Anna Karenina (Part Two – Chapter 1-5)
by Leo Toistoy
At the end of the winter, in the Shtcherbatskys’ house, a consultation was being held, which was to pronounce on the state of Kitty’s health and the measures to be taken to restore her failing strength. She had been ill, and as spring came on she grew worse. The family doctor gave her cod liver oil, then iron, then nitrate of silver, but as the first and the second and the third were alike in doing no good, and as his advice when spring came was to go abroad, a celebrated physician was called in. The celebrated physician, a very handsome man, still youngish, asked to examine the patient. He maintained, with peculiar satisfaction, it seemed, that maiden modesty is a mere relic of barbarism, and that nothing could be more natural than for a man still youngish to handle a young girl naked. He thought it natural because he did it every day, and felt and thought, as it seemed to him, no harm as he did it and consequently he considered modesty in the girl not merely as a relic of barbarism, but also as an insult to himself.
There was nothing for it but to submit, since, although all the doctors had studied in the same school, had read the same books, and learned the same science, and though some people said this celebrated doctor was a bad doctor, in the princess’s household and circle it was for some reason accepted that this celebrated doctor alone had some special knowledge, and that he alone could save Kitty. After a careful examination and sounding of the bewildered patient, dazed with shame, the celebrated doctor, having scrupulously washed his hands, was standing in the drawing room talking to the prince. The prince frowned and coughed, listening to the doctor. As a man who had seen something of life, and neither a fool nor an invalid, he had no faith in medicine, and in his heart was furious at the whole farce, specially as he was perhaps the only one who fully comprehended the cause of Kitty’s illness. “Conceited blockhead!” he thought, as he listened to the celebrated doctor’s chatter about his daughter’s symptoms. The doctor was meantime with difficulty restraining the expression of his contempt for this old gentleman, and with difficulty condescending to the level of his intelligence. He perceived that it was no good talking to the old man, and that the principal person in the house was the mother. Before her he decided to scatter his pearls. At that instant the princess came into the drawing room with the family doctor. The prince withdrew, trying not to show how ridiculous he thought the whole performance. The princess was distracted, and did not know what to do. She felt she had sinned against Kitty.
“Well, doctor, decide our fate,” said the princess. “Tell me everything.”
“Is there hope?” she meant to say, but her lips quivered, and she could not utter the question. “Well, doctor?”
“Immediately, princess. I will talk it over with my colleague, And then I will have the honor of laying my opinion before you.”
“So we had better leave you?”
“As you please.”
The princess went out with a sigh.
When the doctors were left alone, the family doctor began timidly explaining his opinion, that there was a commencement of tuberculous trouble, but…and so on. The celebrated doctor listened to him, and in the middle of his sentence looked at his big gold watch.
“Yes,” said he. “But…”
The family doctor respectfully ceased in the middle of his observations.
“The commencement of the tuberculous process we are not, as you are aware, able to define; till there are cavities, there is nothing definite. But we may suspect it. And there are indications; malnutrition, nervous excitability, and so on. The question stands thus: in presence of indications of tuberculous process, what is to be done to maintain nutrition?”
“But, you know, there are always moral, spiritual causes at the back in these cases,” the family doctor permitted himself to interpolate with a subtle smile.
“Yes, that’s an understood thing,” responded the celebrated physician, again glancing at his watch. “Beg pardon, is the Yausky bridge done yet, or shall I have to drive around?” he asked. “Ah! it is. Oh, well, then I can do it in twenty minutes. So we were saying the problem may be put thus: to maintain nutrition and to give tone to the nerves. The one is in close connection with the other, one must attack both sides at once.”
“And how about a tour abroad?” asked the family doctor.
“I’ve no liking for foreign tours. And take note: if there is an early stage of tuberculous process, of which we cannot be certain, a foreign tour will be of no use. What is wanted is means of improving nutrition, and not for lowering it.” And the celebrated doctor expounded his plan of treatment with Soden waters, a remedy obviously prescribed primarily on the ground that they could do no harm.
The family doctor listened attentively and respectfully.
“But in favor of foreign travel I would urge the change of habits, the removal from conditions calling up reminiscences. And then the mother wishes it,” he added.
“Ah! Well, in that case, to be sure, let them go. Only, those German quacks are mischievous…. They ought to be persuaded…. Well, let them go then.”
He glanced once more at his watch.
“Oh! time’s up already,” And he went to the door. The celebrated doctor announced to the princess (a feeling of what was due from him dictated his doing so) that he ought to see the patient once more.
“What! another examination!” cried the mother, with horror.
“Oh, no, only a few details, princess.”
“Come this way.”
And the mother, accompanied by the doctor, went into the drawing room to Kitty. Wasted and flushed, with a peculiar glitter in her eyes, left there by the agony of shame she had been put through, Kitty stood in the middle of the room. When the doctor came in she flushed crimson, and her eyes filled with tears. All her illness and treatment struck her as a thing so stupid, ludicrous even! Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders? But she could not grieve her mother, especially as her mother considered herself to blame.
“May I trouble you to sit down, princess?” the celebrated doctor said to her.
He sat down with a smile, facing her, felt her pulse, and again began asker her tiresome questions. She answered him, and all at once got up, furious.
“Excuse me, doctor, but there is really no object in this. This is the third time you’ve asked me the same thing.”
The celebrated doctor did not take offense.
“Nervous irritability,” he said to the princess, when Kitty had left the room. “However, I had finished…”
And the doctor began scientifically explaining to the princess, as an exceptionally intelligent woman, the condition of the young princess, and concluded by insisting on the drinking of the waters, which were certainly harmless. At the question: Should they go abroad? the doctor plunged into deep meditation, as though resolving a weighty problem. Finally his decision was pronounced: they were to go abroad, but to put no faith in foreign quacks, and to apply to him in any need.
It seemed as though some piece of good fortune had come to pass after the doctor had gone. The mother was much more cheerful when she went back to her daughter, and Kitty pretended to be more cheerful. She had often, almost always, to be pretending now.
“Really, I’m quite well, mamma. But if you want to go abroad, let’s go!” she said, And trying to appear interested in the proposed tour, she began talking of the preparations for the journey.
Soon after the doctor, Dolly had arrived. She knew that there was to be a consultation that day, and though she was only just up after her confinement (she had another baby, a little girl, born at the end of the winter), though she had trouble and anxiety enough of her own, she had left her tiny baby and a sick child, to come and hear Kitty’s fate, which was to be decided that day.
“Well, well?” she said, coming into the drawing room, without taking off her hat. “You’re all in good spirits. Good news, then?”
They tried to tell her what the doctor had said, but it appeared that though the doctor had talked distinctly enough and at great length, it was utterly impossible to report what he had said. The only point of interest was that it was settled they should go abroad.
Dolly could not help sighing. Her dearest friend, her sister, was going away. And her life was not a cheerful one. Her relations with Stepan Arkadyevitch after their reconciliation had become humiliating. The union Anna had cemented turned out to be of no solid character, and family harmony was breaking down again at the same point. There had been nothing definite, but Stepan Arkadyevitch was hardly ever at home; money, too, was hardly ever forthcoming, and Dolly was continually tortured by suspicions of infidelity, which she tried to dismiss, dreading the agonies of jealousy she had been through already. The first onslaught of jealousy, once lived through, could never come back again, and even the discovery of infidelities could never now affect her as it had the first time. Such a discovery now would only mean breaking up family habits, and she let herself be deceived, despising him and still more herself, for the weakness. Besides this, the care of her large family was a constant worry to her: first, the nursing of her young baby did not go well, then the nurse had gone away, now one of the children had fallen ill.
“Well, how are all of you?” asked her mother.
“Ah, mamma, we have plenty of troubles of our own. Lili is ill, And I’m afraid it’s scarlatina. I have come here now to hear about Kitty, And then I shall shut myself up entirely, if–God forbid–it should be scarlatina.”
The old prince too had come in from his study after the doctor’s departure, and after presenting his cheek to Dolly, and saying a few words to her, he turned to his wife:
“How have you settled it? you’re going? Well, and what do you mean to do with me?”
“I suppose you had better stay here, Alexander,” said his wife.
“That’s as you like.”
“Mamma, why shouldn’t father come with us?” said Kitty. “It would be nicer for him and for us too.”
The old prince got up and stroked Kitty’s hair. She lifted her head and looked at them with a forced smile. It always seemed to her that he understood her better than anyone in the family, though he did not say much about her. Being the youngest, she was her father’s favorite, and she fancied that his love gave him insight. When now her glance meet his blue kindly eyes looking intently at her, it seemed to her that he saw right through her, and understood all that was not good that was passing within her. Reddening, she stretched out towards him expecting a kiss, but he only patted her hair and said:
“These stupid chignons! There’s no getting at the real daughter. One simply strokes the bristles of dead women. Well, Dolinka,” he turned to his elder daughter, “what’s your young buck about, hey?”
“Nothing, father,” answered Dolly, understanding that her husband was meant. “He’s always out; I scarcely ever see him,” she could not resist adding with a sarcastic smile.
“Why, hasn’t he gone into the country yet–to see about selling that forest?”
“No, he’s still getting ready for the journey.”
“Oh, that’s it!” said the prince. “And so am I to be getting ready for a journey too? At your service,” he said to his wife, sitting down. “And I tell you what, Katia,” he went on to his younger daughter, “you must wake up one fine day and say to yourself: Why, I’m quite well, and merry, and going out again with father for an early morning walk in the frost. Hey?”
What her father said seemed simple enough, yet at these words Kitty became confused and overcome like a detected criminal. “Yes, he sees it all, he understands it all, and in these words he’s telling me that though I’m ashamed, I must get over my shame.” She could not pluck up spirit to make any answer. She tried to begin, and all at once burst into tears, and rushed out of the room.
“See what comes of your jokes!” the princess pounced down on her husband. “You’re always…” she began a string of reproaches.
The prince listened to the princess’s scolding rather a long while without speaking, but his face was more and more frowning.
“She’s so much to be pitied, poor child, so much to be pitied, and you don’t feel how it hurts her to hear the slightest reference to the cause of it. Ah! to be so mistaken in people!” said the princess, and by the change in her tone both Dolly and the prince knew she was speaking of Vronsky. “I don’t know why there aren’t laws against such base, dishonorable people.”
“Ah, I can’t bear to hear you!” said the prince gloomily, getting up from his low chair, and seeming anxious to get away, yet stopping in the doorway. “There are laws, madam, and since you’ve challenged me to it, I’ll tell you who’s to blame for it all: you and you, you and nobody else. Laws against such young gallants there have always been, and there still are! Yes, if there has been nothing that ought not to have been, old as I am, I’d have called him out to the barrier, the young dandy. Yes, and now you physic her and call in these quacks.”
The prince apparently had plenty more to say, but as soon as the princess heard his tone she subsided at once, and became penitent, as she always did on serious occasions.
“Alexander, Alexander,” she whispered, moving to him and beginning to weep.
As soon as she began to cry the prince too calmed down. He went up to her.
“There, that’s enough, that’s enough! You’re wretched too, I know. It can’t be helped. There’s no great harm done. God is merciful…thanks…” he said, not knowing what he was saying, as he responded to the tearful kiss of the princess that he felt on his hand. And the prince went out of the room.
Before this, as soon as Kitty went out of the room in tears, Dolly, with her motherly, family instincts, had promptly perceived that here a woman’s work lay before her, and she prepared to do it. She took of her hat, and, morally speaking, tucked up her sleeves and prepared for action. While her mother was attacking her father, she tried to restrain her mother, so far as filial reverence would allow. During the prince’s outburst she was silent; she felt ashamed for her mother, and tender towards her father for so quickly being kind again. But when her father left them she made ready for what was the chief thing needful–to go to Kitty and console her.
“I’d been meaning to tell you something for a long while, mamma: did you know that Levin meant to make Kitty an offer when he was here the last time? He told Stiva so.”
“Well, what then? I don’t understand…”
“So did Kitty perhaps refuse him?… She didn’t tell you so?”
“No, she has said nothing to me either of one or the other; she’s too proud. But I know it’s all on account of the other.”
“Yes, but suppose she has refused Levin, and she wouldn’t have refused him if it hadn’t been for the other, I know. And then, he has deceived her so horribly.”
It was too terrible for the princess to think how she had sinned against her daughter, and she broke out angrily.
“Oh, I really don’t understand! Nowadays they will all go their own way, and mothers haven’t a word to say in anything, and then…”
“Mamma, I’ll go up to her.”
“Well, do. Did I tell you not to?” said her mother.
When she went into Kitty’s little room, a pretty, pink little room, full of knick-knacks in vieux saxe, as fresh, and pink, and white, and gay as Kitty herself had been two months ago, Dolly remembered how they had decorated the room the year before together, with what love and gaiety. Her heart turned cold when she saw Kitty sitting on a low chair near the door, her eyes fixed immovably on a corner of the rug. Kitty glanced at her sister, and the cold, rather ill-tempered expression of her face did not change.
“I’m just going now, and I shall have to keep in and you won’t be able to come to see me,” said Dolly, sitting down beside her. “I want to talk to you.”
“What about?” Kitty asked swiftly, lifting her head in dismay.
“What should it be, but your trouble?”
“I have no trouble.”
“Nonsense, Kitty. Do you suppose I could help knowing? I know all about it. And believe me, it’s of so little consequence…. We’ve all been through it.”
Kitty did not speak, And her face had a stern expression.
“He’s not worth your grieving over him,” pursued Darya Alexandrovna, coming straight to the point.
“No, because he has treated me with contempt,” said Kitty, in a breaking voice. “Don’t talk of it! Please, don’t talk of it!”
“But who can have told you so? No one has said that. I’m certain he was in love with you, and would still be in love with you, if it hadn’t…
“Oh, the most awful thing of all for me is this sympathizing!” shrieked Kitty, suddenly flying into a passion. She turned round on her chair, flushed crimson, and rapidly moving her fingers, pinched the clasp of her belt first with one hand and then with the other. Dolly knew this trick her sister had of clenching her hands when she was much excited; she knew, too, that in moments of excitement Kitty was capable of forgetting herself and saying a great deal too much, and Dolly would have soothed her, but it was too late.
“What, what is it you want to make me feel, eh?” said Kitty quickly. “That I’ve been in love with a man who didn’t care a straw for me, And that I’m dying of love for him? And this is said to me by my own sister, who imagines that…that…that she’s sympathizing with me!…I don’t want these condolences And his humbug!”
“Kitty, you’re unjust.”
“Why are you tormenting me?”
“But I…quite the contrary…I see you’re unhappy…”
But Kitty in her fury did not hear her.
“I’ve nothing to grieve over and be comforted about. I am too proud ever to allow myself to care for a man who does not love me.”
“Yes, I don’t say so either…. Only one thing. Tell me the truth,” said Darya Alexandrovna, taking her by the hand: “tell me, did Levin speak to you?…”
The mention of Levin’s name seemed to deprive Kitty of the last vestige of self-control. She leaped up from her chair, and flinging her clasp on the ground, she gesticulated rapidly with her hands and said:
“Why bring Levin in too? I can’t understand what you want to torment me for. I’ve told you, And I say it again, that I have some pride, and never, NEVER would I do as you’re doing–go back to a man who’s deceived you, who has cared for another woman. I can’t understand it! You may, but I can’t!”
And saying these words she glanced at her sister, and seeing that Dolly sat silent, her head mournfully bowed, Kitty, instead of running out of the room as she had meant to do, sat down near the door, and hid her face in her handkerchief.
The silence lasted for two minutes: Dolly was thinking of herself. That humiliation of which she was always conscious came back to her with a peculiar bitterness when her sister reminded her of it. She had not looked for such cruelty in her sister, and she was angry with her. But suddenly she heard the rustle of a skirt, and with it the sound of heart-rending, smothered sobbing, and felt arms about her neck. Kitty was on her knees before her.
“Dolinka, I am so, so wretched!” she whispered penitently. And the sweet face covered with tears hid itself in Darya Alexandrovna’s skirt.
As though tears were the indispensable oil, without which the machinery of mutual confidence could not run smoothly between the two sisters, the sisters after their tears talked, not of what was uppermost in their minds, but, though they talked of outside matters, they understood each other. Kitty knew that the words she had uttered in anger about her husband’s infidelity and her humiliating position had cut her poor sister to the heart, but that she had forgiven her. Dolly for her part knew all she had wanted to find out. She felt certain that her surmises were correct; that Kitty’s misery, her inconsolable misery, was due precisely to the fact that Levin had made her an offer and she had refused him, and Vronsky had deceived her, and that she was fully prepared to love Levin and to detest Vronsky. Kitty said not a word of that; she talked of nothing but her spiritual condition.
“I have nothing to make me miserable,” she said, getting calmer; “but can you understand that everything has become hateful, loathsome, coarse to me, and I myself most of all? You can’t imagine what loathsome thoughts I have about everything.”
“Why, whatever loathsome thoughts can you have?” asked Dolly, smiling.
“The most utterly loathsome and coarse: I can’t tell you. It’s not unhappiness, or low spirits, but much worse. As though everything that was good in me was all hidden away, and nothing was left but the most loathsome. Come, how am I to tell you?” she went on, seeing the puzzled look in her sister’s eyes. “Father began saying something to me just now…. It seems to me he thinks all I want is to be married. Mother takes me to a ball: it seems to me she only takes me to get me married off as soon as may be, and be rid of me. I know it’s not the truth, but I can’t drive away such thoughts. Eligible suitors, as they call them–I can’t bear to see them. It seems to me they’re taking stock of me and summing me up. In old days to go anywhere in a ball dress was a simple joy to me, I admired myself; now I feel ashamed and awkward. And then! The doctor…. Then…” Kitty hesitated; she wanted to say further that ever since this change had taken place in her, Stepan Arkadyevitch had become insufferably repulsive to her, and that she could not see him without the grossest and most hideous conceptions rising before her imagination.
“Oh, well, everything presents itself to me, in the coarsest, most loathsome light,” she went on. “That’s my illness. Perhaps it will pass off.”
“But you mustn’t think about it.”
“I can’t help it. I’m never happy except with the children at your house.”
“What a pity you can’t be with me!”
“Oh, yes, I’m coming. I’ve had scarlatina, and I’ll persuade mamma to let me.”
Kitty insisted on having her way, and went to stay at her sister’s and nursed the children all through the scarlatina, for scarlatina it turned out to be. The two sisters brought all the six children successfully through it, but Kitty was no better in health, and in Lent the Shtcherbatskys went abroad.
The highest Petersburg society is essentially one: in it everyone knows everyone else, everyone even visits everyone else. But this great set has its subdivisions. Anna Arkadyevna Karenina had friends and close ties in three different circles of this highest society. One circle was her husband’s government official set, consisting of his colleagues and subordinates, brought together in the most various and capricious manner, and belonging to different social strata. Anna found it difficult now to recall the feeling of almost awe-stricken reverence which she had at first entertained for these persons. Now she knew all of them as people know one another in a country town; she knew their habits and weaknesses, and where the shoe pinched each one of them. She knew their relations with one another and with the head authorities, knew who was for whom, and how each one maintained his position, and where they agreed and disagreed. But the circle of political, masculine interests had never interested her, in spite of countess Kidia Ivanovna’s influence, and she avoided it.
Another little set with which Anna was in close relations was the one by means of which Alexey Alexandrovitch had made his career. The center of this circle was the Countess Lidia Ivanovna. It was a set made up of elderly, ugly, benevolent, and godly women, and clever, learned, and ambitious men. One of the clever people belonging to the set had called it “the conscience of Petersburg society.” Alexey Alexandrovitch had the highest esteem for this circle, and Anna with her special gift for getting on with everyone, had in the early days of her life in Petersburg made friends in this circle also. Now, since her return from Moscow, she had come to feel this set insufferable. It seemed to her that both she and all of them were insincere, and she fell so bored and ill at ease in that world that she went to see the Countess Lidia Ivanovna as little as possible.
The third circle with which Anna had ties was preeminently the fashionable world–the world of balls, of dinners, of sumptuous dresses, the world that hung on to the court with one hand, so as to avoid sinking to the level of the demi-monde. For the demi-monde the members of that fashionable world believed that they despised, though their tastes were not merely similar, but in fact identical. Her connection with this circle was kept up through Princess Betsy Tverskaya, her cousin’s wife, who had an income of a hundred and twenty thousand roubles, and who had taken a great fancy to Anna ever since she first came out, showed her much attention, and drew her into her set, making fun of Countess Kidia Ivanovna’s coterie.
“When I’m old and ugly I’ll be the same,” Betsy used to say; “but for a pretty young woman like you it’s early days for that house of charity.”
Anna had at first avoided as far as she could Princess Tverskaya’s world, because it necessitated an expenditure beyond her means, and besides in her heart she preferred the first circle. But since her visit to Moscow she had done quite the contrary. She avoided her serious-minded friends, and went out into the fashionable world. There she met Vronsky, and experienced an agitating joy at those meetings. She met Vronsky specially often at Betsy’s for Betsy was a Vronsky by birth and his cousin. Vronsky was everywhere where he had any chance of meeting Anna, and speaking to her, when he could, of his love. She gave him no encouragement, but every time she met him there surged up in her heart that same feeling of quickened life that had come upon her that day in the railway carriage when she saw him for the first time. She was conscious herself that her delight sparkled in her eyes and curved her lips into a smile, and she could not quench the expression of this delight.
At first Anna sincerely believed that she was displeased with him for daring to pursue her. Soon after her return from Moscow, on arriving at a soiree where she had expected to meet him, and not finding him there, she realized distinctly from the rush of disappointment that she had been deceiving herself, and that this pursuit was not merely not distasteful to her, but that it made the whole interest of her life.
A celebrated singer was singing for the second time, and all the fashionable world was in the theater. Vronsky, seeing his cousin from his stall in the front row, did not wait till the entr’acte, but went to her box.
“Why didn’t you come to dinner?” she said to him. “I marvel at the second sight of lovers,” she added with a smile, so that no one but he could hear; “SHE WASN’T THERE. But come after the opera.”
Vronsky looked inquiringly at her. She nodded. He thanked her by a smile, and sat down beside her.
“But how I remember your jeers!” continued Princess Betsy, who took a peculiar pleasure in following up this passion to a successful issue. “What’s become of all that? You’re caught, my dear boy.”
“That’s my one desire, to be caught,” answered Vronsky, with his serene, good-humored smile. “If I complain of anything it’s only that I’m not caught enough, to tell the truth. I begin to lose hope.”
“Why, whatever hope can you have?” said Betsy, offended on behalf of her friend. “Enendons nous….” But in her eyes there were gleams of light that betrayed that she understood perfectly and precisely as he did what hope he might have.
“None whatever,” said Vronsky, laughing and showing his even rows of teeth. “Excuse me,” he added, taking an opera glass out of her hand, and proceeding to scrutinize, over her bare shoulder, the row of boxes facing them. “I’m afraid I’m becoming ridiculous.”
He was very well aware that he ran no risk of being ridiculous in the eyes of Betsy or any other fashionable people. He was very well aware that in their eyes the position of an unsuccessful lover of a girl, or of any woman free to marry, might be ridiculous. But the position of a man pursuing a married woman, and, regardless of everything, staking his life on drawing her into adultery, has something fine and grand about it, and can never be ridiculous; and so it was with a proud and gay smile under his mustaches that he lowered the opera glass and looked at his cousin.
“But why was it you didn’t come to dinner?” she said, admiring him.
“I must tell you about that. I was busily employed, and doing what, do you suppose? I’ll give you a hundred guesses, a thousand…you’d never guess. I’ve been reconciling a husband with a man who’d insulted his wife. Yes, really!”
“Well, did you succeed?”
“You really must tell me about it,” she said, getting up. “Come to me in the next entr’acte.”
“I can’t; I’m going to the French theater.”
“From Nilsson?” Betsy queried in horror, though she could not herself have distinguished Nilsson’s voice from any chorus girl’s.
“Can’t help it. I’ve an appointment there, all to do with my mission of peace.”
” Blessed are the peacemakers; theirs is the kingdom of heaven,'” said Betsy, vaguely recollecting she had heard some similar saying from someone. “Very well, then, sit down, and tell me what it’s all about.”
And she sat down again.
“This is rather indiscreet, but it’s so good it’s an awful temptation to tell the story,” said Vronsky, looking at her with his laughing eyes. “I’m not going to mention any names.”
“But I shall guess, so much the better.”
“Well, listen: two festive young men were driving-”
“Officers of your regiment, of course?”
“I didn’t say they were officers,–two young men who had been lunching.”
“In other words, drinking.”
“Possibly. They were driving on their way to dinner with a friend in the most festive state of mind. And they beheld a pretty woman in a hired sledge; she overtakes them, looks round at them, and, so they fancy anyway, nods to them and laughs. They, of course, follow her. They gallop at full speed. To their amazement, the fair one alights at the entrance of the very house to which they were going. The fair one darts upstairs to the top story. They get a glimpse of red lips under a short veil, and exquisite little feet.”
“You describe it with such feeling that I fancy you must be one of the two.”
“And after what you said, just now! Well, the young men go in to their comrade’s; he was giving a farewell dinner. There they certainly did drink a little too much, as one always does at farewell dinners. And at dinner they inquire who lives at the top in that house. No one knows; only their host’s valet, in answer to their inquiry whether any ‘young ladies’ are living on the top floor, answered that there were a great many of them about there. After dinner the two young men go into their host’s study, and write a letter to the unknown fair one. They compose an ardent epistle, a declaration in fact, and they carry the letter upstairs themselves, so as to elucidate whatever might appear not perfectly intelligible in the letter.”
“Why are you telling me these horrible stories? Well?”
“They ring. A maidservant opens the door, they hand her the letter, and assure the maid that they’re both so in love that they’ll die on the spot at the door. The maid, stupefied, carries in their messages. All at once a gentleman appears with whiskers like sausages, as red as a lobster, announces that there is no one living in the flat except his wife, and sends them both about their business.”
“How do you know he had whiskers like sausages, as you say?”
“Ah, you shall hear. I’ve just been to make peace between them.”
“Well, and what then?”
“That’s the most interesting part of the story. It appears that it’s a happy couple, a government clerk and his lady. The government clerk lodges a complaint, and I became a mediator, and such a mediator!… I assure you Talleyrand couldn’t hold a candle to me.”
“Why, where was the difficulty?”
“Ah, you shall hear…. We apologize in due form: we are in despair, we entreat forgiveness for the unfortunate misunderstanding. The government clerk with the sausages begins to melt, but he, too, desires to express his sentiments, and as soon as ever he begins to express them, he begins to get hot and say nasty things, and again I’m obliged to trot out all my diplomatic talents. I allowed that their conduct was bad, but I urged him to take into consideration their heedlessness, their youth; then, too, the young men had only just been lunching together. ‘You understand. They regret it deeply, and beg you to overlook their misbehavior.’ The government clerk was softened once more. ‘I consent, count, and am ready to overlook it; but you perceive that my wife–my wife’s a respectable woman –his been exposed to the persecution, and insults, and effrontery of young upstarts, scoundrels….’ And you must understand, the young upstarts are present all the while, and I have to keep the peace between them. Again I call out all my diplomacy, and again as soon as the thing was about at an end, our friend the government clerk gets hot and red, and his sausages stand on end with wrath, and once more I launch out into diplomatic wiles.”
“Ah, he must tell you this story!” said Betsy, laughing, to a lady to came into her box. “He has been making me laugh so.”
“Well, bonne chance!” she added, giving Vronsky one finger of the hand in which she held her fan, and with a shrug of her shoulders she twitched down the bodice of her gown that had worked up, so as to be duly naked as she moved forward towards the footlights into the light of the gas, and the sight of all eyes.
Vronsky drove to the French theater, where he really had to see the colonel of his regiment, who never missed a single performance there. He wanted to see him, to report on the result of his mediation, which had occupied and amused him for the last three days. Petritsky, whom he liked, was implicated in the affair, and the other culprit was a capital fellow and first-rate comrade, who had lately joined the regiment, the young Prince Kedrov. And what was most important, the interests of the regiment were involved in it too.
Both the young men were in Vronsky’s company. The colonel of the regiment was waited upon by the government clerk, Venden, with a complaint against his officers, who had insulted his wife. His young wife, so Venden told the story–he had been married half a year–was at church with her mother, and suddenly overcome by indisposition, arising from her interesting condition, she could not remain standing, she drove home in the first sledge, a smart-looking one, she came across. On the spot the officers set off in pursuit of her; she was alarmed, and feeling still more unwell, ran up the staircase home. Venden himself, on returning from his office, heard a ring at their bell and voices, went out, and seeing the intoxicated officers with a letter, he had turned them out. He asked for exemplary punishment.
“Yes, it’s all very well,” said the colonel to Vronsky, whom he had invited to come and see him. “Petritsky’s becoming impossible. Not a week goes by without some scandal. This government clerk won’t let it drop, he’ll go on with the thing.”
Vronsky saw all the thanklessness of the business, and that there could be no question of a duel in it, that everything must be done to soften the government clerk, and hush the matter up. The colonel had called in Vronsky just because he knew him to be an honorable and intelligent man, and, more than all, a man who cared for the honor of the regiment. They talked it over, and decided that Petritsky and Kedrov must go with Vronsky to Venden’s to apologize. The colonel and Vronsky were both fully aware that Vronsky’s name and rank would be sure to contribute greatly to softening of the injured husband’s feelings.
And these two influences were not in fact without effect; though the result remained, as Vronsky had described, uncertain.
On reaching the French theater, Vronsky retired to the foyer with the colonel, and reported to him his success, or non-success. The colonel, thinking it all over, made up his mind not to pursue the matter further, but then for his own satisfaction proceeded to cross-examine Vronsky about his interview; and it was a long while before he could restrain his laughter, as Vronsky described how the government clerk, after subsiding for a while, would suddenly flare up again, as he recalled the details, and how Vronsky, at the last half word of conciliation, skillfully maneuvered a retreat, shoving Petritsky out before him.
“It’s a disgraceful story, but killing. Kedrov really can’t fight the gentleman! Was he so awfully hot?” he commented, laughing. “But what do you say to Claire today? She’s marvelous,” he went on, speaking of a new French actress. “However often you see her, every day she’s different. It’s only the French who can to that.”