Anna karenina, p.90
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       Anna Karenina, p.90

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 21

  "We've come to fetch you. Your _lessive_ lasted a good time today," saidPetritsky. "Well, is it over?"

  "It is over," answered Vronsky, smiling with his eyes only, and twirlingthe tips of his mustaches as circumspectly as though after the perfectorder into which his affairs had been brought any over-bold or rapidmovement might disturb it.

  "You're always just as if you'd come out of a bath after it," saidPetritsky. "I've come from Gritsky's" (that was what they called thecolonel); "they're expecting you."

  Vronsky, without answering, looked at his comrade, thinking of somethingelse.

  "Yes; is that music at his place?" he said, listening to the familiarsounds of polkas and waltzes floating across to him. "What's the fete?"

  "Serpuhovskoy's come."

  "Aha!" said Vronsky, "why, I didn't know."

  The smile in his eyes gleamed more brightly than ever.

  Having once made up his mind that he was happy in his love, that hesacrificed his ambition to it--having anyway taken up this position,Vronsky was incapable of feeling either envious of Serpuhovskoy or hurtwith him for not coming first to him when he came to the regiment.Serpuhovskoy was a good friend, and he was delighted he had come.

  "Ah, I'm very glad!"

  The colonel, Demin, had taken a large country house. The whole partywere in the wide lower balcony. In the courtyard the first objects thatmet Vronsky's eyes were a band of singers in white linen coats, standingnear a barrel of vodka, and the robust, good-humored figure of thecolonel surrounded by officers. He had gone out as far as the first stepof the balcony and was loudly shouting across the band that playedOffenbach's quadrille, waving his arms and giving some orders to a fewsoldiers standing on one side. A group of soldiers, a quartermaster, andseveral subalterns came up to the balcony with Vronsky. The colonelreturned to the table, went out again onto the steps with a tumbler inhis hand, and proposed the toast, "To the health of our former comrade,the gallant general, Prince Serpuhovskoy. Hurrah!"

  The colonel was followed by Serpuhovskoy, who came out onto the stepssmiling, with a glass in his hand.

  "You always get younger, Bondarenko," he said to the rosy-checked,smart-looking quartermaster standing just before him, still youngishlooking though doing his second term of service.

  It was three years since Vronsky had seen Serpuhovskoy. He looked morerobust, had let his whiskers grow, but was still the same gracefulcreature, whose face and figure were even more striking from theirsoftness and nobility than their beauty. The only change Vronskydetected in him was that subdued, continual radiance of beaming contentwhich settles on the faces of men who are successful and are sure of therecognition of their success by everyone. Vronsky knew that radiant air,and immediately observed it in Serpuhovskoy.

  As Serpuhovskoy came down the steps he saw Vronsky. A smile of pleasurelighted up his face. He tossed his head upwards and waved the glass inhis hand, greeting Vronsky, and showing him by the gesture that he couldnot come to him before the quartermaster, who stood craning forward hislips ready to be kissed.

  "Here he is!" shouted the colonel. "Yashvin told me you were in one ofyour gloomy tempers."

  Serpuhovskoy kissed the moist, fresh lips of the gallant-lookingquartermaster, and wiping his mouth with his handkerchief, went up toVronsky.

  "How glad I am!" he said, squeezing his hand and drawing him on oneside.

  "You look after him," the colonel shouted to Yashvin, pointing toVronsky; and he went down below to the soldiers.

  "Why weren't you at the races yesterday? I expected to see you there,"said Vronsky, scrutinizing Serpuhovskoy.

  "I did go, but late. I beg your pardon," he added, and he turned to theadjutant: "Please have this divided from me, each man as much as it runsto." And he hurriedly took notes for three hundred roubles from hispocketbook, blushing a little.

  "Vronsky! Have anything to eat or drink?" asked Yashvin. "Hi, somethingfor the count to eat! Ah, here it is: have a glass!"

  The fete at the colonel's lasted a long while. There was a great deal ofdrinking. They tossed Serpuhovskoy in the air and caught him againseveral times. Then they did the same to the colonel. Then, to theaccompaniment of the band, the colonel himself danced with Petritsky.Then the colonel, who began to show signs of feebleness, sat down on abench in the courtyard and began demonstrating to Yashvin thesuperiority of Russia over Poland, especially in cavalry attack, andthere was a lull in the revelry for a moment. Serpuhovskoy went into thehouse to the bathroom to wash his hands and found Vronsky there; Vronskywas drenching his head with water. He had taken off his coat and put hissunburnt, hairy neck under the tap, and was rubbing it and his head withhis hands. When he had finished, Vronsky sat down by Serpuhovskoy. Theyboth sat down in the bathroom on a lounge, and a conversation beganwhich was very interesting to both of them.

  "I've always been hearing about you through my wife," said Serpuhovskoy."I'm glad you've been seeing her pretty often."

  "She's friendly with Varya, and they're the only women in Petersburg Icare about seeing," answered Vronsky, smiling. He smiled because heforesaw the topic the conversation would turn on, and he was glad of it.

  "The only ones?" Serpuhovskoy queried, smiling.

  "Yes; and I heard news of you, but not only through your wife," saidVronsky, checking his hint by a stern expression of face. "I was greatlydelighted to hear of your success, but not a bit surprised. I expectedeven more."

  Serpuhovskoy smiled. Such an opinion of him was obviously agreeable tohim, and he did not think it necessary to conceal it.

  "Well, I on the contrary expected less--I'll own frankly. But I'm glad,very glad. I'm ambitious; that's my weakness, and I confess to it."

  "Perhaps you wouldn't confess to it if you hadn't been successful," saidVronsky.

  "I don't suppose so," said Serpuhovskoy, smiling again. "I won't saylife wouldn't be worth living without it, but it would be dull. Ofcourse I may be mistaken, but I fancy I have a certain capacity for theline I've chosen, and that power of any sort in my hands, if it is tobe, will be better than in the hands of a good many people I know," saidSerpuhovskoy, with beaming consciousness of success; "and so the nearerI get to it, the better pleased I am."

  "Perhaps that is true for you, but not for everyone. I used to think sotoo, but here I live and think life worth living not only for that."

  "There it's out! here it comes!" said Serpuhovskoy, laughing. "Eversince I heard about you, about your refusal, I began.... Of course, Iapproved of what you did. But there are ways of doing everything. And Ithink your action was good in itself, but you didn't do it quite in theway you ought to have done."

  "What's done can't be undone, and you know I never go back on what I'vedone. And besides, I'm very well off."

  "Very well off--for the time. But you're not satisfied with that. Iwouldn't say this to your brother. He's a nice child, like our hosthere. There he goes!" he added, listening to the roar of "hurrah!"--"andhe's happy, but that does not satisfy you."

  "I didn't say it did satisfy me."

  "Yes, but that's not the only thing. Such men as you are wanted."

  "By whom?"

  "By whom? By society, by Russia. Russia needs men; she needs a party, orelse everything goes and will go to the dogs."

  "How do you mean? Bertenev's party against the Russian communists?"

  "No," said Serpuhovskoy, frowning with vexation at being suspected ofsuch an absurdity. "_Tout ca est une blague_. That's always been andalways will be. There are no communists. But intriguing people have toinvent a noxious, dangerous party. It's an old trick. No, what's wantedis a powerful party of independent men like you and me."

  "But why so?" Vronsky mentioned a few men who were in power. "Why aren'tthey independent men?"

  "Simply because they have not, or have not had from birth, anindependent fortune; they've not had a name, they've not been close tothe sun and center as we have. They can be bought either by money or byfavor. And they have to find a
support for themselves in inventing apolicy. And they bring forward some notion, some policy that they don'tbelieve in, that does harm; and the whole policy is really only a meansto a government house and so much income. _Cela n'est pas plus fin queca_, when you get a peep at their cards. I may be inferior to them,stupider perhaps, though I don't see why I should be inferior to them.But you and I have one important advantage over them for certain, inbeing more difficult to buy. And such men are more needed than ever."

  Vronsky listened attentively, but he was not so much interested by themeaning of the words as by the attitude of Serpuhovskoy who was alreadycontemplating a struggle with the existing powers, and already had hislikes and dislikes in that higher world, while his own interest in thegoverning world did not go beyond the interests of his regiment. Vronskyfelt, too, how powerful Serpuhovskoy might become through hisunmistakable faculty for thinking things out and for taking things in,through his intelligence and gift of words, so rarely met with in theworld in which he moved. And, ashamed as he was of the feeling, he feltenvious.

  "Still I haven't the one thing of most importance for that," heanswered; "I haven't the desire for power. I had it once, but it'sgone."

  "Excuse me, that's not true," said Serpuhovskoy, smiling.

  "Yes, it is true, it is true ... now!" Vronsky added, to be truthful.

  "Yes, it's true now, that's another thing; but that _now_ won't lastforever."

  "Perhaps," answered Vronsky.

  "You say _perhaps_," Serpuhovskoy went on, as though guessing histhoughts, "but I say _for certain_. And that's what I wanted to see youfor. Your action was just what it should have been. I see that, but youought not to keep it up. I only ask you to give me carte blanche. I'mnot going to offer you my protection ... though, indeed, why shouldn't Iprotect you?--you've protected me often enough! I should hope ourfriendship rises above all that sort of thing. Yes," he said, smiling tohim as tenderly as a woman, "give me _carte blanche_, retire from theregiment, and I'll draw you upwards imperceptibly."

  "But you must understand that I want nothing," said Vronsky, "exceptthat all should be as it is."

  Serpuhovskoy got up and stood facing him.

  "You say that all should be as it is. I understand what that means. Butlisten: we're the same age, you've known a greater number of womenperhaps than I have." Serpohovskoy's smile and gestures told Vronskythat he mustn't be afraid, that he would be tender and careful intouching the sore place. "But I'm married, and believe me, in getting toknow thoroughly one's wife, if one loves her, as someone has said, onegets to know all women better than if one knew thousands of them."

  "We're coming directly!" Vronsky shouted to an officer, who looked intothe room and called them to the colonel.

  Vronsky was longing now to hear to the end and know what Serpuhovskeywould say to him.

  "And here's my opinion for you. Women are the chief stumbling block in aman's career. It's hard to love a woman and do anything. There's onlyone way of having love conveniently without its being ahindrance--that's marriage. How, how am I to tell you what I mean?" saidSerpuhovskoy, who liked similes. "Wait a minute, wait a minute! Yes,just as you can only carry a _fardeau_ and do something with your hands,when the fardeau is tied on your back, and that's marriage. And that'swhat I felt when I was married. My hands were suddenly set free. But todrag that _fardeau_ about with you without marriage, your hands willalways be so full that you can do nothing. Look at Mazankov, at Krupov.They've ruined their careers for the sake of women."

  "What women!" said Vronsky, recalling the Frenchwoman and the actresswith whom the two men he had mentioned were connected.

  "The firmer the woman's footing in society, the worse it is. That's muchthe same as--not merely carrying the _fardeau_ in your arms--but tearingit away from someone else."

  "You have never loved," Vronsky said softly, looking straight before himand thinking of Anna.

  "Perhaps. But you remember what I've said to you. And another thing,women are all more materialistic than men. We make something immense outof love, but they are always _terre-a-terre_."

  "Directly, directly!" he cried to a footman who came in. But the footmanhad not come to call them again, as he supposed. The footman broughtVronsky a note.

  "A man brought it from Princess Tverskaya."

  Vronsky opened the letter, and flushed crimson.

  "My head's begun to ache; I'm going home," he said to Serpuhovskoy.

  "Oh, good-bye then. You give me _carte blanche!_"

  "We'll talk about it later on; I'll look you up in Petersburg."

 
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