FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 21

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

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After a capital dinner and a great
deal of cognac drunk at Bartnyansky’s, Stepan
Arkadyevitch, only a little later than the appointed
time, went in to Countess Lidia Ivanovna’s.

“Who else is with the countess? ­a
Frenchman?” Stepan Arkadyevitch asked the hall
porter, as he glanced at the familiar overcoat of
Alexey Alexandrovitch and a queer, rather artless-looking
overcoat with clasps.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch Karenin
and Count Bezzubov,” the porter answered severely.

“Princess Myakaya guessed right,”
thought Stepan Arkadyevitch, as he went upstairs. 
“Curious!  It would be quite as well, though,
to get on friendly terms with her.  She has immense
influence.  If she would say a word to Pomorsky,
the thing would be a certainty.”

It was still quite light out-of-doors,
but in Countess Lidia Ivanovna’s little drawing
room the blinds were drawn and the lamps lighted. 
At a round table under a lamp sat the countess and
Alexey Alexandrovitch, talking softly.  A short,
thinnish man, very pale and handsome, with feminine
hips and knock-kneed legs, with fine brilliant eyes
and long hair lying on the collar of his coat, was
standing at the end of the room gazing at the portraits
on the wall.  After greeting the lady of the house
and Alexey Alexandrovitch, Stepan Arkadyevitch could
not resist glancing once more at the unknown man.

“Monsieur Landau!” the
countess addressed him with a softness and caution
that impressed Oblonsky.  And she introduced them.

Landau looked round hurriedly, came
up, and smiling, laid his moist, lifeless hand in
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s outstretched hand and
immediately walked away and fell to gazing at the portraits
again.  The countess and Alexey Alexandrovitch
looked at each other significantly.

“I am very glad to see you,
particularly today,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna,
pointing Stepan Arkadyevitch to a seat beside Karenin.

“I introduced you to him as
Landau,” she said in a soft voice, glancing
at the Frenchman and again immediately after at Alexey
Alexandrovitch, “but he is really Count Bezzubov,
as you’re probably aware.  Only he does
not like the title.”

“Yes, I heard so,” answered
Stepan Arkadyevitch; “they say he completely
cured Countess Bezzubova.”

“She was here today, poor thing!”
the countess said, turning to Alexey Alexandrovitch. 
“This separation is awful for her.  It’s
such a blow to her!”

“And he positively is going?”
queried Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“Yes, he’s going to Paris. 
He heard a voice yesterday,” said Countess
Lidia Ivanovna, looking at Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“Ah, a voice!” repeated
Oblonsky, feeling that he must be as circumspect as
he possibly could in this society, where something
peculiar was going on, or was to go on, to which he
had not the key.

A moment’s silence followed,
after which Countess Lidia Ivanovna, as though approaching
the main topic of conversation, said with a fine smile
to Oblonsky: 

“I’ve known you for a
long while, and am very glad to make a closer acquaintance
with you. Les amis de nos amis sont nos amis.
But to be a true friend, one must enter into the spiritual
state of one’s friend, and I fear that you are
not doing so in the case of Alexey Alexandrovitch. 
You understand what I mean?” she said, lifting
her fine pensive eyes.

“In part, countess, I understand
the position of Alexey Alexandrovitch…” said
Oblonsky.  Having no clear idea what they were
talking about, he wanted to confine himself to generalities.

“The change is not in his external
position,” Countess Lidia Ivanovna said sternly,
following with eyes of love the figure of Alexey Alexandrovitch
as he got up and crossed over to Landau; “his
heart is changed, a new heart has been vouchsafed him,
and I fear you don’t fully apprehend the change
that has taken place in him.”

“Oh, well, in general outlines
I can conceive the change.  We have always been
friendly, and now…” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
responding with a sympathetic glance to the expression
of the countess, and mentally balancing the question
with which of the two ministers she was most intimate,
so as to know about which to ask her to speak for
him.

“The change that has taken place
in him cannot lessen his love for his neighbors; on
the contrary, that change can only intensify love
in his heart.  But I am afraid you do not understand
me.  Won’t you have some tea?” she
said, with her eyes indicating the footman, who was
handing round tea on a tray.

“Not quite, countess.  Of course, his misfortune…”

“Yes, a misfortune which has
proved the highest happiness, when his heart was made
new, was filled full of it,” she said, gazing
with eyes full of love at Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“I do believe I might ask her
to speak to both of them,” thought Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“Oh, of course, countess,”
he said; “but I imagine such changes are a matter
so private that no one, even the most intimate friend,
would care to speak of them.”

“On the contrary!  We ought
to speak freely and help one another.”

“Yes, undoubtedly so, but there
is such a difference of convictions, and besides…”
said Oblonsky with a soft smile.

“There can be no difference
where it is a question of holy truth.”

“Oh, no, of course; but…”
and Stepan Arkadyevitch paused in confusion. 
He understood at last that they were talking of religion.

“I fancy he will fall asleep
immediately,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch in
a whisper full of meaning, going up to Lidia Ivanovna.

Stepan Arkadyevitch looked round. 
Landau was sitting at the window, leaning on his
elbow and the back of his chair, his head drooping. 
Noticing that all eyes were turned on him he raised
his head and smiled a smile of childlike artlessness.

“Don’t take any notice,”
said Lidia Ivanovna, and she lightly moved a chair
up for Alexey Alexandrovitch.  “I have observed…”
she was beginning, when a footman came into the room
with a letter.  Lidia Ivanovna rapidly ran her
eyes over the note, and excusing herself, wrote an
answer with extraordinary rapidity, handed it to the
man, and came back to the table.  “I have
observed,” she went on, “that Moscow people,
especially the men, are more indifferent to religion
than anyone.”

“Oh, no, countess, I thought
Moscow people had the reputation of being the firmest
in the faith,” answered Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“But as far as I can make out,
you are unfortunately one of the indifferent ones,”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch, turning to him with a
weary smile.

“How anyone can be indifferent!”
said Lidia Ivanovna.

“I am not so much indifferent
on that subject as I am waiting in suspense,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, with his most deprecating
smile.  “I hardly think that the time for
such questions has come yet for me.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch and Lidia Ivanovna
looked at each other.

“We can never tell whether the
time has come for us or not,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch
severely.  “We ought not to think whether
we are ready or not ready.  God’s grace
is not guided by human considerations:  sometimes
it comes not to those that strive for it, and comes
to those that are unprepared, like Saul.”

“No, I believe it won’t
be just yet,” said Lidia Ivanovna, who had been
meanwhile watching the movements of the Frenchman. 
Landau got up and came to them.

“Do you allow me to listen?” he asked.

“Oh, yes; I did not want to
disturb you,” said Lidia Ivanovna, gazing tenderly
at him; “sit here with us.”

“One has only not to close one’s
eyes to shut out the light,” Alexey Alexandrovitch
went on.

“Ah, if you knew the happiness
we know, feeling His presence ever in our hearts!”
said Countess Lidia Ivanovna with a rapturous smile.

“But a man may feel himself
unworthy sometimes to rise to that height,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, conscious of hypocrisy in
admitting this religious height, but at the same time
unable to bring himself to acknowledge his free-thinking
views before a person who, by a single word to Pomorsky,
might procure him the coveted appointment.

“That is, you mean that sin
keeps him back?” said Lidia Ivanovna.  “But
that is a false idea.  There is no sin for believers,
their sin has been atoned for. Pardon,
she added, looking at the footman, who came in again
with another letter.  She read it and gave a
verbal answer:  “Tomorrow at the Grand Duchess’s,
say.”  “For the believer sin is not,”
she went on.

“Yes, but faith without works
is dead,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recalling
the phrase from the catechism, and only by his smile
clinging to his independence.

“There you have it ­from
the epistle of St. James,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch,
addressing Lidia Ivanovna, with a certain reproachfulness
in his tone.  It was unmistakably a subject they
had discussed more than once before.  “What
harm has been done by the false interpretation of
that passage!  Nothing holds men back from belief
like that misinterpretation.  ’I have not
works, so I cannot believe,’ though all the
while that is not said.  But the very opposite
is said.”

“Striving for God, saving the
soul by fasting,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna,
with disgusted contempt, “those are the crude
ideas of our monks….  Yet that is nowhere said. 
It is far simpler and easier,” she added, looking
at Oblonsky with the same encouraging smile with which
at court she encouraged youthful maids of honor, disconcerted
by the new surroundings of the court.

“We are saved by Christ who
suffered for us.  We are saved by faith,”
Alexey Alexandrovitch chimed in, with a glance of
approval at her words.

“Vous comprenez l’anglais?”
asked Lidia Ivanovna, and receiving a reply in the
affirmative, she got up and began looking through
a shelf of books.

“I want to read him ‘Safe
and Happy,’ or ‘Under the Wing,’”
she said, looking inquiringly at Karenin.  And
finding the book, and sitting down again in her place,
she opened it.  “It’s very short. 
In it is described the way by which faith can be reached,
and the happiness, above all earthly bliss, with which
it fills the soul.  The believer cannot be unhappy
because he is not alone.  But you will see.” 
She was just settling herself to read when the footman
came in again.  “Madame Borozdina? 
Tell her, tomorrow at two o’clock.  Yes,”
she said, putting her finger in the place in the book,
and gazing before her with her fine pensive eyes,
“that is how true faith acts.  You know
Marie Sanina?  You know about her trouble? 
She lost her only child.  She was in despair. 
And what happened?  She found this comforter,
and she thanks God now for the death of her child. 
Such is the happiness faith brings!”

“Oh, yes, that is most…”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, glad they were going to
read, and let him have a chance to collect his faculties. 
“No, I see I’d better not ask her about
anything today,” he thought.  “If
only I can get out of this without putting my foot
in it!”

“It will be dull for you,”
said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, addressing Landau; “you
don’t know English, but it’s short.”

“Oh, I shall understand,”
said Landau, with the same smile, and he closed his
eyes.  Alexey Alexandrovitch and Lidia Ivanovna
exchanged meaningful glances, and the reading began.

 

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