The rustle of a woman’s dress was heard in the next room. Prince Andrew shook himself as if waking up, and his face assumed the look it had had in Anna Pávlovna’s drawing room. Pierre removed his feet from the sofa. The princess came in. She had changed her gown for a house dress as fresh and elegant as the other. Prince Andrew rose and politely placed a chair for her.
“How is it,” she began, as usual in French, settling down briskly and fussily in the easy chair, “how is it Annette never got married? How stupid you men all are not to have married her! Excuse me for saying so, but you have no sense about women. What an argumentative fellow you are, Monsieur Pierre!”
“And I am still arguing with your husband. I can’t understand why he wants to go to the war,” replied Pierre, addressing the princess with none of the embarrassment so commonly shown by young men in their intercourse with young women.
The princess started. Evidently Pierre’s words touched her to the quick.
“Ah, that is just what I tell him!” said she. “I don’t understand it; I don’t in the least understand why men can’t live without wars. How is it that we women don’t want anything of the kind, don’t need it? Now you shall judge between us. I always tell him: Here he is Uncle’s aide-de-camp, a most brilliant position. He is so well known, so much appreciated by everyone. The other day at the Apráksins’ I heard a lady asking, ‘Is that the famous Prince Andrew?’ I did indeed.” She laughed. “He is so well received everywhere. He might easily become aide-de-camp to the Emperor. You know the Emperor spoke to him most graciously. Annette and I were speaking of how to arrange it. What do you think?”
Pierre looked at his friend and, noticing that he did not like the conversation, gave no reply.
“When are you starting?” he asked.
“Oh, don’t speak of his going, don’t! I won’t hear it spoken of,” said the princess in the same petulantly playful tone in which she had spoken to Hippolyte in the drawing room and which was so plainly ill-suited to the family circle of which Pierre was almost a member. “Today when I remembered that all these delightful associations must be broken off ... and then you know, André...” (she looked significantly at her husband) “I’m afraid, I’m afraid!” she whispered, and a shudder ran down her back.
Her husband looked at her as if surprised to notice that someone besides Pierre and himself was in the room, and addressed her in a tone of frigid politeness.
“What is it you are afraid of, Lise? I don’t understand,” said he.
“There, what egotists men all are: all, all egotists! Just for a whim of his own, goodness only knows why, he leaves me and locks me up alone in the country.”
“With my father and sister, remember,” said Prince Andrew gently.
“Alone all the same, without my friends.... And he expects me not to be afraid.”
Her tone was now querulous and her lip drawn up, giving her not a joyful, but an animal, squirrel-like expression. She paused as if she felt it indecorous to speak of her pregnancy before Pierre, though the gist of the matter lay in that.
“I still can’t understand what you are afraid of,” said Prince Andrew slowly, not taking his eyes off his wife.
The princess blushed, and raised her arms with a gesture of despair.
“No, Andrew, I must say you have changed. Oh, how you have....”
“Your doctor tells you to go to bed earlier,” said Prince Andrew. “You had better go.”
The princess said nothing, but suddenly her short downy lip quivered. Prince Andrew rose, shrugged his shoulders, and walked about the room.
Pierre looked over his spectacles with naïve surprise, now at him and now at her, moved as if about to rise too, but changed his mind.
“Why should I mind Monsieur Pierre being here?” exclaimed the little princess suddenly, her pretty face all at once distorted by a tearful grimace. “I have long wanted to ask you, Andrew, why you have changed so to me? What have I done to you? You are going to the war and have no pity for me. Why is it?”
“Lise!” was all Prince Andrew said. But that one word expressed an entreaty, a threat, and above all conviction that she would herself regret her words. But she went on hurriedly:
“You treat me like an invalid or a child. I see it all! Did you behave like that six months ago?”
“Lise, I beg you to desist,” said Prince Andrew still more emphatically.
Pierre, who had been growing more and more agitated as he listened to all this, rose and approached the princess. He seemed unable to bear the sight of tears and was ready to cry himself.
“Calm yourself, Princess! It seems so to you because.... I assure you I myself have experienced ... and so ... because ... No, excuse me! An outsider is out of place here.... No, don’t distress yourself.... Good-by!”
Prince Andrew caught him by the hand.
“No, wait, Pierre! The princess is too kind to wish to deprive me of the pleasure of spending the evening with you.”
“No, he thinks only of himself,” muttered the princess without restraining her angry tears.
“Lise!” said Prince Andrew dryly, raising his voice to the pitch which indicates that patience is exhausted.
Suddenly the angry, squirrel-like expression of the princess’ pretty face changed into a winning and piteous look of fear. Her beautiful eyes glanced askance at her husband’s face, and her own assumed the timid, deprecating expression of a dog when it rapidly but feebly wags its drooping tail.
“Mon Dieu, mon Dieu!” she muttered, and lifting her dress with one hand she went up to her husband and kissed him on the forehead.
“Good night, Lise,” said he, rising and courteously kissing her hand as he would have done to a stranger.
Next page →