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Chapter I.24

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There was now no one in the reception room except Prince Vasili and the eldest princess, who were sitting under the portrait of Catherine the Great and talking eagerly. As soon as they saw Pierre and his companion they became silent, and Pierre thought he saw the princess hide something as she whispered:

"I can't bear the sight of that woman."

"Catiche has had tea served in the small drawing room," said Prince Vasili to Anna Mikhaylovna. "Go and take something, my poor Anna Mikhaylovna, or you will not hold out."

To Pierre he said nothing, merely giving his arm a sympathetic squeeze below the shoulder. Pierre went with Anna Mikhaylovna into the small drawing room.

"There is nothing so refreshing after a sleepless night as a cup of this delicious Russian tea," Lorrain was saying with an air of restrained animation as he stood sipping tea from a delicate Chinese handleless cup before a table on which tea and a cold supper were laid in the small circular room. Around the table all who were at Count Bezukhov's house that night had gathered to fortify themselves. Pierre well remembered this small circular drawing room with its mirrors and little tables. During balls given at the house Pierre, who did not know how to dance, had liked sitting in this room to watch the ladies who, as they passed through in their ball dresses with diamonds and pearls on their bare shoulders, looked at themselves in the brilliantly lighted mirrors which repeated their reflections several times. Now this same room was dimly lighted by two candles. On one small table tea things and supper dishes stood in disorder, and in the middle of the night a motley throng of people sat there, not merrymaking, but somberly whispering, and betraying by every word and movement that they none of them forgot what was happening and what was about to happen in the bedroom. Pierre did not eat anything though he would very much have liked to. He looked inquiringly at his monitress and saw that she was again going on tiptoe to the reception room where they had left Prince Vasili and the eldest princess. Pierre concluded that this also was essential, and after a short interval followed her. Anna Mikhaylovna was standing beside the princess, and they were both speaking in excited whispers.

"Permit me, Princess, to know what is necessary and what is not necessary," said the younger of the two speakers, evidently in the same state of excitement as when she had slammed the door of her room.

"But, my dear princess," answered Anna Mikhaylovna blandly but impressively, blocking the way to the bedroom and preventing the other from passing, "won't this be too much for poor Uncle at a moment when he needs repose? Worldly conversation at a moment when his soul is already prepared..."

Prince Vasili was seated in an easy chair in his familiar attitude, with one leg crossed high above the other. His cheeks, which were so flabby that they looked heavier below, were twitching violently; but he wore the air of a man little concerned in what the two ladies were saying.

"Come, my dear Anna Mikhaylovna, let Catiche do as she pleases. You know how fond the count is of her."

"I don't even know what is in this paper," said the younger of the two ladies, addressing Prince Vasili and pointing to an inlaid portfolio she held in her hand. "All I know is that his real will is in his writing table, and this is a paper he has forgotten...."

She tried to pass Anna Mikhaylovna, but the latter sprang so as to bar her path.

"I know, my dear, kind princess," said Anna Mikhaylovna, seizing the portfolio so firmly that it was plain she would not let go easily. "Dear princess, I beg and implore you, have some pity on him! Je vous en conjure..."

The princess did not reply. Their efforts in the struggle for the portfolio were the only sounds audible, but it was evident that if the princess did speak, her words would not be flattering to Anna Mikhaylovna. Though the latter held on tenaciously, her voice lost none of its honeyed firmness and softness.

"Pierre, my dear, come here. I think he will not be out of place in a family consultation; is it not so, Prince?"

"Why don't you speak, cousin?" suddenly shrieked the princess so loud that those in the drawing room heard her and were startled. "Why do you remain silent when heaven knows who permits herself to interfere, making a scene on the very threshold of a dying man's room? Intriguer!" she hissed viciously, and tugged with all her might at the portfolio.

But Anna Mikhaylovna went forward a step or two to keep her hold on the portfolio, and changed her grip.

Prince Vasili rose. "Oh!" said he with reproach and surprise, "this is absurd! Come, let go I tell you."

 

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War and Peace -by- Leo Tolstoy

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