FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 7

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The next day was Sunday.  Stepan
Arkadyevitch went to the Grand Theater to a rehearsal
of the ballet, and gave Masha Tchibisova, a pretty
dancing-girl whom he had just taken under his protection,
the coral necklace he had promised her the evening
before, and behind the scenes in the dim daylight of
the theater, managed to kiss her pretty little face,
radiant over her present.  Besides the gift of
the necklace he wanted to arrange with her about meeting
after the ballet.  After explaining that he could
not come at the beginning of the ballet, he promised
he would come for the last act and take her to supper. 
From the theater Stepan Arkadyevitch drove to Ohotny
Row, selected himself the fish and asparagus for dinner,
and by twelve o’clock was at Dussot’s,
where he had to see three people, luckily all staying
at the same hotel:  Levin, who had recently come
back from abroad and was staying there; the new head
of his department, who had just been promoted to that
position, and had come on a tour of revision to Moscow;
and his brother-in-law, Karenin, whom he must see,
so as to be sure of bringing him to dinner.

Stepan Arkadyevitch liked dining,
but still better he liked to give a dinner, small,
but very choice, both as regards the food and drink
and as regards the selection of guests.  He particularly
liked the program of that day’s dinner. 
There would be fresh perch, asparagus, and la
piece de resistance
­ first-rate, but
quite plain, roast beef, and wines to suit:  so
much for the eating and drinking.  Kitty and Levin
would be of the party, and that this might not be
obtrusively evident, there would be a girl cousin
too, and young Shtcherbatsky, and la piece de resistance
among the guests ­Sergey Koznishev and Alexey
Alexandrovitch.  Sergey Ivanovitch was a Moscow
man, and a philosopher; Alexey Alexandrovitch a Petersburger,
and a practical politician.  He was asking, too,
the well-known eccentric enthusiast, Pestsov, a liberal,
a great talker, a musician, an historian, and the
most delightfully youthful person of fifty, who would
be a sauce or garnish for Koznishev and Karenin. 
He would provoke them and set them off.

The second installment for the forest
had been received from the merchant and was not yet
exhausted; Dolly had been very amiable and goodhumored
of late, and the idea of the dinner pleased Stepan
Arkadyevitch from every point of view.  He was
in the most light-hearted mood.  There were two
circumstances a little unpleasant, but these two circumstances
were drowned in the sea of good-humored gaiety which
flooded the soul of Stepan Arkadyevitch.  These
two circumstances were:  first, that on meeting
Alexey Alexandrovitch the day before in the street
he had noticed that he was cold and reserved with
him, and putting the expression of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
face and the fact that he had not come to see them
or let them know of his arrival with the rumors he
had heard about Anna and Vronsky, Stepan Arkadyevitch
guessed that something was wrong between the husband
and wife.

That was one disagreeable thing. 
The other slightly disagreeable fact was that the
new head of his department, like all new heads, had
the reputation already of a terrible person, who got
up at six o’clock in the morning, worked like
a horse, and insisted on his subordinates working
in the same way.  Moreover, this new head had
the further reputation of being a bear in his manners,
and was, according to all reports, a man of a class
in all respects the opposite of that to which his
predecessor had belonged, and to which Stepan Arkadyevitch
had hitherto belonged himself.  On the previous
day Stepan Arkadyevitch had appeared at the office
in a uniform, and the new chief had been very affable
and had talked to him as to an acquaintance. 
Consequently Stepan Arkadyevitch deemed it his duty
to call upon him in his non-official dress. 
The thought that the new chief might not tender him
a warm reception was the other unpleasant thing. 
But Stepan Arkadyevitch instinctively felt that everything
would come round all right.  “They’re
all people, all men, like us poor sinners; why be
nasty and quarrelsome?” he thought as he went
into the hotel.

“Good-day, Vassily,” he
said, walking into the corridor with his hat cocked
on one side, and addressing a footman he knew; “why,
you’ve let your whiskers grow!  Levin, number
seven, eh?  Take me up, please.  And find
out whether Count Anitchkin” (this was the new
head) “is receiving.”

“Yes, sir,” Vassily responded,
smiling.  “You’ve not been to see
us for a long while.”

“I was here yesterday, but at
the other entrance.  Is this number seven?”

Levin was standing with a peasant
from Tver in the middle of the room, measuring a fresh
bearskin, when Stepan Arkadyevitch went in.

“What! you killed him?”
cried Stepan Arkadyevitch.  “Well done! 
A she-bear?  How are you, Arhip!”

He shook hands with the peasant and
sat down on the edge of a chair, without taking off
his coat and hat.

“Come, take off your coat and
stay a little,” said Levin, taking his hat.

“No, I haven’t time; I’ve
only looked in for a tiny second,” answered
Stepan Arkadyevitch.  He threw open his coat,
but afterwards did take it off, and sat on for a whole
hour, talking to Levin about hunting and the most
intimate subjects.

“Come, tell me, please, what
you did abroad?  Where have you been?”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, when the peasant had gone.

“Oh, I stayed in Germany, in
Prussia, in France, and in England ­ not
in the capitals, but in the manufacturing towns, and
saw a great deal that was new to me.  And I’m
glad I went.”

“Yes, I knew your idea of the
solution of the labor question.”

“Not a bit:  in Russia there
can be no labor question.  In Russia the question
is that of the relation of the working people to the
land; though the question exists there too ­but
there it’s a matter of repairing what’s
been ruined, while with us…”

Stepan Arkadyevitch listened attentively to Levin.

“Yes, yes!” he said, “it’s
very possible you’re right.  But I’m
glad you’re in good spirits, and are hunting
bears, and working, and interested.  Shtcherbatsky
told me another story ­he met you ­that
you were in such a depressed state, talking of nothing
but death….”

“Well, what of it?  I’ve
not given up thinking of death,” said Levin. 
“It’s true that it’s high time I
was dead; and that all this is nonsense.  It’s
the truth I’m telling you.  I do value
my idea and my work awfully; but in reality only consider
this:  all this world of ours is nothing but a
speck of mildew, which has grown up on a tiny planet. 
And for us to suppose we can have something great ­ideas,
work ­it’s all dust and ashes.”

“But all that’s as old as the hills, my
boy!”

“It is old; but do you know,
when you grasp this fully, then somehow everything
becomes of no consequence.  When you understand
that you will die tomorrow, if not today, and nothing
will be left, then everything is so unimportant! 
And I consider my idea very important, but it turns
out really to be as unimportant too, even if it were
carried out, as doing for that bear.  So one
goes on living, amusing oneself with hunting, with
work ­anything so as not to think of death!”

Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled a subtle
affectionate smile as he listened to Levin.

“Well, of course!  Here
you’ve come round to my point.  Do you
remember you attacked me for seeking enjoyment in life? 
Don’t be so severe, O moralist!”

“No; all the same, what’s
fine in life is…”  Levin hesitated ­
“oh, I don’t know.  All I know is
that we shall soon be dead.”

“Why so soon?”

“And do you know, there’s
less charm in life, when one thinks of death, but
there’s more peace.”

“On the contrary, the finish
is always the best.  But I must be going,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, getting up for the tenth
time.

“Oh, no, stay a bit!”
said Levin, keeping him.  “Now, when shall
we see each other again?  I’m going tomorrow.”

“I’m a nice person! 
Why, that’s just what I came for!  You simply
must come to dinner with us today.  Your brother’s
coming, and Karenin, my brother-in-law.”

“You don’t mean to say
he’s here?” said Levin, and he wanted to
inquire about Kitty.  He had heard at the beginning
of the winter that she was at Petersburg with her
sister, the wife of the diplomat, and he did not know
whether she had come back or not; but he changed his
mind and did not ask.  “Whether she’s
coming or not, I don’t care,” he said
to himself.

“So you’ll come?”

“Of course.”

“At five o’clock, then, and not evening
dress.”

And Stepan Arkadyevitch got up and
went down below to the new head of his department. 
Instinct had not misled Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
The terrible new head turned out to be an extremely
amenable person, and Stepan Arkadyevitch lunched with
him and stayed on, so that it was four o’clock
before he got to Alexey Alexandrovitch.

 

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