Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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When Levin went into the restaurant with Oblonsky, he could not help noticing a certain peculiarity of expression, as it were, a restrained radiance, about the face and whole figure of Stepan Arkadyevich. Oblonsky took off his overcoat, and with his hat over one ear walked into the dining room, giving directions to the Tatar waiters, who were clustered about him in evening coats, and with napkins under their arms. Bowing right and left to acquaintances who, here as everywhere, greeted him joyously, he went up to the bar, took a little wineglass of vodka and a snack of fish, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons, lace and ringlets, behind the desk, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for his part refrained from taking any vodka only because he found most offensive this Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz and vinaigre de toilette. He made haste to move away from her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in his eyes.
“This way, Your Excellency, please. Your Excellency won’t be disturbed here,” said a particularly pertinacious, white-headed old Tatar with immense hips and coattails gaping widely behind. “Walk in, your Excellency,” he said to Levin- being attentive to his guest as well, by way of showing his respect to Stepan Arkadyevich.
Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over the round table under the bronze sconce, though it already had a tablecloth on it, he pushed up velvet chairs and came to a standstill before Stepan Arkadyevich with a napkin and a bill of fare in his hands, awaiting his commands.
“If you prefer it, Your Excellency, a private room will be free directly: Prince Golitsin with a lady. Fresh oysters have come in.”
“Ah, oysters!” Stepan Arkadyevich became thoughtful.
“How if we were to change our program, Levin?” he said, keeping his finger on the bill of fare. And his face expressed serious hesitation. “Are the oysters good? Mind, now!”
“They’re Flensburg, Your Excellency. We’ve no Ostend.”
“Flensburg will do- but are they fresh?”
“Only arrived yesterday.”
“Well, then, how if we were to begin with oysters, and so change the whole program? Eh?”
“It’s all the same to me. I should like cabbage soup and porridge better than anything; but of course there’s nothing like that here.”
“Porridge a la Russe, Your Honor would like?” said the Tatar, bending down to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child.
“No, joking apart, whatever you choose is sure to be good. I’ve been skating, and I’m hungry. And don’t imagine,” he added, detecting a look of dissatisfaction on Oblonsky’s face, “that I shan’t appreciate your choice. I don’t object to a good dinner.”
“I should hope so! After all, it’s one of the pleasures of life,” said Stepan Arkadyevich. “Well, then, my friend, you give us two- or better say three- dozen oysters, clear soup with vegetables…”
“Printaniere,” prompted the Tatar. But Stepan Arkadyevich apparently did not care to allow him the satisfaction of giving the French names of the dishes.
“With vegetables in it, you know. Then turbot with thick sauce, then… roast beef; and mind it’s good. Yes, and capons, perhaps, and then stewed fruit.”
The Tatar, recollecting that it was Stepan Arkadyevich’s way not to call the dishes by the names in the French bill of fare, did not repeat them after him, but could not resist rehearsing the whole menu to himself according to the bill: “Soupe printaniere, turbot sauce Beaumarchais, poulard a l’estragon, Macedoine de fruits…” and then instantly, as though worked by springs, laying down one bound bill of fare, he took up another, the list of wines, and submitted it to Stepan Arkadyevich.
“What shall we drink?”
“What you like, only not too much. Champagne,” said Levin.
“What! to start with? You’re right though, I dare say. Do you like the white seal?”
“Cachet blanc,” prompted the Tatar.
“Very well, then, give us that brand with the oysters, and then we’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. And what table wine?”
“You can give us Nuits. Oh, no- better the classic Chablis.”
“Yes, sir. And your cheese, Your Excellency?”
“Oh, yes, Parmesan. Or would you like another?”
“No, it’s all the same to me,” said Levin, unable to suppress a smile.
And the Tatar ran off with flying coattails, and in five minutes darted in with a dish of opened oysters in their nacreous shells, and a bottle between his fingers.
Stepan Arkadyevich crushed the starchy napkin, tucked it into his waistcoat, and, settling his arms comfortably, started on the oysters.
“Not bad,” he said, detaching the jellied oysters from their pearly shells with a small silver fork, and swallowing them one after another. “Not bad,” he repeated, turning his dewy, brilliant eyes now upon Levin, now upon the Tatar.
Levin ate the oysters too, though white bread and cheese pleased him better. But he was admiring Oblonsky. Even the Tatar, uncorking the bottle and pouring the sparkling wine into the delicate funnel-shaped glasses, and adjusting his white cravat, kept on glancing at Stepan Arkadyevich with a perceptible smile of satisfaction.
“You don’t care much for oysters, do you?” said Stepan Arkadyevich, emptying his wineglass, “or are you worried about something. Eh?”
He wanted Levin to be in good spirits. But it was not that Levin was not in good spirits, he was ill at ease. With what he had in his soul, he felt hard and awkward in the restaurant, in the midst of private rooms where men were dining with ladies, in all this fuss and bustle; the surroundings of bronzes, looking glasses, gas and Tatars- all of this was offensive to him. He was afraid of sullying what his soul was brimful of.
“I? Yes, I am worried; but besides that, all this bothers me,” he said. “You can’t conceive how queer it all seems to a countryman like me, as queer as that gentleman’s nails I saw at your office….”
“Yes, I saw how much interested you were in poor Grinevich’s nails,” said Stepan Arkadyevich, laughing.
“It’s too much for me,” responded Levin. “Do try, now, to put yourself in my place- take the point of view of a countryman. We in the country try to bring our hands into such a state as will be most convenient for working with. So we cut our nails; sometimes we tuck up our sleeves. And here people purposely let their nails grow as long as possible, and link on small saucers by way of studs, so that they can do nothing with their hands.”
Stepan Arkadyevich smiled gaily.
“Oh, yes, that’s just a sign that he has no need to do coarse work. His work is with the mind….”
“Maybe. But still it’s queer to me, just as at this moment it seems queer to me that we countryfolks try to satiate ourselves as soon as we can, so as to be ready for work, while here are we trying to delay satiety as long as possible, and with that object are eating oysters….”
“Why, of course,” objected Stepan Arkadyevich. “But that’s just the aim of culture- to make everything a source of enjoyment.”
“Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather be a savage.”
“You are a savage, as it is. All you Levins are savages.”
Levin sighed. He remembered his brother Nikolai, and felt ashamed and pained, and he scowled; but Oblonsky began speaking of a subject which at once drew his attention.
“Oh, I say, are you going tonight to our people- the Shcherbatskys’, I mean?” he said, his eyes sparkling significantly as he pushed away the empty rough shells, and drew the cheese toward him.
“Yes, I shall certainly go,” replied Levin; “though I fancied the Princess was not very warm in her invitation.”
“What nonsense! That’s her manner…. Come, boy, the soup!… That’s her manner- grande dame,” said Stepan Arkadyevich. “I’m coming, too, but I have to go to the Countess Bonin’s rehearsal. Come, isn’t it true that you’re a savage? How do you explain the sudden way in which you vanished from Moscow? The Shcherbatskys were continually asking me about you, as though I ought to know. The only thing I know is that you always do what no one else does.”
“Yes,” said Levin, slowly and with emotion, “you’re right. I am a savage. Only, my savageness is not in having gone away, but in coming now. Now I have come…”
“Oh, what a lucky fellow you are!” broke in Stepan Arkadyevich, looking into Levin’s eyes.
“I can tell the gallant steeds,” by some… I don’t know what… ‘paces’; I can tell youths ‘by their faces,'” declaimed Stepan Arkadyevich. “Everything is before you.”
“Why, is it over for you already?”
“No; not over exactly, but the future is yours, and the present is mine, and the present- well, it’s only fair to middling.”
“Oh, things aren’t right. But I don’t want to talk of myself, besides I can’t explain it all,” said Stepan Arkadyevich. “Well, why have you come to Moscow, then?… Hi! clear the table!” he called to the Tatar.
“Are you trying to surmise?” responded Levin, his eyes, gleaming in their depth, fixed on Stepan Arkadyevich.
“I am, but I can’t be the first to talk about it. You can see by that whether I surmise right or wrong,” said Stepan Arkadyevich, gazing at Levin with a subtle smile.
“Well, and what have you to say to me?” said Levin in a quivering voice, feeling that all the muscles of his face were quivering too. “How do you look at it?
Stepan Arkadyevich slowly emptied his glass of Chablis, never taking his eyes off Levin.
“I?” said Stepan Arkadyevich. “There’s nothing I desire so much as that- nothing! It would be the best thing that could happen.”
“But you’re not making a mistake? You know what we’re speaking of?” said Levin, piercing him with his eyes. “You think it’s possible?”
“I think it’s possible. Why not?”
“No! Do you really think it’s possible? No- tell me all you think! Oh, but if… If refusal’s in store for me!… Indeed I feel sure…”
“What makes you think so?” said Stepan Arkadyevich, smiling at his excitement.
“It seems so to me sometimes. That will be awful for me, and for her too.”
“Oh, well, anyway there’s nothing awful in it for a girl. Every girl’s proud of a proposal.”
“Yes, every girl, but not she.”
Stepan Arkadyevich smiled. He so well knew that feeling of Levin’s, that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two classes: one class- all the girls in the world except her, and those girls with all sorts of human failings, and very ordinary girls: the other class- she alone, having no failings of any sort and higher than all humanity.
“Stay, take some sauce,” he said, holding back Levin’s hand, who was pushing the sauce away.
Levin obediently helped himself to sauce, but would not let Stepan Arkadyevich go on with his dinner.
“No, stop a minute, stop a minute,” he said. “You must understand that it’s a question of life and death for me. I have never spoken to anyone of this. And there’s no one to whom I could speak of it, except yourself. You know we’re utterly unlike each other, different in tastes, and views, and everything; but I know you’re fond of me and understand me, and that’s why I like you awfully. But for God’s sake, be quite straightforward with me.”
“I tell you what I think,” said Stepan Arkadyevich, smiling. “But I’ll say more: my wife is a wonderful woman…” Stepan Arkadyevich sighed, recalling his relations with his wife, and, after a moment’s silence, resumed- “She has a gift of foreseeing things. She sees right through people; but that’s not all; she knows what will come to pass, especially in the way of marriages. She foretold, for instance, that Princess Shahovskaia would marry Brenteln. No one would believe it, but it came to pass. And she’s on your side.”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s not only that she likes you- she says that Kitty is certain to be your wife.”
At these words Levin’s face suddenly lighted up with a smile, a smile not far from touching tears.
“She says that!” cried out Levin. “I always said she was charming, your wife. There, that’s enough said about it,” he said, getting up from his seat.
“Well, but do sit down.”
But Levin could not sit down. He walked with his firm tread twice up and down the little cage of a room, blinked his eyelids that his tears might not fall, and only then sat down to the table.
“You must understand,” said he, “it’s not love. I’ve been in love, but it’s not that. It’s not my feeling, but a sort of force outside me that has taken possession of me. I went away, you see, because I made up my mind that it could never be- you understand, like a happiness which is not of this earth; but I’ve struggled with myself, and I see there’s no living without it. And it must be settled.”
“What did you go away for?”
“Ah, stop a minute! Ah, the thoughts that come crowding on one! The questions one must ask oneself! Listen. You can’t imagine what you’ve done for me by what you said. I’m so happy that I’ve become positively hateful; I’ve forgotten everything. I heard today that my brother Nikolai… you know, he’s here… I had forgotten even him. It seems to me that he’s happy too. It’s a sort of madness. But one thing’s awful…. Here, you’ve been married, you know the feeling…. It’s awful that we- fully mature- with a past… a past not of love, but of sins… are brought all at once so near to a creature pure and innocent; it’s loathsome, and that’s why one can’t help feeling oneself unworthy.”
“Oh, well, you haven’t many sins on your conscience.”
“Ah, still,” said Levin, “‘When, with loathing, I go o’er my life, I shudder and I curse and bitterly regret…’ Yes.”
“What would you have? That’s the way of the world,” said Stepan Arkadyevich.
“There’s one comfort, like that of the prayer which I always liked: ‘Forgive me not according to my deeds, but according to Thy loving-kindness.’ That’s the only way she can forgive me.”
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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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