PRINCE VASSILY kept the promise he had made at Anna Pavlovna's soirée to Princess Drubetskoy, who had petitioned him in favour of her only son Boris. His case had been laid before the Emperor, and though it was not to be a precedent for others, he received a commission as sub-lieutenant in the Guards of the Semenovsky regiment. But the post of an adjutant or attaché in Kutuzov's service was not to be obtained for Boris by all Anna Mihalovna's efforts and entreaties. Shortly after the gathering at Anna Pavlovna's, Anna Mihalovna went back to Moscow to her rich relatives the Rostovs, with whom she stayed in Moscow. It was with these relations that her adored Borinka, who had only recently entered a regiment of the line, and was now at once transferred to the Guards as a sub-lieutenant, had been educated from childhood and had lived for years. The Guards had already left Petersburg on the 10th of August, and her son, who was remaining in Moscow to get his equipment, was to overtake them on the road to Radzivilov.
The Rostovs were keeping the name-day of the mother and the younger daughter, both called Natalya. Ever since the morning, coaches with six horses had been incessantly driving to and from the Countess Rostov's big house in Povarsky, which was known to all Moscow. The countess and her handsomest eldest daughter were sitting in the drawing-room with their visitors, who came in continual succession to present their congratulations to the elder lady.
The countess was a woman with a thin face of Oriental cast, forty-five years old, and obviously exhausted by child-bearing. She had had twelve children. The deliberate slowness of her movements and conversation, arising from weak health, gave her an air of dignity which inspired respect. Princess Anna Mihalovna Drubetskoy, as an intimate friend of the family, sat with them assisting in the work of receiving and entertaining their guests. The younger members of the family were in the back rooms, not seeing fit to take part in receiving visitors. The count met his visitors and escorted them to the door, inviting all of them to dinner.
“I am very, very grateful to you, mon cher” or “ma chère,” he said to every one without exception (making not the slightest distinction between persons of higher or of lower standing than his own), “for myself and my two dear ones whose name-day we are keeping. Mind you come to dinner. I shall be offended if you don't, mon cher. I beg you most sincerely from all the family, my dear.” These words, invariably accompanied by the same expression on his full, good-humoured, clean-shaven face, and the same warm pressure of the hand, and repeated short bows, he said to all without exception or variation. When he had escorted one guest to the hall, the count returned to the gentleman or lady who was still in the drawing-room. Moving up a chair, and with the air of a man fond of society and at home in it, he would sit down, his legs jauntily apart, and his hands on his knees, and sway to and fro with dignity as he proffered surmises upon the weather, gave advice about health, sometimes in Russian, sometimes in very bad but complacent French. Then again he would get up, and with the air of a man weary but resolute in the performance of his duty, he would escort guests out, stroking up his grey hair over his bald patch, and again he would urge them to come to dinner. Sometimes on his way back from the hall, he would pass through the conservatory and the butler's room into a big room with a marble floor, where they were setting a table for eighty guests; and looking at the waiters who were bringing in the silver and china, setting out tables and unfolding damask tablecloths, he would call up Dmitry Vassilyevitch, a young man of good family, who performed the duties of a steward in his household, and would say: “Now then, Mitenka, mind everything's right. That's it, that's it,” he would say, looking round with pleasure at the immense table opened out to its full extent; “the great thing is the service. So, so.” …And he went off again with a sigh of satisfaction to the drawing-room.
“Marya Lvovna Karagin and her daughter,” the countess's huge footman announced in a deep bass at the drawing-room door. The countess thought a moment, and took a pinch from a golden snuff-box with her husband's portrait on it.
“I'm worn out with these callers,” she said; “well, this is the last one I'll see. She's so affected. Show her up,” she said in a dejected tone, as though she were saying, “Very well, finish me off entirely!”
A tall, stout, haughty-looking lady and her round-faced, smiling daughter walked with rustling skirts into the drawing-room.
“Dear countess, it is such a long time…she has been laid up, poor child…at the Razumovskys' ball, and the Countess Apraxin…I was so glad,” feminine voices chattered briskly, interrupting one another and mingling with the sound of rustling skirts and the scraping of chairs. Conversation began of the sort which is kept up just long enough for the caller to get up at the first pause, rustling her skirts and with a murmur of “I am so charmed; mamma's health…and the Countess Apraxin…” walk out again with the same rustle to the hall to put on cloak or overcoat and drive away. The conversation touched on the chief items of news in the town, on the illness of the wealthy old Count Bezuhov, a man who had been renowned for his personal beauty in the days of Catherine, and on his illegitimate son, Pierre, who had behaved so improperly at a soirée at Anna Pavlovna's. “I am very sorry for the poor count,” declared the visitor; “his health in such a precarious state, and now this distress caused him by his son; it will be the death of him!”
“Why, what has happened?” asked the countess, as though she did not know what was meant, though she had heard about the cause of Count Bezuhov's distress fifteen times already.
“This is what comes of modern education! When he was abroad,” the visitor pursued, “this young man was left to his own devices, and now in Petersburg, they say, he has been doing such atrocious things that he has been sent away under police escort.”
“Really!” said the countess.
“He has made a bad choice of his companions,” put in Princess Anna Mihalovna. “Prince Vassily's son—he and a young man called Dolohov, they say—God only knows the dreadful things they've been doing. And both have suffered for it. Dolohov has been degraded to the rank of a common soldier, while Bezuhov's son has been banished to Moscow. As to Anatole Kuragin…his father managed to hush it up somehow. But he has been sent out of Petersburg too.”
“Why, what did they do?” asked the countess.
“They're perfect ruffians, especially Dolohov,” said the visitor. “He's the son of Marya Ivanovna Dolohov, such a worthy woman, you know, but there! Only fancy, the three of them had got hold of a bear somewhere, put it in a carriage with them, and were taking it to some actress's. The police ran up to stop them. They took the police officer, tied him back to back to the bear, and dropped the bear into the Moika: the bear swam with the police officer on him.”
“A pretty figure he must have looked, ma chère,” cried the count, helpless with laughter.
“Ah, such a horror! What is there to laugh at in it, count?”
But the ladies could not help laughing at it themselves.
“It was all they could do to rescue the unlucky man,” the visitor went on. “And that's the intellectual sort of amusement the son of Count Kirill Vladimirovitch Bezuhov indulges in!” she added. “And people said he was so well educated and clever. That's how foreign education turns out. I hope no one will receive him here, in spite of his great wealth. They tried to introduce him to me. I gave an absolute refusal: I have daughters.”
“What makes you say the young man is so wealthy?” asked the countess, turning away from the girls, who at once looked as though they did not hear. “He has none but illegitimate children. I believe that…Pierre too is illegitimate.”
The visitor waved her hand. “He has a score of them, I suppose.”
Princess Anna Mihalovna interposed, obviously wishing to show her connections and intimate knowledge with every detail in society.
“This is how the matter stands,” she said meaningly, speaking in a half whisper. “Count Kirill Vladimirovitch's reputation we all know.…He has lost count of his own children, indeed, but this Pierre was his favourite.”
“How handsome the old man was,” said the countess, “only last year! A finer-looking man I have never seen.”
“Now he's very much altered,” said Anna Mihalovna. “Well, I was just saying,” she went on, “the direct heir to all the property is Prince Vassily through his wife, but the father is very fond of Pierre, has taken trouble over his education, and he has written to the Emperor…so that no one can tell, if he dies (he's so ill that it's expected any moment, and Lorrain has come from Petersburg), whom that immense property will come to, Pierre or Prince Vassily. Forty thousand serfs and millions of money. I know this for a fact, for Prince Vassily himself told me so. And indeed Kirill Vladimirovitch happens to be a third cousin of mine on my mother's side, and he's Boris's godfather too,” she added, apparently attaching no importance to this circumstance.
“Prince Vassily arrived in Moscow yesterday. He's coming on some inspection business, so I was told,” said the visitor.
“Yes, between ourselves,” said the princess, “that's a pretext; he has come simply to see Prince Kirill Vladimirovitch, hearing he was in such a serious state.”
“But, really, ma chère, that was a capital piece of fun,” said the count; and seeing that the elder visitor did not hear him, he turned to the young ladies. “A funny figure the police officer must have looked; I can just fancy him.”
And showing how the police officer waved his arms about, he went off again into his rich bass laugh, his sides shaking with mirth, as people do laugh who always eat and, still more, drink well. “Then do, please, come to dinner with us,” he said.