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By graf Leo Tolstoy
The little princess had also left the tea table and followed Helene.
“Wait a moment, I’ll get my work.... Now then, what are you thinking of?” she went on, turning to Prince Hippolyte. “Fetch me my workbag.”
There was a general movement as the princess, smiling and talking merrily to everyone at once, sat down and gaily arranged herself in her seat.
“Now I am all right,” she said, and asking the vicomte to begin, she took up her work.
Prince Hippolyte, having brought the workbag, joined the circle and moving a chair close to hers seated himself beside her.
Le charmant Hippolyte was surprising by his extraordinary resemblance to his beautiful sister, but yet more by the fact that in spite of this resemblance he was exceedingly ugly. His features were like his sister’s, but while in her case everything was lit up by a joyous, self—satisfied, youthful, and constant smile of animation, and by the wonderful classic beauty of her figure, his face on the contrary was dulled by imbecility and a constant expression of sullen self—confidence, while his body was thin and weak. His eyes, nose, and mouth all seemed puckered into a vacant, wearied grimace, and his arms and legs always fell into unnatural positions.
“It’s not going to be a ghost story?” said he, sitting down beside the princess and hastily adjusting his lorgnette, as if without this instrument he could not begin to speak.
“Why no, my dear fellow,” said the astonished narrator, shrugging his shoulders.
“Because I hate ghost stories,” said Prince Hippolyte in a tone which showed that he only understood the meaning of his words after he had uttered them.
He spoke with such self—confidence that his hearers could not be sure whether what he said was very witty or very stupid. He was dressed in a dark—green dress coat, knee breeches of the color of cuisse de nymphe effrayee, as he called it, shoes, and silk stockings.
The vicomte told his tale very neatly. It was an anecdote, then current, to the effect that the Duc d’Enghien had gone secretly to Paris to visit Mademoiselle George; that at her house he came upon Bonaparte, who also enjoyed the famous actress’ favors, and that in his presence Napoleon happened to fall into one of the fainting fits to which he was subject, and was thus at the duc’s mercy. The latter spared him, and this magnanimity Bonaparte subsequently repaid by death.
The story was very pretty and interesting, especially at the point where the rivals suddenly recognized one another; and the ladies looked agitated.
“Charming!” said Anna Pavlovna with an inquiring glance at the little princess.
“Charming!” whispered the little princess, sticking the needle into her work as if to testify that the interest and fascination of the story prevented her from going on with it.
The vicomte appreciated this silent praise and smiling gratefully prepared to continue, but just then Anna Pavlovna, who had kept a watchful eye on the young man who so alarmed her, noticed that he was talking too loudly and vehemently with the abbe, so she hurried to the rescue. Pierre had managed to start a conversation with the abbe about the balance of power, and the latter, evidently interested by the young man’s simple—minded eagerness, was explaining his pet theory. Both were talking and listening too eagerly and too naturally, which was why Anna Pavlovna disapproved.
“The means are... the balance of power in Europe and the rights of the people,” the abbe was saying. “It is only necessary for one powerful nation like Russia–barbaric as she is said to be–to place herself disinterestedly at the head of an alliance having for its object the maintenance of the balance of power of Europe, and it would save the world!”
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