PIERRE'S DUEL with Dolohov was smoothed over, and in spite of the Tsar's severity in regard to duels at that time, neither the principals nor the seconds suffered for it. But the scandal of the duel, confirmed by Pierre's rupture with his wife, made a great noise in society. Pierre had been looked upon with patronising condescension when he was an illegitimate son; he had been made much of and extolled for his virtues while he was the wealthiest match in the Russian empire; but after his marriage, when young ladies and their mothers had nothing to hope from him, he had fallen greatly in the opinion of society, especially as he had neither the wit nor the wish to ingratiate himself in public favour. Now the blame of the whole affair was thrown on him; it was said that he was insanely jealous, and subject to the same fits of blood-thirsty fury as his father had been. And when, after Pierre's departure, Ellen returned to Petersburg, she was received by all her acquaintances not only cordially, but with a shade of deference that was a tribute to her distress. When the conversation touched upon her husband, Ellen assumed an expression of dignity, which her characteristic tact prompted her to adopt, though she had no conception of its significance. That expression suggested that she had resolved to bear her affliction without complaint, and that her husband was a cross God had laid upon her. Prince Vassily expressed his opinion more openly. He shrugged his shoulders when the conversation turned upon Pierre, and pointing to his forehead, said:
“Crackbrained, I always said so.”
“I used to say so even before,” Anna Pavlovna would say of Pierre, “at the time I said at once and before every one” (she insisted on her priority) “that he was an insane young man, corrupted by the dissolute ideas of the age. I used to say so at the time when every one was in such ecstasies over him; and he had only just come home from abroad, and do you remember at one of my soirées he thought fit to pose as a sort of Marat? And how has it ended? Even then I was against this marriage, and foretold all that has come to pass.”
Anna Pavlovna used still to give soirées on her free days as before, soirées such as only she had the gift of arranging, soirées at which were gathered “the cream of really good society, the flower of the intellectual essence of Petersburg society,” as Anna Pavlovna herself used to say. Besides this fine sifting of the society, Anna Pavlovna's soirées were further distinguished by some new interesting person, secured by the hostess on every occasion for the entertainment of the company. Moreover, the point on the political thermometer, at which the temperature of loyal court society stood in Petersburg, was nowhere so clearly and unmistakably marked as at these soirées.
Towards the end of the year 1806, when all the melancholy details of Napoleon's destruction of the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstadt, and the surrender of the greater number of the Prussian forts, had arrived, when our troops were already entering Prussia, and our second war with Napoleon was beginning, Anna Pavlovna was giving one of her soirées. “The cream of really good society” consisted of the fascinating and unhappy Ellen, abandoned by her husband; of Mortemart; of the fascinating Prince Ippolit, who had just come home from Vienna; of two diplomats, of the old aunt; of a young man, always referred to in that society by the designation, “a man of a great deal of merit …”; of a newly appointed maid of honour and her mother, and several other less noteworthy persons.
The novelty Anna Pavlovna was offering her guests for their entertainment that evening was Boris Drubetskoy, who had just arrived as a special messenger from the Prussian army, and was in the suite of a personage of very high rank.
What the political thermometer indicated at that soirée was something as follows: All the European rulers and generals may do their utmost to flatter Bonaparte with the object of causing me and us generally these annoyances and mortifications, but our opinion in regard to Bonaparte can undergo no change. We do not cease giving undisguised expression to our way of thinking on the subject, and can only say to the Prussian king and others: “So much the worse for you.” “Tu l'as voulu, George Dandin,” that's all we can say. This was what the political thermometer indicated at Anna Pavlovna's soirée. When Boris, who was to be offered up to the guests, came into the drawing-room, almost all the company had assembled, and the conversation, guided by Anna Pavlovna, was of our diplomatic relations with Austria, and the hope of an alliance with her.
Boris, fresh, rosy, and manlier looking, walked easily into the drawing-room, wearing the elegant uniform of an adjutant. He was duly conducted to pay his respects to the aunt, and then joined the general circle.
Anna Pavlovna gave him her shrivelled hand to kiss, introduced him to several persons whom he did not know, and gave him a whispered description of each of them. “Prince Ippolit Kuragin, M. Krug, chargé d'affaires from Copenhagen, a profound intellect and simple, M. Shitov, a man of a great deal of merit …” this of the young man always so spoken of.
Thanks to the efforts of Anna Mihalovna, his own tastes and the peculiarities of his reserved character, Boris had succeeded by that time in getting into a very advantageous position in the service. He was an adjutant in the suite of a personage of very high rank, he had received a very important commission in Prussia, and had only just returned thence as a special messenger. He had completely assimilated that unwritten code which had so pleased him at Olmütz, that code in virtue of which a lieutenant may stand infinitely higher than a general, and all that is needed for success in the service is not effort, not work, not gallantry, not perseverance, but simply the art of getting on with those who have the bestowal of promotion, and he often himself marvelled at the rapidity of his own progress, and that others failed to grasp the secret of it. His whole manner of life, all his relations with his old friends, all his plans for the future were completely transformed in consequence of this discovery. He was not well off, but he spent his last copeck to be better dressed than others. He would have deprived himself of many pleasures rather than have allowed himself to drive in an inferior carriage, or to be seen in the streets of Petersburg in an old uniform. He sought the acquaintance and cultivated the friendship only of persons who were in a higher position, and could consequently be of use to him. He loved Petersburg and despised Moscow. His memories of the Rostov household and his childish passion for Natasha were distasteful to him, and he had not once been at the Rostovs' since he had entered the army. In Anna Pavlovna's drawing-room, his entry into which he looked upon as an important step upward in the service, he at once took his cue, and let Anna Pavlovna make the most of what interest he had to offer, while himself attentively watching every face and appraising the advantages and possibilities of intimacy with every one of the persons present. He sat on the seat indicated to him beside the fair Ellen and listened to the general conversation.
“Vienna considers the bases of the proposed treaty so unattainable that not even a continuance of the most brilliant successes would put them within reach, and doubts whether any means could gain them for us. These are the actual words of the ministry in Vienna,” said the Danish chargé d'affaires.
“It is polite of them to doubt,” said the man of profound intellect with a subtle smile.
“We must distinguish between the ministry in Vienna and the Emperor of Austria,” said Mortemart. “The Emperor of Austria can never have thought of such a thing; it is only the ministers who say it.”
“Ah, my dear vicomte,” put in Anna Pavlovna; “Europe will never be our sincere ally.”
Then Anna Pavlovna turned the conversation upon the courage and firmness of the Prussian king, with the object of bringing Boris into action.
Boris listened attentively to the person who was speaking, and waited for his turn, but meanwhile he had leisure to look round several times at the fair Ellen, who several times met the handsome young adjutant's eyes with a smile.
Very naturally, speaking of the position of Prussia, Anna Pavlovna asked Boris to describe his journey to Glogau, and the position in which he had found the Prussian army. Boris in his pure, correct French, told them very deliberately a great many interesting details about the armies, and the court, studiously abstaining from any expression of his own opinion in regard to the facts he was narrating. For some time Boris engrossed the whole attention of the company, and Anna Pavlovna felt that the novelty she was serving her guests was being accepted by them all with pleasure. Of all the party, the person who showed most interest in Boris's description was Ellen. She asked him several questions about his expedition, and seemed to be extremely interested in the position of the Prussian army. As soon as he had finished, she turned to him with her habitual smile.
“You absolutely must come and see me,” she said in a tone that suggested that for certain considerations, of which he could have no knowledge, it was absolutely essential. “On Tuesday between eight and nine. It will give me great pleasure.”
Boris promised to do so, and was about to enter into conversation with her, when Anna Pavlovna drew him aside on the pretext that her aunt wished to hear his story.
“You know her husband, of course?” said Anna Pavlovna, dropping her eyelids, and with a melancholy gesture indicating Ellen. “Ah, such an unhappy and exquisite woman! Don't speak of him before her; pray, don't speak of him. It's too much for her!”