Anna Karenina (Part One-Chapter 11-15)
by Leo Toistoy
Levin emptied his glass, and they were silent for a while.
“There’s one other thing I ought to tell you. Do you know Vronsky?” Stepan Arkadyevitch asked Levin.
“No, I don’t. Why do you ask?”
“Give us another bottle,” Stepan Arkadyevitch directed the Tatar, who was filling up their glasses and fidgeting round them just when he was not wanted.
“Why you ought to know Vronsky is that he’s one of your rivals.”
“Who’s Vronsky?” said Levin, and his face was suddenly transformed from the look of childlike ecstasy which Oblonsky had just been admiring to an angry and unpleasant expression.
“Vronsky is one of the sons of Count Kirill Ivanovitch Vronsky, and one of the finest specimens of the gilded youth of Petersburg. I made his acquaintance in Tver when I was there on official business, and he came there for the levy of recruits. Fearfully rich, handsome, great connections, an aide-de-camp, and with all that a very nice, good-natured fellow. But he’s more than simply a good-natured fellow, as I’ve found out here–he’s a cultivated man, too, and very intelligent; he’s a man who’ll make his mark.”
Levin scowled and was dumb.
“Well, he turned up here soon after you’d gone, and as I can see, he’s over head and ears in love with Kitty, and you know that her mother…”
“Excuse me, but I know nothing,” said Levin, frowning gloomily. And immediately he recollected his brother Nikolay and how hateful he was to have been able to forget him.
“You wait a bit, wait a bit,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling and touching his hand. “I’ve told you what I know, and I repeat that in this delicate and tender matter, as far as one can conjecture, I believe the chances are in your favor.”
Levin dropped back in his chair; his face was pale.
“But I would advise you to settle the thing as soon as may be,” pursued Oblonsky, filling up his glass.
“No, thanks, I can’t drink any more,” said Levin, pushing away his glass. “I shall be drunk…. Come, tell me how are you getting on?” he went on, obviously anxious to change the conversation.
“One word more: in any case I advise you to settle the question soon. Tonight I don’t advise you to speak,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Go round tomorrow morning, make an offer in due form, and God bless you…”
“Oh, do you still think of coming to me for some shooting? Come next spring, do,” said Levin.
Now his whole soul was full of remorse that he had begun this conversation with Stepan Arkadyevitch. A feeling such as his was prefaced by talk of the rivalry of some Petersburg officer, of the suppositions and the counsels of Stepan Arkadyevitch.
Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. He knew what was passing in Levin’s soul.
“I’ll come some day,” he said. “But women, my boy, they’re the pivot everything turns upon. Things are in a bad way with me, very bad. And it’s all through women. Tell me frankly now,” he pursued, picking up a cigar and keeping one hand on his glass; “give me your advice.”
“Why, what is it?”
“I’ll tell you. Suppose you’re married, you love your wife, but you’re fascinated by another woman…”
“Excuse me, but I’m absolutely unable to comprehend how…just as I can’t comprehend how I could now, after my dinner, go straight to a baker’s shop and steal a roll.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s eyes sparkled more than usual.
“Why not? A roll will sometimes smell so good one can’t resist it.”
“Himmlisch ist’s, wenn ich bezwungen Meine irdische Begier;
Aber doch wenn’s nich gelungen Hatt’ ich auch recht huebsch Plaisir!”
As he said this, Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled subtly. Levin, too, could not help smiling.
“Yes, but joking apart,” resumed Stepan Arkadyevitch, “you must understand that the woman is a sweet, gentle loving creature, poor and lonely, and has sacrificed everything. Now, when the thing’s done, don’t you see, can one possibly cast her off? Even supposing one parts from her, so as not to break up one’s family life, still, can one help feeling for her, setting her on her feet, softening her lot?”
“Well, you must excuse me there. You know to me all women are divided into two classes…at least no…truer to say: there are women and there are…I’ve never seen exquisite fallen beings, and I never shall see them, but such creatures as that painted Frenchwoman at the counter with the ringlets are vermin to my mind, and all fallen women are the same.”
“But the Magdalen?”
“Ah, drop that! Christ would never have said those words if He had known how they would be abused. Of all the Gospel those words are the only ones remembered. However, I’m not saying so much what I think, as what I feel. I have a loathing for fallen women. You’re afraid of spiders, and I of these vermin. Most likely you’ve not made a study of spiders and don’t know their character; and so it is with me.”
“It’s very well for you to talk like that; it’s very much like that gentleman in Dickens who used to fling all difficult questions over his right shoulder. But to deny the facts is no answer. What’s to be done–you tell me that, what’s to be done? Your wife gets older, while you’re full of life. Before you’ve time to look round, you feel that you can’t love your wife with love, however much you may esteem her. And then all at once love turns up, and you’re done for, done for,” Stepan Arkadyevitch said with weary despair.
Levin half smiled.
“Yes, you’re done for,” resumed Oblonsky. “But what’s to be done?”
“Don’t steal rolls.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch laughed outright.
“Oh, moralist! But you must understand, there are two women; one insists only on her rights, and those rights are your love, which you can’t give her; and the other sacrifices everything for you and asks for nothing. What are you to do? How are you to act? There’s a fearful tragedy in it.”
“If you care for my profession of faith as regards that, I’ll tell you that I don’t believe there was any tragedy about it. And this is why. To my mind, love…both the sorts of love, which you remember Plato defines in his Banquet, served as the test of men. Some men only understand one sort, and some only the other. And those who only know the non-platonic love have no need to talk of tragedy. In such love there can be no sort of tragedy. ‘I’m much obliged for the gratification, my humble respects’–that’s all the tragedy. And in platonic love there can be no tragedy, because in that love all is clear and pure, because…”
At that instant Levin recollected his own sins and the inner conflict he had lived through. And he added unexpectedly:
“But perhaps you are right. Very likely…I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“It’s this, don’t you see,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “you’re very much all of a piece. That’s your strong point and your failing. You have a character that’s all of a piece, and you want the whole of life to be of a piece too–but that’s not how it is. You despise public official work because you want the reality to be invariably corresponding all the while with the aim–and that’s not how it is. You want a man’s work, too, always to have a defined aim, and love and family life always to be undivided–and that’s not how it is. All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Levin sighed and made no reply. He was thinking of his own affairs, and did not hear Oblonsky.
And suddenly both of them felt that though they were friends, though they had been dining and drinking together, which should have drawn them closer, yet each was thinking only of his own affairs, and they had nothing to do with one another. Oblonsky had more than once experienced this extreme sense of aloofness, instead of intimacy, coming on after dinner, and he knew what to do in such cases.
“Bill!” he called, and he went into the next room where he promptly came across and aide-de-camp of his acquaintance and dropped into conversation with him about an actress and her protector. And at once in the conversation with the aide-de-camp Oblonsky had a sense of relaxation and relief after the conversation with Levin, which always put him to too great a mental and spiritual strain.
When the Tatar appeared with a bill for twenty-six roubles and odd kopecks, besides a tip for himself, Levin, who would another time have been horrified, like any one from the country, at his share of fourteen roubles, did not notice it, paid, and set off homewards to dress and go to the Shtcherbatskys’ there to decide his fate.
The young Princess Kitty Shtcherbatskaya was eighteen. It was the first winter that she had been out in the world. Her success in society had been greater than that of either of her elder sisters, and greater even than her mother had anticipated. To say nothing of the young men who danced at the Moscow balls being almost all in love with Kitty, two serious suitors had already this first winter made their appearance: Levin, and immediately after his departure, Count Vronsky.
Levin’s appearance at the beginning of the winter, his frequent visits, and evident love for Kitty, had led to the first serious conversations between Kitty’s parents as to her future, and to disputes between them. The prince was on Levin’s side; he said he wished for nothing better for Kitty. The princess for her part, going round the question in the manner peculiar to women, maintained that Kitty was too young, that Levin had done nothing to prove that he had serious intentions, that Kitty felt no great attraction to him, and other side issues; but she did not state the principal point, which was that she looked for a better match for her daughter, and that Levin was not to her liking, and she did not understand him. When Levin had abruptly departed, the princess was delighted, and said to her husband triumphantly: “You see I was right.” When Vronsky appeared on the scene, she was still more delighted, confirmed in her opinion that Kitty was to make not simply a good, but a brilliant match.
In the mother’s eyes there could be no comparison between Vronsky and Levin. She disliked in Levin his strange and uncompromising opinions and his shyness in society, founded, as she supposed, on his pride and his queer sort of life, as she considered it, absorbed in cattle and peasants. She did not very much like it that he, who was in love with her daughter, had kept coming to the house for six weeks, as though he were waiting for something, inspecting, as though he were afraid he might be doing them too great an honor by making an offer, and did not realize that a man, who continually visits at a house where there is a young unmarried girl, is bound to make his intentions clear. And suddenly, without doing so, he disappeared. “It’s as well he’s not attractive enough for Kitty to have fallen in love with him,” thought the mother.
Vronsky satisfied all the mother’s desires. Very wealthy, clever, of aristocratic family, on the highroad to a brilliant career in the army and at court, and a fascinating man. Nothing better could be wished for.
Vronsky openly flirted with Kitty at balls, danced with her, and came continually to the house, consequently there could be no doubt of the seriousness of his intentions. But, in spite of that, the mother had spent the whole of that winter in a state of terrible anxiety and agitation.
Princess Shtcherbatskaya had herself been married thirty years ago, her aunt arranging the match. Her husband, about whom everything was well known before hand, had come, looked at his future bride, and been looked at. The match-making aunt had ascertained and communicated their mutual impression. That impression had been favorable. Afterwards, on a day fixed beforehand, the expected offer was made to her parents, and accepted. All had passed very simply and easily. So it seemed, at least, to the princess. But over her own daughters she had felt how far from simple and easy is the business, apparently so commonplace, of marrying off one’s daughters. The panics that had been lived through, the thoughts that had been brooded over, the money that had been wasted, and the disputes with her husband over marrying the two elder girls, Darya and Natalia! Now, since the youngest had come out, she was going through the same terrors, the same doubts, and still more violent quarrels with her husband than she had over the elder girls. The old prince, like all fathers indeed, was exceedingly punctilious on the score of the honor and reputation of his daughters. He was irrationally jealous over his daughters, especially over Kitty, who was his favorite. At every turn he had scenes with the princess for compromising her daughter. The princess had grown accustomed to this already with her other daughters, but now she felt that there was more ground for the prince’s touchiness. She saw that of late years much was changed in the manners of society, that a mother’s duties had become still more difficult. She saw that girls of Kitty’s age formed some sort of clubs, went to some sort of lectures, mixed freely in men’s society; drove about the streets alone, many of them did not curtsey, and, what was the most important thing, all the girls were firmly convinced that to choose their husbands was their own affair, and not their parents’. “Marriages aren’t made nowadays as they used to be,” was thought and said by all these young girls, and even by their elders. But how marriages were made now, the princess could not learn from any one. The French fashion–of the parents arranging their children’s future–was not accepted; it was condemned. The English fashion of the complete independence of girls was also not accepted, and not possible in Russian society. The Russian fashion of match-making by the offices if intermediate persons was for some reason considered unseemly; it was ridiculed by every one, and by the princess herself. But how girls were to be married, and how parents were to marry them, no one knew. Everyone with whom the princess had chanced to discuss the matter said the same thing: “Mercy on us, it’s high time in our day to cast off all that old-fashioned business. It’s the young people have to marry; and not their parents; and so we ought to leave the young people to arrange it as they choose.” It was very easy for anyone to say that who had no daughters, but the princess realized that in the process of getting to know each other, her daughter might fall in love, and fall in love with someone who did not care to marry her or who was quite unfit to be her husband. And, however much it was instilled into the princess that in our times young people ought to arrange their lives for themselves, she was unable to believe it, just as she would have been unable to believe that, at any time whatever, the most suitable playthings for children five years old ought to be loaded pistols. And so the princess was more uneasy over Kitty than she had been over her elder sisters.
Now she was afraid that Vronsky might confine himself to simply flirting with her daughter. She saw that her daughter was in love with him, but tried to comfort herself with the thought that he was an honorable man, and would not do this. But at the same time she knew how easy it is, with the freedom of manners of today, to turn a girl’s head, and how lightly men generally regard such a crime. The week before, Kitty had told her mother of a conversation she had with Vronsky during a mazurka. This conversation had partly reassured the princess; but perfectly at ease she could not be. Vronsky had told Kitty that both he and his brother were so used to obeying their mother that they never made up their minds to any important undertaking without consulting her. “And just now, I am impatiently awaiting my mother’s arrival from Petersburg, as peculiarly fortunate,” he told her.
Kitty had repeated this without attaching any significance to the words. But her mother saw them in a different light. She knew that the old lady was expected from day to day, that she would be pleased at her son’s choice, and she felt it strange that he should not make his offer through fear of vexing his mother. However, she was so anxious for the marriage itself, and still more for relief from her fears, that she believed it was so. Bitter as it was for the princess to see the unhappiness of her eldest daughter, Dolly, on the point of leaving her husband, her anxiety over the decision of her youngest daughter’s fate engrossed all her feelings. Today, with Levin’s reappearance, a fresh source of anxiety arose. She was afraid that her daughter, who had at one time, as she fancied, a feeling for Levin, might, from extreme sense of honor, refuse Vronsky, and that Levin’s arrival might generally complicate and delay the affair so near being concluded.
“Why, has be been here long?” the princess asked about Levin, as they returned home.
“He came today, mamma.”
“There’s one thing I want to say…” began the princess, and from her serious and alert face, Kitty guessed what it would be.
“Mamma,” she said, flushing hotly and turning quickly to her, “please, please don’t say anything about that. I know, I know all about it.”
She wished for what her mother wished for, but the motives of her mother’s wishes wounded her.
“I only want to say that to raise hopes…”
“Mamma, darling, for goodness’ sake, don’t talk about it. It’s so horrible to talk about it.”
“I won’t,” said her mother, seeing the tears in her daughter’s eyes; “but one thing, my love; you promised me you would have no secrets from me. You won’t?”
“Never, mamma, none,” answered Kitty, flushing a little, and looking her mother straight in the face, “but there’s no use in my telling you anything, and I…I…if I wanted to, I don’t know what to say or how…I don’t know…”
“No, she could not tell an untruth with those eyes,” thought the mother, smiling at her agitation and happiness. The princess smiled that what was taking place just now in her soul seemed to the poor child so immense and so important.
After dinner, and till the beginning of the evening, Kitty was feeling a sensation akin to the sensation of a young man before a battle. Her heat throbbed violently, and her thoughts would not rest on anything.
She felt that this evening, when they would both meet for the first time, would be a turning point in her life. And she was continually picturing them to herself, at one moment each separately, and then both together. When she mused on the past, she dwelt with pleasure, with tenderness, on the memories of her relations with Levin. The memories of childhood and of Levin’s friendship with her dead brother gave a special poetic charm to her relations with him. His love for her, of which she felt certain, was flattering and delightful to her; and it was pleasant for her to think of Levin. In her memories of Vronsky there always entered a certain element of awkwardness, though he was in the highest degree well-bred and at ease, as though there were some false note–not in Vronsky, he was very simple and nice, but in herself, while with Levin she felt perfectly simple and clear. But, on the other hand, directly she thought of the future with Vronsky, there arose before her a perspective of brilliant happiness; with Levin the future seemed misty.
When she went upstairs to dress, and looked into the looking-glass, she noticed with joy that it was one of her good days, and that she was in complete possession of all her forces,–she needed this so for what lay before her: she was conscious of external composure and free grace in her movements.
At half-past seven she had only just gone down into the drawing room, when the footman announced, “Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin.” The princess was still in her room, and the prince had not come in. “So it is to be,” thought Kitty, and all the blood seemed to rush to her heart. She was horrified at her paleness, as she glanced into the looking-glass. At that moment she knew beyond doubt that he had come early on purpose to find her alone and to make her an offer. And only then for the first time the whole thing presented itself in a new, different aspect; only then she realized that the question did not affect her only– with whom she would be happy, and whom she loved–but that she would have that moment to wound a man whom she liked. And to wound him cruelly. What for? Because he, dear fellow, loved her, was in love with her. But there was no help for it, so it must be, so it would have to be.
“My God! shall I myself really have to say it to him?” she thought. “Can I tell him I don’t love him? That will be a lie. What am I to say to him? That I love someone else? No, that’s impossible. I’m going away, I’m going away.”
She had reached the door, when she heard his step. “No! it’s not honest. What have I to be afraid of? I have done nothing wrong. What is to be, will be! I’ll tell the truth. And with him one can’t be ill at ease. Here he is,” she said to herself, seeing his powerful, shy figure, with his shining eyes fixed on her. She looked straight into his face, as thought imploring him to spare her, and gave her hand.
“It’s not time yet; I think I’m too early,” he said glancing round the empty drawing room. When he saw that his expectations were realized, that there was nothing to prevent him from speaking, his face became gloomy.
“Oh, no,” said Kitty, and sat down at the table.
“But this was just what I wanted, to find you alone,” be began, not sitting down, and not looking at her, so as not to lose courage.
“Mamma will be down directly. She was very much tired…. Yesterday…”
She talked on, not knowing what her lips were uttering, and not taking her supplicating and caressing eyes off him.
He glanced at her; she blushed, and ceased speaking.
“I told you I did not know whether I should be here long…that it depended on you…”
She dropped her head lower and lower, not knowing herself what answer she should make to what was coming.
“That it depended on you,” he repeated. “I meant to say…I meant to say…I came for this…to be my wife!” he brought out, not knowing what he was saying; but feeling that the most terrible thing was said, he stopped short and looked at her…
She was breathing heavily, not looking at him. She was feeling ecstasy. Her soul was flooded with happiness. She had never anticipated that the utterance of love would produce such a powerful effect on her. But it lasted only an instant. She remembered Vronsky. She lifted her clear, truthful eyes, and seeing his desperate face, she answered hastily:
“That cannot be…forgive me.”
A moment ago, and how close she had been to him, of what importance in his life! And how aloof and remote from him she had become now!
“It was bound to be so,” he said, not looking at her.
He bowed, and was meaning to retreat.
But at that very moment the princess came in. There was a look of horror on her face when she saw them alone, and their disturbed faces. Levin bowed to her, and said nothing. Kitty did not speak nor lift her eyes. “Thank God, she has refused him,” thought the mother, and her face lighted up with the habitual smile with which she greeted her guests on Thursdays. She sat down and began questioning Levin about his life in the country. He sat down again, waiting for other visitors to arrive, in order to retreat unnoticed.
Five minutes later there came in a friend of Kitty’s, married the preceding winter, Countess Nordston.
She was a thin, sallow, sickly, and nervous woman, with brilliant black eyes. She was fond of Kitty, and her affection for her showed itself, as the affection of married women for girls always does, in the desire to make a match for Kitty after her own ideal of married happiness; she wanted her to marry Vronsky. Levin she had often met at the Shtcherbatskys’ early in the winter, and she had always disliked him. Her invariable and favorite pursuit, when they met, consisted in making fun of him.
“I do like it when he looks down at me from the height of his grandeur, or breaks off his learned conversation with me because I’m a fool, or is condescending to me. I like that so; to see him condescending! I am so glad he can’t bear me,” she used to say of him.
She was right, for Levin actually could not bear her, and despised her for what she was proud of and regarded as a fine characteristic–her nervousness, her delicate contempt and indifference for everything coarse and earthly.
The Countess Nordston and Levin got into that relation with one another not seldom seen in society, when two persons, who remain externally on friendly terms, despise each other to such a degree that they cannot even take each other seriously, and cannot even be offended by each other.
The Countess Nordston pounced upon Levin at once.
“Ah, Konstantin Dmitrievitch! So you’ve come back to our corrupt Babylon,” she said, giving him her tiny, yellow hand, and recalling what he had chanced to say early in the winter, that Moscow was a Babylon. “Come, is Babylon reformed, or have you degenerated?” she added, glancing with a simper at Kitty.
“It’s very flattering for me, countess, that you remember my words so well,” responded Levin, who had succeeded in recovering his composure, and at once from habit dropped into his tone of joking hostility to the Countess Nordston. “They must certainly make a great impression on you.”
“Oh, I should think so! I always note them all down. Well, Kitty, have you been skating again?…
And she began talking to Kitty. Awkward as it was for Levin to withdraw now, it would still have been easier for him to perpetrate this awkwardness than to remain all the evening and see Kitty, who glanced at him now and then and avoided his eyes. He was on the point of getting up, when the princess, noticing that he was silent, addressed him.
“Shall you be long in Moscow? You’re busy with the district council, though, aren’t you, and can’t be away for long?”
“No, princess, I’m no longer a member of the council,” he said. “I have come up for a few days.”
“There’s something the matter with him,” thought Countess Nordston, glancing at his stern, serious face. “He isn’t in his old argumentative mood. But I’ll draw him out. I do love making a fool of him before Kitty, and I’ll do it.”
“Konstantin Dmitrievitch,” she said to him, “do explain to me, please, what’s the meaning of it. You know all about such things. At home in our village of Kaluga all the peasants and all the women have drunk up all they possessed, and now they can’t pay us any rent. What’s the meaning of that? You always praise the peasants so.”
At that instant another lady came into the room, and Levin got up.
“Excuse me, countess, but I really know nothing about it, and can’t tell you anything,” he said, and looked round at the officer who came in behind the lady.
“That must be Vronsky,” thought Levin, and, to be sure of it, glanced at Kitty. She had already had time to look at Vronsky, and looked round at Levin. And simply from the look in her eyes, that grew unconsciously brighter, Levin knew that she loved that man, knew it as surely as if she had told him so in words. But what sort of a man was he? Now, whether for good or for ill, Levin could not choose but remain; he must find out what the man was like whom she loved.
There are people who, on meeting a successful rival, no matter in what, are at once disposed to turn their backs on everything good in him, and to see only what is bad. There are people, on the other hand, who desire above all to find in that lucky rival the qualities by which he has outstripped them, and seek with a throbbing ache at heart only what is good. Levin belonged to the second class. But he had no difficulty in finding what was good and attractive in Vronsky. It was apparent at the first glance. Vronsky was a squarely built, dark man, not very tall, with a good-humored, handsome, and exceedingly calm and resolute face. Everything about his face and figure, from his short-cropped black hair and freshly shaven chin down to his loosely fitting, brand-new uniform, was simple and at the same time elegant. Making way for the lady who had come in, Vronsky went up to the princess and then to Kitty.
As he approached her, his beautiful eyes shone with a specially tender light, and with a faint, happy, and modestly triumphant smile (so it seemed to Levin), bowing carefully and respectfully over her, he held out his small broad hand to her.
Greeting and saying a few words to everyone, he sat down without once glancing at Levin, who had never taken his eyes off him.
“Let me introduce you,” said the princess, indicating Levin. “Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin, Count Alexey Kirillovitch Vronsky.”
Vronsky got up and, looking cordially at Levin, shook hands with him.
“I believe I was to have dined with you this winter,” he said, smiling his simple and open smile; “but you had unexpectedly left for the country.”
“Konstantin Dmitrievitch despises and hates town and us townspeople,” said Countess Nordston.
“My words must make a deep impression on you, since you remember them so well,” said Levin, and suddenly conscious that he had said just the same thing before, he reddened.
Vronsky looked at Levin and Countess Nordston, and smiled.
“Are you always in the country?” he inquired. “I should think it must be dull in the winter.”
“It’s not dull if one has work to do; besides, one’s not dull by oneself,” Levin replied abruptly.
“I am fond of the country,” said Vronsky, noticing, and affecting not to notice, Levin’s tone.
“But I hope, count, you would not consent to live in the country always,” said Countess Nordston.
“I don’t know; I have never tried for long. I experience a queer feeling once,” he went on. “I never longed so for the country, Russian country, with bast shoes and peasants, as when I was spending a winter with my mother in Nice. Nice itself is dull enough, you know. And indeed, Naples and Sorrento are only pleasant for a short time. And it’s just there that Russia comes back to me most vividly, and especially the country. It’s as though…”
He talked on, addressing both Kitty and Levin, turning his serene, friendly eyes from one to the other, and saying obviously just what came into his head.
Noticing that Countess Nordston wanted to say something, he stopped short without finishing what he had begun, and listened attentively to her.
The conversation did not flag for an instant, so that the princess, who always kept in reserve, in case a subject should be lacking, two heavy guns–the relative advantages of classical and of modern education, and universal military service–had not to move out either of them, while Countess Nordston had not a chance of chaffing Levin.
Levin wanted to, and could not, take part in the general conversation; saying to himself every instant, “Now go,” he still did not go, as though waiting for something.
The conversation fell upon table-turning and spirits, and Countess Nordston, who believed in spiritualism, began to describe the marvels she had seen.
“Ah, countess, you really must take me, for pity’s sake do take me to see them! I have never seen anything extraordinary, though I am always on the lookout for it everywhere,” said Vronsky, smiling.
“Very well, next Saturday,” answered Countess Nordston. “But you, Konstantin Dmitrievitch, do you believe in it?” she asked Levin.
“Why do you ask me? You know what I shall say.”
“But I want to hear your opinion.”
“My opinion,” answered Levin, “is only that this table-turning simply proves that educated society–so called–is no higher than the peasants. They believe in the evil eye, and in witchcraft and omens, while we…”
“Oh, then you don’t believe in it?”
“I can’t believe in it, countess.”
“But if I’ve seen it myself?”
“The peasant women too tell us they have seen goblins.”
“Then you think I tell a lie?”
And she laughed a mirthless laugh.
“Oh, no, Masha, Konstantin Dmitrievitch said he could not believe in it,” said Kitty, blushing for Levin, and Levin saw this, and, still more exasperated, would have answered, but Vronsky with his bright frank smile rushed to the support of the conversation, which was threatening to become disagreeable.
“You do not admit the conceivability at all?” he queried. “But why not? We admit the existence of electricity, of which we know nothing. Why should there not be some new force, still unknown to us, which…”
“When electricity was discovered,” Levin interrupted hurriedly, “it was only the phenomenon that was discovered, and it was unknown from what it proceeded and what were its effects, and ages passed before its applications were conceived. But the spiritualists have begun with tables writing for them, and spirits appearing to them, and have only later started saying that it is an unknown force.”
Vronsky listened attentively to Levin, as he always did listen, obviously interested in his words.
“Yes, but the spiritualists say we don’t know at present what this force is, but there is a force, and these are the conditions in which it acts. Let the scientific men find out what the force consists in. Not, I don’t see why there should not be a new force, if it…”
“Why, because with electricity,” Levin interrupted again, “every time you rub tar against wool, a recognized phenomenon is manifested, but in this case it does not happen every time, and so it follows it is not a natural phenomenon.”
Feeling probably that the conversation was taking a tone too serious for a drawing room, Vronsky made no rejoinder, but by way of trying to change the conversation, he smiled brightly, and turned to the ladies.
“Do let us try at once, countess,” he said; but Levin would finish saying what he thought.
“I think,” he went on, “that this attempt of the spiritualists to explain their marvels as some sort of new natural force is most futile. They boldly talk of spiritual force, and then try to subject it to material experiment.”
Every one was waiting for him to finish, and he felt it.
“And I think you would be a first-rate medium,” said Countess Nordston; “there’s something enthusiastic in you.”
Levin opened his mouth, was about to say something, reddened, and said nothing.
“Do let us try table-turning at once, please,” said Vronsky. “Princess, will you allow it?”
And Vronsky stood up, looking for a little table.
Kitty got up to fetch a table, and as she passed, her eyes met Levin’s. She felt for him with her whole heart, the more because she was pitying him for suffering of which she was herself the cause. “If you can forgive me, forgive me,” said her eyes, “I am so happy.”
“I hate them all, and you, and myself,” his eyes responded, and he took up his hat. But he was not destined to escape. Just as they were arranging themselves round the table, and Levin was on the point of retiring, the old prince came in, and after greeting the ladies, addressed Levin.
“Ah!” he began joyously. “Been here long, my boy? I didn’t even know you were in town. Very glad to see you.” The old prince embraced Levin, and talking to him did not observe Vronsky, who had risen, and was serenely waiting till the prince should turn to him.
Kitty felt how distasteful her father’s warmth was to Levin after what had happened. She saw, too, how coldly her father responded at last to Vronsky’s bow, and how Vronsky looked with amiable perplexity at her father, as though trying and failing to understand how and why anyone could be hostilely disposed towards him, and she flushed.
“Prince, let us have Konstantin Dmitrievitch,” said Countess Nordston; “we want to try an experiment.”
“What experiment? Table-turning? Well, you must excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but to my mind it is better fun to play the ring game,” said the old prince, looking at Vronsky, and guessing that it had been his suggestion. “There’s some sense in that, anyway.”
Vronsky looked wonderingly at the prince with his resolute eyes, and, with a faint smile, began immediately talking to Countess Nordston of the great ball that was to come off next week.
“I hope you will be there?” he said to Kitty. As soon as the old prince turned away from him, Levin went out unnoticed, and the last impression he carried away with him of that evening was the smiling, happy face of Kitty answering Vronsky’s inquiry about the ball.
At the end of the evening Kitty told her mother of her conversation with Levin, and in spite of all the pity she felt for Levin, she was glad at the thought that she had received an OFFER. She had no doubt that she had acted rightly. But after she had gone to bed, for a long while she could not sleep. One impression pursued her relentlessly. It was Levin’s face, with his scowling brows, and his kind eyes looking out in dark dejection below them, as he stood listening to her father, and glancing at her and at Vronsky. And she felt so sorry for him that tears came into her eyes. But immediately she thought of the man for whom she had given him up. She vividly recalled his manly, resolute face, his noble self-possession, and the good nature conspicuous in everything towards everyone. She remembered the love for her of the man she loved, and once more all was gladness in her soul, and she lay on the pillow, smiling with happiness. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry; but what could I do? It’s not my fault,” she said to herself; but an inner voice told her something else. Whether she felt remorse at having won Levin’s love, or at having refused him, she did not know. But her happiness was poisoned by doubts. “Lord, have pity on us; Lord, have pity on us; Lord, have pity on us!” she repeated to herself, till she fell asleep.
Meanwhile there took place below, in the prince’s little library, one of the scenes so often repeated between the parents on account of their favorite daughter.
“What? I’ll tell you what!” shouted the prince, waving his arms, and at once wrapping his squirrel-lined dressing-gown round him again. “That you’ve no pride, no dignity; that you’re disgracing, ruining your daughter by this vulgar, stupid match-making!”
“But, really, for mercy’s sake, prince, what have I done?” said the princess, almost crying.
She, pleased and happy after her conversation with her daughter, had gone to the prince to say good-night as usual, and though she had no intention of telling him of Levin’s offer and Kitty’s refusal, still she hinted to her husband that she fancied things were practically settled with Vronsky, and that he would declare himself so soon as his mother arrived. And thereupon, at those words, the prince had all at once flown into a passion, and began to use unseemly language.
“What have you done? I’ll tell you what. First of all, you’re trying to catch an eligible gentleman, and all Moscow will be talking of it, and with good reason. If you have evening parties, invite everyone, don’t pick out the possible suitors. Invite all the young bucks. Engage a piano player, and let them dance, and not as you do things nowadays, hunting up good matches. It makes me sick, sick to see it, and you’ve gone on till you’ve turned the poor wench’s head. Levin’s a thousand times the better man. As for this little Petersburg swell, they’re turned out by machinery, all on one pattern, and all precious rubbish. But if he were a prince of the blood, my daughter need not run after anyone.”
“But what have I done?”
“Why, you’ve…” The prince was crying wrathfully.
“I know if one were to listen to you,” interrupted the princess, “we should never marry our daughter. If it’s to be so, we’d better go into the country.”
“Well, and we had better.”
“But do wait a minute. Do I try and catch them? I don’t try to catch them in the least. A young man, and a very nice one, has fallen in love with her, and she, I fancy…”
“Oh, yes, you fancy! And how if she really is in love, and he’s no more thinking of marriage than I am!… Oh, that I should live to see it! Ah! spiritualism! Ah! Nice! Ah! the ball!” And the prince, imagining that he was mimicking his wife, made a mincing curtsey at each word. “And this is how we’re preparing wretchedness for Kitty; and she’s really got the notion into her head…”
“But what makes you suppose so?”
“I don’t suppose; I know. We have eyes for such things, though women-folk haven’t. I see a man who has serious intentions, that’s Levin: and I see a peacock, like this feather-head, who’s only amusing himself.”
“Oh, well, when once you get an idea into your head!…”
“Well, you’ll remember my words, but too late, just as with Dolly.”
“Well, well, we won’t talk of it,” the princess stopped him, recollecting her unlucky Dolly.
“By all means, and good night!”
And signing each other with the cross, the husband and wife parted with a kiss, feeling that they each remained of their own opinion.
The princess had at first been quite certain that that evening had settled Kitty’s future, and theat there could be no doubt of Vronsky’s intentions, but her husband’s words had disturbed her. And returning to her own room, in terror before the unknown future, she, too, like Kitty, repeated several times in her heart, “Lord, have pity; Lord, have pity; Lord, have pity.”