FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 20

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

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Stepan Arkadyevitch, as usual, did
not waste his time in Petersburg.  In Petersburg,
besides business, his sister’s divorce, and
his coveted appointment, he wanted, as he always did,
to freshen himself up, as he said, after the mustiness
of Moscow.

In spite of its cafes chantants
and its omnibuses, Moscow was yet a stagnant bog. 
Stepan Arkadyevitch always felt it.  After living
for some time in Moscow, especially in close relations
with his family, he was conscious of a depression of
spirits.  After being a long time in Moscow without
a change, he reached a point when he positively began
to be worrying himself over his wife’s ill-humor
and reproaches, over his children’s health and
education, and the petty details of his official work;
even the fact of being in debt worried him. 
But he had only to go and stay a little while in Petersburg,
in the circle there in which he moved, where people
lived ­really lived ­instead of
vegetating as in Moscow, and all such ideas vanished
and melted away at once, like wax before the fire. 
His wife?…  Only that day he had been talking
to Prince Tchetchensky.  Prince Tchetchensky had
a wife and family, grown-up pages in the corps,…and
he had another illegitimate family of children also. 
Though the first family was very nice too, Prince
Tchetchensky felt happier in his second family; and
he used to take his eldest son with him to his second
family, and told Stepan Arkadyevitch that he thought
it good for his son, enlarging his ideas.  What
would have been said to that in Moscow?

His children?  In Petersburg
children did not prevent their parents from enjoying
life.  The children were brought up in schools,
and there was no trace of the wild idea that prevailed
in Moscow, in Lvov’s household, for instance,
that all the luxuries of life were for the children,
while the parents have nothing but work and anxiety. 
Here people understood that a man is in duty bound
to live for himself, as every man of culture should
live.

His official duties?  Official
work here was not the stiff, hopeless drudgery that
it was in Moscow.  Here there was some interest
in official life.  A chance meeting, a service
rendered, a happy phrase, a knack of facetious mimicry,
and a man’s career might be made in a trice. 
So it had been with Bryantsev, whom Stepan Arkadyevitch
had met the previous day, and who was one of the highest
functionaries in government now.  There was some
interest in official work like that.

The Petersburg attitude on pecuniary
matters had an especially soothing effect on Stepan
Arkadyevitch.  Bartnyansky, who must spend at
least fifty thousand to judge by the style he lived
in, had made an interesting comment the day before
on that subject.

As they were talking before dinner,
Stepan Arkadyevitch said to Bartnyansky: 

“You’re friendly, I fancy,
with Mordvinsky; you might do me a favor:  say
a word to him, please, for me.  There’s
an appointment I should like to get ­secretary
of the agency…”

“Oh, I shan’t remember
all that, if you tell it to me….  But what
possesses you to have to do with railways and Jews?… 
Take it as you will, it’s a low business.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch did not say to
Bartnyansky that it was a “growing thing” ­Bartnyansky
would not have understood that.

“I want the money, I’ve nothing to live
on.”

“You’re living, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but in debt.”

“Are you, though?  Heavily?” said
Bartnyansky sympathetically.

“Very heavily:  twenty thousand.”

Bartnyansky broke into good-humored laughter.

“Oh, lucky fellow!” said
he.  “My debts mount up to a million and
a half, and I’ve nothing, and still I can live,
as you see!”

And Stepan Arkadyevitch saw the correctness
of this view not in words only but in actual fact. 
Zhivahov owed three hundred thousand, and hadn’t
a farthing to bless himself with, and he lived, and
in style too!  Count Krivtsov was considered a
hopeless case by everyone, and yet he kept two mistresses. 
Petrovsky had run through five millions, and still
lived in just the same style, and was even a manager
in the financial department with a salary of twenty
thousand.  But besides this, Petersburg had physically
an agreeable effect on Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
It made him younger.  In Moscow he sometimes found
a gray hair in his head, dropped asleep after dinner,
stretched, walked slowly upstairs, breathing heavily,
was bored by the society of young women, and did not
dance at balls.  In Petersburg he always felt
ten years younger.

His experience in Petersburg was exactly
what had been described to him on the previous day
by Prince Pyotr Oblonsky, a man of sixty, who had
just come back from abroad: 

“We don’t know the way
to live here,” said Pyotr Oblonsky.  “I
spent the summer in Baden, and you wouldn’t believe
it, I felt quite a young man.  At a glimpse of
a pretty woman, my thoughts….  One dines and
drinks a glass of wine, and feels strong and ready
for anything.  I came home to Russia ­had
to see my wife, and, what’s more, go to my country
place; and there, you’d hardly believe it, in
a fortnight I’d got into a dressing gown and
given up dressing for dinner.  Needn’t say
I had no thoughts left for pretty women.  I became
quite an old gentleman.  There was nothing left
for me but to think of my eternal salvation. 
I went off to Paris ­I was as right as could
be at once.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch felt exactly the
difference that Pyotr Oblonsky described.  In
Moscow he degenerated so much that if he had had to
be there for long together, he might in good earnest
have come to considering his salvation; in Petersburg
he felt himself a man of the world again.

Between Princess Betsy Tverskaya and
Stepan Arkadyevitch there had long existed rather
curious relations.  Stepan Arkadyevitch always
flirted with her in jest, and used to say to her, also
in jest, the most unseemly things, knowing that nothing
delighted her so much.  The day after his conversation
with Karenin, Stepan Arkadyevitch went to see her,
and felt so youthful that in this jesting flirtation
and nonsense he recklessly went so far that he did
not know how to extricate himself, as unluckily he
was so far from being attracted by her that he thought
her positively disagreeable.  What made it hard
to change the conversation was the fact that he was
very attractive to her.  So that he was considerably
relieved at the arrival of Princess Myakaya, which
cut short their tete-a-tete.

“Ah, so you’re here!”
said she when she saw him.  “Well, and what
news of your poor sister?  You needn’t look
at me like that,” she added.  “Ever
since they’ve all turned against her, all those
who’re a thousand times worse than she, I’ve
thought she did a very fine thing.  I can’t
forgive Vronsky for not letting me know when she was
in Petersburg.  I’d have gone to see her
and gone about with her everywhere.  Please give
her my love.  Come, tell me about her.”

“Yes, her position is very difficult;
she…” began Stepan Arkadyevitch, in the simplicity
of his heart accepting as sterling coin Princess Myakaya’s
words “tell me about her.”  Princess
Myakaya interrupted him immediately, as she always
did, and began talking herself.

“She’s done what they
all do, except me ­only they hide it. 
But she wouldn’t be deceitful, and she did
a fine thing.  And she did better still in throwing
up that crazy brother-in-law of yours.  You must
excuse me.  Everybody used to say he was so clever,
so very clever; I was the only one that said he was
a fool.  Now that he’s so thick with Lidia
Ivanovna and Landau, they all say he’s crazy,
and I should prefer not to agree with everybody, but
this time I can’t help it.”

“Oh, do please explain,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch; “what does it mean? 
Yesterday I was seeing him on my sister’s behalf,
and I asked him to give me a final answer.  He
gave me no answer, and said he would think it over. 
But this morning, instead of an answer, I received
an invitation from Countess Lidia Ivanovna for this
evening.”

“Ah, so that’s it, that’s
it!” said Princess Myakaya gleefully, “they’re
going to ask Landau what he’s to say.”

“Ask Landau?  What for?  Who or what’s
Landau?”

“What! you don’t know
Jules Landau, lé fameux Jules Landau, lé clairvoyant
He’s crazy too, but on him your sister’s
fate depends.  See what comes of living in the
provinces ­you know nothing about anything. 
Landau, do you see, was a commis in a shop
in Paris, and he went to a doctor’s; and in the
doctor’s waiting room he fell asleep, and in
his sleep he began giving advice to all the patients. 
And wonderful advice it was!  Then the wife
of Yury Meledinsky ­you know, the invalid? ­heard
of this Landau, and had him to see her husband. 
And he cured her husband, though I can’t say
that I see he did him much good, for he’s just
as feeble a creature as ever he was, but they believed
in him, and took him along with them and brought him
to Russia.  Here there’s been a general
rush to him, and he’s begun doctoring everyone. 
He cured Countess Bezzubova, and she took such a fancy
to him that she adopted him.”

“Adopted him?”

“Yes, as her son.  He’s
not Landau any more now, but Count Bezzubov. 
That’s neither here nor there, though; but Lidia ­I’m
very fond of her, but she has a screw loose somewhere ­has
lost her heart to this Landau now, and nothing is
settled now in her house or Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
without him, and so your sister’s fate is now
in the hands of Landau, alias Count Bezzubov.”

 

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