Sunday Blues

The facts the princess learned about Varenka’s past and her relations with Madame Stahl and about Madame Stahl herself were as follows:

Madame Stahl, about whom some people said that she had worried her husband to death and others that he had worried her to death by his immoral conduct, had always been an ailing and hysterical woman.  When, after having been divorced from her husband, she gave birth to her first baby, the baby had died almost immediately, and her relations, knowing how highly strung she was and afraid that the news might kill her, substituted for her dead child one that was born the same night in the same house in Petersburg, the daughter of a palace chef.  That child was Varenka.  Madame Stahl learned afterward that Varenka was not her daughter, but she continued to bring her up, particularly as Varenka soon lost all her relations.

Madame Stahl had been living continuously abroad in the south for more then ten years, never leaving her bed.  Some people said that she had made herself a name by pretending to be a virtuous and highly religious woman; others said that she really was the highly moral being, living only to do good, which she represented herself to be.  No one knew what her religion was, Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Greek Orthodox; one thing, though, was certain: she was on the most friendly terms with the highest dignitaries of all the churches and denominations.

Varenka lived with her all the time abroad and all who knew Madame Stahl knew and liked Varenka, as everybody called her.

Having learned all these facts, the princess found nothing to object to in her daughter’s friendship with Varenka, particularly as Varenka’s manners and education were excellent: she spoke admirable French and English and, what was most important, apologized for Madame Stahl, who regretted being deprived by her illness of the pleasure of making the princess’ acquaintance.

Having become acquainted with Varenka, Kitty became more and more attracted to her friend, finding new things to admire in her every day.

When the princess heard that Varenka was a fine singer, she invited her to sing to them one evening.

“Kitty plays and we have a piano, though not a good one, I’m afraid, but you would give us great pleasure,” said the princess with her affected smile, which was especially distasteful to Kitty now, because she noticed that Varenka had no desire to sing.

But Varenka did come in the evening adn brought some music with her.  The princess had also invited Maria Yevgenyevna with her daughter and the colonel.

Varenka did not seem to mind in the least that there were people there she did not know and went straight to the piano.  She could not accompany herself, but she could sight read excellently.  Kitty, who played well, accompanied her.

“You have an exceptional talent,” said the princess to her after Varenka had sung the first song admirably.

Maria Yevgenyevna and her daughter thanked her.

“Look,” said the colonel, glancing out the window, “what an audience has gathered to hear you.”

And, indeed, there was quite a big crowd under the windows.

“I am very glad it gives you pleasure,” said Varenka, simply.

Kitty looked at her friend with price.  She was entranced by her art, her voice, her face, but most of all by her manner, by the fact that Varenka evidently did not think much of her singing and was completely indifferent to their praises.  All she seemed anxious to know was whether they wanted her to sing again or whether they had had enough of it.

“If it were me,” thought Kitty, “how proud I should feel!  How delighted I should be to see that crowd under the windows!  But she is quite indifferent.  All she is anxious about is not to refuse and to give Mother pleasure.  What has she got that gives her this power to disregard everything and be so serenely independent?  How I should like to know and to learn it from her!” thought Kitty, gazing into that calm face.

The princess asked Varenka to sing another song, and Varenka sang it just as calmly, distinctly and well, standing straight at the piano and beating time on it with her thin, dark-skinned hand.

The next song in the book was an Italian one.  Kitty played the prelude, and looked round at Varenka.

“Let’s skip this one,” said Varenka, blushing.

Kitty fixed her eyes anxiously and inquiringly on Varenka’s face.

“All right, another one, then,” she said hurriedly, turning over the pages and realizing at once that there was something connected with that song.

“No,” said Varenka, putting her hand on the music and smiling, “no, let’s sing that one.”

And she sang it as calmly, coolly, and well as the other songs.

When she had finished, they again thanked her and went to have tea.  Kitty and Varenka walked out into the little garden beside the house.

“Am I right in thinking that you have some memory connected with that song?” asked Kitty.  “Don’t tell me about it,” she added hurriedly.  “Only say if I am right.”

“Why ever not?  I will tell you,” said Varenka simply and, without waiting for a reply, went on: “Yes, I have.  A rather painful memory, I’m afraid.  I was in love with a man and I used to sing that song to him.”

Kitty gazed at Varenka with wide-open eyes, deeply moved and in silence.

“I loved him and he loved me, but his mother objected to our marriage and he married another.  He is living not far from us now and I see him sometimes.  You didn’t think I had had a love affair, too, did you?” she said, and on her beautiful face there was a faint glimmer of that fire which, Kitty felt, had once lighted up her whole being.

“Indeed, I did!  If I were a man I could not have loved anyone else after knowing you.  I just can’t understand how, to please his mother, he could forget you and make you unhappy.  He was quite heartless.”

“Oh no, he’s a very good man and I’m not unhappy.  On the contrary, I am very happy.  Well,” she added, going back toward the house, “I don’t suppose we shall be singing any more today.”

“Oh, you’re so good, so good!” cried Kitty and, stopping Varenka, she kissed her.  “I wish I were even a little like you!”

“Why should you be like anyone?  You’re nice as you are,” Varenka said, smiling her gentle, tired smile.

“No, I’m not nice at all.  But tell me… please, wait, let’s sit down,” said Kitty, making her sit down again on the garden seat beside her.  “Tell me, don’t you really think one ought to feel humiliated at the thought that a man has scorned your love, that he didn’t want you?”

“But he did not scorn it.  I am sure he loved me, but he was an obedient son…”

“Yes, but what if –– if he did it not because his mother did not want it but because he himself wanted it?” said Kitty, feeling that she had given away her secret and that her face, burning with shame, had already betrayed her.

“Then he would have behaved badly and I should not regret him,” replied Varenka, evidently realizing that they were not talking of her but of Kitty.

“But the humiliation?” said Kitty.  “One can’t forget the humiliation,” she said, remember the look she gave Vronsky at the ball when the music stopped.

“Where is the humiliation?  You didn’t do anything wrong, did you?”

“Worse than wrong –– shameful.”

Varenka shook her head and put her hand on Kitty’s.

“What’s so shameful about it?” she said.  “You couldn’t tell a man who was indifferent to you that you loved him, could you?”

“Of course not.  I never said a word, but he knew.  No, no!  There are looks and ways of behaving.  If I live to be a hundred I shall never forget it.”

“But why not?  I don’t understand.  Surely, the point is whether you love him now or not,” said Varenka, calling everything by its name.

“I hate him.  I can’t forgive myself.”

“Why not?”

“The shame, the humiliation.”

“Dear me,” said Varenka.  “If everyone were as sensitive as you are!  There is no girl who has not been through the same thing.  And it’s all so unimportant.”

“What then is important?” asked Kitty, looking at her face with surprised curiosity.

“Oh, lots of things,” said Varenka, smiling.

“But what?”

“Oh, lots of things are more important,” replied Varenka, not knowing what to say.

But at that moment they heard the princess’ voice from the window:

“Kitty, it’s chilly!  Either get a shawl or come back.”

“Yes, I really must be going,” said Varenka, getting up.  “I’ve still to call on Madame Bertha.  She asked me to.”

Kitty held her hand and with passionate curiosity and entreaty questioned Varenka with her eyes: “What is it, what is it that is so important?  What is it that gives you such calm?  You know, tell me!”  But Varenka did not even understand what Kitty’s eyes were asking.  She only knew that she had to call on Madame Bertha and then be back in time for tea with her maman at midnight.  SHe went in, collected her music, and having said goodbye to everyone, was about to go.

“Allow me to see you home,” said the colonel.

“Yes, indeed, you can’t go home alone at night like that,” agreed the princess.  “Let me at least send my maid Parasha with you.”

Kitty saw that Varenka could hardly restrain a smile at the suggestion that she needed anyone to escort her home.

“No, thank you,” she said, taking up her hat.  “I always go about alone and nothing ever happens to me.”

She kissed Kitty again and, without telling her what was important, walked briskly away with the music under her arm, and disappeared in the twilight of the summer night, carrying away with her the secret of what was important and what gave her that enviable calm and dignity.

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