FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 10

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

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When Levin went into the restaurant
with Oblonsky, he could not help noticing a certain
peculiarity of expression, as it were, a restrained
radiance, about the face and whole figure of Stepan
Arkadyevitch.  Oblonsky took off his overcoat,
and with his hat over one ear walked into the dining
room, giving directions to the Tatar waiters, who
were clustered about him in evening coats, bearing
napkins.  Bowing to right and left to the people
he met, and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances,
he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer
of fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman
decked in ribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the
counter, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman
was moved to genuine laughter.  Levin for his
part refrained from taking any vodka simply because
he felt such a loathing of that Frenchwoman, all made
up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz,
and vinaigre de toilette.  He made haste
to move away from her, as from a dirty place. 
His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty,
and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining
in his eyes.

“This way, your excellency,
please.  Your excellency won’t be disturbed
here,” said a particularly pertinacious, white-headed
old Tatar with immense hips and coat-tails gaping widely
behind.  “Walk in, your excellency,”
he said to Levin; by way of showing his respect to
Stepan Arkadyevitch, being attentive to his guest
as well.

Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over
the round table under the bronze chandelier, though
it already had a table cloth on it, he pushed up velvet
chairs, and came to a standstill before Stepan Arkadyevitch
with a napkin and a bill of fare in his hands, awaiting
his commands.

“If you prefer it, your excellency,
a private room will be free directly; Prince Golistin
with a lady.  Fresh oysters have come in.”

“Ah! oysters.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch became thoughtful.

“How if we were to change our
program, Levin?” he said, keeping his finger
on the bill of fare.  And his face expressed serious
hesitation.  “Are the oysters good? 
Mind now.”

“They’re Flensburg, your excellency. 
We’ve no Ostend.”

“Flensburg will do, but are they fresh?”

“Only arrived yesterday.”

“Well, then, how if we were
to begin with oysters, and so change the whole program? 
Eh?”

“It’s all the same to
me.  I should like cabbage soup and porridge
better than anything; but of course there’s nothing
like that here.”

Porridge a la Russe,
your honor would like?” said the Tatar, bending
down to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child.

“No, joking apart, whatever
you choose is sure to be good.  I’ve been
skating, and I’m hungry.  And don’t
imagine,” he added, detecting a look of dissatisfaction
on Oblonsky’s face, “that I shan’t
appreciate your choice.  I am fond of good things.”

“I should hope so!  After
all, it’s one of the pleasures of life,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch.  “Well, then,
my friend, you give us two ­or better say
three ­dozen oysters, clear soup with vegetables…”

Printanière,” prompted
the Tatar.  But Stepan Arkadyevitch apparently
did not care to allow him the satisfaction of giving
the French names of the dishes.

“With vegetables in it, you
know.  Then turbot with thick sauce, then…roast
beef; and mind it’s good.  Yes, and capóns,
perhaps, and then sweets.”

The Tatar, recollecting that it was
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s way not to call the dishes
by the names in the French bill of fare, did not repeat
them after him, but could not resist rehearsing the
whole menu to himself according to the bill: ­“Soupe
printanière, turbot, sauce Beaumarchais, poulard a
l’estragon, macedoine de fruits
…etc.,”
and then instantly, as though worked by springs, laying
down one bound bill of fare, he took up another, the
list of wines, and submitted it to Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“What shall we drink?”

“What you like, only not too much.  Champagne,”
said Levin.

“What! to start with? 
You’re right though, I dare say.  Do you
like the white seal?”

Cachet blanc,” prompted the Tatar.

“Very well, then, give us that
brand with the oysters, and then we’ll see.”

“Yes, sir.  And what table wine?”

“You can give us Nuits.  Oh, no, better
the classic Chablis.”

“Yes, sir.  And your cheese, your
excellency?”

“Oh, yes, Parmesan.  Or would you like
another?”

“No, it’s all the same
to me,” said Levin, unable to suppress a smile.

And the Tatar ran off with flying
coat-tails, and in five minutes darted in with a dish
of opened oysters on mother-of-pearl shells, and a
bottle between his fingers.

Stepan Arkadyevitch crushed the starchy
napkin, tucked it into his waistcoat, and settling
his arms comfortably, started on the oysters.

“Not bad,” he said, stripping
the oysters from the pearly shell with a silver fork,
and swallowing them one after another.  “Not
bad,” he repeated, turning his dewy, brilliant
eyes from Levin to the Tatar.

Levin ate the oysters indeed, though
white bread and cheese would have pleased him better. 
But he was admiring Oblonsky.  Even the Tatar,
uncorking the bottle and pouring the sparkling wine
into the delicate glasses, glanced at Stepan Arkadyevitch,
and settled his white cravat with a perceptible smile
of satisfaction.

“You don’t care much for
oysters, do you?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
emptying his wine glass, “or you’re worried
about something.  Eh?”

He wanted Levin to be in good spirits. 
But it was not that Levin was not in good spirits;
he was ill at ease.  With what he had in his
soul, he felt sore and uncomfortable in the restaurant,
in the midst of private rooms where men were dining
with ladies, in all this fuss and bustle; the surroundings
of bronzes, looking glasses, gas, and waiters ­all
of it was offensive to him.  He was afraid of
sullying what his soul was brimful of.

“I?  Yes, I am; but besides,
all this bothers me,” he said.  “You
can’t conceive how queer it all seems to a country
person like me, as queer as that gentleman’s
nails I saw at your place…”

“Yes, I saw how much interested
you were in poor Grinevitch’s nails,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing.

“It’s too much for me,”
responded Levin.  “Do try, now, and put
yourself in my place, take the point of view of a country
person.  We in the country try to bring our hands
into such a state as will be most convenient for working
with.  So we cut our nails; sometimes we turn
up our sleeves.  And here people purposely let
their nails grow as long as they will, and link on
small saucers by way of studs, so that they can do
nothing with their hands.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled gaily.

“Oh, yes, that’s just
a sign that he has no need to do coarse work. 
His work is with the mind…”

“Maybe.  But still it’s
queer to me, just as at this moment it seems queer
to me that we country folks try to get our meals over
as soon as we can, so as to be ready for our work,
while here are we trying to drag out our meal as long
as possible, and with that object eating oysters…”

“Why, of course,” objected
Stepan Arkadyevitch.  “But that’s
just the aim of civilization ­to make everything
a source of enjoyment.”

“Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather
be a savage.”

“And so you are a savage.  All you Levins
are savages.”

Levin sighed.  He remembered
his brother Nikolay, and felt ashamed and sore, and
he scowled; but Oblonsky began speaking of a subject
which at once drew his attention.

“Oh, I say, are you going tonight
to our people, the Shtcherbatskys’, I mean?”
he said, his eyes sparkling significantly as he pushed
away the empty rough shells, and drew the cheese towards
him.

“Yes, I shall certainly go,”
replied Levin; “though I fancied the princess
was not very warm in her invitation.”

“What nonsense!  That’s
her manner….  Come, boy, the soup!…. 
That’s her manner ­grande dame,
said Stepan Arkadyevitch.  “I’m coming,
too, but I have to go to the Countess Bonina’s
rehearsal.  Come, isn’t it true that you’re
a savage?  How do you explain the sudden way
in which you vanished from Moscow?  The Shtcherbatskys
were continually asking me about you, as though I ought
to know.  The only thing I know is that you always
do what no one else does.”

“Yes,” said Levin, slowly
and with emotion, “you’re right. 
I am a savage.  Only, my savageness is not in
having gone away, but in coming now.  Now I have
come…”

“Oh, what a lucky fellow you
are!” broke in Stepan Arkadyevitch, looking
into Levin’s eyes.

“Why?”

    “I know a gallant steed
by tokens sure,
     And by his eyes I know
a youth in love,”

declaimed Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
“Everything is before you.”

“Why, is it over for you already?”

“No; not over exactly, but the
future is yours, and the present is mine, and the
present ­well, it’s not all that it
might be.”

“How so?”

“Oh, things go wrong. 
But I don’t want to talk of myself, and besides
I can’t explain it all,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
“Well, why have you come to Moscow, then?…. 
Hi! take away!” he called to the Tatar.

“You guess?” responded
Levin, his eyes like deep wells of light fixed on
Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“I guess, but I can’t
be the first to talk about it.  You can see by
that whether I guess right or wrong,” said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, gazing at Levin with a subtle smile.

“Well, and what have you to
say to me?” said Levin in a quivering voice,
feeling that all the muscles of his face were quivering
too.  “How do you look at the question?”

Stepan Arkadyevitch slowly emptied
his glass of Chablis, never taking his eyes off Levin.

“I?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
“there’s nothing I desire so much as that ­nothing! 
It would be the best thing that could be.”

“But you’re not making
a mistake?  You know what we’re speaking
of?” said Levin, piercing him with his eyes. 
“You think it’s possible?”

“I think it’s possible.  Why not
possible?”

“No! do you really think it’s
possible?  No, tell me all you think!  Oh,
but if…if refusal’s in store for me!… 
Indeed I feel sure…”

“Why should you think that?”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling at his excitement.

“It seems so to me sometimes. 
That will be awful for me, and for her too.”

“Oh, well, anyway there’s
nothing awful in it for a girl.  Every girl’s
proud of an offer.”

“Yes, every girl, but not she.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. 
He so well knew that feeling of Levin’s, that
for him all the girls in the world were divided into
two classes:  one class ­all the girls
in the world except her, and those girls with all
sorts of human weaknesses, and very ordinary girls: 
the other class ­she alone, having no weaknesses
of any sort and higher than all humanity.

“Stay, take some sauce,”
he said, holding back Levin’s hand as it pushed
away the sauce.

Levin obediently helped himself to
sauce, but would not let Stepan Arkadyevitch go on
with his dinner.

“No, stop a minute, stop a minute,”
he said.  “You must understand that it’s
a question of life and death for me.  I have
never spoken to any one of this.  And there’s
no one I could speak of it to, except you.  You
know we’re utterly unlike each other, different
tastes and views and everything; but I know you’re
fond of me and understand me, and that’s why
I like you awfully.  But for God’s sake,
be quite straightforward with me.”

“I tell you what I think,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling.  “But
I’ll say more:  my wife is a wonderful woman…” 
Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed, remembering his position
with his wife, and, after a moment’s silence,
resumed ­“She has a gift of foreseeing
things.  She sees right through people; but that’s
not all; she knows what will come to pass, especially
in the way of marriages.  She foretold, for instance,
that Princess Shahovskaya would marry Brenteln. 
No one would believe it, but it came to pass. 
And she’s on your side.”

“How do you mean?”

“It’s not only that she
likes you ­she says that Kitty is certain
to be your wife.”

At these words Levin’s face
suddenly lighted up with a smile, a smile not far
from tears of emotion.

“She says that!” cried
Levin.  “I always said she was exquisite,
your wife.  There, that’s enough, enough
said about it,” he said, getting up from his
seat.

“All right, but do sit down.”

But Levin could not sit down. 
He walked with his firm tread twice up and down the
little cage of a room, blinked his eyelids that his
tears might not fall, and only then sat down to the
table.

“You must understand,”
said he, “it’s not love.  I’ve
been in love, but it’s not that.  It’s
not my feeling, but a sort of force outside me has
taken possession of me.  I went away, you see,
because I made up my mind that it could never be, you
understand, as a happiness that does not come on earth;
but I’ve struggled with myself, I see there’s
no living without it.  And it must be settled.”

“What did you go away for?”

“Ah, stop a minute!  Ah,
the thoughts that come crowding on one!  The questions
one must ask oneself!  Listen.  You can’t
imagine what you’ve done for me by what you
said.  I’m so happy that I’ve become
positively hateful; I’ve forgotten everything. 
I heard today that my brother Nikolay…you know,
he’s here…I had even forgotten him. 
It seems to me that he’s happy too.  It’s
a sort of madness.  But one thing’s awful…. 
Here, you’ve been married, you know the feeling…it’s
awful that we ­old ­with a past…
not of love, but of sins…are brought all at once
so near to a creature pure and innocent; it’s
loathsome, and that’s why one can’t help
feeling oneself unworthy.”

“Oh, well, you’ve not many sins on your
conscience.”

“Alas! all the same,”
said Levin, “when with loathing I go over my
life, I shudder and curse and bitterly regret it…. 
Yes.”

“What would you have? 
The world’s made so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“The one comfort is like that
prayer, which I always liked:  ’Forgive
me not according to my unworthiness, but according
to Thy lovingkindness.’  That’s the
only way she can forgive me.”

 

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