Chapter 20

ONE MORNING Colonel Adolphe Berg, whom Pierre knew just as he knew every one in Moscow and Petersburg, called upon him. He was wearing a brand-new uniform, and had his powdered locks standing up over his forehead, as worn by the Tsar Alexander Pavlovitch.

“I have just been calling on the countess, your spouse, and to my misfortune, my request could not be granted. I hope I shall be more fortunate with you, count,” he said, smiling.

“What is it you desire, colonel? I am at your disposal.”

“I am by now, quite settled in my new quarters,” Berg informed him with perfect conviction that to hear this fact could not but be agreeable; “and so I was desirous of giving a little soirée for my friends and my spouse.” (He smiled still more blandly.) “I meant to ask the countess and you to do me the honour to come to us for a cup of tea, and … to supper.”

Only the Countess Elena Vassilyevna, who considered it beneath her to associate with nobodies like the Bergs, could have had the cruelty to refuse such an invitation. Berg explained so clearly why he wanted to gather together a small and select company at his new rooms; and why it would be agreeable to him to do so; and why he would grudge spending money on cards, or anything else harmful; but was ready for the sake of good society to incur expense, that Pierre could not refuse, and promised to come.

“Only not late, count, if I may venture to beg. Ten minutes to eight, I venture to beg. We will make up a party for boston. Our general is coming; he is very kind to me. We will have a little supper, count, so I shall esteem it an honour.”

Contrary to his usual habit (he was almost always late) Pierre arrived at the Bergs’ not at ten minutes to eight, but at a quarter to eight.

The Bergs had made all necessary preparations for their little party, and were quite ready to receive their guests.

Berg and his wife were sitting in a new, clean, light study, furnished with little busts and pictures and new furniture. Berg, with his new uniform closely buttoned up, sat beside his wife, and was explaining to her that one always could and ought to cultivate the acquaintance of people above one—for only then is there anything agreeable in acquaintances. “You pick up something, you can put in a word for something. Look at me now, how I used to manage in the lower grades (Berg reckoned his life not by years but by promotions). “My comrades are nothing still, while I’m a lieutenant-colonel. I have the happiness of being your husband” (he got up and kissed Vera’s hand, but on the way turned back the corner of the rug, which was rucked-up). “And how did I obtain all this? Chiefly by knowing how to select my acquaintances. It goes without saying, of course, that one has to be conscientious and punctual in the discharge of one’s duties.”

Berg smiled with a sense of his own superiority over a mere weak woman, and paused, reflecting that this charming wife of his was, after all, a weak woman, who could never attain all that constituted a man’s dignity,—ein Mann zu sein. Vera smiled, too, at the same time with a sense of her superiority over her conscientious, excellent husband, who yet, like all men, according to Vera’s ideas of them, took such a mistaken view of life. Berg, judging from his wife, considered all women weak and foolish. Vera, judging from her husband only, and generalising from her observation of him, supposed that all men ascribed common-sense to none but themselves, and at the same time had no understanding for anything, and were conceited and egoistic.

Berg got up, and cautiously embracing his wife so as not to crush the lace bertha, for which he had paid a round sum, he kissed her just on her lips.

“There’s only one thing: we mustn’t have children too soon,” he said, by a connection of ideas of which he was himself unconscious.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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