FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 18

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

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They heard the sound of steps and
a man’s voice, then a woman’s voice and
laughter, and immediately thereafter there walked in
the expected guests:  Sappho Shtoltz, and a young
man beaming with excess of health, the so-called Vaska. 
It was evident that ample supplies of beefsteak,
truffles, and Burgundy never failed to reach him at
the fitting hour.  Vaska bowed to the two ladies,
and glanced at them, but only for one second. 
He walked after Sappho into the drawing-room, and
followed her about as though he were chained to her,
keeping his sparkling eyes fixed on her as though
he wanted to eat her.  Sappho Shtoltz was a blonde
beauty with black eyes.  She walked with smart
little steps in high-heeled shoes, and shook hands
with the ladies vigorously like a man.

Anna had never met this new star of
fashion, and was struck by her beauty, the exaggerated
extreme to which her dress was carried, and the boldness
of her manners.  On her head there was such a
superstructure of soft, golden hair ­her
own and false mixed ­that her head was equal
in size to the elegantly rounded bust, of which so
much was exposed in front.  The impulsive abruptness
of her movements was such that at every step the lines
of her knees and the upper part of her legs were distinctly
marked under her dress, and the question involuntarily
rose to the mind where in the undulating, piled-up
mountain of material at the back the real body of
the woman, so small and slender, so naked in front,
and so hidden behind and below, really came to an
end.

Betsy made haste to introduce her to Anna.

“Only fancy, we all but ran
over two soldiers,” she began telling them at
once, using her eyes, smiling and twitching away her
tail, which she flung back at one stroke all on one
side.  “I drove here with Vaska…. 
Ah, to be sure, you don’t know each other.” 
And mentioning his surname she introduced the young
man, and reddening a little, broke into a ringing
laugh at her mistake ­that is, at her having
called him Vaska to a stranger.  Vaska bowed once
more to Anna, but he said nothing to her.  He
addressed Sappho:  “You’ve lost your
bet.  We got here first.  Pay up,”
said he, smiling.

Sappho laughed still more festively.

“Not just now,” said she.

“Oh, all right, I’ll have it later.”

“Very well, very well. 
Oh, yes.”  She turned suddenly to Princess
Betsy:  “I am a nice person…I positively
forgot it…  I’ve brought you a visitor. 
And here he comes.”  The unexpected young
visitor, whom Sappho had invited, and whom she had
forgotten, was, however, a personage of such consequence
that, in spite of his youth, both the ladies rose
on his entrance.

He was a new admirer of Sappho’s. 
He now dogged her footsteps, like Vaska.

Soon after Prince Kaluzhsky arrived,
and Liza Merkalova with Stremov.  Liza Merkalova
was a thin brunette, with an Oriental, languid type
of face, and ­as everyone used to say ­exquisite
enigmatic eyes.  The tone of her dark dress (Anna
immediately observed and appreciated the fact) was
in perfect harmony with her style of beauty. 
Liza was as soft and enervated as Sappho was smart
and abrupt.

But to Anna’s taste Liza was
far more attractive.  Betsy had said to Anna
that she had adopted the pose of an innocent child,
but when Anna saw her, she felt that this was not
the truth.  She really was both innocent and
corrupt, but a sweet and passive woman.  It is
true that her tone was the same as Sappho’s;
that like Sappho, she had two men, one young and one
old, tacked onto her, and devouring her with their
eyes.  But there was something in her higher
than what surrounded her.  There was in her the
glow of the real diamond among glass imitations. 
This glow shone out in her exquisite, truly enigmatic
eyes.  The weary, and at the same time passionate,
glance of those eyes, encircled by dark rings, impressed
one by its perfect sincerity.  Everyone looking
into those eyes fancied he knew her wholly, and knowing
her, could not but love her.  At the sight of
Anna, her whole face lighted up at once with a smile
of delight.

“Ah, how glad I am to see you!”
she said, going up to her.  “Yesterday at
the races all I wanted was to get to you, but you’d
gone away.  I did so want to see you, yesterday
especially.  Wasn’t it awful?” she
said, looking at Anna with eyes that seemed to lay
bare all her soul.

“Yes; I had no idea it would
be so thrilling,” said Anna, blushing.

The company got up at this moment
to go into the garden.

“I’m not going,”
said Liza, smiling and settling herself close to Anna. 
“You won’t go either, will you? 
Who wants to play croquet?”

“Oh, I like it,” said Anna.

“There, how do you manage never
to be bored by things?  It’s delightful
to look at you.  You’re alive, but I’m
bored.”

“How can you be bored? 
Why, you live in the liveliest set in Petersburg,”
said Anna.

“Possibly the people who are
not of our set are even more bored; but we ­I
certainly ­are not happy, but awfully, awfully
bored.”

Sappho smoking a cigarette went off
into the garden with the two young men.  Betsy
and Stremov remained at the tea-table.

“What, bored!” said Betsy. 
“Sappho says they did enjoy themselves tremendously
at your house last night.”

“Ah, how dreary it all was!”
said Liza Merkalova.  “We all drove back
to my place after the races.  And always the same
people, always the same.  Always the same thing. 
We lounged about on sofas all the evening. 
What is there to enjoy in that?  No; do tell
me how you manage never to be bored?” she said,
addressing Anna again.  “One has but to
look at you and one sees, here’s a woman who
may be happy or unhappy, but isn’t bored. 
Tell me how you do it?”

“I do nothing,” answered
Anna, blushing at these searching questions.

“That’s the best way,”
Stremov put in.  Stremov was a man of fifty,
partly gray, but still vigorous-looking, very ugly,
but with a characteristic and intelligent face. 
Liza Merkalova was his wife’s niece, and he
spent all his leisure hours with her.  On meeting
Anna Karenina, as he was Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
enemy in the government, he tried, like a shrewd man
and a man of the world, to be particularly cordial
with her, the wife of his enemy.

“‘Nothing,’”
he put in with a subtle smile, “that’s
the very best way.  I told you long ago,”
he said, turning to Liza Merkalova, “that if
you don’t want to be bored, you mustn’t
think you’re going to be bored.  It’s
just as you mustn’t be afraid of not being able
to fall asleep, if you’re afraid of sleeplessness. 
That’s just what Anna Arkadyevna has just said.”

“I should be very glad if I
had said it, for it’s not only clever but true,”
said Anna, smiling.

“No, do tell me why it is one
can’t go to sleep, and one can’t help
being bored?”

“To sleep well one ought to
work, and to enjoy oneself one ought to work too.”

“What am I to work for when
my work is no use to anybody?  And I can’t
and won’t knowingly make a pretense about it.”

“You’re incorrigible,”
said Stremov, not looking at her, and he spoke again
to Anna.  As he rarely met Anna, he could say
nothing but commonplaces to her, but he said those
commonplaces as to when she was returning to Petersburg,
and how fond Countess Lidia Ivanovna was of her, with
an expression which suggested that he longed with
his whole soul to please her and show his regard for
her and even more than that.

Tushkevitch came in, announcing that
the party were awaiting the other players to begin
croquet.

“No, don’t go away, please
don’t,” pleaded Liza Merkalova, hearing
that Anna was going.  Stremov joined in her entreaties.

“It’s too violent a transition,”
he said, “to go from such company to old Madame
Vrede.  And besides, you will only give her a
chance for talking scandal, while here you arouse none
but such different feelings of the highest and most
opposite kind,” he said to her.

Anna pondered for an instant in uncertainty. 
This shrewd man’s flattering words, the naïve,
childlike affection shown her by Liza Merkalova, and
all the social atmosphere she was used to, ­
it was all so easy, and what was in store for her was
so difficult, that she was for a minute in uncertainty
whether to remain, whether to put off a little longer
the painful moment of explanation.  But remembering
what was in store for her alone at home, if she did
not come to some decision, remembering that gesture ­terrible
even in memory ­when she had clutched her
hair in both hands ­she said good-bye and
went away.

 

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