BOOK ONE: 1805
24. CHAPTER XXIV
"Permit me, Princess, to know what is necessary and what is not
necessary," said the younger of the two speakers, evidently in the
same state of excitement as when she had slammed the door of her room.
"But, my dear princess," answered Anna Mikhaylovna blandly but
impressively, blocking the way to the bedroom and preventing the other
from passing, "won't this be too much for poor Uncle at a moment
when he needs repose? Worldly conversation at a moment when his soul
is already prepared..."
Prince Vasili was seated in an easy chair in his familiar
attitude, with one leg crossed high above the other. His cheeks, which
were so flabby that they looked heavier below, were twitching
violently; but he wore the air of a man little concerned in what the
two ladies were saying.
"Come, my dear Anna Mikhaylovna, let Catiche do as she pleases.
You know how fond the count is of her."
"I don't even know what is in this paper," said the younger of the
two ladies, addressing Prince Vasili and pointing to an inlaid
portfolio she held in her hand. "All I know is that his real will is
in his writing table, and this is a paper he has forgotten...."
She tried to pass Anna Mikhaylovna, but the latter sprang so as to
bar her path.
"I know, my dear, kind princess," said Anna Mikhaylovna, seizing the
portfolio so firmly that it was plain she would not let go easily.
"Dear princess, I beg and implore you, have some pity on him! Je
vous en conjure..."
The princess did not reply. Their efforts in the struggle for the
portfolio were the only sounds audible, but it was evident that if the
princess did speak, her words would not be flattering to Anna
Mikhaylovna. Though the latter held on tenaciously, her voice lost
none of its honeyed firmness and softness.
"Pierre, my dear, come here. I think he will not be out of place
in a family consultation; is it not so, Prince?"