The next day was Sunday. Stepan Arkadyevitch went to the Grand Theater to a rehearsal of the ballet, and gave Masha Tchibisova, a pretty dancing-girl whom he had just taken under his protection, the coral necklace he had promised her the evening before, and behind the scenes in the dim daylight of the theater, managed to kiss her pretty little face, radiant over her present. Besides the gift of the necklace he wanted to arrange with her about meeting after the ballet. After explaining that he could not come at the beginning of the ballet, he promised he would come for the last act and take her to supper. From the theater Stepan Arkadyevitch drove to Ohotny Row, selected himself the fish and asparagus for dinner, and by twelve o’clock was at Dussots’, where he had to see three people, luckily all staying at the same hotel: Levin, who had recently come back from abroad and was staying there; the new head of his department, who had just been promoted to that position, and had come on a tour of revision to Moscow; and his brother-in-law, Karenin, whom he must see, so as to be sure of bringing him to dinner.
Stepan Arkadyevitch liked dining, but still better he liked to give a dinner, small, but very choice, both as regards the food and drink and as regards the selection of guests. He particularly liked the program of that day’s dinner. There would be fresh perch, asparagus, and la pièce de resistance—first-rate, but quite plain, roast beef, and wines to suit: so much for the eating and drinking. Kitty and Levin would be of the party, and that this might not be obtrusively evident, there would be a girl cousin too, and young Shtcherbatsky, and la pièce de resistance among the guests—Sergey Koznishev and Alexey Alexandrovitch. Sergey Ivanovitch was a Moscow man, and a philosopher; Alexey Alexandrovitch a Petersburger, and a practical politician. He was asking, too, the well-known eccentric enthusiast, Pestsov, a liberal, a great talker, a musician, an historian, and the most delightfully youthful person of fifty, who would be a sauce or garnish for Koznishev and Karenin. He would provoke them and set them off.
The second installment for the forest had been received from the merchant and was not yet exhausted; Dolly had been very amiable and good-humored of late, and the idea of the dinner pleased Stepan Arkadyevitch from every point of view. He was in the most light-hearted mood. There were two circumstances a little unpleasant, but these two circumstances were drowned in the sea of good-humored gaiety which flooded the soul of Stepan Arkadyevitch. These two circumstances were: first, that on meeting Alexey Alexandrovitch the day before in the street he had noticed that he was cold and reserved with him, and putting the expression of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s face and the fact that he had not come to see them or let them know of his arrival with the rumors he had heard about Anna and Vronsky, Stepan Arkadyevitch guessed that something was wrong between the husband and wife.
That was one disagreeable thing. The other slightly disagreeable fact was that the new head of his department, like all new heads, had the reputation already of a terrible person, who got up at six o’clock in the morning, worked like a horse, and insisted on his subordinates working in the same way. Moreover, this new head had the further reputation of being a bear in his manners, and was, according to all reports, a man of a class in all respects the opposite of that to which his predecessor had belonged, and to which Stepan Arkadyevitch had hitherto belonged himself. On the previous day Stepan Arkadyevitch had appeared at the office in a uniform, and the new chief had been very affable and had talked to him as to an acquaintance. Consequently Stepan Arkadyevitch deemed it his duty to call upon him in his non-official dress. The thought that the new chief might not tender him a warm reception was the other unpleasant thing. But Stepan Arkadyevitch instinctively felt that everything would come round all right. “They’re all people, all men, like us poor sinners; why be nasty and quarrelsome?” he thought as he went into the hotel.
“Good-day, Vassily,” he said, walking into the corridor with his hat cocked on one side, and addressing a footman he knew; “why, you’ve let your whiskers grow! Levin, number seven, eh? Take me up, please. And find out whether Count Anitchkin” (this was the new head) “is receiving.”
“Yes, sir,” Vassily responded, smiling. “You’ve not been to see us for a long while.”
“I was here yesterday, but at the other entrance. Is this number seven?”
Levin was standing with a peasant from Tver in the middle of the room, measuring a fresh bearskin, when Stepan Arkadyevitch went in.
“What! you killed him?” cried Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Well done! A she-bear? How are you, Arhip!”
He shook hands with the peasant and sat down on the edge of a chair, without taking off his coat and hat.
“Come, take off your coat and stay a little,” said Levin, taking his hat.
“No, I haven’t time; I’ve only looked in for a tiny second,” answered Stepan Arkadyevitch. He threw open his coat, but afterwards did take it off, and sat on for a whole hour, talking to Levin about hunting and the most intimate subjects.
“Come, tell me, please, what you did abroad? Where have you been?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, when the peasant had gone.
“Oh, I stayed in Germany, in Prussia, in France, and in England—not in the capitals, but in the manufacturing towns, and saw a great deal that was new to me. And I’m glad I went.”
“Yes, I knew your idea of the solution of the labor question.”
“Not a bit: in Russia there can be no labor question. In Russia the question is that of the relation of the working people to the land; though the question exists there too—but there it’s a matter of repairing what’s been ruined, while with us….”
Stepan Arkadyevitch listened attentively to Levin.
“Yes, yes!” he said, “it’s very possible you’re right. But I’m glad you’re in good spirits, and are hunting bears, and working, and interested. Shtcherbatsky told me another story—he met you—that you were in such a depressed state, talking of nothing but death….”
“Well, what of it? I’ve not given up thinking of death,” said Levin. “It’s true that it’s high time I was dead; and that all this is nonsense. It’s the truth I’m telling you. I do value my idea and my work awfully; but in reality only consider this: all this world of ours is nothing but a speck of mildew, which has grown up on a tiny planet. And for us to suppose we can have something great—ideas, work—it’s all dust and ashes.”
“But all that’s as old as the hills, my boy!”
“It is old; but do you know, when you grasp this fully, then somehow everything becomes of no consequence. When you understand that you will die tomorrow, if not today, and nothing will be left, then everything is so unimportant! And I consider my idea very important, but it turns out really to be as unimportant too, even if it were carried out, as doing for that bear. So one goes on living, amusing oneself with hunting, with work—anything so as not to think of death!”
Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled a subtle affectionate smile as he listened to Levin.
“Well, of course! Here you’ve come round to my point. Do you remember you attacked me for seeking enjoyment in life? Don’t be so severe, O moralist!”
“No; all the same, what’s fine in life is….” Levin hesitated—“oh, I don’t know. All I know is that we shall soon be dead.”
“Why so soon?”
“And do you know, there’s less charm in life, when one thinks of death, but there’s more peace.”
“On the contrary, the finish is always the best. But I must be going,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, getting up for the tenth time.
“Oh, no, stay a bit!” said Levin, keeping him. “Now, when shall we see each other again? I’m going tomorrow.”
“I’m a nice person! Why, that’s just what I came for! You simply must come to dinner with us today. Your brother’s coming, and Karenin, my brother-in-law.”
“You don’t mean to say he’s here?” said Levin, and he wanted to inquire about Kitty. He had heard at the beginning of the winter that she was at Petersburg with her sister, the wife of the diplomat, and he did not know whether she had come back or not; but he changed his mind and did not ask. “Whether she’s coming or not, I don’t care,” he said to himself.
“So you’ll come?”
“At five o’clock, then, and not evening dress.”
And Stepan Arkadyevitch got up and went down below to the new head of his department. Instinct had not misled Stepan Arkadyevitch. The terrible new head turned out to be an extremely amenable person, and Stepan Arkadyevitch lunched with him and stayed on, so that it was four o’clock before he got to Alexey Alexandrovitch.