FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 3

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

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When he was dressed, Stepan Arkadyevitch
sprinkled some scent on himself, pulled down his shirt-cuffs,
distributed into his pockets his cigarettes, pocketbook,
matches, and watch with its double chain and seals,
and shaking out his handkerchief, feeling himself
clean, fragrant, healthy, and physically at ease, in
spite of his unhappiness, he walked with a slight swing
on each leg into the dining-room, where coffee was
already waiting for him, and beside the coffee, letters
and papers from the office.

He read the letters.  One was
very unpleasant, from a merchant who was buying a
forest on his wife’s property.  To sell
this forest was absolutely essential; but at present,
until he was reconciled with his wife, the subject
could not be discussed.  The most unpleasant thing
of all was that his pecuniary interests should in
this way enter into the question of his reconciliation
with his wife.  And the idea that he might be
led on by his interests, that he might seek a reconciliation
with his wife on account of the sale of the forest ­that
idea hurt him.

When he had finished his letters,
Stepan Arkadyevitch moved the office-papers close
to him, rapidly looked through two pieces of business,
made a few notes with a big pencil, and pushing away
the papers, turned to his coffee.  As he sipped
his coffee, he opened a still damp morning paper,
and began reading it.

Stepan Arkadyevitch took in and read
a liberal paper, not an extreme one, but one advocating
the views held by the majority.  And in spite
of the fact that science, art, and politics had no
special interest for him, he firmly held those views
on all these subjects which were held by the majority
and by his paper, and he only changed them when the
majority changed them ­or, more strictly
speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly
changed of themselves within him.

Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen
his political opinions or his views; these political
opinions and views had come to him of themselves,
just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and
coat, but simply took those that were being worn. 
And for him, living in a certain society ­owing
to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion,
for some degree of mental activity ­to have
views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. 
If there was a reason for his preferring liberal to
conservative views, which were held also by many of
his circle, it arose not from his considering liberalism
more rational, but from its being in closer accordance
with his manner of life.  The liberal party said
that in Russia everything is wrong, and certainly
Stepan Arkadyevitch had many debts and was decidedly
short of money.  The liberal party said that marriage
is an institution quite out of date, and that it needs
reconstruction; and family life certainly afforded
Stepan Arkadyevitch little gratification, and forced
him into lying and hypocrisy, which was so repulsive
to his nature.  The liberal party said, or rather
allowed it to be understood, that religion is only
a curb to keep in check the barbarous classes of the
people; and Stepan Arkadyevitch could not get through
even a short service without his legs aching from
standing up, and could never make out what was the
object of all the terrible and high-flown language
about another world when life might be so very amusing
in this world.  And with all this, Stepan Arkadyevitch,
who liked a joke, was fond of puzzling a plain man
by saying that if he prided himself on his origin,
he ought not to stop at Rurik and disown the first
founder of his family ­the monkey. 
And so Liberalism had become a habit of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s,
and he liked his newspaper, as he did his cigar after
dinner, for the slight fog it diffused in his brain. 
He read the leading article, in which it was maintained
that it was quite senseless in our day to raise an
outcry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up
all conservative elements, and that the government
ought to take measures to crush the revolutionary
hydra; that, on the contrary, “in our opinion
the danger lies not in that fantastic revolutionary
hydra, but in the obstinacy of traditionalism clogging
progress,” etc., etc.  He read
another article, too, a financial one, which alluded
to Bentham and Mill, and dropped some innuendoes reflecting
on the ministry.  With his characteristic quickwittedness
he caught the drift of each innuendo, divined whence
it came, at whom and on what ground it was aimed,
and that afforded him, as it always did, a certain
satisfaction.  But today that satisfaction was
embittered by Matrona Philimonovna’s advice
and the unsatisfactory state of the household. 
He read, too, that Count Beist was rumored to have
left for Wiesbaden, and that one need have no more
gray hair, and of the sale of a light carriage, and
of a young person seeking a situation; but these items
of information did not give him, as usual, a quiet,
ironical gratification.  Having finished the
paper, a second cup of coffee and a roll and butter,
he got up, shaking the crumbs of the roll off his
waistcoat; and, squaring his broad chest, he smiled
joyously:  not because there was anything particularly
agreeable in his mind ­the joyous smile
was evoked by a good digestion.

But this joyous smile at once recalled
everything to him, and he grew thoughtful.

Two childish voices (Stepan Arkadyevitch
recognized the voices of Grisha, his youngest boy,
and Tanya, his eldest girl) were heard outside the
door.  They were carrying something, and dropped
it.

“I told you not to sit passengers
on the roof,” said the little girl in English;
“there, pick them up!”

“Everything’s in confusion,”
thought Stepan Arkadyevitch; “there are the
children running about by themselves.”  And
going to the door, he called them.  They threw
down the box, that represented a train, and came in
to their father.

The little girl, her father’s
favorite, ran up boldly, embraced him, and hung laughingly
on his neck, enjoying as she always did the smell
of scent that came from his whiskers.  At last
the little girl kissed his face, which was flushed
from his stooping posture and beaming with tenderness,
loosed her hands, and was about to run away again;
but her father held her back.

“How is mamma?” he asked,
passing his hand over his daughter’s smooth,
soft little neck.  “Good morning,”
he said, smiling to the boy, who had come up to greet
him.  He was conscious that he loved the boy
less, and always tried to be fair; but the boy felt
it, and did not respond with a smile to his father’s
chilly smile.

“Mamma?  She is up,” answered the
girl.

Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed. 
“That means that she’s not slept again
all night,” he thought.

“Well, is she cheerful?”

The little girl knew that there was
a quarrel between her father and mother, and that
her mother could not be cheerful, and that her father
must be aware of this, and that he was pretending when
he asked about it so lightly.  And she blushed
for her father.  He at once perceived it, and
blushed too.

“I don’t know,”
she said.  “She did not say we must do our
lessons, but she said we were to go for a walk with
Miss Hoole to grandmamma’s.”

“Well, go, Tanya, my darling. 
Oh, wait a minute, though,” he said, still
holding her and stroking her soft little hand.

He took off the mantelpiece, where
he had put it yesterday, a little box of sweets, and
gave her two, picking out her favorites, a chocolate
and a fondant.

“For Grisha?” said the
little girl, pointing to the chocolate.

“Yes, yes.”  And still
stroking her little shoulder, he kissed her on the
roots of her hair and neck, and let her go.

“The carriage is ready,”
said Matvey; “but there’s some one to
see you with a petition.”

“Been here long?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“Half an hour.”

“How many times have I told you to tell me at
once?”

“One must let you drink your
coffee in peace, at least,” said Matvey, in
the affectionately gruff tone with which it was impossible
to be angry.

“Well, show the person up at
once,” said Oblonsky, frowning with vexation.

The petitioner, the widow of a staff
captain Kalinin, came with a request impossible and
unreasonable; but Stepan Arkadyevitch, as he generally
did, made her sit down, heard her to the end attentively
without interrupting her, and gave her detailed advice
as to how and to whom to apply, and even wrote her,
in his large, sprawling, good and legible hand, a
confident and fluent little note to a personage who
might be of use to her.  Having got rid of the
staff captain’s widow, Stepan Arkadyevitch took
his hat and stopped to recollect whether he had forgotten
anything.  It appeared that he had forgotten nothing
except what he wanted to forget ­his wife.

“Ah, yes!” He bowed his
head, and his handsome face assumed a harassed expression. 
“To go, or not to go!” he said to himself;
and an inner voice told him he must not go, that nothing
could come of it but falsity; that to amend, to set
right their relations was impossible, because it was
impossible to make her attractive again and able to
inspire love, or to make him an old man, not susceptible
to love.  Except deceit and lying nothing could
come of it now; and deceit and lying were opposed to
his nature.

“It must be some time, though: 
it can’t go on like this,” he said, trying
to give himself courage.  He squared his chest,
took out a cigarette, took two whiffs at it, flung
it into a mother-of-pearl ashtray, and with rapid
steps walked through the drawing room, and opened
the other door into his wife’s bedroom.

 

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