FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 21

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

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“We’ve come to fetch you. 
Your lessive lasted a good time today,”
said Petritsky.  “Well, is it over?”

“It is over,” answered
Vronsky, smiling with his eyes only, and twirling
the tips of his mustaches as circumspectly as though
after the perfect order into which his affairs had
been brought any over-bold or rapid movement might
disturb it.

“You’re always just as
if you’d come out of a bath after it,”
said Petritsky.  “I’ve come from Gritsky’s”
(that was what they called the colonel); “they’re
expecting you.”

Vronsky, without answering, looked
at his comrade, thinking of something else.

“Yes; is that music at his place?”
he said, listening to the familiar sounds of polkas
and waltzes floating across to him.  “What’s
the fête?”

“Serpuhovskoy’s come.”

“Aha!” said Vronsky, “why, I didn’t
know.”

The smile in his eyes gleamed more brightly than ever.

Having once made up his mind that
he was happy in his love, that he sacrificed his ambition
to it ­having anyway taken up this position,
Vronsky was incapable of feeling either envious of
Serpuhovskoy or hurt with him for not coming first
to him when he came to the regiment.  Serpuhovskoy
was a good friend, and he was delighted he had come.

“Ah, I’m very glad!”

The colonel, Demin, had taken a large
country house.  The whole party were in the wide
lower balcony.  In the courtyard the first objects
that met Vronsky’s eyes were a band of singers
in white linen coats, standing near a barrel of vodka,
and the robust, good-humored figure of the colonel
surrounded by officers.  He had gone out as far
as the first step of the balcony and was loudly shouting
across the band that played Offenbach’s quadrille,
waving his arms and giving some orders to a few soldiers
standing on one side.  A group of soldiers, a
quartermaster, and several subalterns came up to the
balcony with Vronsky.  The colonel returned to
the table, went out again onto the steps with a tumbler
in his hand, and proposed the toast, “To the
health of our former comrade, the gallant general,
Prince Serpuhovskoy.  Hurrah!”

The colonel was followed by Serpuhovskoy,
who came out onto the steps smiling, with a glass
in his hand.

“You always get younger, Bondarenko,”
he said to the rosy-checked, smart-looking quartermaster
standing just before him, still youngish looking though
doing his second term of service.

It was three years since Vronsky had
seen Serpuhovskoy.  He looked more robust, had
let his whiskers grow, but was still the same graceful
creature, whose face and figure were even more striking
from their softness and nobility than their beauty. 
The only change Vronsky detected in him was that
subdued, continual radiance of beaming content which
settles on the faces of men who are successful and
are sure of the recognition of their success by everyone. 
Vronsky knew that radiant air, and immediately observed
it in Serpuhovskoy.

As Serpuhovskoy came down the steps
he saw Vronsky.  A smile of pleasure lighted
up his face.  He tossed his head upwards and
waved the glass in his hand, greeting Vronsky, and
showing him by the gesture that he could not come
to him before the quartermaster, who stood craning
forward his lips ready to be kissed.

“Here he is!” shouted
the colonel.  “Yashvin told me you were
in one of your gloomy tempers.”

Serpuhovskoy kissed the moist, fresh
lips of the gallant-looking quartermaster, and wiping
his mouth with his handkerchief, went up to Vronsky.

“How glad I am!” he said,
squeezing his hand and drawing him on one side.

“You look after him,”
the colonel shouted to Yashvin, pointing to Vronsky;
and he went down below to the soldiers.

“Why weren’t you at the
races yesterday?  I expected to see you there,”
said Vronsky, scrutinizing Serpuhovskoy.

“I did go, but late.  I
beg your pardon,” he added, and he turned to
the adjutant:  “Please have this divided
from me, each man as much as it runs to.” 
And he hurriedly took notes for three hundred roubles
from his pocketbook, blushing a little.

“Vronsky!  Have anything
to eat or drink?” asked Yashvin.  “Hi,
something for the count to eat!  Ah, here it is: 
have a glass!”

The fête at the colonel’s lasted
a long while.  There was a great deal of drinking. 
They tossed Serpuhovskoy in the air and caught him
again several times.  Then they did the same to
the colonel.  Then, to the accompaniment of the
band, the colonel himself danced with Petritsky. 
Then the colonel, who began to show signs of feebleness,
sat down on a bench in the courtyard and began demonstrating
to Yashvin the superiority of Russia over Poland,
especially in cavalry attack, and there was a lull
in the revelry for a moment.  Serpuhovskoy went
into the house to the bathroom to wash his hands and
found Vronsky there; Vronsky was drenching his head
with water.  He had taken off his coat and put
his sunburnt, hairy neck under the tap, and was rubbing
it and his head with his hands.  When he had
finished, Vronsky sat down by Serpuhovskoy. 
They both sat down in the bathroom on a lounge, and
a conversation began which was very interesting to
both of them.

“I’ve always been hearing
about you through my wife,” said Serpuhovskoy. 
“I’m glad you’ve been seeing her
pretty often.”

“She’s friendly with Varya,
and they’re the only women in Petersburg I care
about seeing,” answered Vronsky, smiling. 
He smiled because he foresaw the topic the conversation
would turn on, and he was glad of it.

“The only ones?” Serpuhovskoy queried,
smiling.

“Yes; and I heard news of you,
but not only through your wife,” said Vronsky,
checking his hint by a stern expression of face. 
“I was greatly delighted to hear of your success,
but not a bit surprised.  I expected even more.”

Serpuhovskoy smiled.  Such an
opinion of him was obviously agreeable to him, and
he did not think it necessary to conceal it.

“Well, I on the contrary expected
less ­I’ll own frankly.  But
I’m glad, very glad.  I’m ambitious;
that’s my weakness, and I confess to it.”

“Perhaps you wouldn’t
confess to it if you hadn’t been successful,”
said Vronsky.

“I don’t suppose so,”
said Serpuhovskoy, smiling again.  “I won’t
say life wouldn’t be worth living without it,
but it would be dull.  Of course I may be mistaken,
but I fancy I have a certain capacity for the line
I’ve chosen, and that power of any sort in my
hands, if it is to be, will be better than in the
hands of a good many people I know,” said Serpuhovskoy,
with beaming consciousness of success; “and
so the nearer I get to it, the better pleased I am.”

“Perhaps that is true for you,
but not for everyone.  I used to think so too,
but here I live and think life worth living not only
for that.”

“There it’s out! here
it comes!” said Serpuhovskoy, laughing. 
“Ever since I heard about you, about your refusal,
I began….  Of course, I approved of what you
did.  But there are ways of doing everything. 
And I think your action was good in itself, but you
didn’t do it quite in the way you ought to have
done.”

“What’s done can’t
be undone, and you know I never go back on what I’ve
done.  And besides, I’m very well off.”

“Very well off ­for
the time.  But you’re not satisfied with
that.  I wouldn’t say this to your brother. 
He’s a nice child, like our host here. 
There he goes!” he added, listening to the
roar of “hurrah!” ­“and
he’s happy, but that does not satisfy you.”

“I didn’t say it did satisfy me.”

“Yes, but that’s not the
only thing.  Such men as you are wanted.”

“By whom?”

“By whom?  By society,
by Russia.  Russia needs men; she needs a party,
or else everything goes and will go to the dogs.”

“How do you mean?  Bertenev’s
party against the Russian communists?”

“No,” said Serpuhovskoy,
frowning with vexation at being suspected of such
an absurdity. “Tout ca est une blague
That’s always been and always will be. 
There are no communists.  But intriguing people
have to invent a noxious, dangerous party.  It’s
an old trick.  No, what’s wanted is a powerful
party of independent men like you and me.”

“But why so?” Vronsky
mentioned a few men who were in power.  “Why
aren’t they independent men?”

“Simply because they have not,
or have not had from birth, an independent fortune;
they’ve not had a name, they’ve not been
close to the sun and center as we have.  They
can be bought either by money or by favor.  And
they have to find a support for themselves in inventing
a policy.  And they bring forward some notion,
some policy that they don’t believe in, that
does harm; and the whole policy is really only a means
to a government house and so much income. Cela
n’est pas plus fin que ca
, when you get
a peep at their cards.  I may be inferior to them,
stupider perhaps, though I don’t see why I should
be inferior to them.  But you and I have one important
advantage over them for certain, in being more difficult
to buy.  And such men are more needed than ever.”

Vronsky listened attentively, but
he was not so much interested by the meaning of the
words as by the attitude of Serpuhovskoy who was already
contemplating a struggle with the existing powers,
and already had his likes and dislikes in that higher
world, while his own interest in the governing world
did not go beyond the interests of his regiment. 
Vronsky felt, too, how powerful Serpuhovskoy might
become through his unmistakable faculty for thinking
things out and for taking things in, through his intelligence
and gift of words, so rarely met with in the world
in which he moved.  And, ashamed as he was of
the feeling, he felt envious.

“Still I haven’t the one
thing of most importance for that,” he answered;
“I haven’t the desire for power. 
I had it once, but it’s gone.”

“Excuse me, that’s not
true,” said Serpuhovskoy, smiling.

“Yes, it is true, it is true…now!”
Vronsky added, to be truthful.

“Yes, it’s true now, that’s
another thing; but that now won’t last
forever.”

“Perhaps,” answered Vronsky.

“You say perhaps,”
Serpuhovskoy went on, as though guessing his thoughts,
“but I say for certain.  And that’s
what I wanted to see you for.  Your action was
just what it should have been.  I see that, but
you ought not to keep it up.  I only ask you to
give me carte blanche.  I’m not
going to offer you my protection…though, indeed,
why shouldn’t I protect you? ­ you’ve
protected me often enough!  I should hope our
friendship rises above all that sort of thing. 
Yes,” he said, smiling to him as tenderly as
a woman, “give me carte blanche, retire
from the regiment, and I’ll draw you upwards
imperceptibly.”

“But you must understand that
I want nothing,” said Vronsky, “except
that all should be as it is.”

Serpuhovskoy got up and stood facing him.

“You say that all should be
as it is.  I understand what that means. 
But listen:  we’re the same age, you’ve
known a greater number of women perhaps than I have.” 
Serpohovskoy’s smile and gestures told Vronsky
that he mustn’t be afraid, that he would be
tender and careful in touching the sore place. 
“But I’m married, and believe me, in
getting to know thoroughly one’s wife, if one
loves her, as someone has said, one gets to know all
women better than if one knew thousands of them.”

“We’re coming directly!”
Vronsky shouted to an officer, who looked into the
room and called them to the colonel.

Vronsky was longing now to hear to
the end and know what Serpuhovskey would say to him.

“And here’s my opinion
for you.  Women are the chief stumbling block
in a man’s career.  It’s hard to love
a woman and do anything.  There’s only
one way of having love conveniently without its being
a hindrance ­that’s marriage. 
How, how am I to tell you what I mean?” said
Serpuhovskoy, who liked similes.  “Wait
a minute, wait a minute!  Yes, just as you can
only carry a fardeau and do something with
your hands, when the fardeau is tied on your
back, and that’s marriage.  And that’s
what I felt when I was married.  My hands were
suddenly set free.  But to drag that fardeau
about with you without marriage, your hands will always
be so full that you can do nothing.  Look at
Mazankov, at Krupov.  They’ve ruined their
careers for the sake of women.”

“What women!” said Vronsky,
recalling the Frenchwoman and the actress with whom
the two men he had mentioned were connected.

“The firmer the woman’s
footing in society, the worse it is.  That’s
much the same as ­not merely carrying the
fardeau in your arms ­but tearing
it away from someone else.”

“You have never loved,”
Vronsky said softly, looking straight before him and
thinking of Anna.

“Perhaps.  But you remember
what I’ve said to you.  And another thing,
women are all more materialistic than men.  We
make something immense out of love, but they are always
terre-a-terre.”

“Directly, directly!”
he cried to a footman who came in.  But the footman
had not come to call them again, as he supposed. 
The footman brought Vronsky a note.

“A man brought it from Princess Tverskaya.”

Vronsky opened the letter, and flushed crimson.

“My head’s begun to ache;
I’m going home,” he said to Serpuhovskoy.

“Oh, good-bye then.  You give me carte
blanche!

“We’ll talk about it later on; I’ll
look you up in Petersburg.”

 

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