FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 19

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

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On the day of the races at Krasnoe
Selo, Vronsky had come earlier than usual to eat beefsteak
in the common messroom of the regiment.  He had
no need to be strict with himself, as he had very
quickly been brought down to the required light weight;
but still he had to avoid gaining flesh, and so he
eschewed farinaceous and sweet dishes.  He sat
with his coat unbuttoned over a white waistcoat, resting
both elbows on the table, and while waiting for the
steak he had ordered he looked at a French novel that
lay open on his plate.  He was only looking at
the book to avoid conversation with the officers coming
in and out; he was thinking.

He was thinking of Anna’s promise
to see him that day after the races.  But he
had not seen her for three days, and as her husband
had just returned from abroad, he did not know whether
she would be able to meet him today or not, and he
did not know how to find out.  He had had his
last interview with her at his cousin Betsy’s
summer villa.  He visited the Karenins’
summer villa as rarely as possible.  Now he wanted
to go there, and he pondered the question how to do
it.

“Of course I shall say Betsy
has sent me to ask whether she’s coming to the
races.  Of course, I’ll go,” he decided,
lifting his head from the book.  And as he vividly
pictured the happiness of seeing her, his face lighted
up.

“Send to my house, and tell
them to have out the carriage and three horses as
quick as they can,” he said to the servant, who
handed him the steak on a hot silver dish, and moving
the dish up he began eating.

From the billiard room next door came
the sound of balls knocking, of talk and laughter. 
Two officers appeared at the entrance-door: 
one, a young fellow, with a feeble, delicate face,
who had lately joined the regiment from the Corps of
Pages; the other, a plump, elderly officer, with a
bracelet on his wrist, and little eyes, lost in fat.

Vronsky glanced at them, frowned,
and looking down at his book as though he had not
noticed them, he proceeded to eat and read at the
same time.

“What?  Fortifying yourself
for your work?” said the plump officer, sitting
down beside him.

“As you see,” responded
Vronsky, knitting his brows, wiping his mouth, and
not looking at the officer.

“So you’re not afraid
of getting fat?” said the latter, turning a
chair round for the young officer.

“What?” said Vronsky angrily,
making a wry face of disgust, and showing his even
teeth.

“You’re not afraid of getting fat?”

“Waiter, sherry!” said
Vronsky, without replying, and moving the book to
the other side of him, he went on reading.

The plump officer took up the list
of wines and turned to the young officer.

“You choose what we’re
to drink,” he said, handing him the card, and
looking at him.

“Rhine wine, please,”
said the young officer, stealing a timid glance at
Vronsky, and trying to pull his scarcely visible mustache. 
Seeing that Vronsky did not turn round, the young
officer got up.

“Let’s go into the billiard room,”
he said.

The plump officer rose submissively,
and they moved towards the door.

At that moment there walked into the
room the tall and well-built Captain Yashvin. 
Nodding with an air of lofty contempt to the two
officers, he went up to Vronsky.

“Ah! here he is!” he cried,
bringing his big hand down heavily on his epaulet. 
Vronsky looked round angrily, but his face lighted
up immediately with his characteristic expression of
genial and manly serenity.

“That’s it, Alexey,”
said the captain, in his loud baritone.  “You
must just eat a mouthful, now, and drink only one tiny
glass.”

“Oh, I’m not hungry.”

“There go the inséparables,”
Yashvin dropped, glancing sarcastically at the two
officers who were at that instant leaving the room. 
And he bent his long legs, swathed in tight riding
breeches, and sat down in the chair, too low for him,
so that his knees were cramped up in a sharp angle.

“Why didn’t you turn up
at the Red Theater yesterday?  Numerova wasn’t
at all bad.  Where were you?”

“I was late at the Tverskoys’,”
said Vronsky.

“Ah!” responded Yashvin.

Yashvin, a gambler and a rake, a man
not merely without moral principles, but of immoral
principles, Yashvin was Vronsky’s greatest friend
in the regiment.  Vronsky liked him both for his
exceptional physical strength, which he showed for
the most part by being able to drink like a fish,
and do without sleep without being in the slightest
degree affected by it; and for his great strength
of character, which he showed in his relations with
his comrades and superior officers, commanding both
fear and respect, and also at cards, when he would
play for tens of thousands and however much he might
have drunk, always with such skill and decision that
he was reckoned the best player in the English Club. 
Vronsky respected and liked Yashvin particularly because
he felt Yashvin liked him, not for his name and his
money, but for himself.  And of all men he was
the only one with whom Vronsky would have liked to
speak of his love.  He felt that Yashvin, in
spite of his apparent contempt for every sort of feeling,
was the only man who could, so he fancied, comprehend
the intense passion which now filled his whole life. 
Moreover, he felt certain that Yashvin, as it was,
took no delight in gossip and scandal, and interpreted
his feeling rightly, that is to say, knew and believed
that this passion was not a jest, not a pastime, but
something more serious and important.

Vronsky had never spoken to him of
his passion, but he was aware that he knew all about
it, and that he put the right interpretation on it,
and he was glad to see that in his eyes.

“Ah! yes,” he said, to
the announcement that Vronsky had been at the Tverskoys’;
and his black eyes shining, he plucked at his left
mustache, and began twisting it into his mouth, a bad
habit he had.

“Well, and what did you do yesterday? 
Win anything?” asked Vronsky.

“Eight thousand.  But three
don’t count; he won’t pay up.”

“Oh, then you can afford to
lose over me,” said Vronsky, laughing. (Yashvin
had bet heavily on Vronsky in the races.)

“No chance of my losing. 
Mahotin’s the only one that’s risky.”

And the conversation passed to forecasts
of the coming race, the only thing Vronsky could think
of just now.

“Come along, I’ve finished,”
said Vronsky, and getting up he went to the door. 
Yashvin got up too, stretching his long legs and
his long back.

“It’s too early for me
to dine, but I must have a drink.  I’ll
come along directly.  Hi, wine!” he shouted,
in his rich voice, that always rang out so loudly
at drill, and set the windows shaking now.

“No, all right,” he shouted
again immediately after.  “You’re
going home, so I’ll go with you.”

And he walked out with Vronsky.

 

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