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Chapter IV.8

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"Dearest," said the little princess after breakfast on the morning of the nineteenth March, and her downy little lip rose from old habit, but as sorrow was manifest in every smile, the sound of every word, and even every footstep in that house since the terrible news had come, so now the smile of the little princess- influenced by the general mood though without knowing its cause- was such as to remind one still more of the general sorrow.

"Dearest, I'm afraid this morning's fruschtique*- as Foka the cook calls it- has disagreed with me."

*Fruhstuck: breakfast.

"What is the matter with you, my darling? You look pale. Oh, you are very pale!" said Princess Mary in alarm, running with her soft, ponderous steps up to her sister-in-law.

"Your excellency, should not Mary Bogdanovna be sent for?" said one of the maids who was present. (Mary Bogdanovna was a midwife from the neighboring town, who had been at Bald Hills for the last fortnight.)

"Oh yes," assented Princess Mary, "perhaps that's it. I'll go. Courage, my angel." She kissed Lise and was about to leave the room.

"Oh, no, no!" And besides the pallor and the physical suffering on the little princess' face, an expression of childish fear of inevitable pain showed itself.

"No, it's only indigestion?... Say it's only indigestion, say so, Mary! Say..." And the little princess began to cry capriciously like a suffering child and to wring her little hands even with some affectation. Princess Mary ran out of the room to fetch Mary Bogdanovna.

"Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Oh!" she heard as she left the room.

The midwife was already on her way to meet her, rubbing her small, plump white hands with an air of calm importance.

"Mary Bogdanovna, I think it's beginning!" said Princess Mary looking at the midwife with wide-open eyes of alarm.

"Well, the Lord be thanked, Princess," said Mary Bogdanovna, not hastening her steps. "You young ladies should not know anything about it."

"But how is it the doctor from Moscow is not here yet?" said the princess. (In accordance with Lise's and Prince Andrew's wishes they had sent in good time to Moscow for a doctor and were expecting him at any moment.)

"No matter, Princess, don't be alarmed," said Mary Bogdanovna. "We'll manage very well without a doctor."

Five minutes later Princess Mary from her room heard something heavy being carried by. She looked out. The men servants were carrying the large leather sofa from Prince Andrew's study into the bedroom. On their faces was a quiet and solemn look.

Princess Mary sat alone in her room listening to the sounds in the house, now and then opening her door when someone passed and watching what was going on in the passage. Some women passing with quiet steps in and out of the bedroom glanced at the princess and turned away. She did not venture to ask any questions, and shut the door again, now sitting down in her easy chair, now taking her prayer book, now kneeling before the icon stand. To her surprise and distress she found that her prayers did not calm her excitement. Suddenly her door opened softly and her old nurse, Praskovya Savishna, who hardly ever came to that room as the old prince had forbidden it, appeared on the threshold with a shawl round her head.

"I've come to sit with you a bit, Masha," said the nurse, "and here I've brought the prince's wedding candles to light before his saint, my angel," she said with a sigh.

"Oh, nurse, I'm so glad!"

"God is merciful, birdie."

The nurse lit the gilt candles before the icons and sat down by the door with her knitting. Princess Mary took a book and began reading. Only when footsteps or voices were heard did they look at one another, the princess anxious and inquiring, the nurse encouraging. Everyone in the house was dominated by the same feeling that Princess Mary experienced as she sat in her room. But owing to the superstition that the fewer the people who know of it the less a woman in travail suffers, everyone tried to pretend not to know; no one spoke of it, but apart from the ordinary staid and respectful good manners habitual in the prince's household, a common anxiety, a softening of the heart, and a consciousness that something great and mysterious was being accomplished at that moment made itself felt.

There was no laughter in the maids' large hall. In the men servants' hall all sat waiting, silently and alert. In the outlying serfs' quarters torches and candles were burning and no one slept. The old prince, stepping on his heels, paced up and down his study and sent Tikhon to ask Mary Bogdanovna what news.- "Say only that 'the prince told me to ask,' and come and tell me her answer."

 

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War and Peace -by- Leo Tolstoy

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