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Chapter 7


Stephan Arkadyevitch had gone to Petersburg to perform the most
natural and essential official duty--so familiar to everyone in
the government service, though incomprehensible to outsiders--
that duty, but for which one could hardly be in government
service, of reminding the ministry of his existence--and having,
for the due performance of this rite, taken all the available
cash from home, was gaily and agreeably spending his days at the
races and in the summer villas. Meanwhile Dolly and the children
had moved into the country, to cut down expenses as much as
possible. She had gone to Ergushovo, the estate that had been
her dowry, and the one where in spring the forest had been sold.
It was nearly forty miles from Levin's Pokrovskoe. The big, old
house at Ergushovo had been pulled down long ago, and the old
prince had had the lodge done up and built on to. Twenty years
before, when Dolly was a child, the lodge had been roomy and
comfortable, though, like all lodges, it stood sideways to the
entrance avenue, and faced the south. But by now this lodge was
old and dilapidated. When Stepan Arkadyevitch had gone down in
the spring to sell the forest, Dolly had begged him to look over
the house and order what repairs might be needed. Stepan
Arkadyevitch, like all unfaithful husbands indeed, was very
solicitous for his wife's comfort, and he had himself looked over
the house, and given instructions about everything that he
considered necessary. What he considered necessary was to cover
all the furniture with cretonne, to put up curtains, to weed the
garden, to make a little bridge on the pond, and to plant
flowers. But he forgot many other essential matters, the want of
which greatly distressed Darya Alexandrovna later on.

In spite of Stepan Arkadyevitch's efforts to be an attentive
father and husband, he never could keep in his mind that he had a
wife and children. He had bachelor tastes, and it was in
accordance with them that he shaped his life. On his return to
Moscow he informed his wife with pride that everything was ready,
that the house would be a little paradise, and that he advised
her most certainly to go. His wife's staying away in the country
was very agreeable to Stepan Arkadyevitch from every point of
view: it did the children good, it decreased expenses, and it
left him more at liberty. Darya Alexandrovna regarded staying in
the country for the summer as essential for the children,
especially for the little girl, who had not succeeded in
regaining her strength after the scarlatina, and also as a means
of escaping the petty humiliations, the little bills owing to the
wood-merchant, the fishmonger, the shoemaker, which made her
miserable. Besides this, she was pleased to go away to the
country because she was dreaming of getting her sister Kitty to
stay with her there. Kitty was to be back from abroad in the
middle of the summer, and bathing had been prescribed for her.
Kitty wrote that no prospect was so alluring as to spend the
summer with Dolly at Ergushovo, full of childish associations for
both of them.

The first days of her existence in the country were very hard for
Dolly. She used to stay in the country as a child, and the
impression she had retained of it was that the country was a
refuge from all the unpleasantness of the town, that life there,
though not luxurious--Dolly could easily make up her mind to
that--was cheap and comfortable; that there was plenty of
everything, everything was cheap, everything could be got, and
children were happy. But now coming to the country as the head
of a family, she perceived that it was all utterly unlike what
she had fancied.

The day after their arrival there was a heavy fall of rain and in
the night the water came through in the corridor and in the
nursery, so that the beds had to be carried into the drawing
room. There was no kitchen maid to be found; of the nine cows,
it appeared from the words of the cowherd-woman that some were
about to calve, others had just calved, others were old, and
others again hard-uddered; there was not butter nor milk enough
even for the children. There were no eggs. They could get no
fowls; old, purplish, stringy cocks were all they had for
roasting and boiling. Impossible to get women to scrub the
floors--all were potato-hoeing. Driving was out of the
question, because one of the horses was restive, and bolted in
the shafts. There was no place where they could bathe; the whole
of the river-bank was trampled by the cattle and open to the
road; even walks were impossible, for the cattle strayed into the
garden through a gap in the hedge, and there was one terrible
bull, who bellowed, and therefore might be expected to gore
somebody. There were no proper cupboards for their clothes; what
cupboards there were either would not close at all, or burst open
whenever anyone passed by them. There were no pots and pans;
there was no copper in the washhouse, nor even an ironing-board
in the maids' room.

Finding instead of peace and rest all these, from her point of
view, fearful calamities, Darya Alexandrovna was at first in
despair. She exerted herself to the utmost, felt the
hopelessness of the position, and was every instant suppressing
the tears that started into her eyes. The bailiff, a retired
quartermaster, whom Stepan Arkadyevitch had taken a fancy to and
had appointed bailiff on account of his handsome and respectful
appearance as a hall-porter, showed no sympathy for Darya
Alexandrovna's woes. He said respectfully, "nothing can be done,
the peasants are such a wretched lot," and did nothing to help
her.

The position seemed hopeless. But in the Oblonskys' household,
as in all families indeed, there was one inconspicuous but most
valuable and useful person, Marya Philimonovna. She soothed her
mistress, assured her that everything would come round (it was
her expression, and Matvey had borrowed it from her), and without
fuss or hurry proceeded to set to work herself. She had
immediately made friends with the bailiff's wife, and on the very
first day she drank tea with her and the bailiff under the
acacias, and reviewed all the circumstances of the position.
Very soon Marya Philimonovna had established her club, so to say,
under the acacias, and there it was, in this club, consisting of
the bailiff's wife, the village elder, and the counting house
clerk, that the difficulties of existence were gradually smoothed
away, and in a week's time everything actually had come round.
The roof was mended, a kitchen maid was found--a crony of the
village elder's--hens were bought, the cows began giving milk,
the garden hedge was stopped up with stakes, the carpenter made a
mangle, hooks were put in the cupboards, and they ceased to burst
open spontaneously, and an ironing-board covered with army cloth
was placed across from the arm of a chair to the chest of
drawers, and there was a smell of flatirons in the maids' room.

"Just see, now, and you were quite in despair," said Marya
Philimonovna, pointing to the ironing-board. They even rigged up
a bathing-shed of straw hurdles. Lily began to bathe, and Darya
Alexandrovna began to realize, if only in part, her expectations,
if not of a peaceful, at least of a comfortable, life in the
country. Peaceful with six children Darya Alexandrovna could not
be. One would fall ill, another might easily become so, a third
would be without something necessary, a fourth would show
symptoms of a bad disposition, and so on. Rare indeed were the
brief periods of peace. But these cares and anxieties were for
Darya Alexandrovna the sole happiness possible. Had it not been
for them, she would have been left alone to brood over her
husband who did not love her. And besides, hard though it was
for the mother to bear the dread of illness, the illnesses
themselves, and the grief of seeing signs of evil propensities in
her children--the children themselves were even now repaying her
in small joys for her sufferings. Those joys were so small that
they passed unnoticed, like gold in sand, and at bad moments she
could see nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were
good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy, nothing but
gold.

Now in the solitude of the country, she began to be more and more
frequently aware of those joys. Often, looking at them, she
would make every possible effort to persuade herself that she was
mistaken, that she as a mother was partial to her children. All
the same, she could not help saying to herself that she had
charming children, all six of them in different ways, but a set
of children such as is not often to be met with, and she was
happy in them, and proud of them.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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