eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 22


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 dinner time," 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 tie, 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 formal here," she said, as it were apologizing
for her magnificence. "Alexey 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-tail 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 Sviazhsky to take in Anna
Arkadyevna, and himself offered his arm to Dolly. Veslovsky was
before Tushkevitch in offering his arm to Princess Varvara, so
that Tushkevitch 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 all 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--although 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 Sviazhsky, 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 Alexey Kirillovitch 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, Sviazhsky, 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 Tushkevitch and Veslovsky had taken alone
together in the boat, and Tushkevitch began describing the last
boat races in Petersburg at the Yacht Club. But Anna, seizing
the first pause, at once turned to the architect to draw him out
of his silence.

"Nikolay Ivanitch was struck," she said, meaning Sviazhsky, "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 Sviazhsky, 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 little 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 Fedoritch, that it's just like little scissors?"
she said to the steward.

"Oh, ja," answered the German. "Es it 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 Sviazhsky. "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 laesst 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 Klopot," he concluded.

"Wuenscht man Dochots, so hat man auch Klopots," said Vassenka
Veslovsky, mimicking 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, Vassily Semyonitch," she
said to the doctor, a sickly-looking man; "have you been there?"

"I went there, but I had taken flight," the doctor answered
with gloomy jocoseness.

"Then you've taken a good constitutional?"

"Splendid!"

"Well, and how was the old woman? I hope it's not typhus?"

"Typhus it is not, but it's taking a bad turn."

"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," Sviazhsky 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 Sviazhsky. This new trait of
girlish coquettishness made an unpleasant impression on Dolly.

"But Anna Arkadyevna's knowledge of architecture is marvelous,"
said Tushkevitch.

"To be sure, I heard Anna Arkadyevna talking yesterday about
plinths and damp-courses," 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 raillery
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 to the quick. Once Darya Alexandrovna felt wounded to
the quick, and got so hot that she positively flushed and
wondered afterwards whether she had said anything extreme or
unpleasant. Sviazhsky 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, firing
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," Sviazhsky said,
smiling good-naturedly. "Mais pardon, il est un petit peu toque;
he maintains, for instance, that district councils and
arbitration boards 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 Nikolay Ivanitch" (he indicated Sviazhsky),
"in electing me a 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 weight 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 Sviazhsky. "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 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.
Alexey has been here now six months, and he's a member, I do
believe, of five or six different public bodies. Du train que
cela va, the 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, Nikolay
Ivanitch?" she turned to Sviazhsky--"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 Petersburg
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 decoration of the table 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, Tushkevitch, gave up
playing too, but the others kept the game up for a long time.
Sviazhsky and Vronsky both played very well and seriously. They
kept a sharp lookout on the balls served to them, and without
haste or getting in each other's way, 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 raillery 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 was
coming to see her immediately. She longed to be alone with her
own thoughts.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
Nabou.com: the big site