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Chapter 16


On the way home Levin asked all details of Kitty's illness and
the Shtcherbatskys' plans, and though he would have been ashamed
to admit it, he was pleased at what he heard. He was pleased
that there was still hope, and still more pleased that she should
be suffering who had made him suffer so much. But when Stepan
Arkadyevitch began to speak of the causes of Kitty's illness, and
mentioned Vronsky's name, Levin cut him short.

"I have no right whatever to know family matters, and, to tell
the truth, no interest in them either."

Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled hardly perceptibly, catching the
instantaneous change he knew so well in Levin's face, which had
become as gloomy as it had been bright a minute before.

"Have you quite settled about the forest with Ryabinin?" asked
Levin.

"Yes, it's settled. The price is magnificent; thirty-eight
thousand. Eight straight away, and the rest in six years. I've
been bothering about it for ever so long. No one would give
more."

"Then you've as good as given away your forest for nothing," said
Levin gloomily.

"How do you mean for nothing?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch with a
good-humored smile, knowing that nothing would be right in
Levin's eyes now.

"Because the forest is worth at least a hundred and fifty roubles
the acre," answered Levin.

"Oh, these farmers!" said Stepan Arkadyevitch playfully. "Your
tone of contempt for us poor townsfolk!... But when it comes to
business, we do it better than anyone. I assure you I have
reckoned it all out," he said, "and the forest is fetching a very
good price--so much so that I'm afraid of this fellow's crying
off, in fact. You know it's not 'timber,'" said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, hoping by this distinction to convince Levin
completely of the unfairness of his doubts. "And it won't run to
more than twenty-five yards of fagots per acre, and he's giving
me at the rate of seventy roubles the acre."

Levin smiled contemptuously. "I know," he thought, "that fashion
not only in him, but in all city people, who, after being twice
in ten years in the country, pick up two or three phrases and use
them in season and out of season, firmly persuaded that they know
all about it. 'Timber, run to so many yards the acre.' He says
those words without understanding them himself."

"I wouldn't attempt to teach you what you write about in your
office," said he, "and if need arose, I should come to you to ask
about it. But you're so positive you know all the lore of the
forest. It's difficult. Have you counted the trees?"

"How count the trees?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing, still
trying to draw his friend out of his ill-temper. "Count the
sands of the sea, number the stars. Some higher power might do
it."

"Oh, well, the higher power of Ryabinin can. Not a single
merchant ever buys a forest without counting the trees, unless
they get it given them for nothing, as you're doing now. I know
your forest. I go there every year shooting, and your forest's
worth a hundred and fifty roubles and acre paid down, while he's
giving you sixty by installments. So that in fact you're making
him a present of thirty thousand."

"Come, don't let your imagination run away with you," said Stepan
Arkadyevitch piteously. "Why was it none would give it, then?"

"Why, because he has an understanding with the merchants; he's
bought them off. I've had to do with all of them; I know them.
They're not merchants, you know: they're speculators. He
wouldn't look at a bargain that gave him ten, fifteen per cent
profit, but holds back to buy a rouble's worth for twenty
kopecks."

"Well, enough of it! You're out of temper."

"Not the least," said Levin gloomily, as they drove up to the
house.

At the steps there stood a trap tightly covered with iron and
leather, with a sleek horse tightly harnessed with broad
collar-straps. In the trap sat the chubby, tightly belted clerk
who served Ryabinin as coachman. Ryabinin himself was already in
the house, and met the friends in the hall. Ryabinin was a tall,
thinnish, middle-aged man, with mustache and a projecting
clean-shaven chin, and prominent muddy-looking eyes. He was
dressed in a long-skirted blue coat, with buttons below the waist
at the back, and wore high boots wrinkled over the ankles and
straight over the calf, with big galoshes drawn over them. He
rubbed his face with his handkerchief, and wrapping round him his
coat, which sat extremely well as it was, he greeted them with a
smile, holding out his hand to Stepan Arkadyevitch, as though he
wanted to catch something.

"So here you are," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, giving him his hand.
"That's capital."

"I did not venture to disregard your excellency's commands,
though the road was extremely bad. I positively walked the whole
way, but I am here at my time. Konstantin Dmitrievitch, my
respects"; he turned to Levin, trying to seize his hand too. But
Levin, scowling, made as though he did not notice his hand, and
took out the snipe. "Your honors have been diverting yourselves
with the chase? What kind of bird may it be, pray?" added
Ryabinin, looking contemptuously at the snipe: "a great
delicacy, I suppose." And he shook his head disapprovingly, as
though he had grave doubts whether this game were worth the
candle.

"Would you like to go into my study?" Levin said in French to
Stepan Arkadyevitch, scowling morosely. "Go into my study; you
can talk there."

"Quite so, where you please," said Ryabinin with contemptuous
dignity, as though wishing to make it felt that others might be
in difficulties as to how to behave, but that he could never be
in any difficulty about anything.

On entering the study Ryabinin looked about, as his habit was, as
though seeking the holy picture, but when he had found it, he did
not cross himself. He scanned the bookcases and bookshelves, and
with the same dubious air with which he had regarded the snipe,
he smiled contemptuously and hook his head disapprovingly, as
though by no means willing to allow that this game were worth the
candle.

"Well, have you brought the money?" asked Oblonsky. "Sit down."

"Oh, don't trouble about the money. I've come to see you to talk
it over."

"What is there to talk over? But do sit down."

"I don't mind if I do," said Ryabinin, sitting down and leaning
his elbows on the back of his chair in a position of the
intensest discomfort to himself. "You must knock it down a bit,
prince. It would be too bad. The money is ready conclusively to
the last farthing. As to paying the money down, there'll be no
hitch there."

Levin, who had meanwhile been putting his gun away in the
cupboard, was just going out of the door, but catching the
merchant's words, he stopped.

"Why, you've got the forest for nothing as it is," he said. "He
came to me too late, or I'd have fixed the price for him."

Ryabinin got up, and in silence, with a smile, he looked Levin
down and up.

"Very close about money is Konstantin Dmitrievitch," he said with
a smile, turning to Stepan Arkadyevitch; "there's positively no
dealing with him. In was bargaining for some wheat of him, and a
pretty price In offered too."

"Why should I give you my goods for nothing? I didn't pick it up
on the ground, nor steal it either."

"Mercy on us! nowadays there's no chance at all of stealing.
With the open courts and everything done in style, nowadays
there's no question of stealing. We are just talking things over
like gentlemen. His excellency's asking too much for the forest.
I can't make both ends meet over it. I must ask for a little
concession."

"But is the thing settled between you or not? If it's settled,
it's useless haggling; but if it's not," said Levin, "I'll buy
the forest."

The smile vanished at once from Ryabinin's face. A hawklike,
greedy, cruel expression was left upon it. With rapid, bony
fingers he unbuttoned his coat, revealing a shirt, bronze
waistcoat buttons, and a watch chain, and quickly pulled out a
fat old pocketbook.

"Here you are, the forest is mine," he said, crossing himself
quickly, and holding out his hand. "Take the money; it's my
forest. That's Ryabinin's way of doing business; he doesn't
haggle over every half-penny," he added, scowling and waving the
pocketbook.

"I wouldn't be in a hurry if I were you," said Levin.

"Come, really," said Oblonsky in surprise. "I've given my word,
you know."

Levin went out of the room, slamming the door. Ryabinin looked
towards the door and shook his head with a smile.

"It's all youthfulness--positively nothing but boyishness. Why,
I'm buying it, upon my honor, simply, believe me, for the glory
of it, that Ryabinin, and no one else, should have bought the
copse of Oblonsky. And as to the profits, why, I must make what
God gives. In God's name. If you would kindly sign the
title-deed..."

Within an hour the merchant, stroking his big overcoat neatly
down, and hooding up his jacket, with the agreement in his
pocket, seated himself in his tightly covered trap, and drove
homewards.

"Ugh, these gentlefolks!" he said to the clerk. "They--they're
a nice lot!"

"That's so," responded the clerk, handing him the reins and
buttoning the leather apron. "But I can congratulate you on the
purchase, Mihail Ignatitch?"

"Well, well..."



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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