FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 9

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

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At four o’clock, conscious of
his throbbing heart, Levin stepped out of a hired
sledge at the Zoological Gardens, and turned along
the path to the frozen mounds and the skating ground,
knowing that he would certainly find her there, as
he had seen the Shtcherbatskys’ carriage at
the entrance.

It was a bright, frosty day. 
Rows of carriages, sledges, drivers, and policemen
were standing in the approach.  Crowds of well-dressed
people, with hats bright in the sun, swarmed about
the entrance and along the well-swept little paths
between the little houses adorned with carving in
the Russian style.  The old curly birches of
the gardens, all their twigs laden with snow, looked
as though freshly decked in sacred vestments.

He walked along the path towards the
skating-ground, and kept saying to himself ­“You
mustn’t be excited, you must be calm.  What’s
the matter with you?  What do you want? 
Be quiet, stupid,” he conjured his heart. 
And the more he tried to compose himself, the more
breathless he found himself.  An acquaintance
met him and called him by his name, but Levin did not
even recognize him.  He went towards the mounds,
whence came the clank of the chains of sledges as
they slipped down or were dragged up, the rumble of
the sliding sledges, and the sounds of merry voices. 
He walked on a few steps, and the skating-ground lay
open before his eyes, and at once, amidst all the skaters,
he knew her.

He knew she was there by the rapture
and the terror that seized on his heart.  She
was standing talking to a lady at the opposite end
of the ground.  There was apparently nothing striking
either in her dress or her attitude.  But for
Levin she was as easy to find in that crowd as a rose
among nettles.  Everything was made bright by
her.  She was the smile that shed light on all
round her.  “Is it possible I can go over
there on the ice, go up to her?” he thought. 
The place where she stood seemed to him a holy shrine,
unapproachable, and there was one moment when he was
almost retreating, so overwhelmed was he with terror. 
He had to make an effort to master himself, and to
remind himself that people of all sorts were moving
about her, and that he too might come there to skate. 
He walked down, for a long while avoiding looking
at her as at the sun, but seeing her, as one does the
sun, without looking.

On that day of the week and at that
time of day people of one set, all acquainted with
one another, used to meet on the ice.  There were
crack skaters there, showing off their skill, and
learners clinging to chairs with timid, awkward movements,
boys, and elderly people skating with hygienic motives. 
They seemed to Levin an elect band of blissful beings
because they were here, near her.  All the skaters,
it seemed, with perfect self-possession, skated towards
her, skated by her, even spoke to her, and were happy,
quite apart from her, enjoying the capital ice and
the fine weather.

Nikolay Shtcherbatsky, Kitty’s
cousin, in a short jacket and tight trousers, was
sitting on a garden seat with his skates on. 
Seeing Levin, he shouted to him: 

“Ah, the first skater in Russia! 
Been here long?  First-rate ice ­do
put your skates on.”

“I haven’t got my skates,”
Levin answered, marveling at this boldness and ease
in her presence, and not for one second losing sight
of her, though he did not look at her.  He felt
as though the sun were coming near him.  She
was in a corner, and turning out her slender feet
in their high boots with obvious timidity, she skated
towards him.  A boy in Russian dress, desperately
waving his arms and bowed down to the ground, overtook
her.  She skated a little uncertainly; taking
her hands out of the little muff that hung on a cord,
she held them ready for emergency, and looking towards
Levin, whom she had recognized, she smiled at him,
and at her own fears.  When she had got round
the turn, she gave herself a push off with one foot,
and skated straight up to Shtcherbatsky.  Clutching
at his arm, she nodded smiling to Levin.  She
was more splendid than he had imagined her.

When he thought of her, he could call
up a vivid picture of her to himself, especially the
charm of that little fair head, so freely set on the
shapely girlish shoulders, and so full of childish
brightness and good humor.  The childishness of
her expression, together with the delicate beauty
of her figure, made up her special charm, and that
he fully realized.  But what always struck him
in her as something unlooked for, was the expression
of her eyes, soft, serene, and truthful, and above
all, her smile, which always transported Levin to an
enchanted world, where he felt himself softened and
tender, as he remembered himself in some days of his
early childhood.

“Have you been here long?”
she said, giving him her hand.  “Thank
you,” she added, as he picked up the handkerchief
that had fallen out of her muff.

“I?  I’ve not long…yesterday…I
mean today…I arrived,” answered Levin, in
his emotion not at once understanding her question. 
“I was meaning to come and see you,” he
said; and then, recollecting with what intention he
was trying to see her, he was promptly overcome with
confusion and blushed.

“I didn’t know you could skate, and skate
so well.”

She looked at him earnestly, as though
wishing to make out the cause of his confusion.

“Your praise is worth having. 
The tradition is kept up here that you are the best
of skaters,” she said, with her little black-gloved
hand brushing a grain of hoarfrost off her muff.

“Yes, I used once to skate with
passion; I wanted to reach perfection.”

“You do everything with passion,
I think,” she said smiling.  “I should
so like to see how you skate.  Put on skates,
and let us skate together.”

“Skate together!  Can that
be possible?” thought Levin, gazing at her.

“I’ll put them on directly,” he
said.

And he went off to get skates.

“It’s a long while since
we’ve seen you here, sir,” said the attendant,
supporting his foot, and screwing on the heel of the
skate.  “Except you, there’s none
of the gentlemen first-rate skaters.  Will that
be all right?” said he, tightening the strap.

“Oh, yes, yes; make haste, please,”
answered Levin, with difficulty restraining the smile
of rapture which would overspread his face. 
“Yes,” he thought, “this now is life,
this is happiness! Together, she said; let
us skate together!
Speak to her now?  But
that’s just why I’m afraid to speak ­because
I’m happy now, happy in hope, anyway…. 
And then?….  But I must!  I must! 
I must!  Away with weakness!”

Levin rose to his feet, took off his
overcoat, and scurrying over the rough ice round the
hut, came out on the smooth ice and skated without
effort, as it were, by simple exercise of will, increasing
and slackening speed and turning his course. 
He approached with timidity, but again her smile reassured
him.

She gave him her hand, and they set
off side by side, going faster and faster, and the
more rapidly they moved the more tightly she grasped
his hand.

“With you I should soon learn;
I somehow feel confidence in you,” she said
to him.

“And I have confidence in myself
when you are leaning on me,” he said, but was
at once panic-stricken at what he had said, and blushed. 
And indeed, no sooner had he uttered these words,
when all at once, like the sun going behind a cloud,
her face lost all its friendliness, and Levin detected
the familiar change in her expression that denoted
the working of thought; a crease showed on her smooth
brow.

“Is there anything troubling
you? ­though I’ve no right to ask
such a question,” he added hurriedly.

“Oh, why so?….  No, I
have nothing to trouble me,” she responded coldly;
and she added immediately:  “You haven’t
seen Mlle. Linon, have you?”

“Not yet.”

“Go and speak to her, she likes you so much.”

“What’s wrong?  I
have offended her.  Lord help me!” thought
Levin, and he flew towards the old Frenchwoman with
the gray ringlets, who was sitting on a bench. 
Smiling and showing her false teeth, she greeted
him as an old friend.

“Yes, you see we’re growing
up,” she said to him, glancing towards Kitty,
“and growing old. Tiny bear has grown
big now!” pursued the Frenchwoman, laughing,
and she reminded him of his joke about the three young
ladies whom he had compared to the three bears in
the English nursery tale.  “Do you remember
that’s what you used to call them?”

He remembered absolutely nothing,
but she had been laughing at the joke for ten years
now, and was fond of it.

“Now, go and skate, go and skate. 
Our Kitty has learned to skate nicely, hasn’t
she?”

When Levin darted up to Kitty her
face was no longer stern; her eyes looked at him with
the same sincerity and friendliness, but Levin fancied
that in her friendliness there was a certain note
of deliberate composure.  And he felt depressed. 
After talking a little of her old governess and her
peculiarities, she questioned him about his life.

“Surely you must be dull in
the country in the winter, aren’t you?”
she said.

“No, I’m not dull, I am
very busy,” he said, feeling that she was holding
him in check by her composed tone, which he would not
have the force to break through, just as it had been
at the beginning of the winter.

“Are you going to stay in town
long?” Kitty questioned him.

“I don’t know,”
he answered, not thinking of what he was saying. 
The thought that if he were held in check by her tone
of quiet friendliness he would end by going back again
without deciding anything came into his mind, and
he resolved to make a struggle against it.

“How is it you don’t know?”

“I don’t know.  It
depends upon you,” he said, and was immediately
horror-stricken at his own words.

Whether it was that she had heard
his words, or that she did not want to hear them,
she made a sort of stumble, twice struck out, and
hurriedly skated away from him.  She skated up
to Mlle. Linon, said something to her, and went
towards the pavilion where the ladies took off their
skates.

“My God! what have I done! 
Merciful God! help me, guide me,” said Levin,
praying inwardly, and at the same time, feeling a
need of violent exercise, he skated about describing
inner and outer circles.

At that moment one of the young men,
the best of the skaters of the day, came out of the
coffee-house in his skates, with a cigarette in his
mouth.  Taking a run, he dashed down the steps
in his skates, crashing and bounding up and down. 
He flew down, and without even changing the position
of his hands, skated away over the ice.

“Ah, that’s a new trick!”
said Levin, and he promptly ran up to the top to do
this new trick.

“Don’t break your neck!
it needs practice!” Nikolay Shtcherbatsky shouted
after him.

Levin went to the steps, took a run
from above as best he could, and dashed down, preserving
his balance in this unwonted movement with his hands. 
On the last step he stumbled, but barely touching
the ice with his hand, with a violent effort recovered
himself, and skated off, laughing.

“How splendid, how nice he is!”
Kitty was thinking at that time, as she came out of
the pavilion with Mlle. Linon, and looked towards
him with a smile of quiet affection, as though he were
a favorite brother.  “And can it be my
fault, can I have done anything wrong?  They
talk of flirtation.  I know it’s not he
that I love; but still I am happy with him, and he’s
so jolly.  Only, why did he say that?…”
she mused.

Catching sight of Kitty going away,
and her mother meeting her at the steps, Levin, flushed
from his rapid exercise, stood still and pondered
a minute.  He took off his skates, and overtook
the mother and daughter at the entrance of the gardens.

“Delighted to see you,”
said Princess Shtcherbatskaya.  “On Thursdays
we are home, as always.”

“Today, then?”

“We shall be pleased to see you,” the
princess said stiffly.

This stiffness hurt Kitty, and she
could not resist the desire to smooth over her mother’s
coldness.  She turned her head, and with a smile
said: 

“Good-bye till this evening.”

At that moment Stepan Arkadyevitch,
his hat cocked on one side, with beaming face and
eyes, strode into the garden like a conquering hero. 
But as he approached his mother-in-law, he responded
in a mournful and crestfallen tone to her inquiries
about Dolly’s health.  After a little subdued
and dejected conversation with his mother-in-law,
he threw out his chest again, and put his arm in Levin’s.

“Well, shall we set off?”
he asked.  “I’ve been thinking about
you all this time, and I’m very, very glad you’ve
come,” he said, looking him in the face with
a significant air.

“Yes, come along,” answered
Levin in ecstasy, hearing unceasingly the sound of
that voice saying, “Good-bye till this evening,”
and seeing the smile with which it was said.

“To the England or the Hermitage?”

“I don’t mind which.”

“All right, then, the England,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, selecting that restaurant
because he owed more there than at the Hermitage,
and consequently considered it mean to avoid it. 
“Have you got a sledge?  That’s first-rate,
for I sent my carriage home.”

The friends hardly spoke all the way. 
Levin was wondering what that change in Kitty’s
expression had meant, and alternately assuring himself
that there was hope, and falling into despair, seeing
clearly that his hopes were insane, and yet all the
while he felt himself quite another man, utterly unlike
what he had been before her smile and those words,
“Good-bye till this evening.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch was absorbed during
the drive in composing the menu of the dinner.

“You like turbot, don’t
you?” he said to Levin as they were arriving.

“Eh?” responded Levin. 
“Turbot?  Yes, I’m awfully
fond of turbot.”

 

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