FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 16

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

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On the way home Levin asked all details
of Kitty’s illness and the Shtcherbatskys’
plans, and though he would have been ashamed to admit
it, he was pleased at what he heard.  He was pleased
that there was still hope, and still more pleased that
she should be suffering who had made him suffer so
much.  But when Stepan Arkadyevitch began to
speak of the causes of Kitty’s illness, and
mentioned Vronsky’s name, Levin cut him short.

“I have no right whatever to
know family matters, and, to tell the truth, no interest
in them either.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled hardly
perceptibly, catching the instantaneous change he
knew so well in Levin’s face, which had become
as gloomy as it had been bright a minute before.

“Have you quite settled about
the forest with Ryabinin?” asked Levin.

“Yes, it’s settled. 
The price is magnificent; thirty-eight thousand. 
Eight straight away, and the rest in six years. 
I’ve been bothering about it for ever so long. 
No one would give more.”

“Then you’ve as good as
given away your forest for nothing,” said Levin
gloomily.

“How do you mean for nothing?”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch with a good-humored smile,
knowing that nothing would be right in Levin’s
eyes now.

“Because the forest is worth
at least a hundred and fifty roubles the acre,”
answered Levin.

“Oh, these farmers!” said
Stepan Arkadyevitch playfully.  “Your tone
of contempt for us poor townsfolk!…  But when
it comes to business, we do it better than anyone. 
I assure you I have reckoned it all out,” he
said, “and the forest is fetching a very good
price ­so much so that I’m afraid of
this fellow’s crying off, in fact.  You
know it’s not ‘timber,’” said
Stepan Arkadyevitch, hoping by this distinction to
convince Levin completely of the unfairness of his
doubts.  “And it won’t run to more
than twenty-five yards of fagots per acre, and
he’s giving me at the rate of seventy roubles
the acre.”

Levin smiled contemptuously. 
“I know,” he thought, “that fashion
not only in him, but in all city people, who, after
being twice in ten years in the country, pick up two
or three phrases and use them in season and out of
season, firmly persuaded that they know all about
it. ‘Timber, run to so many yards the acre.
He says those words without understanding them himself.”

“I wouldn’t attempt to
teach you what you write about in your office,”
said he, “and if need arose, I should come to
you to ask about it.  But you’re so positive
you know all the lore of the forest.  It’s
difficult.  Have you counted the trees?”

“How count the trees?”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing, still trying to
draw his friend out of his ill-temper.  “Count
the sands of the sea, number the stars.  Some
higher power might do it.”

“Oh, well, the higher power
of Ryabinin can.  Not a single merchant ever
buys a forest without counting the trees, unless they
get it given them for nothing, as you’re doing
now.  I know your forest.  I go there every
year shooting, and your forest’s worth a hundred
and fifty roubles an acre paid down, while he’s
giving you sixty by installments.  So that in
fact you’re making him a present of thirty thousand.”

“Come, don’t let your
imagination run away with you,” said Stepan
Arkadyevitch piteously.  “Why was it none
would give it, then?”

“Why, because he has an understanding
with the merchants; he’s bought them off. 
I’ve had to do with all of them; I know them. 
They’re not merchants, you know:  they’re
speculators.  He wouldn’t look at a bargain
that gave him ten, fifteen per cent profit, but holds
back to buy a rouble’s worth for twenty kopecks.”

“Well, enough of it!  You’re out
of temper.”

“Not the least,” said
Levin gloomily, as they drove up to the house.

At the steps there stood a trap tightly
covered with iron and leather, with a sleek horse
tightly harnessed with broad collar-straps. 
In the trap sat the chubby, tightly belted clerk who
served Ryabinin as coachman.  Ryabinin himself
was already in the house, and met the friends in the
hall.  Ryabinin was a tall, thinnish, middle-aged
man, with mustache and a projecting clean-shaven chin,
and prominent muddy-looking eyes.  He was dressed
in a long-skirted blue coat, with buttons below the
waist at the back, and wore high boots wrinkled over
the ankles and straight over the calf, with big galoshes
drawn over them.  He rubbed his face with his
handkerchief, and wrapping round him his coat, which
sat extremely well as it was, he greeted them with
a smile, holding out his hand to Stepan Arkadyevitch,
as though he wanted to catch something.

“So here you are,” said
Stepan Arkadyevitch, giving him his hand.  “That’s
capital.”

“I did not venture to disregard
your excellency’s commands, though the road
was extremely bad.  I positively walked the whole
way, but I am here at my time.  Konstantin Dmitrievitch,
my respects”; he turned to Levin, trying to
seize his hand too.  But Levin, scowling, made
as though he did not notice his hand, and took out
the snipe.  “Your honors have been diverting
yourselves with the chase?  What kind of bird
may it be, pray?” added Ryabinin, looking contemptuously
at the snipe:  “a great delicacy, I suppose.” 
And he shook his head disapprovingly, as though he
had grave doubts whether this game were worth the
candle.

“Would you like to go into my
study?” Levin said in French to Stepan Arkadyevitch,
scowling morosely.  “Go into my study; you
can talk there.”

“Quite so, where you please,”
said Ryabinin with contemptuous dignity, as though
wishing to make it felt that others might be in difficulties
as to how to behave, but that he could never be in
any difficulty about anything.

On entering the study Ryabinin looked
about, as his habit was, as though seeking the holy
picture, but when he had found it, he did not cross
himself.  He scanned the bookcases and bookshelves,
and with the same dubious air with which he had regarded
the snipe, he smiled contemptuously and shook his
head disapprovingly, as though by no means willing
to allow that this game were worth the candle.

“Well, have you brought the
money?” asked Oblonsky.  “Sit down.”

“Oh, don’t trouble about
the money.  I’ve come to see you to talk
it over.”

“What is there to talk over?  But do sit
down.”

“I don’t mind if I do,”
said Ryabinin, sitting down and leaning his elbows
on the back of his chair in a position of the intensest
discomfort to himself.  “You must knock
it down a bit, prince.  It would be too bad. 
The money is ready conclusively to the last farthing. 
As to paying the money down, there’ll be no
hitch there.”

Levin, who had meanwhile been putting
his gun away in the cupboard, was just going out of
the door, but catching the merchant’s words,
he stopped.

“Why, you’ve got the forest
for nothing as it is,” he said.  “He
came to me too late, or I’d have fixed the price
for him.”

Ryabinin got up, and in silence, with
a smile, he looked Levin down and up.

“Very close about money is Konstantin
Dmitrievitch,” he said with a smile, turning
to Stepan Arkadyevitch; “there’s positively
no dealing with him.  I was bargaining for some
wheat of him, and a pretty price I offered too.”

“Why should I give you my goods
for nothing?  I didn’t pick it up on the
ground, nor steal it either.”

“Mercy on us! nowadays there’s
no chance at all of stealing.  With the open courts
and everything done in style, nowadays there’s
no question of stealing.  We are just talking
things over like gentlemen.  His excellency’s
asking too much for the forest.  I can’t
make both ends meet over it.  I must ask for a
little concession.”

“But is the thing settled between
you or not?  If it’s settled, it’s
useless haggling; but if it’s not,” said
Levin, “I’ll buy the forest.”

The smile vanished at once from Ryabinin’s
face.  A hawklike, greedy, cruel expression was
left upon it.  With rapid, bony fingers he unbuttoned
his coat, revealing a shirt, bronze waistcoat buttons,
and a watch chain, and quickly pulled out a fat old
pocketbook.

“Here you are, the forest is
mine,” he said, crossing himself quickly, and
holding out his hand.  “Take the money;
it’s my forest.  That’s Ryabinin’s
way of doing business; he doesn’t haggle over
every half-penny,” he added, scowling and waving
the pocketbook.

“I wouldn’t be in a hurry
if I were you,” said Levin.

“Come, really,” said Oblonsky
in surprise.  “I’ve given my word,
you know.”

Levin went out of the room, slamming
the door.  Ryabinin looked towards the door and
shook his head with a smile.

“It’s all youthfulness ­positively
nothing but boyishness.  Why, I’m buying
it, upon my honor, simply, believe me, for the glory
of it, that Ryabinin, and no one else, should have
bought the copse of Oblonsky.  And as to the
profits, why, I must make what God gives.  In
God’s name.  If you would kindly sign the
title-deed…”

Within an hour the merchant, stroking
his big overcoat neatly down, and hooking up his jacket,
with the agreement in his pocket, seated himself in
his tightly covered trap, and drove homewards.

“Ugh, these gentlefolks!”
he said to the clerk.  “They ­they’re
a nice lot!”

“That’s so,” responded
the clerk, handing him the reins and buttoning the
leather apron.  “But I can congratulate
you on the purchase, Mihail Ignatitch?”

“Well, well…”

 

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