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By graf Leo Tolstoy
The prince was silent and looked indifferent. But, with the womanly and courtierlike quickness and tact habitual to her, Anna Pavlovna wished both to rebuke him (for daring to speak he had done of a man recommended to the Empress) and at the same time to console him, so she said:
“Now about your family. Do you know that since your daughter came out everyone has been enraptured by her? They say she is amazingly beautiful.”
The prince bowed to signify his respect and gratitude.
“I often think,” she continued after a short pause, drawing nearer to the prince and smiling amiably at him as if to show that political and social topics were ended and the time had come for intimate conversation–“I often think how unfairly sometimes the joys of life are distributed. Why has fate given you two such splendid children? I don’t speak of Anatole, your youngest. I don’t like him,” she added in a tone admitting of no rejoinder and raising her eyebrows. “Two such charming children. And really you appreciate them less than anyone, and so you don’t deserve to have them.”
And she smiled her ecstatic smile.
“I can’t help it,” said the prince. “Lavater would have said I lack the bump of paternity.”
“Don’t joke; I mean to have a serious talk with you. Do you know I am dissatisfied with your younger son? Between ourselves” (and her face assumed its melancholy expression), “he was mentioned at Her Majesty’s and you were pitied....”
The prince answered nothing, but she looked at him significantly, awaiting a reply. He frowned.
“What would you have me do?” he said at last. “You know I did all a father could for their education, and they have both turned out fools. Hippolyte is at least a quiet fool, but Anatole is an active one. That is the only difference between them.” He said this smiling in a way more natural and animated than usual, so that the wrinkles round his mouth very clearly revealed something unexpectedly coarse and unpleasant.
“And why are children born to such men as you? If you were not a father there would be nothing I could reproach you with,” said Anna Pavlovna, looking up pensively.
“I am your faithful slave and to you alone I can confess that my children are the bane of my life. It is the cross I have to bear. That is how I explain it to myself. It can’t be helped!”
He said no more, but expressed his resignation to cruel fate by a gesture. Anna Pavlovna meditated.
“Have you never thought of marrying your prodigal son Anatole?” she asked. “They say old maids have a mania for matchmaking, and though I don’t feel that weakness in myself as yet, I know a little person who is very unhappy with her father. She is a relation of yours, Princess Mary Bolkonskaya.”
Prince Vasili did not reply, though, with the quickness of memory and perception befitting a man of the world, he indicated by a movement of the head that he was considering this information.
“Do you know,” he said at last, evidently unable to check the sad current of his thoughts, “that Anatole is costing me forty thousand rubles a year? And,” he went on after a pause, “what will it be in five years, if he goes on like this?” Presently he added: “That’s what we fathers have to put up with.... Is this princess of yours rich?”
“Her father is very rich and stingy. He lives in the country. He is the well—known Prince Bolkonski who had to retire from the army under the late Emperor, and was nicknamed ’the King of Prussia.’ He is very clever but eccentric, and a bore. The poor girl is very unhappy. She has a brother; I think you know him, he married Lise Meinen lately. He is an aide—de—camp of Kutuzov’s and will be here tonight.”
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