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By graf Leo Tolstoy
“Very lovely,” said Prince Andrew.
“Very,” said Pierre.
In passing Prince Vasili seized Pierre’s hand and said to Anna Pavlovna: “Educate this bear for me! He has been staying with me a whole month and this is the first time I have seen him in society. Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the society of clever women.”
Anna Pavlovna smiled and promised to take Pierre in hand. She knew his father to be a connection of Prince Vasili’s. The elderly lady who had been sitting with the old aunt rose hurriedly and overtook Prince Vasili in the anteroom. All the affectation of interest she had assumed had left her kindly and tear—worn face and it now expressed only anxiety and fear.
“How about my son Boris, Prince?” said she, hurrying after him into the anteroom. “I can’t remain any longer in Petersburg. Tell me what news I may take back to my poor boy.”
Although Prince Vasili listened reluctantly and not very politely to the elderly lady, even betraying some impatience, she gave him an ingratiating and appealing smile, and took his hand that he might not go away.
“What would it cost you to say a word to the Emperor, and then he would be transferred to the Guards at once?” said she.
“Believe me, Princess, I am ready to do all I can,” answered Prince Vasili, “but it is difficult for me to ask the Emperor. I should advise you to appeal to Rumyantsev through Prince Golitsyn. That would be the best way.”
The elderly lady was a Princess Drubetskaya, belonging to one of the best families in Russia, but she was poor, and having long been out of society had lost her former influential connections. She had now come to Petersburg to procure an appointment in the Guards for her only son. It was, in fact, solely to meet Prince Vasili that she had obtained an invitation to Anna Pavlovna’s reception and had sat listening to the vicomte’s story. Prince Vasili’s words frightened her, an embittered look clouded her once handsome face, but only for a moment; then she smiled again and clutched Prince Vasili’s arm more tightly.
“Listen to me, Prince,” said she. “I have never yet asked you for anything and I never will again, nor have I ever reminded you of my father’s friendship for you; but now I entreat you for God’s sake to do this for my son–and I shall always regard you as a benefactor,” she added hurriedly. “No, don’t be angry, but promise! I have asked Golitsyn and he has refused. Be the kindhearted man you always were,” she said, trying to smile though tears were in her eyes.
“Papa, we shall be late,” said Princess Helene, turning her beautiful head and looking over her classically molded shoulder as she stood waiting by the door.
Influence in society, however, is a capital which has to be economized if it is to last. Prince Vasili knew this, and having once realized that if he asked on behalf of all who begged of him, he would soon be unable to ask for himself, he became chary of using his influence. But in Princess Drubetskaya’s case he felt, after her second appeal, something like qualms of conscience. She had reminded him of what was quite true; he had been indebted to her father for the first steps in his career. Moreover, he could see by her manners that she was one of those women–mostly mothers–who, having once made up their minds, will not rest until they have gained their end, and are prepared if necessary to go on insisting day after day and hour after hour, and even to make scenes. This last consideration moved him.
“My dear Anna Mikhaylovna,” said he with his usual familiarity and weariness of tone, “it is almost impossible for me to do what you ask; but to prove my devotion to you and how I respect your father’s memory, I will do the impossible–your son shall be transferred to the Guards. Here is my hand on it. Are you satisfied?”
“My dear benefactor! This is what I expected from you–I knew your kindness!” He turned to go.
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