WHEN MIHAIL IVANITCH went back to the study with the letter, the old prince was sitting in his spectacles with a shade over his eyes and shades on the candles, at his open bureau, surrounded by papers, held a long distance off. He was in a rather solemn attitude, reading the papers (the “remarks,” as he called them) which were to be given to the Tsar after his death.
When Mihail Ivanitch went in, there were tears in his eyes, called up by the memory of the time when he had written what he was now reading. He took the letter out of Mihail Ivanitch's hand, put it in his pocket, folded up his papers and called in Alpatitch, who had been waiting a long while to see him.
He had noted down on a sheet of paper what he wanted in Smolensk, and he began walking up and down the room, as he gave his instructions to Alpatitch, standing at the door.
“First, letter paper, do you hear, eight quires, like this pattern, you see; gilt edged … take the pattern, so as to be sure to match it; varnish, sealing-wax — according to Mihail Ivanitch's list.”
He walked up and down the room and glanced at the memorandum.
“Then deliver the letter about the enrolment to the governor in person.”
Then bolts for the doors of the new building were wanted, and must be of a new pattern, which the old prince had himself designed. Then an iron-bound box was to be ordered for keeping his will in.
Giving Alpatitch his instructions occupied over two hours. The prince still would not let him go. He sat down, sank into thought, and closing his eyes, dropped into a doze. Alpatitch made a slight movement.
“Well, go along, go along,” said the old prince; “if anything is wanted I'll send.”
Alpatitch went away. The prince went back to the bureau; glancing into it, he passed his hand over his papers, closed it again, and sat down to the table to write to the governor.
It was late when he sealed the letter and got up. He was sleepy, but he knew he would not sleep, and that he would be haunted by most miserable thoughts in bed. He called Tihon, and went through the rooms with him, to tell him where to make up his bed for that night. He walked about, measuring every corner.
There was no place that pleased him, but worst of all was the couch in the study that he had been used to. That couch had become an object of dread to him, probably from the painful thoughts he had thought lying on it. No place was quite right, but best of them all was the corner in the divan-room, behind the piano; he had never slept there yet.
Tihon brought the bedstead in with the footmen, and began putting it up.
“That's not right, that's not right!” cried the old prince. With his own hands he moved the bed an inch further from the corner, and then closer to it again.
“Well, at last, I have done everything; now I shall rest,” thought the prince, and he left it to Tihon to undress him.
Frowning with vexation at the effort he had to make to take off his coat and trousers, the prince undressed, dropped heavily down on his bed, and seemed to sink into thought, staring contemptuously at his yellow, withered legs. He was not really thinking, but simply pausing before the effort to lift his legs up and lay them in the bed. “Ugh, how hard it is! Ugh, if these toils could soon be over, and if you would let me go!” he mused. Pinching his lips tightly, he made that effort for the twenty thousandth time, and lay down. But he had hardly lain down, when all at once the bed seemed to rock regularly to and fro under him, as though it were heaving and jolting. He had this sensation almost every night. He opened his eyes that were closing themselves.
“No peace, damn them!” he grumbled, with inward rage at some persons unknown. “Yes, yes, there was something else of importance — something of great importance I was saving up to think of in bed. The bolts? No, I did speak about them. No, there was something, something in the drawing-room. Princess Marya talked some nonsense. Dessalle — he's a fool — said something, something in my pocket — I don't remember.”
“Tishka! what were we talking about at dinner?”
“About Prince Mihail …”
“Stay, stay” — the prince slapped his hand down on the table. “Yes, I know, Prince Andrey's letter. Princess Marya read it. Dessalle said something about Vitebsk. I'll read it now.”
He told Tihon to get the letter out of his pocket, and to move up the little table with the lemonade and the spiral wax candle on it, and putting on his spectacles he began reading. Only then in the stillness of the night, as he read the letter, in the faint light under the green shade, for the first time he grasped for an instant its meaning. “The French are at Vitebsk, in four days' march they may be at Smolensk; perhaps they are there by now. Tishka!” Tihon jumped up. “No, nothing, nothing!” he cried.
He put the letter under the candlestick and closed his eyes. And there rose before his mind the Danube, bright midday, the reeds, the Russian camp, and he, a young general, without one wrinkle on his brow, bold, gay, ruddy, entering Potyomkin's gay-coloured tent, and the burning sensation of envy of the favourite stirs within him as keenly as at the time. And he recalls every word uttered at that first interview with Potyomkin. And then he sees a plump, short woman with a sallow, fat face, the mother empress, her smiles and words at her first gracious reception for him; and then her face as she lay on the bier, and the quarrel with Zubov over her coffin for the right to kiss her hand
“Oh, to make haste, to make haste back to that time, and oh, that the present might soon be over and they might leave me in peace!”