"Varvara Andreevna, when I was very young, I set before myself
the ideal of the women 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
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
"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
"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
"I have heard that the white edible funguses are found
principally at the edge of the wood, though I can't tell them
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
Varenka's lips quivered with emotion as she answered:
"In the top part there is scarcely any difference, it's in the
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
"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
"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."