FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 32

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

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The particulars which the princess
had learned in regard to Varenka’s past and
her relations with Madame Stahl were as follows: 

Madame Stahl, of whom some people
said that she had worried her husband out of his life,
while others said it was he who had made her wretched
by his immoral behavior, had always been a woman of
weak health and enthusiastic temperament.  When,
after her separation from her husband, she gave birth
to her only child, the child had died almost immediately,
and the family of Madame Stahl, knowing her sensibility,
and fearing the news would kill her, had substituted
another child, a baby born the same night and in the
same house in Petersburg, the daughter of the chief
cook of the Imperial Household.  This was Varenka. 
Madame Stahl learned later on that Varenka was not
her own child, but she went on bringing her up, especially
as very soon afterwards Varenka had not a relation
of her own living.  Madame Stahl had now been
living more than ten years continuously abroad, in
the south, never leaving her couch.  And some
people said that Madame Stahl had made her social
position as a philanthropic, highly religious woman;
other people said she really was at heart the highly
ethical being, living for nothing but the good of her
fellow creatures, which she represented herself to
be.  No one knew what her faith was ­Catholic,
Protestant, or Orthodox.  But one fact was indubitable ­she
was in amicable relations with the highest dignitaries
of all the churches and sects.

Varenka lived with her all the while
abroad, and everyone who knew Madame Stahl knew and
liked Mademoiselle Varenka, as everyone called her.

Having learned all these facts, the
princess found nothing to object to in her daughter’s
intimacy with Varenka, more especially as Varenka’s
breeding and education were of the best ­she
spoke French and English extremely well ­and
what was of the most weight, brought a message from
Madame Stahl expressing her regret that she was prevented
by her ill health from making the acquaintance of
the princess.

After getting to know Varenka, Kitty
became more and more fascinated by her friend, and
every day she discovered new virtues in her.

The princess, hearing that Varenka
had a good voice, asked her to come and sing to them
in the evening.

“Kitty plays, and we have a
piano; not a good one, it’s true, but you will
give us so much pleasure,” said the princess
with her affected smile, which Kitty disliked particularly
just then, because she noticed that Varenka had no
inclination to sing.  Varenka came, however, in
the evening and brought a roll of music with her. 
The princess had invited Marya Yevgenyevna and her
daughter and the colonel.

Varenka seemed quite unaffected by
there being persons present she did not know, and
she went directly to the piano.  She could not
accompany herself, but she could sing music at sight
very well.  Kitty, who played well, accompanied
her.

“You have an extraordinary talent,”
the princess said to her after Varenka had sung the
first song extremely well.

Marya Yevgenyevna and her daughter
expressed their thanks and admiration.

“Look,” said the colonel,
looking out of the window, “what an audience
has collected to listen to you.”  There actually
was quite a considerable crowd under the windows.

“I am very glad it gives you
pleasure,” Varenka answered simply.

Kitty looked with pride at her friend. 
She was enchanted by her talent, and her voice, and
her face, but most of all by her manner, by the way
Varenka obviously thought nothing of her singing and
was quite unmoved by their praises.  She seemed
only to be asking:  “Am I to sing again,
or is that enough?”

“If it had been I,” thought
Kitty, “how proud I should have been!  How
delighted I should have been to see that crowd under
the windows!  But she’s utterly unmoved
by it.  Her only motive is to avoid refusing
and to please mamma.  What is there in her? 
What is it gives her the power to look down on everything,
to be calm independently of everything?  How
I should like to know it and to learn it of her!”
thought Kitty, gazing into her serene face.  The
princess asked Varenka to sing again, and Varenka sang
another song, also smoothly, distinctly, and well,
standing erect at the piano and beating time on it
with her thin, dark-skinned hand.

The next song in the book was an Italian
one.  Kitty played the opening bars, and looked
round at Varenka.

“Let’s skip that,”
said Varenka, flushing a little.  Kitty let her
eyes rest on Varenka’s face, with a look of dismay
and inquiry.

“Very well, the next one,”
she said hurriedly, turning over the pages, and at
once feeling that there was something connected with
the song.

“No,” answered Varenka
with a smile, laying her hand on the music, “no,
let’s have that one.”  And she sang
it just as quietly, as coolly, and as well as the
others.

When she had finished, they all thanked
her again, and went off to tea.  Kitty and Varenka
went out into the little garden that adjoined the
house.

“Am I right, that you have some
reminiscences connected with that song?” said
Kitty.  “Don’t tell me,” she
added hastily, “only say if I’m right.”

“No, why not?  I’ll
tell you simply,” said Varenka, and, without
waiting for a reply, she went on:  “Yes,
it brings up memories, once painful ones.  I
cared for someone once, and I used to sing him that
song.”

Kitty with big, wide-open eyes gazed
silently, sympathetically at Varenka.

“I cared for him, and he cared
for me; but his mother did not wish it, and he married
another girl.  He’s living now not far
from us, and I see him sometimes.  You didn’t
think I had a love story too,” she said, and
there was a faint gleam in her handsome face of that
fire which Kitty felt must once have glowed all over
her.

“I didn’t think so? 
Why, if I were a man, I could never care for anyone
else after knowing you.  Only I can’t understand
how he could, to please his mother, forget you and
make you unhappy; he had no heart.”

“Oh, no, he’s a very good
man, and I’m not unhappy; quite the contrary,
I’m very happy.  Well, so we shan’t
be singing any more now,” she added, turning
towards the house.

“How good you are! how good
you are!” cried Kitty, and stopping her, she
kissed her.  “If I could only be even a
little like you!”

“Why should you be like anyone? 
You’re nice as you are,” said Varenka,
smiling her gentle, weary smile.

“No, I’m not nice at all. 
Come, tell me….  Stop a minute, let’s
sit down,” said Kitty, making her sit down again
beside her.  “Tell me, isn’t it humiliating
to think that a man has disdained your love, that
he hasn’t cared for it?…”

“But he didn’t disdain
it; I believe he cared for me, but he was a dutiful
son…”

“Yes, but if it hadn’t
been on account of his mother, if it had been his
own doing?…” said Kitty, feeling she was giving
away her secret, and that her face, burning with the
flush of shame, had betrayed her already.

“In that case he would have
done wrong, and I should not have regretted him,”
answered Varenka, evidently realizing that they were
now talking not of her, but of Kitty.

“But the humiliation,”
said Kitty, “the humiliation one can never forget,
can never forget,” she said, remembering her
look at the last ball during the pause in the music.

“Where is the humiliation? 
Why, you did nothing wrong?”

“Worse than wrong ­shameful.”

Varenka shook her head and laid her hand on Kitty’s
hand.

“Why, what is there shameful?”
she said.  “You didn’t tell a man,
who didn’t care for you, that you loved him,
did you?”

“Of course not; I never said
a word, but he knew it.  No, no, there are looks,
there are ways; I can’t forget it, if I live
a hundred years.”

“Why so?  I don’t
understand.  The whole point is whether you love
him now or not,” said Varenka, who called everything
by its name.

“I hate him; I can’t forgive myself.”

“Why, what for?”

“The shame, the humiliation!”

“Oh! if everyone were as sensitive
as you are!” said Varenka.  “There
isn’t a girl who hasn’t been through the
same.  And it’s all so unimportant.”

“Why, what is important?”
said Kitty, looking into her face with inquisitive
wonder.

“Oh, there’s so much that’s
important,” said Varenka, smiling.

“Why, what?”

“Oh, so much that’s more
important,” answered Varenka, not knowing what
to say.  But at that instant they heard the princess’s
voice from the window.  “Kitty, it’s
cold!  Either get a shawl, or come indoors.”

“It really is time to go in!”
said Varenka, getting up.  “I have to go
on to Madame Berthe’s; she asked me to.”

Kitty held her by the hand, and with
passionate curiosity and entreaty her eyes asked her: 
“What is it, what is this of such importance
that gives you such tranquillity?  You know, tell
me!” But Varenka did not even know what Kitty’s
eyes were asking her.  She merely thought that
she had to go to see Madame Berthe too that evening,
and to make haste home in time for maman’s
tea at twelve o’clock.  She went indoors,
collected her music, and saying good-bye to everyone,
was about to go.

“Allow me to see you home,” said the colonel.

“Yes, how can you go alone at
night like this?” chimed in the princess. 
“Anyway, I’ll send Parasha.”

Kitty saw that Varenka could hardly
restrain a smile at the idea that she needed an escort.

“No, I always go about alone
and nothing ever happens to me,” she said, taking
her hat.  And kissing Kitty once more, without
saying what was important, she stepped out courageously
with the music under her arm and vanished into the
twilight of the summer night, bearing away with her
her secret of what was important and what gave her
the calm and dignity so much to be envied.

 

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