Kitty was particularly glad of a chance of being alone with her husband, for she had noticed the shade of mortification that had passed over his face—always so quick to reflect every feeling—at the moment when he had come onto the terrace and asked what they were talking of, and had got no answer.
When they had set off on foot ahead of the others, and had come out of sight of the house onto the beaten dusty road, marked with rusty wheels and sprinkled with grains of corn, she clung faster to his arm and pressed it closer to her. He had quite forgotten the momentary unpleasant impression, and alone with her he felt, now that the thought of her approaching motherhood was never for a moment absent from his mind, a new and delicious bliss, quite pure from all alloy of sense, in the being near to the woman he loved. There was no need of speech, yet he longed to hear the sound of her voice, which like her eyes had changed since she had been with child. In her voice, as in her eyes, there was that softness and gravity which is found in people continually concentrated on some cherished pursuit.
“So you’re not tired? Lean more on me,” said he.
“No, I’m so glad of a chance of being alone with you, and I must own, though I’m happy with them, I do regret our winter evenings alone.”
“That was good, but this is even better. Both are better,” he said, squeezing her hand.
“Do you know what we were talking about when you came in?”
“Oh, yes, about jam too; but afterwards, about how men make offers.”
“Ah!” said Levin, listening more to the sound of her voice than to the words she was saying, and all the while paying attention to the road, which passed now through the forest, and avoiding places where she might make a false step.
“And about Sergey Ivanovitch and Varenka. You’ve noticed?… I’m very anxious for it,” she went on. “What do you think about it?” And she peeped into his face.
“I don’t know what to think,” Levin answered, smiling. “Sergey seems very strange to me in that way. I told you, you know….”
“Yes, that he was in love with that girl who died….”
“That was when I was a child; I know about it from hearsay and tradition. I remember him then. He was wonderfully sweet. But I’ve watched him since with women; he is friendly, some of them he likes, but one feels that to him they’re simply people, not women.”
“Yes, but now with Varenka … I fancy there’s something….”
“Perhaps there is…. But one has to know him…. He’s a peculiar, wonderful person. He lives a spiritual life only. He’s too pure, too exalted a nature.”
“Why? Would this lower him, then?”
“No, but he’s so used to a spiritual life that he can’t reconcile himself with actual fact, and Varenka is after all fact.”
Levin had grown used by now to uttering his thought boldly, without taking the trouble of clothing it in exact language. He knew that his wife, in such moments of loving tenderness as now, would understand what he meant to say from a hint, and she did understand him.
“Yes, but there’s not so much of that actual fact about her as about me. I can see that he would never have cared for me. She is altogether spiritual.”
“Oh, no, he is so fond of you, and I am always so glad when my people like you….”
“Yes, he’s very nice to me; but….”
“It’s not as it was with poor Nikolay … you really cared for each other,” Levin finished. “Why not speak of him?” he added. “I sometimes blame myself for not; it ends in one’s forgetting. Ah, how terrible and dear he was!… Yes, what were we talking about?” Levin said, after a pause.
“You think he can’t fall in love,” said Kitty, translating into her own language.
“It’s not so much that he can’t fall in love,” Levin said, smiling, “but he has not the weakness necessary…. I’ve always envied him, and even now, when I’m so happy, I still envy him.”
“You envy him for not being able to fall in love?”
“I envy him for being better than I,” said Levin. “He does not live for himself. His whole life is subordinated to his duty. And that’s why he can be calm and contented.”
“And you?” Kitty asked, with an ironical and loving smile.
She could never have explained the chain of thought that made her smile; but the last link in it was that her husband, in exalting his brother and abasing himself, was not quite sincere. Kitty knew that this insincerity came from his love for his brother, from his sense of shame at being too happy, and above all from his unflagging craving to be better—she loved it in him, and so she smiled.
“And you? What are you dissatisfied with?” she asked, with the same smile.
Her disbelief in his self-dissatisfaction delighted him, and unconsciously he tried to draw her into giving utterance to the grounds of her disbelief.
“I am happy, but dissatisfied with myself….” he said.
“Why, how can you be dissatisfied with yourself if you are happy?”
“Well, how shall I say?… In my heart I really care for nothing whatever but that you should not stumble—see? Oh, but really you mustn’t skip about like that!” he cried, breaking off to scold her for too agile a movement in stepping over a branch that lay in the path. “But when I think about myself, and compare myself with others, especially with my brother, I feel I’m a poor creature.”
“But in what way?” Kitty pursued with the same smile. “Don’t you too work for others? What about your co-operative settlement, and your work on the estate, and your book?…”
“Oh, but I feel, and particularly just now—it’s your fault,” he said, pressing her hand—“that all that doesn’t count. I do it in a way halfheartedly. If I could care for all that as I care for you!… Instead of that, I do it in these days like a task that is set me.”
“Well, what would you say about papa?” asked Kitty. “Is he a poor creature then, as he does nothing for the public good?”
“He?—no! But then one must have the simplicity, the straightforwardness, the goodness of your father: and I haven’t got that. I do nothing, and I fret about it. It’s all your doing. Before there was you—and this too,” he added with a glance towards her waist that she understood—“I put all my energies into work; now I can’t, and I’m ashamed; I do it just as though it were a task set me, I’m pretending….”
“Well, but would you like to change this minute with Sergey Ivanovitch?” said Kitty. “Would you like to do this work for the general good, and to love the task set you, as he does, and nothing else?”
“Of course not,” said Levin. “But I’m so happy that I don’t understand anything. So you think he’ll make her an offer today?” he added after a brief silence.
“I think so, and I don’t think so. Only, I’m awfully anxious for it. Here, wait a minute.” She stooped down and picked a wild camomile at the edge of the path. “Come, count: he does propose, he doesn’t,” she said, giving him the flower.
“He does, he doesn’t,” said Levin, tearing off the white petals.
“No, no!” Kitty, snatching at his hand, stopped him. She had been watching his fingers with interest. “You picked off two.”
“Oh, but see, this little one shan’t count to make up,” said Levin, tearing off a little half-grown petal. “Here’s the wagonette overtaking us.”
“Aren’t you tired, Kitty?” called the princess.
“Not in the least.”
“If you are you can get in, as the horses are quiet and walking.”
But it was not worth while to get in, they were quite near the place, and all walked on together.