Anna karenina, p.95
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       Anna Karenina, p.95

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 26

  Sviazhsky was the marshal of his district. He was five years older thanLevin, and had long been married. His sister-in-law, a young girl Levinliked very much, lived in his house; and Levin knew that Sviazhsky andhis wife would have greatly liked to marry the girl to him. He knew thiswith certainty, as so-called eligible young men always know it, thoughhe could never have brought himself to speak of it to anyone; and heknew too that, although he wanted to get married, and although by everytoken this very attractive girl would make an excellent wife, he couldno more have married her, even if he had not been in love with KittyShtcherbatskaya, than he could have flown up to the sky. And thisknowledge poisoned the pleasure he had hoped to find in the visit toSviazhsky.

  On getting Sviazhsky's letter with the invitation for shooting, Levinhad immediately thought of this; but in spite of it he had made up hismind that Sviazhsky's having such views for him was simply his owngroundless supposition, and so he would go, all the same. Besides, atthe bottom of his heart he had a desire to try himself, put himself tothe test in regard to this girl. The Sviazhskys' home-life wasexceedingly pleasant, and Sviazhsky himself, the best type of man takingpart in local affairs that Levin knew, was very interesting to him.

  Sviazhsky was one of those people, always a source of wonder to Levin,whose convictions, very logical though never original, go one way bythemselves, while their life, exceedingly definite and firm in itsdirection, goes its way quite apart and almost always in directcontradiction to their convictions. Sviazhsky was an extremely advancedman. He despised the nobility, and believed the mass of the nobility tobe secretly in favor of serfdom, and only concealing their views fromcowardice. He regarded Russia as a ruined country, rather after thestyle of Turkey, and the government of Russia as so bad that he neverpermitted himself to criticize its doings seriously, and yet he was afunctionary of that government and a model marshal of nobility, and whenhe drove about he always wore the cockade of office and the cap with thered band. He considered human life only tolerable abroad, and wentabroad to stay at every opportunity, and at the same time he carried ona complex and improved system of agriculture in Russia, and with extremeinterest followed everything and knew everything that was being done inRussia. He considered the Russian peasant as occupying a stage ofdevelopment intermediate between the ape and the man, and at the sametime in the local assemblies no one was readier to shake hands with thepeasants and listen to their opinion. He believed neither in God nor thedevil, but was much concerned about the question of the improvement ofthe clergy and the maintenance of their revenues, and took specialtrouble to keep up the church in his village.

  On the woman question he was on the side of the extreme advocates ofcomplete liberty for women, and especially their right to labor. But helived with his wife on such terms that their affectionate childless homelife was the admiration of everyone, and arranged his wife's life sothat she did nothing and could do nothing but share her husband'sefforts that her time should pass as happily and as agreeably aspossible.

  If it had not been a characteristic of Levin's to put the most favorableinterpretation on people, Sviazhsky's character would have presented nodoubt or difficulty to him: he would have said to himself, "a fool or aknave," and everything would have seemed clear. But he could not say "afool," because Sviazhsky was unmistakably clever, and moreover, a highlycultivated man, who was exceptionally modest over his culture. There wasnot a subject he knew nothing of. But he did not display his knowledgeexcept when he was compelled to do so. Still less could Levin say thathe was a knave, as Sviazhsky was unmistakably an honest, good-hearted,sensible man, who worked good-humoredly, keenly, and perseveringly athis work; he was held in high honor by everyone about him, and certainlyhe had never consciously done, and was indeed incapable of doing,anything base.

  Levin tried to understand him, and could not understand him, and lookedat him and his life as at a living enigma.

  Levin and he were very friendly, and so Levin used to venture to soundSviazhsky, to try to get at the very foundation of his view of life; butit was always in vain. Every time Levin tried to penetrate beyond theouter chambers of Sviazhsky's mind, which were hospitably open to all,he noticed that Sviazhsky was slightly disconcerted; faint signs ofalarm were visible in his eyes, as though he were afraid Levin wouldunderstand him, and he would give him a kindly, good-humored repulse.

  Just now, since his disenchantment with farming, Levin was particularlyglad to stay with Sviazhsky. Apart from the fact that the sight of thishappy and affectionate couple, so pleased with themselves and everyoneelse, and their well-ordered home had always a cheering effect on Levin,he felt a longing, now that he was so dissatisfied with his own life, toget at that secret in Sviazhsky that gave him such clearness,definiteness, and good courage in life. Moreover, Levin knew that atSviazhsky's he should meet the landowners of the neighborhood, and itwas particularly interesting for him just now to hear and take part inthose rural conversations concerning crops, laborers' wages, and so on,which, he was aware, are conventionally regarded as something very low,but which seemed to him just now to constitute the one subject ofimportance. "It was not, perhaps, of importance in the days of serfdom,and it may not be of importance in England. In both cases the conditionsof agriculture are firmly established; but among us now, when everythinghas been turned upside down and is only just taking shape, the questionwhat form these conditions will take is the one question of importancein Russia," thought Levin.

  The shooting turned out to be worse than Levin had expected. The marshwas dry and there were no grouse at all. He walked about the whole dayand only brought back three birds, but to make up for that--he broughtback, as he always did from shooting, an excellent appetite, excellentspirits, and that keen, intellectual mood which with him alwaysaccompanied violent physical exertion. And while out shooting, when heseemed to be thinking of nothing at all, suddenly the old man and hisfamily kept coming back to his mind, and the impression of them seemedto claim not merely his attention, but the solution of some questionconnected with them.

  In the evening at tea, two landowners who had come about some businessconnected with a wardship were of the party, and the interestingconversation Levin had been looking forward to sprang up.

  Levin was sitting beside his hostess at the tea table, and was obligedto keep up a conversation with her and her sister, who was sittingopposite him. Madame Sviazhskaya was a round-faced, fair-haired, rathershort woman, all smiles and dimples. Levin tried through her to get asolution of the weighty enigma her husband presented to his mind; but hehad not complete freedom of ideas, because he was in an agony ofembarrassment. This agony of embarrassment was due to the fact that thesister-in-law was sitting opposite to him, in a dress, specially put on,as he fancied, for his benefit, cut particularly open, in the shape of atrapeze, on her white bosom. This quadrangular opening, in spite of thebosom's being very white, or just because it was very white, deprivedLevin of the full use of his faculties. He imagined, probablymistakenly, that this low-necked bodice had been made on his account,and felt that he had no right to look at it, and tried not to look atit; but he felt that he was to blame for the very fact of the low-neckedbodice having been made. It seemed to Levin that he had deceivedsomeone, that he ought to explain something, but that to explain it wasimpossible, and for that reason he was continually blushing, was ill atease and awkward. His awkwardness infected the pretty sister-in-law too.But their hostess appeared not to observe this, and kept purposelydrawing her into the conversation.

  "You say," she said, pursuing the subject that had been started, "thatmy husband cannot be interested in what's Russian. It's quite thecontrary; he is always in cheerful spirits abroad, but not as he ishere. Here, he feels in his proper place. He has so much to do, and hehas the faculty of interesting himself in everything. Oh, you've notbeen to see our school, have you?"

  "I've seen it.... The little house covered with ivy, isn't it?"

  "Yes; that's Nastia's work," she sa
id, indicating her sister.

  "You teach in it yourself?" asked Levin, trying to look above the openneck, but feeling that wherever he looked in that direction he shouldsee it.

  "Yes; I used to teach in it myself, and do teach still, but we have afirst-rate schoolmistress now. And we've started gymnastic exercises."

  "No, thank you, I won't have any more tea," said Levin, and conscious ofdoing a rude thing, but incapable of continuing the conversation, he gotup, blushing. "I hear a very interesting conversation," he added, andwalked to the other end of the table, where Sviazhsky was sitting withthe two gentlemen of the neighborhood. Sviazhsky was sitting sideways,with one elbow on the table, and a cup in one hand, while with the otherhand he gathered up his beard, held it to his nose and let it dropagain, as though he were smelling it. His brilliant black eyes werelooking straight at the excited country gentleman with gray whiskers,and apparently he derived amusement from his remarks. The gentleman wascomplaining of the peasants. It was evident to Levin that Sviazhsky knewan answer to this gentleman's complaints, which would at once demolishhis whole contention, but that in his position he could not giveutterance to this answer, and listened, not without pleasure, to thelandowner's comic speeches.

  The gentleman with the gray whiskers was obviously an inveterateadherent of serfdom and a devoted agriculturist, who had lived all hislife in the country. Levin saw proofs of this in his dress, in theold-fashioned threadbare coat, obviously not his everyday attire, in hisshrewd, deep-set eyes, in his idiomatic, fluent Russian, in theimperious tone that had become habitual from long use, and in theresolute gestures of his large, red, sunburnt hands, with an oldbetrothal ring on the little finger.

 

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