War And Peace

CHAPTER XX

Chinese

ONE MORNING Colonel Adolphe Berg, whom Pierre knew just as he knew every one in Moscow and Petersburg, called upon him. He was wearing a brand-new uniform, and had his powdered locks standing up over his forehead, as worn by the Tsar Alexander Pavlovitch.

“I have just been calling on the countess, your spouse, and to my misfortune, my request could not be granted. I hope I shall be more fortunate with you, count,” he said, smiling.

“What is it you desire, colonel? I am at your disposal.”

“I am by now, quite settled in my new quarters,” Berg informed him with perfect conviction that to hear this fact could not but be agreeable; “and so I was desirous of giving a little soirée for my friends and my spouse.” (He smiled still more blandly.) “I meant to ask the countess and you to do me the honour to come to us for a cup of tea, and … to supper.”

Only the Countess Elena Vassilyevna, who considered it beneath her to associate with nobodies like the Bergs, could have had the cruelty to refuse such an invitation. Berg explained so clearly why he wanted to gather together a small and select company at his new rooms; and why it would be agreeable to him to do so; and why he would grudge spending money on cards, or anything else harmful; but was ready for the sake of good society to incur expense, that Pierre could not refuse, and promised to come.

“Only not late, count, if I may venture to beg. Ten minutes to eight, I venture to beg. We will make up a party for boston. Our general is coming; he is very kind to me. We will have a little supper, count, so I shall esteem it an honour.”

Contrary to his usual habit (he was almost always late) Pierre arrived at the Bergs' not at ten minutes to eight, but at a quarter to eight.

The Bergs had made all necessary preparations for their little party, and were quite ready to receive their guests.

Berg and his wife were sitting in a new, clean, light study, furnished with little busts and pictures and new furniture. Berg, with his new uniform closely buttoned up, sat beside his wife, and was explaining to her that one always could and ought to cultivate the acquaintance of people above one—for only then is there anything agreeable in acquaintances. “You pick up something, you can put in a word for something. Look at me now, how I used to manage in the lower grades (Berg reckoned his life not by years but by promotions). “My comrades are nothing still, while I'm a lieutenant-colonel. I have the happiness of being your husband” (he got up and kissed Vera's hand, but on the way turned back the corner of the rug, which was rucked-up). “And how did I obtain all this? Chiefly by knowing how to select my acquaintances. It goes without saying, of course, that one has to be conscientious and punctual in the discharge of one's duties.”

Berg smiled with a sense of his own superiority over a mere weak woman, and paused, reflecting that this charming wife of his was, after all, a weak woman, who could never attain all that constituted a man's dignity,—ein Mann zu sein. Vera smiled, too, at the same time with a sense of her superiority over her conscientious, excellent husband, who yet, like all men, according to Vera's ideas of them, took such a mistaken view of life. Berg, judging from his wife, considered all women weak and foolish. Vera, judging from her husband only, and generalising from her observation of him, supposed that all men ascribed common-sense to none but themselves, and at the same time had no understanding for anything, and were conceited and egoistic.

Berg got up, and cautiously embracing his wife so as not to crush the lace bertha, for which he had paid a round sum, he kissed her just on her lips.

“There's only one thing: we mustn't have children too soon,” he said, by a connection of ideas of which he was himself unconscious.

“Yes,” answered Vera, “I don't at all desire that. We must live for society.”

“Princess Yusupov was wearing one just like that,” said Berg, pointing with a happy and good-humoured smile to the bertha.

At that moment they were informed that Count Bezuhov had arrived. Both the young couple exchanged glances of self-satisfaction, each mentally claiming the credit of this visit.

“See what comes of knowing how to make acquaintances,” thought Berg. “See what comes of behaving properly!”

“But, please, when I am entertaining guests,” said Vera, “don't you interrupt me, because I know with what to entertain each of them, and what to say in the company of different people.”

Berg, too, smiled.

“Oh, but sometimes men must have their masculine conversation,” he said.

Pierre was shown into the little drawing-room, in which it was impossible to sit down without disturbing the symmetry, tidiness, and order; and consequently it was quite comprehensible, and not strange, that Berg should magnanimously offer to disturb the symmetry of the armchair or of the sofa for an honoured guest, and apparently finding himself in miserable indecision in the matter, should leave his guest to solve the question of selection. Pierre destroyed the symmetry, moved out a chair for himself, and Berg and Vera promptly began their soirée, interrupting each other in their efforts to entertain their guest.

Vera, deciding in her own mind that Pierre ought to be entertained with conversation about the French Embassy, promptly embarked upon that subject. Berg, deciding that masculine conversation was what was required, interrupted his wife's remarks by reference to the question of war with Austria, and made an unconscious jump from that general subject to personal considerations upon the proposal made him to take part in the Austrain campaign, and the reasons which had led him to decline it. Although the conversation was extremely disconnected, and Vera resented the intervention of the masculine element, both the young people felt with satisfaction that although only one guest was present, the soirée had begun very well, and that their soirée was as like every other soirée as two drops of water,—with the same conversation and tea and lighted candles.

The next to arrive was Boris, an old comrade of Berg's. There was a certain shade of patronage and condescension in his manner to Berg and Vera. After Boris came the colonel and his lady, then the general himself, then the Rostovs, and the soirée now began to be exactly, incontestably, like all other soirées. Berg and Vera could hardly repress their smiles of glee at the sight of all this movement in their drawing-room, at the sound of the disconnected chatter, and the rustle of skirts and of curtsies. Everything was precisely as everybody always has it; especially so was the general, who admired their rooms, clapped Berg on the shoulder, and with paternal authority insisted on arranging the table for boston. The general sat by Count Ilya Andreivitch, as the guest next in precedence to himself. The elderly guests were together, the younger people together, the hostess at the tea-table, on which there were cakes in the silver cake-basket exactly like the cakes at the Panins' soirées. Everything was precisely like what everybody else had.

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