Anna karenina, p.14
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       Anna Karenina, p.14

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 14

  But at that very moment the princess came in. There was a look of horroron her face when she saw them alone, and their disturbed faces. Levinbowed to her, and said nothing. Kitty did not speak nor lift her eyes."Thank God, she has refused him," thought the mother, and her facelighted up with the habitual smile with which she greeted her guests onThursdays. She sat down and began questioning Levin about his life inthe country. He sat down again, waiting for other visitors to arrive, inorder to retreat unnoticed.

  Five minutes later there came in a friend of Kitty's, married thepreceding winter, Countess Nordston.

  She was a thin, sallow, sickly, and nervous woman, with brilliant blackeyes. She was fond of Kitty, and her affection for her showed itself, asthe affection of married women for girls always does, in the desire tomake a match for Kitty after her own ideal of married happiness; shewanted her to marry Vronsky. Levin she had often met at theShtcherbatskys' early in the winter, and she had always disliked him.Her invariable and favorite pursuit, when they met, consisted in makingfun of him.

  "I do like it when he looks down at me from the height of his grandeur,or breaks off his learned conversation with me because I'm a fool, or iscondescending to me. I like that so; to see him condescending! I am soglad he can't bear me," she used to say of him.

  She was right, for Levin actually could not bear her, and despised herfor what she was proud of and regarded as a fine characteristic--hernervousness, her delicate contempt and indifference for everythingcoarse and earthly.

  The Countess Nordston and Levin got into that relation with one anothernot seldom seen in society, when two persons, who remain externally onfriendly terms, despise each other to such a degree that they cannoteven take each other seriously, and cannot even be offended by eachother.

  The Countess Nordston pounced upon Levin at once.

  "Ah, Konstantin Dmitrievitch! So you've come back to our corruptBabylon," she said, giving him her tiny, yellow hand, and recalling whathe had chanced to say early in the winter, that Moscow was a Babylon."Come, is Babylon reformed, or have you degenerated?" she added,glancing with a simper at Kitty.

  "It's very flattering for me, countess, that you remember my words sowell," responded Levin, who had succeeded in recovering his composure,and at once from habit dropped into his tone of joking hostility to theCountess Nordston. "They must certainly make a great impression on you."

  "Oh, I should think so! I always note them all down. Well, Kitty, haveyou been skating again?..."

  And she began talking to Kitty. Awkward as it was for Levin to withdrawnow, it would still have been easier for him to perpetrate thisawkwardness than to remain all the evening and see Kitty, who glanced athim now and then and avoided his eyes. He was on the point of gettingup, when the princess, noticing that he was silent, addressed him.

  "Shall you be long in Moscow? You're busy with the district council,though, aren't you, and can't be away for long?"

  "No, princess, I'm no longer a member of the council," he said. "I havecome up for a few days."

  "There's something the matter with him," thought Countess Nordston,glancing at his stern, serious face. "He isn't in his old argumentativemood. But I'll draw him out. I do love making a fool of him beforeKitty, and I'll do it."

  "Konstantin Dmitrievitch," she said to him, "do explain to me, please,what's the meaning of it. You know all about such things. At home in ourvillage of Kaluga all the peasants and all the women have drunk up allthey possessed, and now they can't pay us any rent. What's the meaningof that? You always praise the peasants so."

  At that instant another lady came into the room, and Levin got up.

  "Excuse me, countess, but I really know nothing about it, and can't tellyou anything," he said, and looked round at the officer who came inbehind the lady.

  "That must be Vronsky," thought Levin, and, to be sure of it, glanced atKitty. She had already had time to look at Vronsky, and looked round atLevin. And simply from the look in her eyes, that grew unconsciouslybrighter, Levin knew that she loved that man, knew it as surely as ifshe had told him so in words. But what sort of a man was he? Now,whether for good or for ill, Levin could not choose but remain; he mustfind out what the man was like whom she loved.

  There are people who, on meeting a successful rival, no matter in what,are at once disposed to turn their backs on everything good in him, andto see only what is bad. There are people, on the other hand, who desireabove all to find in that lucky rival the qualities by which he hasoutstripped them, and seek with a throbbing ache at heart only what isgood. Levin belonged to the second class. But he had no difficulty infinding what was good and attractive in Vronsky. It was apparent at thefirst glance. Vronsky was a squarely built, dark man, not very tall,with a good-humored, handsome, and exceedingly calm and resolute face.Everything about his face and figure, from his short-cropped black hairand freshly shaven chin down to his loosely fitting, brand-new uniform,was simple and at the same time elegant. Making way for the lady who hadcome in, Vronsky went up to the princess and then to Kitty.

  As he approached her, his beautiful eyes shone with a specially tenderlight, and with a faint, happy, and modestly triumphant smile (so itseemed to Levin), bowing carefully and respectfully over her, he heldout his small broad hand to her.

  Greeting and saying a few words to everyone, he sat down without onceglancing at Levin, who had never taken his eyes off him.

  "Let me introduce you," said the princess, indicating Levin. "KonstantinDmitrievitch Levin, Count Alexey Kirillovitch Vronsky."

  Vronsky got up and, looking cordially at Levin, shook hands with him.

  "I believe I was to have dined with you this winter," he said, smilinghis simple and open smile; "but you had unexpectedly left for thecountry."

  "Konstantin Dmitrievitch despises and hates town and us townspeople,"said Countess Nordston.

  "My words must make a deep impression on you, since you remember them sowell," said Levin, and, suddenly conscious that he had said just thesame thing before, he reddened.

  Vronsky looked at Levin and Countess Nordston, and smiled.

  "Are you always in the country?" he inquired. "I should think it must bedull in the winter."

  "It's not dull if one has work to do; besides, one's not dull byoneself," Levin replied abruptly.

  "I am fond of the country," said Vronsky, noticing, and affecting not tonotice, Levin's tone.

  "But I hope, count, you would not consent to live in the countryalways," said Countess Nordston.

  "I don't know; I have never tried for long. I experienced a queerfeeling once," he went on. "I never longed so for the country, Russiancountry, with bast shoes and peasants, as when I was spending a winterwith my mother in Nice. Nice itself is dull enough, you know. Andindeed, Naples and Sorrento are only pleasant for a short time. And it'sjust there that Russia comes back to me most vividly, and especially thecountry. It's as though..."

  He talked on, addressing both Kitty and Levin, turning his serene,friendly eyes from one to the other, and saying obviously just what cameinto his head.

  Noticing that Countess Nordston wanted to say something, he stoppedshort without finishing what he had begun, and listened attentively toher.

  The conversation did not flag for an instant, so that the princess, whoalways kept in reserve, in case a subject should be lacking, two heavyguns--the relative advantages of classical and of modern education, anduniversal military service--had not to move out either of them, whileCountess Nordston had not a chance of chaffing Levin.

  Levin wanted to, and could not, take part in the general conversation;saying to himself every instant, "Now go," he still did not go, asthough waiting for something.

  The conversation fell upon table-turning and spirits, and CountessNordston, who believed in spiritualism, began to describe the marvelsshe had seen.

  "Ah, countess, you really must take me, for pity's sake do take me tosee them! I have never seen anything extraordinary, though I am a
lwayson the lookout for it everywhere," said Vronsky, smiling.

  "Very well, next Saturday," answered Countess Nordston. "But you,Konstantin Dmitrievitch, do you believe in it?" she asked Levin.

  "Why do you ask me? You know what I shall say."

  "But I want to hear your opinion."

  "My opinion," answered Levin, "is only that this table-turning simplyproves that educated society--so called--is no higher than the peasants.They believe in the evil eye, and in witchcraft and omens, while we..."

  "Oh, then you don't believe in it?"

  "I can't believe in it, countess."

  "But if I've seen it myself?"

  "The peasant women too tell us they have seen goblins."

  "Then you think I tell a lie?"

  And she laughed a mirthless laugh.

  "Oh, no, Masha, Konstantin Dmitrievitch said he could not believe init," said Kitty, blushing for Levin, and Levin saw this, and, still moreexasperated, would have answered, but Vronsky with his bright franksmile rushed to the support of the conversation, which was threateningto become disagreeable.

  "You do not admit the conceivability at all?" he queried. "But why not?We admit the existence of electricity, of which we know nothing. Whyshould there not be some new force, still unknown to us, which..."

  "When electricity was discovered," Levin interrupted hurriedly, "it wasonly the phenomenon that was discovered, and it was unknown from what itproceeded and what were its effects, and ages passed before itsapplications were conceived. But the spiritualists have begun withtables writing for them, and spirits appearing to them, and have onlylater started saying that it is an unknown force."

  Vronsky listened attentively to Levin, as he always did listen,obviously interested in his words.

  "Yes, but the spiritualists say we don't know at present what this forceis, but there is a force, and these are the conditions in which it acts.Let the scientific men find out what the force consists in. No, I don'tsee why there should not be a new force, if it..."

  "Why, because with electricity," Levin interrupted again, "every timeyou rub tar against wool, a recognized phenomenon is manifested, but inthis case it does not happen every time, and so it follows it is not anatural phenomenon."

  Feeling probably that the conversation was taking a tone too serious fora drawing room, Vronsky made no rejoinder, but by way of trying tochange the conversation, he smiled brightly, and turned to the ladies.

  "Do let us try at once, countess," he said; but Levin would finishsaying what he thought.

  "I think," he went on, "that this attempt of the spiritualists toexplain their marvels as some sort of new natural force is most futile.They boldly talk of spiritual force, and then try to subject it tomaterial experiment."

  Every one was waiting for him to finish, and he felt it.

  "And I think you would be a first-rate medium," said Countess Nordston;"there's something enthusiastic in you."

  Levin opened his mouth, was about to say something, reddened, and saidnothing.

  "Do let us try table-turning at once, please," said Vronsky. "Princess,will you allow it?"

  And Vronsky stood up, looking for a little table.

  Kitty got up to fetch a table, and as she passed, her eyes met Levin's.She felt for him with her whole heart, the more because she was pityinghim for suffering of which she was herself the cause. "If you canforgive me, forgive me," said her eyes, "I am so happy."

  "I hate them all, and you, and myself," his eyes responded, and he tookup his hat. But he was not destined to escape. Just as they werearranging themselves round the table, and Levin was on the point ofretiring, the old prince came in, and after greeting the ladies,addressed Levin.

  "Ah!" he began joyously. "Been here long, my boy? I didn't even know youwere in town. Very glad to see you." The old prince embraced Levin, andtalking to him did not observe Vronsky, who had risen, and was serenelywaiting till the prince should turn to him.

  Kitty felt how distasteful her father's warmth was to Levin after whathad happened. She saw, too, how coldly her father responded at last toVronsky's bow, and how Vronsky looked with amiable perplexity at herfather, as though trying and failing to understand how and why anyonecould be hostilely disposed towards him, and she flushed.

  "Prince, let us have Konstantin Dmitrievitch," said Countess Nordston;"we want to try an experiment."

  "What experiment? Table-turning? Well, you must excuse me, ladies andgentlemen, but to my mind it is better fun to play the ring game," saidthe old prince, looking at Vronsky, and guessing that it had been hissuggestion. "There's some sense in that, anyway."

  Vronsky looked wonderingly at the prince with his resolute eyes, and,with a faint smile, began immediately talking to Countess Nordston ofthe great ball that was to come off next week.

  "I hope you will be there?" he said to Kitty. As soon as the old princeturned away from him, Levin went out unnoticed, and the last impressionhe carried away with him of that evening was the smiling, happy face ofKitty answering Vronsky's inquiry about the ball.

 
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