eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 34


Before the end of the course of drinking the waters, Prince
Shtcherbatsky, who had gone on from Carlsbad to Baden and
Kissingen to Russian friends--to get a breath of Russian air, as
he said--came back to his wife and daughter.

The views of the prince and of the princess on life abroad were
completely opposed. The princess thought everything delightful,
and in spite of her established position in Russian society, she
tried abroad to be like a European fashionable lady, which she
was not--for the simple reason that she was a typical Russian
gentlewoman; and so she was affected, which did not altogether
suit her. The prince, on the contrary, thought everything
foreign detestable, got sick of European life, kept to his
Russian habits, and purposely tried to show himself abroad less
European than he was in reality.

The prince returned thinner, with the skin hanging in loose bags
on his cheeks, but in the most cheerful frame of mind. His
good humor was even greater when he saw Kitty completely
recovered. The news of Kitty's friendship with Madame Stahl and
Varenka, and the reports the princess gave him of some kind of
change she had noticed in Kitty, troubled the prince and aroused
his habitual feeling of jealousy of everything that drew his
daughter away from him, and a dread that his daughter might have
got out of the reach of his influence into regions inaccessible
to him. But these unpleasant matters were all drowned in the sea
of kindliness and good humor which was always within him, and
more so than ever since his course of Carlsbad waters.

The day after his arrival the prince, in his long overcoat, with
his Russian wrinkles and baggy cheeks propped up by a starched
collar, set off with his daughter to the spring in the greatest
good humor.

It was a lovely morning: the bright, cheerful houses with their
little gardens, the sight of the red-faced, red-armed,
beer-drinking German waitresses, working away merrily, did the
heart good. But the nearer they got to the springs the oftener
they met sick people; and their appearance seemed more pitiable
than ever among the everyday conditions of prosperous German
life. Kitty was no longer struck by this contrast. The bright
sun, the brilliant green of the foliage, the strains of the music
were for her the natural setting of all these familiar faces,
with their changes to greater emaciation or to convalescence, for
which she watched. But to the prince the brightness and gaiety
of the June morning, and the sound of the orchestra playing a gay
waltz then in fashion, and above all, the appearance of the
healthy attendants, seemed something unseemly and monstrous, in
conjunction with these slowly moving, dying figures gathered
together from all parts of Europe. In spite of his feeling of
pride and, as it were, of the return of youth, with his favorite
daughter on his arm, he felt awkward, and almost ashamed of his
vigorous step and his sturdy, stout limbs. He felt almost like a
man not dressed in a crowd.

"Present me to your new friends," he said to his daughter,
squeezing her hand with his elbow. "I like even your horrid
Soden for making you so well again. Only it's melancholy, very
melancholy here. Who's that?"

Kitty mentioned the names of all the people they met, with some
of whom she was acquainted and some not. At the entrance of the
garden they met the blind lady, Madame Berthe, with her guide,
and the prince was delighted to see the old Frenchwoman's face
light up when she heard Kitty's voice. She at once began talking
to him with French exaggerated politeness, applauding him for
having such a delightful daughter, extolling Kitty to the skies
before her face, and calling her a treasure, a pearl, and a
consoling angel.

"Well, she's the second angel, then," said the prince, smiling.
"she calls Mademoiselle Varenka angel number one."

"Oh! Mademoiselle Varenka, she's a real angel, allez," Madame
Berthe assented.

In the arcade they met Varenka herself. She was walking rapidly
towards them carrying an elegant red bag.

"Here is papa come," Kitty said to her.

Varenka made--simply and naturally as she did everything--a
movement between a bow and curtsey, and immediately began talking
to the prince, without shyness, naturally, as she talked to
everyone.

"Of course I know you; I know you very well," the prince said
to her with a smile, in which Kitty detected with joy that her
father liked her friend. "Where are you off to in such haste?"

"Maman's here," she said, turning to Kitty. "She has not slept
all night, and the doctor advised her to go out. I'm taking her
her work."

"So that's angel number one?" said the prince when Varenka had
gone on.

Kitty saw that her father had meant to make fun of Varenka, but
that he could not do it because he liked her.

"Come, so we shall see all your friends," he went on, "even
Madame Stahl, if she deigns to recognize me."

"Why, did you know her, papa?" Kitty asked apprehensively,
catching the gleam of irony that kindled in the prince's eyes at
the mention of Madame Stahl.

"I used to know her husband, and her too a little, before she'd
joined the Pietists."

"What is a Pietist, papa?" asked Kitty, dismayed to find that
what she prized so highly in Madame Stahl had a name.

"I don't quite know myself. I only know that she thanks God
for everything, for every misfortune, and thanks God too that her
husband died. And that's rather droll, as they didn't get on
together."

"Who's that? What a piteous face!" he asked, noticing a sick man
of medium height sitting on a bench, wearing a brown overcoat and
white trousers that fell in strange folds about his long,
fleshless legs. This man lifted his straw hat, showed his scanty
curly hair and high forehead, painfully reddened by the pressure
of the hat.

"That's Petrov, an artist," answered Kitty, blushing. "And
that's his wife," she added, indicating Anna Pavlovna, who, as
though on purpose, at the very instant they approached walked
away after a child that had run off along a path.

"Poor fellow! and what a nice face he has!" said the prince.
"Why don't you go up to him? He wanted to speak to you."

"Well, let us go, then," said Kitty, turning round resolutely.
"How are you feeling today?" she asked Petrov.

Petrov got up, leaning on his stick, and looked shyly at the
prince.

"This is my daughter," said the prince. "Let me introduce
myself."

The painter bowed and smiled, showing his strangely dazzling
white teeth.

"We expected you yesterday, princess," he said to Kitty. He
staggered as he said this, and then repeated the motion, trying
to make it seem as if it had been intentional.

"I meant to come, but Varenka said that Anna Pavlovna sent word
you were not going."

"Not going!" said Petrov, blushing, and immediately beginning to
cough, and his eyes sought his wife. "Anita! Anita!" he said
loudly, and the swollen veins stood out like cords on his thin
white neck.

Anna Pavlovna came up.

"So you sent word to the princess that we weren't going!" he
whispered to her angrily, losing his voice.

"Good morning, princess," said Anna Pavlovna, with an assumed
smile utterly unlike her former manner. "Very glad to make your
acquaintance," she said to the prince. "You've long been
expected, prince."

"What did you send word to the princess that we weren't going
for?" the artist whispered hoarsely once more, still more
angrily, obviously exasperated that his voice failed him so that
he could not give his words the expression he would have liked
to.

"Oh, mercy on us! I thought we weren't going," his wife answered
crossly.

"What, when...." He coughed and waved his hand. The prince took
off his hat and moved away with his daughter.

"Ah! ah!" he sighed deeply. "Oh, poor things!"

"Yes, papa," answered Kitty. "And you must know they've three
children, no servant, and scarcely any means. He gets something
from the Academy," she went on briskly, trying to drown the
distress that the queer change in Anna Pavlovna's manner to her
had aroused in her.

"Oh, here's Madame Stahl," said Kitty, indicating an invalid
carriage, where, propped on pillows, something in gray and blue
was lying under a sunshade. This was Madame Stahl. Behind her
stood the gloomy, healthy-looking German workman who pushed the
carriage. Close by was standing a flaxen-headed Swedish count,
whom Kitty knew by name. Several invalids were lingering near
the low carriage, staring at the lady as though she were some
curiosity.

The prince went up to her, and Kitty detected that disconcerting
gleam of irony in his eyes. He went up to Madame Stahl, and
addressed her with extreme courtesy and affability in that
excellent French that so few speak nowadays.

"I don't know if you remember me, but I must recall myself to
thank you for your kindness to my daughter," he said, taking off
his hat and not putting it on again.

"Prince Alexander Shtcherbatsky," said Madame Stahl, lifting upon
him her heavenly eyes, in which Kitty discerned a look of
annoyance. "Delighted! I have taken a great fancy to your
daughter."

"You are still in weak health?"

"Yes; I'm used to it," said Madame Stahl, and she introduced the
prince to the Swedish count.

"You are scarcely changed at all," the prince said to her. "It's
ten or eleven years since I had the honor of seeing you."

"Yes; God sends the cross and sends the strength to bear it.
Often one wonders what is the goal of this life?... The other
side!" she said angrily to Varenka, who had rearranged the rug
over her feet not to her satisfaction.

"To do good, probably," said the prince with a twinkle in his
eye.

"That is not for us to judge," said Madame Stahl, perceiving the
shade of expression on the prince's face. "So you will send me
that book, dear count? I'm very grateful to you," she said to
the young Swede.

"Ah!" cried the prince, catching sight of the Moscow colonel
standing near, and with a bow to Madame Stahl he walked away with
his daughter and the Moscow colonel, who joined them.

"That's our aristocracy, prince!" the Moscow colonel said with
ironical intention. He cherished a grudge against Madame Stahl
for not making his acquaintance.

"She's just the same," replied the prince.

"Did you know her before her illness, prince--that's to say
before she took to her bed?"

"Yes. She took to her bed before my eyes," said the prince.

"They say it's ten years since she has stood on her feet."

"She doesn't stand up because her legs are too short. She's a
very bad figure."

"Papa, it's not possible!" cried Kitty.

"That's what wicked tongues say, my darling. And your Varenka
catches it too," he added. "Oh, these invalid ladies!"

"Oh, no, papa!" Kitty objected warmly. "Varenka worships her.
And then she does so much good! Ask anyone! Everyone knows her
and Aline Stahl."

"Perhaps so," said the prince, squeezing her hand with his elbow;
"but it's better when one does good so that you may ask everyone
and no one knows."

Kitty did not answer, not because she had nothing to say, but
because she did not care to reveal her secret thoughts even to
her father. But, strange to say, although she had so made up her
mind not to be influenced by her father's views, not to let him
into her inmost sanctuary, she felt that the heavenly image of
Madame Stahl, which she had carried for a whole month in her
heart, had vanished, never to return, just as the fantastic
figure made up of some clothes thrown down at random vanishes
when one sees that it is only some garment lying there. All that
was left was a woman with short legs, who lay down because she
had a bad figure, and worried patient Varenka for not arranging
her rug to her liking. And by no effort of the imagination could
Kitty bring back the former Madame Stahl.



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