Anna karenina, p.39
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       Anna Karenina, p.39
 

           graf Leo Tolstoy

  Chapter 5

  "This is rather indiscreet, but it's so good it's an awful temptation totell the story," said Vronsky, looking at her with his laughing eyes."I'm not going to mention any names."

  "But I shall guess, so much the better."

  "Well, listen: two festive young men were driving--"

  "Officers of your regiment, of course?"

  "I didn't say they were officers,--two young men who had been lunching."

  "In other words, drinking."

  "Possibly. They were driving on their way to dinner with a friend in themost festive state of mind. And they beheld a pretty woman in a hiredsledge; she overtakes them, looks round at them, and, so they fancyanyway, nods to them and laughs. They, of course, follow her. Theygallop at full speed. To their amazement, the fair one alights at theentrance of the very house to which they were going. The fair one dartsupstairs to the top story. They get a glimpse of red lips under a shortveil, and exquisite little feet."

  "You describe it with such feeling that I fancy you must be one of thetwo."

  "And after what you said, just now! Well, the young men go in to theircomrade's; he was giving a farewell dinner. There they certainly diddrink a little too much, as one always does at farewell dinners. And atdinner they inquire who lives at the top in that house. No one knows;only their host's valet, in answer to their inquiry whether any 'youngladies' are living on the top floor, answered that there were a greatmany of them about there. After dinner the two young men go into theirhost's study, and write a letter to the unknown fair one. They composean ardent epistle, a declaration in fact, and they carry the letterupstairs themselves, so as to elucidate whatever might appear notperfectly intelligible in the letter."

  "Why are you telling me these horrible stories? Well?"

  "They ring. A maid-servant opens the door, they hand her the letter, andassure the maid that they're both so in love that they'll die on thespot at the door. The maid, stupefied, carries in their messages. All atonce a gentleman appears with whiskers like sausages, as red as alobster, announces that there is no one living in the flat except hiswife, and sends them both about their business."

  "How do you know he had whiskers like sausages, as you say?"

  "Ah, you shall hear. I've just been to make peace between them."

  "Well, and what then?"

  "That's the most interesting part of the story. It appears that it's ahappy couple, a government clerk and his lady. The government clerklodges a complaint, and I became a mediator, and such a mediator!... Iassure you Talleyrand couldn't hold a candle to me."

  "Why, where was the difficulty?"

  "Ah, you shall hear.... We apologize in due form: we are in despair, weentreat forgiveness for the unfortunate misunderstanding. The governmentclerk with the sausages begins to melt, but he, too, desires to expresshis sentiments, and as soon as ever he begins to express them, he beginsto get hot and say nasty things, and again I'm obliged to trot out allmy diplomatic talents. I allowed that their conduct was bad, but I urgedhim to take into consideration their heedlessness, their youth; then,too, the young men had only just been lunching together. 'Youunderstand. They regret it deeply, and beg you to overlook theirmisbehavior.' The government clerk was softened once more. 'I consent,count, and am ready to overlook it; but you perceive that my wife--mywife's a respectable woman--has been exposed to the persecution, andinsults, and effrontery of young upstarts, scoundrels....' And you mustunderstand, the young upstarts are present all the while, and I have tokeep the peace between them. Again I call out all my diplomacy, andagain as soon as the thing was about at an end, our friend thegovernment clerk gets hot and red, and his sausages stand on end withwrath, and once more I launch out into diplomatic wiles."

  "Ah, he must tell you this story!" said Betsy, laughing, to a lady whocame into her box. "He has been making me laugh so."

  "Well, _bonne chance_!" she added, giving Vronsky one finger of the handin which she held her fan, and with a shrug of her shoulders shetwitched down the bodice of her gown that had worked up, so as to beduly naked as she moved forward towards the footlights into the light ofthe gas, and the sight of all eyes.

  Vronsky drove to the French theater, where he really had to see thecolonel of his regiment, who never missed a single performance there. Hewanted to see him, to report on the result of his mediation, which hadoccupied and amused him for the last three days. Petritsky, whom heliked, was implicated in the affair, and the other culprit was a capitalfellow and first-rate comrade, who had lately joined the regiment, theyoung Prince Kedrov. And what was most important, the interests of theregiment were involved in it too.

  Both the young men were in Vronsky's company. The colonel of theregiment was waited upon by the government clerk, Venden, with acomplaint against his officers, who had insulted his wife. His youngwife, so Venden told the story--he had been married half a year--was atchurch with her mother, and suddenly overcome by indisposition, arisingfrom her interesting condition, she could not remain standing, she drovehome in the first sledge, a smart-looking one, she came across. On thespot the officers set off in pursuit of her; she was alarmed, andfeeling still more unwell, ran up the staircase home. Venden himself, onreturning from his office, heard a ring at their bell and voices, wentout, and seeing the intoxicated officers with a letter, he had turnedthem out. He asked for exemplary punishment.

  "Yes, it's all very well," said the colonel to Vronsky, whom he hadinvited to come and see him. "Petritsky's becoming impossible. Not aweek goes by without some scandal. This government clerk won't let itdrop, he'll go on with the thing."

  Vronsky saw all the thanklessness of the business, and that there couldbe no question of a duel in it, that everything must be done to softenthe government clerk, and hush the matter up. The colonel had called inVronsky just because he knew him to be an honorable and intelligent man,and, more than all, a man who cared for the honor of the regiment. Theytalked it over, and decided that Petritsky and Kedrov must go withVronsky to Venden's to apologize. The colonel and Vronsky were bothfully aware that Vronsky's name and rank would be sure to contributegreatly to the softening of the injured husband's feelings.

  And these two influences were not in fact without effect; though theresult remained, as Vronsky had described, uncertain.

  On reaching the French theater, Vronsky retired to the foyer with thecolonel, and reported to him his success, or non-success. The colonel,thinking it all over, made up his mind not to pursue the matter further,but then for his own satisfaction proceeded to cross-examine Vronskyabout his interview; and it was a long while before he could restrainhis laughter, as Vronsky described how the government clerk, aftersubsiding for a while, would suddenly flare up again, as he recalled thedetails, and how Vronsky, at the last half word of conciliation,skillfully maneuvered a retreat, shoving Petritsky out before him.

  "It's a disgraceful story, but killing. Kedrov really can't fight thegentleman! Was he so awfully hot?" he commented, laughing. "But what doyou say to Claire today? She's marvelous," he went on, speaking of a newFrench actress. "However often you see her, every day she's different.It's only the French who can do that."

 
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