FictionForest

PART SIX : Chapter 2

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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On the terrace were assembled all
the ladies of the party.  They always liked sitting
there after dinner, and that day they had work to
do there too.  Besides the sewing and knitting
of baby clothes, with which all of them were busy,
that afternoon jam was being made on the terrace by
a method new to Agafea Mihalovna, without the addition
of water.  Kitty had introduced this new method,
which had been in use in her home.  Agafea Mihalovna,
to whom the task of jam-making had always been intrusted,
considering that what had been done in the Levin household
could not be amiss, had nevertheless put water with
the strawberries, maintaining that the jam could not
be made without it.  She had been caught in the
act, and was now making jam before everyone, and it
was to be proved to her conclusively that jam could
be very well made without water.

Agafea Mihalovna, her face heated
and angry, her hair untidy, and her thin arms bare
to the elbows, was turning the preserving-pan over
the charcoal stove, looking darkly at the raspberries
and devoutly hoping they would stick and not cook
properly.  The princess, conscious that Agafea
Mihalovna’s wrath must be chiefly directed against
her, as the person responsible for the raspberry jam-making,
tried to appear to be absorbed in other things and
not interested in the jam, talked of other matters,
but cast stealthy glances in the direction of the
stove.

“I always buy my maids’
dresses myself, of some cheap material,” the
princess said, continuing the previous conversation. 
“Isn’t it time to skim it, my dear?”
she added, addressing Agafea Mihalovna.  “There’s
not the slightest need for you to do it, and it’s
hot for you,” she said, stopping Kitty.

“I’ll do it,” said
Dolly, and getting up, she carefully passed the spoon
over the frothing sugar, and from time to time shook
off the clinging jam from the spoon by knocking it
on a plate that was covered with yellow-red scum and
blood-colored syrup.  “How they’ll
enjoy this at tea-time!” she thought of her
children, remembering how she herself as a child had
wondered how it was the grown-up people did not eat
what was best of all ­the scum of the jam.

“Stiva says it’s much
better to give money.”  Dolly took up meanwhile
the weighty subject under discussion, what presents
should be made to servants.  “But…”

“Money’s out of the question!”
the princess and Kitty exclaimed with one voice. 
“They appreciate a present…”

“Well, last year, for instance,
I bought our Matrona Semyenovna, not a poplin, but
something of that sort,” said the princess.

“I remember she was wearing it on your nameday.”

“A charming pattern ­so
simple and refined, ­I should have liked
it myself, if she hadn’t had it.  Something
like Varenka’s.  So pretty and inexpensive.”

“Well, now I think it’s
done,” said Dolly, dropping the syrup from the
spoon.

“When it sets as it drops, it’s
ready.  Cook it a little longer, Agafea Mihalovna.”

“The flies!” said Agafea
Mihalovna angrily.  “It’ll be just
the same,” she added.

“Ah! how sweet it is! don’t
frighten it!” Kitty said suddenly, looking at
a sparrow that had settled on the step and was pecking
at the center of a raspberry.

“Yes, but you keep a little
further from the stove,” said her mother.

A propos de Varenka,”
said Kitty, speaking in French, as they had been doing
all the while, so that Agafea Mihalovna should not
understand them, “you know, mamma, I somehow
expect things to be settled today.  You know
what I mean.  How splendid it would be!”

“But what a famous matchmaker
she is!” said Dolly.  “How carefully
and cleverly she throws them together!…”

“No; tell me, mamma, what do you think?”

“Why, what is one to think? 
He” (he meant Sergey Ivanovitch) “might
at any time have been a match for anyone in Russia;
now, of course, he’s not quite a young man,
still I know ever so many girls would be glad to marry
him even now….  She’s a very nice girl,
but he might…”

“Oh, no, mamma, do understand
why, for him and for her too, nothing better could
be imagined.  In the first place, she’s
charming!” said Kitty, crooking one of her fingers.

“He thinks her very attractive,
that’s certain,” assented Dolly.

“Then he occupies such a position
in society that he has no need to look for either
fortune or position in his wife.  All he needs
is a good, sweet wife ­a restful one.”

“Well, with her he would certainly
be restful,” Dolly assented.

“Thirdly, that she should love
him.  And so it is…that is, it would be so
splendid!…I look forward to seeing them coming out
of the forest ­and everything settled. 
I shall see at once by their eyes.  I should
be so delighted!  What do you think, Dolly?”

“But don’t excite yourself. 
It’s not at all the thing for you to be excited,”
said her mother.

“Oh, I’m not excited,
mamma.  I fancy he will make her an offer today.”

“Ah, that’s so strange,
how and when a man makes an offer!…  There is
a sort of barrier, and all at once it’s broken
down,” said Dolly, smiling pensively and recalling
her past with Stepan Arkadyevitch.

“Mamma, how did papa make you
an offer?” Kitty asked suddenly.

“There was nothing out of the
way, it was very simple,” answered the princess,
but her face beamed all over at the recollection.

“Oh, but how was it?  You
loved him, anyway, before you were allowed to speak?”

Kitty felt a peculiar pleasure in
being able now to talk to her mother on equal terms
about those questions of such paramount interest in
a woman’s life.

“Of course I did; he had come
to stay with us in the country.”

“But how was it settled between you, mamma?”

“You imagine, I dare say, that
you invented something quite new?  It’s
always just the same:  it was settled by the eyes,
by smiles…”

“How nicely you said that, mamma! 
It’s just by the eyes, by smiles that it’s
done,” Dolly assented.

“But what words did he say?”

“What did Kostya say to you?”

“He wrote it in chalk. 
It was wonderful….  How long ago it seems!”
she said.

And the three women all fell to musing
on the same thing.  Kitty was the first to break
the silence.  She remembered all that last winter
before her marriage, and her passion for Vronsky.

“There’s one thing …that
old love affair of Varenka’s,” she said,
a natural chain of ideas bringing her to this point. 
“I should have liked to say something to Sergey
Ivanovitch, to prepare him.  They’re all ­all
men, I mean,” she added, “awfully jealous
over our past.”

“Not all,” said Dolly. 
“You judge by your own husband.  It makes
him miserable even now to remember Vronsky.  Eh?
that’s true, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Kitty answered, a pensive smile
in her eyes.

“But I really don’t know,”
the mother put in in defense of her motherly care
of her daughter, “what there was in your past
that could worry him?  That Vronsky paid you
attentions ­that happens to every girl.”

“Oh, yes, but we didn’t
mean that,” Kitty said, flushing a little.

“No, let me speak,” her
mother went on, “why, you yourself would not
let me have a talk to Vronsky.  Don’t you
remember?”

“Oh, mamma!” said Kitty,
with an expression of suffering.

“There’s no keeping you
young people in check nowadays….  Your friendship
could not have gone beyond what was suitable. 
I should myself have called upon him to explain himself. 
But, my darling, it’s not right for you to
be agitated.  Please remember that, and calm
yourself.”

“I’m perfectly calm, maman.”

“How happy it was for Kitty
that Anna came then,” said Dolly, “and
how unhappy for her.  It turned out quite the
opposite,” she said, struck by her own ideas. 
“Then Anna was so happy, and Kitty thought
herself unhappy.  Now it is just the opposite. 
I often think of her.”

“A nice person to think about! 
Horrid, repulsive woman ­no heart,”
said her mother, who could not forget that Kitty had
married not Vronsky, but Levin.

“What do you want to talk of
it for?” Kitty said with annoyance.  “I
never think about it, and I don’t want to think
of it….  And I don’t want to think of
it,” she said, catching the sound of her husband’s
well-known step on the steps of the terrace.

“What’s that you don’t
want to think about?” inquired Levin, coming
onto the terrace.

But no one answered him, and he did
not repeat the question.

“I’m sorry I’ve
broken in on your feminine parliament,” he said,
looking round on every one discontentedly, and perceiving
that they had been talking of something which they
would not talk about before him.

For a second he felt that he was sharing
the feeling of Agafea Mihalovna, vexation at their
making jam without water, and altogether at the outside
Shtcherbatsky element.  He smiled, however, and
went up to Kitty.

“Well, how are you?” he
asked her, looking at her with the expression with
which everyone looked at her now.

“Oh, very well,” said
Kitty, smiling, “and how have things gone with
you?”

“The wagons held three times
as much as the old carts did.  Well, are we going
for the children?  I’ve ordered the horses
to be put in.”

“What! you want to take Kitty
in the wagonette?” her mother said reproachfully.

“Yes, at a walking pace, princess.”

Levin never called the princess “maman
as men often do call their mothers-in-law, and the
princess disliked his not doing so.  But though
he liked and respected the princess, Levin could not
call her so without a sense of profaning his feeling
for his dead mother.

“Come with us, maman,” said
Kitty.

“I don’t like to see such imprudence.”

“Well, I’ll walk then,
I’m so well.”  Kitty got up and went
to her husband and took his hand.

“You may be well, but everything
in moderation,” said the princess.

“Well, Agafea Mihalovna, is
the jam done?” said Levin, smiling to Agafea
Mihalovna, and trying to cheer her up.  “Is
it all right in the new way?”

“I suppose it’s all right. 
For our notions it’s boiled too long.”

“It’ll be all the better,
Agafea Mihalovna, it won’t mildew, even though
our ice has begun to thaw already, so that we’ve
no cool cellar to store it,” said Kitty, at
once divining her husband’s motive, and addressing
the old housekeeper with the same feeling; “but
your pickle’s so good, that mamma says she never
tasted any like it,” she added, smiling, and
putting her kerchief straight.

Agafea Mihalovna looked angrily at Kitty.

“You needn’t try to console
me, mistress.  I need only to look at you with
him, and I feel happy,” she said, and something
in the rough familiarity of that with him touched
Kitty.

“Come along with us to look
for mushrooms, you will show us the best places.” 
Agafea Mihalovna smiled and shook her head, as though
to say:  “I should like to be angry with
you too, but I can’t.”

“Do it, please, by my receipt,”
said the princess; “put some paper over the
jam, and moisten it with a little rum, and without
even ice, it will never go mildewy.”

 

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