War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, chapter name CHAPTER XXI


While in the Rostóvs’ 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 Bezúkhov 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 Bezúkhov.
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 possible from the
glances fixed on him by the doctors, clergy, and relatives of the family. Prince Vasíli, 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 Vasíli 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 naïvely 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?”
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 Vasíli 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.”

“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 Vasíli, taking her hand and bending it downwards as was his
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 Vasíli 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 Vasíli
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 Vasíli 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 Vasíli’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 Semënovna,” continued Prince
Vasíli, 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
“And then of course my family has also to be considered,” Prince Vasíli went on, testily
pushing away a little table without looking at her. “You know, Catiche, that we—you three
sisters, Mámontov, 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 Vasíli 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 Vasíli 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 Vasíli 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 Vasíli, 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 Vasíli 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,
“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 bâtard!”* she added, as if supposing that this translation
of the word would effectively prove to Prince Vasíli the invalidity of his contention.
* A bastard.
“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 Bezúkhov, 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 Semënovna,” began Prince Vasíli 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
Dmítri Onúfrich” (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 Vasíli.
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
“Do you or do you not know where that will is?” insisted Prince Vasíli, 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
“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 protégé of yours, that sweet Princess Drubetskáya, that Anna Mikháylovna
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!”