FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 9

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

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It was past five, and several guests
had already arrived, before the host himself got home. 
He went in together with Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev
and Pestsov, who had reached the street door at the
same moment.  These were the two leading representatives
of the Moscow intellectuals, as Oblonsky had called
them.  Both were men respected for their character
and their intelligence.  They respected each other,
but were in complete and hopeless disagreement upon
almost every subject, not because they belonged to
opposite parties, but precisely because they were of
the same party (their enemies refused to see any distinction
between their views); but, in that party, each had
his own special shade of opinion.  And since
no difference is less easily overcome than the difference
of opinion about semi-abstract questions, they never
agreed in any opinion, and had long, indeed, been
accustomed to jeer without anger, each at the other’s
incorrigible aberrations.

They were just going in at the door,
talking of the weather, when Stepan Arkadyevitch overtook
them.  In the drawing room there were already
sitting Prince Alexander Dmitrievitch Shtcherbatsky,
young Shtcherbatsky, Turovtsin, Kitty, and Karenin.

Stepan Arkadyevitch saw immediately
that things were not going well in the drawing-room
without him.  Darya Alexandrovna, in her best
gray silk gown, obviously worried about the children,
who were to have their dinner by themselves in the
nursery, and by her husband’s absence, was not
equal to the task of making the party mix without
him.  All were sitting like so many priests’
wives on a visit (so the old prince expressed it),
obviously wondering why they were there, and pumping
up remarks simply to avoid being silent.  Turovtsin ­good,
simple man ­felt unmistakably a fish out
of water, and the smile with which his thick lips
greeted Stepan Arkadyevitch said, as plainly as words: 
“Well, old boy, you have popped me down in a
learned set!  A drinking party now, or the Chateau
des Fleurs
, would be more in my line!”
The old prince sat in silence, his bright little eyes
watching Karenin from one side, and Stepan Arkadyevitch
saw that he had already formed a phrase to sum up
that politician of whom guests were invited to partake
as though he were a sturgeon.  Kitty was looking
at the door, calling up all her energies to keep her
from blushing at the entrance of Konstantin Levin. 
Young Shtcherbatsky, who had not been introduced to
Karenin, was trying to look as though he were not
in the least conscious of it.  Karenin himself
had followed the Petersburg fashion for a dinner with
ladies and was wearing evening dress and a white tie. 
Stepan Arkadyevitch saw by his face that he had come
simply to keep his promise, and was performing a disagreeable
duty in being present at this gathering.  He
was indeed the person chiefly responsible for the
chill benumbing all the guests before Stepan Arkadyevitch
came in.

On entering the drawing room Stepan
Arkadyevitch apologized, explaining that he had been
detained by that prince, who was always the scapegoat
for all his absences and unpunctualities, and in one
moment he had made all the guests acquainted with each
other, and, bringing together Alexey Alexandrovitch
and Sergey Koznishev, started them on a discussion
of the Russification of Poland, into which they immediately
plunged with Pestsov.  Slapping Turovtsin on the
shoulder, he whispered something comic in his ear,
and set him down by his wife and the old prince. 
Then he told Kitty she was looking very pretty that
evening, and presented Shtcherbatsky to Karenin. 
In a moment he had so kneaded together the social
dough that the drawing room became very lively, and
there was a merry buzz of voices.  Konstantin
Levin was the only person who had not arrived. 
But this was so much the better, as going into the
dining room, Stepan Arkadyevitch found to his horror
that the port and sherry had been procured from Depre,
and not from Levy, and, directing that the coachman
should be sent off as speedily as possible to Levy’s,
he was going back to the drawing room.

In the dining room he was met by Konstantin Levin.

“I’m not late?”

“You can never help being late!”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, taking his arm.

“Have you a lot of people? 
Who’s here?” asked Levin, unable to help
blushing, as he knocked the snow off his cap with his
glove.

“All our own set.  Kitty’s
here.  Come along, I’ll introduce you to
Karenin.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch, for all his liberal
views, was well aware that to meet Karenin was sure
to be felt a flattering distinction, and so treated
his best friends to this honor.  But at that
instant Konstantin Levin was not in a condition to
feel all the gratification of making such an acquaintance. 
He had not seen Kitty since that memorable evening
when he met Vronsky, not counting, that is, the moment
when he had had a glimpse of her on the highroad. 
He had known at the bottom of his heart that he would
see her here today.  But to keep his thoughts
free, he had tried to persuade himself that he did
not know it.  Now when he heard that she was
here, he was suddenly conscious of such delight, and
at the same time of such dread, that his breath failed
him and he could not utter what he wanted to say.

“What is she like, what is she
like?  Like what she used to be, or like what
she was in the carriage?  What if Darya Alexandrovna
told the truth?  Why shouldn’t it be the
truth?” he thought.

“Oh, please, introduce me to
Karenin,” he brought out with an effort, and
with a desperately determined step he walked into the
drawing room and beheld her.

She was not the same as she used to
be, nor was she as she had been in the carriage; she
was quite different.

She was scared, shy, shame-faced,
and still more charming from it.  She saw him
the very instant he walked into the room.  She
had been expecting him.  She was delighted, and
so confused at her own delight that there was a moment,
the moment when he went up to her sister and glanced
again at her, when she, and he, and Dolly, who saw
it all, thought she would break down and would begin
to cry.  She crimsoned, turned white, crimsoned
again, and grew faint, waiting with quivering lips
for him to come to her.  He went up to her, bowed,
and held out his hand without speaking.  Except
for the slight quiver of her lips and the moisture
in her eyes that made them brighter, her smile was
almost calm as she said: 

“How long it is since we’ve
seen each other!” and with desperate determination
she pressed his hand with her cold hand.

“You’ve not seen me, but
I’ve seen you,” said Levin, with a radiant
smile of happiness.  “I saw you when you
were driving from the railway station to Ergushovo.”

“When?” she asked, wondering.

“You were driving to Ergushovo,”
said Levin, feeling as if he would sob with the rapture
that was flooding his heart.  “And how
dared I associate a thought of anything not innocent
with this touching creature?  And, yes, I do
believe it’s true what Darya Alexandrovna told
me,” he thought.

Stepan Arkadyevitch took him by the
arm and led him away to Karenin.

“Let me introduce you.”  He mentioned
their names.

“Very glad to meet you again,”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch coldly, shaking hands with
Levin.

“You are acquainted?”
Stepan Arkadyevitch asked in surprise.

“We spent three hours together
in the train,” said Levin smiling, “but
got out, just as in a masquerade, quite mystified ­at
least I was.”

“Nonsense!  Come along,
please,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, pointing
in the direction of the dining room.

The men went into the dining-room
and went up to a table, laid with six sorts of spirits
and as many kinds of cheese, some with little silver
spades and some without, caviar, herrings, preserves
of various kinds, and plates with slices of French
bread.

The men stood round the strong-smelling
spirits and salt delicacies, and the discussion of
the Russification of Poland between Koznishev, Karenin,
and Pestsov died down in anticipation of dinner.

Sergey Ivanovitch was unequaled in
his skill in winding up the most heated and serious
argument by some unexpected pinch of Attic salt that
changed the disposition of his opponent.  He did
this now.

Alexey Alexandrovitch had been maintaining
that the Russification of Poland could only be accomplished
as a result of larger measures which ought to be introduced
by the Russian government.

Pestsov insisted that one country
can only absorb another when it is the more densely
populated.

Koznishev admitted both points, but
with limitations.  As they were going out of
the drawing room to conclude the argument, Koznishev
said, smiling: 

“So, then, for the Russification
of our foreign populations there is but one method ­to
bring up as many children as one can.  My brother
and I are terribly in fault, I see.  You married
men, especially you, Stepan Arkadyevitch, are the
real patriots:  what number have you reached?”
he said, smiling genially at their host and holding
out a tiny wine glass to him.

Everyone laughed, and Stepan Arkadyevitch
with particular good humor.

“Oh, yes, that’s the best
method!” he said, munching cheese and filling
the wine-glass with a special sort of spirit. 
The conversation dropped at the jest.

“This cheese is not bad. 
Shall I give you some?” said the master of
the house.  “Why, have you been going in
for gymnastics again?” he asked Levin, pinching
his muscle with his left hand.  Levin smiled,
bent his arm, and under Stepan Arkadyevitch’s
fingers the muscles swelled up like a sound cheese,
hard as a knob of iron, through the fine cloth of
the coat.

“What biceps!  A perfect Samson!”

“I imagine great strength is
needed for hunting bears,” observed Alexey Alexandrovitch,
who had the mistiest notions about the chase. 
He cut off and spread with cheese a wafer of bread
fine as a spider-web.

Levin smiled.

“Not at all.  Quite the
contrary; a child can kill a bear,” he said,
with a slight bow moving aside for the ladies, who
were approaching the table.

“You have killed a bear, I’ve
been told!” said Kitty, trying assiduously to
catch with her fork a perverse mushroom that would
slip away, and setting the lace quivering over her
white arm.  “Are there bears on your place?”
she added, turning her charming little head to him
and smiling.

There was apparently nothing extraordinary
in what she said, but what unutterable meaning there
was for him in every sound, in every turn of her lips,
her eyes, her hand as she said it!  There was
entreaty for forgiveness, and trust in him, and tenderness ­
soft, timid tenderness ­and promise and hope
and love for him, which he could not but believe in
and which choked him with happiness.

“No, we’ve been hunting
in the Tver province.  It was coming back from
there that I met your beaufrere in the train,
or your beaufrere’s brother-in-law,”
he said with a smile.  “It was an amusing
meeting.”

And he began telling with droll good-humor
how, after not sleeping all night, he had, wearing
an old fur-lined, full-skirted coat, got into Alexey
Alexandrovitch’s compartment.

“The conductor, forgetting the
proverb, would have chucked me out on account of my
attire; but thereupon I began expressing my feelings
in elevated language, and…you, too,” he said,
addressing Karenin and forgetting his name, “at
first would have ejected me on the ground of the old
coat, but afterwards you took my part, for which I
am extremely grateful.”

“The rights of passengers generally
to choose their seats are too ill-defined,”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch, rubbing the tips of his
fingers on his handkerchief.

“I saw you were in uncertainty
about me,” said Levin, smiling good-naturedly,
“but I made haste to plunge into intellectual
conversation to smooth over the defects of my attire.” 
Sergey Ivanovitch, while he kept up a conversation
with their hostess, had one ear for his brother, and
he glanced askance at him.  “What is the
matter with him today?  Why such a conquering
hero?” he thought.  He did not know that
Levin was feeling as though he had grown wings. 
Levin knew she was listening to his words and that
she was glad to listen to him.  And this was the
only thing that interested him.  Not in that room
only, but in the whole world, there existed for him
only himself, with enormously increased importance
and dignity in his own eyes, and she.  He felt
himself on a pinnacle that made him giddy, and far
away down below were all those nice excellent Karenins,
Oblonskys, and all the world.

Quite without attracting notice, without
glancing at them, as though there were no other places
left, Stepan Arkadyevitch put Levin and Kitty side
by side.

“Oh, you may as well sit there,” he said
to Levin.

The dinner was as choice as the china,
in which Stepan Arkadyevitch was a connoisseur. 
The soupe Marie-Louise was a splendid success;
the tiny pies eaten with it melted in the mouth and
were irreproachable.  The two footmen and Matvey,
in white cravats, did their duty with the dishes and
wines unobtrusively, quietly, and swiftly.  On
the material side the dinner was a success; it was
no less so on the immaterial.  The conversation,
at times general and at times between individuals,
never paused, and towards the end the company was
so lively that the men rose from the table, without
stopping speaking, and even Alexey Alexandrovitch
thawed.

 

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