FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 5

Leo TolstoyAug 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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“This is rather indiscreet,
but it’s so good it’s an awful temptation
to tell the story,” said Vronsky, looking at
her with his laughing eyes.  “I’m
not going to mention any names.”

“But I shall guess, so much the better.”

“Well, listen:  two festive young men were
driving ­”

“Officers of your regiment, of course?”

“I didn’t say they were
officers, ­two young men who had been lunching.”

“In other words, drinking.”

“Possibly.  They were driving
on their way to dinner with a friend in the most festive
state of mind.  And they beheld a pretty woman
in a hired sledge; she overtakes them, looks round
at them, and, so they fancy anyway, nods to them and
laughs.  They, of course, follow her.  They
gallop at full speed.  To their amazement, the
fair one alights at the entrance of the very house
to which they were going.  The fair one darts
upstairs to the top story.  They get a glimpse
of red lips under a short veil, and exquisite little
feet.”

“You describe it with such feeling
that I fancy you must be one of the two.”

“And after what you said, just
now!  Well, the young men go in to their comrade’s;
he was giving a farewell dinner.  There they
certainly did drink a little too much, as one always
does at farewell dinners.  And at dinner they
inquire who lives at the top in that house. 
No one knows; only their host’s valet, in answer
to their inquiry whether any ‘young ladies’
are living on the top floor, answered that there were
a great many of them about there.  After dinner
the two young men go into their host’s study,
and write a letter to the unknown fair one.  They
compose an ardent epistle, a declaration in fact,
and they carry the letter upstairs themselves, so
as to elucidate whatever might appear not perfectly
intelligible in the letter.”

“Why are you telling me these
horrible stories?  Well?”

“They ring.  A maidservant
opens the door, they hand her the letter, and assure
the maid that they’re both so in love that they’ll
die on the spot at the door.  The maid, stupefied,
carries in their messages.  All at once a gentleman
appears with whiskers like sausages, as red as a lobster,
announces that there is no one living in the flat
except his wife, and sends them both about their business.”

“How do you know he had whiskers
like sausages, as you say?”

“Ah, you shall hear.  I’ve
just been to make peace between them.”

“Well, and what then?”

“That’s the most interesting
part of the story.  It appears that it’s
a happy couple, a government clerk and his lady. 
The government clerk lodges a complaint, and I became
a mediator, and such a mediator!…  I assure
you Talleyrand couldn’t hold a candle to me.”

“Why, where was the difficulty?”

“Ah, you shall hear…. 
We apologize in due form:  we are in despair,
we entreat forgiveness for the unfortunate misunderstanding. 
The government clerk with the sausages begins to
melt, but he, too, desires to express his sentiments,
and as soon as ever he begins to express them, he
begins to get hot and say nasty things, and again
I’m obliged to trot out all my diplomatic talents. 
I allowed that their conduct was bad, but I urged
him to take into consideration their heedlessness,
their youth; then, too, the young men had only just
been lunching together.  ’You understand. 
They regret it deeply, and beg you to overlook their
misbehavior.’  The government clerk was
softened once more.  ’I consent, count,
and am ready to overlook it; but you perceive that
my wife ­my wife’s a respectable woman
­has been exposed to the persecution, and
insults, and effrontery of young upstarts, scoundrels….’ 
And you must understand, the young upstarts are present
all the while, and I have to keep the peace between
them.  Again I call out all my diplomacy, and
again as soon as the thing was about at an end, our
friend the government clerk gets hot and red, and his
sausages stand on end with wrath, and once more I launch
out into diplomatic wiles.”

“Ah, he must tell you this story!”
said Betsy, laughing, to a lady who came into her
box.  “He has been making me laugh so.”

“Well, bonne chance!”
she added, giving Vronsky one finger of the hand in
which she held her fan, and with a shrug of her shoulders
she twitched down the bodice of her gown that had worked
up, so as to be duly naked as she moved forward towards
the footlights into the light of the gas, and the
sight of all eyes.

Vronsky drove to the French theater,
where he really had to see the colonel of his regiment,
who never missed a single performance there. 
He wanted to see him, to report on the result of
his mediation, which had occupied and amused him for
the last three days.  Petritsky, whom he liked,
was implicated in the affair, and the other culprit
was a capital fellow and first-rate comrade, who had
lately joined the regiment, the young Prince Kedrov. 
And what was most important, the interests of the
regiment were involved in it too.

Both the young men were in Vronsky’s
company.  The colonel of the regiment was waited
upon by the government clerk, Venden, with a complaint
against his officers, who had insulted his wife. 
His young wife, so Venden told the story ­he
had been married half a year ­was at church
with her mother, and suddenly overcome by indisposition,
arising from her interesting condition, she could
not remain standing, she drove home in the first sledge,
a smart-looking one, she came across.  On the
spot the officers set off in pursuit of her; she was
alarmed, and feeling still more unwell, ran up the
staircase home.  Venden himself, on returning
from his office, heard a ring at their bell and voices,
went out, and seeing the intoxicated officers with
a letter, he had turned them out.  He asked for
exemplary punishment.

“Yes, it’s all very well,”
said the colonel to Vronsky, whom he had invited to
come and see him.  “Petritsky’s becoming
impossible.  Not a week goes by without some scandal. 
This government clerk won’t let it drop, he’ll
go on with the thing.”

Vronsky saw all the thanklessness
of the business, and that there could be no question
of a duel in it, that everything must be done to soften
the government clerk, and hush the matter up. 
The colonel had called in Vronsky just because he
knew him to be an honorable and intelligent man, and,
more than all, a man who cared for the honor of the
regiment.  They talked it over, and decided that
Petritsky and Kedrov must go with Vronsky to Venden’s
to apologize.  The colonel and Vronsky were both
fully aware that Vronsky’s name and rank would
be sure to contribute greatly to the softening of
the injured husband’s feelings.

And these two influences were not
in fact without effect; though the result remained,
as Vronsky had described, uncertain.

On reaching the French theater, Vronsky
retired to the foyer with the colonel, and reported
to him his success, or non-success.  The colonel,
thinking it all over, made up his mind not to pursue
the matter further, but then for his own satisfaction
proceeded to cross-examine Vronsky about his interview;
and it was a long while before he could restrain his
laughter, as Vronsky described how the government
clerk, after subsiding for a while, would suddenly
flare up again, as he recalled the details, and how
Vronsky, at the last half word of conciliation, skillfully
maneuvered a retreat, shoving Petritsky out before
him.

“It’s a disgraceful story,
but killing.  Kedrov really can’t fight
the gentleman!  Was he so awfully hot?”
he commented, laughing.  “But what do you
say to Claire today?  She’s marvelous,”
he went on, speaking of a new French actress. 
“However often you see her, every day she’s
different.  It’s only the French who can
do that.”

 

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