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War And Peace 48


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repose? Worldly conversation at a moment when his soul is already prepared..." Prince Vasili was seated in an easy chair in his familiar attitude, with one leg crossed high above the other. His cheeks, which were so flabby that they looked heavier below, were twitching violently; but he wore the air of a man little concerned in what the two ladies were saying. "Come, my dear Anna Mikhaylovna, let Catiche do as she pleases. You know how fond the count is of her." "I dont even know what is in this paper," said the younger of the two ladies, addressing Prince Vasili and pointing to an inlaid portfolio she held in her hand. "All I know is that his real will is in his writing table, and this is a paper he has forgotten...." She tried to pass Anna Mikhaylovna, but the latter sprang so as to bar her path. "I know, my dear, kind princess," said Anna Mikhaylovna, seizing the portfolio so firmly that it was plain she would not let go easily. "Dear princess, I beg and implore you, have some pity on him! Je vous en conjure..." The princess did not reply. Their efforts in the struggle for the portfolio were the only sounds audible, but it was evident that if the princess did speak, her words would not be flattering to Anna Mikhaylovna. Though the latter held on tenaciously, her voice lost none of its honeyed firmness and softness. "Pierre, my dear, come here. I think he will not be out of place in a family consultation; is it not so, Prince?" "Why dont you speak, cousin?" suddenly shrieked the princess so loud that those in the drawing room heard her and were startled. "Why do you remain silent when heaven knows who permits herself to interfere, making a scene on the very threshold of a dying mans room? Intriguer!" she hissed viciously, and tugged with all her might at the portfolio. But Anna Mikhaylovna went forward a step or two to keep her hold on the portfolio, and changed her grip. Prince Vasili rose. "Oh!" said he with reproach and surprise, "this is absurd! Come, let go I tell you." The princess let go. "And you too!" But Anna Mikhaylovna did not obey him. "Let go, I tell you! I will take the responsibility. I myself will go and ask him, I!... does that satisfy you?" "But, Prince," said Anna Mikhaylovna, "after such a solemn sacrament, allow him a moments peace! Here, Pierre, tell them your opinion," said she, turning to the young man who, having come quite close, was gazing with astonishment at the angry face of the princess which had lost all dignity, and at the twitching cheeks of Prince Vasili. "Remember that you will answer for the consequences," said Prince Vasili severely. "You dont know what you are doing." "Vile woman!" shouted the princess, darting unexpectedly at Anna Mikhaylovna and snatching the portfolio from her. Prince Vasili bent his head and spread out his hands. At this moment that terrible door, which Pierre had watched so long and which had always opened so quietly, burst noisily open and banged against the wall, and the second of the three sisters rushed out wringing her hands. "What are you doing!" she cried vehemently. "He is dying and you leave me alone with him!" Her sister dropped the portfolio. Anna Mikhaylovna, stooping, quickly caught up the object of contention and ran into the bedroom. The eldest princess and Prince Vasili, recovering themselves, followed her. A few minutes later the eldest sister came out with a pale hard face, again biting her underlip. At sight of Pierre her expression showed an irrepressible hatred. "Yes, now you may be glad!" said she; "this is what you have been waiting for." And bursting into tears she hid her face in her handkerchief and rushed from the room. Prince Vasili came next. He staggered to the sofa on which Pierre was sitting and dropped onto it, covering his face with his hand. Pierre noticed that he was pale and that his jaw quivered and shook as if in an ague. "Ah, my friend!" said he, taking Pierre by the elbow; and there was in his voice a sincerity and weakness Pierre had never observed in it before. "How often we sin, how much we deceive, and all for what? I am near sixty, dear friend... I too... All will end in death, all! Death is awful..." and he burst into tears. Anna Mikhaylovna came out last. She approached Pierre with slow, quiet steps. "Pierre!" she said. Pierre gave her an inquiring look. She kissed the young man on

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