Anna karenina, p.10
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       Anna Karenina, p.10

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 10

  When Levin went into the restaurant with Oblonsky, he could not helpnoticing a certain peculiarity of expression, as it were, a restrainedradiance, about the face and whole figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch.Oblonsky took off his overcoat, and with his hat over one ear walkedinto the dining room, giving directions to the Tatar waiters, who wereclustered about him in evening coats, bearing napkins. Bowing to rightand left to the people he met, and here as everywhere joyously greetingacquaintances, he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizerof fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked inribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusingthat even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for hispart refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt such aloathing of that Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair,_poudre de riz,_ and _vinaigre de toilette_. He made haste to move awayfrom her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memoriesof Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in hiseyes.

  "This way, your excellency, please. Your excellency won't be disturbedhere," said a particularly pertinacious, white-headed old Tatar withimmense hips and coat-tails gaping widely behind. "Walk in, yourexcellency," he said to Levin; by way of showing his respect to StepanArkadyevitch, being attentive to his guest as well.

  Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over the round table under the bronzechandelier, though it already had a table cloth on it, he pushed upvelvet chairs, and came to a standstill before Stepan Arkadyevitch witha napkin and a bill of fare in his hands, awaiting his commands.

  "If you prefer it, your excellency, a private room will be freedirectly; Prince Golistin with a lady. Fresh oysters have come in."

  "Ah! oysters."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch became thoughtful.

  "How if we were to change our program, Levin?" he said, keeping hisfinger on the bill of fare. And his face expressed serious hesitation."Are the oysters good? Mind now."

  "They're Flensburg, your excellency. We've no Ostend."

  "Flensburg will do, but are they fresh?"

  "Only arrived yesterday."

  "Well, then, how if we were to begin with oysters, and so change thewhole program? Eh?"

  "It's all the same to me. I should like cabbage soup and porridge betterthan anything; but of course there's nothing like that here."

  "_Porridge a la Russe,_ your honor would like?" said the Tatar, bendingdown to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child.

  "No, joking apart, whatever you choose is sure to be good. I've beenskating, and I'm hungry. And don't imagine," he added, detecting a lookof dissatisfaction on Oblonsky's face, "that I shan't appreciate yourchoice. I am fond of good things."

  "I should hope so! After all, it's one of the pleasures of life," saidStepan Arkadyevitch. "Well, then, my friend, you give us two--or bettersay three--dozen oysters, clear soup with vegetables...."

  "_Printaniere,_" prompted the Tatar. But Stepan Arkadyevitch apparentlydid not care to allow him the satisfaction of giving the French names ofthe dishes.

  "With vegetables in it, you know. Then turbot with thick sauce, then ...roast beef; and mind it's good. Yes, and capons, perhaps, and thensweets."

  The Tatar, recollecting that it was Stepan Arkadyevitch's way not tocall the dishes by the names in the French bill of fare, did not repeatthem after him, but could not resist rehearsing the whole menu tohimself according to the bill:--"_Soupe printaniere, turbot, sauceBeaumarchais, poulard a l'estragon, macedoine de fruits_ ... etc.," andthen instantly, as though worked by springs, laying down one bound billof fare, he took up another, the list of wines, and submitted it toStepan Arkadyevitch.

  "What shall we drink?"

  "What you like, only not too much. Champagne," said Levin.

  "What! to start with? You're right though, I dare say. Do you like thewhite seal?"

  "_Cachet blanc,_" prompted the Tatar.

  "Very well, then, give us that brand with the oysters, and then we'llsee."

  "Yes, sir. And what table wine?"

  "You can give us Nuits. Oh, no, better the classic Chablis."

  "Yes, sir. And _your_ cheese, your excellency?"

  "Oh, yes, Parmesan. Or would you like another?"

  "No, it's all the same to me," said Levin, unable to suppress a smile.

  And the Tatar ran off with flying coat-tails, and in five minutes dartedin with a dish of opened oysters on mother-of-pearl shells, and a bottlebetween his fingers.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch crushed the starchy napkin, tucked it into hiswaistcoat, and settling his arms comfortably, started on the oysters.

  "Not bad," he said, stripping the oysters from the pearly shell with asilver fork, and swallowing them one after another. "Not bad," herepeated, turning his dewy, brilliant eyes from Levin to the Tatar.

  Levin ate the oysters indeed, though white bread and cheese would havepleased him better. But he was admiring Oblonsky. Even the Tatar,uncorking the bottle and pouring the sparkling wine into the delicateglasses, glanced at Stepan Arkadyevitch, and settled his white cravatwith a perceptible smile of satisfaction.

  "You don't care much for oysters, do you?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch,emptying his wine glass, "or you're worried about something. Eh?"

  He wanted Levin to be in good spirits. But it was not that Levin was notin good spirits; he was ill at ease. With what he had in his soul, hefelt sore and uncomfortable in the restaurant, in the midst of privaterooms where men were dining with ladies, in all this fuss and bustle;the surroundings of bronzes, looking glasses, gas, and waiters--all ofit was offensive to him. He was afraid of sullying what his soul wasbrimful of.

  "I? Yes, I am; but besides, all this bothers me," he said. "You can'tconceive how queer it all seems to a country person like me, as queer asthat gentleman's nails I saw at your place..."

  "Yes, I saw how much interested you were in poor Grinevitch's nails,"said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing.

  "It's too much for me," responded Levin. "Do try, now, and put yourselfin my place, take the point of view of a country person. We in thecountry try to bring our hands into such a state as will be mostconvenient for working with. So we cut our nails; sometimes we turn upour sleeves. And here people purposely let their nails grow as long asthey will, and link on small saucers by way of studs, so that they cando nothing with their hands."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled gaily.

  "Oh, yes, that's just a sign that he has no need to do coarse work. Hiswork is with the mind..."

  "Maybe. But still it's queer to me, just as at this moment it seemsqueer to me that we country folks try to get our meals over as soon aswe can, so as to be ready for our work, while here are we trying to dragout our meal as long as possible, and with that object eatingoysters..."

  "Why, of course," objected Stepan Arkadyevitch. "But that's just the aimof civilization--to make everything a source of enjoyment."

  "Well, if that's its aim, I'd rather be a savage."

  "And so you are a savage. All you Levins are savages."

  Levin sighed. He remembered his brother Nikolay, and felt ashamed andsore, and he scowled; but Oblonsky began speaking of a subject which atonce drew his attention.

  "Oh, I say, are you going tonight to our people, the Shtcherbatskys', Imean?" he said, his eyes sparkling significantly as he pushed away theempty rough shells, and drew the cheese towards him.

  "Yes, I shall certainly go," replied Levin; "though I fancied theprincess was not very warm in her invitation."

  "What nonsense! That's her manner.... Come, boy, the soup!.... That'sher manner--_grande dame,_" said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "I'm coming, too,but I have to go to the Countess Bonina's rehearsal. Come, isn't it truethat you're a savage? How do you explain the sudden way in which youvanished from Moscow? The Shtcherbatskys were continually asking meabout you, as though I ought to know. The only thing I know is that youalways do what no one else does."

  "Yes," said Levin, slowly and with emotion, "you're righ
t. I am asavage. Only, my savageness is not in having gone away, but in comingnow. Now I have come..."

  "Oh, what a lucky fellow you are!" broke in Stepan Arkadyevitch, lookinginto Levin's eyes.

  "Why?"

  "I know a gallant steed by tokens sure, And by his eyes I know a youth in love,"

  declaimed Stepan Arkadyevitch. "Everything is before you."

  "Why, is it over for you already?"

  "No; not over exactly, but the future is yours, and the present is mine,and the present--well, it's not all that it might be."

  "How so?"

  "Oh, things go wrong. But I don't want to talk of myself, and besides Ican't explain it all," said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "Well, why have youcome to Moscow, then?.... Hi! take away!" he called to the Tatar.

  "You guess?" responded Levin, his eyes like deep wells of light fixed onStepan Arkadyevitch.

  "I guess, but I can't be the first to talk about it. You can see by thatwhether I guess right or wrong," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, gazing atLevin with a subtle smile.

  "Well, and what have you to say to me?" said Levin in a quivering voice,feeling that all the muscles of his face were quivering too. "How do youlook at the question?"

  Stepan Arkadyevitch slowly emptied his glass of Chablis, never takinghis eyes off Levin.

  "I?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, "there's nothing I desire so much asthat--nothing! It would be the best thing that could be."

  "But you're not making a mistake? You know what we're speaking of?" saidLevin, piercing him with his eyes. "You think it's possible?"

  "I think it's possible. Why not possible?"

  "No! do you really think it's possible? No, tell me all you think! Oh,but if ... if refusal's in store for me!... Indeed I feel sure..."

  "Why should you think that?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling at hisexcitement.

  "It seems so to me sometimes. That will be awful for me, and for hertoo."

  "Oh, well, anyway there's nothing awful in it for a girl. Every girl'sproud of an offer."

  "Yes, every girl, but not she."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. He so well knew that feeling of Levin's,that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two classes:one class--all the girls in the world except her, and those girls withall sorts of human weaknesses, and very ordinary girls: the otherclass--she alone, having no weaknesses of any sort and higher than allhumanity.

  "Stay, take some sauce," he said, holding back Levin's hand as it pushedaway the sauce.

  Levin obediently helped himself to sauce, but would not let StepanArkadyevitch go on with his dinner.

  "No, stop a minute, stop a minute," he said. "You must understand thatit's a question of life and death for me. I have never spoken to any oneof this. And there's no one I could speak of it to, except you. You knowwe're utterly unlike each other, different tastes and views andeverything; but I know you're fond of me and understand me, and that'swhy I like you awfully. But for God's sake, be quite straightforwardwith me."

  "I tell you what I think," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling. "But I'llsay more: my wife is a wonderful woman..." Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed,remembering his position with his wife, and, after a moment's silence,resumed--"She has a gift of foreseeing things. She sees right throughpeople; but that's not all; she knows what will come to pass, especiallyin the way of marriages. She foretold, for instance, that PrincessShahovskaya would marry Brenteln. No one would believe it, but it cameto pass. And she's on your side."

  "How do you mean?"

  "It's not only that she likes you--she says that Kitty is certain to beyour wife."

  At these words Levin's face suddenly lighted up with a smile, a smilenot far from tears of emotion.

  "She says that!" cried Levin. "I always said she was exquisite, yourwife. There, that's enough, enough said about it," he said, getting upfrom his seat.

  "All right, but do sit down."

  But Levin could not sit down. He walked with his firm tread twice up anddown the little cage of a room, blinked his eyelids that his tears mightnot fall, and only then sat down to the table.

  "You must understand," said he, "it's not love. I've been in love, butit's not that. It's not my feeling, but a sort of force outside me hastaken possession of me. I went away, you see, because I made up my mindthat it could never be, you understand, as a happiness that does notcome on earth; but I've struggled with myself, I see there's no livingwithout it. And it must be settled."

  "What did you go away for?"

  "Ah, stop a minute! Ah, the thoughts that come crowding on one! Thequestions one must ask oneself! Listen. You can't imagine what you'vedone for me by what you said. I'm so happy that I've become positivelyhateful; I've forgotten everything. I heard today that my brotherNikolay ... you know, he's here ... I had even forgotten him. It seemsto me that he's happy too. It's a sort of madness. But one thing'sawful.... Here, you've been married, you know the feeling ... it's awfulthat we--old--with a past ... not of love, but of sins ... are broughtall at once so near to a creature pure and innocent; it's loathsome, andthat's why one can't help feeling oneself unworthy."

  "Oh, well, you've not many sins on your conscience."

  "Alas! all the same," said Levin, "when with loathing I go over my life,I shudder and curse and bitterly regret it.... Yes."

  "What would you have? The world's made so," said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

  "The one comfort is like that prayer, which I always liked: 'Forgive menot according to my unworthiness, but according to Thy lovingkindness.'That's the only way she can forgive me."

 
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