Anna karenina, p.58
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       Anna Karenina, p.58

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 24

  When Vronsky looked at his watch on the Karenins' balcony, he was sogreatly agitated and lost in his thoughts that he saw the figures on thewatch's face, but could not take in what time it was. He came out on tothe high road and walked, picking his way carefully through the mud, tohis carriage. He was so completely absorbed in his feeling for Anna,that he did not even think what o'clock it was, and whether he had timeto go to Bryansky's. He had left him, as often happens, only theexternal faculty of memory, that points out each step one has to take,one after the other. He went up to his coachman, who was dozing on thebox in the shadow, already lengthening, of a thick limetree; he admiredthe shifting clouds of midges circling over the hot horses, and, wakingthe coachman, he jumped into the carriage, and told him to drive toBryansky's. It was only after driving nearly five miles that he hadsufficiently recovered himself to look at his watch, and realize that itwas half-past five, and he was late.

  There were several races fixed for that day: the Mounted Guards' race,then the officers' mile-and-a-half race, then the three-mile race, andthen the race for which he was entered. He could still be in time forhis race, but if he went to Bryansky's he could only just be in time,and he would arrive when the whole of the court would be in theirplaces. That would be a pity. But he had promised Bryansky to come, andso he decided to drive on, telling the coachman not to spare the horses.

  He reached Bryansky's, spent five minutes there, and galloped back. Thisrapid drive calmed him. All that was painful in his relations with Anna,all the feeling of indefiniteness left by their conversation, hadslipped out of his mind. He was thinking now with pleasure andexcitement of the race, of his being anyhow, in time, and now and thenthe thought of the blissful interview awaiting him that night flashedacross his imagination like a flaming light.

  The excitement of the approaching race gained upon him as he drovefurther and further into the atmosphere of the races, overtakingcarriages driving up from the summer villas or out of Petersburg.

  At his quarters no one was left at home; all were at the races, and hisvalet was looking out for him at the gate. While he was changing hisclothes, his valet told him that the second race had begun already, thata lot of gentlemen had been to ask for him, and a boy had twice run upfrom the stables. Dressing without hurry (he never hurried himself, andnever lost his self-possession), Vronsky drove to the sheds. From thesheds he could see a perfect sea of carriages, and people on foot,soldiers surrounding the race course, and pavilions swarming withpeople. The second race was apparently going on, for just as he wentinto the sheds he heard a bell ringing. Going towards the stable, he metthe white-legged chestnut, Mahotin's Gladiator, being led to therace-course in a blue forage horsecloth, with what looked like huge earsedged with blue.

  "Where's Cord?" he asked the stable-boy.

  "In the stable, putting on the saddle."

  In the open horse-box stood Frou-Frou, saddled ready. They were justgoing to lead her out.

  "I'm not too late?"

  "All right! All right!" said the Englishman; "don't upset yourself!"

  Vronsky once more took in in one glance the exquisite lines of hisfavorite mare; who was quivering all over, and with an effort he torehimself from the sight of her, and went out of the stable. He wenttowards the pavilions at the most favorable moment for escapingattention. The mile-and-a-half race was just finishing, and all eyeswere fixed on the horse-guard in front and the light hussar behind,urging their horses on with a last effort close to the winning post.From the center and outside of the ring all were crowding to the winningpost, and a group of soldiers and officers of the horse-guards wereshouting loudly their delight at the expected triumph of their officerand comrade. Vronsky moved into the middle of the crowd unnoticed,almost at the very moment when the bell rang at the finish of the race,and the tall, mudspattered horse-guard who came in first, bending overthe saddle, let go the reins of his panting gray horse that looked darkwith sweat.

  The horse, stiffening out its legs, with an effort stopped its rapidcourse, and the officer of the horse-guards looked round him like a manwaking up from a heavy sleep, and just managed to smile. A crowd offriends and outsiders pressed round him.

  Vronsky intentionally avoided that select crowd of the upper world,which was moving and talking with discreet freedom before the pavilions.He knew that Madame Karenina was there, and Betsy, and his brother'swife, and he purposely did not go near them for fear of somethingdistracting his attention. But he was continually met and stopped byacquaintances, who told him about the previous races, and kept askinghim why he was so late.

  At the time when the racers had to go to the pavilion to receive theprizes, and all attention was directed to that point, Vronsky's elderbrother, Alexander, a colonel with heavy fringed epaulets, came up tohim. He was not tall, though as broadly built as Alexey, and handsomerand rosier than he; he had a red nose, and an open, drunken-lookingface.

  "Did you get my note?" he said. "There's never any finding you."

  Alexander Vronsky, in spite of the dissolute life, and in especial thedrunken habits, for which he was notorious, was quite one of the courtcircle.

  Now, as he talked to his brother of a matter bound to be exceedinglydisagreeable to him, knowing that the eyes of many people might be fixedupon him, he kept a smiling countenance, as though he were jesting withhis brother about something of little moment.

  "I got it, and I really can't make out what _you_ are worrying yourselfabout," said Alexey.

  "I'm worrying myself because the remark has just been made to me thatyou weren't here, and that you were seen in Peterhof on Monday."

  "There are matters which only concern those directly interested in them,and the matter you are so worried about is..."

  "Yes, but if so, you may as well cut the service...."

  "I beg you not to meddle, and that's all I have to say."

  Alexey Vronsky's frowning face turned white, and his prominent lower jawquivered, which happened rarely with him. Being a man of very warmheart, he was seldom angry; but when he was angry, and when his chinquivered, then, as Alexander Vronsky knew, he was dangerous. AlexanderVronsky smiled gaily.

  "I only wanted to give you Mother's letter. Answer it, and don't worryabout anything just before the race. _Bonne chance,_" he added, smilingand he moved away from him. But after him another friendly greetingbrought Vronsky to a standstill.

  "So you won't recognize your friends! How are you, _mon cher?_" saidStepan Arkadyevitch, as conspicuously brilliant in the midst of all thePetersburg brilliance as he was in Moscow, his face rosy, and hiswhiskers sleek and glossy. "I came up yesterday, and I'm delighted thatI shall see your triumph. When shall we meet?"

  "Come tomorrow to the messroom," said Vronsky, and squeezing him by thesleeve of his coat, with apologies, he moved away to the center of therace course, where the horses were being led for the great steeplechase.

  The horses who had run in the last race were being led home, steamingand exhausted, by the stable-boys, and one after another the freshhorses for the coming race made their appearance, for the most partEnglish racers, wearing horsecloths, and looking with their drawn-upbellies like strange, huge birds. On the right was led in Frou-Frou,lean and beautiful, lifting up her elastic, rather long pasterns, asthough moved by springs. Not far from her they were taking the rug offthe lop-eared Gladiator. The strong, exquisite, perfectly correct linesof the stallion, with his superb hind-quarters and excessively shortpasterns almost over his hoofs, attracted Vronsky's attention in spiteof himself. He would have gone up to his mare, but he was again detainedby an acquaintance.

  "Oh, there's Karenin!" said the acquaintance with whom he was chatting."He's looking for his wife, and she's in the middle of the pavilion.Didn't you see her?"

  "No," answered Vronsky, and without even glancing round towards thepavilion where his friend was pointing out Madame Karenina, he went upto his mare.

  Vronsky had not had time to look at the saddle, about which he
had togive some direction, when the competitors were summoned to the pavilionto receive their numbers and places in the row at starting. Seventeenofficers, looking serious and severe, many with pale faces, met togetherin the pavilion and drew the numbers. Vronsky drew the number seven. Thecry was heard: "Mount!"

  Feeling that with the others riding in the race, he was the center uponwhich all eyes were fastened, Vronsky walked up to his mare in thatstate of nervous tension in which he usually became deliberate andcomposed in his movements. Cord, in honor of the races, had put on hisbest clothes, a black coat buttoned up, a stiffly starched collar, whichpropped up his cheeks, a round black hat, and top boots. He was calm anddignified as ever, and was with his own hands holding Frou-Frou by bothreins, standing straight in front of her. Frou-Frou was still tremblingas though in a fever. Her eye, full of fire, glanced sideways atVronsky. Vronsky slipped his finger under the saddle-girth. The mareglanced aslant at him, drew up her lip, and twitched her ear. TheEnglishman puckered up his lips, intending to indicate a smile thatanyone should verify his saddling.

  "Get up; you won't feel so excited."

  Vronsky looked round for the last time at his rivals. He knew that hewould not see them during the race. Two were already riding forward tothe point from which they were to start. Galtsin, a friend of Vronsky'sand one of his more formidable rivals, was moving round a bay horse thatwould not let him mount. A little light hussar in tight riding breechesrode off at a gallop, crouched up like a cat on the saddle, in imitationof English jockeys. Prince Kuzovlev sat with a white face on histhoroughbred mare from the Grabovsky stud, while an English groom ledher by the bridle. Vronsky and all his comrades knew Kuzovlev and hispeculiarity of "weak nerves" and terrible vanity. They knew that he wasafraid of everything, afraid of riding a spirited horse. But now, justbecause it was terrible, because people broke their necks, and there wasa doctor standing at each obstacle, and an ambulance with a cross on it,and a sister of mercy, he had made up his mind to take part in the race.Their eyes met, and Vronsky gave him a friendly and encouraging nod.Only one he did not see, his chief rival, Mahotin on Gladiator.

  "Don't be in a hurry," said Cord to Vronsky, "and remember one thing:don't hold her in at the fences, and don't urge her on; let her go asshe likes."

  "All right, all right," said Vronsky, taking the reins.

  "If you can, lead the race; but don't lose heart till the last minute,even if you're behind."

  Before the mare had time to move, Vronsky stepped with an agile,vigorous movement into the steel-toothed stirrup, and lightly and firmlyseated himself on the creaking leather of the saddle. Getting his rightfoot in the stirrup, he smoothed the double reins, as he always did,between his fingers, and Cord let go.

  As though she did not know which foot to put first, Frou-Frou started,dragging at the reins with her long neck, and as though she were onsprings, shaking her rider from side to side. Cord quickened his step,following him. The excited mare, trying to shake off her rider first onone side and then the other, pulled at the reins, and Vronsky tried invain with voice and hand to soothe her.

  They were just reaching the dammed-up stream on their way to thestarting point. Several of the riders were in front and several behind,when suddenly Vronsky heard the sound of a horse galloping in the mudbehind him, and he was overtaken by Mahotin on his white-legged,lop-eared Gladiator. Mahotin smiled, showing his long teeth, but Vronskylooked angrily at him. He did not like him, and regarded him now as hismost formidable rival. He was angry with him for galloping past andexciting his mare. Frou-Frou started into a gallop, her left footforward, made two bounds, and fretting at the tightened reins, passedinto a jolting trot, bumping her rider up and down. Cord, too, scowled,and followed Vronsky almost at a trot.

 
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