Anna Karenina (Part One- Chapter 6-10)
by Leo Tostoy
When Oblonsky asked Levin what had brought him to town, Levin blushed, and was furious with himself for blushing, because he could not answer, “I have come to make your sister-in-law an offer,” though that was precisely what he had come for.
The families of the Levins and the Shtcherbatskys were old, noble Moscow families, and had always been on intimate and friendly terms. This intimacy had grown still closer during Levin’s student days. He had both prepared for the university with the young Prince Shtcherbatsky, the brother of Kitty and Dolly, and had entered at the same time with him. In those days Levin used often to be in the Shtcherbatskys’ house, and he was in love with the Shtcherbatsky household. Strange as it may appear, it was with the household, the family, that Konstantin Levin was in love, especially with the feminine half of the household. Levin did not remember his own mother, and his only sister was older than he was, so that it was in the Shtcherbatskys’ house that he saw for the first time that inner life of an old, noble, cultivated, and honorable family of which he had been deprived by the death of his father and mother. All the members of that family, especially the feminine half, were pictured by him, as it were, wrapped about with a mysterious poetical veil, and he not only perceived no defects whatever in them, but under the poetical veil that shrouded them he assumed the existence of the loftiest sentiments and every possible perfection. Why it was the three young ladies had one day to speak French, and the next English; why it was that at certain hours they played by turns on the piano, the sounds of which were audible in their brother’s room above, where the students used to work; why they were visited by those professors of French literature, of music, of drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all the three young ladies, with Mademoiselle Linon, drove in the coach to the Tversky boulevard, dressed in their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long one, Natalia in a half-long one, and Kitty in one so short that her shapely legs in tightly-drawn red stockings were visible to all beholders; why it was they had to walk about the Tversky boulevard escorted by a footman with a gold cockade in his hat–all this and much more that was done in their mysterious world he did not understand, but he was sure that everything that was done there was very good, and he was in love precisely with the mystery of the proceedings.
In his student days he had all but been in love with the eldest, Dolly, but she was soon married to Oblonsky. Then he began being in love with the second. He felt, as it were, that he had to be in love with one of the sisters, only he could not quite make out which. But Natalia, too, had hardly made her appearance in the world when she married the diplomat Lvov. Kitty was still a child when Levin left the university. Young Shtcherbatsky went into the navy, was drowned in the Baltic, and Levin’s relations with the Shtcherbatskys, in spite of his friendship with Oblonsky, became less intimate. But when early in the winter of this year Levin came to Moscow, after a year in the country, and saw the Shtcherbatskys, he realized which of the three sisters he was indeed destined to love.
One would have thought that nothing could be simpler than for him, a man of good family, rather rich than poor, and thirty-two years old, to make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been looked upon as a good match. But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.
After spending two months in Moscow in a state of enchantment, seeing Kitty almost every day in society, into which he went so as to meet her, he abruptly decided that it could not be, and went back to the country.
Levin’s conviction that it could not be was founded on the idea that in the eyes of her family he was a disadvantageous and worthless match for the charming Kitty, and that Kitty herself could not love him. In her family’s eyes he had no ordinary, definite career and position in society, while his contemporaries by this time, when he was thirty-two, were already, one a colonel, and another a professor, another director of a bank and railways, or president of a board like Oblonsky. But he (he knew very well how he must appear to others) was a country gentleman, occupied in breeding cattle, shooting game, and building barns; in other words, a fellow of no ability, who had not turned out well, and who was doing just what, according to the ideas of the world, is done by people fit for nothing else.
The mysterious, enchanting Kitty herself could not love such an ugly person as he conceived himself to be, and, above all, such an ordinary, in no way striking person. Moreover, his attitude to Kitty in the past–the attitude of a grown-up person to a child, arising from his friendship with her brother–seemed to him yet another obstacle to love. An ugly, good-natured man, as he considered himself, might, he supposed, be liked as a friend; but to be loved with such a love as that with which he loved Kitty, one would need to be a handsome and, still more, a distinguished man.
He had heard that women often did care for ugly and ordinary men, but he did not believe it, for he judged by himself, and he could not himself have loved any but beautiful, mysterious, and exceptional women.
But after spending two months alone in the country, he was convinced that this was not one of those passions of which he had had experience in his early youth; that this feeling gave him not an instant’s rest; that he could not live without deciding the question, would she or would she not be his wife, and that his despair had arisen only from his own imaginings, that he had no sort of proof that he would be rejected. And he had now come to Moscow with a firm determination to make an offer, and get married if he were accepted. Or…he could not conceive what would become of him if he were rejected.
On arriving in Moscow by a morning train, Levin had put up at the house of his elder half-brother, Koznishev. After changing his clothes he went down to his brother’s study, intending to talk to him at once about the object of his visit, and to ask his advice; but his brother was not alone. With him there was a well-known professor of philosophy, who had come from Harkov expressly to clear up a difference that had arisen between them on a very important philosophical question. The professor was carrying on a hot crusade against materialists. Sergey Koznishev had been following this crusade with interest, and after reading the professor’s last article, he had written him a letter stating his objections. He accused the professor of making too great concessions to the materialists. And the professor had promptly appeared to argue the matter out. The point in discussion was the question then in vogue: Is there a line to be drawn between psychological and physiological phenomena in man? and if so, where?
Sergey Ivanovitch met his brother with the smile of chilly friendliness he always had for everyone, and introducing him to the professor, went on with the conversation.
A little man in spectacles, with a narrow forehead, tore himself from the discussion for an instant to greet Levin, and then went on talking without paying any further attention to him. Levin sat down to wait till the professor should go, but he soon began to get interested in the subject under discussion.
Levin had come across the magazine articles about which they were disputing, and had read them, interested in them as a development of the first principles of science, familiar to him as a natural science student at the university. But he had never connected these scientific deductions as to the origin of man as an animal, as to reflex action, biology, and sociology, with those questions as to the meaning of life and death to himself, which had of late been more and more often in his mind.
As he listened to his brother’s argument with the professor, he noticed that they connected these scientific questions with those spiritual problems, that at times they almost touched on the latter; but every time they were close upon what seemed to him the chief point, they promptly beat a hasty retreat, and plunged again into a sea of subtle distinctions, reservations, quotations, allusions, and appeals to authorities, and it was with difficulty that he understood what they were talking about.
“I cannot admit it,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, with his habitual clearness, precision of expression, and elegance of phrase. “I cannot in any case agree with Keiss that my whole conception of the external world has been derived from perceptions. The most fundamental idea, the idea of existence, has not been received by me through sensation; indeed, there is no special sense-organ for the transmission of such an idea.”
“Yes, but they–Wurt, and Knaust, and Pripasov–would answer that your consciousness of existence is derived from the conjunction of all your sensations, that that consciousness of existence is the result of your sensations. Wurt, indeed, says plainly that, assuming there are no sensations, it follows that there is no idea of existence.”
“I maintain the contrary,” began Sergey Ivanovitch.
But here it seemed to Levin that just as they were close upon the real point of the matter, they were again retreating, and he made up his mind to put a question to the professor.
“According to that, if my senses are annihilated, if my body is dead, I can have no existence of any sort?” he queried.
The professor, in annoyance, and, as it were, mental suffering at the interruption, looked round at the strange inquirer, more like a bargeman than a philosopher, and turned his eyes upon Sergey Ivanovitch, as though to ask: What’s one to say to him? But Sergey Ivanovitch, who had been talking with far less heat and one-sidedness than the professor, and who had sufficient breadth of mind to answer the professor, and at the same time to comprehend the simple and natural point of view from which the question was put, smiled and said:
“That question we have no right to answer as yet.”
“We have not the requisite data,” chimed in the professor, and he went back to his argument. “No,” he said; “I would point out the fact that if, as Pripasov directly asserts, perception is based on sensation, then we are bound to distinguish sharply between these two conceptions.”
Levin listened no more, and simply waited for the professor to go.
When the professor had gone, Sergey Ivanovitch turned to his brother.
“Delighted that you’ve come. For some time, is it? How’s your farming getting on?”
Levin knew that his elder brother took little interest in farming, and only put the question in deference to him, and so he only told him about the sale of his wheat and money matters.
Levin had meant to tell his brother of his determination to get married, and to ask his advice; he had indeed firmly resolved to do so. But after seeing his brother, listening to his conversation with the professor, hearing afterwards the unconsciously patronizing tone in which his brother questioned him about agricultural matters (their mother’s property had not been divided, and Levin took charge of both their shares), Levin felt that he could not for some reason begin to talk to him of his intention of marrying. He felt that his brother would not look at it as he would have wished him to.
“Well, how is your district council doing?” asked Sergey Ivanovitch, who was greatly interested in these local boards and attached great importance to them.
“I really don’t know.”
“What! Why, surely you’re a member of the board?”
“No, I’m not a member now; I’ve resigned,” answered Levin, “and I no longer attend the meetings.”
“What a pity!” commented Sergey Ivanovitch, frowning.
Levin in self-defense began to describe what took place in the meetings in his district.
“That’s how it always is!” Sergey Ivanovitch interrupted him. “We Russians are always like that. Perhaps it’s our strong point, really, the faculty of seeing our own shortcomings; but we overdo it, we comfort ourselves with irony which we always have on the tip of our tongues. All I say is, give such rights as our local self-government to any other European people–why, the Germans or the English would have worked their way to freedom from them, while we simply turn them into ridicule.”
“But how can it be helped?” said Levin penitently. “It was my last effort. And I did try with all my soul. I can’t. I’m no good at it.”
“It’s not that you’re no good at it,” said Sergey Ivanovitch; “it is that you don’t look at it as you should.”
“Perhaps not,” Levin answered dejectedly.
“Oh! do you know brother Nikolay’s turned up again?”
This brother Nikolay was the elder brother of Konstantin Levin, and half-brother of Sergey Ivanovitch; a man utterly ruined, who had dissipated the greater part of his fortune, was living in the strangest and lowest company, and had quarreled with his brothers.
“What did you say?” Levin cried with horror. “How do you know?”
“Prokofy saw him in the street.”
“Here in Moscow? Where is he? Do you know?” Levin got up from his chair, as though on the point of starting off at once.
“I am sorry I told you,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, shaking his head at his younger brother’s excitement. “I sent to find out where he is living, and sent him his IOU to Trubin, which I paid. This is the answer he sent me.”
And Sergey Ivanovitch took a note from under a paper-weight and handed it to his brother.
Levin read in the queer, familiar handwriting: “I humbly beg you to leave me in peace. That’s the only favor I ask of my gracious brothers.–Nikolay Levin.”
Levin read it, and without raising his head stood with the note in his hands opposite Sergey Ivanovitch.
There was a struggle in his heart between the desire to forget his unhappy brother for the time, and the consciousness that it would be base to do so.
“He obviously wants to offend me,” pursued Sergey Ivanovitch; “but he cannot offend me, and I should have wished with all my heart to assist him, but I know it’s impossible to do that.”
“Yes, yes,” repeated Levin. “I understand and appreciate your attitude to him; but I shall go and see him.”
“If you want to, do; but I shouldn’t advise it,” said Sergey Ivanovitch. “As regards myself, I have no fear of your doing so; he will not make you quarrel with me; but for your own sake, I should say you would do better not to go. You can’t do him any good; still, do as you please.”
“Very likely I can’t do any good, but I feel–especially at such a moment–but that’s another thing–I feel I could not be at peace.”
“Well, that I don’t understand,” said Sergey Ivanovitch. “One thing I do understand,” he added; “it’s a lesson in humility. I have come to look very differently and more charitably on what is called infamous since brother Nikolay has become what he is…you know what he did…”
“Oh, it’s awful, awful!” repeated Levin.
After obtaining his brother’s address from Sergey Ivanovitch’s footman, Levin was on the point of setting off at once to see him, but on second thought he decided to put off his visit till the evening. The first thing to do to set his heart at rest was to accomplish what he had come to Moscow for. From his brother’s Levin went to Oblonsky’s office, and on getting news of the Shtcherbatskys from him, he drove to the place where he had been told he might find Kitty.
At four o’clock, conscious of his throbbing heart, Levin stepped out of a hired sledge at the Zoological Gardens, and turned along the path to the frozen mounds and the skating ground, knowing that he would certainly find her there, as he had seen the Shtcherbatskys’ carriage at the entrance.
It was a bright, frosty day. Rows of carriages, sledges, drivers, and policemen were standing in the approach. Crowds of well-dressed people, with hats bright in the sun, swarmed about the entrance and along the well-swept little paths between the little houses adorned with carving in the Russian style. The old curly birches of the gardens, all their twigs laden with snow, looked as though freshly decked in sacred vestments.
He walked along the path towards the skating-ground, and kept saying to himself–“You mustn’t be excited, you must be calm. What’s the matter with you? What do you want? Be quiet, stupid,” he conjured his heart. And the more he tried to compose himself, the more breathless he found himself. An acquaintance met him and called him by his name, but Levin did not even recognize him. He went towards the mounds, whence came the clank of the chains of sledges as they slipped down or were dragged up, the rumble of the sliding sledges, and the sounds of merry voices. He walked on a few steps, and the skating-ground lay open before his eyes, and at once, amidst all the skaters, he knew her.
He knew she was there by the rapture and the terror that seized on his heart. She was standing talking to a lady at the opposite end of the ground. There was apparently nothing striking either in her dress or her attitude. But for Levin she was as easy to find in that crowd as a rose among nettles. Everything was made bright by her. She was the smile that shed light on all round her. “Is it possible I can go over there on the ice, go up to her?” he thought. The place where she stood seemed to him a holy shrine, unapproachable, and there was one moment when he was almost retreating, so overwhelmed was he with terror. He had to make an effort to master himself, and to remind himself that people of all sorts were moving about her, and that he too might come there to skate. He walked down, for a long while avoiding looking at her as at the sun, but seeing her, as one does the sun, without looking.
On that day of the week and at that time of day people of one set, all acquainted with one another, used to meet on the ice. There were crack skaters there, showing off their skill, and learners clinging to chairs with timid, awkward movements, boys, and elderly people skating with hygienic motives. They seemed to Levin an elect band of blissful beings because they were here, near her. All the skaters, it seemed, with perfect self-possession, skated towards her, skated by her, even spoke to her, and were happy, quite apart from her, enjoying the capital ice and the fine weather.
Nikolay Shtcherbatsky, Kitty’s cousin, in a short jacket and tight trousers, was sitting on a garden seat with his skates on. Seeing Levin, he shouted to him:
“Ah, the first skater in Russia! Been here long? First-rate ice–do put your skates on.”
“I haven’t got my skates,” Levin answered, marveling at this boldness and ease in her presence, and not for one second losing sight of her, though he did not look at her. He felt as though the sun were coming near him. She was in a corner, and turning out her slender feet in their high boots with obvious timidity, she skated towards him. A boy in Russian dress, desperately waving his arms and bowed down to the ground, overtook her. She skated a little uncertainly; taking her hands out of the little muff that hung on a cord, she held them ready for emergency, and looking towards Levin, whom she had recognized, she smiled at him, and at her own fears. When she had got round the turn, she gave herself a push off with one foot, and skated straight up to Shtcherbatsky. Clutching at his arm, she nodded smiling to Levin. She was more splendid that he had imagined her.
When he thought of her, he could call up a vivid picture of her to himself, especially the charm of that little fair head, so freely set on the shapely girlish shoulders, and so full of childish brightness and good humor. The childishness of her expression, together with the delicate beauty of her figure, made up her special charm, and that he fully realized. But what always struck him in her as something unlooked for, was the expression of her eyes, soft, serene, and truthful, and above all, her smile, which always transported Levin to an enchanted world, where he felt himself softened and tender, as he remembered himself in some days of his early childhood.
“Have you been here long?” she said, giving him her hand. “Thank you,” she added, as he picked up the handkerchief that had fallen out of her muff.
“I? I’ve not long…yesterday…I mean today…I arrived,” answered Levin, in his emotion not at once understanding her question. “I was meaning to come and see you,” he said; and then, recollecting with what intention he was trying to see her, he was promptly overcome with confusion and blushed.
“I didn’t know you could skate, and skate so well.”
She looked at him earnestly, as though wishing to make out the cause of his confusion.
“Your praise is worth having. The tradition is kept up here that you are the best of skaters,” she said, with her little black-gloved hand brushing a grain of hoarfrost off her muff.
“Yes, I used once to skate with passion; I wanted to reach perfection.”
“You do everything with passion, I think,’ she said smiling. “I should so like to see how you skate. Put on skates, and let us skate together.”
“Skate together! Can that be possible?” thought Levin, gazing at her.
“I’ll put them on directly,” he said.
And he went off to get skates.
“It’s a long while since we’ve seen you here, sir,” said the attendant, supporting his foot, and screwing on the heel of the skate. “Except you, there’s none of the gentlemen first-rate skaters. Will that be all right?” said he, tightening the strap.
“Oh, yes, yes; make haste, please,” answered Levin, with difficulty restraining the smile of rapture which would overspread his face. “Yes,” he thought, “this now is life, this is happiness! Together, she said; let us skate together! Speak to her now? But that’s just why I’m afraid to speak–because I’m happy now, happy in hope, anyway…. And then?…. But I must! I must! I must! Away with weakness!”
Levin rose to his feet, took off his overcoat, and scurrying over the rough ice round the hut, came out on the smooth ice and skated without effort, as it were, by simple exercise of will, increasing and slackening speed and turning his course. He approached with timidity, but again her smile reassured him.
She gave him her hand, and they set off side by side, going faster and faster, and the more rapidly they moved the more tightly she grasped his hand.
“With you I should soon learn; I somehow feel confidence in you,” she said to him.
“And I have confidence in myself when you are leaning on me,” he said, but was at once panic-stricken at what he had said, and blushed. And indeed, no sooner had he uttered these words, when all at once, like the sun going behind a cloud, her face lost all its friendliness, and Levin detected the familiar change in her expression that denoted the working of thought; a crease showed on her smooth brow.
“Is there anything troubling you?–though I’ve no right to ask such a question,” he added hurriedly.
“Oh, why so?…. No, I have nothing to trouble me,” she responded coldly; and she added immediately: “You haven’t seen Mlle. Linon, have you?”
“Go and speak to her, she likes you so much.”
“What’s wrong? I have offended her. Lord help me!” thought Levin, and he flew towards the old Frenchwoman with the gray ringlets, who was sitting on a bench. Smiling and showing her false teeth, she greeted him as an old friend.
“Yes, you see we’re growing up,” she said to him, glancing towards Kitty, “and growing old. Tiny bear has grown big now!” pursued the Frenchwoman, laughing, and she reminded him of his joke about the three young ladies whom he had compared to the three bears in the English nursery tale. “Do you remember that’s what you used to call them?”
He remembered absolutely nothing, but she had been laughing at the joke for ten years now, and was fond of it.
“Now, go and skate, go and skate. Our Kitty has learned to skate nicely, hasn’t she?”
When Levin darted up to Kitty her face was no longer stern; her eyes looked at him with the same sincerity and friendliness, but Levin fancied that in her friendliness there was a certain note of deliberate composure. And he felt depressed. After talking a little of her old governess and her peculiarities, she questioned him about his life.
“Surely you must be dull in the country in the winter, aren’t you?” she said.
“No, I’m not dull, I am very busy,” he said, feeling that she was holding him in check by her composed tone, which he would not have the force to break through, just as it had been at the beginning of the winter.
“Are you going to stay in town long?” Kitty questioned him.
“I don’t know,” he answered, not thinking of what he was saying. The thought that if he were held in check by her tone of quiet friendliness he would end by going back again without deciding anything came into his mind, and he resolved to make a struggle against it.
“How is it you don’t know?”
“I don’t know. It depends upon you,” he said, and was immediately horror-stricken at his own words.
Whether it was that she had heard his words, or that she did not want to hear them, she made a sort of stumble, twice struck out, and hurriedly skated away from him. She skated up to Mlle. Linon, said something to her, and went towards the pavilion where the ladies took off their skates.
“My God! what have I done! Merciful God! help me, guide me,” said Levin, praying inwardly, and at the same time, feeling a need of violent exercise, he skated about describing inner and outer circles.
At that moment one of the young men, the best of the skaters of the day, came out of the coffee-house in his skates, with a cigarette in his mouth. Taking a run, he dashed down the steps in his skates, crashing and bounding up and down. He flew down, and without even changing the position of his hands, skated away over the ice.
“Ah, that’s a new trick!” said Levin, and he promptly ran up to the top to do this new trick.
“Don’t break you neck! it needs practice!” Nikolay Shtcherbatsky shouted after him.
Levin went to the steps, took a run from above as best he cold, and dashed down, preserving his balance in this unwonted movement with his hands. On the last step he stumbled, but barely touching the ice with his hand, with a violent effort recovered himself, and skated off, laughing.
“How splendid, how nice he is!” Kitty was thinking at that time, as she came out of the pavilion with Mlle. Linon, and looked towards him with a smile of quiet affection, as though he were a favorite brother. “And can it be my fault, can I have done anything wrong? They talk of flirtation. I know it’s not he that I love; but still I am happy with him, and he’s so jolly. Only, why did he say that?…” she mused.
Catching sight of Kitty going away, and her mother meeting her at the steps, Levin, flushed from his rapid exercise, stood still and pondered a minute. He took off his skates, and overtook the mother and daughter at the entrance of the gardens.
“Delighted to see you,” said Princess Shtcherbatskaya. “On Thursdays we are home, as always.”
“We shall be pleased to see you,” the princess said stiffly.
This stiffness hurt Kitty, and she could not resist the desire to smooth over her mother’s coldness. She turned her head, and with a smile said:
“Good-bye till this evening.”
At that moment Stepan Arkadyevitch, his hat cocked on one side, with beaming face and eyes, strode into the garden like a conquering hero. But as he approached his mother-in-law, he responded in a mournful and crestfallen tone to her inquiries about Dolly’s health. After a little subdued and dejected conversation with his mother-in-law, he threw out his chest again, and put his arm in Levin’s.
“Well, shall we set off?” he asked. “I’ve been thinking about you all this time, and I’m very, very glad you’ve come,” he said, looking him in the face with a significant air.
“Yes, come along,” answered Levin in ecstasy, hearing unceasingly the sound of that voice saying, “Good-bye till this evening,” and seeing the smile with which it was said.
“To the England or the Hermitage?”
“I don’t mind which.”
“All right, then, the England,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, selecting that restaurant because he owed more there than at the Hermitage, and consequently considered it mean to avoid it. “Have you got a sledge? That’s first-rate, for I sent my carriage home.”
The friends hardly spoke all the way. Levin was wondering what that change in Kitty’s expression had meant, and alternately assuring himself that there was hope, and falling into despair, seeing clearly that his hopes were insane, and yet all the while he felt himself quite another man, utterly unlike what he had been before her smile and those words, “Good-bye till this evening.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch was absorbed during the drive in composing the menu of the dinner.
“You like trout, don’t you?” he said to Levin as they were arriving.
“Eh?” responded Levin. “Turbot? Yes, I’m AWFULLY fond of turbot.”
When Levin went into the restaurant with Oblonsky, he could not help noticing a certain peculiarity of expression, as it were, a restrained radiance, about the face and whole figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch. Oblonsky took off his overcoat, and with his hat over one ear walked into the dining room, giving directions to the Tatar waiters, who were clustered about him in evening coats, bearing napkins. Bowing to right and left to the people he met, and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances, he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer of fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for his part refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt such a loathing of that Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz, and vinaigre de toilette. He made haste to move away from her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in his eyes.
“This way, your excellency, please. Your excellency won’t be disturbed here,” said a particularly pertinacious, white-headed old Tatar with immense hips and coattails gaping widely behind. “Walk in, your excellency,” he said to Levin; by way of showing his respect to Stepan Arkadyevitch, being attentive to his guest as well.
Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over the round table under the bronze chandelier, though it already had a table cloth on it, he pushed up velvet chairs, and came to a standstill before Stepan Arkadyevitch with a napkin and a bill of fare in his hands, awaiting his commands.
“If you prefer it, your excellency, a private room will be free directly; Prince Golistin with a lady. Fresh oysters have come in.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch became thoughtful.
“How if we were to change our program, Levin?” he said keeping his finger on the bill of fare. And his face expressed serious hesitation. “Are the oysters good? Mind now.”
“They’re Flensburg, your excellency. We’ve no Ostend.”
“Flensburg will do, but are they fresh?”
“Only arrived yesterday.”
“Well, then, how if we were to begin with oysters, and so change the whole program? Eh?”
“It’s all the same to me. I should like cabbage soup and porridge better than anything; but of course there’s nothing like that here.”
“Porridge a la Russe, your honor would like?” said the Tatar, bending down to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child.
“No, joking apart, whatever you choose is sure to be good. I’ve been skating, and I’m hungry. And don’t imagine,” he added, detecting a look of dissatisfaction on Oblonsky’s face, “that I shan’t appreciate your choice. I am fond of good things.”
“I should hope so! After all, it’s one of the pleasures of life,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Well, then, my friend, you give us two–or better say three–dozen oysters, clear soup with vegetables…”
“Printaniere,” prompted the Tatar. But Stepan Arkadyevitch apparently did not care to allow him the satisfaction of giving the French names of the dishes.
“With vegetables in it, you know. Then turbot with thick sauce, then…roast beef; and mind it’s good. Yes, and capons, perhaps, and then sweets.”
The Tatar, recollecting that it was Stepan Arkadyevitch’s way not to call the dishes by the names in the French bill of fare, did not repeat them after him, but could not resist rehearsing the whole menus to himself according to the bill:–“Soupe printaniere, turbot, sauce Beaumarchais, poulard a l’estragon, macedoine de fruits…etc.,” and then instantly, as though worked by springs, laying down one bound bill of fare, he took up another, the list of wines, and submitted it to Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“What shall we drink?”
“What you like, only not too much. Champagne,” said Levin.
“What! to start with? You’re right though, I dare say. Do you like the white seal?”
“Cachet blanc,” prompted the Tatar.
“Very well, then, give us that brand with the oysters, and then we’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. And what table wine?”
“You can give us Nuits. Oh, no, better the classic Chablis.”
“Yes, sir. And YOUR cheese, your excellency?”
“Oh, yes, Parmesan. Or would you like another?”
“No, it’s all the same to me,” said Levin, unable to suppress a smile.
And the Tatar ran off with flying coattails, and in five minutes darted in with a dish of opened oysters on mother-of-pearl shells, and a bottle between his fingers.
Stepan Arkadyevitch crushed the starchy napkin, tucked it into his waistcoat, and settling his arms comfortably, started on the oysters.
“Not bad,” he said, stripping the oysters from the pearly shell with a silver fork, and swallowing them one after another. “Not bad,” he repeated, turning his dewy, brilliant eyes from Levin to the Tatar.
Levin ate the oysters indeed, though white bread and cheese would have pleased him better. But he was admiring Oblonsky. Even the Tatar, uncorking the bottle and pouring the sparkling wine into the delicate glasses, glanced at Stepan Arkadyevitch, and settled his white cravat with a perceptible smile of satisfaction.
“You don’t care much for oysters, do you?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, emptying his wine glass, “or you’re worried about something. Eh?”
He wanted Levin to be in good spirits. But it was not that Levin was not in good spirits; he was ill at ease. With what he had in his soul, he felt sore and uncomfortable in the restaurant, in the midst of private rooms where men were dining with ladies, in all this fuss and bustle; the surroundings of bronzes, looking glasses, gas, and waiters–all of it was offensive to him. He was afraid of sullying what his soul was brimful of.
“I? Yes, I am; but besides, all this bothers me,” he said. “You can’t conceive how queer it all seems to a country person like me, as queer as that gentleman’s nails I saw at your place…”
“Yes, I saw how much interested you were in poor Grinevitch’s nails,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing.
“It’s too much for me,” responded Levin. “Do try, now, and put yourself in my place, take the point of view of a country person. We in the country try to bring our hands into such a state as will be most convenient for working with. So we cut our nails; sometimes we turn up our sleeves. And here people purposely let their nails grow as long as they will, and link on small saucers by way of studs, so that they can do nothing with their hands.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled gaily.
“Oh, yes, that’s just a sign that he has no need to do coarse work. His work is with the mind…”
“Maybe. But still it’s queer to me, just as at this moment it seems queer to me that we country folks try to get our meals over as soon as we can, so as to be ready for our work, while here are we trying to drag out our meal as long as possible, and with that object eating oysters…”
“Why, of course,” objected Stepan Arkadyevitch. “But that’s just the aim of civilization–to make everything a source of enjoyment.”
“Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather be a savage.”
“And so you are a savage. All you Levins are savages.”
Levin sighed. He remembered his brother Nikolay, and felt ashamed and sore, and he scowled; but Oblonsky began speaking of a subject which at once drew his attention.
“Oh, I say, are you going tonight to our people, the Shtcherbatskys’, I mean?” he said, his eyes sparkling significantly as he pushed away the empty rough shells, and drew the cheese towards him.
“Yes, I shall certainly go,” replied Levin; “though I fancied the princess was not very warm in her invitation.”
“What nonsense! That’s her manner…. Come, boy, the soup!…. That’s her manner–grande dame,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “I’m coming, too, but I have to go to the Countess Bonina’s rehearsal. Come, isn’t it true that you’re a savage? How do you explain the sudden way in which you vanished from Moscow? The Shtcherbatskys were continually asking me about you, as though I ought to know. The only thing I know is that you always do what no one else does.”
“Yes,” said Levin, slowly and with emotion, “you’re right. I am a savage. Only, my savageness is not in having gone away, but in coming now. Now I have come…”
“Oh, what a lucky fellow you are!” broke in Stepan Arkadyevitch, looking into Levin’s eyes.
“I know a gallant steed by tokens sure, And by his eyes I know a youth in love,” declaimed Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Everything is before you.”
“Why, is it over for you already?”
“No; not over exactly, but the future is yours, and the present is mine, and the present–well, it’s not all that it might be.”
“Oh, things go wrong. But I don’t want to talk of myself, and besides I can’t explain it all,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Well, why have you come to Moscow, then?…. Hi! take away!” he called to the Tatar.
“You guess?” responded Levin, his eyes like deep wells of light fixed on Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“I guess, but I can’t be the first to talk about it. You can see by that whether I guess right or wrong,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, gazing at Levin with a subtle smile.
“Well, and what have you to say to me?” said Levin in a quivering voice, feeling that all the muscles of his face were quivering too. “How do you look at the question?”
Stepan Arkadyevitch slowly emptied his glass of Chablis, never taking his eyes off Levin.
“I?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “there’s nothing I desire so much as that–nothing! It would be the best thing that could be.”
“But you’re not making a mistake? You know what we’re speaking of?” said Levin, piercing him with his eyes. “You think it’s possible?”
“I think it’s possible. Why not possible?”
“No! do you really think it’s possible? No, tell me all you think! Oh, but if…if refusal’s in store for me!… Indeed I feel sure…”
“Why should you think that?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling at his excitement.
“It seems so to me sometimes. That will be awful for me, and for her too.”
“Oh, well, anyway there’s nothing awful in it for a girl. Every girl’s proud of an offer.”
“Yes, every girl, but not she.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. He so well knew that feeling of Levin’s, that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two classes: one class–all the girls in the world except her, and those girls with all sorts of human weaknesses, and very ordinary girls: the other class–she alone, having no weaknesses of any sort and higher than all humanity.
“Stay, take some sauce,” he said, holding back Levin’s hand as it pushed away the sauce.
Levin obediently helped himself to sauce, but would not let Stepan Arkadyevitch go on with his dinner.
“No, stop a minute, stop a minute,” he said. “You must understand that it’s a question of life and death for me. I have never spoken to any one of this. And there’s no one I could speak of it to, except you. You know we’re utterly unlike each other, different tastes and views and everything; but I know you’re fond of me and understand me, and that’s why I like you awfully. But for God’s sake, be quite straightforward with me.”
“I tell you what I think,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling. “But I’ll say more: my wife is a wonderful woman…” Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed, remembering his position with his wife, and, after a moment’s silence, resumed–“She has a gift of foreseeing things. She sees right through people; but that’s not all; she knows what will come to pass, especially in the way of marriages. She foretold, for instance, that Princess Shahovskaya would marry Brenteln. No one would believe it, but it came to pass. And she’s on your side.”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s not only that she likes you–she says that Kitty is certain to be your wife.”
At these words Levin’s face suddenly lighted up with a smile, a smile not far from tears of emotion.
“She says that!” cried Levin. “I always said she was exquisite, your wife. There, that’s enough, enough said about it,” he said, getting up from his seat.
“All right, but do sit down.”
But Levin could not sit down. He walked with his firm tread twice up and down the little cage of a room, blinked his eyelids that his tears might not fall, and only then sat down to the table.
“You must understand,” said he, “it’s not love. I’ve been in love, but it’s not that. It’s not my feeling, but a sort of force outside me has taken possession of me. I went away, you see, because I made up my mind that it could never be, you understand, as a happiness that does not come on earth; but I’ve struggled with myself, I see there’s no living without it. And it must be settled.”
“What did you go away for?”
“Ah, stop a minute! Ah, the thoughts that come crowding on one! The questions one must ask oneself! Listen. You can’t imagine what you’ve done for me by what you said. I’m so happy that I’ve become positively hateful; I’ve forgotten everything. I heard today that my brother Nikolay…you know, he’s here…I had even forgotten him. It seems to me that he’s happy too. It’s a sort of madness. But one thing’s awful…. Here, you’ve been married, you know the feeling…it’s awful that we–old–with a past… not of love, but of sins…are brought all at once so near to a creature pure and innocent; it’s loathsome, and that’s why one can’t help feeling oneself unworthy.”
“Oh, well, you’ve not many sins on your conscience.”
“Alas! all the same,” said Levin, “when with loathing I go over my life, I shudder and curse and bitterly regret it…. Yes.”
“What would you have? The world’s made so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“The one comfort is like that prayer, which I always liked: ‘Forgive me not according to my unworthiness, but according to Thy lovingkindness.’ That’s the only way she can forgive me.”