FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 4

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

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Lvov, the husband of Natalia, Kitty’s
sister, had spent all his life in foreign capitals,
where he had been educated, and had been in the diplomatic
service.

During the previous year he had left
the diplomatic service, not owing to any “unpleasantness”
(he never had any “unpleasantness” with
anyone), and was transferred to the department of the
court of the palace in Moscow, in order to give his
two boys the best education possible.

In spite of the striking contrast
in their habits and views and the fact that Lvov was
older than Levin, they had seen a great deal of one
another that winter, and had taken a great liking to
each other.

Lvov was at home, and Levin went in
to him unannounced.

Lvov, in a house coat with a belt
and in chamois leather shoes, was sitting in an armchair,
and with a pincenez with blue glasses he
was reading a book that stood on a reading desk, while
in his beautiful hand he held a half-burned cigarette
daintily away from him.

His handsome, delicate, and still
youthful-looking face, to which his curly, glistening
silvery hair gave a still more aristocratic air, lighted
up with a smile when he saw Levin.

“Capital!  I was meaning
to send to you.  How’s Kitty?  Sit
here, it’s more comfortable.”  He
got up and pushed up a rocking chair.  “Have
you read the last circular in the Journal de St.
Petersbourg?
I think it’s excellent,”
he said, with a slight French accent.

Levin told him what he had heard from
Katavasov was being said in Petersburg, and after
talking a little about politics, he told him of his
interview with Metrov, and the learned society’s
meeting.  To Lvov it was very interesting.

“That’s what I envy you,
that you are able to mix in these interesting scientific
circles,” he said.  And as he talked, he
passed as usual into French, which was easier to him. 
“It’s true I haven’t the time for
it.  My official work and the children leave
me no time; and then I’m not ashamed to own that
my education has been too defective.”

“That I don’t believe,”
said Levin with a smile, feeling, as he always did,
touched at Lvov’s low opinion of himself, which
was not in the least put on from a desire to seem
or to be modest, but was absolutely sincere.

“Oh, yes, indeed!  I feel
now how badly educated I am.  To educate my children
I positively have to look up a great deal, and in
fact simply to study myself.  For it’s not
enough to have teachers, there must be someone to
look after them, just as on your land you want laborers
and an overseer.  See what I’m reading” ­he
pointed to Buslaev’s Grammar on the desk ­“it’s
expected of Misha, and it’s so difficult…. 
Come, explain to me….  Here he says…”

Levin tried to explain to him that
it couldn’t be understood, but that it had to
be taught; but Lvov would not agree with him.

“Oh, you’re laughing at it!”

“On the contrary, you can’t
imagine how, when I look at you, I’m always
learning the task that lies before me, that is the
education of one’s children.”

“Well, there’s nothing for you to learn,”
said Lvov.

“All I know,” said Levin,
“is that I have never seen better brought-up
children than yours, and I wouldn’t wish for
children better than yours.”

Lvov visibly tried to restrain the
expression of his delight, but he was positively radiant
with smiles.

“If only they’re better
than I!  That’s all I desire.  You
don’t know yet all the work,” he said,
“with boys who’ve been left like mine
to run wild abroad.”

“You’ll catch all that
up.  They’re such clever children. 
The great thing is the education of character. 
That’s what I learn when I look at your children.”

“You talk of the education of
character.  You can’t imagine how difficult
that is!  You have hardly succeeded in combating
one tendency when others crop up, and the struggle
begins again.  If one had not a support in religion ­you
remember we talked about that ­no father
could bring children up relying on his own strength
alone without that help.”

This subject, which always interested
Levin, was cut short by the entrance of the beauty
Natalia Alexandrovna, dressed to go out.

“I didn’t know you were
here,” she said, unmistakably feeling no regret,
but a positive pleasure, in interrupting this conversation
on a topic she had heard so much of that she was by
now weary of it.  “Well, how is Kitty? 
I am dining with you today.  I tell you what,
Arseny,” she turned to her husband, “you
take the carriage.”

And the husband and wife began to
discuss their arrangements for the day.  As the
husband had to drive to meet someone on official business,
while the wife had to go to the concert and some public
meeting of a committee on the Eastern Question, there
was a great deal to consider and settle.  Levin
had to take part in their plans as one of themselves. 
It was settled that Levin should go with Natalia
to the concert and the meeting, and that from there
they should send the carriage to the office for Arseny,
and he should call for her and take her to Kitty’s;
or that, if he had not finished his work, he should
send the carriage back and Levin would go with her.

“He’s spoiling me,”
Lvov said to his wife; “he assures me that our
children are splendid, when I know how much that’s
bad there is in them.”

“Arseny goes to extremes, I
always say,” said his wife.  “If you
look for perfection, you will never be satisfied. 
And it’s true, as papa says, ­that
when we were brought up there was one extreme ­we
were kept in the basement, while our parents lived
in the best rooms; now it’s just the other way ­the
parents are in the wash house, while the children
are in the best rooms.  Parents now are not expected
to live at all, but to exist altogether for their
children.”

“Well, what if they like it
better?” Lvov said, with his beautiful smile,
touching her hand.  “Anyone who didn’t
know you would think you were a stepmother, not a
true mother.”

“No, extremes are not good in
anything,” Natalia said serenely, putting his
paper knife straight in its proper place on the table.

“Well, come here, you perfect
children,” Lvov said to the two handsome boys
who came in, and after bowing to Levin, went up to
their father, obviously wishing to ask him about something.

Levin would have liked to talk to
them, to hear what they would say to their father,
but Natalia began talking to him, and then Lvov’s
colleague in the service, Mahotin, walked in, wearing
his court uniform, to go with him to meet someone,
and a conversation was kept up without a break upon
Herzegovina, Princess Korzinskaya, the town council,
and the sudden death of Madame Apraksina.

Levin even forgot the commission intrusted
to him.  He recollected it as he was going into
the hall.

“Oh, Kitty told me to talk to
you about Oblonsky,” he said, as Lvov was standing
on the stairs, seeing his wife and Levin off.

“Yes, yes, maman wants
us, les beaux-frères, to attack him,”
he said, blushing.  “But why should I?”

“Well, then, I will attack him,”
said Madame Lvova, with a smile, standing in her white
sheepskin cape, waiting till they had finished speaking. 
“Come, let us go.”

 

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