Home  »  Anna Karenin  »  Chapter XVII

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

Part II

Chapter XVII

STEPAN ARKADYEVITCH went upstairs with his pocket bulging with notes, which the merchant had paid him for three months in advance. The business of the forest was over, the money in his pocket; their shooting had been excellent, and Stepan Arkadyevitch was in the happiest frame of mind, and so he felt specially anxious to dissipate the ill-humour that had come upon Levin. He wanted to finish the day at supper as pleasantly as it had been begun.

Levin certainly was out of humour, and in spite of all his desire to be affectionate and cordial to his charming visitor, he could not control his mood. The intoxication of the news that Kitty was not married had gradually begun to work upon him.

Kitty was not married, but ill, and ill from love for a man who has slighted her. This slight, as it were, rebounded upon him. Vronsky had slighted her, and she had slighted him, Levin. Consequently Vronsky had the right to despise Levin, and therefore he was his enemy. But all this Levin did not think out. He vaguely felt that there was something in it insulting to him, and he was not angry now at what had disturbed him, but he fell foul of everything that presented itself. The stupid sale of the forest, the fraud practised upon Oblonsky and concluded in his house, exasperated him.

’Well, finished?’ he said, meeting Stepan Arkadyevitch upstairs. ’Would you like supper?

’Well, I wouldn’t say no to it. What an appetite I get in the country! Wonderful! Why didn’t you offer Ryabinin Something?’

’Oh, damn him!’

’Still, how do you treat him! said Oblonsky. ’You didn’t even shake hands with him. Why not shake hands with him?’

‘Because I don’t shake hands with a waiter, and a waiter’s a hundred times better than he is.’

‘What a reactionist you are, really! What about the amalgamation of classes?’ said Oblonsky.

‘Any one who likes amalgamating is welcome to it, but it sickens me.’

‘You’re a regular reactionist, I see.’

‘Really, I have never considered what I am. I am Konstantin Levin, and nothing else.’

‘And Konstantin Levin very much out of temper,’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling.

‘Yes, I am out of temper, and do you know why? Because—excuse me—of your stupid sale.…’

Stepan Arkadyevitch frowned good-humouredly, like one who feels himself teased and attacked for no fault of his own.

‘Come, enough about it!’ he said. ‘When did anybody ever sell anything without being told immediately after the sale, “It was worth much more”? But when one wants to sell, no one will give anything.… No, I see you’ve a grudge against that unlucky Ryabinin.’

‘May be I have. And do you know why? You’ll say again that I’m a reactionist, or some other terrible word; but all the same it does annoy and anger me to see on all sides the impoverishing of the nobility to which I belong, and, in spite of the amalgamation of classes, I’m glad to belong. And their impoverishment is not due to extravagance—that would be nothing; living in good style—that’s the proper thing for noblemen: it’s only the nobles who know how to do it. Now the peasants about us buy land, and I don’t mind that. The gentleman does nothing, while the peasant works and supplants the idle man. That’s as it ought to be. And I’m very glad for the peasant. But I do mind seeing the process of impoverishment from a sort of—I don’t know what to call it—innocence. Here a Polish speculator bought for half its value a magnificent estate from a young lady who lives in Nice. And there a merchant will get three acres of land, worth ten roubles, as security for the loan of one rouble. Here, for no kind of reason, you’ve made that rascal a present of thirty thousand roubles.’

‘Well, what should I have done? Count every tree?’

‘Of course, they must be counted. You didn’t count them, but Ryabinin did. Ryabinin’s children will have means of livelihood and education, while yours may be will not!’

‘Well, you must excuse me, but there’s something mean in this counting. We have our business and they have theirs, and they must make their profit. Anyway, the thing’s done, and there’s an end of it. And here come some poached eggs, my favourite dish. And Agafea Mihalovna will give us that marvellous herb-brandy.…’

Stepan Arkadyevitch sat down at the table and began joking with Agafea Mihalovna, assuring her that it was long since he had tasted such a dinner and such a supper.

‘Well, you do praise it, anyway,’ said Agafea Mihalovna, ‘but Konstantin Dmitritch, give him what you will—a crust of bread—he’ll eat it and walk away.’

Though Levin tried to control himself, he was gloomy and silent. He wanted to put one question to Stepan Arkadyevitch, but he could not bring himself to the point, and could not find the words or the moment in which to put it. Stepan Arkadyevitch had gone down to his room, undressed, again washed, and attired in a night-shirt with goffered frills he had got into bed, but Levin still lingered in his room, talking of various trifling matters, and not daring to ask what he wanted to know.

‘How wonderfully they make this soap,’ he said, gazing at a piece of soap he was handling, which Agafea Mihalovna had put ready for the visitor but Oblonsky had not used. ‘Only look; why, it’s a work of art.’

‘Yes, everything’s brought to such a pitch of perfection nowadays,’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch, with a moist and blissful yawn. ‘The theatre, for instance, and the entertainments … a-a-a!’ he yawned. ‘The electric light everywhere … a-a-a!’

‘Yes, the electric light,’ said Levin. ‘Yes. Oh, and where’s Vronsky now?’ he asked suddenly, laying down the soap.

‘Vronsky?’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch, checking his yawn; ‘he’s in Petersburg. He left soon after you did, and he’s not once been in Moscow since. And do you know, Kostya, I’ll tell you the truth,’ he went on, leaning his elbow on the table, and propping on his hand his handsome ruddy face, in which his moist, good-natured, sleepy eyes shone like stars. ‘It’s your own fault. You took fright at the sight of your rival. But, as I told you at the time, I couldn’t say which had the better chance. Why didn’t you fight it out? I told you at the time that…’ He yawned inwardly, without opening his mouth.

‘Does he know, or doesn’t he, that I did make an offer?’ Levin wondered, gazing at him. ‘Yes, there’s something humbugging, diplomatic in his face,’ and feeling he was blushing, he looked Stepan Arkadyevitch straight in the face without speaking.

‘If there was anything on her side at that time, it was nothing but a superficial attraction,’ pursued Oblonsky. ‘His being such a perfect aristocrat, don’t you know, and his future position in society, had an influence not with her, but with her mother.’

Levin scowled. The humiliation of his rejection stung him to the heart, as though it were a fresh wound he had only just received. But he was at home, and the walls of home are a support.

‘Stay, stay,’ he began, interrupting Oblonsky. ‘You talk of his being an aristocrat. But allow me to ask what it consists in, that aristocracy of Vronsky or of anybody else, beside which I can be looked down upon? You consider Vronsky an aristocrat, but I don’t. A man whose father crawled up from nothing at all by intrigue, and whose mother—God knows whom she wasn’t mixed up with.… No, excuse me, but I consider myself aristocratic, and people like me, who can point back in the past to three or four honourable generations of their family, of the highest degree of breeding (talent and intellect, of course that’s another matter), and have never curried favour with any one, never depended on any one for anything, like my father and my grandfather. And I know many such. You think it mean of me to count the trees in my forest, while you make Ryabinin a present of thirty thousand; but you get rents from your lands and I don’t know what, while I don’t, and so I prize what’s come to me from my ancestors or been won by hard work.… We are aristocrats, and not those who can only exist by favour of the powerful of this world, and who can be bought for twopence halfpenny.’

‘Well, but whom are you attacking? I agree with you,’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch, sincerely and genially; though he was aware that in the class of those who could be bought for twopence halfpenny Levin was reckoning him too. Levin’s warmth gave him genuine pleasure. ‘Whom are you attacking? Though a good deal is not true that you say about Vronsky, but I won’t talk about that. I tell you straight out, if I were you, I should go back with me to Moscow, and…’

‘No; I don’t know whether you know it or not, but I don’t care. And I tell you—I did make an offer and was rejected, and Katerina Alexandrovna is nothing now to me but a painful and humiliating reminiscence.’

‘What ever for? What nonsence!’

‘But we won’t talk about it. Please forgive me, if I’ve been nasty,’ said Levin. Now that he had opened his heart, he became as he had been in the morning. ‘You’re not angry with me, Stiva? Please don’t be angry,’ he said, and smiling, he took his hand.

‘Of course not; not a bit, and no reason to be. I’m glad we’ve spoken openly. And do you know, stand-shooting in the morning is usually good—why not go? I couldn’t sleep the night anyway, but I might go straight from shooting to the station.’