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War And Peace 274


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not on authority but on secure bases. The Emperor said that the fiscal system must be reorganized and the accounts published," recounted Bitski, emphasizing certain words and opening his eyes significantly. "Ah, yes! Todays events mark an epoch, the greatest epoch in our history," he concluded. Prince Andrew listened to the account of the opening of the Council of State, which he had so impatiently awaited and to which he had attached such importance, and was surprised that this event, now that it had taken place, did not affect him, and even seemed quite insignificant. He listened with quiet irony to Bitskis enthusiastic account of it. A very simple thought occurred to him: "What does it matter to me or to Bitski what the Emperor was pleased to say at the Council? Can all that make me any happier or better?" And this simple reflection suddenly destroyed all the interest Prince Andrew had felt in the impending reforms. He was going to dine that evening at Speranskis, "with only a few friends," as the host had said when inviting him. The prospect of that dinner in the intimate home circle of the man he so admired had greatly interested Prince Andrew, especially as he had not yet seen Speranski in his domestic surroundings, but now he felt disinclined to go to it. At the appointed hour, however, he entered the modest house Speranski owned in the Taurida Gardens. In the parqueted dining room this small house, remarkable for its extreme cleanliness (suggesting that of a monastery), Prince Andrew, who was rather late, found the friendly gathering of Speranskis intimate acquaintances already assembled at five oclock. There were no ladies present except Speranskis little daughter (long-faced like her father) and her governess. The other guests were Gervais, Magnitski, and Stolypin. While still in the anteroom Prince Andrew heard loud voices and a ringing staccato laugh--a laugh such as one hears on the stage. Someone--it sounded like Speranski--was distinctly ejaculating ha-ha-ha. Prince Andrew had never before heard Speranskis famous laugh, and this ringing, high pitched laughter from a statesman made a strange impression on him. He entered the dining room. The whole company were standing between two windows at a small table laid with hors-doeuvres. Speranski, wearing a gray swallow-tail coat with a star on the breast, and evidently still the same waistcoat and high white stock he had worn at the meeting of the Council of State, stood at the table with a beaming countenance. His guests surrounded him. Magnitski, addressing himself to Speranski, was relating an anecdote, and Speranski was laughing in advance at what Magnitski was going to say. When Prince Andrew entered the room Magnitskis words were again crowned by laughter. Stolypin gave a deep bass guffaw as he munched a piece of bread and cheese. Gervais laughed softly with a hissing chuckle, and Speranski in a high-pitched staccato manner. Still laughing, Speranski held out his soft white hand to Prince Andrew. "Very pleased to see you, Prince," he said. "One moment..." he went on, turning to Magnitski and interrupting his story. "We have agreed that this is a dinner for recreation, with not a word about business!" and turning again to the narrator he began to laugh afresh. Prince Andrew looked at the laughing Speranski with astonishment, regret, and disillusionment. It seemed to him that this was not Speranski but someone else. Everything that had formerly appeared mysterious and fascinating in Speranski suddenly became plain and unattractive. At dinner the conversation did not cease for a moment and seemed to consist of the contents of a book of funny anecdotes. Before Magnitski had finished his story someone else was anxious to relate something still funnier. Most of the anecdotes, if not relating to the state service, related to people in the service. It seemed that in this company the insignificance of those people was so definitely accepted that the only possible attitude toward them was one of good humored ridicule. Speranski related how at the Council that morning a deaf dignitary, when asked his opinion, replied that he thought so too. Gervais gave a long account of an official revision, remarkable for the stupidity of everybody concerned. Stolypin, stuttering, broke into the conversation and began excitedly talking of the abuses that existed under the former order of things--threatening to give a serious turn to the conversation. Magnitski starting quizzing Stolypin about his vehemence. Gervais intervened with a joke, and the talk reverted to its former lively tone. Evidently Speranski liked to rest after his labors and find amusement in a circle of friends, and his guests, understanding his wish, tried to enliven him

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