FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 34

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

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Before the end of the course of drinking
the waters, Prince Shtcherbatsky, who had gone on
from Carlsbad to Baden and Kissingen to Russian friends ­to
get a breath of Russian air, as he said ­came
back to his wife and daughter.

The views of the prince and of the
princess on life abroad were completely opposed. 
The princess thought everything delightful, and in
spite of her established position in Russian society,
she tried abroad to be like a European fashionable
lady, which she was not ­for the simple
reason that she was a typical Russian gentlewoman;
and so she was affected, which did not altogether
suit her.  The prince, on the contrary, thought
everything foreign detestable, got sick of European
life, kept to his Russian habits, and purposely tried
to show himself abroad less European than he was in
reality.

The prince returned thinner, with
the skin hanging in loose bags on his cheeks, but
in the most cheerful frame of mind.  His good
humor was even greater when he saw Kitty completely
recovered.  The news of Kitty’s friendship
with Madame Stahl and Varenka, and the reports the
princess gave him of some kind of change she had noticed
in Kitty, troubled the prince and aroused his habitual
feeling of jealousy of everything that drew his daughter
away from him, and a dread that his daughter might
have got out of the reach of his influence into regions
inaccessible to him.  But these unpleasant matters
were all drowned in the sea of kindliness and good
humor which was always within him, and more so than
ever since his course of Carlsbad waters.

The day after his arrival the prince,
in his long overcoat, with his Russian wrinkles and
baggy cheeks propped up by a starched collar, set
off with his daughter to the spring in the greatest
good humor.

It was a lovely morning:  the
bright, cheerful houses with their little gardens,
the sight of the red-faced, red-armed, beer-drinking
German waitresses, working away merrily, did the heart
good.  But the nearer they got to the springs
the oftener they met sick people; and their appearance
seemed more pitiable than ever among the everyday
conditions of prosperous German life.  Kitty
was no longer struck by this contrast.  The bright
sun, the brilliant green of the foliage, the strains
of the music were for her the natural setting of all
these familiar faces, with their changes to greater
emaciation or to convalescence, for which she watched. 
But to the prince the brightness and gaiety of the
June morning, and the sound of the orchestra playing
a gay waltz then in fashion, and above all, the appearance
of the healthy attendants, seemed something unseemly
and monstrous, in conjunction with these slowly moving,
dying figures gathered together from all parts of
Europe.  In spite of his feeling of pride and,
as it were, of the return of youth, with his favorite
daughter on his arm, he felt awkward, and almost ashamed
of his vigorous step and his sturdy, stout limbs. 
He felt almost like a man not dressed in a crowd.

“Present me to your new friends,”
he said to his daughter, squeezing her hand with his
elbow.  “I like even your horrid Soden
for making you so well again.  Only it’s
melancholy, very melancholy here.  Who’s
that?”

Kitty mentioned the names of all the
people they met, with some of whom she was acquainted
and some not.  At the entrance of the garden
they met the blind lady, Madame Berthe, with her guide,
and the prince was delighted to see the old Frenchwoman’s
face light up when she heard Kitty’s voice. 
She at once began talking to him with French exaggerated
politeness, applauding him for having such a delightful
daughter, extolling Kitty to the skies before her
face, and calling her a treasure, a pearl, and a consoling
angel.

“Well, she’s the second
angel, then,” said the prince, smiling. “she
calls Mademoiselle Varenka angel number one.”

“Oh!  Mademoiselle Varenka,
she’s a real angel, allez,” Madame Berthe
assented.

In the arcade they met Varenka herself. 
She was walking rapidly towards them carrying an
elegant red bag.

“Here is papa come,” Kitty said to her.

Varenka made ­simply and
naturally as she did everything ­a movement
between a bow and a curtsey, and immediately began
talking to the prince, without shyness, naturally,
as she talked to everyone.

“Of course I know you; I know
you very well,” the prince said to her with
a smile, in which Kitty detected with joy that her
father liked her friend.  “Where are you
off to in such haste?”

“Maman’s here,”
she said, turning to Kitty.  “She has not
slept all night, and the doctor advised her to go
out.  I’m taking her her work.”

“So that’s angel number
one?” said the prince when Varenka had gone
on.

Kitty saw that her father had meant
to make fun of Varenka, but that he could not do it
because he liked her.

“Come, so we shall see all your
friends,” he went on, “even Madame Stahl,
if she deigns to recognize me.”

“Why, did you know her, papa?”
Kitty asked apprehensively, catching the gleam of
irony that kindled in the prince’s eyes at the
mention of Madame Stahl.

“I used to know her husband,
and her too a little, before she’d joined the
Pietists.”

“What is a Pietist, papa?”
asked Kitty, dismayed to find that what she prized
so highly in Madame Stahl had a name.

“I don’t quite know myself. 
I only know that she thanks God for everything, for
every misfortune, and thanks God too that her husband
died.  And that’s rather droll, as they
didn’t get on together.”

“Who’s that?  What
a piteous face!” he asked, noticing a sick man
of medium height sitting on a bench, wearing a brown
overcoat and white trousers that fell in strange folds
about his long, fleshless legs.  This man lifted
his straw hat, showed his scanty curly hair and high
forehead, painfully reddened by the pressure of the
hat.

“That’s Petrov, an artist,”
answered Kitty, blushing.  “And that’s
his wife,” she added, indicating Anna Pavlovna,
who, as though on purpose, at the very instant they
approached walked away after a child that had run
off along a path.

“Poor fellow! and what a nice
face he has!” said the prince.  “Why
don’t you go up to him?  He wanted to speak
to you.”

“Well, let us go, then,”
said Kitty, turning round resolutely.  “How
are you feeling today?” she asked Petrov.

Petrov got up, leaning on his stick,
and looked shyly at the prince.

“This is my daughter,”
said the prince.  “Let me introduce myself.”

The painter bowed and smiled, showing
his strangely dazzling white teeth.

“We expected you yesterday,
princess,” he said to Kitty.  He staggered
as he said this, and then repeated the motion, trying
to make it seem as if it had been intentional.

“I meant to come, but Varenka
said that Anna Pavlovna sent word you were not going.”

“Not going!” said Petrov,
blushing, and immediately beginning to cough, and
his eyes sought his wife.  “Anita! 
Anita!” he said loudly, and the swollen veins
stood out like cords on his thin white neck.

Anna Pavlovna came up.

“So you sent word to the princess
that we weren’t going!” he whispered to
her angrily, losing his voice.

“Good morning, princess,”
said Anna Pavlovna, with an assumed smile utterly
unlike her former manner.  “Very glad to
make your acquaintance,” she said to the prince. 
“You’ve long been expected, prince.”

“What did you send word to the
princess that we weren’t going for?” the
artist whispered hoarsely once more, still more angrily,
obviously exasperated that his voice failed him so
that he could not give his words the expression he
would have liked to.

“Oh, mercy on us!  I thought
we weren’t going,” his wife answered crossly.

“What, when….” 
He coughed and waved his hand.  The prince took
off his hat and moved away with his daughter.

“Ah! ah!” he sighed deeply.  “Oh,
poor things!”

“Yes, papa,” answered
Kitty.  “And you must know they’ve
three children, no servant, and scarcely any means. 
He gets something from the Academy,” she went
on briskly, trying to drown the distress that the
queer change in Anna Pavlovna’s manner to her
had aroused in her.

“Oh, here’s Madame Stahl,”
said Kitty, indicating an invalid carriage, where,
propped on pillows, something in gray and blue was
lying under a sunshade.  This was Madame Stahl. 
Behind her stood the gloomy, healthy-looking German
workman who pushed the carriage.  Close by was
standing a flaxen-headed Swedish count, whom Kitty
knew by name.  Several invalids were lingering
near the low carriage, staring at the lady as though
she were some curiosity.

The prince went up to her, and Kitty
detected that disconcerting gleam of irony in his
eyes.  He went up to Madame Stahl, and addressed
her with extreme courtesy and affability in that excellent
French that so few speak nowadays.

“I don’t know if you remember
me, but I must recall myself to thank you for your
kindness to my daughter,” he said, taking off
his hat and not putting it on again.

“Prince Alexander Shtcherbatsky,”
said Madame Stahl, lifting upon him her heavenly eyes,
in which Kitty discerned a look of annoyance. 
“Delighted!  I have taken a great fancy
to your daughter.”

“You are still in weak health?”

“Yes; I’m used to it,”
said Madame Stahl, and she introduced the prince to
the Swedish count.

“You are scarcely changed at
all,” the prince said to her.  “It’s
ten or eleven years since I had the honor of seeing
you.”

“Yes; God sends the cross and
sends the strength to bear it.  Often one wonders
what is the goal of this life?…  The other
side!” she said angrily to Varenka, who had rearranged
the rug over her feet not to her satisfaction.

“To do good, probably,”
said the prince with a twinkle in his eye.

“That is not for us to judge,”
said Madame Stahl, perceiving the shade of expression
on the prince’s face.  “So you will
send me that book, dear count?  I’m very
grateful to you,” she said to the young Swede.

“Ah!” cried the prince,
catching sight of the Moscow colonel standing near,
and with a bow to Madame Stahl he walked away with
his daughter and the Moscow colonel, who joined them.

“That’s our aristocracy,
prince!” the Moscow colonel said with ironical
intention.  He cherished a grudge against Madame
Stahl for not making his acquaintance.

“She’s just the same,” replied the
prince.

“Did you know her before her
illness, prince ­that’s to say before
she took to her bed?”

“Yes.  She took to her
bed before my eyes,” said the prince.

“They say it’s ten years
since she has stood on her feet.”

“She doesn’t stand up
because her legs are too short.  She’s a
very bad figure.”

“Papa, it’s not possible!” cried
Kitty.

“That’s what wicked tongues
say, my darling.  And your Varenka catches it
too,” he added.  “Oh, these invalid
ladies!”

“Oh, no, papa!” Kitty
objected warmly.  “Varenka worships her. 
And then she does so much good!  Ask anyone! 
Everyone knows her and Aline Stahl.”

“Perhaps so,” said the
prince, squeezing her hand with his elbow; “but
it’s better when one does good so that you may
ask everyone and no one knows.”

Kitty did not answer, not because
she had nothing to say, but because she did not care
to reveal her secret thoughts even to her father. 
But, strange to say, although she had so made up her
mind not to be influenced by her father’s views,
not to let him into her inmost sanctuary, she felt
that the heavenly image of Madame Stahl, which she
had carried for a whole month in her heart, had vanished,
never to return, just as the fantastic figure made
up of some clothes thrown down at random vanishes
when one sees that it is only some garment lying there. 
All that was left was a woman with short legs, who
lay down because she had a bad figure, and worried
patient Varenka for not arranging her rug to her liking. 
And by no effort of the imagination could Kitty bring
back the former Madame Stahl.

 

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