FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 17

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

Light off Small Medium Large

The croquet party to which the Princess
Tverskaya had invited Anna was to consist of two ladies
and their adorers.  These two ladies were the
chief representatives of a select new Petersburg circle,
nicknamed, in imitation of some imitation, les sept
merveilles du monde
.  These ladies belonged
to a circle which, though of the highest society,
was utterly hostile to that in which Anna moved. 
Moreover, Stremov, one of the most influential people
in Petersburg, and the elderly admirer of Liza Merkalova,
was Alexey Alexandrovitch’s enemy in the political
world.  From all these considerations Anna had
not meant to go, and the hints in Princess Tverskaya’s
note referred to her refusal.  But now Anna was
eager to go, in the hope of seeing Vronsky.

Anna arrived at Princess Tverskaya’s
earlier than the other guests.

At the same moment as she entered,
Vronsky’s footman, with side-whiskers combed
out like a Kammerjunker, went in too. 
He stopped at the door, and, taking off his cap, let
her pass.  Anna recognized him, and only then
recalled that Vronsky had told her the day before
that he would not come.  Most likely he was sending
a note to say so.

As she took off her outer garment
in the hall, she heard the footman, pronouncing his
“r’s” even like a Kammerjunker,
say, “From the count for the princess,”
and hand the note.

She longed to question him as to where
his master was.  She longed to turn back and
send him a letter to come and see her, or to go herself
to see him.  But neither the first nor the second
nor the third course was possible.  Already she
heard bells ringing to announce her arrival ahead
of her, and Princess Tverskaya’s footman was
standing at the open door waiting for her to go forward
into the inner rooms.

“The princess is in the garden;
they will inform her immediately.  Would you be
pleased to walk into the garden?” announced another
footman in another room.

The position of uncertainty, of indecision,
was still the same as at home ­worse, in
fact, since it was impossible to take any step, impossible
to see Vronsky, and she had to remain here among outsiders,
in company so uncongenial to her present mood. 
But she was wearing a dress that she knew suited
her.  She was not alone; all around was that
luxurious setting of idleness that she was used to,
and she felt less wretched than at home.  She
was not forced to think what she was to do. 
Everything would be done of itself.  On meeting
Betsy coming towards her in a white gown that struck
her by its elegance, Anna smiled at her just as she
always did.  Princess Tverskaya was walking with
Tushkevitch and a young lady, a relation, who, to
the great joy of her parents in the provinces, was
spending the summer with the fashionable princess.

There was probably something unusual
about Anna, for Betsy noticed it at once.

“I slept badly,” answered
Anna, looking intently at the footman who came to
meet them, and, as she supposed, brought Vronsky’s
note.

“How glad I am you’ve
come!” said Betsy.  “I’m tired,
and was just longing to have some tea before they
come.  You might go” ­ she turned
to Tushkevitch ­“with Masha, and try
the croquet ground over there where they’ve
been cutting it.  We shall have time to talk
a little over tea; we’ll have a cozy chat, eh?”
she said in English to Anna, with a smile, pressing
the hand with which she held a parasol.

“Yes, especially as I can’t
stay very long with you.  I’m forced to
go on to old Madame Vrede.  I’ve been promising
to go for a century,” said Anna, to whom lying,
alien as it was to her nature, had become not merely
simple and natural in society, but a positive source
of satisfaction.  Why she said this, which she
had not thought of a second before, she could not have
explained.  She had said it simply from the reflection
that as Vronsky would not be here, she had better
secure her own freedom, and try to see him somehow. 
But why she had spoken of old Madame Vrede, whom
she had to go and see, as she had to see many other
people, she could not have explained; and yet, as
it afterwards turned out, had she contrived the most
cunning devices to meet Vronsky, she could have thought
of nothing better.

“No.  I’m not going
to let you go for anything,” answered Betsy,
looking intently into Anna’s face.  “Really,
if I were not fond of you, I should feel offended. 
One would think you were afraid my society would
compromise you.  Tea in the little dining room,
please,” she said, half closing her eyes, as
she always did when addressing the footman.

Taking the note from him, she read it.

“Alexey’s playing us false,”
she said in French; “he writes that he can’t
come,” she added in a tone as simple and natural
as though it could never enter her head that Vronsky
could mean anything more to Anna than a game of croquet. 
Anna knew that Betsy knew everything, but, hearing
how she spoke of Vronsky before her, she almost felt
persuaded for a minute that she knew nothing.

“Ah!” said Anna indifferently,
as though not greatly interested in the matter, and
she went on smiling:  “How can you or your
friends compromise anyone?”

This playing with words, this hiding
of a secret, had a great fascination for Anna, as,
indeed, it has for all women.  And it was not
the necessity of concealment, not the aim with which
the concealment was contrived, but the process of
concealment itself which attracted her.

“I can’t be more Catholic
than the Pope,” she said.  “Stremov
and Liza Merkalova, why, they’re the cream of
the cream of society.  Besides, they’re
received everywhere, and I” ­she
laid special stress on the I ­“have
never been strict and intolerant.  It’s
simply that I haven’t the time.”

“No; you don’t care, perhaps,
to meet Stremov?  Let him and Alexey Alexandrovitch
tilt at each other in the committee ­ that’s
no affair of ours.  But in the world, he’s
the most amiable man I know, and a devoted croquet
player.  You shall see.  And, in spite of
his absurd position as Liza’s lovesick swain
at his age, you ought to see how he carries off the
absurd position.  He’s very nice. 
Sappho Shtoltz you don’t know?  Oh, that’s
a new type, quite new.”

Betsy said all this, and, at the same
time, from her good-humored, shrewd glance, Anna felt
that she partly guessed her plight, and was hatching
something for her benefit.  They were in the
little boudoir.

“I must write to Alexey though,”
and Betsy sat down to the table, scribbled a few lines,
and put the note in an envelope.

“I’m telling him to come
to dinner.  I’ve one lady extra to dinner
with me, and no man to take her in.  Look what
I’ve said, will that persuade him?  Excuse
me, I must leave you for a minute.  Would you
seal it up, please, and send it off?” she said
from the door; “I have to give some directions.”

Without a moment’s thought,
Anna sat down to the table with Betsy’s letter,
and, without reading it, wrote below:  “It’s
essential for me to see you.  Come to the Vrede
garden.  I shall be there at six o’clock.” 
She sealed it up, and, Betsy coming back, in her
presence handed the note to be taken.

At tea, which was brought them on
a little tea-table in the cool little drawing room,
the cozy chat promised by Princess Tverskaya before
the arrival of her visitors really did come off between
the two women.  They criticized the people they
were expecting, and the conversation fell upon Liza
Merkalova.

“She’s very sweet, and
I always liked her,” said Anna.

“You ought to like her. 
She raves about you.  Yesterday she came up
to me after the races and was in despair at not finding
you.  She says you’re a real heroine of
romance, and that if she were a man she would do all
sorts of mad things for your sake.  Stremov says
she does that as it is.”

“But do tell me, please, I never
could make it out,” said Anna, after being silent
for some time, speaking in a tone that showed she
was not asking an idle question, but that what she
was asking was of more importance to her than it should
have been; “do tell me, please, what are her
relations with Prince Kaluzhsky, Mishka, as he’s
called?  I’ve met them so little.  What
does it mean?”

Betsy smiled with her eyes, and looked
intently at Anna.

“It’s a new manner,”
she said.  “They’ve all adopted that
manner.  They’ve flung their caps over the
windmills.  But there are ways and ways of flinging
them.”

“Yes, but what are her relations
precisely with Kaluzhsky?”

Betsy broke into unexpectedly mirthful
and irrepressible laughter, a thing which rarely happened
with her.

“You’re encroaching on
Princess Myakaya’s special domain now. 
That’s the question of an enfant terrible,”
and Betsy obviously tried to restrain herself, but
could not, and went off into peals of that infectious
laughter that people laugh who do not laugh often. 
“You’d better ask them,” she brought
out, between tears of laughter.

“No; you laugh,” said
Anna, laughing too in spite of herself, “but
I never could understand it.  I can’t understand
the husband’s rôle in it.”

“The husband?  Liza Merkalova’s
husband carries her shawl, and is always ready to
be of use.  But anything more than that in reality,
no one cares to inquire.  You know in decent society
one doesn’t talk or think even of certain details
of the toilet.  That’s how it is with this.”

“Will you be at Madame Rolandak’s
fête?” asked Anna, to change the conversation.

“I don’t think so,”
answered Betsy, and, without looking at her friend,
she began filling the little transparent cups with
fragrant tea.  Putting a cup before Anna, she
took out a cigarette, and, fitting it into a silver
holder, she lighted it.

“It’s like this, you see: 
I’m in a fortunate position,” she began,
quite serious now, as she took up her cup.  “I
understand you, and I understand Liza.  Liza
now is one of those naïve natures that, like children,
don’t know what’s good and what’s
bad.  Anyway, she didn’t comprehend it when
she was very young.  And now she’s aware
that the lack of comprehension suits her.  Now,
perhaps, she doesn’t know on purpose,”
said Betsy, with a subtle smile.  “But,
anyway, it suits her.  The very same thing, don’t
you see, may be looked at tragically, and turned into
a misery, or it may be looked at simply and even humorously. 
Possibly you are inclined to look at things too tragically.”

“How I should like to know other
people just as I know myself!” said Anna, seriously
and dreamily.  “Am I worse than other people,
or better?  I think I’m worse.”

Enfant terrible, enfant
terrible!
” repeated Betsy.  “But
here they are.”

 

Leave a Reply