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Chapter 10


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
Arkadyevitch. 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,
bearing napkins. Bowing to right and left to the people he met,
and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances, he went
up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer of fish and
vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons,
lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusing that
even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for
his part refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt
such a loathing of that 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; by way of showing
his respect to Stepan Arkadyevitch, being attentive to his guest
as well.

Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over the round table under the
bronze chandelier, though it already had a table cloth on it, he
pushed up velvet chairs, and came to a standstill before Stepan
Arkadyevitch 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 Golistin with a lady. Fresh oysters have come
in."

"Ah! oysters."

Stepan Arkadyevitch 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 am fond of good things."

"I should hope so! After all, it's one of the pleasures of
life," said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "Well, then, my friend, you
give us two--or better say three--dozen oysters, clear soup
with vegetables..."

"Printaniere," prompted the Tatar. But Stepan Arkadyevitch
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 sweets."

The Tatar, recollecting that it was Stepan Arkadyevitch'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 menus to himself according to the bill:--"Soupe
printaniere, turbot, sauce Beaumarchais, poulard a l'estragon,
macedoine de fruits...etc.," 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
Arkadyevitch.

"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 on mother-of-pearl
shells, and a bottle between his fingers.

Stepan Arkadyevitch crushed the starchy napkin, tucked it into
his waistcoat, and settling his arms comfortably, started on the
oysters.

"Not bad," he said, stripping the oysters from the pearly shell
with a silver fork, and swallowing them one after another. "Not
bad," he repeated, turning his dewy, brilliant eyes from Levin to
the Tatar.

Levin ate the oysters indeed, though white bread and cheese would
have pleased him better. But he was admiring Oblonsky. Even the
Tatar, uncorking the bottle and pouring the sparkling wine into
the delicate glasses, glanced at Stepan Arkadyevitch, and settled
his white cravat with a perceptible smile of satisfaction.

"You don't care much for oysters, do you?" said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, emptying his wine glass, "or you're 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 sore and uncomfortable 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 waiters--all of it was offensive to him. He
was afraid of sullying what his soul was brimful of.

"I? Yes, I am; but besides, all this bothers me," he said. "You
can't conceive how queer it all seems to a country person like
me, as queer as that gentleman's nails I saw at your place..."

"Yes, I saw how much interested you were in poor Grinevitch's
nails," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing.

"It's too much for me," responded Levin. "Do try, now, and put
yourself in my place, take the point of view of a country person.
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 turn up our sleeves. And here people purposely let
their nails grow as long as they will, and link on small saucers
by way of studs, so that they can do nothing with their hands."

Stepan Arkadyevitch 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 country folks try to get our meals over
as soon as we can, so as to be ready for our work, while here are
we trying to drag out our meal as long as possible, and with that
object eating oysters..."

"Why, of course," objected Stepan Arkadyevitch. "But that's just
the aim of civilization--to make everything a source of
enjoyment."

"Well, if that's its aim, I'd rather be a savage."

"And so you are a savage. All you Levins are savages."

Levin sighed. He remembered his brother Nikolay, and felt
ashamed and sore, 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
Shtcherbatskys', I mean?" he said, his eyes sparkling
significantly as he pushed away the empty rough shells, and drew
the cheese towards 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 Arkadyevitch. "I'm
coming, too, but I have to go to the Countess Bonina'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 Shtcherbatskys
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 Arkadyevitch,
looking into Levin's eyes.

"Why?"

"I know a gallant steed by tokens sure, And by his eyes I know a
youth in love," declaimed Stepan Arkadyevitch. "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 not all that it might be."

"How so?"

"Oh, things go wrong. But I don't want to talk of myself, and
besides I can't explain it all," said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
"Well, why have you come to Moscow, then?.... Hi! take away!" he
called to the Tatar.

"You guess?" responded Levin, his eyes like deep wells of light
fixed on Stepan Arkadyevitch.

"I guess, but I can't be the first to talk about it. You can see
by that whether I guess right or wrong," said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, 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 the question?"

Stepan Arkadyevitch slowly emptied his glass of Chablis, never
taking his eyes off Levin.

"I?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, "there's nothing I desire so much
as that--nothing! It would be the best thing that could be."

"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 possible?"

"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..."

"Why should you think that?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, 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 an offer."

"Yes, every girl, but not she."

Stepan Arkadyevitch 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 weaknesses, and very
ordinary girls: the other class--she alone, having no weaknesses
of any sort and higher than all humanity.

"Stay, take some sauce," he said, holding back Levin's hand as it
pushed away the sauce.

Levin obediently helped himself to sauce, but would not let
Stepan Arkadyevitch 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 any one of this. And there's no one I could
speak of it to, except you. You know we're utterly unlike each
other, different 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 Arkadyevitch, smiling.
"But I'll say more: my wife is a wonderful woman..." Stepan
Arkadyevitch sighed, remembering his position 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 Shahovskaya 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 tears of emotion.

"She says that!" cried Levin. "I always said she was exquisite,
your wife. There, that's enough, enough said about it," he said,
getting up from his seat.

"All right, 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 has taken possession of me. I went away, you
see, because I made up my mind that it could never be, you
understand, as a happiness that does not come on earth; but I've
struggled with myself, 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 Nikolay...you know, he's here...I had even
forgotten 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--old--with 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've not many sins on your conscience."

"Alas! all the same," said Levin, "when with loathing I go over
my life, I shudder and curse and bitterly regret it.... Yes."

"What would you have? The world's made so," said Stepan
Arkadyevitch.

"The one comfort is like that prayer, which I always liked:
'Forgive me not according to my unworthiness, but according to
Thy lovingkindness.' That's the only way she can forgive me."



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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