“Mon cher Boris,” said Anna Mihalovna as the Countess Rostov's carriage drove along the street strewn with straw and into the wide courtyard of Count Kirill Vladimirovitch Bezuhov's house. “Mon cher Boris,” said the mother, putting her hand out from under her old mantle, and laying it on her son's hand with a timid, caressing movement, “be nice, be attentive. Count Kirill Vladimirovitch is after all your godfather, and your future depends on him. Remember that, mon cher, be charming, as you know so well how to be.…”
“If I knew anything would come of it but humiliation,” her son answered coldly. “But I have promised, and I will do it for your sake.”
Although the carriage was standing at the entrance, the hall-porter, scanning the mother and son (they had not sent in their names, but had walked straight in through the glass doors between two rows of statues in niches), and looking significantly at the old mantle, inquired whom they wanted, the princesses or the count; and hearing that they wanted to see the count, said that his excellency was worse to-day, and his excellency could see no one.
“We may as well go away,” the son said in French.
“Mon ami!” said the mother in a voice of entreaty, again touching her son's hand, as though the contact might soothe or rouse him. Boris said no more, but without taking off his overcoat, looked inquiringly at his mother.
“My good man,” Anna Mihalovna said ingratiatingly, addressing the hall-porter, “I know that Count Kirill Vladimirovitch is very ill … that is why I am here … I am a relation … I shall not disturb him, my good man … I need only see Prince Vassily Sergyevitch; he's staying here, I know. Announce us, please.”
The hall-porter sullenly pulled the bell-rope that rang upstairs and turned away.
“Princess Drubetskoy to see Prince Vassily Sergyevitch,” he called to a footman in stockings, slippers and a frockcoat, who ran down from above, and looked down from the turn in the staircase.
The mother straightened out the folds of her dyed silk gown, looked at herself in the full-length Venetian looking-glass on the wall, and boldly walked up on the stair carpet in her shabby, shapeless shoes.
“My dear, you promised me,” she turned again to her son, rousing him by a touch on his arm. The son, with his eyes on the door, walked submissively after her.
They went into a large room, from which a door led to the apartments that had been assigned to Prince Vassily.
At the moment when the mother and son reached the middle of the room and were about to ask their way of an old footman, who had darted out at their entrance, the bronze handle of one of the doors turned, and Prince Vassily, dressed in a house jacket of velvet, with one star, came out, accompanying a handsome, black-haired man. This man was the celebrated Petersburg doctor, Lorrain.
“It is positive, then?” said the Prince.
“Prince, errare est humanum,” answered the doctor, lisping, and pronouncing the Latin words with a French accent.
“Very well, very well …”
Perceiving Anna Mihalovna and her son, Prince Vassily dismissed the doctor with a bow, and in silence, with an air of inquiry, advanced to meet them. The son noticed how an expression of intense grief came at once into his mother's eyes, and he smiled slightly.
“Yes, in what distressing circumstances we were destined to meet again, prince.… Tell me how is our dear patient?” she said, apparently not observing the frigid, offensive glance that was fixed on her. Prince Vassily stared at her, then at Boris with a look of inquiry that amounted to perplexity. Boris bowed politely. Prince Vassily, without acknowledging his bow, turned away to Anna Mihalovna, and to her question he replied by a movement of the head and lips, indicative of the worst fears for the patient.
“Is it possible?” cried Anna Mihalovna. “Ah, this is terrible! It is dreadful to think … This is my son,” she added, indicating Boris. “He wanted to thank you in person.”
Boris once more made a polite bow.
“Believe me, prince, a mother's heart will never forget what you have done for us.”
“I am glad I have been able to do you any service, my dear Anna Mihalovna,” said Prince Vassily, pulling his lace frill straight, and in voice and manner manifesting here in Moscow, before Anna Mihalovna, who was under obligation to him, an even greater sense of his own dignity than in Petersburg at Anna Pavlovna's soirée.
“Try to do your duty in the service, and to be worthy of it.” he added, turning severely to him. “I am glad … you are here on leave?” he asked in his expressionless voice.
“I am awaiting orders, your excellency, to join my new regiment,” answered Boris, showing no sign either of resentment at the prince's abrupt manner, nor of desire to get into conversation, but speaking with such respectful composure that the prince looked at him attentively.
“You are living with your mother?”
“I am living at Countess Rostov's,” said Boris, again adding: “your excellency.”
“The Ilya Rostov, who married Natalie Shinshin,” said Anna Mihalovna.
“I know, I know,” said Prince Vassily in his monotonous voice. “I have never been able to understand how Natalie Shinshin could make up her mind to marry that unlicked bear. A completely stupid and ridiculous person. And a gambler too, I am told.”
“But a very worthy man, prince,” observed Anna Mihalovna, with a pathetic smile, as though she too recognised that Count Rostov deserved this criticism, but begged him not to be too hard on the poor old fellow. “What do the doctors say?” asked the princess, after a brief pause, and again the expression of deep distress reappeared on her tear-worn face.
“There is little hope,” said the prince.
“And, I was so longing to thank uncle once more for all his kindness to me and to Boris. He is his godson,” she added in a tone that suggested that Prince Vassily would be highly delighted to hear this fact.
Prince Vassily pondered and frowned. Anna Mihalovna saw he was afraid of finding in her a rival with claims on Count Bezuhov's will. She hastened to reassure him. “If it were not for my genuine love and devotion for uncle,” she said, uttering the last word with peculiar assurance and carelessness, “I know his character,—generous, upright; but with only the princesses about him.… They are young.…” She bent her head and added in a whisper: “Has he performed his last duties, prince? How priceless are these last moments! He is as bad as he could be, it seems; it is absolutely necessary to prepare him, if he is so ill. We women, prince,” she smiled tenderly, “always know how to say these things. I absolutely must see him. Hard as it will be for me, I am used to suffering.”
The prince evidently understood, and understood, too, as he had at Anna Pavlovna's, that it was no easy task to get rid of Anna Mihalovna.
“Would not this interview be trying for him, chère Anna Mihalovna?” he said. “Let us wait till the evening; the doctors have predicted a crisis.”
“But waiting's out of the question, prince, at such a moment. Think, it is a question of saving his soul. Ah! how terrible, the duties of a Christian.…”
The door from the inner rooms opened, and one of the count's nieces entered with a cold and forbidding face, and a long waist strikingly out of proportion with the shortness of her legs.
Prince Vassily turned to her. “Well, how is he?”
“Still the same. What can you expect with this noise? …” said the princess, scanning Anna Mihalovna, as a stranger.
“Ah, dear, I did not recognise you,” said Anna Mihalovna, with a delighted smile, and she ambled lightly up to the count's niece. “I have just come, and I am at your service to help in nursing my uncle. I imagine what you have been suffering,” she added, sympathetically turning her eyes up.
The princess made no reply, she did not even smile, but walked straight away. Anna Mihalovna took off her gloves, and entrenched herself as it were in an armchair, inviting Prince Vassily to sit down beside her.
“Boris!” she said to her son, and she smiled at him, “I am going in to the count, to poor uncle, and you can go to Pierre, mon ami, meanwhile, and don't forget to give him the Rostovs' invitation. They ask him to dinner. I suppose he won't go?” she said to the prince.
“On the contrary,” said the prince, visibly cast down. “I should be very glad if you would take that young man off my hands.… He sticks on here. The count has not once asked for him.”
He shrugged his shoulders. A footman conducted the youth downstairs and up another staircase to the apartments of Pyotr Kirillovitch.