Anna Karenina By Leo Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents

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Chapters 19 > > >

Part 3

Chapter 18

They heard the sound of steps and a man’s voice, then a woman’s voice and laughter, and immediately thereafter there walked in the expected guests: Sappho Stoltz, and a young man beaming with excess of health, the so-called Vaska. It was evident that ample supplies of beefsteak, truffles, and Burgundy were profitable for his health. Vaska bowed to the two ladies, and glanced at them, but only for one second. He walked after Sappho into the drawing room, and followed her about as though he were chained to her, keeping his sparkling eyes fixed on her as though he wanted to eat her. Sappho Stoltz was a blonde beauty with black eyes. She walked with smart little steps in high-heeled shoes, and shook hands with the ladies vigorously, like a man.

Anna had never met this new star of fashion, and was struck by her beauty, the exaggerated extreme to which her dress was carried, and the boldness of her manners. On her head there was such an echafaudage of soft, golden hair- her own and false mixed- that her head was equal in size to the elegantly rounded bust, of which so much was exposed in front. The impulsive abruptness of her movements was such that at every step the lines of her knees and the upper part of her legs were distinctly marked under her dress, and the question involuntarily rose in one’s mind where in the undulating, piled-up mountain of material at the back the real body of the woman, so small and slender, so naked in front, and so hidden behind and below, really came to an end.

Betsy made haste to introduce her to Anna.

“Only fancy, we all but ran over two soldiers,” she began telling them at once, using her eyes, smiling and twitching away her train, which she at first threw too much to one side. “I drove here with Vaska… Ah, to be sure, you don’t know each other.” And, mentioning his surname, she introduced the young man, and, reddening, broke into a ringing laugh at her mistake- that is, at her having called him Vaska before a stranger. Vaska bowed once more to Anna, but he said nothing to her. He addressed Sappho: “You’ve lost your bet. We got here first. Pay up,” said he, smiling.

Sappho laughed still more festively.

“Not just now,” said she.

“It’s all one, I’ll have it later.”

“Very well, very well. Oh, yes,” she turned suddenly to Princess Betsy: “I am a nice person… I positively forgot it…. I’ve brought you a visitor. And here he comes.”

The unexpected young visitor, whom Sappho had brought with her, and whom she had forgotten, was, however, a personage of such consequence that, in spite of his youth, both the ladies rose on his entrance.

He was a new admirer of Sappho’s. Like Vaska, he now dogged her footsteps.

Soon after Prince Kaluzhsky arrived, and Liza Merkalova with Stremov. Liza Merkalova was a thin brunette, with an Oriental, languid type of face, and charming- as everyone used to say- ineffable eyes. The tone of her dark dress (Anna immediately observed and appreciated the fact) was in perfect harmony with her style of beauty. Liza was as soft and loose as Sappho was tight and shackled.

But to Anna’s taste Liza was far more attractive. Betsy had said to Anna that she had adopted the pose of an unsophisticated child, but when Anna saw her she felt this was not the truth. She really was unsophisticated, spoiled, yet a sweet and irresponsible woman. It is true that her tone was the same as Sappho’s; that, like Sappho, she had two men, one young and one old, tacked on to her, and devouring her with their eyes. But there was something in her higher than her surroundings. There was in her the glow of the real diamond among paste. This glow shone out in her charming, truly ineffable eyes. The weary, and at the same time passionate, glance of those eyes, encircled by dark rings, impressed one by its perfect sincerity. Everyone looking into those eyes fancied he knew her wholly, and, knowing her, could not but love her. At the sight of Anna, her whole face lighted up at once with a smile of delight.

“Ah, how glad I am to see you!” she said, going up to her. “Yesterday, at the races, I wanted just to get to you, but you’d gone away. I did so want to see you, especially yesterday. Wasn’t it awful?” she said, looking at Anna with eyes that seemed to lay bare all her soul.

“Yes; I had no idea it would be so thrilling,” said Anna, blushing.

The company got up at this moment to go into the garden.

“I’m not going,” said Liza, smiling and settling herself close to Anna. “You won’t go either, will you? Who wants to play croquet?”

“Oh, I like it,” said Anna.

“There, how do you manage never to be bored by things? One has but to look at you, to be joyful. You’re alive, but I’m bored.”

“How can you be bored? Why, you live among the merriest people in Peterburg,” said Anna.

“Possibly the people who are not of our set are even more bored; but we are not amused ourselves- I certainly am not, but awfully, awfully bored.”

Sappho, smoking a cigarette, went off into the garden with the two young men. Betsy and Stremov remained at the tea table.

“You bored?” said Betsy. “Sappho says they enjoyed themselves tremendously at your house last night.”

“Ah, how dreary it all was!” said Liza Merkalova. “We all drove back to my place after the races. And always the same people, always the same. Always the same thing. We lounged about on sofas all the evening. What’s enjoyable about that? No; do tell me how you manage never to be bored?” she said, addressing Anna again. “One has but to look at you and one sees a woman who may be happy or unhappy, but who isn’t bored. Tell me- how do you do it?”

“I do nothing,” answered Anna, blushing at these searching questions.

“That’s the best way,” Stremov put in.

Stremov was a man of fifty, partly gray, but still vigorous in appearance, very ugly, but with a characteristic and intelligent face. Liza Merkalova was his wife’s niece, and he spent all his leisure hours with her. On meeting Anna Karenina, since he was Alexei Alexandrovich’s enemy in the government, he tried, like a shrewd man and a man of the world, to be particularly cordial with her, the wife of his enemy.

“Nothing,” he put in with a subtle smile, “that’s the very best way. I told you long ago,” he said, turning to Liza Merkalova, “that, in order not to be bored, you mustn’t think you’re going to be bored. Just as you mustn’t be afraid of not being able to fall asleep, if you’re afraid of sleeplessness. That’s precisely what Anna Arkadyevna has just said.”

“I should be very glad if I had said it, for it’s not only clever but true,” said Anna, smiling.

“No, do tell me why it is one can’t go to sleep, and one can’t help being bored?”

“To sleep well one should work, and to enjoy oneself one should also work.”

“What am I to work for when my work is of no use to anybody? And I can’t, and won’t, knowingly make a pretense at it.”

“You’re incorrigible,” said Stremov, without looking at her, and he spoke again to Anna.

As he rarely met Anna, he could say nothing but banalities to her, but he said those banalities, when was she returning to Petersburg, and how fond Countess Lidia Ivanovna was of her- with an expression which suggested that he longed with his whole soul to please her, and show his regard for her- and even more than that.

Tushkevich came in, announcing that the party were awaiting the other players to begin croquet.

“No, don’t go away, please don’t,” pleaded Liza Merkalova, hearing that Anna was going. Stremov joined in her entreaties.

“It’s too violent a transition,” he said, “to go from such company to old Madame Vrede. And, besides, you will only give her a chance for talking scandal, while here you will arouse other feelings, of the finest and directly opposed to scandal,” he said to her.

Anna pondered for an instant in uncertainty. This shrewd man’s flattering words, the naive, childlike affection shown her by Liza Merkalova, and all the worldly atmosphere she was used to- it was all so easy, while that which was in store for her was so difficult, that she was for a minute in uncertainty: should she remain, should she put off a little longer the painful moment of explanation? But, remembering what was in store for her when she would be alone at home, if she did not come to some decision; remembering that gesture- terrible even in memory- when she had clutched her hair in both hands, she said good-by and went away.

< < < Chapters 17
Chapters 19 > > >

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents

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