FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 31

Leo TolstoyAug 26, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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A bell rang, some young men, ugly
and impudent, and at the same time careful of the
impression they were making, hurried by.  Pyotr,
too, crossed the room in his livery and top-boots,
with his dull, animal face, and came up to her to
take her to the train.  Some noisy men were quiet
as she passed them on the platform, and one whispered
something about her to another ­ something
vile, no doubt.  She stepped up on the high step,
and sat down in a carriage by herself on a dirty seat
that had been white.  Her bag lay beside her,
shaken up and down by the springiness of the seat. 
With a foolish smile Pyotr raised his hat, with its
colored band, at the window, in token of farewell;
an impudent conductor slammed the door and the latch. 
A grotesque-looking lady wearing a bustle (Anna mentally
undressed the woman, and was appalled at her hideousness),
and a little girl laughing affectedly ran down the
platform.

“Katerina Andreevna, she’s
got them all, ma tante!” cried the girl.

“Even the child’s hideous
and affected,” thought Anna.  To avoid
seeing anyone, she got up quickly and seated herself
at the opposite window of the empty carriage. 
A misshapen-looking peasant covered with dirt, in
a cap from which his tangled hair stuck out all round,
passed by that window, stooping down to the carriage
wheels.  “There’s something familiar
about that hideous peasant,” thought Anna. 
And remembering her dream, she moved away to the
opposite door, shaking with terror.  The conductor
opened the door and let in a man and his wife.

“Do you wish to get out?”

Anna made no answer.  The conductor
and her two fellow-passengers did not notice under
her veil her panic-stricken face.  She went back
to her corner and sat down.  The couple seated
themselves on the opposite side, and intently but
surreptitiously scrutinized her clothes.  Both
husband and wife seemed repulsive to Anna.  The
husband asked, would she allow him to smoke, obviously
not with a view to smoking but to getting into conversation
with her.  Receiving her assent, he said to his
wife in French something about caring less to smoke
than to talk.  They made inane and affected remarks
to one another, entirely for her benefit.  Anna
saw clearly that they were sick of each other, and
hated each other.  And no one could have helped
hating such miserable monstrosities.

A second bell sounded, and was followed
by moving of luggage, noise, shouting and laughter. 
It was so clear to Anna that there was nothing for
anyone to be glad of, that this laughter irritated
her agonizingly, and she would have liked to stop up
her ears not to hear it.  At last the third bell
rang, there was a whistle and a hiss of steam, and
a clank of chains, and the man in her carriage crossed
himself.  “It would be interesting to ask
him what meaning he attaches to that,” thought
Anna, looking angrily at him.  She looked past
the lady out of the window at the people who seemed
whirling by as they ran beside the train or stood
on the platform.  The train, jerking at regular
intervals at the junctions of the rails, rolled by
the platform, past a stone wall, a signal-box, past
other trains; the wheels, moving more smoothly and
evenly, resounded with a slight clang on the rails. 
The window was lighted up by the bright evening sun,
and a slight breeze fluttered the curtain.  Anna
forgot her fellow passengers, and to the light swaying
of the train she fell to thinking again, as she breathed
the fresh air.

“Yes, what did I stop at? 
That I couldn’t conceive a position in which
life would not be a misery, that we are all created
to be miserable, and that we all know it, and all
invent means of deceiving each other.  And when
one sees the truth, what is one to do?”

“That’s what reason is
given man for, to escape from what worries him,”
said the lady in French, lisping affectedly, and obviously
pleased with her phrase.

The words seemed an answer to Anna’s thoughts.

“To escape from what worries
him,” repeated Anna.  And glancing at the
red-cheeked husband and the thin wife, she saw that
the sickly wife considered herself misunderstood,
and the husband deceived her and encouraged her in
that idea of herself.  Anna seemed to see all
their history and all the crannies of their souls,
as it were turning a light upon them.  But there
was nothing interesting in them, and she pursued her
thought.

“Yes, I’m very much worried,
and that’s what reason was given me for, to
escape; so then one must escape:  why not put out
the light when there’s nothing more to look
at, when it’s sickening to look at it all? 
But how?  Why did the conductor run along the
footboard, why are they shrieking, those young men
in that train? why are they talking, why are they
laughing?  It’s all falsehood, all lying,
all humbug, all cruelty!…”

When the train came into the station,
Anna got out into the crowd of passengers, and moving
apart from them as if they were lepers, she stood
on the platform, trying to think what she had come
here for, and what she meant to do.  Everything
that had seemed to her possible before was now so
difficult to consider, especially in this noisy crowd
of hideous people who would not leave her alone. 
One moment porters ran up to her proffering their services,
then young men, clacking their heels on the planks
of the platform and talking loudly, stared at her;
people meeting her dodged past on the wrong side. 
Remembering that she had meant to go on further if
there were no answer, she stopped a porter and asked
if her coachman were not here with a note from Count
Vronsky.

“Count Vronsky?  They sent
up here from the Vronskys just this minute, to meet
Princess Sorokina and her daughter.  And what
is the coachman like?”

Just as she was talking to the porter,
the coachman Mihail, red and cheerful in his smart
blue coat and chain, evidently proud of having so
successfully performed his commission, came up to her
and gave her a letter.  She broke it open, and
her heart ached before she had read it.

“I am very sorry your note did
not reach me.  I will be home at ten,”
Vronsky had written carelessly….

“Yes, that’s what I expected!”
she said to herself with an evil smile.

“Very good, you can go home
then,” she said softly, addressing Mihail. 
She spoke softly because the rapidity of her heart’s
beating hindered her breathing.  “No, I
won’t let you make me miserable,” she
thought menacingly, addressing not him, not herself,
but the power that made her suffer, and she walked
along the platform.

Two maidservants walking along the
platform turned their heads, staring at her and making
some remarks about her dress.  “Real,”
they said of the lace she was wearing.  The young
men would not leave her in peace.  Again they
passed by, peering into her face, and with a laugh
shouting something in an unnatural voice.  The
station-master coming up asked her whether she was
going by train.  A boy selling kvas never
took his eyes off her.  “My God! where
am I to go?” she thought, going farther and farther
along the platform.  At the end she stopped. 
Some ladies and children, who had come to meet a
gentleman in spectacles, paused in their loud laughter
and talking, and stared at her as she reached them. 
She quickened her pace and walked away from them to
the edge of the platform.  A luggage train was
coming in.  The platform began to sway, and she
fancied she was in the train again.

And all at once she thought of the
man crushed by the train the day she had first met
Vronsky, and she knew what she had to do.  With
a rapid, light step she went down the steps that led
from the tank to the rails and stopped quite near
the approaching train.

She looked at the lower part of the
carriages, at the screws and chains and the tall cast-iron
wheel of the first carriage slowly moving up, and
trying to measure the middle between the front and
back wheels, and the very minute when that middle point
would be opposite her.

“There,” she said to herself,
looking into the shadow of the carriage, at the sand
and coal dust which covered the sleepers ­
“there, in the very middle, and I will punish
him and escape from everyone and from myself.”

She tried to fling herself below the
wheels of the first carriage as it reached her; but
the red bag which she tried to drop out of her hand
delayed her, and she was too late; she missed the
moment.  She had to wait for the next carriage. 
A feeling such as she had known when about to take
the first plunge in bathing came upon her, and she
crossed herself.  That familiar gesture brought
back into her soul a whole series of girlish and childish
memories, and suddenly the darkness that had covered
everything for her was torn apart, and life rose up
before her for an instant with all its bright past
joys.  But she did not take her eyes from the
wheels of the second carriage.  And exactly at
the moment when the space between the wheels came
opposite her, she dropped the red bag, and drawing
her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands
under the carriage, and lightly, as though she would
rise again at once, dropped on to her knees. 
And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at
what she was doing.  “Where am I? 
What am I doing?  What for?” She tried
to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and
merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on
her back.  “Lord, forgive me all!”
she said, feeling it impossible to struggle. 
A peasant muttering something was working at the iron
above her.  And the light by which she had read
the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow,
and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before,
lighted up for her all that had been in darkness,
flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.

 

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