FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 7

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Stephan Arkadyevitch had gone to Petersburg
to perform the most natural and essential official
duty ­so familiar to everyone in the government
service, though incomprehensible to outsiders ­
that duty, but for which one could hardly be in government
service, of reminding the ministry of his existence ­and
having, for the due performance of this rite, taken
all the available cash from home, was gaily and agreeably
spending his days at the races and in the summer villas. 
Meanwhile Dolly and the children had moved into the
country, to cut down expenses as much as possible. 
She had gone to Ergushovo, the estate that had been
her dowry, and the one where in spring the forest had
been sold.  It was nearly forty miles from Levin’s
Pokrovskoe.  The big, old house at Ergushovo
had been pulled down long ago, and the old prince
had had the lodge done up and built on to.  Twenty
years before, when Dolly was a child, the lodge had
been roomy and comfortable, though, like all lodges,
it stood sideways to the entrance avenue, and faced
the south.  But by now this lodge was old and
dilapidated.  When Stepan Arkadyevitch had gone
down in the spring to sell the forest, Dolly had begged
him to look over the house and order what repairs
might be needed.  Stepan Arkadyevitch, like all
unfaithful husbands indeed, was very solicitous for
his wife’s comfort, and he had himself looked
over the house, and given instructions about everything
that he considered necessary.  What he considered
necessary was to cover all the furniture with cretonne,
to put up curtains, to weed the garden, to make a
little bridge on the pond, and to plant flowers. 
But he forgot many other essential matters, the want
of which greatly distressed Darya Alexandrovna later
on.

In spite of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s
efforts to be an attentive father and husband, he
never could keep in his mind that he had a wife and
children.  He had bachelor tastes, and it was
in accordance with them that he shaped his life. 
On his return to Moscow he informed his wife with
pride that everything was ready, that the house would
be a little paradise, and that he advised her most
certainly to go.  His wife’s staying away
in the country was very agreeable to Stepan Arkadyevitch
from every point of view:  it did the children
good, it decreased expenses, and it left him more
at liberty.  Darya Alexandrovna regarded staying
in the country for the summer as essential for the
children, especially for the little girl, who had
not succeeded in regaining her strength after the
scarlatina, and also as a means of escaping the petty
humiliations, the little bills owing to the wood-merchant,
the fishmonger, the shoemaker, which made her miserable. 
Besides this, she was pleased to go away to the country
because she was dreaming of getting her sister Kitty
to stay with her there.  Kitty was to be back
from abroad in the middle of the summer, and bathing
had been prescribed for her.  Kitty wrote that
no prospect was so alluring as to spend the summer
with Dolly at Ergushovo, full of childish associations
for both of them.

The first days of her existence in
the country were very hard for Dolly.  She used
to stay in the country as a child, and the impression
she had retained of it was that the country was a
refuge from all the unpleasantness of the town, that
life there, though not luxurious ­Dolly
could easily make up her mind to that ­was
cheap and comfortable; that there was plenty of everything,
everything was cheap, everything could be got, and
children were happy.  But now coming to the country
as the head of a family, she perceived that it was
all utterly unlike what she had fancied.

The day after their arrival there
was a heavy fall of rain, and in the night the water
came through in the corridor and in the nursery, so
that the beds had to be carried into the drawing room. 
There was no kitchen maid to be found; of the nine
cows, it appeared from the words of the cowherd-woman
that some were about to calve, others had just calved,
others were old, and others again hard-uddered; there
was not butter nor milk enough even for the children. 
There were no eggs.  They could get no fowls;
old, purplish, stringy cocks were all they had for
roasting and boiling.  Impossible to get women
to scrub the floors ­all were potato-hoeing. 
Driving was out of the question, because one of the
horses was restive, and bolted in the shafts. 
There was no place where they could bathe; the whole
of the river-bank was trampled by the cattle and open
to the road; even walks were impossible, for the cattle
strayed into the garden through a gap in the hedge,
and there was one terrible bull, who bellowed, and
therefore might be expected to gore somebody. 
There were no proper cupboards for their clothes;
what cupboards there were either would not close at
all, or burst open whenever anyone passed by them. 
There were no pots and pans; there was no copper
in the washhouse, nor even an ironing-board in the
maids’ room.

Finding instead of peace and rest
all these, from her point of view, fearful calamities,
Darya Alexandrovna was at first in despair. 
She exerted herself to the utmost, felt the hopelessness
of the position, and was every instant suppressing
the tears that started into her eyes.  The bailiff,
a retired quartermaster, whom Stepan Arkadyevitch
had taken a fancy to and had appointed bailiff on
account of his handsome and respectful appearance
as a hall-porter, showed no sympathy for Darya Alexandrovna’s
woes.  He said respectfully, “nothing can
be done, the peasants are such a wretched lot,”
and did nothing to help her.

The position seemed hopeless. 
But in the Oblonskys’ household, as in all
families indeed, there was one inconspicuous but most
valuable and useful person, Marya Philimonovna. 
She soothed her mistress, assured her that everything
would come round (it was her expression, and
Matvey had borrowed it from her), and without fuss
or hurry proceeded to set to work herself.  She
had immediately made friends with the bailiff’s
wife, and on the very first day she drank tea with
her and the bailiff under the acacias, and reviewed
all the circumstances of the position.  Very soon
Marya Philimonovna had established her club, so to
say, under the acacias, and there it was, in
this club, consisting of the bailiff’s wife,
the village elder, and the counting house clerk, that
the difficulties of existence were gradually smoothed
away, and in a week’s time everything actually
had come round.  The roof was mended, a kitchen
maid was found ­a crony of the village elder’s ­hens
were bought, the cows began giving milk, the garden
hedge was stopped up with stakes, the carpenter made
a mangle, hooks were put in the cupboards, and they
ceased to burst open spontaneously, and an ironing-board
covered with army cloth was placed across from the
arm of a chair to the chest of drawers, and there
was a smell of flatirons in the maids’ room.

“Just see, now, and you were
quite in despair,” said Marya Philimonovna,
pointing to the ironing-board.  They even rigged
up a bathing-shed of straw hurdles.  Lily began
to bathe, and Darya Alexandrovna began to realize,
if only in part, her expectations, if not of a peaceful,
at least of a comfortable, life in the country. 
Peaceful with six children Darya Alexandrovna could
not be.  One would fall ill, another might easily
become so, a third would be without something necessary,
a fourth would show symptoms of a bad disposition,
and so on.  Rare indeed were the brief periods
of peace.  But these cares and anxieties were
for Darya Alexandrovna the sole happiness possible. 
Had it not been for them, she would have been left
alone to brood over her husband who did not love her. 
And besides, hard though it was for the mother to
bear the dread of illness, the illnesses themselves,
and the grief of seeing signs of evil propensities
in her children ­the children themselves
were even now repaying her in small joys for her sufferings. 
Those joys were so small that they passed unnoticed,
like gold in sand, and at bad moments she could see
nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were
good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy,
nothing but gold.

Now in the solitude of the country,
she began to be more and more frequently aware of
those joys.  Often, looking at them, she would
make every possible effort to persuade herself that
she was mistaken, that she as a mother was partial
to her children.  All the same, she could not
help saying to herself that she had charming children,
all six of them in different ways, but a set of children
such as is not often to be met with, and she was happy
in them, and proud of them.

 

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