pleasure that she was being made to share in their gaiety.

“Well, anyway, we shall take advantage of you to the utmost now we have got you, dear prince,” said the little princess, in French, of course, to Prince Vassily. “Here it is not as it used to be at our evenings at Annette’s, where you always ran away. Do you remember our dear Annette?”

“Ah yes, but then you mustn’t talk to me about politics, like Annette!”

“And our little tea-table?”

“Oh yes!”

“Why is it you never used to be at Annette’s?” the little princess asked of Anatole. “Ah, I know, I know,” she said, winking; “your brother, Ippolit, has told me tales of your doings. Oh!” She shook her finger at him. “I know about your exploits in Paris too!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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