FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 12

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

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The young Princess Kitty Shtcherbatskaya
was eighteen.  It was the first winter that she
had been out in the world.  Her success in society
had been greater than that of either of her elder
sisters, and greater even than her mother had anticipated. 
To say nothing of the young men who danced at the
Moscow balls being almost all in love with Kitty,
two serious suitors had already this first winter
made their appearance:  Levin, and immediately
after his departure, Count Vronsky.

Levin’s appearance at the beginning
of the winter, his frequent visits, and evident love
for Kitty, had led to the first serious conversations
between Kitty’s parents as to her future, and
to disputes between them.  The prince was on
Levin’s side; he said he wished for nothing
better for Kitty.  The princess for her part,
going round the question in the manner peculiar to
women, maintained that Kitty was too young, that Levin
had done nothing to prove that he had serious intentions,
that Kitty felt no great attraction to him, and other
side issues; but she did not state the principal point,
which was that she looked for a better match for her
daughter, and that Levin was not to her liking, and
she did not understand him.  When Levin had abruptly
departed, the princess was delighted, and said to
her husband triumphantly:  “You see I was
right.”  When Vronsky appeared on the scene,
she was still more delighted, confirmed in her opinion
that Kitty was to make not simply a good, but a brilliant
match.

In the mother’s eyes there could
be no comparison between Vronsky and Levin. 
She disliked in Levin his strange and uncompromising
opinions and his shyness in society, founded, as she
supposed, on his pride and his queer sort of life,
as she considered it, absorbed in cattle and peasants. 
She did not very much like it that he, who was in
love with her daughter, had kept coming to the house
for six weeks, as though he were waiting for something,
inspecting, as though he were afraid he might be doing
them too great an honor by making an offer, and did
not realize that a man, who continually visits at
a house where there is a young unmarried girl, is
bound to make his intentions clear.  And suddenly,
without doing so, he disappeared.  “It’s
as well he’s not attractive enough for Kitty
to have fallen in love with him,” thought the
mother.

Vronsky satisfied all the mother’s
desires.  Very wealthy, clever, of aristocratic
family, on the highroad to a brilliant career in the
army and at court, and a fascinating man.  Nothing
better could be wished for.

Vronsky openly flirted with Kitty
at balls, danced with her, and came continually to
the house, consequently there could be no doubt of
the seriousness of his intentions.  But, in spite
of that, the mother had spent the whole of that winter
in a state of terrible anxiety and agitation.

Princess Shtcherbatskaya had herself
been married thirty years ago, her aunt arranging
the match.  Her husband, about whom everything
was well known before hand, had come, looked at his
future bride, and been looked at.  The match-making
aunt had ascertained and communicated their mutual
impression.  That impression had been favorable. 
Afterwards, on a day fixed beforehand, the expected
offer was made to her parents, and accepted. 
All had passed very simply and easily.  So it
seemed, at least, to the princess.  But over
her own daughters she had felt how far from simple
and easy is the business, apparently so commonplace,
of marrying off one’s daughters.  The panics
that had been lived through, the thoughts that had
been brooded over, the money that had been wasted,
and the disputes with her husband over marrying the
two elder girls, Darya and Natalia!  Now, since
the youngest had come out, she was going through the
same terrors, the same doubts, and still more violent
quarrels with her husband than she had over the elder
girls.  The old prince, like all fathers indeed,
was exceedingly punctilious on the score of the honor
and reputation of his daughters.  He was irrationally
jealous over his daughters, especially over Kitty,
who was his favorite.  At every turn he had scenes
with the princess for compromising her daughter. 
The princess had grown accustomed to this already
with her other daughters, but now she felt that there
was more ground for the prince’s touchiness. 
She saw that of late years much was changed in the
manners of society, that a mother’s duties had
become still more difficult.  She saw that girls
of Kitty’s age formed some sort of clubs, went
to some sort of lectures, mixed freely in men’s
society; drove about the streets alone, many of them
did not curtsey, and, what was the most important
thing, all the girls were firmly convinced that to
choose their husbands was their own affair, and not
their parents’.  “Marriages aren’t
made nowadays as they used to be,” was thought
and said by all these young girls, and even by their
elders.  But how marriages were made now, the
princess could not learn from any one.  The French
fashion ­of the parents arranging their
children’s future ­was not accepted;
it was condemned.  The English fashion of the
complete independence of girls was also not accepted,
and not possible in Russian society.  The Russian
fashion of match-making by the offices of intermediate
persons was for some reason considered unseemly; it
was ridiculed by every one, and by the princess herself. 
But how girls were to be married, and how parents
were to marry them, no one knew.  Everyone with
whom the princess had chanced to discuss the matter
said the same thing:  “Mercy on us, it’s
high time in our day to cast off all that old-fashioned
business.  It’s the young people have to
marry; and not their parents; and so we ought to leave
the young people to arrange it as they choose.” 
It was very easy for anyone to say that who had no
daughters, but the princess realized that in the process
of getting to know each other, her daughter might
fall in love, and fall in love with someone who did
not care to marry her or who was quite unfit to be
her husband.  And, however much it was instilled
into the princess that in our times young people ought
to arrange their lives for themselves, she was unable
to believe it, just as she would have been unable
to believe that, at any time whatever, the most suitable
playthings for children five years old ought to be
loaded pistols.  And so the princess was more
uneasy over Kitty than she had been over her elder
sisters.

Now she was afraid that Vronsky might
confine himself to simply flirting with her daughter. 
She saw that her daughter was in love with him, but
tried to comfort herself with the thought that he
was an honorable man, and would not do this. 
But at the same time she knew how easy it is, with
the freedom of manners of today, to turn a girl’s
head, and how lightly men generally regard such a
crime.  The week before, Kitty had told her mother
of a conversation she had with Vronsky during a mazurka. 
This conversation had partly reassured the princess;
but perfectly at ease she could not be.  Vronsky
had told Kitty that both he and his brother were so
used to obeying their mother that they never made
up their minds to any important undertaking without
consulting her.  “And just now, I am impatiently
awaiting my mother’s arrival from Petersburg,
as peculiarly fortunate,” he told her.

Kitty had repeated this without attaching
any significance to the words.  But her mother
saw them in a different light.  She knew that
the old lady was expected from day to day, that she
would be pleased at her son’s choice, and she
felt it strange that he should not make his offer
through fear of vexing his mother.  However, she
was so anxious for the marriage itself, and still
more for relief from her fears, that she believed it
was so.  Bitter as it was for the princess to
see the unhappiness of her eldest daughter, Dolly,
on the point of leaving her husband, her anxiety over
the decision of her youngest daughter’s fate
engrossed all her feelings.  Today, with Levin’s
reappearance, a fresh source of anxiety arose. 
She was afraid that her daughter, who had at one
time, as she fancied, a feeling for Levin, might,
from extreme sense of honor, refuse Vronsky, and that
Levin’s arrival might generally complicate and
delay the affair so near being concluded.

“Why, has he been here long?”
the princess asked about Levin, as they returned home.

“He came today, mamma.”

“There’s one thing I want
to say…” began the princess, and from her
serious and alert face, Kitty guessed what it would
be.

“Mamma,” she said, flushing
hotly and turning quickly to her, “please, please
don’t say anything about that.  I know,
I know all about it.”

She wished for what her mother wished
for, but the motives of her mother’s wishes
wounded her.

“I only want to say that to raise hopes…”

“Mamma, darling, for goodness’
sake, don’t talk about it.  It’s
so horrible to talk about it.”

“I won’t,” said
her mother, seeing the tears in her daughter’s
eyes; “but one thing, my love; you promised me
you would have no secrets from me.  You won’t?”

“Never, mamma, none,”
answered Kitty, flushing a little, and looking her
mother straight in the face, “but there’s
no use in my telling you anything, and I…I…if
I wanted to, I don’t know what to say or how…I
don’t know…”

“No, she could not tell an untruth
with those eyes,” thought the mother, smiling
at her agitation and happiness.  The princess
smiled that what was taking place just now in her soul
seemed to the poor child so immense and so important.

 

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