When Levin went into the restaurant with Oblonsky, he could not help noticing a certain peculiarity of expression, as it were, a restrained radiance, about the face and whole figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch. Oblonsky took off his overcoat, and with his hat over one ear walked into the dining-room, giving directions to the Tatar waiters, who were clustered about him in evening coats, bearing napkins. Bowing to right and left to the people he met, and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances, he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer of fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for his part refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt such a loathing of that Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz, and vinaigre de toilette. He made haste to move away from her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in his eyes.
“This way, your excellency, please. Your excellency won’t be disturbed here,” said a particularly pertinacious, white-headed old Tatar with immense hips and coat-tails gaping widely behind. “Walk in, your excellency,” he said to Levin; by way of showing his respect to Stepan Arkadyevitch, being attentive to his guest as well.
Instantly flinging a fresh cloth over the round table under the bronze chandelier, though it already had a table cloth on it, he pushed up velvet chairs, and came to a standstill before Stepan Arkadyevitch with a napkin and a bill of fare in his hands, awaiting his commands.
“If you prefer it, your excellency, a private room will be free directly; Prince Golistin with a lady. Fresh oysters have come in.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch became thoughtful.
“How if we were to change our program, Levin?” he said, keeping his finger on the bill of fare. And his face expressed serious hesitation. “Are the oysters good? Mind now.”
“They’re Flensburg, your excellency. We’ve no Ostend.”
“Flensburg will do, but are they fresh?”
“Only arrived yesterday.”
“Well, then, how if we were to begin with oysters, and so change the whole program? Eh?”
“It’s all the same to me. I should like cabbage soup and porridge better than anything; but of course there’s nothing like that here.”
“Porridge à la Russe, your honor would like?” said the Tatar, bending down to Levin, like a nurse speaking to a child.
“No, joking apart, whatever you choose is sure to be good. I’ve been skating, and I’m hungry. And don’t imagine,” he added, detecting a look of dissatisfaction on Oblonsky’s face, “that I shan’t appreciate your choice. I am fond of good things.”
“I should hope so! After all, it’s one of the pleasures of life,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Well, then, my friend, you give us two—or better say three—dozen oysters, clear soup with vegetables….”
“Printanière,” prompted the Tatar. But Stepan Arkadyevitch apparently did not care to allow him the satisfaction of giving the French names of the dishes.
“With vegetables in it, you know. Then turbot with thick sauce, then … roast beef; and mind it’s good. Yes, and capons, perhaps, and then sweets.”
The Tatar, recollecting that it was Stepan Arkadyevitch’s way not to call the dishes by the names in the French bill of fare, did not repeat them after him, but could not resist rehearsing the whole menu to himself according to the bill:—“Soupe printanière, turbot, sauce Beaumarchais, poulard à l’estragon, macédoine de fruits … etc.,” and then instantly, as though worked by springs, laying down one bound bill of fare, he took up another, the list of wines, and submitted it to Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“What shall we drink?”
“What you like, only not too much. Champagne,” said Levin.
“What! to start with? You’re right though, I dare say. Do you like the white seal?”
“Cachet blanc,” prompted the Tatar.
“Very well, then, give us that brand with the oysters, and then we’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. And what table wine?”
“You can give us Nuits. Oh, no, better the classic Chablis.”
“Yes, sir. And your cheese, your excellency?”
“Oh, yes, Parmesan. Or would you like another?”
“No, it’s all the same to me,” said Levin, unable to suppress a smile.
And the Tatar ran off with flying coat-tails, and in five minutes darted in with a dish of opened oysters on mother-of-pearl shells, and a bottle between his fingers.
Stepan Arkadyevitch crushed the starchy napkin, tucked it into his waistcoat, and settling his arms comfortably, started on the oysters.
“Not bad,” he said, stripping the oysters from the pearly shell with a silver fork, and swallowing them one after another. “Not bad,” he repeated, turning his dewy, brilliant eyes from Levin to the Tatar.
Levin ate the oysters indeed, though white bread and cheese would have pleased him better. But he was admiring Oblonsky. Even the Tatar, uncorking the bottle and pouring the sparkling wine into the delicate glasses, glanced at Stepan Arkadyevitch, and settled his white cravat with a perceptible smile of satisfaction.
“You don’t care much for oysters, do you?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, emptying his wine-glass, “or you’re worried about something. Eh?”
He wanted Levin to be in good spirits. But it was not that Levin was not in good spirits; he was ill at ease. With what he had in his soul, he felt sore and uncomfortable in the restaurant, in the midst of private rooms where men were dining with ladies, in all this fuss and bustle; the surroundings of bronzes, looking-glasses, gas, and waiters—all of it was offensive to him. He was afraid of sullying what his soul was brimful of.
“I? Yes, I am; but besides, all this bothers me,” he said. “You can’t conceive how queer it all seems to a country person like me, as queer as that gentleman’s nails I saw at your place….”
“Yes, I saw how much interested you were in poor Grinevitch’s nails,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laughing.
“It’s too much for me,” responded Levin. “Do try, now, and put yourself in my place, take the point of view of a country person. We in the country try to bring our hands into such a state as will be most convenient for working with. So we cut our nails; sometimes we turn up our sleeves. And here people purposely let their nails grow as long as they will, and link on small saucers by way of studs, so that they can do nothing with their hands.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled gaily.
“Oh, yes, that’s just a sign that he has no need to do coarse work. His work is with the mind….”
“Maybe. But still it’s queer to me, just as at this moment it seems queer to me that we country folks try to get our meals over as soon as we can, so as to be ready for our work, while here are we trying to drag out our meal as long as possible, and with that object eating oysters….”
“Why, of course,” objected Stepan Arkadyevitch. “But that’s just the aim of civilization—to make everything a source of enjoyment.”
“Well, if that’s its aim, I’d rather be a savage.”
“And so you are a savage. All you Levins are savages.”
Levin sighed. He remembered his brother Nikolay, and felt ashamed and sore, and he scowled; but Oblonsky began speaking of a subject which at once drew his attention.
“Oh, I say, are you going tonight to our people, the Shtcherbatskys’, I mean?” he said, his eyes sparkling significantly as he pushed away the empty rough shells, and drew the cheese towards him.
“Yes, I shall certainly go,” replied Levin; “though I fancied the princess was not very warm in her invitation.”
“What nonsense! That’s her manner…. Come, boy, the soup!… That’s her manner—grande dame,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “I’m coming, too, but I have to go to the Countess Bonina’s rehearsal. Come, isn’t it true that you’re a savage? How do you explain the sudden way in which you vanished from Moscow? The Shtcherbatskys were continually asking me about you, as though I ought to know. The only thing I know is that you always do what no one else does.”
“Yes,” said Levin, slowly and with emotion, “you’re right. I am a savage. Only, my savageness is not in having gone away, but in coming now. Now I have come….”
“Oh, what a lucky fellow you are!” broke in Stepan Arkadyevitch, looking into Levin’s eyes.
“‘I know a gallant steed by tokens sure,
And by his eyes I know a youth in love,’”
declaimed Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Everything is before you.”
“Why, is it over for you already?”
“No; not over exactly, but the future is yours, and the present is mine, and the present—well, it’s not all that it might be.”
“Oh, things go wrong. But I don’t want to talk of myself, and besides I can’t explain it all,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Well, why have you come to Moscow, then?… Hi! take away!” he called to the Tatar.
“You guess?” responded Levin, his eyes like deep wells of light fixed on Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“I guess, but I can’t be the first to talk about it. You can see by that whether I guess right or wrong,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, gazing at Levin with a subtle smile.
“Well, and what have you to say to me?” said Levin in a quivering voice, feeling that all the muscles of his face were quivering too. “How do you look at the question?”
Stepan Arkadyevitch slowly emptied his glass of Chablis, never taking his eyes off Levin.
“I?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “there’s nothing I desire so much as that—nothing! It would be the best thing that could be.”
“But you’re not making a mistake? You know what we’re speaking of?” said Levin, piercing him with his eyes. “You think it’s possible?”
“I think it’s possible. Why not possible?”
“No! do you really think it’s possible? No, tell me all you think! Oh, but if … if refusal’s in store for me!… Indeed I feel sure….”
“Why should you think that?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling at his excitement.
“It seems so to me sometimes. That will be awful for me, and for her too.”
“Oh, well, anyway there’s nothing awful in it for a girl. Every girl’s proud of an offer.”
“Yes, every girl, but not she.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. He so well knew that feeling of Levin’s, that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two classes: one class—all the girls in the world except her, and those girls with all sorts of human weaknesses, and very ordinary girls: the other class—she alone, having no weaknesses of any sort and higher than all humanity.
“Stay, take some sauce,” he said, holding back Levin’s hand as it pushed away the sauce.
Levin obediently helped himself to sauce, but would not let Stepan Arkadyevitch go on with his dinner.
“No, stop a minute, stop a minute,” he said. “You must understand that it’s a question of life and death for me. I have never spoken to anyone of this. And there’s no one I could speak of it to, except you. You know we’re utterly unlike each other, different tastes and views and everything; but I know you’re fond of me and understand me, and that’s why I like you awfully. But for God’s sake, be quite straightforward with me.”
“I tell you what I think,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling. “But I’ll say more: my wife is a wonderful woman….” Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed, remembering his position with his wife, and, after a moment’s silence, resumed—“She has a gift of foreseeing things. She sees right through people; but that’s not all; she knows what will come to pass, especially in the way of marriages. She foretold, for instance, that Princess Shahovskaya would marry Brenteln. No one would believe it, but it came to pass. And she’s on your side.”
“How do you mean?”
“It’s not only that she likes you—she says that Kitty is certain to be your wife.”
At these words Levin’s face suddenly lighted up with a smile, a smile not far from tears of emotion.
“She says that!” cried Levin. “I always said she was exquisite, your wife. There, that’s enough, enough said about it,” he said, getting up from his seat.
“All right, but do sit down.”
But Levin could not sit down. He walked with his firm tread twice up and down the little cage of a room, blinked his eyelids that his tears might not fall, and only then sat down to the table.
“You must understand,” said he, “it’s not love. I’ve been in love, but it’s not that. It’s not my feeling, but a sort of force outside me has taken possession of me. I went away, you see, because I made up my mind that it could never be, you understand, as a happiness that does not come on earth; but I’ve struggled with myself, I see there’s no living without it. And it must be settled.”
“What did you go away for?”
“Ah, stop a minute! Ah, the thoughts that come crowding on one! The questions one must ask oneself! Listen. You can’t imagine what you’ve done for me by what you said. I’m so happy that I’ve become positively hateful; I’ve forgotten everything. I heard today that my brother Nikolay … you know, he’s here … I had even forgotten him. It seems to me that he’s happy too. It’s a sort of madness. But one thing’s awful…. Here, you’ve been married, you know the feeling … it’s awful that we—old—with a past … not of love, but of sins … are brought all at once so near to a creature pure and innocent; it’s loathsome, and that’s why one can’t help feeling oneself unworthy.”
“Oh, well, you’ve not many sins on your conscience.”
“Alas! all the same,” said Levin, “when with loathing I go over my life, I shudder and curse and bitterly regret it…. Yes.”
“What would you have? The world’s made so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“The one comfort is like that prayer, which I always liked: ‘Forgive me not according to my unworthiness, but according to Thy loving-kindness.’ That’s the only way she can forgive me.”