“Varvara Andreevna, when I was
very young, I set before myself the ideal of the woman
I loved and should be happy to call my wife.
I have lived through a long life, and now for the
first time I have met what I sought in
you. I love you, and offer you my hand.”
Sergey Ivanovitch was saying this
to himself while he was ten paces from Varvara.
Kneeling down, with her hands over the mushrooms
to guard them from Grisha, she was calling little
“Come here, little ones!
There are so many!” she was saying in her sweet,
Seeing Sergey Ivanovitch approaching,
she did not get up and did not change her position,
but everything told him that she felt his presence
and was glad of it.
“Well, did you find some?”
she asked from under the white kerchief, turning her
handsome, gently smiling face to him.
“Not one,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.
She did not answer, busy with the
children who thronged about her.
“That one too, near the twig,”
she pointed out to little Masha a little fungus, split
in half across its rosy cap by the dry grass from
under which it thrust itself. Varenka got up
while Masha picked the fungus, breaking it into two
white halves. “This brings back my childhood,”
she added, moving apart from the children beside Sergey
They walked on for some steps in silence.
Varenka saw that he wanted to speak; she guessed
of what, and felt faint with joy and panic.
They had walked so far away that no one could hear
them now, but still he did not begin to speak.
It would have been better for Varenka to be silent.
After a silence it would have been easier for them
to say what they wanted to say than after talking
about mushrooms. But against her own will, as
it were accidentally, Varenka said:
“So you found nothing?
In the middle of the wood there are always fewer,
though.” Sergey Ivanovitch sighed and made
no answer. He was annoyed that she had spoken
about the mushrooms. He wanted to bring her back
to the first words she had uttered about her childhood;
but after a pause of some length, as though against
his own will, he made an observation in response to
her last words.
“I have heard that the white
edible funguses are found principally at the edge
of the wood, though I can’t tell them apart.”
Some minutes more passed, they moved
still further away from the children, and were quite
alone. Varenka’s heart throbbed so that
she heard it beating, and felt that she was turning
red and pale and red again.
To be the wife of a man like Koznishev,
after her position with Madame Stahl, was to her imagination
the height of happiness. Besides, she was almost
certain that she was in love with him. And this
moment it would have to be decided. She felt
frightened. She dreaded both his speaking and
his not speaking.
Now or never it must be said that
Sergey Ivanovitch felt too. Everything in the
expression, the flushed cheeks and the downcast eyes
of Varenka betrayed a painful suspense. Sergey
Ivanovitch saw it and felt sorry for her. He
felt even that to say nothing now would be a slight
to her. Rapidly in his own mind he ran over
all the arguments in support of his decision.
He even said over to himself the words in which he
meant to put his offer, but instead of those words,
some utterly unexpected reflection that occurred to
him made him ask:
“What is the difference between
the ‘birch’ mushroom and the ‘white’
Varenka’s lips quivered with
emotion as she answered:
“In the top part there is scarcely
any difference, it’s in the stalk.”
And as soon as these words were uttered,
both he and she felt that it was over, that what was
to have been said would not be said; and their emotion,
which had up to then been continually growing more
intense, began to subside.
“The birch mushroom’s
stalk suggests a dark man’s chin after two days
without shaving,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, speaking
quite calmly now.
“Yes, that’s true,”
answered Varenka smiling, and unconsciously the direction
of their walk changed. They began to turn towards
the children. Varenka felt both sore and ashamed;
at the same time she had a sense of relief.
When he had got home again and went
over the whole subject, Sergey Ivanovitch thought
his previous decision had been a mistaken one.
He could not be false to the memory of Marie.
“Gently, children, gently!”
Levin shouted quite angrily to the children, standing
before his wife to protect her when the crowd of children
flew with shrieks of delight to meet them.
Behind the children Sergey Ivanovitch
and Varenka walked out of the wood. Kitty had
no need to ask Varenka; she saw from the calm and
somewhat crestfallen faces of both that her plans had
not come off.
“Well?” her husband questioned
her as they were going home again.
“It doesn’t bite,”
said Kitty, her smile and manner of speaking recalling
her father, a likeness Levin often noticed with pleasure.
“How doesn’t bite?”
“I’ll show you,”
she said, taking her husband’s hand, lifting
it to her mouth, and just faintly brushing it with
closed lips. “Like a kiss on a priest’s
“Which didn’t it bite with?” he
“Both. But it should have been like this…”
“There are some peasants coming…”
“Oh, they didn’t see.”