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By graf Leo Tolstoy
“Soyez tranquille, Lise, you will always be prettier than anyone else,” replied Anna Pavlovna.
“You know,” said the princess in the same tone of voice and still in French, turning to a general, “my husband is deserting me? He is going to get himself killed. Tell me what this wretched war is for?” she added, addressing Prince Vasili, and without waiting for an answer she turned to speak to his daughter, the beautiful Helene.
“What a delightful woman this little princess is!” said Prince Vasili to Anna Pavlovna.
One of the next arrivals was a stout, heavily built young man with close—cropped hair, spectacles, the light—colored breeches fashionable at that time, a very high ruffle, and a brown dress coat. This stout young man was an illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov, a well—known grandee of Catherine’s time who now lay dying in Moscow. The young man had not yet entered either the military or civil service, as he had only just returned from abroad where he had been educated, and this was his first appearance in society. Anna Pavlovna greeted him with the nod she accorded to the lowest hierarchy in her drawing room. But in spite of this lowest—grade greeting, a look of anxiety and fear, as at the sight of something too large and unsuited to the place, came over her face when she saw Pierre enter. Though he was certainly rather bigger than the other men in the room, her anxiety could only have reference to the clever though shy, but observant and natural, expression which distinguished him from everyone else in that drawing room.
“It is very good of you, Monsieur Pierre, to come and visit a poor invalid,” said Anna Pavlovna, exchanging an alarmed glance with her aunt as she conducted him to her.
Pierre murmured something unintelligible, and continued to look round as if in search of something. On his way to the aunt he bowed to the little princess with a pleased smile, as to an intimate acquaintance.
Anna Pavlovna’s alarm was justified, for Pierre turned away from the aunt without waiting to hear her speech about Her Majesty’s health. Anna Pavlovna in dismay detained him with the words: “Do you know the Abbe Morio? He is a most interesting man.”
“Yes, I have heard of his scheme for perpetual peace, and it is very interesting but hardly feasible.”
“You think so?” rejoined Anna Pavlovna in order to say something and get away to attend to her duties as hostess. But Pierre now committed a reverse act of impoliteness. First he had left a lady before she had finished speaking to him, and now he continued to speak to another who wished to get away. With his head bent, and his big feet spread apart, he began explaining his reasons for thinking the abbe’s plan chimerical.
“We will talk of it later,” said Anna Pavlovna with a smile.
And having got rid of this young man who did not know how to behave, she resumed her duties as hostess and continued to listen and watch, ready to help at any point where the conversation might happen to flag. As the foreman of a spinning mill, when he has set the hands to work, goes round and notices here a spindle that has stopped or there one that creaks or makes more noise than it should, and hastens to check the machine or set it in proper motion, so Anna Pavlovna moved about her drawing room, approaching now a silent, now a too—noisy group, and by a word or slight rearrangement kept the conversational machine in steady, proper, and regular motion. But amid these cares her anxiety about Pierre was evident. She kept an anxious watch on him when he approached the group round Mortemart to listen to what was being said there, and again when he passed to another group whose center was the abbe.
Pierre had been educated abroad, and this reception at Anna Pavlovna’s was the first he had attended in Russia. He knew that all the intellectual lights of Petersburg were gathered there and, like a child in a toyshop, did not know which way to look, afraid of missing any clever conversation that was to be heard. Seeing the self—confident and refined expression on the faces of those present he was always expecting to hear something very profound. At last he came up to Morio. Here the conversation seemed interesting and he stood waiting for an opportunity to express his own views, as young people are fond of doing.
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