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- War and Peace - 20/336 -
said an old priest to a lady who had taken a seat beside him and was listening naively to his words.
"I wonder, is it not too late to administer unction?" asked the lady, adding the priest's clerical title, as if she had no opinion of her own on the subject.
"Ah, madam, it is a great sacrament," replied the priest, passing his hand over the thin grizzled strands of hair combed back across his bald head.
"Who was that? The Military Governor himself?" was being asked at the other side of the room. "How young-looking he is!"
"Yes, and he is over sixty. I hear the count no longer recognizes anyone. They wished to administer the sacrament of unction."
"I knew someone who received that sacrament seven times."
The second princess had just come from the sickroom with her eyes red from weeping and sat down beside Dr. Lorrain, who was sitting in a graceful pose under a portrait of Catherine, leaning his elbow on a table.
"Beautiful," said the doctor in answer to a remark about the weather. "The weather is beautiful, Princess; and besides, in Moscow one feels as if one were in the country."
"Yes, indeed," replied the princess with a sigh. "So he may have something to drink?"
"Has he taken his medicine?"
The doctor glanced at his watch.
"Take a glass of boiled water and put a pinch of cream of tartar," and he indicated with his delicate fingers what he meant by a pinch.
"Dere has neffer been a gase," a German doctor was saying to an aide-de-camp, "dat one liffs after de sird stroke."
"And what a well-preserved man he was!" remarked the aide-de-camp. "And who will inherit his wealth?" he added in a whisper.
"It von't go begging," replied the German with a smile.
Everyone again looked toward the door, which creaked as the second princess went in with the drink she had prepared according to Lorrain's instructions. The German doctor went up to Lorrain.
"Do you think he can last till morning?" asked the German, addressing Lorrain in French which he pronounced badly.
Lorrain, pursing up his lips, waved a severely negative finger before his nose.
"Tonight, not later," said he in a low voice, and he moved away with a decorous smile of self-satisfaction at being able clearly to understand and state the patient's condition.
Meanwhile Prince Vasili had opened the door into the princess' room.
In this room it was almost dark; only two tiny lamps were burning before the icons and there was a pleasant scent of flowers and burnt pastilles. The room was crowded with small pieces of furniture, whatnots, cupboards, and little tables. The quilt of a high, white feather bed was just visible behind a screen. A small dog began to bark.
"Ah, is it you, cousin?"
She rose and smoothed her hair, which was as usual so extremely smooth that it seemed to be made of one piece with her head and covered with varnish.
"Has anything happened?" she asked. "I am so terrified."
"No, there is no change. I only came to have a talk about business, Catiche,"* muttered the prince, seating himself wearily on the chair she had just vacated. "You have made the place warm, I must say," he remarked. "Well, sit down: let's have a talk."
"I thought perhaps something had happened," she said with her unchanging stonily severe expression; and, sitting down opposite the prince, she prepared to listen.
"I wished to get a nap, mon cousin, but I can't."
"Well, my dear?" said Prince Vasili, taking her hand and bending it downwards as was his habit.
It was plain that this "well?" referred to much that they both understood without naming.
The princess, who had a straight, rigid body, abnormally long for her legs, looked directly at Prince Vasili with no sign of emotion in her prominent gray eyes. Then she shook her head and glanced up at the icons with a sigh. This might have been taken as an expression of sorrow and devotion, or of weariness and hope of resting before long. Prince Vasili understood it as an expression of weariness.
"And I?" he said; "do you think it is easier for me? I am as worn out as a post horse, but still I must have a talk with you, Catiche, a very serious talk."
Prince Vasili said no more and his cheeks began to twitch nervously, now on one side, now on the other, giving his face an unpleasant expression which was never to be seen on it in a drawing room. His eyes too seemed strange; at one moment they looked impudently sly and at the next glanced round in alarm.
The princess, holding her little dog on her lap with her thin bony hands, looked attentively into Prince Vasili's eyes evidently resolved not to be the first to break silence, if she had to wait till morning.
"Well, you see, my dear princess and cousin, Catherine Semenovna," continued Prince Vasili, returning to his theme, apparently not without an inner struggle; "at such a moment as this one must think of everything. One must think of the future, of all of you... I love you all, like children of my own, as you know."
The princess continued to look at him without moving, and with the same dull expression.
"And then of course my family has also to be considered," Prince Vasili went on, testily pushing away a little table without looking at her. "You know, Catiche, that we--you three sisters, Mamontov, and my wife--are the count's only direct heirs. I know, I know how hard it is for you to talk or think of such matters. It is no easier for me; but, my dear, I am getting on for sixty and must be prepared for anything. Do you know I have sent for Pierre? The count," pointing to his portrait, "definitely demanded that he should be called."
Prince Vasili looked questioningly at the princess, but could not make out whether she was considering what he had just said or whether she was simply looking at him.
"There is one thing I constantly pray God to grant, mon cousin," she replied, "and it is that He would be merciful to him and would allow his noble soul peacefully to leave this..."
"Yes, yes, of course," interrupted Prince Vasili impatiently, rubbing his bald head and angrily pulling back toward him the little table that he had pushed away. "But... in short, the fact is... you know yourself that last winter the count made a will by which he left all his property, not to us his direct heirs, but to Pierre."
"He has made wills enough!" quietly remarked the princess. "But he cannot leave the estate to Pierre. Pierre is illegitimate."
"But, my dear," said Prince Vasili suddenly, clutching the little table and becoming more animated and talking more rapidly: "what if a letter has been written to the Emperor in which the count asks for Pierre's legitimation? Do you understand that in consideration of the count's services, his request would be granted?..."
The princess smiled as people do who think they know more about the subject under discussion than those they are talking with.
"I can tell you more," continued Prince Vasili, seizing her hand, "that letter was written, though it was not sent, and the Emperor knew of it. The only question is, has it been destroyed or not? If not, then as soon as all is over," and Prince Vasili sighed to intimate what he meant by the words all is over, "and the count's papers are opened, the will and letter will be delivered to the Emperor, and the petition will certainly be granted. Pierre will get everything as the legitimate son."
"And our share?" asked the princess smiling ironically, as if anything might happen, only not that.
"But, my poor Catiche, it is as clear as daylight! He will then be the legal heir to everything and you won't get anything. You must know, my dear, whether the will and letter were written, and whether they have been destroyed or not. And if they have somehow been overlooked, you ought to know where they are, and must find them, because..."
"What next?" the princess interrupted, smiling sardonically and not changing the expression of her eyes. "I am a woman, and you think we are all stupid; but I know this: an illegitimate son cannot inherit... un batard!"* she added, as if supposing that this translation of the word would effectively prove to Prince Vasili the invalidity of his contention.
"Well, really, Catiche! Can't you understand! You are so
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