FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 17

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

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Stepan Arkadyevitch went upstairs
with his pocket bulging with notes, which the merchant
had paid him for three months in advance.  The
business of the forest was over, the money in his
pocket; their shooting had been excellent, and Stepan
Arkadyevitch was in the happiest frame of mind, and
so he felt specially anxious to dissipate the ill-humor
that had come upon Levin.  He wanted to finish
the day at supper as pleasantly as it had been begun.

Levin certainly was out of humor,
and in spite of all his desire to be affectionate
and cordial to his charming visitor, he could not
control his mood.  The intoxication of the news
that Kitty was not married had gradually begun to
work upon him.

Kitty was not married, but ill, and
ill from love for a man who had slighted her. 
This slight, as it were, rebounded upon him. 
Vronsky had slighted her, and she had slighted him,
Levin.  Consequently Vronsky had the right to
despise Levin, and therefore he was his enemy. 
But all this Levin did not think out.  He vaguely
felt that there was something in it insulting to him,
and he was not angry now at what had disturbed him,
but he fell foul of everything that presented itself. 
The stupid sale of the forest, the fraud practiced
upon Oblonsky and concluded in his house, exasperated
him.

“Well, finished?” he said,
meeting Stepan Arkadyevitch upstairs.  “Would
you like supper?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say
no to it.  What an appetite I get in the country! 
Wonderful!  Why didn’t you offer Ryabinin
something?”

“Oh, damn him!”

“Still, how you do treat him!”
said Oblonsky.  “You didn’t even
shake hands with him.  Why not shake hands with
him?”

“Because I don’t shake
hands with a waiter, and a waiter’s a hundred
times better than he is.”

“What a reactionist you are,
really!  What about the amalgamation of classes?”
said Oblonsky.

“Anyone who likes amalgamating
is welcome to it, but it sickens me.”

“You’re a regular reactionist, I see.”

“Really, I have never considered
what I am.  I am Konstantin Levin, and nothing
else.”

“And Konstantin Levin very much
out of temper,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling.

“Yes, I am out of temper, and
do you know why?  Because ­excuse me ­of
your stupid sale…”

Stepan Arkadyevitch frowned good-humoredly,
like one who feels himself teased and attacked for
no fault of his own.

“Come, enough about it!”
he said.  “When did anybody ever sell anything
without being told immediately after the sale, ’It
was worth much more’?  But when one wants
to sell, no one will give anything….  No, I
see you’ve a grudge against that unlucky Ryabinin.”

“Maybe I have.  And do
you know why?  You’ll say again that I’m
a reactionist, or some other terrible word; but all
the same it does annoy and anger me to see on all
sides the impoverishing of the nobility to which I
belong, and, in spite of the amalgamation of classes,
I’m glad to belong.  And their impoverishment
is not due to extravagance ­that would be
nothing; living in good style ­that’s
the proper thing for noblemen; it’s only the
nobles who know how to do it.  Now the peasants
about us buy land, and I don’t mind that. 
The gentleman does nothing, while the peasant works
and supplants the idle man.  That’s as it
ought to be.  And I’m very glad for the
peasant.  But I do mind seeing the process of
impoverishment from a sort of ­I don’t
know what to call it ­ innocence. 
Here a Polish speculator bought for half its value
a magnificent estate from a young lady who lives in
Nice.  And there a merchant will get three acres
of land, worth ten roubles, as security for the loan
of one rouble.  Here, for no kind of reason,
you’ve made that rascal a present of thirty thousand
roubles.”

“Well, what should I have done?  Counted
every tree?”

“Of course, they must be counted. 
You didn’t count them, but Ryabinin did. 
Ryabinin’s children will have means of livelihood
and education, while yours maybe will not!”

“Well, you must excuse me, but
there’s something mean in this counting. 
We have our business and they have theirs, and they
must make their profit.  Anyway, the thing’s
done, and there’s an end of it.  And here
come some poached eggs, my favorite dish.  And
Agafea Mihalovna will give us that marvelous herb-brandy…”

Stepan Arkadyevitch sat down at the
table and began joking with Agafea Mihalovna, assuring
her that it was long since he had tasted such a dinner
and such a supper.

“Well, you do praise it, anyway,”
said Agafea Mihalovna, “but Konstantin Dmitrievitch,
give him what you will ­a crust of bread ­he’ll
eat it and walk away.”

Though Levin tried to control himself,
he was gloomy and silent.  He wanted to put one
question to Stepan Arkadyevitch, but he could not
bring himself to the point, and could not find the
words or the moment in which to put it.  Stepan
Arkadyevitch had gone down to his room, undressed,
again washed, and attired in a nightshirt with goffered
frills, he had got into bed, but Levin still lingered
in his room, talking of various trifling matters,
and not daring to ask what he wanted to know.

“How wonderfully they make this
soap,” he said gazing at a piece of soap he
was handling, which Agafea Mihalovna had put ready
for the visitor but Oblonsky had not used.  “Only
look; why, it’s a work of art.”

“Yes, everything’s brought
to such a pitch of perfection nowadays,” said
Stepan Arkadyevitch, with a moist and blissful yawn. 
“The theater, for instance, and the entertainments…
a ­a ­a!” he yawned. 
“The electric light everywhere…a ­a ­a!”

“Yes, the electric light,”
said Levin.  “Yes.  Oh, and where’s
Vronsky now?” he asked suddenly, laying down
the soap.

“Vronsky?” said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, checking his yawn; “he’s
in Petersburg.  He left soon after you did, and
he’s not once been in Moscow since.  And
do you know, Kostya, I’ll tell you the truth,”
he went on, leaning his elbow on the table, and propping
on his hand his handsome ruddy face, in which his moist,
good-natured, sleepy eyes shone like stars.  “It’s
your own fault.  You took fright at the sight
of your rival.  But, as I told you at the time,
I couldn’t say which had the better chance. 
Why didn’t you fight it out?  I told you
at the time that….”  He yawned inwardly,
without opening his mouth.

“Does he know, or doesn’t
he, that I did make an offer?” Levin wondered,
gazing at him.  “Yes, there’s something
humbugging, diplomatic in his face,” and feeling
he was blushing, he looked Stepan Arkadyevitch straight
in the face without speaking.

“If there was anything on her
side at the time, it was nothing but a superficial
attraction,” pursued Oblonsky.  “His
being such a perfect aristocrat, don’t you know,
and his future position in society, had an influence
not with her, but with her mother.”

Levin scowled.  The humiliation
of his rejection stung him to the heart, as though
it were a fresh wound he had only just received. 
But he was at home, and the walls of home are a support.

“Stay, stay,” he began,
interrupting Oblonsky.  “You talk of his
being an aristocrat.  But allow me to ask what
it consists in, that aristocracy of Vronsky or of
anybody else, beside which I can be looked down upon? 
You consider Vronsky an aristocrat, but I don’t. 
A man whose father crawled up from nothing at all
by intrigue, and whose mother ­God knows
whom she wasn’t mixed up with….  No,
excuse me, but I consider myself aristocratic, and
people like me, who can point back in the past to three
or four honorable generations of their family, of
the highest degree of breeding (talent and intellect,
of course that’s another matter), and have never
curried favor with anyone, never depended on anyone
for anything, like my father and my grandfather. 
And I know many such.  You think it mean of
me to count the trees in my forest, while you make
Ryabinin a present of thirty thousand; but you get
rents from your lands and I don’t know what,
while I don’t and so I prize what’s come
to me from my ancestors or been won by hard work…. 
We are aristocrats, and not those who can only exist
by favor of the powerful of this world, and who can
be bought for twopence halfpenny.”

“Well, but whom are you attacking? 
I agree with you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
sincerely and genially; though he was aware that in
the class of those who could be bought for twopence
halfpenny Levin was reckoning him too.  Levin’s
warmth gave him genuine pleasure.  “Whom
are you attacking?  Though a good deal is not
true that you say about Vronsky, but I won’t
talk about that.  I tell you straight out, if
I were you, I should go back with me to Moscow, and…”

“No; I don’t know whether
you know it or not, but I don’t care.  And
I tell you ­I did make an offer and was rejected,
and Katerina Alexandrovna is nothing now to me but
a painful and humiliating reminiscence.”

“What ever for?  What nonsense!”

“But we won’t talk about
it.  Please forgive me, if I’ve been nasty,”
said Levin.  Now that he had opened his heart,
he became as he had been in the morning.  “You’re
not angry with me, Stiva?  Please don’t
be angry,” he said, and smiling, he took his
hand.

“Of course not; not a bit, and
no reason to be.  I’m glad we’ve
spoken openly.  And do you know, stand-shooting
in the morning is unusually good ­why not
go?  I couldn’t sleep the night anyway,
but I might go straight from shooting to the station.”

“Capital.”

 

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