FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 2

Leo TolstoyAug 21, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Stepan Arkadyevitch was a truthful
man in his relations with himself.  He was incapable
of deceiving himself and persuading himself that he
repented of his conduct.  He could not at this
date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible
man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife,
the mother of five living and two dead children, and
only a year younger than himself.  All he repented
of was that he had not succeeded better in hiding
it from his wife.  But he felt all the difficulty
of his position and was sorry for his wife, his children,
and himself.  Possibly he might have managed
to conceal his sins better from his wife if he had
anticipated that the knowledge of them would have
had such an effect on her.  He had never clearly
thought out the subject, but he had vaguely conceived
that his wife must long ago have suspected him of
being unfaithful to her, and shut her eyes to the
fact.  He had even supposed that she, a worn-out
woman no longer young or good-looking, and in no way
remarkable or interesting, merely a good mother, ought
from a sense of fairness to take an indulgent view. 
It had turned out quite the other way.

“Oh, it’s awful! oh dear,
oh dear! awful!” Stepan Arkadyevitch kept repeating
to himself, and he could think of nothing to be done. 
“And how well things were going up till now!
how well we got on!  She was contented and happy
in her children; I never interfered with her in anything;
I let her manage the children and the house just as
she liked.  It’s true it’s bad her
having been a governess in our house.  That’s
bad!  There’s something common, vulgar,
in flirting with one’s governess.  But what
a governess!” (He vividly recalled the roguish
black eyes of Mlle. Roland and her smile.) “But
after all, while she was in the house, I kept myself
in hand.  And the worst of it all is that she’s
already…it seems as if ill-luck would have it so! 
Oh, oh!  But what, what is to be done?”

There was no solution, but that universal
solution which life gives to all questions, even the
most complex and insoluble.  That answer is: 
one must live in the needs of the day ­that
is, forget oneself.  To forget himself in sleep
was impossible now, at least till nighttime; he could
not go back now to the music sung by the decanter-women;
so he must forget himself in the dream of daily life.

“Then we shall see,” Stepan
Arkadyevitch said to himself, and getting up he put
on a gray dressing-gown lined with blue silk, tied
the tassels in a knot, and, drawing a deep breath of
air into his broad, bare chest, he walked to the window
with his usual confident step, turning out his feet
that carried his full frame so easily.  He pulled
up the blind and rang the bell loudly.  It was
at once answered by the appearance of an old friend,
his valet, Matvey, carrying his clothes, his boots,
and a telegram.  Matvey was followed by the barber
with all the necessaries for shaving.

“Are there any papers from the
office?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch, taking the
telegram and seating himself at the looking-glass.

“On the table,” replied
Matvey, glancing with inquiring sympathy at his master;
and, after a short pause, he added with a sly smile,
“They’ve sent from the carriage-jobbers.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch made no reply,
he merely glanced at Matvey in the looking-glass. 
In the glance, in which their eyes met in the looking-glass,
it was clear that they understood one another. 
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s eyes asked:  “Why
do you tell me that? don’t you know?”

Matvey put his hands in his jacket
pockets, thrust out one leg, and gazed silently, good-humoredly,
with a faint smile, at his master.

“I told them to come on Sunday,
and till then not to trouble you or themselves for
nothing,” he said.  He had obviously prepared
the sentence beforehand.

Stepan Arkadyevitch saw Matvey wanted
to make a joke and attract attention to himself. 
Tearing open the telegram, he read it through, guessing
at the words, misspelt as they always are in telegrams,
and his face brightened.

“Matvey, my sister Anna Arkadyevna
will be here tomorrow,” he said, checking for
a minute the sleek, plump hand of the barber, cutting
a pink path through his long, curly whiskers.

“Thank God!” said Matvey,
showing by this response that he, like his master,
realized the significance of this arrival ­that
is, that Anna Arkadyevna, the sister he was so fond
of, might bring about a reconciliation between husband
and wife.

“Alone, or with her husband?” inquired
Matvey.

Stepan Arkadyevitch could not answer,
as the barber was at work on his upper lip, and he
raised one finger.  Matvey nodded at the looking-glass.

“Alone.  Is the room to be got ready upstairs?”

“Inform Darya Alexandrovna:  where she orders.”

“Darya Alexandrovna?” Matvey repeated,
as though in doubt.

“Yes, inform her.  Here,
take the telegram; give it to her, and then do what
she tells you.”

“You want to try it on,”
Matvey understood, but he only said, “Yes sir.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch was already washed
and combed and ready to be dressed, when Matvey, stepping
deliberately in his creaky boots, came back into the
room with the telegram in his hand.  The barber
had gone.

“Darya Alexandrovna told me
to inform you that she is going away.  Let him
do ­that is you ­do as he likes,”
he said, laughing only with his eyes, and putting
his hands in his pockets, he watched his master with
his head on one side.  Stepan Arkadyevitch was
silent a minute.  Then a good-humored and rather
pitiful smile showed itself on his handsome face.

“Eh, Matvey?” he said, shaking his head.

“It’s all right, sir; she will come round,”
said Matvey.

“Come round?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you think so?  Who’s
there?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch, hearing the
rustle of a woman’s dress at the door.

“It’s I,” said a
firm, pleasant, woman’s voice, and the stern,
pockmarked face of Matrona Philimonovna, the nurse,
was thrust in at the doorway.

“Well, what is it, Matrona?”
queried Stepan Arkadyevitch, going up to her at the
door.

Although Stepan Arkadyevitch was completely
in the wrong as regards his wife, and was conscious
of this himself, almost every one in the house (even
the nurse, Darya Alexandrovna’s chief ally)
was on his side.

“Well, what now?” he asked disconsolately.

“Go to her, sir; own your fault
again.  Maybe God will aid you.  She is suffering
so, it’s sad to hee her; and besides, everything
in the house is topsy-turvy.  You must have pity,
sir, on the children.  Beg her forgiveness, sir. 
There’s no help for it!  One must take
the consequences…”

“But she won’t see me.”

“You do your part.  God
is merciful; pray to God, sir, pray to God.”

“Come, that’ll do, you
can go,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, blushing
suddenly.  “Well now, do dress me.” 
He turned to Matvey and threw off his dressing-gown
decisively.

Matvey was already holding up the
shirt like a horse’s collar, and, blowing off
some invisible speck, he slipped it with obvious pleasure
over the well-groomed body of his master.

 

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