A Russian Proprietor, and Other Stories : Part 05, Chapter 04

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1887

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(1828 - 1910) ~ Father of Christian Anarchism : In 1861, during the second of his European tours, Tolstoy met with Proudhon, with whom he exchanged ideas. Inspired by the encounter, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana to found thirteen schools that were the first attempt to implement a practical model of libertarian education. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "The Government and all those of the upper classes near the Government who live by other people's work, need some means of dominating the workers, and find this means in the control of the army. Defense against foreign enemies is only an excuse. The German Government frightens its subjects about the Russians and the French; the French Government, frightens its people about the Germans; the Russian Government frightens its people about the French and the Germans; and that is the way with all Governments. But neither Germans nor Russians nor Frenchmen desire to fight their neighbors or other people; but, living in peace, they dread war more than anything else in the world." (From : "Letter to a Non-Commissioned Officer," by Leo Tol....)
• "It usually happens that when an idea which has been useful and even necessary in the past becomes superfluous, that idea, after a more or less prolonged struggle, yields its place to a new idea which was till then an ideal, but which thus becomes a present idea." (From : "Patriotism and Government," by Leo Tolstoy, May 1....)
• "Only by recognizing the land as just such an article of common possession as the sun and air will you be able, without bias and justly, to establish the ownership of land among all men, according to any of the existing projects or according to some new project composed or chosen by you in common." (From : "To the Working People," by Leo Tolstoy, Yasnaya P....)

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Part 05, Chapter 04

IV.

The band, composed of the marshal's domestic serfs, were stationed in the butler's pantry, which had been put in order on account of the ball, and, having turned up the sleeves of their coats, had begun at the signal of their leader to play the ancient polonaise "Aleksandr, Yelisaviéta;" and under the soft, brilliant light of the wax candles, the couples began to move in tripping measure through the great ballroom; a governor-general of Catherine's time, with a star, taking out the gaunt wife of the marshal, the marshal with the governor's wife, and so on through all the hierarchy of the government in various combinations and variations,—when Zavalshevsky in a blue coat with a huge collar, and epaulets on his shoulders, and wearing stockings and pumps, and exhaling about him an odor of jasmine with which he had plentifully drenched his mustaches, the facings of his coat, and his handkerchief, entered with the handsome count, who wore tight-fitting blue trousers and a red pelisse embroidered with gold, and wearing on his breast the cross of Vladímir and a medal of 1812.

The count was of medium height, but had an extremely handsome figure. His clear blue eyes of remarkable brilliancy, and dark hair which was rather long and fell in thick ringlets, gave his beauty a peculiar character.

The count's presence at the ball was not unexpected.[212] The handsome young man who had seen him at the hotel had already spoken of him to the marshal.

The impressions made by this announcement were of various kinds, but on the whole were not altogether pleasant.

"I suppose this young man will turn us into ridicule," was what the old women and the men said to themselves.

"Suppose he should run off with me," was what the wives and young ladies thought, with more or less apprehension.

As soon as the polonaise was finished, and the couples had made each other low bows, once more the women formed little groups by themselves, and the men by themselves. Zavalshevsky, proud and happy, led the count up to the hostess.

The marshal's wife, conscious of a certain inward trepidation lest this hussar should make her the cause of some scandal before everybody, said proudly and scornfully, as she turned away, "Very glad to see you. I hope that you will dance." And then she looked at the count mistrustfully with an expression that seemed to say, "Now, if you insult any woman, then you are a perfect scoundrel after this."

The count, however, quickly overcame this prejudice by his amiability, his politeness, and his handsome jovial appearance; so that in five minutes the expression on the face of the marshal's wife plainly declared to all who stood around her, "I know how to manage all these men. He immediately realized whom he was talking with. And now he will be charming to me all the rest of the evening."

Moreover, just then the governor, who had known his father, came up to the count, and very graciously[213] drew him to one side, and entered into conversation with him, which still more pleased the fashionable society of the town, and raised the count in their estimation.

Then Zavalshevsky presented the count to his sister, a plump young widow, who, ever since the count entered the room, had kept her big black eyes fastened upon him.

The count asked the little widow for the waltz which at that moment the musicians had struck up, and it was his artistic dancing that conquered the last vestiges of the popular prejudice.

"Ah, he's a master at dancing!" said a stout lady, following the legs in blue trousers which were flashing through the ballroom, and mentally counting, "One, two, three; one, two, three,—he's a master."

"How gracefully he moves his feet! how gracefully!" said another guest, who did not stand very high in the governmental society. "How does he manage to not hit any one with his spurs? Wonderful, very skillful!"

The count, by his skill in dancing, eclipsed the three best dancers of the city. These were, a governor's aide, a tall albino, who was famous for his rapid dancing and because he held the lady pressed very close to his breast; secondly, the cavalryman, who was famous for his graceful swaying during the waltz, and for his frequent but light tapping with his heels; and thirdly, a civilian of whom everybody said, that, though he was not very strong-minded, yet he was an admirable dancer and the life of all balls.

In point of fact, this civilian from the beginning to the end of a ball invariably invited all the ladies in the order in which they sat, did not cease for a moment[214] to dance, and only occasionally paused to wipe his weary but still radiant face with his cambric handkerchief, which would become wet through.

The count had surpassed them all, and had danced with the three principal ladies,—with the stout one, who was rich, handsome, and stupid; with the middle-sized one, who was lean, and not particularly good-looking, but handsomely dressed; and with the little one, who was not pretty, but very witty.

He had danced also with others,—with all the pretty women, and there were many pretty women there.

But the little widow, Zavalshevsky's sister, pleased the count more than all the rest; with her he danced a quadrille and a schottische and a mazurka.

At first, when they took their places for the quadrille, he overwhelmed her with compliments, comparing her to Venus and Diana, and to a rosebush, and to some other flower besides.

To all these amenities the little widow only bent her white neck, modestly dropped her eyes, and, looking at her white muslin dress, changed her fan from one hand to the other.

When, at last, she said, "This is too much, count; you are jesting," etc., her voice, which was rather guttural, betrayed such naïve simplicity of heart and amusing naturalness that the count, as he looked at her, actually compared her, not to a flower or to a rosebush, but to some kind of a pinkish-white wild-flower, exuberant and odorless, growing alone on a virgin snow-drift in some far, far-distant land.

Such a strange impression was made upon the count by this union of naïveté and unconventionality together with fresh beauty, that several times, in the pauses of[215] the conversation, when he looked silently into her eyes or contemplated the loveliness of her arms and neck, the desire came over him with such vehemence to take her into his arms and kiss her again and again, that he was really obliged to restrain himself.

The little widow was quite satisfied with the impression which she perceived that she had made; but there was something in the count's behavior that began to disquiet her, and fill her with apprehensions, though the young hussar was not only flatteringly amiable, but even, to an extravagant degree, deferential in his treatment of her.

He ran to get orgeat for her, picked up her handkerchief, snatched a chair from the hands of a scrofulous young proprietor, who was also anxious to pay her attention, and who was not quick enough. But perceiving that these assiduities, which were fashionable at that period, had little effect in making the lady well-disposed, he began to amuse her by telling her ridiculous anecdotes: he assured her that he was ready at a moment's notice to stand on his head, or to crow like a cock, or to jump out of the window, or to fling himself into a hole in the ice.

This procedure was a brilliant success: the little widow became very gay; she rippled with laughter, displaying her marvelous white teeth, and became entirely satisfied with her cavalier. The count each moment grew more and more enchanted with her, so that at the end of the quadrille he was really in love with her.

After the quadrille, when she was approached by her former admirer, a young man of eighteen, the son of a very rich proprietor, the same scrofulous young man from whom Turbin had snatched away the chair,[216] she received him with perfect coolness, and not one-tenth part of the constraint was noticeable in her which she felt when she was with the count.

"You are very kind," she said, all the time gazing at Turbin's back, and unconsciously reckoning how many yards[64] of gold-lace were used for his whole jacket. "You are very kind; you promised to come to take me for a walk, and to bring me some comfits."

"Well, I did come, Anna Fedorovna, but you weren't at home, and I left the very best comfits for you," said the young man, in a voice that was very thin, considering his height.

"You always are provided with excuses; I don't need your comfits. Please do not think"....

"I begin to see, Anna Fedorovna, how you have changed toward me, and I know why. But it is not right," he added, but without finishing his remark, evidently owing to some powerful interior emotion, which caused his lips to tremble strangely.

Anna Fedorovna did not heed him, and continued to follow Turbin with her eyes. The marshal, at whose house the ball was given,—a big, stout old man, who had lost his teeth,—came up to the count, and, taking him by the arm, invited him into his library to smoke and drink if he so desired.

As soon as Turbin disappeared, Anna Fedorovna felt that there was absolutely nothing for her to do in the ballroom, and slipping her hand through the arm of a dried-up old maid, who was a friend of hers, went with her into the dressing-room.

"Well, what do you think of him? Is he nice?" asked the old maid.

[217]

"Only it's terrible—the way he follows you up!" said Anna Fedorovna, going to the mirror, and contemplating herself in it.

Her face was aglow, her eyes were full of mischief, her color was heightened; then suddenly imitating one of the ballet-dancers whom she had seen during election time, she pirouetted round on one toe, and, laughing her guttural but sweet laugh, she leaped up in the air, crossing her knees.

"What a man he is! he even asked me for a souvenir," she confided to her friend. "But he will ne-e-ver get one," she said, singing the last words, and lifting one finger in the lilac-colored glove that reached to her elbow.

In the library where Turbin was conducted by the marshal, stood various kinds of vodka, liqueurs, edibles,[65] and champagne. In a cloud of tobacco-smoke the nobility were sitting, or walking up and down, talking about the elections.

"When the whole of the high nobility of our district has honored him with an election," exclaimed the newly elected isprávnik who was already tolerably tipsy, "he certainly ought not to fail in his duties toward society in general."

The conversation was interrupted by the count's coming. All were presented to him, and the isprávnik especially pressed his hand long between both of his, and asked him several times to go with him after the ball to the new tavern, where he would treat the gentlemen of the nobility, and where they would hear the gypsies sing.

The count accepted his invitation, and drank with him several glasses of champagne.

[218]

"Why aren't you dancing, gentlemen?" he asked, as he was about to leave the library.

"We aren't dancers," replied the isprávnik, laughing. "We prefer the wine, count; and besides, all these young ladies have grown up under my eyes, count. But still, I do sometimes take part in a schottische, count. I can do it, count."

"Come on then for a while," said Turbin. "Let us have some sport before we go to the gypsies."

"What say you, gentlemen? Let us come! Let us delight our host!"

And the three gentlemen who, since the beginning of the ball, had been drinking in the library and had very red faces, began to draw on their gloves, some of black kid, another of knit silk, and were just going with the count to the ballroom, when they were detained by the scrofulous young man, who, pale as a sheet, and scarcely able to refrain from tears, came straight up to Turbin.

"You have an idea, because you are a count, you can run into people as if you were at a fair," said he, with difficulty drawing his breath; "hence it isn't fitting"—

Once more the stream of his speech was interrupted by the involuntary trembling of his lips.

"What?" cried Turbin, frowning suddenly, "what?... You're a baby," he cried, seizing him by the arm, and squeezing it so that the blood rushed to the young man's head, not so much from vexation as from fright. "What is it? Do you want to fight? If so, I am at your service."

Turbin had scarcely let go of his arm, which he had squeezed so powerfully, when two nobles seized the young man by the sleeve, and carried him off through a back door.[219]

"What! have you lost your wits? You've surely been drinking too much. We shall have to tell your papa. What's the matter with you?" they asked.

"No, I haven't been drinking; but he ran into me, and did not apologize. He's a hog, that's what he is," whined the young man, now actually in tears.

Nevertheless they paid no attention to him, but carried him off home.

"Never mind, count," said the isprávnik and Zavalshevsky assuringly. "He's a mere child. They still whip him: he's only sixteen years old. It's hard to tell what is to be done with him. What fly stung him? And his father is such an honorable man! He's our candidate."

"Well, the Devil take him if he refuses"....

And the count returned to the ballroom, and, as gaily as before, danced the schottische with the pretty little widow, and laughed heartily when he saw the antics of the gentlemen who had come with him out of the library. There was a general burst of merriment all through the ballroom when the isprávnik tripped, and measured his length on the floor in the midst of the dancers.[220]

From : Gutenberg.org

Chronology

December 05, 1887 :
Part 05, Chapter 04 -- Publication.

February 18, 2017 19:21:09 :
Part 05, Chapter 04 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

March 20, 2019 08:14:51 :
Part 05, Chapter 04 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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