Madame Stahl, of whom some people said that she had worried her husband out of his life, while others said it was he who had made her wretched by his immoral behaviour, had always been a woman of weak health and enthusiastic temperament. When, after her separation from her husband, she gave birth to her only child, the child had died almost immediately, and the family of Madame Stahl, knowing her sensibility, and fearing the news would kill her, had substituted another child, a baby born the same night and in the same house in Petersburg, the daughter of the chief cook of the Imperial Household. This was Varenka. Madame Stahl learned later on that Varenka was not her own child, but she went on bringing her up, especially as very soon afterwards Varenka had not a relation of her own living. Madame Stahl had now been living more than ten years continuously abroad, in the south, never leaving her couch. And some people said that Madame Stahl had made her social position as a philanthropic highly religious woman; other people said she really was at heart the highly ethical being, living for nothing but the good of her fellow-creatures, which she represented herself to be. No one knew what her faith wasCatholic, Protestant, or Orthodox. But one fact was indubitableshe was in amicable relations with the highest dignitaries of all the churches and sects.
Having learned all these facts, the princess found nothing to object to in her daughters intimacy with Varenka, more especially as Varenkas breeding and education was of the bestshe spoke French and English extremely welland what was of the most weight, brought a message from Madame Stahl expressing her regret that she was prevented by her ill-health from making the acquaintance of the princess.
Kitty plays, and we have a piano; not a good one, its true, but you will give us so much pleasure, said the princess with her affected smile, which Kitty disliked particularly just then, because she noticed that Varenka had no inclination to sing. Varenka came, however, in the evening and brought a roll of music with her. The princess had invited Marya Yevgenyevna and her daughter and the colonel.
Varenka seemed quite unaffected by there being persons present she did not know, and she went directly to the piano. She could not accompany herself, but she could sing music at sight very well. Kitty, who played well, accompanied her.
Kitty looked with pride at her friend. She was enchanted by her talent, and her voice, and her face, but most of all by her manner, by the way Varenka obviously thought nothing of her singing and was quite unmoved by their praises. She seemed only to be asking: Am I to sing again, or is that enough?
If it had been I, thought Kitty, how proud I should have been! How delighted I should have been to see that crowd under the windows! But shes utterly unmoved by it. Her only motive is to avoid refusing and to please mamma. What is there in her? What is it gives her the power to look down on everything, to be calm independently of everything? How I should like to know it and to learn it of her! thought Kitty, gazing into her serene face. The princess asked Varenka to sing again, and Varenka sang another song, also smoothly, distinctly, and well, standing erect at the piano and beating time on it with her thin, dark-skinned hand.
No, why not? Ill tell you simply, said Varenka, and, without waiting for a reply, she went on: Yes, it brings up memories, once painful ones. I cared for some one once, and I used to sing him that song.
I cared for him, and he cared for me; but his mother did not wish it, and he married another girl. Hes living now not far from us, and I see him sometimes. You didnt think. I had a love-story too, she said, and there was a faint gleam in her handsome face of that fire which Kitty felt must once have glowed all over her.
I didnt think so? Why, if I were a man, I could never care for any one else after knowing you. Only I cant understand how he could, to please his mother, forget you and make you unhappy; he had no heart.
No, Im not nice at all. Come, tell me Stop a minute, lets sit down, said Kitty, making her sit down again beside her. Tell me, isnt it humiliating to think that a man has disdained your love, that he hasnt cared for it?
Yes, but if it hadnt been on account of his mother, if it had been his own doing? said Kitty, feeling she was giving away her secret, and that her face, burning with the flush of shame, had betrayed her already.
Oh, so much thats more important, answered Varenka, not knowing what to say. But at that instant they heard the princesss voice from the window. Kitty, its cold! Either get a shawl, or come indoors.
Kitty held her by the hand, and with passionate curiosity and entreaty her eyes asked her: What is it, what is this of such importance that gives you such tranquility? You know, tell me! But Varenka did not even know what Kittys eyes were asking her. She merely thought that she had to go to see Madame Berthe too that evening, and to make haste home in time for mamans tea at twelve oclock. She went indoors, collected her music, and saying good-bye to every one, was about to go.
No, I always go about alone and nothing ever happens to me, she said, taking her hat. And kissing Kitty once more, without saying what was important, she stepped out courageously with the music under her arm and vanished into the twilight of the summer night, bearing away with her her secret of what was important and what gave her the calm and dignity so much to be envied.