Anna karenina, p.87
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       Anna Karenina, p.87

           graf Leo Tolstoy

  Chapter 18

  They heard the sound of steps and a man's voice, then a woman's voiceand laughter, and immediately thereafter there walked in the expectedguests: Sappho Shtoltz, and a young man beaming with excess of health,the so-called Vaska. It was evident that ample supplies of beefsteak,truffles, and Burgundy never failed to reach him at the fitting hour.Vaska bowed to the two ladies, and glanced at them, but only for onesecond. He walked after Sappho into the drawing-room, and followed herabout as though he were chained to her, keeping his sparkling eyes fixedon her as though he wanted to eat her. Sappho Shtoltz was a blondebeauty with black eyes. She walked with smart little steps inhigh-heeled shoes, and shook hands with the ladies vigorously like aman.

  Anna had never met this new star of fashion, and was struck by herbeauty, the exaggerated extreme to which her dress was carried, and theboldness of her manners. On her head there was such a superstructure ofsoft, golden hair--her own and false mixed--that her head was equal insize to the elegantly rounded bust, of which so much was exposed infront. The impulsive abruptness of her movements was such that at everystep the lines of her knees and the upper part of her legs weredistinctly marked under her dress, and the question involuntarily roseto the mind where in the undulating, piled-up mountain of material atthe back the real body of the woman, so small and slender, so naked infront, and so hidden behind and below, really came to an end.

  Betsy made haste to introduce her to Anna.

  "Only fancy, we all but ran over two soldiers," she began telling themat once, using her eyes, smiling and twitching away her tail, which sheflung back at one stroke all on one side. "I drove here with Vaska....Ah, to be sure, you don't know each other." And mentioning his surnameshe introduced the young man, and reddening a little, broke into aringing laugh at her mistake--that is, at her having called him Vaska toa stranger. Vaska bowed once more to Anna, but he said nothing to her.He addressed Sappho: "You've lost your bet. We got here first. Pay up,"said he, smiling.

  Sappho laughed still more festively.

  "Not just now," said she.

  "Oh, all right, I'll have it later."

  "Very well, very well. Oh, yes." She turned suddenly to Princess Betsy:"I am a nice person ... I positively forgot it ... I've brought you avisitor. And here he comes." The unexpected young visitor, whom Sapphohad invited, and whom she had forgotten, was, however, a personage ofsuch consequence that, in spite of his youth, both the ladies rose onhis entrance.

  He was a new admirer of Sappho's. He now dogged her footsteps, likeVaska.

  Soon after Prince Kaluzhsky arrived, and Liza Merkalova with Stremov.Liza Merkalova was a thin brunette, with an Oriental, languid type offace, and--as everyone used to say--exquisite enigmatic eyes. The toneof her dark dress (Anna immediately observed and appreciated the fact)was in perfect harmony with her style of beauty. Liza was as soft andenervated as Sappho was smart and abrupt.

  But to Anna's taste Liza was far more attractive. Betsy had said to Annathat she had adopted the pose of an innocent child, but when Anna sawher, she felt that this was not the truth. She really was both innocentand corrupt, but a sweet and passive woman. It is true that her tone wasthe same as Sappho's; that like Sappho, she had two men, one young andone old, tacked onto her, and devouring her with their eyes. But therewas something in her higher than what surrounded her. There was in herthe glow of the real diamond among glass imitations. This glow shone outin her exquisite, truly enigmatic eyes. The weary, and at the same timepassionate, glance of those eyes, encircled by dark rings, impressed oneby its perfect sincerity. Everyone looking into those eyes fancied heknew her wholly, and knowing her, could not but love her. At the sightof Anna, her whole face lighted up at once with a smile of delight.

  "Ah, how glad I am to see you!" she said, going up to her. "Yesterday atthe races all I wanted was to get to you, but you'd gone away. I did sowant to see you, yesterday especially. Wasn't it awful?" she said,looking at Anna with eyes that seemed to lay bare all her soul.

  "Yes; I had no idea it would be so thrilling," said Anna, blushing.

  The company got up at this moment to go into the garden.

  "I'm not going," said Liza, smiling and settling herself close to Anna."You won't go either, will you? Who wants to play croquet?"

  "Oh, I like it," said Anna.

  "There, how do you manage never to be bored by things? It's delightfulto look at you. You're alive, but I'm bored."

  "How can you be bored? Why, you live in the liveliest set inPetersburg," said Anna.

  "Possibly the people who are not of our set are even more bored; butwe--I certainly--are not happy, but awfully, awfully bored."

  Sappho smoking a cigarette went off into the garden with the two youngmen. Betsy and Stremov remained at the tea-table.

  "What, bored!" said Betsy. "Sappho says they did enjoy themselvestremendously at your house last night."

  "Ah, how dreary it all was!" said Liza Merkalova. "We all drove back tomy place after the races. And always the same people, always the same.Always the same thing. We lounged about on sofas all the evening. Whatis there to enjoy in that? No; do tell me how you manage never to bebored?" she said, addressing Anna again. "One has but to look at you andone sees, here's a woman who may be happy or unhappy, but isn't bored.Tell me how you do it?"

  "I do nothing," answered Anna, blushing at these searching questions.

  "That's the best way," Stremov put in. Stremov was a man of fifty,partly gray, but still vigorous-looking, very ugly, but with acharacteristic and intelligent face. Liza Merkalova was his wife'sniece, and he spent all his leisure hours with her. On meeting AnnaKarenina, as he was Alexey Alexandrovitch's enemy in the government, hetried, like a shrewd man and a man of the world, to be particularlycordial with her, the wife of his enemy.

  "'Nothing,'" he put in with a subtle smile, "that's the very best way. Itold you long ago," he said, turning to Liza Merkalova, "that if youdon't want to be bored, you mustn't think you're going to be bored. It'sjust as you mustn't be afraid of not being able to fall asleep, ifyou're afraid of sleeplessness. That's just what Anna Arkadyevna hasjust said."

  "I should be very glad if I had said it, for it's not only clever buttrue," said Anna, smiling.

  "No, do tell me why it is one can't go to sleep, and one can't helpbeing bored?"

  "To sleep well one ought to work, and to enjoy oneself one ought to worktoo."

  "What am I to work for when my work is no use to anybody? And I can'tand won't knowingly make a pretense about it."

  "You're incorrigible," said Stremov, not looking at her, and he spokeagain to Anna. As he rarely met Anna, he could say nothing butcommonplaces to her, but he said those commonplaces as to when she wasreturning to Petersburg, and how fond Countess Lidia Ivanovna was ofher, with an expression which suggested that he longed with his wholesoul to please her and show his regard for her and even more than that.

  Tushkevitch came in, announcing that the party were awaiting the otherplayers to begin croquet.

  "No, don't go away, please don't," pleaded Liza Merkalova, hearing thatAnna was going. Stremov joined in her entreaties.

  "It's too violent a transition," he said, "to go from such company toold Madame Vrede. And besides, you will only give her a chance fortalking scandal, while here you arouse none but such different feelingsof the highest and most opposite kind," he said to her.

  Anna pondered for an instant in uncertainty. This shrewd man'sflattering words, the naive, childlike affection shown her by LizaMerkalova, and all the social atmosphere she was used to,--it was all soeasy, and what was in store for her was so difficult, that she was for aminute in uncertainty whether to remain, whether to put off a littlelonger the painful moment of explanation. But remembering what was instore for her alone at home, if she did not come to some decision,remembering that gesture--terrible even in memory--when she had clutchedher hair in both hands--she said good-bye and went away.

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