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Darya Alexandrovna spent the summer with her children at Pokrovskoe, at her sister Kitty Levin’s. The house on her own estate was quite in ruins, and Levin and his wife had persuaded her to spend the summer with them. Stepan Arkadyevitch greatly approved of the arrangement. He said he was very sorry his official duties prevented him from spending the summer in the country with his family, which would have been the greatest happiness for him; and remaining in Moscow, he came down to the country from time to time for a day or two. Besides the Oblonskys, with all their children and their governess, the old princess too came to stay that summer with the Levins, as she considered it her duty to watch over her inexperienced daughter in her interesting condition. Moreover, Varenka, Kitty’s friend abroad, kept her promise to come to Kitty when she was married, and stayed with her friend. All of these were friends or relations of Levin’s wife. And though he liked them all, he rather regretted his own Levin world and ways, which was smothered by this influx of the “Shtcherbatsky element,” as he called it to himself. Of his own relations there stayed with him only Sergey Ivanovitch, but he too was a man of the Koznishev and not the Levin stamp, so that the Levin spirit was utterly obliterated.
In the Levins’ house, so long deserted, there were now so many people that almost all the rooms were occupied, and almost every day it happened that the old princess, sitting down to table, counted them all over, and put the thirteenth grandson or granddaughter at a separate table. And Kitty, with her careful housekeeping, had no little trouble to get all the chickens, turkeys, and geese, of which so many were needed to satisfy the summer appetites of the visitors and children.
The whole family were sitting at dinner. Dolly’s children, with their governess and Varenka, were making plans for going to look for mushrooms. Sergey Ivanovitch, who was looked up to by all the party for his intellect and learning, with a respect that almost amounted to awe, surprised everyone by joining in the conversation about mushrooms.
“Take me with you. I am very fond of picking mushrooms,” he said, looking at Varenka; “I think it’s a very nice occupation.”
“Oh, we shall be delighted,” answered Varenka, coloring a little. Kitty exchanged meaningful glances with Dolly. The proposal of the learned and intellectual Sergey Ivanovitch to go looking for mushrooms with Varenka confirmed certain theories of Kitty’s with which her mind had been very busy of late. She made haste to address some remark to her mother, so that her look should not be noticed. After dinner Sergey Ivanovitch sat with his cup of coffee at the drawing-room window, and while he took part in a conversation he had begun with his brother, he watched the door through which the children would start on the mushroom-picking expedition. Levin was sitting in the window near his brother.
Kitty stood beside her husband, evidently awaiting the end of a conversation that had no interest for her, in order to tell him something.
“You have changed in many respects since your marriage, and for the better,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, smiling to Kitty, and obviously little interested in the conversation, “but you have remained true to your passion for defending the most paradoxical theories.”
“Katya, it’s not good for you to stand,” her husband said to her, putting a chair for her and looking significantly at her.
“Oh, and there’s no time either,” added Sergey Ivanovitch, seeing the children running out.
At the head of them all Tanya galloped sideways, in her tightly-drawn stockings, and waving a basket and Sergey Ivanovitch’s hat, she ran straight up to him.
Boldly running up to Sergey Ivanovitch with shining eyes, so like her father’s fine eyes, she handed him his hat and made as though she would put it on for him, softening her freedom by a shy and friendly smile.
“Varenka’s waiting,” she said, carefully putting his hat on, seeing from Sergey Ivanovitch’s smile that she might do so.
Varenka was standing at the door, dressed in a yellow print gown, with a white kerchief on her head.
“I’m coming, I’m coming, Varvara Andreevna,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, finishing his cup of coffee, and putting into their separate pockets his handkerchief and cigar-case.
“And how sweet my Varenka is! eh?” said Kitty to her husband, as soon as Sergey Ivanovitch rose. She spoke so that Sergey Ivanovitch could hear, and it was clear that she meant him to do so. “And how good-looking she is—such a refined beauty! Varenka!” Kitty shouted. “Shall you be in the mill copse? We’ll come out to you.”
“You certainly forget your condition, Kitty,” said the old princess, hurriedly coming out at the door. “You mustn’t shout like that.”
Varenka, hearing Kitty’s voice and her mother’s reprimand, went with light, rapid steps up to Kitty. The rapidity of her movement, her flushed and eager face, everything betrayed that something out of the common was going on in her. Kitty knew what this was, and had been watching her intently. She called Varenka at that moment merely in order mentally to give her a blessing for the important event which, as Kitty fancied, was bound to come to pass that day after dinner in the wood.
“Varenka, I should be very happy if a certain something were to happen,” she whispered as she kissed her.
“And are you coming with us?” Varenka said to Levin in confusion, pretending not to have heard what had been said.
“I am coming, but only as far as the threshing-floor, and there I shall stop.”
“Why, what do you want there?” said Kitty.
“I must go to have a look at the new wagons, and to check the invoice,” said Levin; “and where will you be?”
“On the terrace.”
On the terrace were assembled all the ladies of the party. They always liked sitting there after dinner, and that day they had work to do there too. Besides the sewing and knitting of baby clothes, with which all of them were busy, that afternoon jam was being made on the terrace by a method new to Agafea Mihalovna, without the addition of water. Kitty had introduced this new method, which had been in use in her home. Agafea Mihalovna, to whom the task of jam-making had always been intrusted, considering that what had been done in the Levin household could not be amiss, had nevertheless put water with the strawberries, maintaining that the jam could not be made without it. She had been caught in the act, and was now making jam before everyone, and it was to be proved to her conclusively that jam could be very well made without water.
Agafea Mihalovna, her face heated and angry, her hair untidy, and her thin arms bare to the elbows, was turning the preserving-pan over the charcoal stove, looking darkly at the raspberries and devoutly hoping they would stick and not cook properly. The princess, conscious that Agafea Mihalovna’s wrath must be chiefly directed against her, as the person responsible for the raspberry jam-making, tried to appear to be absorbed in other things and not interested in the jam, talked of other matters, but cast stealthy glances in the direction of the stove.
“I always buy my maids’ dresses myself, of some cheap material,” the princess said, continuing the previous conversation. “Isn’t it time to skim it, my dear?” she added, addressing Agafea Mihalovna. “There’s not the slightest need for you to do it, and it’s hot for you,” she said, stopping Kitty.
“I’ll do it,” said Dolly, and getting up, she carefully passed the spoon over the frothing sugar, and from time to time shook off the clinging jam from the spoon by knocking it on a plate that was covered with yellow-red scum and blood-colored syrup. “How they’ll enjoy this at tea-time!” she thought of her children, remembering how she herself as a child had wondered how it was the grown-up people did not eat what was best of all—the scum of the jam.
“Stiva says it’s much better to give money.” Dolly took up meanwhile the weighty subject under discussion, what presents should be made to servants. “But....”
“Money’s out of the question!” the princess and Kitty exclaimed with one voice. “They appreciate a present....”
“Well, last year, for instance, I bought our Matrona Semyenovna, not a poplin, but something of that sort,” said the princess.
“I remember she was wearing it on your nameday.”
“A charming pattern—so simple and refined,—I should have liked it myself, if she hadn’t had it. Something like Varenka’s. So pretty and inexpensive.”
“Well, now I think it’s done,” said Dolly, dropping the syrup from the spoon.
“When it sets as it drops, it’s ready. Cook it a little longer, Agafea Mihalovna.”
“The flies!” said Agafea Mihalovna angrily. “It’ll be just the same,” she added.
“Ah! how sweet it is! don’t frighten it!” Kitty said suddenly, looking at a sparrow that had settled on the step and was pecking at the center of a raspberry.
“Yes, but you keep a little further from the stove,” said her mother.
“À propos de Varenka,” said Kitty, speaking in French, as they had been doing all the while, so that Agafea Mihalovna should not understand them, “you know, mamma, I somehow expect things to be settled today. You know what I mean. How splendid it would be!”
“But what a famous matchmaker she is!” said Dolly. “How carefully and cleverly she throws them together!...”
“No; tell me, mamma, what do you think?”
“Why, what is one to think? He” (he meant Sergey Ivanovitch) “might at any time have been a match for anyone in Russia; now, of course, he’s not quite a young man, still I know ever so many girls would be glad to marry him even now.... She’s a very nice girl, but he might....”
“Oh, no, mamma, do understand why, for him and for her too, nothing better could be imagined. In the first place, she’s charming!” said Kitty, crooking one of her fingers.
“He thinks her very attractive, that’s certain,” assented Dolly.
“Then he occupies such a position in society that he has no need to look for either fortune or position in his wife. All he needs is a good, sweet wife—a restful one.”
“Well, with her he would certainly be restful,” Dolly assented.
“Thirdly, that she should love him. And so it is ... that is, it would be so splendid!... I look forward to seeing them coming out of the forest—and everything settled. I shall see at once by their eyes. I should be so delighted! What do you think, Dolly?”
“But don’t excite yourself. It’s not at all the thing for you to be excited,” said her mother.
“Oh, I’m not excited, mamma. I fancy he will make her an offer today.”
“Ah, that’s so strange, how and when a man makes an offer!... There is a sort of barrier, and all at once it’s broken down,” said Dolly, smiling pensively and recalling her past with Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“Mamma, how did papa make you an offer?” Kitty asked suddenly.
“There was nothing out of the way, it was very simple,” answered the princess, but her face beamed all over at the recollection.
“Oh, but how was it? You loved him, anyway, before you were allowed to speak?”
Kitty felt a peculiar pleasure in being able now to talk to her mother on equal terms about those questions of such paramount interest in a woman’s life.
“Of course I did; he had come to stay with us in the country.”
“But how was it settled between you, mamma?”
“You imagine, I dare say, that you invented something quite new? It’s always just the same: it was settled by the eyes, by smiles....”
“How nicely you said that, mamma! It’s just by the eyes, by smiles that it’s done,” Dolly assented.
“But what words did he say?”
“What did Kostya say to you?”
“He wrote it in chalk. It was wonderful.... How long ago it seems!” she said.
And the three women all fell to musing on the same thing. Kitty was the first to break the silence. She remembered all that last winter before her marriage, and her passion for Vronsky.
“There’s one thing ... that old love affair of Varenka’s,” she said, a natural chain of ideas bringing her to this point. “I should have liked to say something to Sergey Ivanovitch, to prepare him. They’re all—all men, I mean,” she added, “awfully jealous over our past.”
“Not all,” said Dolly. “You judge by your own husband. It makes him miserable even now to remember Vronsky. Eh? that’s true, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Kitty answered, a pensive smile in her eyes.
“But I really don’t know,” the mother put in in defense of her motherly care of her daughter, “what there was in your past that could worry him? That Vronsky paid you attentions—that happens to every girl.”
“Oh, yes, but we didn’t mean that,” Kitty said, flushing a little.
“No, let me speak,” her mother went on, “why, you yourself would not let me have a talk to Vronsky. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh, mamma!” said Kitty, with an expression of suffering.
“There’s no keeping you young people in check nowadays.... Your friendship could not have gone beyond what was suitable. I should myself have called upon him to explain himself. But, my darling, it’s not right for you to be agitated. Please remember that, and calm yourself.”
“I’m perfectly calm, maman.”
“How happy it was for Kitty that Anna came then,” said Dolly, “and how unhappy for her. It turned out quite the opposite,” she said, struck by her own ideas. “Then Anna was so happy, and Kitty thought herself unhappy. Now it is just the opposite. I often think of her.”
“A nice person to think about! Horrid, repulsive woman—no heart,” said her mother, who could not forget that Kitty had married not Vronsky, but Levin.
“What do you want to talk of it for?” Kitty said with annoyance. “I never think about it, and I don’t want to think of it.... And I don’t want to think of it,” she said, catching the sound of her husband’s well-known step on the steps of the terrace.
“What’s that you don’t want to think about?” inquired Levin, coming onto the terrace.
But no one answered him, and he did not repeat the question.
“I’m sorry I’ve broken in on your feminine parliament,” he said, looking round on everyone discontentedly, and perceiving that they had been talking of something which they would not talk about before him.
For a second he felt that he was sharing the feeling of Agafea Mihalovna, vexation at their making jam without water, and altogether at the outside Shtcherbatsky element. He smiled, however, and went up to Kitty.
“Well, how are you?” he asked her, looking at her with the expression with which everyone looked at her now.
“Oh, very well,” said Kitty, smiling, “and how have things gone with you?”
“The wagons held three times as much as the old carts did. Well, are we going for the children? I’ve ordered the horses to be put in.”
“What! you want to take Kitty in the wagonette?” her mother said reproachfully.
“Yes, at a walking pace, princess.”
Levin never called the princess “maman” as men often do call their mothers-in-law, and the princess disliked his not doing so. But though he liked and respected the princess, Levin could not call her so without a sense of profaning his feeling for his dead mother.
“Come with us, maman,” said Kitty.
“I don’t like to see such imprudence.”
“Well, I’ll walk then, I’m so well.” Kitty got up and went to her husband and took his hand.
“You may be well, but everything in moderation,” said the princess.
“Well, Agafea Mihalovna, is the jam done?” said Levin, smiling to Agafea Mihalovna, and trying to cheer her up. “Is it all right in the new way?”
“I suppose it’s all right. For our notions it’s boiled too long.”
“It’ll be all the better, Agafea Mihalovna, it won’t mildew, even though our ice has begun to thaw already, so that we’ve no cool cellar to store it,” said Kitty, at once divining her husband’s motive, and addressing the old housekeeper with the same feeling; “but your pickle’s so good, that mamma says she never tasted any like it,” she added, smiling, and putting her kerchief straight.
Agafea Mihalovna looked angrily at Kitty.
“You needn’t try to console me, mistress. I need only to look at you with him, and I feel happy,” she said, and something in the rough familiarity of that with him touched Kitty.
“Come along with us to look for mushrooms, you will show us the best places.” Agafea Mihalovna smiled and shook her head, as though to say: “I should like to be angry with you too, but I can’t.”
“Do it, please, by my receipt,” said the princess; “put some paper over the jam, and moisten it with a little rum, and without even ice, it will never go mildewy.”
Kitty was particularly glad of a chance of being alone with her husband, for she had noticed the shade of mortification that had passed over his face—always so quick to reflect every feeling—at the moment when he had come onto the terrace and asked what they were talking of, and had got no answer.
When they had set off on foot ahead of the others, and had come out of sight of the house onto the beaten dusty road, marked with rusty wheels and sprinkled with grains of corn, she clung faster to his arm and pressed it closer to her. He had quite forgotten the momentary unpleasant impression, and alone with her he felt, now that the thought of her approaching motherhood was never for a moment absent from his mind, a new and delicious bliss, quite pure from all alloy of sense, in the being near to the woman he loved. There was no need of speech, yet he longed to hear the sound of her voice, which like her eyes had changed since she had been with child. In her voice, as in her eyes, there was that softness and gravity which is found in people continually concentrated on some cherished pursuit.
“So you’re not tired? Lean more on me,” said he.
“No, I’m so glad of a chance of being alone with you, and I must own, though I’m happy with them, I do regret our winter evenings alone.”
“That was good, but this is even better. Both are better,” he said, squeezing her hand.
“Do you know what we were talking about when you came in?”
“Oh, yes, about jam too; but afterwards, about how men make offers.”
“Ah!” said Levin, listening more to the sound of her voice than to the words she was saying, and all the while paying attention to the road, which passed now through the forest, and avoiding places where she might make a false step.
“And about Sergey Ivanovitch and Varenka. You’ve noticed?... I’m very anxious for it,” she went on. “What do you think about it?” And she peeped into his face.
“I don’t know what to think,” Levin answered, smiling. “Sergey seems very strange to me in that way. I told you, you know....”
“Yes, that he was in love with that girl who died....”
“That was when I was a child; I know about it from hearsay and tradition. I remember him then. He was wonderfully sweet. But I’ve watched him since with women; he is friendly, some of them he likes, but one feels that to him they’re simply people, not women.”
“Yes, but now with Varenka ... I fancy there’s something....”
“Perhaps there is.... But one has to know him.... He’s a peculiar, wonderful person. He lives a spiritual life only. He’s too pure, too exalted a nature.”
“Why? Would this lower him, then?”
“No, but he’s so used to a spiritual life that he can’t reconcile himself with actual fact, and Varenka is after all fact.”
Levin had grown used by now to uttering his thought boldly, without taking the trouble of clothing it in exact language. He knew that his wife, in such moments of loving tenderness as now, would understand what he meant to say from a hint, and she did understand him.
“Yes, but there’s not so much of that actual fact about her as about me. I can see that he would never have cared for me. She is altogether spiritual.”
“Oh, no, he is so fond of you, and I am always so glad when my people like you....”
“Yes, he’s very nice to me; but....”
“It’s not as it was with poor Nikolay ... you really cared for each other,” Levin finished. “Why not speak of him?” he added. “I sometimes blame myself for not; it ends in one’s forgetting. Ah, how terrible and dear he was!... Yes, what were we talking about?” Levin said, after a pause.
“You think he can’t fall in love,” said Kitty, translating into her own language.
“It’s not so much that he can’t fall in love,” Levin said, smiling, “but he has not the weakness necessary.... I’ve always envied him, and even now, when I’m so happy, I still envy him.”
“You envy him for not being able to fall in love?”
“I envy him for being better than I,” said Levin. “He does not live for himself. His whole life is subordinated to his duty. And that’s why he can be calm and contented.”
“And you?” Kitty asked, with an ironical and loving smile.
She could never have explained the chain of thought that made her smile; but the last link in it was that her husband, in exalting his brother and abasing himself, was not quite sincere. Kitty knew that this insincerity came from his love for his brother, from his sense of shame at being too happy, and above all from his unflagging craving to be better—she loved it in him, and so she smiled.
“And you? What are you dissatisfied with?” she asked, with the same smile.
Her disbelief in his self-dissatisfaction delighted him, and unconsciously he tried to draw her into giving utterance to the grounds of her disbelief.
“I am happy, but dissatisfied with myself....” he said.
“Why, how can you be dissatisfied with yourself if you are happy?”
“Well, how shall I say?... In my heart I really care for nothing whatever but that you should not stumble—see? Oh, but really you mustn’t skip about like that!” he cried, breaking off to scold her for too agile a movement in stepping over a branch that lay in the path. “But when I think about myself, and compare myself with others, especially with my brother, I feel I’m a poor creature.”
“But in what way?” Kitty pursued with the same smile. “Don’t you too work for others? What about your co-operative settlement, and your work on the estate, and your book?...”
“Oh, but I feel, and particularly just now—it’s your fault,” he said, pressing her hand—“that all that doesn’t count. I do it in a way halfheartedly. If I could care for all that as I care for you!... Instead of that, I do it in these days like a task that is set me.”
“Well, what would you say about papa?” asked Kitty. “Is he a poor creature then, as he does nothing for the public good?”
“He?—no! But then one must have the simplicity, the straightforwardness, the goodness of your father: and I haven’t got that. I do nothing, and I fret about it. It’s all your doing. Before there was you—and this too,” he added with a glance towards her waist that she understood—“I put all my energies into work; now I can’t, and I’m ashamed; I do it just as though it were a task set me, I’m pretending....”
“Well, but would you like to change this minute with Sergey Ivanovitch?” said Kitty. “Would you like to do this work for the general good, and to love the task set you, as he does, and nothing else?”
“Of course not,” said Levin. “But I’m so happy that I don’t understand anything. So you think he’ll make her an offer today?” he added after a brief silence.
“I think so, and I don’t think so. Only, I’m awfully anxious for it. Here, wait a minute.” She stooped down and picked a wild camomile at the edge of the path. “Come, count: he does propose, he doesn’t,” she said, giving him the flower.
“He does, he doesn’t,” said Levin, tearing off the white petals.
“No, no!” Kitty, snatching at his hand, stopped him. She had been watching his fingers with interest. “You picked off two.”
“Oh, but see, this little one shan’t count to make up,” said Levin, tearing off a little half-grown petal. “Here’s the wagonette overtaking us.”
“Aren’t you tired, Kitty?” called the princess.
“Not in the least.”
“If you are you can get in, as the horses are quiet and walking.”
But it was not worth while to get in, they were quite near the place, and all walked on together.
Varenka, with her white kerchief on her black hair, surrounded by the children, gaily and good-humoredly looking after them, and at the same time visibly excited at the possibility of receiving a declaration from the man she cared for, was very attractive. Sergey Ivanovitch walked beside her, and never left off admiring her. Looking at her, he recalled all the delightful things he had heard from her lips, all the good he knew about her, and became more and more conscious that the feeling he had for her was something special that he had felt long, long ago, and only once, in his early youth. The feeling of happiness in being near her continually grew, and at last reached such a point that, as he put a huge, slender-stalked agaric fungus in her basket, he looked straight into her face, and noticing the flush of glad and alarmed excitement that overspread her face, he was confused himself, and smiled to her in silence a smile that said too much.
“If so,” he said to himself, “I ought to think it over and make up my mind, and not give way like a boy to the impulse of a moment.”
“I’m going to pick by myself apart from all the rest, or else my efforts will make no show,” he said, and he left the edge of the forest where they were walking on low silky grass between old birch trees standing far apart, and went more into the heart of the wood, where between the white birch trunks there were gray trunks of aspen and dark bushes of hazel. Walking some forty paces away, Sergey Ivanovitch, knowing he was out of sight, stood still behind a bushy spindle-tree in full flower with its rosy red catkins. It was perfectly still all round him. Only overhead in the birches under which he stood, the flies, like a swarm of bees, buzzed unceasingly, and from time to time the children’s voices were floated across to him. All at once he heard, not far from the edge of the wood, the sound of Varenka’s contralto voice, calling Grisha, and a smile of delight passed over Sergey Ivanovitch’s face. Conscious of this smile, he shook his head disapprovingly at his own condition, and taking out a cigar, he began lighting it. For a long while he could not get a match to light against the trunk of a birch tree. The soft scales of the white bark rubbed off the phosphorus, and the light went out. At last one of the matches burned, and the fragrant cigar smoke, hovering uncertainly in flat, wide coils, stretched away forwards and upwards over a bush under the overhanging branches of a birch tree. Watching the streak of smoke, Sergey Ivanovitch walked gently on, deliberating on his position.
“Why not?” he thought. “If it were only a passing fancy or a passion, if it were only this attraction—this mutual attraction (I can call it a mutual attraction), but if I felt that it was in contradiction with the whole bent of my life—if I felt that in giving way to this attraction I should be false to my vocation and my duty ... but it’s not so. The only thing I can say against it is that, when I lost Marie, I said to myself that I would remain faithful to her memory. That’s the only thing I can say against my feeling.... That’s a great thing,” Sergey Ivanovitch said to himself, feeling at the same time that this consideration had not the slightest importance for him personally, but would only perhaps detract from his romantic character in the eyes of others. “But apart from that, however much I searched, I should never find anything to say against my feeling. If I were choosing by considerations of suitability alone, I could not have found anything better.”
However many women and girls he thought of whom he knew, he could not think of a girl who united to such a degree all, positively all, the qualities he would wish to see in his wife. She had all the charm and freshness of youth, but she was not a child; and if she loved him, she loved him consciously as a woman ought to love; that was one thing. Another point: she was not only far from being worldly, but had an unmistakable distaste for worldly society, and at the same time she knew the world, and had all the ways of a woman of the best society, which were absolutely essential to Sergey Ivanovitch’s conception of the woman who was to share his life. Thirdly: she was religious, and not like a child, unconsciously religious and good, as Kitty, for example, was, but her life was founded on religious principles. Even in trifling matters, Sergey Ivanovitch found in her all that he wanted in his wife: she was poor and alone in the world, so she would not bring with her a mass of relations and their influence into her husband’s house, as he saw now in Kitty’s case. She would owe everything to her husband, which was what he had always desired too for his future family life. And this girl, who united all these qualities, loved him. He was a modest man, but he could not help seeing it. And he loved her. There was one consideration against it—his age. But he came of a long-lived family, he had not a single gray hair, no one would have taken him for forty, and he remembered Varenka’s saying that it was only in Russia that men of fifty thought themselves old, and that in France a man of fifty considers himself dans la force de l’âge, while a man of forty is un jeune homme. But what did the mere reckoning of years matter when he felt as young in heart as he had been twenty years ago? Was it not youth to feel as he felt now, when coming from the other side to the edge of the wood he saw in the glowing light of the slanting sunbeams the gracious figure of Varenka in her yellow gown with her basket, walking lightly by the trunk of an old birch tree, and when this impression of the sight of Varenka blended so harmoniously with the beauty of the view, of the yellow oatfield lying bathed in the slanting sunshine, and beyond it the distant ancient forest flecked with yellow and melting into the blue of the distance? His heart throbbed joyously. A softened feeling came over him. He felt that he had made up his mind. Varenka, who had just crouched down to pick a mushroom, rose with a supple movement and looked round. Flinging away the cigar, Sergey Ivanovitch advanced with resolute steps towards her.
“Varvara Andreevna, when I was very young, I set before myself the ideal of the woman I loved and should be happy to call my wife. I have lived through a long life, and now for the first time I have met what I sought—in you. I love you, and offer you my hand.”
Sergey Ivanovitch was saying this to himself while he was ten paces from Varvara. Kneeling down, with her hands over the mushrooms to guard them from Grisha, she was calling little Masha.
“Come here, little ones! There are so many!” she was saying in her sweet, deep voice.
Seeing Sergey Ivanovitch approaching, she did not get up and did not change her position, but everything told him that she felt his presence and was glad of it.
“Well, did you find some?” she asked from under the white kerchief, turning her handsome, gently smiling face to him.
“Not one,” said Sergey Ivanovitch. “Did you?”
She did not answer, busy with the children who thronged about her.
“That one too, near the twig,” she pointed out to little Masha a little fungus, split in half across its rosy cap by the dry grass from under which it thrust itself. Varenka got up while Masha picked the fungus, breaking it into two white halves. “This brings back my childhood,” she added, moving apart from the children beside Sergey Ivanovitch.
They walked on for some steps in silence. Varenka saw that he wanted to speak; she guessed of what, and felt faint with joy and panic. They had walked so far away that no one could hear them now, but still he did not begin to speak. It would have been better for Varenka to be silent. After a silence it would have been easier for them to say what they wanted to say than after talking about mushrooms. But against her own will, as it were accidentally, Varenka said:
“So you found nothing? In the middle of the wood there are always fewer, though.” Sergey Ivanovitch sighed and made no answer. He was annoyed that she had spoken about the mushrooms. He wanted to bring her back to the first words she had uttered about her childhood; but after a pause of some length, as though against his own will, he made an observation in response to her last words.
“I have heard that the white edible funguses are found principally at the edge of the wood, though I can’t tell them apart.”
Some minutes more passed, they moved still further away from the children, and were quite alone. Varenka’s heart throbbed so that she heard it beating, and felt that she was turning red and pale and red again.
To be the wife of a man like Koznishev, after her position with Madame Stahl, was to her imagination the height of happiness. Besides, she was almost certain that she was in love with him. And this moment it would have to be decided. She felt frightened. She dreaded both his speaking and his not speaking.
Now or never it must be said—that Sergey Ivanovitch felt too. Everything in the expression, the flushed cheeks and the downcast eyes of Varenka betrayed a painful suspense. Sergey Ivanovitch saw it and felt sorry for her. He felt even that to say nothing now would be a slight to her. Rapidly in his own mind he ran over all the arguments in support of his decision. He even said over to himself the words in which he meant to put his offer, but instead of those words, some utterly unexpected reflection that occurred to him made him ask:
“What is the difference between the ‘birch’ mushroom and the ‘white’ mushroom?”
Varenka’s lips quivered with emotion as she answered:
“In the top part there is scarcely any difference, it’s in the stalk.”
And as soon as these words were uttered, both he and she felt that it was over, that what was to have been said would not be said; and their emotion, which had up to then been continually growing more intense, began to subside.
“The birch mushroom’s stalk suggests a dark man’s chin after two days without shaving,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, speaking quite calmly now.
“Yes, that’s true,” answered Varenka smiling, and unconsciously the direction of their walk changed. They began to turn towards the children. Varenka felt both sore and ashamed; at the same time she had a sense of relief.
When he had got home again and went over the whole subject, Sergey Ivanovitch thought his previous decision had been a mistaken one. He could not be false to the memory of Marie.
“Gently, children, gently!” Levin shouted quite angrily to the children, standing before his wife to protect her when the crowd of children flew with shrieks of delight to meet them.
Behind the children Sergey Ivanovitch and Varenka walked out of the wood. Kitty had no need to ask Varenka; she saw from the calm and somewhat crestfallen faces of both that her plans had not come off.
“Well?” her husband questioned her as they were going home again.
“It doesn’t bite,” said Kitty, her smile and manner of speaking recalling her father, a likeness Levin often noticed with pleasure.
“How doesn’t bite?”
“I’ll show you,” she said, taking her husband’s hand, lifting it to her mouth, and just faintly brushing it with closed lips. “Like a kiss on a priest’s hand.”
“Which didn’t it bite with?” he said, laughing.
“Both. But it should have been like this....”
“There are some peasants coming....”
“Oh, they didn’t see.”
During the time of the children’s tea the grown-up people sat in the balcony and talked as though nothing had happened, though they all, especially Sergey Ivanovitch and Varenka, were very well aware that there had happened an event which, though negative, was of very great importance. They both had the same feeling, rather like that of a schoolboy after an examination, which has left him in the same class or shut him out of the school forever. Everyone present, feeling too that something had happened, talked eagerly about extraneous subjects. Levin and Kitty were particularly happy and conscious of their love that evening. And their happiness in their love seemed to imply a disagreeable slur on those who would have liked to feel the same and could not—and they felt a prick of conscience.
“Mark my words, Alexander will not come,” said the old princess.
That evening they were expecting Stepan Arkadyevitch to come down by train, and the old prince had written that possibly he might come too.
“And I know why,” the princess went on; “he says that young people ought to be left alone for a while at first.”
“But papa has left us alone. We’ve never seen him,” said Kitty. “Besides, we’re not young people!—we’re old, married people by now.”
“Only if he doesn’t come, I shall say good-bye to you children,” said the princess, sighing mournfully.
“What nonsense, mamma!” both the daughters fell upon her at once.
“How do you suppose he is feeling? Why, now....”
And suddenly there was an unexpected quiver in the princess’s voice. Her daughters were silent, and looked at one another. “Maman always finds something to be miserable about,” they said in that glance. They did not know that happy as the princess was in her daughter’s house, and useful as she felt herself to be there, she had been extremely miserable, both on her own account and her husband’s, ever since they had married their last and favorite daughter, and the old home had been left empty.
“What is it, Agafea Mihalovna?” Kitty asked suddenly of Agafea Mihalovna, who was standing with a mysterious air, and a face full of meaning.
“Well, that’s right,” said Dolly; “you go and arrange about it, and I’ll go and hear Grisha repeat his lesson, or else he will have nothing done all day.”
“That’s my lesson! No, Dolly, I’m going,” said Levin, jumping up.
Grisha, who was by now at a high school, had to go over the lessons of the term in the summer holidays. Darya Alexandrovna, who had been studying Latin with her son in Moscow before, had made it a rule on coming to the Levins’ to go over with him, at least once a day, the most difficult lessons of Latin and arithmetic. Levin had offered to take her place, but the mother, having once overheard Levin’s lesson, and noticing that it was not given exactly as the teacher in Moscow had given it, said resolutely, though with much embarrassment and anxiety not to mortify Levin, that they must keep strictly to the book as the teacher had done, and that she had better undertake it again herself. Levin was amazed both at Stepan Arkadyevitch, who, by neglecting his duty, threw upon the mother the supervision of studies of which she had no comprehension, and at the teachers for teaching the children so badly. But he promised his sister-in-law to give the lessons exactly as she wished. And he went on teaching Grisha, not in his own way, but by the book, and so took little interest in it, and often forgot the hour of the lesson. So it had been today.
“No, I’m going, Dolly, you sit still,” he said. “We’ll do it all properly, like the book. Only when Stiva comes, and we go out shooting, then we shall have to miss it.”
And Levin went to Grisha.
Varenka was saying the same thing to Kitty. Even in the happy, well-ordered household of the Levins Varenka had succeeded in making herself useful.
“I’ll see to the supper, you sit still,” she said, and got up to go to Agafea Mihalovna.
“Yes, yes, most likely they’ve not been able to get chickens. If so, ours....”
“Agafea Mihalovna and I will see about it,” and Varenka vanished with her.
“What a nice girl!” said the princess.
“Not nice, maman; she’s an exquisite girl; there’s no one else like her.”
“So you are expecting Stepan Arkadyevitch today?” said Sergey Ivanovitch, evidently not disposed to pursue the conversation about Varenka. “It would be difficult to find two sons-in-law more unlike than yours,” he said with a subtle smile. “One all movement, only living in society, like a fish in water; the other our Kostya, lively, alert, quick in everything, but as soon as he is in society, he either sinks into apathy, or struggles helplessly like a fish on land.”
“Yes, he’s very heedless,” said the princess, addressing Sergey Ivanovitch. “I’ve been meaning, indeed, to ask you to tell him that it’s out of the question for her” (she indicated Kitty) “to stay here; that she positively must come to Moscow. He talks of getting a doctor down....”
“Maman, he’ll do everything; he has agreed to everything,” Kitty said, angry with her mother for appealing to Sergey Ivanovitch to judge in such a matter.
In the middle of their conversation they heard the snorting of horses and the sound of wheels on the gravel. Dolly had not time to get up to go and meet her husband, when from the window of the room below, where Grisha was having his lesson, Levin leaped out and helped Grisha out after him.
“It’s Stiva!” Levin shouted from under the balcony. “We’ve finished, Dolly, don’t be afraid!” he added, and started running like a boy to meet the carriage.
“Is ea id, ejus, ejus, ejus!” shouted Grisha, skipping along the avenue.
“And someone else too! Papa, of course!” cried Levin, stopping at the entrance of the avenue. “Kitty, don’t come down the steep staircase, go round.”
But Levin had been mistaken in taking the person sitting in the carriage for the old prince. As he got nearer to the carriage he saw beside Stepan Arkadyevitch not the prince but a handsome, stout young man in a Scotch cap, with long ends of ribbon behind. This was Vassenka Veslovsky, a distant cousin of the Shtcherbatskys, a brilliant young gentleman in Petersburg and Moscow society. “A capital fellow, and a keen sportsman,” as Stepan Arkadyevitch said, introducing him.
Not a whit abashed by the disappointment caused by his having come in place of the old prince, Veslovsky greeted Levin gaily, claiming acquaintance with him in the past, and snatching up Grisha into the carriage, lifted him over the pointer that Stepan Arkadyevitch had brought with him.
Levin did not get into the carriage, but walked behind. He was rather vexed at the non-arrival of the old prince, whom he liked more and more the more he saw of him, and also at the arrival of this Vassenka Veslovsky, a quite uncongenial and superfluous person. He seemed to him still more uncongenial and superfluous when, on approaching the steps where the whole party, children and grown-up, were gathered together in much excitement, Levin saw Vassenka Veslovsky, with a particularly warm and gallant air, kissing Kitty’s hand.
“Your wife and I are cousins and very old friends,” said Vassenka Veslovsky, once more shaking Levin’s hand with great warmth.
“Well, are there plenty of birds?” Stepan Arkadyevitch said to Levin, hardly leaving time for everyone to utter their greetings. “We’ve come with the most savage intentions. Why, maman, they’ve not been in Moscow since! Look, Tanya, here’s something for you! Get it, please, it’s in the carriage, behind!” he talked in all directions. “How pretty you’ve grown, Dolly,” he said to his wife, once more kissing her hand, holding it in one of his, and patting it with the other.
Levin, who a minute before had been in the happiest frame of mind, now looked darkly at everyone, and everything displeased him.
“Who was it he kissed yesterday with those lips?” he thought, looking at Stepan Arkadyevitch’s tender demonstrations to his wife. He looked at Dolly, and he did not like her either.
“She doesn’t believe in his love. So what is she so pleased about? Revolting!” thought Levin.
He looked at the princess, who had been so dear to him a minute before, and he did not like the manner in which she welcomed this Vassenka, with his ribbons, just as though she were in her own house.
Even Sergey Ivanovitch, who had come out too onto the steps, seemed to him unpleasant with the show of cordiality with which he met Stepan Arkadyevitch, though Levin knew that his brother neither liked nor respected Oblonsky.
And Varenka, even she seemed hateful, with her air sainte nitouche making the acquaintance of this gentleman, while all the while she was thinking of nothing but getting married.
And more hateful than anyone was Kitty for falling in with the tone of gaiety with which this gentleman regarded his visit in the country, as though it were a holiday for himself and everyone else. And, above all, unpleasant was that particular smile with which she responded to his smile.
Noisily talking, they all went into the house; but as soon as they were all seated, Levin turned and went out.
Kitty saw something was wrong with her husband. She tried to seize a moment to speak to him alone, but he made haste to get away from her, saying he was wanted at the counting-house. It was long since his own work on the estate had seemed to him so important as at that moment. “It’s all holiday for them,” he thought; “but these are no holiday matters, they won’t wait, and there’s no living without them.”
Levin came back to the house only when they sent to summon him to supper. On the stairs were standing Kitty and Agafea Mihalovna, consulting about wines for supper.
“But why are you making all this fuss? Have what we usually do.”
“No, Stiva doesn’t drink ... Kostya, stop, what’s the matter?” Kitty began, hurrying after him, but he strode ruthlessly away to the dining-room without waiting for her, and at once joined in the lively general conversation which was being maintained there by Vassenka Veslovsky and Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“Well, what do you say, are we going shooting tomorrow?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“Please, do let’s go,” said Veslovsky, moving to another chair, where he sat down sideways, with one fat leg crossed under him.
“I shall be delighted, we will go. And have you had any shooting yet this year?” said Levin to Veslovsky, looking intently at his leg, but speaking with that forced amiability that Kitty knew so well in him, and that was so out of keeping with him. “I can’t answer for our finding grouse, but there are plenty of snipe. Only we ought to start early. You’re not tired? Aren’t you tired, Stiva?”
“Me tired? I’ve never been tired yet. Suppose we stay up all night. Let’s go for a walk!”
“Yes, really, let’s not go to bed at all! Capital!” Veslovsky chimed in.
“Oh, we all know you can do without sleep, and keep other people up too,” Dolly said to her husband, with that faint note of irony in her voice which she almost always had now with her husband. “But to my thinking, it’s time for bed now.... I’m going, I don’t want supper.”
“No, do stay a little, Dolly,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, going round to her side behind the table where they were having supper. “I’ve so much still to tell you.”
“Nothing really, I suppose.”
“Do you know Veslovsky has been at Anna’s, and he’s going to them again? You know they’re hardly fifty miles from you, and I too must certainly go over there. Veslovsky, come here!”
Vassenka crossed over to the ladies, and sat down beside Kitty.
“Ah, do tell me, please; you have stayed with her? How was she?” Darya Alexandrovna appealed to him.
Levin was left at the other end of the table, and though never pausing in his conversation with the princess and Varenka, he saw that there was an eager and mysterious conversation going on between Stepan Arkadyevitch, Dolly, Kitty, and Veslovsky. And that was not all. He saw on his wife’s face an expression of real feeling as she gazed with fixed eyes on the handsome face of Vassenka, who was telling them something with great animation.
“It’s exceedingly nice at their place,” Veslovsky was telling them about Vronsky and Anna. “I can’t, of course, take it upon myself to judge, but in their house you feel the real feeling of home.”
“What do they intend doing?”
“I believe they think of going to Moscow.”
“How jolly it would be for us all to go over to them together! When are you going there?” Stepan Arkadyevitch asked Vassenka.
“I’m spending July there.”
“Will you go?” Stepan Arkadyevitch said to his wife.
“I’ve been wanting to a long while; I shall certainly go,” said Dolly. “I am sorry for her, and I know her. She’s a splendid woman. I will go alone, when you go back, and then I shall be in no one’s way. And it will be better indeed without you.”
“To be sure,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “And you, Kitty?”
“I? Why should I go?” Kitty said, flushing all over, and she glanced round at her husband.
“Do you know Anna Arkadyevna, then?” Veslovsky asked her. “She’s a very fascinating woman.”
“Yes,” she answered Veslovsky, crimsoning still more. She got up and walked across to her husband.
“Are you going shooting, then, tomorrow?” she said.
His jealousy had in these few moments, especially at the flush that had overspread her cheeks while she was talking to Veslovsky, gone far indeed. Now as he heard her words, he construed them in his own fashion. Strange as it was to him afterwards to recall it, it seemed to him at the moment clear that in asking whether he was going shooting, all she cared to know was whether he would give that pleasure to Vassenka Veslovsky, with whom, as he fancied, she was in love.
“Yes, I’m going,” he answered her in an unnatural voice, disagreeable to himself.
“No, better spend the day here tomorrow, or Dolly won’t see anything of her husband, and set off the day after,” said Kitty.
The motive of Kitty’s words was interpreted by Levin thus: “Don’t separate me from him. I don’t care about your going, but do let me enjoy the society of this delightful young man.”
“Oh, if you wish, we’ll stay here tomorrow,” Levin answered, with peculiar amiability.
Vassenka meanwhile, utterly unsuspecting the misery his presence had occasioned, got up from the table after Kitty, and watching her with smiling and admiring eyes, he followed her.
Levin saw that look. He turned white, and for a minute he could hardly breathe. “How dare he look at my wife like that!” was the feeling that boiled within him.
“Tomorrow, then? Do, please, let us go,” said Vassenka, sitting down on a chair, and again crossing his leg as his habit was.
Levin’s jealousy went further still. Already he saw himself a deceived husband, looked upon by his wife and her lover as simply necessary to provide them with the conveniences and pleasures of life.... But in spite of that he made polite and hospitable inquiries of Vassenka about his shooting, his gun, and his boots, and agreed to go shooting next day.
Happily for Levin, the old princess cut short his agonies by getting up herself and advising Kitty to go to bed. But even at this point Levin could not escape another agony. As he said good-night to his hostess, Vassenka would again have kissed her hand, but Kitty, reddening, drew back her hand and said with a naïve bluntness, for which the old princess scolded her afterwards:
“We don’t like that fashion.”
In Levin’s eyes she was to blame for having allowed such relations to arise, and still more to blame for showing so awkwardly that she did not like them.
“Why, how can one want to go to bed!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, who, after drinking several glasses of wine at supper, was now in his most charming and sentimental humor. “Look, Kitty,” he said, pointing to the moon, which had just risen behind the lime trees—“how exquisite! Veslovsky, this is the time for a serenade. You know, he has a splendid voice; we practiced songs together along the road. He has brought some lovely songs with him, two new ones. Varvara Andreevna and he must sing some duets.”
When the party had broken up, Stepan Arkadyevitch walked a long while about the avenue with Veslovsky; their voices could be heard singing one of the new songs.
Levin hearing these voices sat scowling in an easy-chair in his wife’s bedroom, and maintained an obstinate silence when she asked him what was wrong. But when at last with a timid glance she hazarded the question: “Was there perhaps something you disliked about Veslovsky?”—it all burst out, and he told her all. He was humiliated himself at what he was saying, and that exasperated him all the more.
He stood facing her with his eyes glittering menacingly under his scowling brows, and he squeezed his strong arms across his chest, as though he were straining every nerve to hold himself in. The expression of his face would have been grim, and even cruel, if it had not at the same time had a look of suffering which touched her. His jaws were twitching, and his voice kept breaking.
“You must understand that I’m not jealous, that’s a nasty word. I can’t be jealous, and believe that.... I can’t say what I feel, but this is awful.... I’m not jealous, but I’m wounded, humiliated that anybody dare think, that anybody dare look at you with eyes like that.”
“Eyes like what?” said Kitty, trying as conscientiously as possible to recall every word and gesture of that evening and every shade implied in them.
At the very bottom of her heart she did think there had been something precisely at the moment when he had crossed over after her to the other end of the table; but she dared not own it even to herself, and would have been even more unable to bring herself to say so to him, and so increase his suffering.
“And what can there possibly be attractive about me as I am now?...”
“Ah!” he cried, clutching at his head, “you shouldn’t say that!... If you had been attractive then....”
“Oh, no, Kostya, oh, wait a minute, oh, do listen!” she said, looking at him with an expression of pained commiseration. “Why, what can you be thinking about! When for me there’s no one in the world, no one, no one!... Would you like me never to see anyone?”
For the first minute she had been offended at his jealousy; she was angry that the slightest amusement, even the most innocent, should be forbidden her; but now she would readily have sacrificed, not merely such trifles, but everything, for his peace of mind, to save him from the agony he was suffering.
“You must understand the horror and comedy of my position,” he went on in a desperate whisper; “that he’s in my house, that he’s done nothing improper positively except his free and easy airs and the way he sits on his legs. He thinks it’s the best possible form, and so I’m obliged to be civil to him.”
“But, Kostya, you’re exaggerating,” said Kitty, at the bottom of her heart rejoicing at the depth of his love for her, shown now in his jealousy.
“The most awful part of it all is that you’re just as you always are, and especially now when to me you’re something sacred, and we’re so happy, so particularly happy—and all of a sudden a little wretch.... He’s not a little wretch; why should I abuse him? I have nothing to do with him. But why should my, and your, happiness....”
“Do you know, I understand now what it’s all come from,” Kitty was beginning.
“Well, what? what?”
“I saw how you looked while we were talking at supper.”
“Well, well!” Levin said in dismay.
She told him what they had been talking about. And as she told him, she was breathless with emotion. Levin was silent for a space, then he scanned her pale and distressed face, and suddenly he clutched at his head.
“Katya, I’ve been worrying you! Darling, forgive me! It’s madness! Katya, I’m a criminal. And how could you be so distressed at such idiocy?”
“Oh, I was sorry for you.”
“For me? for me? How mad I am!... But why make you miserable? It’s awful to think that any outsider can shatter our happiness.”
“It’s humiliating too, of course.”
“Oh, then I’ll keep him here all the summer, and will overwhelm him with civility,” said Levin, kissing her hands. “You shall see. Tomorrow.... Oh, yes, we are going tomorrow.”
Next day, before the ladies were up, the wagonette and a trap for the shooting party were at the door, and Laska, aware since early morning that they were going shooting, after much whining and darting to and fro, had sat herself down in the wagonette beside the coachman, and, disapproving of the delay, was excitedly watching the door from which the sportsmen still did not come out. The first to come out was Vassenka Veslovsky, in new high boots that reached half-way up his thick thighs, in a green blouse, with a new Russian leather cartridge-belt, and in his Scotch cap with ribbons, with a brand-new English gun without a sling. Laska flew up to him, welcomed him, and jumping up, asked him in her own way whether the others were coming soon, but getting no answer from him, she returned to her post of observation and sank into repose again, her head on one side, and one ear pricked up to listen. At last the door opened with a creak, and Stepan Arkadyevitch’s spot-and-tan pointer Krak flew out, running round and round and turning over in the air. Stepan Arkadyevitch himself followed with a gun in his hand and a cigar in his mouth.
“Good dog, good dog, Krak!” he cried encouragingly to the dog, who put his paws up on his chest, catching at his game bag. Stepan Arkadyevitch was dressed in rough leggings and spats, in torn trousers and a short coat. On his head there was a wreck of a hat of indefinite form, but his gun of a new patent was a perfect gem, and his game bag and cartridge belt, though worn, were of the very best quality.
Vassenka Veslovsky had had no notion before that it was truly chic for a sportsman to be in tatters, but to have his shooting outfit of the best quality. He saw it now as he looked at Stepan Arkadyevitch, radiant in his rags, graceful, well-fed, and joyous, a typical Russian nobleman. And he made up his mind that next time he went shooting he would certainly adopt the same get-up.
“Well, and what about our host?” he asked.
“A young wife,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling.
“Yes, and such a charming one!”
“He came down dressed. No doubt he’s run up to her again.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch guessed right. Levin had run up again to his wife to ask her once more if she forgave him for his idiocy yesterday, and, moreover, to beg her for Christ’s sake to be more careful. The great thing was for her to keep away from the children—they might any minute push against her. Then he had once more to hear her declare that she was not angry with him for going away for two days, and to beg her to be sure to send him a note next morning by a servant on horseback, to write him, if it were but two words only, to let him know that all was well with her.
Kitty was distressed, as she always was, at parting for a couple of days from her husband, but when she saw his eager figure, looking big and strong in his shooting-boots and his white blouse, and a sort of sportsman elation and excitement incomprehensible to her, she forgot her own chagrin for the sake of his pleasure, and said good-bye to him cheerfully.
“Pardon, gentlemen!” he said, running out onto the steps. “Have you put the lunch in? Why is the chestnut on the right? Well, it doesn’t matter. Laska, down; go and lie down!”
“Put it with the herd of oxen,” he said to the herdsman, who was waiting for him at the steps with some question. “Excuse me, here comes another villain.”
Levin jumped out of the wagonette, in which he had already taken his seat, to meet the carpenter, who came towards the steps with a rule in his hand.
“You didn’t come to the counting house yesterday, and now you’re detaining me. Well, what is it?”
“Would your honor let me make another turning? It’s only three steps to add. And we make it just fit at the same time. It will be much more convenient.”
“You should have listened to me,” Levin answered with annoyance. “I said: Put the lines and then fit in the steps. Now there’s no setting it right. Do as I told you, and make a new staircase.”
The point was that in the lodge that was being built the carpenter had spoiled the staircase, fitting it together without calculating the space it was to fill, so that the steps were all sloping when it was put in place. Now the carpenter wanted, keeping the same staircase, to add three steps.
“It will be much better.”
“But where’s your staircase coming out with its three steps?”
“Why, upon my word, sir,” the carpenter said with a contemptuous smile. “It comes out right at the very spot. It starts, so to speak,” he said, with a persuasive gesture; “it comes down, and comes down, and comes out.”
“But three steps will add to the length too ... where is it to come out?”
“Why, to be sure, it’ll start from the bottom and go up and go up, and come out so,” the carpenter said obstinately and convincingly.
“It’ll reach the ceiling and the wall.”
“Upon my word! Why, it’ll go up, and up, and come out like this.”
Levin took out a ramrod and began sketching him the staircase in the dust.
“There, do you see?”
“As your honor likes,” said the carpenter, with a sudden gleam in his eyes, obviously understanding the thing at last. “It seems it’ll be best to make a new one.”
“Well, then, do it as you’re told,” Levin shouted, seating himself in the wagonette. “Down! Hold the dogs, Philip!”
Levin felt now at leaving behind all his family and household cares such an eager sense of joy in life and expectation that he was not disposed to talk. Besides that, he had that feeling of concentrated excitement that every sportsman experiences as he approaches the scene of action. If he had anything on his mind at that moment, it was only the doubt whether they would start anything in the Kolpensky marsh, whether Laska would show to advantage in comparison with Krak, and whether he would shoot well that day himself. Not to disgrace himself before a new spectator—not to be outdone by Oblonsky—that too was a thought that crossed his brain.
Oblonsky was feeling the same, and he too was not talkative. Vassenka Veslovsky kept up alone a ceaseless flow of cheerful chatter. As he listened to him now, Levin felt ashamed to think how unfair he had been to him the day before. Vassenka was really a nice fellow, simple, good-hearted, and very good-humored. If Levin had met him before he was married, he would have made friends with him. Levin rather disliked his holiday attitude to life and a sort of free and easy assumption of elegance. It was as though he assumed a high degree of importance in himself that could not be disputed, because he had long nails and a stylish cap, and everything else to correspond; but this could be forgiven for the sake of his good nature and good breeding. Levin liked him for his good education, for speaking French and English with such an excellent accent, and for being a man of his world.
Vassenka was extremely delighted with the left horse, a horse of the Don Steppes. He kept praising him enthusiastically. “How fine it must be galloping over the steppes on a steppe horse! Eh? isn’t it?” he said. He had imagined riding on a steppe horse as something wild and romantic, and it turned out nothing of the sort. But his simplicity, particularly in conjunction with his good looks, his amiable smile, and the grace of his movements, was very attractive. Either because his nature was sympathetic to Levin, or because Levin was trying to atone for his sins of the previous evening by seeing nothing but what was good in him, anyway he liked his society.
After they had driven over two miles from home, Veslovsky all at once felt for a cigar and his pocketbook, and did not know whether he had lost them or left them on the table. In the pocketbook there were thirty-seven pounds, and so the matter could not be left in uncertainty.
“Do you know what, Levin, I’ll gallop home on that left trace-horse. That will be splendid. Eh?” he said, preparing to get out.
“No, why should you?” answered Levin, calculating that Vassenka could hardly weigh less than seventeen stone. “I’ll send the coachman.”
The coachman rode back on the trace-horse, and Levin himself drove the remaining pair.
“Well, now what’s our plan of campaign? Tell us all about it,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“Our plan is this. Now we’re driving to Gvozdyov. In Gvozdyov there’s a grouse marsh on this side, and beyond Gvozdyov come some magnificent snipe marshes where there are grouse too. It’s hot now, and we’ll get there—it’s fifteen miles or so—towards evening and have some evening shooting; we’ll spend the night there and go on tomorrow to the bigger moors.”
“And is there nothing on the way?”
“Yes; but we’ll reserve ourselves; besides it’s hot. There are two nice little places, but I doubt there being anything to shoot.”
Levin would himself have liked to go into these little places, but they were near home; he could shoot them over any time, and they were only little places—there would hardly be room for three to shoot. And so, with some insincerity, he said that he doubted there being anything to shoot. When they reached a little marsh Levin would have driven by, but Stepan Arkadyevitch, with the experienced eye of a sportsman, at once detected reeds visible from the road.
“Shan’t we try that?” he said, pointing to the little marsh.
“Levin, do, please! how delightful!” Vassenka Veslovsky began begging, and Levin could but consent.
Before they had time to stop, the dogs had flown one before the other into the marsh.
The dogs came back.
“There won’t be room for three. I’ll stay here,” said Levin, hoping they would find nothing but peewits, who had been startled by the dogs, and turning over in their flight, were plaintively wailing over the marsh.
“No! Come along, Levin, let’s go together!” Veslovsky called.
“Really, there’s not room. Laska, back, Laska! You won’t want another dog, will you?”
Levin remained with the wagonette, and looked enviously at the sportsmen. They walked right across the marsh. Except little birds and peewits, of which Vassenka killed one, there was nothing in the marsh.
“Come, you see now that it was not that I grudged the marsh,” said Levin, “only it’s wasting time.”
“Oh, no, it was jolly all the same. Did you see us?” said Vassenka Veslovsky, clambering awkwardly into the wagonette with his gun and his peewit in his hands. “How splendidly I shot this bird! Didn’t I? Well, shall we soon be getting to the real place?”
The horses started off suddenly, Levin knocked his head against the stock of someone’s gun, and there was the report of a shot. The gun did actually go off first, but that was how it seemed to Levin. It appeared that Vassenka Veslovsky had pulled only one trigger, and had left the other hammer still cocked. The charge flew into the ground without doing harm to anyone. Stepan Arkadyevitch shook his head and laughed reprovingly at Veslovsky. But Levin had not the heart to reprove him. In the first place, any reproach would have seemed to be called forth by the danger he had incurred and the bump that had come up on Levin’s forehead. And besides, Veslovsky was at first so naïvely distressed, and then laughed so good-humoredly and infectiously at their general dismay, that one could not but laugh with him.
When they reached the second marsh, which was fairly large, and would inevitably take some time to shoot over, Levin tried to persuade them to pass it by. But Veslovsky again overpersuaded him. Again, as the marsh was narrow, Levin, like a good host, remained with the carriage.
Krak made straight for some clumps of sedge. Vassenka Veslovsky was the first to run after the dog. Before Stepan Arkadyevitch had time to come up, a grouse flew out. Veslovsky missed it and it flew into an unmown meadow. This grouse was left for Veslovsky to follow up. Krak found it again and pointed, and Veslovsky shot it and went back to the carriage. “Now you go and I’ll stay with the horses,” he said.
Levin had begun to feel the pangs of a sportsman’s envy. He handed the reins to Veslovsky and walked into the marsh.
Laska, who had been plaintively whining and fretting against the injustice of her treatment, flew straight ahead to a hopeful place that Levin knew well, and that Krak had not yet come upon.
“Why don’t you stop her?” shouted Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“She won’t scare them,” answered Levin, sympathizing with his bitch’s pleasure and hurrying after her.
As she came nearer and nearer to the familiar breeding places there was more and more earnestness in Laska’s exploration. A little marsh bird did not divert her attention for more than an instant. She made one circuit round the clump of reeds, was beginning a second, and suddenly quivered with excitement and became motionless.
“Come, come, Stiva!” shouted Levin, feeling his heart beginning to beat more violently; and all of a sudden, as though some sort of shutter had been drawn back from his straining ears, all sounds, confused but loud, began to beat on his hearing, losing all sense of distance. He heard the steps of Stepan Arkadyevitch, mistaking them for the tramp of the horses in the distance; he heard the brittle sound of the twigs on which he had trodden, taking this sound for the flying of a grouse. He heard too, not far behind him, a splashing in the water, which he could not explain to himself.
Picking his steps, he moved up to the dog.
Not a grouse but a snipe flew up from beside the dog. Levin had lifted his gun, but at the very instant when he was taking aim, the sound of splashing grew louder, came closer, and was joined with the sound of Veslovsky’s voice, shouting something with strange loudness. Levin saw he had his gun pointed behind the snipe, but still he fired.
When he had made sure he had missed, Levin looked round and saw the horses and the wagonette not on the road but in the marsh.
Veslovsky, eager to see the shooting, had driven into the marsh, and got the horses stuck in the mud.
“Damn the fellow!” Levin said to himself, as he went back to the carriage that had sunk in the mire. “What did you drive in for?” he said to him dryly, and calling the coachman, he began pulling the horses out.
Levin was vexed both at being hindered from shooting and at his horses getting stuck in the mud, and still more at the fact that neither Stepan Arkadyevitch nor Veslovsky helped him and the coachman to unharness the horses and get them out, since neither of them had the slightest notion of harnessing. Without vouchsafing a syllable in reply to Vassenka’s protestations that it had been quite dry there, Levin worked in silence with the coachman at extricating the horses. But then, as he got warm at the work and saw how assiduously Veslovsky was tugging at the wagonette by one of the mud-guards, so that he broke it indeed, Levin blamed himself for having under the influence of yesterday’s feelings been too cold to Veslovsky, and tried to be particularly genial so as to smooth over his chilliness. When everything had been put right, and the carriage had been brought back to the road, Levin had the lunch served.
“Bon appétit—bonne conscience! Ce poulet va tomber jusqu’au fond de mes bottes,” Vassenka, who had recovered his spirits, quoted the French saying as he finished his second chicken. “Well, now our troubles are over, now everything’s going to go well. Only, to atone for my sins, I’m bound to sit on the box. That’s so? eh? No, no! I’ll be your Automedon. You shall see how I’ll get you along,” he answered, not letting go the rein, when Levin begged him to let the coachman drive. “No, I must atone for my sins, and I’m very comfortable on the box.” And he drove.
Levin was a little afraid he would exhaust the horses, especially the chestnut, whom he did not know how to hold in; but unconsciously he fell under the influence of his gaiety and listened to the songs he sang all the way on the box, or the descriptions and representations he gave of driving in the English fashion, four-in-hand; and it was in the very best of spirits that after lunch they drove to the Gvozdyov marsh.
Vassenka drove the horses so smartly that they reached the marsh too early, while it was still hot.
As they drew near this more important marsh, the chief aim of their expedition, Levin could not help considering how he could get rid of Vassenka and be free in his movements. Stepan Arkadyevitch evidently had the same desire, and on his face Levin saw the look of anxiety always present in a true sportsman when beginning shooting, together with a certain good-humored slyness peculiar to him.
“How shall we go? It’s a splendid marsh, I see, and there are hawks,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, pointing to two great birds hovering over the reeds. “Where there are hawks, there is sure to be game.”
“Now, gentlemen,” said Levin, pulling up his boots and examining the lock of his gun with rather a gloomy expression, “do you see those reeds?” He pointed to an oasis of blackish green in the huge half-mown wet meadow that stretched along the right bank of the river. “The marsh begins here, straight in front of us, do you see—where it is greener? From here it runs to the right where the horses are; there are breeding places there, and grouse, and all round those reeds as far as that alder, and right up to the mill. Over there, do you see, where the pools are? That’s the best place. There I once shot seventeen snipe. We’ll separate with the dogs and go in different directions, and then meet over there at the mill.”
“Well, which shall go to left and which to right?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch. “It’s wider to the right; you two go that way and I’ll take the left,” he said with apparent carelessness.
“Capital! we’ll make the bigger bag! Yes, come along, come along!” Vassenka exclaimed.
Levin could do nothing but agree, and they divided.
As soon as they entered the marsh, the two dogs began hunting about together and made towards the green, slime-covered pool. Levin knew Laska’s method, wary and indefinite; he knew the place too and expected a whole covey of snipe.
“Veslovsky, beside me, walk beside me!” he said in a faint voice to his companion splashing in the water behind him. Levin could not help feeling an interest in the direction his gun was pointed, after that casual shot near the Kolpensky marsh.
“Oh, I won’t get in your way, don’t trouble about me.”
But Levin could not help troubling, and recalled Kitty’s words at parting: “Mind you don’t shoot one another.” The dogs came nearer and nearer, passed each other, each pursuing its own scent. The expectation of snipe was so intense that to Levin the squelching sound of his own heel, as he drew it up out of the mire, seemed to be the call of a snipe, and he clutched and pressed the lock of his gun.
“Bang! bang!” sounded almost in his ear. Vassenka had fired at a flock of ducks which was hovering over the marsh and flying at that moment towards the sportsmen, far out of range. Before Levin had time to look round, there was the whir of one snipe, another, a third, and some eight more rose one after another.
Stepan Arkadyevitch hit one at the very moment when it was beginning its zigzag movements, and the snipe fell in a heap into the mud. Oblonsky aimed deliberately at another, still flying low in the reeds, and together with the report of the shot, that snipe too fell, and it could be seen fluttering out where the sedge had been cut, its unhurt wing showing white beneath.
Levin was not so lucky: he aimed at his first bird too low, and missed; he aimed at it again, just as it was rising, but at that instant another snipe flew up at his very feet, distracting him so that he missed again.
While they were loading their guns, another snipe rose, and Veslovsky, who had had time to load again, sent two charges of small-shot into the water. Stepan Arkadyevitch picked up his snipe, and with sparkling eyes looked at Levin.
“Well, now let us separate,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, and limping on his left foot, holding his gun in readiness and whistling to his dog, he walked off in one direction. Levin and Veslovsky walked in the other.
It always happened with Levin that when his first shots were a failure he got hot and out of temper, and shot badly the whole day. So it was that day. The snipe showed themselves in numbers. They kept flying up from just under the dogs, from under the sportsmen’s legs, and Levin might have retrieved his ill luck. But the more he shot, the more he felt disgraced in the eyes of Veslovsky, who kept popping away merrily and indiscriminately, killing nothing, and not in the slightest abashed by his ill success. Levin, in feverish haste, could not restrain himself, got more and more out of temper, and ended by shooting almost without a hope of hitting. Laska, indeed, seemed to understand this. She began looking more languidly, and gazed back at the sportsmen, as it were, with perplexity or reproach in her eyes. Shots followed shots in rapid succession. The smoke of the powder hung about the sportsmen, while in the great roomy net of the game bag there were only three light little snipe. And of these one had been killed by Veslovsky alone, and one by both of them together. Meanwhile from the other side of the marsh came the sound of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s shots, not frequent, but, as Levin fancied, well-directed, for almost after each they heard “Krak, Krak, apporte!”
This excited Levin still more. The snipe were floating continually in the air over the reeds. Their whirring wings close to the earth, and their harsh cries high in the air, could be heard on all sides; the snipe that had risen first and flown up into the air, settled again before the sportsmen. Instead of two hawks there were now dozens of them hovering with shrill cries over the marsh.
After walking through the larger half of the marsh, Levin and Veslovsky reached the place where the peasants’ mowing-grass was divided into long strips reaching to the reeds, marked off in one place by the trampled grass, in another by a path mown through it. Half of these strips had already been mown.
Though there was not so much hope of finding birds in the uncut part as the cut part, Levin had promised Stepan Arkadyevitch to meet him, and so he walked on with his companion through the cut and uncut patches.
“Hi, sportsmen!” shouted one of a group of peasants, sitting on an unharnessed cart; “come and have some lunch with us! Have a drop of wine!”
Levin looked round.
“Come along, it’s all right!” shouted a good-humored-looking bearded peasant with a red face, showing his white teeth in a grin, and holding up a greenish bottle that flashed in the sunlight.
“Qu’est-ce qu’ils disent?” asked Veslovsky.
“They invite you to have some vodka. Most likely they’ve been dividing the meadow into lots. I should have some,” said Levin, not without some guile, hoping Veslovsky would be tempted by the vodka, and would go away to them.
“Why do they offer it?”
“Oh, they’re merry-making. Really, you should join them. You would be interested.”
“Allons, c’est curieux.”
“You go, you go, you’ll find the way to the mill!” cried Levin, and looking round he perceived with satisfaction that Veslovsky, bent and stumbling with weariness, holding his gun out at arm’s length, was making his way out of the marsh towards the peasants.
“You come too!” the peasants shouted to Levin. “Never fear! You taste our cake!”
Levin felt a strong inclination to drink a little vodka and to eat some bread. He was exhausted, and felt it a great effort to drag his staggering legs out of the mire, and for a minute he hesitated. But Laska was setting. And immediately all his weariness vanished, and he walked lightly through the swamp towards the dog. A snipe flew up at his feet; he fired and killed it. Laska still pointed.—“Fetch it!” Another bird flew up close to the dog. Levin fired. But it was an unlucky day for him; he missed it, and when he went to look for the one he had shot, he could not find that either. He wandered all about the reeds, but Laska did not believe he had shot it, and when he sent her to find it, she pretended to hunt for it, but did not really. And in the absence of Vassenka, on whom Levin threw the blame of his failure, things went no better. There were plenty of snipe still, but Levin made one miss after another.
The slanting rays of the sun were still hot; his clothes, soaked through with perspiration, stuck to his body; his left boot full of water weighed heavily on his leg and squeaked at every step; the sweat ran in drops down his powder-grimed face, his mouth was full of the bitter taste, his nose of the smell of powder and stagnant water, his ears were ringing with the incessant whir of the snipe; he could not touch the stock of his gun, it was so hot; his heart beat with short, rapid throbs; his hands shook with excitement, and his weary legs stumbled and staggered over the hillocks and in the swamp, but still he walked on and still he shot. At last, after a disgraceful miss, he flung his gun and his hat on the ground.
“No, I must control myself,” he said to himself. Picking up his gun and his hat, he called Laska, and went out of the swamp. When he got on to dry ground he sat down, pulled off his boot and emptied it, then walked to the marsh, drank some stagnant-tasting water, moistened his burning hot gun, and washed his face and hands. Feeling refreshed, he went back to the spot where a snipe had settled, firmly resolved to keep cool.
He tried to be calm, but it was the same again. His finger pressed the cock before he had taken a good aim at the bird. It got worse and worse.
He had only five birds in his game-bag when he walked out of the marsh towards the alders where he was to rejoin Stepan Arkadyevitch.
Before he caught sight of Stepan Arkadyevitch he saw his dog. Krak darted out from behind the twisted root of an alder, black all over with the stinking mire of the marsh, and with the air of a conqueror sniffed at Laska. Behind Krak there came into view in the shade of the alder tree the shapely figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch. He came to meet him, red and perspiring, with unbuttoned neckband, still limping in the same way.
“Well? You have been popping away!” he said, smiling good-humoredly.
“How have you got on?” queried Levin. But there was no need to ask, for he had already seen the full game bag.
“Oh, pretty fair.”
He had fourteen birds.
“A splendid marsh! I’ve no doubt Veslovsky got in your way. It’s awkward too, shooting with one dog,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, to soften his triumph.
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