War And Peace

CHAPTER II

Chinese

ANNA PAVLOVNA'S DRAWING-ROOM gradually began to fill. The people of the highest distinction in Petersburg were there, people very different in ages and characters, but alike in the set in which they moved. The daughter of Prince Vassily, the beauty, Ellen, came to fetch her father and go with him to the ambassador's fête. She was wearing a ball-dress with an imperial badge on it. The young Princess Bolkonsky was there, celebrated as the most seductive woman in Petersburg. She had been married the previous winter, and was not now going out into the great world on account of her interesting condition, but was still to be seen at small parties. Prince Ippolit, the son of Prince Vassily, came too with Mortemart, whom he introduced. The Abbé Morio was there too, and many others.

“Have you not yet seen, or not been introduced to ma tante?” Anna Pavlovna said to her guests as they arrived, and very seriously she led them up to a little old lady wearing tall bows, who had sailed in out of the next room as soon as the guests began to arrive. Anna Pavlovna mentioned their names, deliberately turning her eyes from the guest to ma tante, and then withdrew. All the guests performed the ceremony of greeting the aunt, who was unknown, uninteresting and unnecessary to every one. Anna Pavlovna with mournful, solemn sympathy, followed these greetings, silently approving them. Ma tante said to each person the same words about his health, her own health, and the health of her majesty, who was, thank God, better to-day. Every one, though from politeness showing no undue haste, moved away from the old lady with a sense of relief at a tiresome duty accomplished, and did not approach her again all the evening. The young Princess Bolkonsky had come with her work in a gold-embroidered velvet bag. Her pretty little upper lip, faintly darkened with down, was very short over her teeth, but was all the more charming when it was lifted, and still more charming when it was at times drawn down to meet the lower lip. As is always the case with perfectly charming women, her defect — the shortness of the lip and the half-opened mouth — seemed her peculiar, her characteristic beauty. Every one took delight in watching the pretty creature full of life and gaiety, so soon to be a mother, and so lightly bearing her burden. Old men and bored, depressed young men gazing at her felt as though they were becoming like her, by being with her and talking a little while to her. Any man who spoke to her, and at every word saw her bright little smile and shining white teeth, gleaming continually, imagined that he was being particularly successful this evening. And this each thought in turn.

The little princess, moving with a slight swing, walked with rapid little steps round the table with her work-bag in her hand, and gaily arranging the folds of her gown, sat down on a sofa near the silver samovar; it seemed as though everything she did was a festival for herself and all around her.

“I have brought my work,” she said, displaying her reticule, and addressing the company generally. “Mind, Annette, don't play me a nasty trick,” she turned to the lady of the house; “you wrote to me that it was quite a little gathering. See how I am got up.”

And she flung her arms open to show her elegant grey dress, trimmed with lace and girt a little below the bosom with a broad sash.

“Never mind, Lise, you will always be prettier than any one else,” answered Anna Pavlovna.

“You know my husband is deserting me,” she went on in just the same voice, addressing a general; “he is going to get himself killed. Tell me what this nasty war is for,” she said to Prince Vassily, and without waiting for an answer she turned to Prince Vassily's daughter, the beautiful Ellen.

“How delightful this little princess is!” said Prince Vassily in an undertone to Anna Pavlovna.

Soon after the little princess, there walked in a massively built, stout young man in spectacles, with a cropped head, light breeches in the mode of the day, with a high lace ruffle and a ginger-coloured coat. This stout young man was the illegitimate son of a celebrated dandy of the days of Catherine, Count Bezuhov, who was now dying at Moscow. He had not yet entered any branch of the service; he had only just returned from abroad, where he had been educated, and this was his first appearance in society. Anna Pavlovna greeted him with a nod reserved for persons of the very lowest hierarchy in her drawing-room. But, in spite of this greeting, Anna Pavlovna's countenance showed signs on seeing Pierre of uneasiness and alarm, such as is shown at the sight of something too big and out of place. Though Pierre certainly was somewhat bigger than any of the other men in the room, this expression could only have reference to the clever, though shy, observant and natural look that distinguished him from every one else in the drawing-room.

“It is very kind of you, M. Pierre, to have come to see a poor invalid,” Anna Pavlovna said to him, exchanging anxious glances with her aunt, to whom she was conducting him.

Pierre murmured something unintelligible, and continued searching for something with his eyes. He smiled gleefully and delightedly, bowing to the little princess as though she were an intimate friend, and went up to the aunt. Anna Pavlovna's alarm was not without grounds, for Pierre walked away from the aunt without waiting to the end of her remarks about her majesty's health. Anna Pavlovna stopped him in dismay with the words: “You don't know Abbé Morio? He's a very interesting man,” she said.

“Yes, I have heard of his scheme for perpetual peace, and it's very interesting, but hardly possible …”

“You think so?” said Anna Pavlovna in order to say something and to get away again to her duties as hostess, but Pierre committed the opposite incivility. Just now he had walked off without listening to the lady who was addressing him; now he detained by his talk a lady who wanted to get away from him. With head bent and legs planted wide apart, he began explaining to Anna Pavlovna why he considered the abbé's scheme chimerical.

“We will talk of it later,” said Anna Pavlovna, smiling.

And getting rid of this unmannerly young man she returned to her duties, keeping her eyes and ears open, ready to fly to the assistance at any point where the conversation was flagging. Just as the foreman of a spinning-mill settles the work-people in their places, walks up and down the works, and noting any stoppage or unusual creaking or too loud a whir in the spindles, goes up hurriedly, slackens the machinery and sets it going properly, so Anna Pavlovna, walking about her drawing-room, went up to any circle that was pausing or too loud in conversation and by a single word or change of position set the conversational machine going again in its regular, decorous way. But in the midst of these cares a special anxiety on Pierre's account could still be discerned in her. She kept an anxious watch on him as he went up to listen to what was being said near Mortemart, and walked away to another group where the abbé was talking. Pierre had been educated abroad, and this party at Anna Pavlovna's was the first at which he had been present in Russia. He knew all the intellectual lights of Petersburg gathered together here, and his eyes strayed about like a child's in a toy-shop. He was afraid at every moment of missing some intellectual conversation which he might have heard. Gazing at the self-confident and refined expressions of the personages assembled here, he was continually expecting something exceptionally clever. At last he moved up to Abbé Morio. The conversation seemed interesting, and he stood still waiting for an opportunity of expressing his own ideas, as young people are fond of doing.

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