FictionForest

PART SIX : Chapter 22

Leo TolstoyAug 25, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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When Anna found Dolly at home before
her, she looked intently in her eyes, as though questioning
her about the talk she had had with Vronsky, but she
made no inquiry in words.

“I believe it’s dinner
time,” she said.  “We’ve not
seen each other at all yet.  I am reckoning on
the evening.  Now I want to go and dress. 
I expect you do too; we all got splashed at the buildings.”

Dolly went to her room and she felt
amused.  To change her dress was impossible,
for she had already put on her best dress.  But
in order to signify in some way her preparation for
dinner, she asked the maid to brush her dress, changed
her cuffs and tie, and put some lace on her head.

“This is all I can do,”
she said with a smile to Anna, who came in to her
in a third dress, again of extreme simplicity.

“Yes, we are too formal here,”
she said, as it were apologizing for her magnificence. 
“Alexey is delighted at your visit, as he rarely
is at anything.  He has completely lost his heart
to you,” she added.  “You’re
not tired?”

There was no time for talking about
anything before dinner.  Going into the drawing
room they found Princess Varvara already there, and
the gentlemen of the party in black frock-coats. 
The architect wore a swallow-tail coat.  Vronsky
presented the doctor and the steward to his guest. 
The architect he had already introduced to her at
the hospital.

A stout butler, resplendent with a
smoothly shaven round chin and a starched white cravat,
announced that dinner was ready, and the ladies got
up.  Vronsky asked Sviazhsky to take in Anna
Arkadyevna, and himself offered his arm to Dolly. 
Veslovsky was before Tushkevitch in offering his
arm to Princess Varvara, so that Tushkevitch with
the steward and the doctor walked in alone.

The dinner, the dining room, the service,
the waiting at table, the wine, and the food, were
not simply in keeping with the general tone of modern
luxury throughout all the house, but seemed even more
sumptuous and modern.  Darya Alexandrovna watched
this luxury which was novel to her, and as a good
housekeeper used to managing a household ­although
she never dreamed of adapting anything she saw to
her own household, as it was all in a style of luxury
far above her own manner of living ­she
could not help scrutinizing every detail, and wondering
how and by whom it was all done.  Vassenka Veslovsky,
her husband, and even Sviazhsky, and many other people
she knew, would never have considered this question,
and would have readily believed what every well-bred
host tries to make his guests feel, that is, that
all that is well-ordered in his house has cost him,
the host, no trouble whatever, but comes of itself. 
Darya Alexandrovna was well aware that even porridge
for the children’s breakfast does not come of
itself, and that therefore, where so complicated and
magnificent a style of luxury was maintained, someone
must give earnest attention to its organization. 
And from the glance with which Alexey Kirillovitch
scanned the table, from the way he nodded to the butler,
and offered Darya Alexandrovna her choice between
cold soup and hot soup, she saw that it was all organized
and maintained by the care of the master of the house
himself.  It was evident that it all rested no
more upon Anna than upon Veslovsky.  She, Sviazhsky,
the princess, and Veslovsky, were equally guests,
with light hearts enjoying what had been arranged
for them.

Anna was the hostess only in conducting
the conversation.  The conversation was a difficult
one for the lady of the house at a small table with
persons present, like the steward and the architect,
belonging to a completely different world, struggling
not to be overawed by an elegance to which they were
unaccustomed, and unable to sustain a large share in
the general conversation.  But this difficult
conversation Anna directed with her usual tact and
naturalness, and indeed she did so with actual enjoyment,
as Darya Alexandrovna observed.  The conversation
began about the row Tushkevitch and Veslovsky had taken
alone together in the boat, and Tushkevitch began
describing the last boat races in Petersburg at the
Yacht Club.  But Anna, seizing the first pause,
at once turned to the architect to draw him out of
his silence.

“Nikolay Ivanitch was struck,”
she said, meaning Sviazhsky, “at the progress
the new building had made since he was here last;
but I am there every day, and every day I wonder at
the rate at which it grows.”

“It’s first-rate working
with his excellency,” said the architect with
a smile (he was respectful and composed, though with
a sense of his own dignity).  “It’s
a very different matter to have to do with the district
authorities.  Where one would have to write out
sheaves of papers, here I call upon the count, and
in three words we settle the business.”

“The American way of doing business,”
said Sviazhsky, with a smile.

“Yes, there they build in a rational fashion…”

The conversation passed to the misuse
of political power in the United States, but Anna
quickly brought it round to another topic, so as to
draw the steward into talk.

“Have you ever seen a reaping
machine?” she said, addressing Darya Alexandrovna. 
“We had just ridden over to look at one when
we met.  It’s the first time I ever saw
one.”

“How do they work?” asked Dolly.

“Exactly like little scissors. 
A plank and a lot of little scissors.  Like
this.”

Anna took a knife and fork in her
beautiful white hands covered with rings, and began
showing how the machine worked.  It was clear
that she saw nothing would be understood from her
explanation; but aware that her talk was pleasant and
her hands beautiful she went on explaining.

“More like little penknives,”
Veslovsky said playfully, never taking his eyes off
her.

Anna gave a just perceptible smile,
but made no answer.  “Isn’t it true,
Karl Fedoritch, that it’s just like little scissors?”
she said to the steward.

Oh, ja,” answered
the German. “Es it ein ganz einfaches Ding,”
and he began to explain the construction of the machine.

“It’s a pity it doesn’t
bind too.  I saw one at the Vienna exhibition,
which binds with a wire,” said Sviazhsky. 
“They would be more profitable in use.”

“Es kommt drauf an….  Der
Preis vom Draht muss ausgerechnet werden.”
And
the German, roused from his taciturnity, turned to
Vronsky. “Das laesst sich ausrechnen, Erlaucht.”
The German was just feeling in the pocket where were
his pencil and the notebook he always wrote in, but
recollecting that he was at a dinner, and observing
Vronsky’s chilly glance, he checked himself.
“Zu compliziert, macht zu viel Klopot,” he
concluded.

“Wuenscht man Dochots, so hat man
auch Klopots,”
said Vassenka Veslovsky, mimicking
the German. “J’adore l’allemand,”
he addressed Anna again with the same smile.

“Cessez,” she said with playful severity.

“We expected to find you in
the fields, Vassily Semyonitch,” she said to
the doctor, a sickly-looking man; “have you been
there?”

“I went there, but I had taken
flight,” the doctor answered with gloomy jocoseness.

“Then you’ve taken a good constitutional?”

“Splendid!”

“Well, and how was the old woman?  I hope
it’s not typhus?”

“Typhus it is not, but it’s taking a bad
turn.”

“What a pity!” said Anna,
and having thus paid the dues of civility to her domestic
circle, she turned to her own friends.

“It would be a hard task, though,
to construct a machine from your description, Anna
Arkadyevna,” Sviazhsky said jestingly.

“Oh, no, why so?” said
Anna with a smile that betrayed that she knew there
was something charming in her disquisitions upon the
machine that had been noticed by Sviazhsky.  This
new trait of girlish coquettishness made an unpleasant
impression on Dolly.

“But Anna Arkadyevna’s
knowledge of architecture is marvelous,” said
Tushkevitch.

“To be sure, I heard Anna Arkadyevna
talking yesterday about plinths and damp-courses,”
said Veslovsky.  “Have I got it right?”

“There’s nothing marvelous
about it, when one sees and hears so much of it,”
said Anna.  “But, I dare say, you don’t
even know what houses are made of?”

Darya Alexandrovna saw that Anna disliked
the tone of raillery that existed between her and
Veslovsky, but fell in with it against her will.

Vronsky acted in this matter quite
differently from Levin.  He obviously attached
no significance to Veslovsky’s chattering; on
the contrary, he encouraged his jests.

“Come now, tell us, Veslovsky,
how are the stones held together?”

“By cement, of course.”

“Bravo!  And what is cement?”

“Oh, some sort of paste…no,
putty,” said Veslovsky, raising a general laugh.

The company at dinner, with the exception
of the doctor, the architect, and the steward, who
remained plunged in gloomy silence, kept up a conversation
that never paused, glancing off one subject, fastening
on another, and at times stinging one or the other
to the quick.  Once Darya Alexandrovna felt wounded
to the quick, and got so hot that she positively flushed
and wondered afterwards whether she had said anything
extreme or unpleasant.  Sviazhsky began talking
of Levin, describing his strange view that machinery
is simply pernicious in its effects on Russian agriculture.

“I have not the pleasure of
knowing this M. Levin,” Vronsky said, smiling,
“but most likely he has never seen the machines
he condemns; or if he has seen and tried any, it must
have been after a queer fashion, some Russian imitation,
not a machine from abroad.  What sort of views
can anyone have on such a subject?”

“Turkish views, in general,”
Veslovsky said, turning to Anna with a smile.

“I can’t defend his opinions,”
Darya Alexandrovna said, firing up; “but I can
say that he’s a highly cultivated man, and if
he were here he would know very well how to answer
you, though I am not capable of doing so.”

“I like him extremely, and we
are great friends,” Sviazhsky said, smiling
good-naturedly. “Mais pardon, il est un petit
peu toque;
he maintains, for instance, that district
councils and arbitration boards are all of no use,
and he is unwilling to take part in anything.”

“It’s our Russian apathy,”
said Vronsky, pouring water from an iced decanter
into a delicate glass on a high stem; “we’ve
no sense of the duties our privileges impose upon
us, and so we refuse to recognize these duties.”

“I know no man more strict in
the performance of his duties,” said Darya Alexandrovna,
irritated by Vronsky’s tone of superiority.

“For my part,” pursued
Vronsky, who was evidently for some reason or other
keenly affected by this conversation, “such as
I am, I am, on the contrary, extremely grateful for
the honor they have done me, thanks to Nikolay Ivanitch”
(he indicated Sviazhsky), “in electing me a
justice of the peace.  I consider that for me
the duty of being present at the session, of judging
some peasants’ quarrel about a horse, is as
important as anything I can do.  And I shall
regard it as an honor if they elect me for the district
council.  It’s only in that way I can pay
for the advantages I enjoy as a landowner.  Unluckily
they don’t understand the weight that the big
landowners ought to have in the state.”

It was strange to Darya Alexandrovna
to hear how serenely confident he was of being right
at his own table.  She thought how Levin, who
believed the opposite, was just as positive in his
opinions at his own table.  But she loved Levin,
and so she was on his side.

“So we can reckon upon you,
count, for the coming elections?” said Sviazhsky. 
“But you must come a little beforehand, so as
to be on the spot by the eighth.  If you would
do me the honor to stop with me.”

“I rather agree with your beaufrère,”
said Anna, “though not quite on the same ground
as he,” she added with a smile.  “I’m
afraid that we have too many of these public duties
in these latter days.  Just as in old days there
were so many government functionaries that one had
to call in a functionary for every single thing, so
now everyone’s doing some sort of public duty. 
Alexey has been here now six months, and he’s
a member, I do believe, of five or six different public
bodies. Du train que cela va, the whole time
will be wasted on it.  And I’m afraid that
with such a multiplicity of these bodies, they’ll
end in being a mere form.  How many are you a
member of, Nikolay Ivanitch?” she turned to
Sviazhsky ­“over twenty, I fancy.”

Anna spoke lightly, but irritation
could be discerned in her tone.  Darya Alexandrovna,
watching Anna and Vronsky attentively, detected it
instantly.  She noticed, too, that as she spoke
Vronsky’s face had immediately taken a serious
and obstinate expression.  Noticing this, and
that Princess Varvara at once made haste to change
the conversation by talking of Petersburg acquaintances,
and remembering what Vronsky had without apparent
connection said in the garden of his work in the country,
Dolly surmised that this question of public activity
was connected with some deep private disagreement
between Anna and Vronsky.

The dinner, the wine, the decoration
of the table were all very good; but it was all like
what Darya Alexandrovna had seen at formal dinners
and balls which of late years had become quite unfamiliar
to her; it all had the same impersonal and constrained
character, and so on an ordinary day and in a little
circle of friends it made a disagreeable impression
on her.

After dinner they sat on the terrace,
then they proceeded to play lawn tennis.  The
players, divided into two parties, stood on opposite
sides of a tightly drawn net with gilt poles on the
carefully leveled and rolled croquet-ground. 
Darya Alexandrovna made an attempt to play, but it
was a long time before she could understand the game,
and by the time she did understand it, she was so
tired that she sat down with Princess Varvara and simply
looked on at the players.  Her partner, Tushkevitch,
gave up playing too, but the others kept the game
up for a long time.  Sviazhsky and Vronsky both
played very well and seriously.  They kept a
sharp lookout on the balls served to them, and without
haste or getting in each other’s way, they ran
adroitly up to them, waited for the rebound, and neatly
and accurately returned them over the net.  Veslovsky
played worse than the others.  He was too eager,
but he kept the players lively with his high spirits. 
His laughter and outcries never paused.  Like
the other men of the party, with the ladies’
permission, he took off his coat, and his solid, comely
figure in his white shirt-sleeves, with his red perspiring
face and his impulsive movements, made a picture that
imprinted itself vividly on the memory.

When Darya Alexandrovna lay in bed
that night, as soon as she closed her eyes, she saw
Vassenka Veslovsky flying about the croquet ground.

During the game Darya Alexandrovna
was not enjoying herself.  She did not like the
light tone of raillery that was kept up all the time
between Vassenka Veslovsky and Anna, and the unnaturalness
altogether of grown-up people, all alone without children,
playing at a child’s game.  But to avoid
breaking up the party and to get through the time
somehow, after a rest she joined the game again, and
pretended to be enjoying it.  All that day it
seemed to her as though she were acting in a theater
with actors cleverer than she, and that her bad acting
was spoiling the whole performance.  She had
come with the intention of staying two days, if all
went well.  But in the evening, during the game,
she made up her mind that she would go home next day. 
The maternal cares and worries, which she had so
hated on the way, now, after a day spent without them,
struck her in quite another light, and tempted her
back to them.

When, after evening tea and a row
by night in the boat, Darya Alexandrovna went alone
to her room, took off her dress, and began arranging
her thin hair for the night, she had a great sense
of relief.

It was positively disagreeable to
her to think that Anna was coming to see her immediately. 
She longed to be alone with her own thoughts.

 

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