BOOK ONE: 1805
3. CHAPTER III
Anna Pavlovna's reception was in full swing. The spindles hummed
steadily and ceaselessly on all sides. With the exception of the aunt,
beside whom sat only one elderly lady, who with her thin careworn face
was rather out of place in this brilliant society, the whole company
had settled into three groups. One, chiefly masculine, had formed
round the abbe. Another, of young people, was grouped round the
beautiful Princess Helene, Prince Vasili's daughter, and the little
Princess Bolkonskaya, very pretty and rosy, though rather too plump
for her age. The third group was gathered round Mortemart and Anna
The vicomte was a nice-looking young man with soft features and
polished manners, who evidently considered himself a celebrity but out
of politeness modestly placed himself at the disposal of the circle in
which he found himself. Anna Pavlovna was obviously serving him up
as a treat to her guests. As a clever maitre d'hotel serves up as a
specially choice delicacy a piece of meat that no one who had seen
it in the kitchen would have cared to eat, so Anna Pavlovna served
up to her guests, first the vicomte and then the abbe, as peculiarly
choice morsels. The group about Mortemart immediately began discussing
the murder of the Duc d'Enghien. The vicomte said that the Duc
d'Enghien had perished by his own magnanimity, and that there were
particular reasons for Buonaparte's hatred of him.
"Ah, yes! Do tell us all about it, Vicomte," said Anna Pavlovna,
with a pleasant feeling that there was something a la Louis XV in
the sound of that sentence: "Contez nous cela, Vicomte."
The vicomte bowed and smiled courteously in token of his willingness
to comply. Anna Pavlovna arranged a group round him, inviting everyone
to listen to his tale.
"The vicomte knew the duc personally," whispered Anna Pavlovna to of
the guests. "The vicomte is a wonderful raconteur," said she to
another. "How evidently he belongs to the best society," said she to a
third; and the vicomte was served up to the company in the choicest
and most advantageous style, like a well-garnished joint of roast beef
on a hot dish.
The vicomte wished to begin his story and gave a subtle smile.