"And then of course my family has also to be considered," Prince Vasili went on, testily pushing away a little table without looking at her."You know, Catiche, that we — you three sisters, Mamontov, and my wife — are the count's only direct heirs. I know, I know how hard it is for you to talk or think of such matters. It is no easier for me; but, my dear, I am getting on for sixty and must be prepared for anything. Do you know I have sent for Pierre? The count," pointing to his portrait,"definitely demanded that he should be called."
Prince Vasili looked questioningly at the princess, but could not make out whether she was considering what he had just said or whether she was simply looking at him.
"There is one thing I constantly pray God to grant, mon cousin," she replied,"and it is that He would be merciful to him and would allow his noble soul peacefully to leave this . . ."
"Yes, yes, of course," interrupted Prince Vasili impatiently, rubbing his bald head and angrily pulling back toward him the little table that he had pushed away."But . . . in short, the fact is . . . you know yourself that last winter the count made a will by which he left all his property, not to us his direct heirs, but to Pierre."
"He has made wills enough!" quietly remarked the princess."But he cannot leave the estate to Pierre. Pierre is illegitimate."
"But, my dear," said Prince Vasili suddenly, clutching the little table and becoming more animated and talking more rapidly:"what if a letter has been written to the Emperor in which the count asks for Pierre's legitimation? Do you understand that in consideration of the count's services, his request would be granted? . . ."
The princess smiled as people do who think they know more about the subject under discussion than those they are talking with.
"I can tell you more," continued Prince Vasili, seizing her hand,"that letter was written, though it was not sent, and the Emperor knew of it. The only question is, has it been destroyed or not? If not, then as soon as all is over," and Prince Vasili sighed to intimate what he meant by the words all is over,"and the count's papers are opened, the will and letter will be delivered to the Emperor, and the petition will certainly be granted. Pierre will get everything as the legitimate son."
"And our share?" asked the princess smiling ironically, as if anything might happen, only not that.
"But, my poor Catiche, it is as clear as daylight! He will then be the legal heir to everything and you won't get anything. You must know, my dear, whether the will and letter were written, and whether they have been destroyed or not. And if they have somehow been overlooked, you ought to know where they are, and must find them, because . . ."
"What next?" the princess interrupted, smiling sardonically and not changing the expression of her eyes."I am a woman, and you think we are all stupid; but I know this: an illegitimate son cannot inherit . . . un batard!"* she added, as if supposing that this translation of the word would effectively prove to Prince Vasili the invalidity of his contention.
"Well, really, Catiche! Can't you understand! You are so intelligent, how is it you don't see that if the count has written a letter to the Emperor begging him to recognize Pierre as legitimate, it follows that Pierre will not be Pierre but will become Count Bezukhov, and will then inherit everything under the will? And if the will and letter are not destroyed, then you will have nothing but the consolation of having been dutiful et tout ce qui s'ensuit!* That's certain."
*And all that follows therefrom.
"I know the will was made, but I also know that it is invalid; and you, mon cousin, seem to consider me a perfect fool," said the princess with the expression women assume when they suppose they are saying something witty and stinging.
"My dear Princess Catherine Semenovna," began Prince Vasili impatiently,"I came here not to wrangle with you, but to talk about your interests as with a kinswoman, a good, kind, true relation. And I tell you for the tenth time that if the letter to the Emperor and the will in Pierre's favor are among the count's papers, then, my dear girl, you and your sisters are not heiresses! If you don't believe me, then believe an expert. I have just been talking to Dmitri Onufrich" (the family solicitor)"and he says the same."
At this a sudden change evidently took place in the princess' ideas; her thin lips grew white, though her eyes did not change, and her voice when she began to speak passed through such transitions as she herself evidently did not expect.
"That would be a fine thing!" said she."I never wanted anything and I don't now."
She pushed the little dog off her lap and smoothed her dress.
"And this is gratitude — this is recognition for those who have sacrificed everything for his sake!" she cried."It's splendid! Fine! I don't want anything, Prince."
"Yes, but you are not the only one. There are your sisters . . ." replied Prince Vasili.
But the princess did not listen to him.
"Yes, I knew it long ago but had forgotten. I knew that I could expect nothing but meanness, deceit, envy, intrigue, and ingratitude — the blackest ingratitude — in this house . . ."
"Do you or do you not know where that will is?" insisted Prince Vasili, his cheeks twitching more than ever.
"Yes, I was a fool! I still believed in people, loved them, and sacrificed myself. But only the base, the vile succeed! I know who has been intriguing!"
The princess wished to rise, but the prince held her by the hand. She had the air of one who has suddenly lost faith in the whole human race. She gave her companion an angry glance.
"There is still time, my dear. You must remember, Catiche, that it was all done casually in a moment of anger, of illness, and was afterwards forgotten. Our duty, my dear, is to rectify his mistake, to ease his last moments by not letting him commit this injustice, and not to let him die feeling that he is rendering unhappy those who . . ."
"Who sacrificed everything for him," chimed in the princess, who would again have risen had not the prince still held her fast,"though he never could appreciate it. No, mon cousin," she added with a sigh,"I shall always remember that in this world one must expect no reward, that in this world there is neither honor nor justice. In this world one has to be cunning and cruel."
"Now come, come! Be reasonable. I know your excellent heart."
"No, I have a wicked heart."
"I know your heart," repeated the prince."I value your friendship and wish you to have as good an opinion of me. Don't upset yourself, and let us talk sensibly while there is still time, be it a day or be it but an hour . . . . Tell me all you know about the will, and above all where it is. You must know. We will take it at once and show it to the count. He has, no doubt, forgotten it and will wish to destroy it. You understand that my sole desire is conscientiously to carry out his wishes; that is my only reason for being here. I came simply to help him and you."
"Now I see it all! I know who has been intriguing — I know!" cried the princess.
"That's not the point, my dear."
"It's that protege of yours, that sweet Princess Drubetskaya, that Anna Mikhaylovna whom I would not take for a housemaid . . . the infamous, vile woman!"
"Do not let us lose any time . . ."
"Ah, don't talk to me! Last winter she wheedled herself in here and told the count such vile, disgraceful things about us, especially about Sophie — I can't repeat them — that it made the count quite ill and he would not see us for a whole fortnight. I know it was then he wrote this vile, infamous paper, but I thought the thing was invalid."
"We've got to it at last — why did you not tell me about it sooner?"
"It's in the inlaid portfolio that he keeps under his pillow," said the princess, ignoring his question."Now I know! Yes; if I have a sin, a great sin, it is hatred of that vile woman!" almost shrieked the princess, now quite changed."And what does she come worming herself in here for? But I will give her a piece of my mind. The time will come!"