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PART ONE : Chapter 14

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

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But at that very moment the princess
came in.  There was a look of horror on her face
when she saw them alone, and their disturbed faces. 
Levin bowed to her, and said nothing.  Kitty
did not speak nor lift her eyes.  “Thank
God, she has refused him,” thought the mother,
and her face lighted up with the habitual smile with
which she greeted her guests on Thursdays.  She
sat down and began questioning Levin about his life
in the country.  He sat down again, waiting for
other visitors to arrive, in order to retreat unnoticed.

Five minutes later there came in a
friend of Kitty’s, married the preceding winter,
Countess Nordston.

She was a thin, sallow, sickly, and
nervous woman, with brilliant black eyes.  She
was fond of Kitty, and her affection for her showed
itself, as the affection of married women for girls
always does, in the desire to make a match for Kitty
after her own ideal of married happiness; she wanted
her to marry Vronsky.  Levin she had often met
at the Shtcherbatskys’ early in the winter, and
she had always disliked him.  Her invariable
and favorite pursuit, when they met, consisted in
making fun of him.

“I do like it when he looks
down at me from the height of his grandeur, or breaks
off his learned conversation with me because I’m
a fool, or is condescending to me.  I like that
so; to see him condescending!  I am so glad he
can’t bear me,” she used to say of him.

She was right, for Levin actually
could not bear her, and despised her for what she
was proud of and regarded as a fine characteristic ­her
nervousness, her delicate contempt and indifference
for everything coarse and earthly.

The Countess Nordston and Levin got
into that relation with one another not seldom seen
in society, when two persons, who remain externally
on friendly terms, despise each other to such a degree
that they cannot even take each other seriously, and
cannot even be offended by each other.

The Countess Nordston pounced upon Levin at once.

“Ah, Konstantin Dmitrievitch! 
So you’ve come back to our corrupt Babylon,”
she said, giving him her tiny, yellow hand, and recalling
what he had chanced to say early in the winter, that
Moscow was a Babylon.  “Come, is Babylon
reformed, or have you degenerated?” she added,
glancing with a simper at Kitty.

“It’s very flattering
for me, countess, that you remember my words so well,”
responded Levin, who had succeeded in recovering his
composure, and at once from habit dropped into his
tone of joking hostility to the Countess Nordston. 
“They must certainly make a great impression
on you.”

“Oh, I should think so! 
I always note them all down.  Well, Kitty, have
you been skating again?…”

And she began talking to Kitty. 
Awkward as it was for Levin to withdraw now, it would
still have been easier for him to perpetrate this
awkwardness than to remain all the evening and see
Kitty, who glanced at him now and then and avoided
his eyes.  He was on the point of getting up,
when the princess, noticing that he was silent, addressed
him.

“Shall you be long in Moscow? 
You’re busy with the district council, though,
aren’t you, and can’t be away for long?”

“No, princess, I’m no
longer a member of the council,” he said. 
“I have come up for a few days.”

“There’s something the
matter with him,” thought Countess Nordston,
glancing at his stern, serious face.  “He
isn’t in his old argumentative mood.  But
I’ll draw him out.  I do love making a
fool of him before Kitty, and I’ll do it.”

“Konstantin Dmitrievitch,”
she said to him, “do explain to me, please,
what’s the meaning of it.  You know all
about such things.  At home in our village of
Kaluga all the peasants and all the women have drunk
up all they possessed, and now they can’t pay
us any rent.  What’s the meaning of that? 
You always praise the peasants so.”

At that instant another lady came
into the room, and Levin got up.

“Excuse me, countess, but I
really know nothing about it, and can’t tell
you anything,” he said, and looked round at the
officer who came in behind the lady.

“That must be Vronsky,”
thought Levin, and, to be sure of it, glanced at Kitty. 
She had already had time to look at Vronsky, and
looked round at Levin.  And simply from the look
in her eyes, that grew unconsciously brighter, Levin
knew that she loved that man, knew it as surely as
if she had told him so in words.  But what sort
of a man was he?  Now, whether for good or for
ill, Levin could not choose but remain; he must find
out what the man was like whom she loved.

There are people who, on meeting a
successful rival, no matter in what, are at once disposed
to turn their backs on everything good in him, and
to see only what is bad.  There are people, on
the other hand, who desire above all to find in that
lucky rival the qualities by which he has outstripped
them, and seek with a throbbing ache at heart only
what is good.  Levin belonged to the second class. 
But he had no difficulty in finding what was good
and attractive in Vronsky.  It was apparent at
the first glance.  Vronsky was a squarely built,
dark man, not very tall, with a good-humored, handsome,
and exceedingly calm and resolute face.  Everything
about his face and figure, from his short-cropped
black hair and freshly shaven chin down to his loosely
fitting, brand-new uniform, was simple and at the
same time elegant.  Making way for the lady who
had come in, Vronsky went up to the princess and then
to Kitty.

As he approached her, his beautiful
eyes shone with a specially tender light, and with
a faint, happy, and modestly triumphant smile (so
it seemed to Levin), bowing carefully and respectfully
over her, he held out his small broad hand to her.

Greeting and saying a few words to
everyone, he sat down without once glancing at Levin,
who had never taken his eyes off him.

“Let me introduce you,”
said the princess, indicating Levin.  “Konstantin
Dmitrievitch Levin, Count Alexey Kirillovitch Vronsky.”

Vronsky got up and, looking cordially
at Levin, shook hands with him.

“I believe I was to have dined
with you this winter,” he said, smiling his
simple and open smile; “but you had unexpectedly
left for the country.”

“Konstantin Dmitrievitch despises
and hates town and us townspeople,” said Countess
Nordston.

“My words must make a deep impression
on you, since you remember them so well,” said
Levin, and, suddenly conscious that he had said just
the same thing before, he reddened.

Vronsky looked at Levin and Countess
Nordston, and smiled.

“Are you always in the country?”
he inquired.  “I should think it must be
dull in the winter.”

“It’s not dull if one
has work to do; besides, one’s not dull by oneself,”
Levin replied abruptly.

“I am fond of the country,”
said Vronsky, noticing, and affecting not to notice,
Levin’s tone.

“But I hope, count, you would
not consent to live in the country always,”
said Countess Nordston.

“I don’t know; I have
never tried for long.  I experienced a queer
feeling once,” he went on.  “I never
longed so for the country, Russian country, with bast
shoes and peasants, as when I was spending a winter
with my mother in Nice.  Nice itself is dull
enough, you know.  And indeed, Naples and Sorrento
are only pleasant for a short time.  And it’s
just there that Russia comes back to me most vividly,
and especially the country.  It’s as though…”

He talked on, addressing both Kitty
and Levin, turning his serene, friendly eyes from
one to the other, and saying obviously just what came
into his head.

Noticing that Countess Nordston wanted
to say something, he stopped short without finishing
what he had begun, and listened attentively to her.

The conversation did not flag for
an instant, so that the princess, who always kept
in reserve, in case a subject should be lacking, two
heavy guns ­the relative advantages of classical
and of modern education, and universal military service ­had
not to move out either of them, while Countess Nordston
had not a chance of chaffing Levin.

Levin wanted to, and could not, take
part in the general conversation; saying to himself
every instant, “Now go,” he still did
not go, as though waiting for something.

The conversation fell upon table-turning
and spirits, and Countess Nordston, who believed in
spiritualism, began to describe the marvels she had
seen.

“Ah, countess, you really must
take me, for pity’s sake do take me to see them! 
I have never seen anything extraordinary, though
I am always on the lookout for it everywhere,”
said Vronsky, smiling.

“Very well, next Saturday,”
answered Countess Nordston.  “But you,
Konstantin Dmitrievitch, do you believe in it?”
she asked Levin.

“Why do you ask me?  You know what I shall
say.”

“But I want to hear your opinion.”

“My opinion,” answered
Levin, “is only that this table-turning simply
proves that educated society ­so called ­is
no higher than the peasants.  They believe in
the evil eye, and in witchcraft and omens, while we…”

“Oh, then you don’t believe in it?”

“I can’t believe in it, countess.”

“But if I’ve seen it myself?”

“The peasant women too tell us they have seen
goblins.”

“Then you think I tell a lie?”

And she laughed a mirthless laugh.

“Oh, no, Masha, Konstantin Dmitrievitch
said he could not believe in it,” said Kitty,
blushing for Levin, and Levin saw this, and, still
more exasperated, would have answered, but Vronsky
with his bright frank smile rushed to the support
of the conversation, which was threatening to become
disagreeable.

“You do not admit the conceivability
at all?” he queried.  “But why not? 
We admit the existence of electricity, of which we
know nothing.  Why should there not be some new
force, still unknown to us, which…”

“When electricity was discovered,”
Levin interrupted hurriedly, “it was only the
phenomenon that was discovered, and it was unknown
from what it proceeded and what were its effects, and
ages passed before its applications were conceived. 
But the spiritualists have begun with tables writing
for them, and spirits appearing to them, and have
only later started saying that it is an unknown force.”

Vronsky listened attentively to Levin,
as he always did listen, obviously interested in his
words.

“Yes, but the spiritualists
say we don’t know at present what this force
is, but there is a force, and these are the conditions
in which it acts.  Let the scientific men find
out what the force consists in.  No, I don’t
see why there should not be a new force, if it…”

“Why, because with electricity,”
Levin interrupted again, “every time you rub
tar against wool, a recognized phenomenon is manifested,
but in this case it does not happen every time, and
so it follows it is not a natural phenomenon.”

Feeling probably that the conversation
was taking a tone too serious for a drawing room,
Vronsky made no rejoinder, but by way of trying to
change the conversation, he smiled brightly, and turned
to the ladies.

“Do let us try at once, countess,”
he said; but Levin would finish saying what he thought.

“I think,” he went on,
“that this attempt of the spiritualists to explain
their marvels as some sort of new natural force is
most futile.  They boldly talk of spiritual force,
and then try to subject it to material experiment.”

Every one was waiting for him to finish,
and he felt it.

“And I think you would be a
first-rate medium,” said Countess Nordston;
“there’s something enthusiastic in you.”

Levin opened his mouth, was about
to say something, reddened, and said nothing.

“Do let us try table-turning
at once, please,” said Vronsky.  “Princess,
will you allow it?”

And Vronsky stood up, looking for a little table.

Kitty got up to fetch a table, and
as she passed, her eyes met Levin’s.  She
felt for him with her whole heart, the more because
she was pitying him for suffering of which she was
herself the cause.  “If you can forgive
me, forgive me,” said her eyes, “I am
so happy.”

“I hate them all, and you, and
myself,” his eyes responded, and he took up
his hat.  But he was not destined to escape. 
Just as they were arranging themselves round the
table, and Levin was on the point of retiring, the
old prince came in, and after greeting the ladies,
addressed Levin.

“Ah!” he began joyously. 
“Been here long, my boy?  I didn’t
even know you were in town.  Very glad to see
you.”  The old prince embraced Levin, and
talking to him did not observe Vronsky, who had risen,
and was serenely waiting till the prince should turn
to him.

Kitty felt how distasteful her father’s
warmth was to Levin after what had happened. 
She saw, too, how coldly her father responded at
last to Vronsky’s bow, and how Vronsky looked
with amiable perplexity at her father, as though trying
and failing to understand how and why anyone could
be hostilely disposed towards him, and she flushed.

“Prince, let us have Konstantin
Dmitrievitch,” said Countess Nordston; “we
want to try an experiment.”

“What experiment?  Table-turning? 
Well, you must excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but
to my mind it is better fun to play the ring game,”
said the old prince, looking at Vronsky, and guessing
that it had been his suggestion.  “There’s
some sense in that, anyway.”

Vronsky looked wonderingly at the
prince with his resolute eyes, and, with a faint smile,
began immediately talking to Countess Nordston of
the great ball that was to come off next week.

“I hope you will be there?”
he said to Kitty.  As soon as the old prince
turned away from him, Levin went out unnoticed, and
the last impression he carried away with him of that
evening was the smiling, happy face of Kitty answering
Vronsky’s inquiry about the ball.

 

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