Home  »  Anna Karenin  »  Chapter XVI

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910). Anna Karenin.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Part II

Chapter XVI

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-humoured 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 any one. 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 an acre paid down, while he’s giving you sixty by instalments. 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 copecks.’

‘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 moustache 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 goloshes 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 Dmitritch, 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 honours 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 shook 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 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 Dmitritch,’ he said with a smile, turning to Stepan Arkadyevitch: ‘there’s positively no dealing with him. I was bargaining for some wheat of him, and a pretty price I 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 it 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 pocket-book.

‘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 halfpenny,’ he added, scowling and waving the pocket-book.

‘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 honour, 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 hooking 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 can I congratulate you on the purchase, Mihail Ignatitch?’

‘Well, well.…’