BOOK ONE: 1805
18. CHAPTER XVIII
Countess Rostova, with her daughters and a large number of guests,
was already seated in the drawing room. The count took the gentlemen
into his study and showed them his choice collection of Turkish pipes.
From time to time he went out to ask: "Hasn't she come yet?" They were
expecting Marya Dmitrievna Akhrosimova, known in society as le
terrible dragon, a lady distinguished not for wealth or rank, but
for common sense and frank plainness of speech. Marya Dmitrievna was
known to the Imperial family as well as to all Moscow and
Petersburg, and both cities wondered at her, laughed privately at
her rudenesses, and told good stories about her, while none the less
all without exception respected and feared her.
In the count's room, which was full of tobacco smoke, they talked of
war that had been announced in a manifesto, and about the
recruiting. None of them had yet seen the manifesto, but they all knew
it had appeared. The count sat on the sofa between two guests who were
smoking and talking. He neither smoked nor talked, but bending his
head first to one side and then to the other watched the smokers
with evident pleasure and listened to the conversation of his two
neighbors, whom he egged on against each other.
One of them was a sallow, clean-shaven civilian with a thin and
wrinkled face, already growing old, though he was dressed like a
most fashionable young man. He sat with his legs up on the sofa as
if quite at home and, having stuck an amber mouthpiece far into his
mouth, was inhaling the smoke spasmodically and screwing up his
eyes. This was an old bachelor, Shinshin, a cousin of the countess', a
man with "a sharp tongue" as they said in Moscow society. He seemed to
be condescending to his companion. The latter, a fresh, rosy officer
of the Guards, irreproachably washed, brushed, and buttoned, held
his pipe in the middle of his mouth and with red lips gently inhaled
the smoke, letting it escape from his handsome mouth in rings. This
was Lieutenant Berg, an officer in the Semenov regiment with whom
Boris was to travel to join the army, and about whom Natasha had,
teased her elder sister Vera, speaking of Berg as her "intended."
The count sat between them and listened attentively. His favorite
occupation when not playing boston, a card game he was very fond of,
was that of listener, especially when he succeeded in setting two
loquacious talkers at one another.