Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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When Anna found Dolly at home before her, she looked intently in her eyes, as though questioning her about the talk she had had with Vronsky, but she made no inquiry in words.
“I believe it’s dinnertime,” she said. “We’ve not seen each other at all yet. I am reckoning on the evening. Now I want to go and dress. I expect you do too; we all got splashed at the buildings.”
Dolly went to her room and she felt amused. To change her dress was impossible, for she had already put on her best dress. But in order to signify in some way her preparation for dinner, she asked the maid to brush her dress, changed her cuffs and rosette, and put some lace on her head.
“This is all I can do,” she said with a smile to Anna, who came in to her in a third dress, again of extreme simplicity.
“Yes, we are too prim here,” she said, as it were apologizing for her finery. “Alexei is delighted at your visit, as he rarely is at anything. He has completely lost his heart to you,” she added. “You’re not tired?”
There was no time for talking about anything before dinner. Going into the drawing room they found Princess Varvara already there, and the gentlemen of the party in black frock coats. The architect wore a swallow-tailed coat. Vronsky presented the doctor and the steward to his guest. The architect he had already introduced to her at the hospital.
A stout butler, resplendent with a smoothly shaven round chin and a starched white cravat, announced that dinner was ready, and the ladies got up. Vronsky asked Sviiazhsky to take in Anna Arkadyevna, and himself offered his arm to Dolly. Veslovsky was before Tushkevich in offering his arm to Princess Varvara, so that Tushkevich with the steward and the doctor walked in alone.
The dinner, the dining room, the service, the waiting at table, the wine and the food, were not simply in keeping with the general tone of modern luxury throughout the house, but seemed even more sumptuous and modern. Darya Alexandrovna watched this luxury which was novel to her, and as a good housekeeper used to managing a household- though she never dreamed of adapting anything she saw to her own household, as it was all in a style of luxury far above her own manner of living- she could not help scrutinizing every detail, and wondering how and by whom it was all done. Vassenka Veslovsky, her husband, and even Sviiazhsky, and many other people she knew, would never have considered this question, and would have readily believed what every well-bred host tries to make his guests feel, that is, that all that is well-ordered in his house has cost him, the host, no trouble whatever, but comes of itself. Darya Alexandrovna was well aware that even porridge for the children’s breakfast does not come of itself, and that therefore, where so complicated and magnificent a style of luxury was maintained, someone must give earnest attention to its organization. And from the glance with which Alexei Kirillovich scanned the table, from the way he nodded to the butler, and offered Darya Alexandrovna her choice between cold soup and hot soup, she saw that it was all organized and maintained by the care of the master of the house himself. It was evident that it all rested no more upon Anna than upon Veslovsky. She, Sviiazhsky, the Princess, and Veslovsky, were equally guests, with light hearts enjoying what had been arranged for them.
Anna was the hostess only in conducting the conversation. The conversation was a difficult one for the lady of the house at a small table with persons present, like the steward and the architect, belonging to a completely different world, struggling not to be overawed by an elegance to which they were unaccustomed, and unable to sustain a large share in the general conversation. But this difficult conversation Anna directed with her usual tact and naturalness, and indeed she did so with actual enjoyment, as Darya Alexandrovna observed.
The conversation began about the row Tushkevich and Veslovsky had taken alone together in the boat, and Tushkevich began describing the last boat races in Peterburg at the Yacht Club. But Anna, seizing the first pause, at once turned to the architect to draw him out of his silence.
“Nikolai Ivanich was struck,” she said meaning Sviiazhsky, “at the progress the new building had made since he was here last; but I am there every day, and every day I wonder at the rate at which it grows.”
“It’s first-rate working with His Excellency,” said the architect with a smile (he was respectful and composed, though with a sense of his own dignity). “It’s a very different matter to have to do with the district authorities. Where one would have to write out sheaves of papers, here I call upon the Count, and in three words we settle the business.”
“The American way of doing business,” said Sviiazhsky, with a smile.
“Yes, there they build in a rational fashion….”
The conversation passed to the misuse of political power in the United States, but Anna quickly brought it round to another topic, so as to draw the steward into talk.
“Have you ever seen a reaping machine?” she said, addressing Darya Alexandrovna. “We had just ridden over to look at one when we met. It’s the first time I ever saw one.”
“How do they work?” asked Dolly.
“Exactly like scissors. A plank and a lot of little scissors. Like this.”
Anna took a knife and fork in her beautiful white hands, covered with rings, and began showing how the machine worked. It was clear that she saw nothing would be understood from her explanation; but aware that her talk was pleasant, and her hands beautiful, she went on explaining.
“More like little penknives,” Veslovsky said playfully, never taking his eyes off her.
Anna gave a just perceptible smile, but made no answer. “Isn’t it true, Karl Fedorich, that it’s just like scissors?” she said to the steward.
“Oh, ja,” answered the German. “Es ist ein ganz einfaches Ding,” and he began to explain the construction of the machine.
“It’s a pity it doesn’t bind too. I saw one at the Vienna exhibition, which binds with a wire,” said Sviiazhsky. “They would be more profitable in use.”
“Es kommt drauf an… Der Preis vom Draht muss ausgerechnet werden.” And the German, roused from his taciturnity, turned to Vronsky. “Das lasst sich ausrechnen, Erlaucht.” The German was just feeling in the pocket where were his pencil and the notebook he always wrote in, but recollecting that he was at a dinner, and observing Vronsky’s chilly glance, he checked himself. “Zu compliziert, macht zu viel pains,” he concluded.
“Wunscht man gains, so hat man auch pains,” said Vassenka Veslovsky, bantering the German. “J’adore l’allemand,” he addressed Anna again with the same smile.
“Cessez,” she said with playful severity.
“We expected to find you in the fields, Vassilii Semionich,” she said to the doctor, a sickly-looking man; “have you been there?”
“I went there, but I evaporated,” the doctor answered with gloomy jocoseness.
“Then you’ve taken a good constitutional?”
“Well, and how was the old woman? I hope it’s not typhus?”
“Typhus it isn’t, but she’s not to be found to the best advantage.”
“What a pity!” said Anna, and having thus paid the dues of civility to her domestic circle, she turned to her own friends.
“It would be a hard task, though, to construct a machine from your description, Anna Arkadyevna,” Sviiazhsky said jestingly.
“Oh, no, why so?” said Anna with a smile that betrayed that she knew there was something charming in her disquisitions upon the machine, that had been noticed by Sviiazhsky too. This new trait of girlish coquettishness made an unpleasant impression on Dolly.
“But Anna Arkadyevna’s knowledge of architecture is marvelous,” said Tushkevich.
“To be sure, I heard Anna Arkadyevna saying yesterday: ‘by cramp’ and ‘plinths,’” said Veslovsky. “Have I got it right?”
“There’s nothing marvelous about it, when one sees and hears so much of it,” said Anna. “But, I dare say, you don’t even know what houses are made of?”
Darya Alexandrovna saw that Anna disliked the tone of playfulness that existed between her and Veslovsky, but fell in with it against her will.
Vronsky acted in this matter quite differently from Levin. He obviously attached no significance to Veslovsky’s chattering; on the contrary, he encouraged his jests.
“Come now, tell us, Veslovsky, how are the stones held together?”
“By cement, of course.”
“Bravo! And what is cement?”
“Oh, some sort of paste…. No, putty,” said Veslovsky, raising a general laugh.
The company at dinner, with the exception of the doctor, the architect, and the steward, who remained plunged in gloomy silence, kept up a conversation that never paused, glancing off one subject, fastening on another, and at times stinging one or the other of the company to the quick. Once Darya Alexandrovna felt wounded to the quick, and got so hot that she positively flushed and wondered afterward whether she had said anything extreme or unpleasant. Sviiazhsky began talking of Levin, describing his strange view that machinery is simply pernicious in its effects on Russian agriculture.
“I have not the pleasure of knowing this M. Levin,” Vronsky said, smiling, “but most likely he has never seen the machines he condemns; or if he has seen and tried any, it must have been after a queer fashion, some Russian imitation, not a machine from abroad. What sort of views can anyone have on such a subject?”
“Turkish views, in general,” Veslovsky said, turning to Anna with a smile.
“I can’t defend his opinions,” Darya Alexandrovna said, flaring up; “but I can say that he’s a highly cultivated man, and if he were here he would know very well how to answer you, though I am not capable of doing so.”
“I like him extremely, and we are great friends,” Sviiazhsky said, smiling good-naturedly. “Mais pardon, il est un petit peu toque; he maintains, for instance, that zemstvoes and justices of the peace are all of no use, and he is unwilling to take part in anything.”
“It’s our Russian apathy,” said Vronsky, pouring water from an iced decanter into a delicate glass on a high stem; “we’ve no sense of the duties our privileges impose upon us, and so we refuse to recognize these duties.”
“I know no man more strict in the performance of his duties,” said Darya Alexandrovna, irritated by Vronsky’s tone of superiority.
“For my part,” pursued Vronsky, who was evidently for some reason or other keenly affected by this conversation, “such as I am, I am, on the contrary, extremely grateful for the honor they have done me, thanks to Nikolai Ivanich” (he indicated Sviiazhsky), “in electing me an honorary justice of the peace. I consider that for me the duty of being present at the session, of judging some peasants’ quarrel about a horse, is as important as anything I can do. And I shall regard it as an honor if they elect me for the district council. It’s only in that way I can pay for the advantages I enjoy as a landowner. Unluckily they don’t understand the importance that the big landowners ought to have in the state.”
It was strange to Darya Alexandrovna to hear how serenely confident he was of being right at his own table. She thought how Levin, who believed the opposite, was just as positive in his opinions at his own table. But she loved Levin, and so she was on his side.
“So we can reckon upon you, Count, for the coming elections?” said Sviiazhsky. “But you must come a little beforehand, so as to be on the spot by the eighth. If you would do me the honor to stop with me!”
“I rather agree with your beau-frere”, said Anna, “though not quite on the same ground as he,” she added with a smile. “I’m afraid that we have too many of these public duties in these latter days. Just as in the old days there were so many government functionaries that one had to call in a functionary for every single thing, so now everyone’s doing some sort of public duty. Alexei has been here now six months, and he’s a member, I do believe, of five or six different public bodies, a guardian, a justice of the peace, a member of the council, a juryman, an equine something. Du train que cela va, his whole time will be wasted on it. And I’m afraid that with such a multiplicity of these bodies, they’ll end in being a mere form. How many are you a member of, Nikolai Ivanich?” she turned to Sviiazhsky. “Over twenty, I fancy.”
Anna spoke lightly, but irritation could be discerned in her tone. Darya Alexandrovna, watching Anna and Vronsky attentively, detected it instantly. She noticed, too, that as she spoke Vronsky’s face had immediately taken a serious and obstinate expression. Noticing this, and that Princess Varvara at once made haste to change the conversation by talking of Peterburg acquaintances, and remembering what Vronsky had without apparent connection said in the garden of his work in the country, Dolly surmised that this question of public activity was connected with some deep private disagreement between Anna and Vronsky.
The dinner, the wine, the dinner set, were all very good; but it was all like what Darya Alexandrovna had seen at formal dinners and balls which of late years had become quite unfamiliar to her; it all had the same impersonal and constrained character, and so on an ordinary day and in a little circle of friends it made a disagreeable impression on her.
After dinner they sat on the terrace; then they proceeded to play lawn tennis. The players, divided into two parties, stood on opposite sides of a tightly drawn net with gilt poles, on the carefully leveled and rolled croquet ground. Darya Alexandrovna made an attempt to play, but it was a long time before she could understand the game, and by the time she did understand it she was so tired that she sat down with Princess Varvara and simply looked on at the players. Her partner, Tushkevich, gave up playing too, but the others kept the game up for a long time. Sviiazhsky and Vronsky both played very well and seriously. They kept a sharp lookout on the balls served to them, and without loitering, they ran adroitly up to them, waited for the rebound, and neatly and accurately returned them over the net. Veslovsky played worse than the others. He was too eager, but he kept the players lively with his high spirits. His laughter and outcries never paused. Like the other men of the party, with the ladies’ permission, he took off his coat, and his solid, comely figure in his white shirt sleeves, with his red perspiring face and his impulsive movements, made a picture that imprinted itself vividly on the memory.
When Darya Alexandrovna lay in bed that night, as soon as she closed her eyes, she saw Vassenka Veslovsky flying about the croquet ground.
During the game Darya Alexandrovna was not enjoying herself. She did not like the light tone of playfulness that was kept up all the time between Vassenka Veslovsky and Anna, and the unnaturalness, altogether, of grown-up people, all alone without children, playing at a child’s game. But to avoid breaking up the party and to get through the time somehow, after a rest she joined the game again, and pretended to be enjoying it. All that day it seemed to her as though she were acting in a theater with actors cleverer than she, and that her bad acting was spoiling the whole performance.
She had come with the intention of staying two days, if all went well. But in the evening, during the game, she made up her mind that she would go home next day. The maternal cares and worries, which she had so hated on the way, now, after a day spent without them struck her in quite another light, and tempted her back to them.
When, after evening tea and a row by night in the boat, Darya Alexandrovna went alone to her room, took off her dress, and began arranging her thin hair for the night, she had a great sense of relief.
It was positively disagreeable to her to think that Anna would be coming to see her immediately. She longed to be alone with her own thoughts.
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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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