Anna karenina, p.9
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Anna Karenina, p.9

           graf Leo Tolstoy

  Chapter 9

  At four o'clock, conscious of his throbbing heart, Levin stepped out ofa hired sledge at the Zoological Gardens, and turned along the path tothe frozen mounds and the skating ground, knowing that he wouldcertainly find her there, as he had seen the Shtcherbatskys' carriage atthe entrance.

  It was a bright, frosty day. Rows of carriages, sledges, drivers, andpolicemen were standing in the approach. Crowds of well-dressed people,with hats bright in the sun, swarmed about the entrance and along thewell-swept little paths between the little houses adorned with carvingin the Russian style. The old curly birches of the gardens, all theirtwigs laden with snow, looked as though freshly decked in sacredvestments.

  He walked along the path towards the skating-ground, and kept saying tohimself--"You mustn't be excited, you must be calm. What's the matterwith you? What do you want? Be quiet, stupid," he conjured his heart.And the more he tried to compose himself, the more breathless he foundhimself. An acquaintance met him and called him by his name, but Levindid not even recognize him. He went towards the mounds, whence came theclank of the chains of sledges as they slipped down or were dragged up,the rumble of the sliding sledges, and the sounds of merry voices. Hewalked on a few steps, and the skating-ground lay open before his eyes,and at once, amidst all the skaters, he knew her.

  He knew she was there by the rapture and the terror that seized on hisheart. She was standing talking to a lady at the opposite end of theground. There was apparently nothing striking either in her dress or herattitude. But for Levin she was as easy to find in that crowd as a roseamong nettles. Everything was made bright by her. She was the smile thatshed light on all round her. "Is it possible I can go over there on theice, go up to her?" he thought. The place where she stood seemed to hima holy shrine, unapproachable, and there was one moment when he wasalmost retreating, so overwhelmed was he with terror. He had to make aneffort to master himself, and to remind himself that people of all sortswere moving about her, and that he too might come there to skate. Hewalked down, for a long while avoiding looking at her as at the sun, butseeing her, as one does the sun, without looking.

  On that day of the week and at that time of day people of one set, allacquainted with one another, used to meet on the ice. There were crackskaters there, showing off their skill, and learners clinging to chairswith timid, awkward movements, boys, and elderly people skating withhygienic motives. They seemed to Levin an elect band of blissful beingsbecause they were here, near her. All the skaters, it seemed, withperfect self-possession, skated towards her, skated by her, even spoketo her, and were happy, quite apart from her, enjoying the capital iceand the fine weather.

  Nikolay Shtcherbatsky, Kitty's cousin, in a short jacket and tighttrousers, was sitting on a garden seat with his skates on. Seeing Levin,he shouted to him:

  "Ah, the first skater in Russia! Been here long? First-rate ice--do putyour skates on."

  "I haven't got my skates," Levin answered, marveling at this boldnessand ease in her presence, and not for one second losing sight of her,though he did not look at her. He felt as though the sun were comingnear him. She was in a corner, and turning out her slender feet in theirhigh boots with obvious timidity, she skated towards him. A boy inRussian dress, desperately waving his arms and bowed down to the ground,overtook her. She skated a little uncertainly; taking her hands out ofthe little muff that hung on a cord, she held them ready for emergency,and looking towards Levin, whom she had recognized, she smiled at him,and at her own fears. When she had got round the turn, she gave herselfa push off with one foot, and skated straight up to Shtcherbatsky.Clutching at his arm, she nodded smiling to Levin. She was more splendidthan he had imagined her.

  When he thought of her, he could call up a vivid picture of her tohimself, especially the charm of that little fair head, so freely set onthe shapely girlish shoulders, and so full of childish brightness andgood humor. The childishness of her expression, together with thedelicate beauty of her figure, made up her special charm, and that hefully realized. But what always struck him in her as something unlookedfor, was the expression of her eyes, soft, serene, and truthful, andabove all, her smile, which always transported Levin to an enchantedworld, where he felt himself softened and tender, as he rememberedhimself in some days of his early childhood.

  "Have you been here long?" she said, giving him her hand. "Thank you,"she added, as he picked up the handkerchief that had fallen out of hermuff.

  "I? I've not long ... yesterday ... I mean today ... I arrived,"answered Levin, in his emotion not at once understanding her question."I was meaning to come and see you," he said; and then, recollectingwith what intention he was trying to see her, he was promptly overcomewith confusion and blushed.

  "I didn't know you could skate, and skate so well."

  She looked at him earnestly, as though wishing to make out the cause ofhis confusion.

  "Your praise is worth having. The tradition is kept up here that you arethe best of skaters," she said, with her little black-gloved handbrushing a grain of hoarfrost off her muff.

  "Yes, I used once to skate with passion; I wanted to reach perfection."

  "You do everything with passion, I think," she said smiling. "I shouldso like to see how you skate. Put on skates, and let us skate together."

  "Skate together! Can that be possible?" thought Levin, gazing at her.

  "I'll put them on directly," he said.

  And he went off to get skates.

  "It's a long while since we've seen you here, sir," said the attendant,supporting his foot, and screwing on the heel of the skate. "Except you,there's none of the gentlemen first-rate skaters. Will that be allright?" said he, tightening the strap.

  "Oh, yes, yes; make haste, please," answered Levin, with difficultyrestraining the smile of rapture which would overspread his face. "Yes,"he thought, "this now is life, this is happiness! _Together,_ she said;_let us skate together!_ Speak to her now? But that's just why I'mafraid to speak--because I'm happy now, happy in hope, anyway.... Andthen?.... But I must! I must! I must! Away with weakness!"

  Levin rose to his feet, took off his overcoat, and scurrying over therough ice round the hut, came out on the smooth ice and skated withouteffort, as it were, by simple exercise of will, increasing andslackening speed and turning his course. He approached with timidity,but again her smile reassured him.

  She gave him her hand, and they set off side by side, going faster andfaster, and the more rapidly they moved the more tightly she grasped hishand.

  "With you I should soon learn; I somehow feel confidence in you," shesaid to him.

  "And I have confidence in myself when you are leaning on me," he said,but was at once panic-stricken at what he had said, and blushed. Andindeed, no sooner had he uttered these words, when all at once, like thesun going behind a cloud, her face lost all its friendliness, and Levindetected the familiar change in her expression that denoted the workingof thought; a crease showed on her smooth brow.

  "Is there anything troubling you?--though I've no right to ask such aquestion," he added hurriedly.

  "Oh, why so?.... No, I have nothing to trouble me," she respondedcoldly; and she added immediately: "You haven't seen Mlle. Linon, haveyou?"

  "Not yet."

  "Go and speak to her, she likes you so much."

  "What's wrong? I have offended her. Lord help me!" thought Levin, and heflew towards the old Frenchwoman with the gray ringlets, who was sittingon a bench. Smiling and showing her false teeth, she greeted him as anold friend.

  "Yes, you see we're growing up," she said to him, glancing towardsKitty, "and growing old. _Tiny bear_ has grown big now!" pursued theFrenchwoman, laughing, and she reminded him of his joke about the threeyoung ladies whom he had compared to the three bears in the Englishnursery tale. "Do you remember that's what you used to call them?"

  He remembered absolutely nothing, but she had been laughing at the jokefor ten years now, and was fond of it.

  "Now, go and skate, go and skat
e. Our Kitty has learned to skate nicely,hasn't she?"

  When Levin darted up to Kitty her face was no longer stern; her eyeslooked at him with the same sincerity and friendliness, but Levinfancied that in her friendliness there was a certain note of deliberatecomposure. And he felt depressed. After talking a little of her oldgoverness and her peculiarities, she questioned him about his life.

  "Surely you must be dull in the country in the winter, aren't you?" shesaid.

  "No, I'm not dull, I am very busy," he said, feeling that she washolding him in check by her composed tone, which he would not have theforce to break through, just as it had been at the beginning of thewinter.

  "Are you going to stay in town long?" Kitty questioned him.

  "I don't know," he answered, not thinking of what he was saying. Thethought that if he were held in check by her tone of quiet friendlinesshe would end by going back again without deciding anything came into hismind, and he resolved to make a struggle against it.

  "How is it you don't know?"

  "I don't know. It depends upon you," he said, and was immediatelyhorror-stricken at his own words.

  Whether it was that she had heard his words, or that she did not want tohear them, she made a sort of stumble, twice struck out, and hurriedlyskated away from him. She skated up to Mlle. Linon, said something toher, and went towards the pavilion where the ladies took off theirskates.

  "My God! what have I done! Merciful God! help me, guide me," said Levin,praying inwardly, and at the same time, feeling a need of violentexercise, he skated about describing inner and outer circles.

  At that moment one of the young men, the best of the skaters of the day,came out of the coffee-house in his skates, with a cigarette in hismouth. Taking a run, he dashed down the steps in his skates, crashingand bounding up and down. He flew down, and without even changing theposition of his hands, skated away over the ice.

  "Ah, that's a new trick!" said Levin, and he promptly ran up to the topto do this new trick.

  "Don't break your neck! it needs practice!" Nikolay Shtcherbatskyshouted after him.

  Levin went to the steps, took a run from above as best he could, anddashed down, preserving his balance in this unwonted movement with hishands. On the last step he stumbled, but barely touching the ice withhis hand, with a violent effort recovered himself, and skated off,laughing.

  "How splendid, how nice he is!" Kitty was thinking at that time, as shecame out of the pavilion with Mlle. Linon, and looked towards him with asmile of quiet affection, as though he were a favorite brother. "And canit be my fault, can I have done anything wrong? They talk of flirtation.I know it's not he that I love; but still I am happy with him, and he'sso jolly. Only, why did he say that?..." she mused.

  Catching sight of Kitty going away, and her mother meeting her at thesteps, Levin, flushed from his rapid exercise, stood still and pondereda minute. He took off his skates, and overtook the mother and daughterat the entrance of the gardens.

  "Delighted to see you," said Princess Shtcherbatskaya. "On Thursdays weare home, as always."

  "Today, then?"

  "We shall be pleased to see you," the princess said stiffly.

  This stiffness hurt Kitty, and she could not resist the desire to smoothover her mother's coldness. She turned her head, and with a smile said:

  "Good-bye till this evening."

  At that moment Stepan Arkadyevitch, his hat cocked on one side, withbeaming face and eyes, strode into the garden like a conquering hero.But as he approached his mother-in-law, he responded in a mournful andcrestfallen tone to her inquiries about Dolly's health. After a littlesubdued and dejected conversation with his mother-in-law, he threw outhis chest again, and put his arm in Levin's.

  "Well, shall we set off?" he asked. "I've been thinking about you allthis time, and I'm very, very glad you've come," he said, looking him inthe face with a significant air.

  "Yes, come along," answered Levin in ecstasy, hearing unceasingly thesound of that voice saying, "Good-bye till this evening," and seeing thesmile with which it was said.

  "To the England or the Hermitage?"

  "I don't mind which."

  "All right, then, the England," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, selecting thatrestaurant because he owed more there than at the Hermitage, andconsequently considered it mean to avoid it. "Have you got a sledge?That's first-rate, for I sent my carriage home."

  The friends hardly spoke all the way. Levin was wondering what thatchange in Kitty's expression had meant, and alternately assuring himselfthat there was hope, and falling into despair, seeing clearly that hishopes were insane, and yet all the while he felt himself quite anotherman, utterly unlike what he had been before her smile and those words,"Good-bye till this evening."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch was absorbed during the drive in composing the menuof the dinner.

  "You like turbot, don't you?" he said to Levin as they were arriving.

  "Eh?" responded Levin. "Turbot? Yes, I'm _awfully_ fond of turbot."

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
  • 34 080
  • 0
Add comment

Add comment