FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 34

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

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When Vronsky went to Moscow from Petersburg,
he had left his large set of rooms in Morskaia to
his friend and favorite comrade Petritsky.

Petritsky was a young lieutenant,
not particularly well-connected, and not merely not
wealthy, but always hopelessly in debt.  Towards
evening he was always drunk, and he had often been
locked up after all sorts of ludicrous and disgraceful
scandals, but he was a favorite both of his comrades
and his superior officers.  On arriving at twelve
o’clock from the station at his flat, Vronsky
saw, at the outer door, a hired carriage familiar
to him.  While still outside his own door, as
he rang, he heard masculine laughter, the lisp of a
feminine voice, and Petritsky’s voice. 
“If that’s one of the villains, don’t
let him in!” Vronsky told the servant not to
announce him, and slipped quietly into the first room. 
Baroness Shilton, a friend of Petritsky’s,
with a rosy little face and flaxen hair, resplendent
in a lilac satin gown, and filling the whole room,
like a canary, with her Parisian chatter, sat at the
round table making coffee.  Petritsky, in his
overcoat, and the cavalry captain Kamerovsky, in full
uniform, probably just come from duty, were sitting
each side of her.

“Bravo!  Vronsky!”
shouted Petritsky, jumping up, scraping his chair. 
“Our host himself!  Baroness, some coffee
for him out of the new coffee pot.  Why, we didn’t
expect you!  Hope you’re satisfied with
the ornament of your study,” he said, indicating
the baroness.  “You know each other, of
course?”

“I should think so,” said
Vronsky, with a bright smile, pressing the baroness’s
little hand.  “What next!  I’m
an old friend.”

“You’re home after a journey,”
said the baroness, “so I’m flying. 
Oh, I’ll be off this minute, if I’m in
the way.”

“You’re home, wherever
you are, baroness,” said Vronsky.  “How
do you do, Kamerovsky?” he added, coldly shaking
hands with Kamerovsky.

“There, you never know how to
say such pretty things,” said the baroness,
turning to Petritsky.

“No; what’s that for? 
After dinner I say things quite as good.”

“After dinner there’s
no credit in them?  Well, then, I’ll make
you some coffee, so go and wash and get ready,”
said the baroness, sitting down again, and anxiously
turning the screw in the new coffee pot.  “Pierre,
give me the coffee,” she said, addressing Petritsky,
whom she called Pierre as a contraction of his surname,
making no secret of her relations with him.  “I’ll
put it in.”

“You’ll spoil it!”

“No, I won’t spoil it! 
Well, and your wife?” said the baroness suddenly,
interrupting Vronsky’s conversation with his
comrade.  “We’ve been marrying you
here.  Have you brought your wife?”

“No, baroness.  I was born
a Bohemian, and a Bohemian I shall die.”

“So much the better, so much
the better.  Shake hands on it.”

And the baroness, detaining Vronsky,
began telling him, with many jokes, about her last
new plans of life, asking his advice.

“He persists in refusing to
give me a divorce!  Well, what am I to do?”
(He was her husband.) “Now I want to
begin a suit against him.  What do you advise? 
Kamerovsky, look after the coffee; it’s boiling
over.  You see, I’m engrossed with business! 
I want a lawsuit, because I must have my property. 
Do you understand the folly of it, that on the pretext
of my being unfaithful to him,” she said contemptuously,
“he wants to get the benefit of my fortune.”

Vronsky heard with pleasure this light-hearted
prattle of a pretty woman, agreed with her, gave her
half-joking counsel, and altogether dropped at once
into the tone habitual to him in talking to such women. 
In his Petersburg world all people were divided into
utterly opposed classes.  One, the lower class,
vulgar, stupid, and, above all, ridiculous people,
who believe that one husband ought to live with the
one wife whom he has lawfully married; that a girl
should be innocent, a woman modest, and a man manly,
self-controlled, and strong; that one ought to bring
up one’s children, earn one’s bread, and
pay one’s debts; and various similar absurdities. 
This was the class of old-fashioned and ridiculous
people.  But there was another class of people,
the real people.  To this class they all belonged,
and in it the great thing was to be elegant, generous,
plucky, gay, to abandon oneself without a blush to
every passion, and to laugh at everything else.

For the first moment only, Vronsky
was startled after the impression of a quite different
world that he had brought with him from Moscow. 
But immediately as though slipping his feet into
old slippers, he dropped back into the light-hearted,
pleasant world he had always lived in.

The coffee was never really made,
but spluttered over every one, and boiled away, doing
just what was required of it ­that is, providing
much cause for much noise and laughter, and spoiling
a costly rug and the baroness’s gown.

“Well now, good-bye, or you’ll
never get washed, and I shall have on my conscience
the worst sin a gentleman can commit.  So you
would advise a knife to his throat?”

“To be sure, and manage that
your hand may not be far from his lips.  He’ll
kiss your hand, and all will end satisfactorily,”
answered Vronsky.

“So at the Francais!”
and, with a rustle of her skirts, she vanished.

Kamerovsky got up too, and Vronsky,
not waiting for him to go, shook hands and went off
to his dressing room.

While he was washing, Petritsky described
to him in brief outlines his position, as far as it
had changed since Vronsky had left Petersburg. 
No money at all.  His father said he wouldn’t
give him any and pay his debts.  His tailor was
trying to get him locked up, and another fellow, too,
was threatening to get him locked up.  The colonel
of the regiment had announced that if these scandals
did not cease he would have to leave.  As for
the baroness, he was sick to death of her, especially
since she’d taken to offering continually to
lend him money.  But he had found a girl ­he’d
show her to Vronsky ­a marvel, exquisite,
in the strict Oriental style, “genre of the
slave Rebecca, don’t you know.” 
He’d had a row, too, with Berkoshov, and was
going to send seconds to him, but of course it would
come to nothing.  Altogether everything was supremely
amusing and jolly.  And, not letting his comrade
enter into further details of his position, Petritsky
proceeded to tell him all the interesting news. 
As he listened to Petritsky’s familiar stories
in the familiar setting of the rooms he had spent
the last three years in, Vronsky felt a delightful
sense of coming back to the careless Petersburg life
that he was used to.

“Impossible!” he cried,
letting down the pedal of the washing basin in which
he had been sousing his healthy red neck.  “Impossible!”
he cried, at the news that Laura had flung over Fertinghof
and had made up to Mileev.  “And is he as
stupid and pleased as ever?  Well, and how’s
Buzulukov?”

“Oh, there is a tale about Buzulukov ­simply
lovely!” cried Petritsky.  “You know
his weakness for balls, and he never misses a single
court ball.  He went to a big ball in a new helmet. 
Have you seen the new helmets?  Very nice, lighter. 
Well, so he’s standing….  No, I say,
do listen.”

“I am listening,” answered
Vronsky, rubbing himself with a rough towel.

“Up comes the Grand Duchess
with some ambassador or other, and, as ill-luck would
have it, she begins talking to him about the new helmets. 
The Grand Duchess positively wanted to show the new
helmet to the ambassador.  They see our friend
standing there.”  (Petritsky mimicked how
he was standing with the helmet.) “The Grand
Duchess asked him to give her the helmet; he doesn’t
give it to her.  What do you think of that? 
Well, every one’s winking at him, nodding,
frowning ­give it to her, do!  He doesn’t
give it to her.  He’s mute as a fish. 
Only picture it!…  Well, the…what’s
his name, whatever he was…tries to take the helmet
from him…he won’t give it up!…  He pulls
it from him, and hands it to the Grand Duchess. 
‘Here, your Highness,’ says he, ‘is
the new helmet.’  She turned the helmet
the other side up, And ­just picture it! ­plop
went a pear and sweetmeats out of it, two pounds of
sweetmeats!…He’d been storing them up, the
darling!”

Vronsky burst into roars of laughter. 
And long afterwards, when he was talking of other
things, he broke out into his healthy laugh, showing
his strong, close rows of teeth, when he thought of
the helmet.

Having heard all the news, Vronsky,
with the assistance of his valet, got into his uniform,
and went off to report himself.  He intended,
when he had done that, to drive to his brother’s
and to Betsy’s and to pay several visits with
a view to beginning to go into that society where
he might meet Madame Karenina.  As he always
did in Petersburg, he left home not meaning to return
till late at night.

 

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