Anna Pavlovna's reception was in full swing. The spindles hummed steadily an_easelessly on all sides. With the exception of the aunt, beside whom sat onl_ne elderly lady, who with her thin careworn face was rather out of place i_his brilliant society, the whole company had settled into three groups. One,
chiefly masculine, had formed round the abbe. Another, of young people, wa_rouped round the beautiful Princess Helene, Prince Vasili's daughter, and th_ittle Princess Bolkonskaya, very pretty and rosy, though rather too plump fo_er age. The third group was gathered round Mortemart and Anna Pavlovna.
The vicomte was a nice-looking young man with soft features and polishe_anners, who evidently considered himself a celebrity but out of politenes_odestly placed himself at the disposal of the circle in which he foun_imself. Anna Pavlovna was obviously serving him up as a treat to her guests.
As a clever maitre d'hotel serves up as a specially choice delicacy a piece o_eat that no one who had seen it in the kitchen would have cared to eat, s_nna Pavlovna served up to her guests, first the vicomte and then the abbe, a_eculiarly choice morsels. The group about Mortemart immediately bega_iscussing the murder of the Duc d'Enghien. The vicomte said that the Du_'Enghien had perished by his own magnanimity, and that there were particula_easons for Buonaparte's hatred of him.
"Ah, yes! Do tell us all about it, Vicomte," said Anna Pavlovna, with _leasant feeling that there was something a la Louis XV in the sound of tha_entence: "Contez nous cela, Vicomte."
The vicomte bowed and smiled courteously in token of his willingness t_omply. Anna Pavlovna arranged a group round him, inviting everyone to liste_o his tale.
"The vicomte knew the duc personally," whispered Anna Pavlovna to of th_uests. "The vicomte is a wonderful raconteur," said she to another. "Ho_vidently he belongs to the best society," said she to a third; and th_icomte was served up to the company in the choicest and most advantageou_tyle, like a well-garnished joint of roast beef on a hot dish.
The vicomte wished to begin his story and gave a subtle smile.
"Come over here, Helene, dear," said Anna Pavlovna to the beautiful youn_rincess who was sitting some way off, the center of another group.
The princess smiled. She rose with the same unchanging smile with which sh_ad first entered the room—the smile of a perfectly beautiful woman. With _light rustle of her white dress trimmed with moss and ivy, with a gleam o_hite shoulders, glossy hair, and sparkling diamonds, she passed between th_en who made way for her, not looking at any of them but smiling on all, as i_raciously allowing each the privilege of admiring her beautiful figure an_hapely shoulders, back, and bosom—which in the fashion of those days wer_ery much exposed—and she seemed to bring the glamour of a ballroom with he_s she moved toward Anna Pavlovna. Helene was so lovely that not only did sh_ot show any trace of coquetry, but on the contrary she even appeared shy o_er unquestionable and all too victorious beauty. She seemed to wish, but t_e unable, to diminish its effect.
"How lovely!" said everyone who saw her; and the vicomte lifted his shoulder_nd dropped his eyes as if startled by something extraordinary when she too_er seat opposite and beamed upon him also with her unchanging smile.
"Madame, I doubt my ability before such an audience," said he, smilingl_nclining his head.
The princess rested her bare round arm on a little table and considered _eply unnecessary. She smilingly waited. All the time the story was being tol_he sat upright, glancing now at her beautiful round arm, altered in shape b_ts pressure on the table, now at her still more beautiful bosom, on which sh_eadjusted a diamond necklace. From time to time she smoothed the folds of he_ress, and whenever the story produced an effect she glanced at Anna Pavlovna,
at once adopted just the expression she saw on the maid of honor's face, an_gain relapsed into her radiant smile.
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?" sh_ent on, turning to Prince Hippolyte. "Fetch me my workbag."
There was a general movement as the princess, smiling and talking merrily t_veryone 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 u_er work.
Prince Hippolyte, having brought the workbag, joined the circle and moving _hair close to hers seated himself beside her.
Le charmant Hippolyte was surprising by his extraordinary resemblance to hi_eautiful sister, but yet more by the fact that in spite of this resemblanc_e was exceedingly ugly. His features were like his sister's, but while in he_ase everything was lit up by a joyous, self-satisfied, youthful, and constan_mile of animation, and by the wonderful classic beauty of her figure, hi_ace on the contrary was dulled by imbecility and a constant expression o_ullen self-confidence, while his body was thin and weak. His eyes, nose, an_outh all seemed puckered into a vacant, wearied grimace, and his arms an_egs always fell into unnatural positions.
"It's not going to be a ghost story?" said he, sitting down beside th_rincess and hastily adjusting his lorgnette, as if without this instrument h_ould not begin to speak.
"Why no, my dear fellow," said the astonished narrator, shrugging hi_houlders.
"Because I hate ghost stories," said Prince Hippolyte in a tone which showe_hat 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 whethe_hat he said was very witty or very stupid. He was dressed in a dark-gree_ress coat, knee breeches of the color of cuisse de nymphe effrayee, as h_alled it, shoes, and silk stockings.
The vicomte told his tale very neatly. It was an anecdote, then current, t_he effect that the Duc d'Enghien had gone secretly to Paris to visi_ademoiselle George; that at her house he came upon Bonaparte, who als_njoyed the famous actress' favors, and that in his presence Napoleon happene_o fall into one of the fainting fits to which he was subject, and was thus a_he duc's mercy. The latter spared him, and this magnanimity Bonapart_ubsequently repaid by death.
The story was very pretty and interesting, especially at the point where th_ivals suddenly recognized one another; and the ladies looked agitated.
"Charming!" said Anna Pavlovna with an inquiring glance at the littl_rincess.
"Charming!" whispered the little princess, sticking the needle into her wor_s if to testify that the interest and fascination of the story prevented he_rom going on with it.
The vicomte appreciated this silent praise and smiling gratefully prepared t_ontinue, but just then Anna Pavlovna, who had kept a watchful eye on th_oung man who so alarmed her, noticed that he was talking too loudly an_ehemently with the abbe, so she hurried to the rescue. Pierre had managed t_tart a conversation with the abbe about the balance of power, and the latter,
evidently interested by the young man's simple-minded eagerness, wa_xplaining his pet theory. Both were talking and listening too eagerly and to_aturally, 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 lik_ussia—barbaric as she is said to be—to place herself disinterestedly at th_ead of an alliance having for its object the maintenance of the balance o_ower of Europe, and it would save the world!"
"But how are you to get that balance?" Pierre was beginning.
At that moment Anna Pavlovna came up and, looking severely at Pierre, aske_he Italian how he stood Russian climate. The Italian's face instantly change_nd assumed an offensively affected, sugary expression, evidently habitual t_im when conversing with women.
"I am so enchanted by the brilliancy of the wit and culture of the society,
more especially of the feminine society, in which I have had the honor o_eing received, that I have not yet had time to think of the climate," sai_e.
Not letting the abbe and Pierre escape, Anna Pavlovna, the more convenientl_o keep them under observation, brought them into the larger circle.