FictionForest

PART EIGHT : Chapter 5

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

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In the slanting evening shadows cast
by the baggage piled up on the platform, Vronsky in
his long overcoat and slouch hat, with his hands in
his pockets, strode up and down, like a wild beast
in a cage, turning sharply after twenty paces. 
Sergey Ivanovitch fancied, as he approached him,
that Vronsky saw him but was pretending not to see. 
This did not affect Sergey Ivanovitch in the slightest. 
He was above all personal considerations with Vronsky.

At that moment Sergey Ivanovitch looked
upon Vronsky as a man taking an important part in
a great cause, and Koznishev thought it his duty to
encourage him and express his approval.  He went
up to him.

Vronsky stood still, looked intently
at him, recognized him, and going a few steps forward
to meet him, shook hands with him very warmly.

“Possibly you didn’t wish
to see me,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, “but
couldn’t I be of use to you?”

“There’s no one I should
less dislike seeing than you,” said Vronsky. 
“Excuse me; and there’s nothing in life
for me to like.”

“I quite understand, and I merely
meant to offer you my services,” said Sergey
Ivanovitch, scanning Vronsky’s face, full of
unmistakable suffering.  “Wouldn’t
it be of use to you to have a letter to Ristitch ­to
Milan?”

“Oh, no!” Vronsky said,
seeming to understand him with difficulty.  “If
you don’t mind, let’s walk on.  It’s
so stuffy among the carriages.  A letter? 
No, thank you; to meet death one needs no letters
of introduction.  Nor for the Turks…”
he said, with a smile that was merely of the lips. 
His eyes still kept their look of angry suffering.

“Yes; but you might find it
easier to get into relations, which are after all
essential, with anyone prepared to see you.  But
that’s as you like.  I was very glad to
hear of your intention.  There have been so many
attacks made on the volunteers, and a man like you
raises them in public estimation.”

“My use as a man,” said
Vronsky, “is that life’s worth nothing
to me.  And that I’ve enough bodily energy
to cut my way into their ranks, and to trample on
them or fall ­I know that.  I’m
glad there’s something to give my life for,
for it’s not simply useless but loathsome to
me.  Anyone’s welcome to it.” 
And his jaw twitched impatiently from the incessant
gnawing toothache, that prevented him from even speaking
with a natural expression.

“You will become another man,
I predict,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, feeling
touched.  “To deliver one’s brother-men
from bondage is an aim worth death and life. 
God grant you success outwardly ­and inwardly
peace,” he added, and he held out his hand. 
Vronsky warmly pressed his outstretched hand.

“Yes, as a weapon I may be of
some use.  But as a man, I’m a wreck,”
he jerked out.

He could hardly speak for the throbbing
ache in his strong teeth, that were like rows of ivory
in his mouth.  He was silent, and his eyes rested
on the wheels of the tender, slowly and smoothly rolling
along the rails.

And all at once a different pain,
not an ache, but an inner trouble, that set his whole
being in anguish, made him for an instant forget his
toothache.  As he glanced at the tender and the
rails, under the influence of the conversation with
a friend he had not met since his misfortune, he suddenly
recalled her ­that is, what was left
of her when he had run like one distraught into the
cloak room of the railway station ­on the
table, shamelessly sprawling out among strangers, the
bloodstained body so lately full of life; the head
unhurt dropping back with its weight of hair, and
the curling tresses about the temples, and the exquisite
face, with red, half-opened mouth, the strange, fixed
expression, piteous on the lips and awful in the still
open eyes, that seemed to utter that fearful phrase ­that
he would be sorry for it ­that she had said
when they were quarreling.

And he tried to think of her as she
was when he met her the first time, at a railway station
too, mysterious, exquisite, loving, seeking and giving
happiness, and not cruelly revengeful as he remembered
her on that last moment.  He tried to recall his
best moments with her, but those moments were poisoned
forever.  He could only think of her as triumphant,
successful in her menace of a wholly useless remorse
never to be effaced.  He lost all consciousness
of toothache, and his face worked with sobs.

Passing twice up and down beside the
baggage in silence and regaining his self-possession,
he addressed Sergey Ivanovitch calmly: 

“You have had no telegrams since
yesterday’s?  Yes, driven back for a third
time, but a decisive engagement expected for tomorrow.”

And after talking a little more of
King Milan’s proclamation, and the immense effect
it might have, they parted, going to their carriages
on hearing the second bell.

 

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