With a sense of wondering and melancholy disillusion, Prince Andrey heard his laughter and looked at Speransky laughing. It was not Speransky, but some other man, it seemed to Prince Andrey. All that had seemed mysterious and attractive in Speransky suddenly seemed to Prince Andrey obvious and unattractive.

At dinner the conversation never paused for a moment, and consisted of something like the contents of a jest-book. Magnitsky had hardly finished his anecdote when another gentleman expressed his readiness to relate something even more amusing. The anecdotes for the most part related, if not to the service itself, to persons prominent in the service. It was as though in this circle the utter insignificance of these prominent persons was so completely accepted that the only attitude possible towards them was one of good-humoured hilarity. Speransky told them how at the council that morning a deaf statesman, on being asked his opinion, replied that he was of the same opinion. Gervais described a whole episode of the revision, only remarkable for the imbecility of all concerned in it. Stolypin, stammering, took up the conversation and began talking of the abuses of the old order of things, with a warmth that threatened to give the conversation a serious turn. Magnitsky began to make fun of Stolypin’s earnestness. Gervais put in his joke, and the conversation resumed its former lively tone. It was obvious that after his labours Speransky liked to rest and be amused in the circle of his friends; and all his friends understood his tastes, and were trying to amuse him and themselves. But this kind of gaiety seemed to Prince Andrey tiresome and anything but gay. Speransky’s high voice struck him unpleasantly, and his continual laugh in its high-pitched, falsetto note was for some reason an offence to Prince Andrey’s feelings. Prince Andrey did not laugh, and was afraid he would be felt uncongenial by this party. But no one noticed his lack of sympathy with the general merriment. All of them appeared to be greatly enjoying themselves.

Several times he tried to enter into the conversation, but every time the word was snatched out of his mouth, like a cork out of water, and he could not bandy jokes with them. There was nothing wrong or unseemly in what they said; it was all witty, and might have been amusing, but something—that very something that makes the zest of gaiety—was wanting, and they did not even know of its existence.

After dinner Speransky’s daughter and her governess rose from the table. Speransky patted his daughter with his white hand, and kissed her. And that gesture, too, seemed to Prince Andrey unnatural.

The men sat on over their port, after the English fashion. A conversation sprang up about Napoleon’s doings in Spain, of which all were united in approving, while Prince Andrey attacked them. But in the middle of this discussion Speransky, obviously wishing to change the subject, began with a smile telling an anecdote, which had no connection with it. For several instants every one was silent.

As they sat at table, Speransky, corking up a bottle of wine and saying, “Nowadays good wine doesn’t go a-begging!” gave it to the servant and got up. All rose, and talking just as noisily, went into the drawing- room. Speransky was handed two envelopes brought by a special courier. He took them and went into his study. As soon as he had gone, there was a lull in the general gaiety, and the guests began conversing sensibly in low tones together.

“Well, now for the recitation!” said Speransky, coming out of his study. “A marvellous talent!” he said to Prince Andrey. Magnitsky at once threw himself into an attitude, and began to recite comic French verses, a skit he had composed on various well-known persons. Several times he was interrupted by applause. At the conclusion of the recitation Prince Andrey went up to Speransky to say good-bye.

“Why so early?” said Speransky.

“I promised to be at a soirée.…”

They said no more. Prince Andrey looked at those mirror-like, impenetrable eyes, so close to his, and he felt it ludicrous that he should have expected anything from Speransky, and from all his own work connected with him, and marvelled how he could have ascribed any value to what Speransky was doing. That punctual, mirthless laugh was ringing in Prince Andrey’s ears long after he had left Speransky’s.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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