War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book I: Chapters 7–21

CHAPTER XXI

While in the Rostovs' ballroom the sixth anglaise was being danced, to a tune in which the weary musicians blundered, and while tired footmen and cooks were getting the supper, Count Bezukhov had a sixth stroke. The doctors pronounced recovery impossible. After a mute confession, communion was administered to the dying man, preparations made for the sacrament of unction, and in his house there was the bustle and thrill of suspense usual at such moments. Outside the house, beyond the gates, a group of undertakers, who hid whenever a carriage drove up, waited in expectation of an important order for an expensive funeral. The Military Governor of Moscow, who had been assiduous in sending aides-de-camp to inquire after the count's health, came himself that evening to bid a last farewell to the celebrated grandee of Catherine's court, Count Bezukhov.

The magnificent reception room was crowded. Everyone stood up respectfully when the Military Governor, having stayed about half an hour alone with the dying man, passed out, slightly acknowledging their bows and trying to escape as quickly as from the glances fixed on him by the doctors, clergy, and relatives of the family. Prince Vasili, who had grown thinner and paler during the last few days, escorted him to the door, repeating something to him several times in low tones.

When the Military Governor had gone, Prince Vasili sat down all alone on a chair in the ballroom, crossing one leg high over the other, leaning his elbow on his knee and covering his face with his hand. After sitting so for a while he rose, and, looking about him with frightened eyes, went with unusually hurried steps down the long corridor leading to the back of the house, to the room of the eldest princess.

Those who were in the dimly lit reception room spoke in nervous whispers, and, whenever anyone went into or came from the dying man's room, grew silent and gazed with eyes full of curiosity or expectancy at his door, which creaked slightly when opened.

"The limits of human life . . . are fixed and may not be o'erpassed," 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?"

Lorrain considered.

"Has he taken his medicine?"

"Yes."

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."

*Catherine.

"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.

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