WHEN BORIS AND ANNA PAVLOVNA returned to the rest, Prince Ippolit was in possession of the ear of the company. Bending forward in his low chair, he was saying:
“The King of Prussia!” and as he said it, he laughed. Every one turned towards him. “The King of Prussia,” Ippolit said interrogatively, and again he laughed and again settled himself placidly and seriously in the depths of his big, low chair. Anna Pavlovna paused a little for him, but as Ippolit seemed quite certainly not intending to say more, she began to speak of how the godless Bonaparte had at Potsdam carried off the sword of Frederick the Great.
“It is the sword of Frederick the Great, which I …” she was beginning, but Ippolit interrupted her with the words:
“The King of Prussia …” and again as soon as all turned to listen to him, he excused himself and said no more. Anna Pavlovna frowned. Mortemart, Ippolit's friend, addressed him with decision:
“Come, what are you after with your King of Prussia?”
Ippolit laughed as though he were ashamed of his own laughter.
“No, it's nothing. I only meant …” (He had intended to repeat a joke that he had heard in Vienna and had been trying all the evening to get in.) “I only meant that we are wrong to make war for the King of Prussia.”
Boris smiled circumspectly, a smile that might do duty either for a sneer or a tribute to the jest, according to the way it was received. Every one laughed.
“It is too bad, your joke, very witty but unjust,” said Anna Pavlovna, shaking her little wrinkled finger at him. “We are not making war for the sake of the King of Prussia, but for the sake of right principles. Ah, le méchant, ce Prince Hippolyte!” she said.
The conversation did not flag all the evening, and turned principally upon the political news. Towards the end of the evening it became particularly eager, when the rewards bestowed by the Tsar were the subjects of discussion.
“Why, last year N.N. received the snuff-box with the portrait,” said the man of profound intellect. “Why shouldn't S. S. receive the same reward?”
“I beg your pardon, a snuff-box with the Emperor's portrait is a reward, but not a distinction,” said a diplomatist. “A present, rather.”
“There are precedents. I would instance Schwartzenberg.”
“It is impossible,” retorted another.
“A bet on it. The ribbon of the order is different.”
When every one got up to take leave, Ellen, who had said very little all the evening, turned to Boris again with a request, and a caressing, impressive command that he would come to her on Tuesday.
“It is of great importance to me,” she said with a smile, looking round at Anna Pavlovna, and Anna Pavlovna, with the same mournful smile with which she accompanied any reference to her royal patroness, gave her support to Ellen's wishes. It appeared that from some words Boris had uttered that evening about the Prussian army Ellen had suddenly discovered the absolute necessity of seeing him. She seemed to promise him that when he came on Tuesday she would disclose to him that necessity. When Boris entered Ellen's magnificent reception-room on Tuesday evening he received no clear explanation of the urgent reasons for his visit. Other guests were present, the countess talked little to him, and only as he kissed her hand at taking leave, with a strangely unsmiling face, she whispered to him unexpectedly:
“Come to dinner to-morrow … in the evening … you must come … come.”
During that stay in Petersburg Boris was constantly at the house of the Countess Bezuhov on a footing of the closest intimacy.