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战争与和平War And Peace18

2006-07-16 14:37

                            CHAPTER XVIII

    WHILE IN THE ROSTOVS' HALL they were dancing the sixth anglaise, while the weary orchestra played wrong notes, and the tired footmen and cooks were getting the supper, Count Bezuhov had just had his sixth stroke. The doctors declared that there was no hope of recovery; the sick man received absolution and the sacrament while unconscious. Preparations were being made for administering extreme unction, and the house was full of the bustle and thrill of suspense usual at such moments. Outside the house undertakers were crowding beyond the gates, trying to escape the notice of the carriages that drove up, but eagerly anticipating a good order for the count's funeral. The governor of Moscow, who had been constantly sending his adjutants to inquire after the count's condition, came himself that evening to say good-bye to the renowned grandee of Catherine's court, Count Bezuhov.

    The magnificent reception-room was full. Every one stood up respectfully when the governor, after being half an hour alone with the sick man, came out of the sick-room. Bestowing scanty recognition on the bows with which he was received, he tried to escape as quickly as possible from the gaze of the doctors, ecclesiastical personages, and relations. Prince Vassily, who had grown paler and thinner during the last few days, escorted the governor out, and softly repeated something to him several times over.

    After seeing the governor, Prince Vassily sat down on a chair in the hall alone, crossing one leg high over the other, leaning his elbow on his knee, and covering his eyes with his hand. After sitting so for some time he got up, and with steps more hurried than his wont, he crossed the long corridor, looking round him with frightened eyes, and went to the back part of the house to the apartments of the eldest princess.

    The persons he had left in the dimly lighted reception-room, next to the sick-room, talked in broken whispers among themselves, pausing, and looking round with eyes full of suspense and inquiry whenever the door that led into the dying man's room creaked as some one went in or came out.

    “Man's limitation,” said a little man, an ecclesiastic of some sort, to a lady, who was sitting near him listening na?vely to his words—“his limitation is fixed, there is no overstepping it.”

    “I wonder if it won't be late for extreme unction?” inquired the lady, using his clerical title, and apparently having no opinion of her own on the matter.

    “It is a great mystery, ma'am,” answered the clerk, passing his hands over his bald head, on which lay a few tresses of carefully combed, half grey hair.

    “Who was that? was it the governor himself?” they were asking at the other end of the room. “What a young-looking man!”

    “And he's over sixty!。 … What, do they say, the count does not know any one? Do they mean to give extreme unction?”

    “I knew a man who received extreme unction seven times.”

    The second princess came out of the sick-room with tearful eyes, and sat down beside Doctor Lorrain, who was sitting in a graceful pose under the portrait of Catherine, with his elbow on the table.

    “Very fine,” said the doctor in reply to a question about the weather; “very fine, princess, and besides, at Moscow, one might suppose oneself in the country.”

    “Might one not?” said the princess, sighing. “So may he have something to drink?” Lorrain thought a moment.

    “He has taken his medicine?”


    The doctor looked at his memoranda.

    “Take a glass of boiled water and put in a pinch” (he showed with his delicate fingers what was meant by a pinch) “of cream of tartar.”

    “There has never been a case,” said the German doctor to the adjutant, speaking broken Russian, “of recovery after having a third stroke.”

    “And what a vigorous man he was!” said the adjutant. “And to whom will his great wealth go?” he added in a whisper.

    “Candidates will be found,” the German replied, smiling. Every one looked round again at the door; it creaked, and the second princess having made the drink according to Lorrain's direction, carried it into the sick-room. The German doctor went up to Lorrain.

    “Can it drag on till to-morrow morning?” asked the German, with a vile French accent.

    Lorrain, with compressed lips and a stern face, moved his finger before his nose to express a negative.

    “To-night, not later,” he said softly, and with a decorous smile of satisfaction at being able to understand and to express the exact position of the sick man, he walked away.

    Meanwhile Prince Vassily had opened the door of the princess's room.

    It was half dark in the room; there were only two lamps burning before the holy pictures, and there was a sweet perfume of incense and flowers. The whole room was furnished with miniature furniture, little sideboards, small bookcases, and small tables. Behind a screen could be seen the white coverings of a high feather-bed. A little dog barked.

    “Ah, is that you, mon cousin?”

    She got up and smoothed her hair, which was always, even now, so extraordinarily smooth that it seemed as though made out of one piece with her head and covered with varnish.

    “Has anything happened?” she asked. “I am in continual dread.”

    “Nothing, everything is unchanged. I have only come to have a little talk with you, Katish, about business,” said the prince, sitting down wearily in the low chair from which she had just risen. “How warm it is here, though,” he said. “Come, sit here; let us talk.”

    “I wondered whether anything had happened,” said the princess, and with her stonily severe expression unchanged, she sat down opposite the prince, preparing herself to listen. “I have been trying to get some sleep, mon cousin, but I can't.”

    “Well, my dear?” said Prince Vassily, taking the princess's hand, and bending it downwards as his habit was.

    It was plain that this “well?” referred to much that they both comprehended without mentioning it in words.

    The princess, with her spare, upright figure, so disproportionately long in the body, looked straight at the prince with no sign of emotion in her prominent grey eyes. She shook her head, and sighing looked towards the holy pictures. Her gesture might have been interpreted as an expression of grief and devotion, or as an expression of weariness and the hope of a speedy release. Prince Vassily took it as an expression of weariness.

    “And do you suppose it's any easier for me?” he said. “I am as worn out as a post horse. I must have a little talk with you, Katish, and a very serious one.”

    Prince Vassily paused. and his cheeks began twitching nervously, first on one side, then on the other, giving his face an unpleasant expression such as was never seen on his countenance when he was in drawing-rooms. His eyes, too, were different from usual: at one moment they stared with a sort of insolent jocoseness, at the next they looked round furtively.

    The princess, pulling her dog on her lap with her thin, dry hands, gazed intently at the eyes of Prince Vassily, but it was evident that she would not break the silence, if she had to sit silent till morning.

    “You see, my dear princess and cousin, Katerina Semyonovna,” pursued Prince Vassily, obviously with some inner conflict bracing himself to go on with what he wanted to say, “at such moments as the present, one has to think of everything. One must think of the future, of you … I care for all of you as if you were my own children; you know that.”

    The princess looked at him with the same dull immovable gaze.

    “Finally, we have to think of my family too,” continued Prince Vassily, angrily pushing away a little table and not looking at her: “you know, Katish, that you three Mamontov sisters and my wife,—we are the only direct heirs of the count. I know, I know how painful it is for you to speak and think of such things. And it's as hard for me; but, my dear, I am a man over fifty, I must be ready for anything. Do you know that I have sent for Pierre, and that the count, pointing straight at his portrait, has asked for him?”

    Prince Vassily looked inquiringly at the princess, but he could not make out whether she was considering what he had said, or was simply staring at him.

    “I pray to God for one thing only continually, mon cousin,” she replied, “that He may have mercy upon him, and allow his noble soul to leave this …”

    “Yes, quite so,” Prince Vassily continued impatiently, rubbing his bald head and again wrathfully moving the table towards him that he had just moved away, “but in fact … in fact the point is, as you are yourself aware, that last winter the count made a will by which, passing over his direct heirs and us, he bequeathed all his property to Pierre.”

    “He may have made ever so many wills!” the princess said placidly; “but he can't leave it to Pierre. Pierre is illegitimate.”

    “Ma chère,” said Prince Vassily suddenly, pushing the table against him, growing more earnest and beginning to speak more rapidly: “but what if a letter has been written to the Emperor, and the count has petitioned him to legitimise Pierre? You understand, that the count's services would make his petition carry weight …”

    The princess smiled, as people smile who believe that they know much more about the subject than those with whom they are talking.

    “I can say more,” Prince Vassily went on, clasping her hand; “that letter has been written, though it has not been sent off, and the Emperor has heard about it. The question only is whether it has been destroyed or not. If not, as soon as all is over,” Prince Vassily sighed, giving her thereby to understand what he meant precisely by the words “all is over,” “and they open the count's papers, the will with the letter will be given to the Emperor, and his petition will certainly be granted. Pierre, as the legitimate son, will receive everything.”

    “What about our share?” the princess inquired, smiling ironically as though anything but that might happen.

    “Why, my poor Katish, it is as clear as daylight. He will then be the only legal heir of all, and you won't receive as much as this, see. You ought to know, my dear, whether the will and the petition were written, and whether they have been destroyed, and if they have somehow been overlooked, then you ought to know where they are and to find them, because …”

    “That would be rather too much!” the princess interrupted him, smiling sardonically, with no change in the expression of her eyes. “I am a woman, and you think we are all silly; but I do know so much, that an illegitimate son can't inherit … Un batard,” she added, supposing that by this translation of the word she was conclusively proving to the prince the groundlessness of his contention.

    “How can you not understand, Katish, really! You are so intelligent; how is it you don't understand that if the count has written a letter to the Emperor, begging him to recognise his son as legitimate, then Pierre will not be Pierre but Count Bezuhov, and then he will inherit everything under the will? And if the will and the letter have not been destroyed, then except the consolation of having been dutiful and of all that results from having done your duty, nothing is left for you. That's the fact.”

    “I know that the will was made, but I know, too, that it is invalid, and you seem to take me for a perfect fool, mon cousin,” said the princess, with the air with which women speak when they imagine they are saying something witty and biting.

    “My dear princess, Katerina Semyonovna!” Prince Vassily began impatiently, “I have come to you not to provoke you, but to talk to you as a kinswoman, a good, kind-hearted, true kinswoman, of your own interests. I tell you for the tenth time that if the letter to the Emperor and the will in Pierre's favour are among the count's papers, you, my dear girl, and your sisters are not heiresses. If you don't believe me, believe people who know; I have just been talking to Dmitry Onufritch” (this was the family solicitor); “he said the same.”

    There was obviously some sudden change in the princess's ideas; her thin lips turned white (her eyes did not change), and when she began to speak, her voice passed through transitions, which she clearly did not herself anticipate.

    “That would be a pretty thing,” she said. “I wanted nothing, and I want nothing.” She flung her dog off her lap and smoothed out the folds of her skirt.

    “That's the gratitude, that's the recognition people get who have sacrificed everything for him,” she said. “Very nice! Excellent! I don't want anything, prince.”

    “Yes, but you are not alone, you have sisters,” answered Prince Vassily. But the princess did not heed him.

    “Yes, I knew it long ago, but I'd forgotten that I could expect nothing in this house but baseness, deceit, envy, scheming, nothing but ingratitude, the blackest ingratitude …”

    “Do you or do you not know where that will is?” asked Prince Vassily, the twitching of his cheeks more marked than ever.

    “Yes, I have been foolish; I still kept faith in people, and cared for them and sacrificed myself. But no one succeeds except those who are base and vile. I know whose plotting this is.”

    The princess would have risen, but the prince held her by the arm. The princess had the air of a person who has suddenly lost faith in the whole human race. She looked viciously at her companion.

    “There is still time, my dear. Remember, Katish, that all this was done heedlessly, in a moment of anger, of illness, and then forgotten. Our duty, my dear girl, is to correct his mistake, to soften his last moments by not letting him commit this injustice, not letting him die with the thought that he has made miserable those …”

    “Those who have sacrificed everything for him,” the princess caught him up; and she made an impulsive effort again to stand up, but the prince would not let her, “a sacrifice he has never known how to appreciate. No, mon cousin,” she added, with a sigh, “I will remember that one can expect no reward in this world, that in this world there is no honour, no justice. Cunning and wickedness is what one wants in this world.”

    “Come, voyons, calm yourself; I know your noble heart.”

    “No, I have a wicked heart.”

    “I know your heart,” repeated the prince. “I value your affection, and I could wish you had the same opinion of me. Calm yourself and let us talk sensibly while there is time—perhaps twenty-four hours, perhaps one. Tell me all you know about the will, and what's of most consequence, where it is; you must know. We will take it now at once and show it to the count. He has no doubt forgotten about it and would wish to destroy it. You understand that my desire is to carry out his wishes religiously. That is what I came here for. I am only here to be of use to him and to you.”

    “Now I see it all. I know whose plotting this is. I know,” the princess was saying.

    “That's not the point, my dear.”

    “It's all your precious Anna Mihalovna, your protégée whom I wouldn't take as a housemaid, the nasty creature.”

    “Do not let us waste time.”

    “Oh, don't talk to me! Last winter she forced her way in here and told such a pack of vile, mean tales to the count about all of us, especially Sophie—I can't repeat them—that it made the count ill, and he wouldn't see us for a fortnight. It was at that time, I know, he wrote that hateful, infamous document, but I thought it was of no consequence.”

    “There we are. Why didn't you tell us about it before?”

    “It's in the inlaid portfolio that he keeps under his pillow. Now I know,” said the princess, making no reply. “Yes, if I have a sin to my account, a great sin, it's my hatred of that infamous woman,” almost shrieked the princess, utterly transformed. “And why does she force herself in here? But I'll have it out with her. The time will come!”

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