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Chapter 18


They heard the sound of steps and a man's voice, then a woman's
voice and laughter, and immediately thereafter there walked in
the expected guests: Sappho Shtoltz, and a young man beaming with
excess of health, the so-called Vaska. It was evident that ample
supplies of beefsteak, truffles, and Burgundy never failed to
reach him at the fitting hour. Vaska bowed to the two ladies,
and glanced at them, but only for one second. He walked after
Sappho into the drawing-room, and followed her about as though he
were chained to her, keeping his sparkling eyes fixed on her as
though he wanted to eat her. Sappho Shtoltz was a blonde beauty
with black eyes. She walked with smart little steps in
high-heeled shoes, and shook hands with the ladies vigorously
like a man.

Anna had never met this new star of fashion, and was struck by
her beauty, the exaggerated extreme to which her dress was
carried, and the boldness of her manners. On her head there was
such a superstructure of soft, golden hair--her own and false
mixed--that her head was equal in size to the elegantly rounded
bust, of which so much was exposed in front. The impulsive
abruptness of her movements was such that at every step the lines
of her knees and the upper part of her legs were distinctly
marked under her dress, and the question involuntarily rose to
the mind where in the undulating, piled-up mountain of material
at the back the real body of the woman, so small and slender, so
naked in front, and so hidden behind and below, really came to an
end.

Betsy made haste to introduce her to Anna.

"Only fancy, we all but ran over two soldiers," she began telling
them at once, using her eyes, smiling and twitching away her
tail, which she flung back at one stroke all on one side. "I
drove here with Vaska.... Ah, to be sure, you don't know each
other." And mentioning his surname she introduced the young man,
and reddening a little, broke into a ringing laugh at her
mistake--that is at her having called him Vaska to a stranger.
Vaska bowed once more to Anna, but he said nothing to her. He
addressed Sappho: "You've lost your bet. We got here first. Pay
up," said he, smiling.

Sappho laughed still more festively.

"Not just now," said she.

"Oh, all right, I'll have it later."

"Very well, very well. Oh, yes." She turned suddenly to
Princess Betsy: "I am a nice person...I positively forgot it...
I've brought you a visitor. And here he comes." The unexpected
young visitor, whom Sappho had invited, and whom she had
forgotten, was, however, a personage of such consequence that, in
spite of his youth, both the ladies rose on his entrance.

He was a new admirer of Sappho's. He now dogged her footsteps,
like Vaska.

Soon after Prince Kaluzhsky arrived, and Liza Merkalova with
Stremov. Liza Merkalova was a thin brunette, with an Oriental,
languid type of face, and--as everyone used to say--exquisite
enigmatic eyes. The tone of her dark dress (Anna immediately
observed and appreciated the fact) was in perfect harmony with
her style of beauty. Liza was as soft and enervated as Sappho
was smart and abrupt.

But to Anna's taste Liza was far more attractive. Betsy had said
to Anna that she had adopted the pose of an innocent child, but
when Anna saw her, she felt that this was not the truth. She
really was both innocent and corrupt, but a sweet and passive
woman. It is true that her tone was the same as Sappho's; that
like Sappho, she had two men, one young and one old, tacked onto
her, and devouring her with their eyes. But there was something
in her higher than what surrounded her. There was in her the
glow of the real diamond among glass imitations. This glow shone
out in her exquisite, truly enigmatic eyes. The weary, and at
the same time passionate, glance of those eyes, encircled by dark
rings, impressed one by its perfect sincerity. Everyone looking
into those eyes fancied he knew her wholly, and knowing her,
could not but love her. At the sight of Anna, her whole face
lighted up at once with a smile of delight.

"Ah, how glad I am to see you!" she said, going up to her.
"Yesterday at the races all I wanted was to get to you, but
you'd gone away. I did so want to see you, yesterday especially.

Wasn't it awful?" she said, looking at Anna with eyes that seemed
to lay bare all her soul.

"Yes; I had no idea it would be so thrilling," said Anna,
blushing.

The company got up at this moment to go into the garden.

"I'm not going," said Liza, smiling and settling herself close to
Anna. "You won't go either, will you? Who wants to play
croquet?"

"Oh, I like it," said Anna.

"There, how do you manage never to be bored by things? It's
delightful to look at you. You're alive, but I'm bored."

"How can you be bored? Why, you live in the liveliest set in
Petersburg," said Anna.

"Possibly the people who are not of our set are even more bored;
but we--I certainly--are not happy, but awfully, awfully
bored."

Sappho smoking a cigarette went off into the garden with the two
young men. Betsy and Stremov remained at the tea-table.

"What, bored!" said Betsy. "Sappho says they did enjoy
themselves tremendously at your house last night."

"Ah, how dreary it all was!" said Liza Merkalova. "We all drove
back to my place after the races. And always the same people,
always the same. Always the same thing. We lounged about on
sofas all the evening. What is there to enjoy in that? No; do
tell me how you manage never to be bored?" she said, addressing
Anna again. "One has but to look at you and one sees, here's a
woman who may be happy or unhappy, but isn't bored. Tell me how
you do it?"

"I do nothing," answered Anna, blushing at these searching
questions.

"That's the best way," Stremov put it. Stremov was a man of
fifty, partly gray, but still vigorous-looking, very ugly, but
with a characteristic and intelligent face. Liza Merkalova was
his wife's niece, and he spent all his leisure hours with her.
On meeting Anna Karenina, as he was Alexey Alexandrovitch's enemy
in the government, he tried, like a shrewd man and a man of the
world, to be particularly cordial with her, the wife of his
enemy.

"'Nothing,'" he put in with a subtle smile, "that's the very best
way. I told you long ago," he said, turning to Liza Merkalova,
"that if you don't want to be bored, you mustn't think you're
going to be bored. It's just as you mustn't be afraid of not
being able to fall asleep, if you're afraid of sleeplessness.
That's just what Anna Arkadyevna has just said."

"I should be very glad if I had said it, for it's not only
clever but true," said Anna, smiling.

"No, do tell me why it is one can't go to sleep, and one can't
help being bored?"

"To sleep well one ought to work, and to enjoy oneself one ought
to work too."

"What am I to work for when my work is no use to anybody? And I
can't and won't knowingly make a pretense about it."

"You're incorrigible," said Stremov, not looking at her, and he
spoke again to Anna. As he rarely met Anna, he could say nothing
but commonplaces to her, but he said those commonplaces as to
when she was returning to Petersburg, and how fond Countess Lidia
Ivanovna was of her, with an expression which suggested that he
longed with his whole soul to please her and show his regard for
her and even more than that.

Tushkevitch came in, announcing that the party were awaiting the
other players to begin croquet.

"No, don't go away, please don't," pleaded Liza Merkalova,
hearing that Anna was going. Stremov joined in her entreaties.

"It's too violent a transition," he said, "to go from such
company to old Madame Vrede. And besides, you will only give her
a chance for talking scandal, while here you arouse none but such
different feelings of the highest and most opposite kind," he
said to her.

Anna pondered for an instant in uncertainty. This shrewd man's
flattering words, the naive, childlike affection shown her by
Liza Merkalova, and all the social atmosphere she was used to,--
it was all so easy, and what was in store for her was so
difficult, that she was for a minute in uncertainty whether to
remain, whether to put off a little longer the painful moment of
explanation. But remembering what was in store for her alone at
home, if she did not come to some decision, remembering that
gesture--terrible even in memory--when she had clutched her
hair in both hands--she said good-bye and went away.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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