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By graf Leo Tolstoy
“Listen, dear Annette,” said the prince, suddenly taking Anna Pavlovna’s hand and for some reason drawing it downwards. “Arrange that affair for me and I shall always be your most devoted slave—slafe with an f, as a village elder of mine writes in his reports. She is rich and of good family and that’s all I want.”
And with the familiarity and easy grace peculiar to him, he raised the maid of honor’s hand to his lips, kissed it, and swung it to and fro as he lay back in his armchair, looking in another direction.
“Attendez,” said Anna Pavlovna, reflecting, “I’ll speak to Lise, young Bolkonski’s wife, this very evening, and perhaps the thing can be arranged. It shall be on your family’s behalf that I’ll start my apprenticeship as old maid.”
Anna Pavlovna’s drawing room was gradually filling. The highest Petersburg society was assembled there: people differing widely in age and character but alike in the social circle to which they belonged. Prince Vasili’s daughter, the beautiful Helene, came to take her father to the ambassador’s entertainment; she wore a ball dress and her badge as maid of honor. The youthful little Princess Bolkonskaya, known as la femme la plus seduisante de Petersbourg, * was also there. She had been married during the previous winter, and being pregnant did not go to any large gatherings, but only to small receptions. Prince Vasili’s son, Hippolyte, had come with Mortemart, whom he introduced. The Abbe Morio and many others had also come.
* The most fascinating woman in Petersburg.
To each new arrival Anna Pavlovna said, “You have not yet seen my aunt,” or “You do not know my aunt?” and very gravely conducted him or her to a little old lady, wearing large bows of ribbon in her cap, who had come sailing in from another room as soon as the guests began to arrive; and slowly turning her eyes from the visitor to her aunt, Anna Pavlovna mentioned each one’s name and then left them.
Each visitor performed the ceremony of greeting this old aunt whom not one of them knew, not one of them wanted to know, and not one of them cared about; Anna Pavlovna observed these greetings with mournful and solemn interest and silent approval. The aunt spoke to each of them in the same words, about their health and her own, and the health of Her Majesty, “who, thank God, was better today.” And each visitor, though politeness prevented his showing impatience, left the old woman with a sense of relief at having performed a vexatious duty and did not return to her the whole evening.
The young Princess Bolkonskaya had brought some work in a gold—embroidered velvet bag. Her pretty little upper lip, on which a delicate dark down was just perceptible, was too short for her teeth, but it lifted all the more sweetly, and was especially charming when she occasionally drew it down to meet the lower lip. As is always the case with a thoroughly attractive woman, her defect–the shortness of her upper lip and her half—open mouth–seemed to be her own special and peculiar form of beauty. Everyone brightened at the sight of this pretty young woman, so soon to become a mother, so full of life and health, and carrying her burden so lightly. Old men and dull dispirited young ones who looked at her, after being in her company and talking to her a little while, felt as if they too were becoming, like her, full of life and health. All who talked to her, and at each word saw her bright smile and the constant gleam of her white teeth, thought that they were in a specially amiable mood that day.
The little princess went round the table with quick, short, swaying steps, her workbag on her arm, and gaily spreading out her dress sat down on a sofa near the silver samovar, as if all she was doing was a pleasure to herself and to all around her. “I have brought my work,” said she in French, displaying her bag and addressing all present. “Mind, Annette, I hope you have not played a wicked trick on me,” she added, turning to her hostess. “You wrote that it was to be quite a small reception, and just see how badly I am dressed.” And she spread out her arms to show her short—waisted, lace—trimmed, dainty gray dress, girdled with a broad ribbon just below the breast.
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