FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 24

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

Light off Small Medium Large

When Vronsky looked at his watch on
the Karenins’ balcony, he was so greatly agitated
and lost in his thoughts that he saw the figures on
the watch’s face, but could not take in what
time it was.  He came out on to the high road
and walked, picking his way carefully through the
mud, to his carriage.  He was so completely absorbed
in his feeling for Anna, that he did not even think
what o’clock it was, and whether he had time
to go to Bryansky’s.  He had left him,
as often happens, only the external faculty of memory,
that points out each step one has to take, one after
the other.  He went up to his coachman, who was
dozing on the box in the shadow, already lengthening,
of a thick limetree; he admired the shifting clouds
of midges circling over the hot horses, and, waking
the coachman, he jumped into the carriage, and told
him to drive to Bryansky’s.  It was only
after driving nearly five miles that he had sufficiently
recovered himself to look at his watch, and realize
that it was half-past five, and he was late.

There were several races fixed for
that day:  the Mounted Guards’ race, then
the officers’ mile-and-a-half race, then the
three-mile race, and then the race for which he was
entered.  He could still be in time for his race,
but if he went to Bryansky’s he could only just
be in time, and he would arrive when the whole of
the court would be in their places.  That would
be a pity.  But he had promised Bryansky to come,
and so he decided to drive on, telling the coachman
not to spare the horses.

He reached Bryansky’s, spent
five minutes there, and galloped back.  This
rapid drive calmed him.  All that was painful
in his relations with Anna, all the feeling of indefiniteness
left by their conversation, had slipped out of his
mind.  He was thinking now with pleasure and
excitement of the race, of his being anyhow, in time,
and now and then the thought of the blissful interview
awaiting him that night flashed across his imagination
like a flaming light.

The excitement of the approaching
race gained upon him as he drove further and further
into the atmosphere of the races, overtaking carriages
driving up from the summer villas or out of Petersburg.

At his quarters no one was left at
home; all were at the races, and his valet was looking
out for him at the gate.  While he was changing
his clothes, his valet told him that the second race
had begun already, that a lot of gentlemen had been
to ask for him, and a boy had twice run up from the
stables.  Dressing without hurry (he never hurried
himself, and never lost his self-possession), Vronsky
drove to the sheds.  From the sheds he could
see a perfect sea of carriages, and people on foot,
soldiers surrounding the race course, and pavilions
swarming with people.  The second race was apparently
going on, for just as he went into the sheds he heard
a bell ringing.  Going towards the stable, he
met the white-legged chestnut, Mahotin’s Gladiator,
being led to the race-course in a blue forage horsecloth,
with what looked like huge ears edged with blue.

“Where’s Cord?” he asked the stable-boy.

“In the stable, putting on the saddle.”

In the open horse-box stood Frou-Frou,
saddled ready.  They were just going to lead
her out.

“I’m not too late?”

“All right!  All right!”
said the Englishman; “don’t upset yourself!”

Vronsky once more took in in one glance
the exquisite lines of his favorite mare; who was
quivering all over, and with an effort he tore himself
from the sight of her, and went out of the stable. 
He went towards the pavilions at the most favorable
moment for escaping attention.  The mile-and-a-half
race was just finishing, and all eyes were fixed on
the horse-guard in front and the light hussar behind,
urging their horses on with a last effort close to
the winning post.  From the center and outside
of the ring all were crowding to the winning post,
and a group of soldiers and officers of the horse-guards
were shouting loudly their delight at the expected
triumph of their officer and comrade.  Vronsky
moved into the middle of the crowd unnoticed, almost
at the very moment when the bell rang at the finish
of the race, and the tall, mudspattered horse-guard
who came in first, bending over the saddle, let go
the reins of his panting gray horse that looked dark
with sweat.

The horse, stiffening out its legs,
with an effort stopped its rapid course, and the officer
of the horse-guards looked round him like a man waking
up from a heavy sleep, and just managed to smile. 
A crowd of friends and outsiders pressed round him.

Vronsky intentionally avoided that
select crowd of the upper world, which was moving
and talking with discreet freedom before the pavilions. 
He knew that Madame Karenina was there, and Betsy,
and his brother’s wife, and he purposely did
not go near them for fear of something distracting
his attention.  But he was continually met and
stopped by acquaintances, who told him about the previous
races, and kept asking him why he was so late.

At the time when the racers had to
go to the pavilion to receive the prizes, and all
attention was directed to that point, Vronsky’s
elder brother, Alexander, a colonel with heavy fringed
epaulets, came up to him.  He was not tall, though
as broadly built as Alexey, and handsomer and rosier
than he; he had a red nose, and an open, drunken-looking
face.

“Did you get my note?”
he said.  “There’s never any finding
you.”

Alexander Vronsky, in spite of the
dissolute life, and in especial the drunken habits,
for which he was notorious, was quite one of the court
circle.

Now, as he talked to his brother of
a matter bound to be exceedingly disagreeable to him,
knowing that the eyes of many people might be fixed
upon him, he kept a smiling countenance, as though
he were jesting with his brother about something of
little moment.

“I got it, and I really can’t
make out what you are worrying yourself about,”
said Alexey.

“I’m worrying myself because
the remark has just been made to me that you weren’t
here, and that you were seen in Peterhof on Monday.”

“There are matters which only
concern those directly interested in them, and the
matter you are so worried about is…”

“Yes, but if so, you may as
well cut the service….”

“I beg you not to meddle, and
that’s all I have to say.”

Alexey Vronsky’s frowning face
turned white, and his prominent lower jaw quivered,
which happened rarely with him.  Being a man
of very warm heart, he was seldom angry; but when he
was angry, and when his chin quivered, then, as Alexander
Vronsky knew, he was dangerous.  Alexander Vronsky
smiled gaily.

“I only wanted to give you Mother’s
letter.  Answer it, and don’t worry about
anything just before the race.  Bonne chance,”
he added, smiling and he moved away from him. 
But after him another friendly greeting brought Vronsky
to a standstill.

“So you won’t recognize
your friends!  How are you, mon cher?”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, as conspicuously brilliant
in the midst of all the Petersburg brilliance as he
was in Moscow, his face rosy, and his whiskers sleek
and glossy.  “I came up yesterday, and
I’m delighted that I shall see your triumph. 
When shall we meet?”

“Come tomorrow to the messroom,”
said Vronsky, and squeezing him by the sleeve of his
coat, with apologies, he moved away to the center
of the race course, where the horses were being led
for the great steeplechase.

The horses who had run in the last
race were being led home, steaming and exhausted,
by the stable-boys, and one after another the fresh
horses for the coming race made their appearance, for
the most part English racers, wearing horsecloths,
and looking with their drawn-up bellies like strange,
huge birds.  On the right was led in Frou-Frou,
lean and beautiful, lifting up her elastic, rather
long pasterns, as though moved by springs.  Not
far from her they were taking the rug off the lop-eared
Gladiator.  The strong, exquisite, perfectly correct
lines of the stallion, with his superb hind-quarters
and excessively short pasterns almost over his hoofs,
attracted Vronsky’s attention in spite of himself. 
He would have gone up to his mare, but he was again
detained by an acquaintance.

“Oh, there’s Karenin!”
said the acquaintance with whom he was chatting. 
“He’s looking for his wife, and she’s
in the middle of the pavilion.  Didn’t
you see her?”

“No,” answered Vronsky,
and without even glancing round towards the pavilion
where his friend was pointing out Madame Karenina,
he went up to his mare.

Vronsky had not had time to look at
the saddle, about which he had to give some direction,
when the competitors were summoned to the pavilion
to receive their numbers and places in the row at
starting.  Seventeen officers, looking serious
and severe, many with pale faces, met together in
the pavilion and drew the numbers.  Vronsky drew
the number seven.  The cry was heard:  “Mount!”

Feeling that with the others riding
in the race, he was the center upon which all eyes
were fastened, Vronsky walked up to his mare in that
state of nervous tension in which he usually became
deliberate and composed in his movements.  Cord,
in honor of the races, had put on his best clothes,
a black coat buttoned up, a stiffly starched collar,
which propped up his cheeks, a round black hat, and
top boots.  He was calm and dignified as ever,
and was with his own hands holding Frou-Frou by both
reins, standing straight in front of her.  Frou-Frou
was still trembling as though in a fever.  Her
eye, full of fire, glanced sideways at Vronsky. 
Vronsky slipped his finger under the saddle-girth. 
The mare glanced aslant at him, drew up her lip,
and twitched her ear.  The Englishman puckered
up his lips, intending to indicate a smile that anyone
should verify his saddling.

“Get up; you won’t feel so excited.”

Vronsky looked round for the last
time at his rivals.  He knew that he would not
see them during the race.  Two were already riding
forward to the point from which they were to start. 
Galtsin, a friend of Vronsky’s and one of his
more formidable rivals, was moving round a bay horse
that would not let him mount.  A little light
hussar in tight riding breeches rode off at a gallop,
crouched up like a cat on the saddle, in imitation
of English jockeys.  Prince Kuzovlev sat with
a white face on his thoroughbred mare from the Grabovsky
stud, while an English groom led her by the bridle. 
Vronsky and all his comrades knew Kuzovlev and his
peculiarity of “weak nerves” and terrible
vanity.  They knew that he was afraid of everything,
afraid of riding a spirited horse.  But now,
just because it was terrible, because people broke
their necks, and there was a doctor standing at each
obstacle, and an ambulance with a cross on it, and
a sister of mercy, he had made up his mind to take
part in the race.  Their eyes met, and Vronsky
gave him a friendly and encouraging nod.  Only
one he did not see, his chief rival, Mahotin on Gladiator.

“Don’t be in a hurry,”
said Cord to Vronsky, “and remember one thing: 
don’t hold her in at the fences, and don’t
urge her on; let her go as she likes.”

“All right, all right,”
said Vronsky, taking the reins.

“If you can, lead the race;
but don’t lose heart till the last minute, even
if you’re behind.”

Before the mare had time to move,
Vronsky stepped with an agile, vigorous movement into
the steel-toothed stirrup, and lightly and firmly
seated himself on the creaking leather of the saddle. 
Getting his right foot in the stirrup, he smoothed
the double reins, as he always did, between his fingers,
and Cord let go.

As though she did not know which foot
to put first, Frou-Frou started, dragging at the reins
with her long neck, and as though she were on springs,
shaking her rider from side to side.  Cord quickened
his step, following him.  The excited mare, trying
to shake off her rider first on one side and then
the other, pulled at the reins, and Vronsky tried
in vain with voice and hand to soothe her.

They were just reaching the dammed-up
stream on their way to the starting point.  Several
of the riders were in front and several behind, when
suddenly Vronsky heard the sound of a horse galloping
in the mud behind him, and he was overtaken by Mahotin
on his white-legged, lop-eared Gladiator.  Mahotin
smiled, showing his long teeth, but Vronsky looked
angrily at him.  He did not like him, and regarded
him now as his most formidable rival.  He was
angry with him for galloping past and exciting his
mare.  Frou-Frou started into a gallop, her left
foot forward, made two bounds, and fretting at the
tightened reins, passed into a jolting trot, bumping
her rider up and down.  Cord, too, scowled, and
followed Vronsky almost at a trot.

 

Leave a Reply