FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 21

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

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The temporary stable, a wooden shed,
had been put up close to the race course, and there
his mare was to have been taken the previous day. 
He had not yet seen her there.

During the last few days he had not
ridden her out for exercise himself, but had put her
in the charge of the trainer, and so now he positively
did not know in what condition his mare had arrived
yesterday and was today.  He had scarcely got
out of his carriage when his groom, the so-called
“stable boy,” recognizing the carriage
some way off, called the trainer.  A dry-looking
Englishman, in high boots and a short jacket, clean-shaven,
except for a tuft below his chin, came to meet him,
walking with the uncouth gait of jockey, turning his
elbows out and swaying from side to side.

“Well, how’s Frou-Frou?” Vronsky
asked in English.

“All right, sir,” the
Englishman’s voice responded somewhere in the
inside of his throat.  “Better not go in,”
he added, touching his hat.  “I’ve
put a muzzle on her, and the mare’s fidgety. 
Better not go in, it’ll excite the mare.”

“No, I’m going in.  I want to look
at her.”

“Come along, then,” said
the Englishman, frowning, and speaking with his mouth
shut, and, with swinging elbows, he went on in front
with his disjointed gait.

They went into the little yard in
front of the shed.  A stable boy, spruce and
smart in his holiday attire, met them with a broom
in his hand, and followed them.  In the shed there
were five horses in their separate stalls, and Vronsky
knew that his chief rival, Gladiator, a very tall
chestnut horse, had been brought there, and must be
standing among them.  Even more than his mare,
Vronsky longed to see Gladiator, whom he had never
seen.  But he knew that by the etiquette of the
race course it was not merely impossible for him to
see the horse, but improper even to ask questions
about him.  Just as he was passing along the
passage, the boy opened the door into the second horse-box
on the left, and Vronsky caught a glimpse of a big
chestnut horse with white legs.  He knew that
this was Gladiator, but, with the feeling of a man
turning away from the sight of another man’s
open letter, he turned round and went into Frou-Frou’s
stall.

“The horse is here belonging
to Mak…Mak…I never can say the name,” said
the Englishman, over his shoulder, pointing his big
finger and dirty nail towards Gladiator’s stall.

“Mahotin?  Yes, he’s
my most serious rival,” said Vronsky.

“If you were riding him,”
said the Englishman, “I’d bet on you.”

“Frou-Frou’s more nervous;
he’s stronger,” said Vronsky, smiling
at the compliment to his riding.

“In a steeplechase it all depends
on riding and on pluck,” said the Englishman.

Of pluck ­that is, energy
and courage ­Vronsky did not merely feel
that he had enough; what was of far more importance,
he was firmly convinced that no one in the world could
have more of this “pluck” than he had.

“Don’t you think I want more thinning
down?”

“Oh, no,” answered the
Englishman.  “Please, don’t speak
loud.  The mare’s fidgety,” he added,
nodding towards the horse-box, before which they were
standing, and from which came the sound of restless
stamping in the straw.

He opened the door, and Vronsky went
into the horse-box, dimly lighted by one little window. 
In the horse-box stood a dark bay mare, with a muzzle
on, picking at the fresh straw with her hoofs. 
Looking round him in the twilight of the horse-box,
Vronsky unconsciously took in once more in a comprehensive
glance all the points of his favorite mare. 
Frou-Frou was a beast of medium size, not altogether
free from reproach, from a breeder’s point of
view.  She was small-boned all over; though her
chest was extremely prominent in front, it was narrow. 
Her hind-quarters were a little drooping, and in
her fore-legs, and still more in her hind-legs, there
was a noticeable curvature.  The muscles of both
hind- and fore-legs were not very thick; but across
her shoulders the mare was exceptionally broad, a
peculiarity specially striking now that she was lean
from training.  The bones of her legs below the
knees looked no thicker than a finger from in front,
but were extraordinarily thick seen from the side. 
She looked altogether, except across the shoulders,
as it were, pinched in at the sides and pressed out
in depth.  But she had in the highest degree the
quality that makes all defects forgotten:  that
quality was blood, the blood that tells,
as the English expression has it.  The muscles
stood up sharply under the network of sinews, covered
with the delicate, mobile skin, soft as satin, and
they were hard as bone.  Her clean-cut head, with
prominent, bright, spirited eyes, broadened out at
the open nostrils, that showed the red blood in the
cartilage within.  About all her figure, and especially
her head, there was a certain expression of energy,
and, at the same time, of softness.  She was
one of those creatures which seem only not to speak
because the mechanism of their mouth does not allow
them to.

To Vronsky, at any rate, it seemed
that she understood all he felt at that moment, looking
at her.

Directly Vronsky went towards her,
she drew in a deep breath, and, turning back her prominent
eye till the white looked bloodshot, she started at
the approaching figures from the opposite side, shaking
her muzzle, and shifting lightly from one leg to the
other.

“There, you see how fidgety
she is,” said the Englishman.

“There, darling!  There!”
said Vronsky, going up to the mare and speaking soothingly
to her.

But the nearer he came, the more excited
she grew.  Only when he stood by her head, she
was suddenly quieter, while the muscles quivered under
her soft, delicate coat.  Vronsky patted her
strong neck, straightened over her sharp withers a
stray lock of her mane that had fallen on the other
side, and moved his face near her dilated nostrils,
transparent as a bat’s wing.  She drew
a loud breath and snorted out through her tense nostrils,
started, pricked up her sharp ear, and put out her
strong, black lip towards Vronsky, as though she would
nip hold of his sleeve.  But remembering the muzzle,
she shook it and again began restlessly stamping one
after the other her shapely legs.

“Quiet, darling, quiet!”
he said, patting her again over her hind-quarters;
and with a glad sense that his mare was in the best
possible condition, he went out of the horse-box.

The mare’s excitement had infected
Vronsky.  He felt that his heart was throbbing,
and that he, too, like the mare, longed to move, to
bite; it was both dreadful and delicious.

“Well, I rely on you, then,”
he said to the Englishman; “half-past six on
the ground.”

“All right,” said the
Englishman.  “Oh, where are you going, my
lord?” he asked suddenly, using the title “my
lord,” which he had scarcely ever used before.

Vronsky in amazement raised his head,
and stared, as he knew how to stare, not into the
Englishman’s eyes, but at his forehead, astounded
at the impertinence of his question.  But realizing
that in asking this the Englishman had been looking
at him not as an employer, but as a jockey, he answered: 

“I’ve got to go to Bryansky’s;
I shall be home within an hour.”

“How often I’m asked that
question today!” he said to himself, and he
blushed, a thing which rarely happened to him. 
The Englishman looked gravely at him; and, as though
he, too, knew where Vronsky was going, he added: 

“The great thing’s to
keep quiet before a race,” said he; “don’t
get out of temper or upset about anything.”

“All right,” answered
Vronsky, smiling; and jumping into his carriage, he
told the man to drive to Peterhof.

Before he had driven many paces away,
the dark clouds that had been threatening rain all
day broke, and there was a heavy downpour of rain.

“What a pity!” thought
Vronsky, putting up the roof of the carriage. 
“It was muddy before, now it will be a perfect
swamp.”  As he sat in solitude in the closed
carriage, he took out his mother’s letter and
his brother’s note, and read them through.

Yes, it was the same thing over and
over again.  Everyone, his mother, his brother,
everyone thought fit to interfere in the affairs of
his heart.  This interference aroused in him a
feeling of angry hatred ­a feeling he had
rarely known before.  “What business is
it of theirs?  Why does everybody feel called
upon to concern himself about me?  And why do
they worry me so?  Just because they see that
this is something they can’t understand. 
If it were a common, vulgar, worldly intrigue, they
would have left me alone.  They feel that this
is something different, that this is not a mere pastime,
that this woman is dearer to me than life.  And
this is incomprehensible, and that’s why it annoys
them.  Whatever our destiny is or may be, we have
made it ourselves, and we do not complain of it,”
he said, in the word we linking himself with
Anna.  “No, they must needs teach us how
to live.  They haven’t an idea of what happiness
is; they don’t know that without our love, for
us there is neither happiness nor unhappiness ­no
life at all,” he thought.

He was angry with all of them for
their interference just because he felt in his soul
that they, all these people, were right.  He
felt that the love that bound him to Anna was not a
momentary impulse, which would pass, as worldly intrigues
do pass, leaving no other traces in the life of either
but pleasant or unpleasant memories.  He felt
all the torture of his own and her position, all the
difficulty there was for them, conspicuous as they
were in the eye of all the world, in concealing their
love, in lying and deceiving; and in lying, deceiving,
feigning, and continually thinking of others, when
the passion that united them was so intense that they
were both oblivious of everything else but their love.

He vividly recalled all the constantly
recurring instances of inevitable necessity for lying
and deceit, which were so against his natural bent. 
He recalled particularly vividly the shame he had
more than once detected in her at this necessity for
lying and deceit.  And he experienced the strange
feeling that had sometimes come upon him since his
secret love for Anna.  This was a feeling of
loathing for something ­whether for Alexey
Alexandrovitch, or for himself, or for the whole world,
he could not have said.  But he always drove
away this strange feeling.  Now, too, he shook
it off and continued the thread of his thoughts.

“Yes, she was unhappy before,
but proud and at peace; and now she cannot be at peace
and feel secure in her dignity, though she does not
show it.  Yes, we must put an end to it,”
he decided.

And for the first time the idea clearly
presented itself that it was essential to put an end
to this false position, and the sooner the better. 
“Throw up everything, she and I, and hide ourselves
somewhere alone with our love,” he said to himself.

 

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