FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 33

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

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Kitty made the acquaintance of Madame
Stahl too, and this acquaintance, together with her
friendship with Varenka, did not merely exercise a
great influence on her, it also comforted her in her
mental distress.  She found this comfort through
a completely new world being opened to her by means
of this acquaintance, a world having nothing in common
with her past, an exalted, noble world, from the height
of which she could contemplate her past calmly. 
It was revealed to her that besides the instinctive
life to which Kitty had given herself up hitherto
there was a spiritual life.  This life was disclosed
in religion, but a religion having nothing in common
with that one which Kitty had known from childhood,
and which found expression in litanies and all-night
services at the Widow’s Home, where one might
meet one’s friends, and in learning by heart
Slavonic texts with the priest.  This was a lofty,
mysterious religion connected with a whole series
of noble thoughts and feelings, which one could do
more than merely believe because one was told to, which
one could love.

Kitty found all this out not from
words.  Madame Stahl talked to Kitty as to a
charming child that one looks on with pleasure as
on the memory of one’s youth, and only once she
said in passing that in all human sorrows nothing
gives comfort but love and faith, and that in the
sight of Christ’s compassion for us no sorrow
is trifling ­and immediately talked of other
things.  But in every gesture of Madame Stahl,
in every word, in every heavenly ­as Kitty
called it ­look, and above all in the whole
story of her life, which she heard from Varenka, Kitty
recognized that something “that was important,”
of which, till then, she had known nothing.

Yet, elevated as Madame Stahl’s
character was, touching as was her story, and exalted
and moving as was her speech, Kitty could not help
detecting in her some traits which perplexed her. 
She noticed that when questioning her about her family,
Madame Stahl had smiled contemptuously, which was
not in accord with Christian meekness.  She noticed,
too, that when she had found a Catholic priest with
her, Madame Stahl had studiously kept her face in the
shadow of the lamp-shade and had smiled in a peculiar
way.  Trivial as these two observations were,
they perplexed her, and she had her doubts as to Madame
Stahl.  But on the other hand Varenka, alone
in the world, without friends or relations, with a
melancholy disappointment in the past, desiring nothing,
regretting nothing, was just that perfection of which
Kitty dared hardly dream.  In Varenka she realized
that one has but to forget oneself and love others,
and one will be calm, happy, and noble.  And that
was what Kitty longed to be.  Seeing now clearly
what was the most important, Kitty was not
satisfied with being enthusiastic over it; she at
once gave herself up with her whole soul to the new
life that was opening to her.  From Varenka’s
accounts of the doings of Madame Stahl and other people
whom she mentioned, Kitty had already constructed
the plan of her own future life.  She would,
like Madame Stahl’s niece, Aline, of whom Varenka
had talked to her a great deal, seek out those who
were in trouble, wherever she might be living, help
them as far as she could, give them the Gospel, read
the Gospel to the sick, to criminals, to the dying. 
The idea of reading the Gospel to criminals, as Aline
did, particularly fascinated Kitty.  But all
these were secret dreams, of which Kitty did not talk
either to her mother or to Varenka.

While awaiting the time for carrying
out her plans on a large scale, however, Kitty, even
then at the springs, where there were so many people
ill and unhappy, readily found a chance for practicing
her new principles in imitation of Varenka.

At first the princess noticed nothing
but that Kitty was much under the influence of her
engouement, as she called it, for Madame Stahl,
and still more for Varenka.  She saw that Kitty
did not merely imitate Varenka in her conduct, but
unconsciously imitated her in her manner of walking,
of talking, of blinking her eyes.  But later
on the princess noticed that, apart from this adoration,
some kind of serious spiritual change was taking place
in her daughter.

The princess saw that in the evenings
Kitty read a French testament that Madame Stahl had
given her ­a thing she had never done before;
that she avoided society acquaintances and associated
with the sick people who were under Varenka’s
protection, and especially one poor family, that of
a sick painter, Petrov.  Kitty was unmistakably
proud of playing the part of a sister of mercy in
that family.  All this was well enough, and the
princess had nothing to say against it, especially
as Petrov’s wife was a perfectly nice sort of
woman, and that the German princess, noticing Kitty’s
devotion, praised her, calling her an angel of consolation. 
All this would have been very well, if there had
been no exaggeration.  But the princess saw that
her daughter was rushing into extremes, and so indeed
she told her.

Il ne faut jamais rien outrer,”
she said to her.

Her daughter made her no reply, only
in her heart she thought that one could not talk about
exaggeration where Christianity was concerned. 
What exaggeration could there be in the practice of
a doctrine wherein one was bidden to turn the other
cheek when one was smitten, and give one’s cloak
if one’s coat were taken?  But the princess
disliked this exaggeration, and disliked even more
the fact that she felt her daughter did not care to
show her all her heart.  Kitty did in fact conceal
her new views and feelings from her mother. 
She concealed them not because she did not respect
or did not love her mother, but simply because she
was her mother.  She would have revealed them
to anyone sooner than to her mother.

“How is it Anna Pavlovna’s
not been to see us for so long?” the princess
said one day of Madame Petrova.  “I’ve
asked her, but she seems put out about something.”

“No, I’ve not noticed
it, maman,” said Kitty, flushing hotly.

“Is it long since you went to see them?”

“We’re meaning to make
an expedition to the mountains tomorrow,” answered
Kitty,

“Well, you can go,” answered
the princess, gazing at her daughter’s embarrassed
face and trying to guess the cause of her embarrassment.

That day Varenka came to dinner and
told them that Anna Pavlovna had changed her mind
and given up the expedition for the morrow.  And
the princess noticed again that Kitty reddened.

“Kitty, haven’t you had
some misunderstanding with the Petrovs?” said
the princess, when they were left alone.  “Why
has she given up sending the children and coming to
see us?”

Kitty answered that nothing had happened
between them, and that she could not tell why Anna
Pavlovna seemed displeased with her.  Kitty answered
perfectly truly.  She did not know the reason
Anna Pavlovna had changed to her, but she guessed
it.  She guessed at something which she could
not tell her mother, which she did not put into words
to herself.  It was one of those things which
one knows but which one can never speak of even to
oneself, so terrible and shameful would it be to be
mistaken.

Again and again she went over in her
memory all her relations with the family.  She
remembered the simple delight expressed on the round,
good-humored face of Anna Pavlovna at their meetings;
she remembered their secret confabulations about the
invalid, their plots to draw him away from the work
which was forbidden him, and to get him out-of-doors;
the devotion of the youngest boy, who used to call
her “my Kitty,” and would not go to bed
without her.  How nice it all was!  Then
she recalled the thin, terribly thin figure of Petrov,
with his long neck, in his brown coat, his scant,
curly hair, his questioning blue eyes that were so
terrible to Kitty at first, and his painful attempts
to seem hearty and lively in her presence.  She
recalled the efforts she had made at first to overcome
the repugnance she felt for him, as for all consumptive
people, and the pains it had cost her to think of
things to say to him.  She recalled the timid,
softened look with which he gazed at her, and the
strange feeling of compassion and awkwardness, and
later of a sense of her own goodness, which she had
felt at it.  How nice it all was!  But all
that was at first.  Now, a few days ago, everything
was suddenly spoiled.  Anna Pavlovna had met
Kitty with affected cordiality, and had kept continual
watch on her and on her husband.

Could that touching pleasure he showed
when she came near be the cause of Anna Pavlovna’s
coolness?

“Yes,” she mused, “there
was something unnatural about Anna Pavlovna, and utterly
unlike her good nature, when she said angrily the
day before yesterday:  ’There, he will keep
waiting for you; he wouldn’t drink his coffee
without you, though he’s grown so dreadfully
weak.’”

“Yes, perhaps, too, she didn’t
like it when I gave him the rug.  It was all so
simple, but he took it so awkwardly, and was so long
thanking me, that I felt awkward too.  And then
that portrait of me he did so well.  And most
of all that look of confusion and tenderness! 
Yes, yes, that’s it!” Kitty repeated
to herself with horror.  “No, it can’t
be, it oughtn’t to be!  He’s so much
to be pitied!” she said to herself directly after.

This doubt poisoned the charm of her new life.

 

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