Chapter 1

IN THE HIGHER CIRCLES in Petersburg the intricate conflict between the parties of Rumyantsev, of the French, of Marya Fyodorovna, of the Tsarevitch, and the rest was going on all this time with more heat than ever, drowned, as always, by the buzzing of the court drones. But the easy, luxurious life of Petersburg, troubled only about phantasms, the reflection of life, went on its old way; and the course of that life made it a difficult task to believe in the danger and the difficult position of the Russian people. There were the same levees and balls, the same French theatre, the same court interests, the same interests and intrigues in the government service. It was only in the very highest circles that efforts were made to recollect the difficulty of the real position. There was whispered gossip of how the two Empresses had acted in opposition to one another in these difficult circumstances. The Empress Marya Fyodorovna, anxious for the welfare of the benevolent and educational institutions under her patronage, had arrangements made for the removal of all the institutes to Kazan, and all the belongings of these establishments were already packed. The Empress Elizaveta Alexyevna on being asked what commands she was graciously pleased to give, had been pleased to reply that in regard to state matters she could give no commands, since that was all in the Tsar’s hands; as far as she personally was concerned, she had graciously declared, with her characteristic Russian patriotism, that she would be the last to leave Petersburg.

On the 26th of August, the very day of the battle of Borodino, there was a soirée at Anna Pavlovna’s, the chief attraction of which was to be the reading of the Metropolitan’s letter, written on the occasion of his sending to the Tsar the holy picture of Saint Sergey. This letter was looked upon as a model of patriotic ecclesiastical eloquence. It was to be read by Prince Vassily himself, who was famed for his fine elocution. (He used even to read aloud in the Empress’s drawing-room.) The beauty of his elocution was supposed to lie in the loud, resonant voice, varying between a despairing howl and a tender whine, in which he rolled off the words quite independently of the sense, so that a howl fell on one word and a whine on others quite at random. This reading, as was always the case with Anna Pavlovna’s entertainments, had a political significance. She was expecting at this soirée several important personages who were to be made to feel ashamed of patronising the French theatre, and to be roused to patriotic fervour. A good many people had already arrived, but Anna Pavlovna did not yet see those persons whose presence in her drawing-room was necessary, and she was therefore starting general topics of conversation before proceeding to the reading.

The news of the day in Petersburg was the illness of Countess Bezuhov. The countess had been taken ill a few days previously; she had missed several entertainments, of which she was usually the ornament, and it was said that she was seeing no one, and that instead of the celebrated Petersburg physicians, who usually attended her, she had put herself into the hands of some Italian doctor, who was treating her on some new and extraordinary method.

Everybody was very well aware that the charming countess’s illness was due to inconveniences arising from marrying two husbands at once, and that the Italian doctor’s treatment consisted in the removal of such inconvenience. But in the presence of Anna Pavlovna no one ventured to think about that view of the question, or even, as it were, to know what they did know about it.

“They say the poor countess is very ill. The doctor says it is angina pectoris.”

Angine? Oh, that’s a terrible illness.”

“They say the rivals are reconciled, thanks to the angine…” The word angine was repeated with great relish.

“I am told the old count is touching. He cried like a child when the doctor told him there was danger.”

“Oh, it would be a terrible loss. She is a fascinating woman.”

“You speak of the poor countess,” said Anna Pavlovna, coming up. “I sent to inquire after her. I was told she was getting better. Oh, no doubt of it, she is the most charming woman in the world,” said Anna

  By PanEris using Melati.

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