The temporary stable, a wooden shed, had been put up close to the race course, and there his mare was to have been taken the previous day. He had not yet seen her there.
During the last few days he had not ridden her out for exercise himself, but had put her in the charge of the trainer, and so now he positively did not know in what condition his mare had arrived yesterday and was today. He had scarcely got out of his carriage when his groom, the so-called “stable boy,” recognizing the carriage some way off, called the trainer. A dry-looking Englishman, in high boots and a short jacket, clean-shaven, except for a tuft below his chin, came to meet him, walking with the uncouth gait of jockey, turning his elbows out and swaying from side to side.
“Well, how’s Frou-Frou?” Vronsky asked in English.
“All right, sir,” the Englishman’s voice responded somewhere in the inside of his throat. “Better not go in,” he added, touching his hat. “I’ve put a muzzle on her, and the mare’s fidgety. Better not go in, it’ll excite the mare.”
“No, I’m going in. I want to look at her.”
“Come along, then,” said the Englishman, frowning, and speaking with his mouth shut, and, with swinging elbows, he went on in front with his disjointed gait.
They went into the little yard in front of the shed. A stable boy, spruce and smart in his holiday attire, met them with a broom in his hand, and followed them. In the shed there were five horses in their separate stalls, and Vronsky knew that his chief rival, Gladiator, a very tall chestnut horse, had been brought there, and must be standing among them. Even more than his mare, Vronsky longed to see Gladiator, whom he had never seen. But he knew that by the etiquette of the race course it was not merely impossible for him to see the horse, but improper even to ask questions about him. Just as he was passing along the passage, the boy opened the door into the second horse-box on the left, and Vronsky caught a glimpse of a big chestnut horse with white legs. He knew that this was Gladiator, but, with the feeling of a man turning away from the sight of another man’s open letter, he turned round and went into Frou-Frou’s stall.
“The horse is here belonging to Mak... Mak... I never can say the name,” said the Englishman, over his shoulder, pointing his big finger and dirty nail towards Gladiator’s stall.
“Mahotin? Yes, he’s my most serious rival,” said Vronsky.
“If you were riding him,” said the Englishman, “I’d bet on you.”
“Frou-Frou’s more nervous; he’s stronger,” said Vronsky, smiling at the compliment to his riding.
“In a steeplechase it all depends on riding and on pluck,” said the Englishman.
Of pluck—that is, energy and courage—Vronsky did not merely feel that he had enough; what was of far more importance, he was firmly convinced that no one in the world could have more of this “pluck” than he had.
“Don’t you think I want more thinning down?”
“Oh, no,” answered the Englishman. “Please, don’t speak loud. The mare’s fidgety,” he added, nodding towards the horse-box, before which they were standing, and from which came the sound of restless stamping in the straw.
He opened the door, and Vronsky went into the horse-box, dimly lighted by one little window. In the horse-box stood a dark bay mare, with a muzzle on, picking at the fresh straw with her hoofs. Looking round him in the twilight of the horse-box, Vronsky unconsciously took in once more in a comprehensive glance all the points of his favorite mare. Frou-Frou was a beast of medium size, not altogether free from reproach, from a breeder’s point of view. She was small-boned all over; though her chest was extremely prominent in front, it was narrow. Her hind-quarters were a little drooping, and in her fore-legs, and still more in her hind-legs, there was a noticeable curvature. The muscles of both hind- and fore-legs were not very thick; but across her shoulders the mare was exceptionally broad, a peculiarity specially striking now that she was lean from training. The bones of her legs below the knees looked no thicker than a finger from in front, but were extraordinarily thick seen from the side. She looked altogether, except across the shoulders, as it were, pinched in at the sides and pressed out in depth. But she had in the highest degree the quality that makes all defects forgotten: that quality was blood, the blood that tells, as the English expression has it. The muscles stood up sharply under the network of sinews, covered with the delicate, mobile skin, soft as satin, and they were hard as bone. Her clean-cut head, with prominent, bright, spirited eyes, broadened out at the open nostrils, that showed the red blood in the cartilage within. About all her figure, and especially her head, there was a certain expression of energy, and, at the same time, of softness. She was one of those creatures which seem only not to speak because the mechanism of their mouth does not allow them to.
To Vronsky, at any rate, it seemed that she understood all he felt at that moment, looking at her.
Directly Vronsky went towards her, she drew in a deep breath, and, turning back her prominent eye till the white looked bloodshot, she started at the approaching figures from the opposite side, shaking her muzzle, and shifting lightly from one leg to the other.
“There, you see how fidgety she is,” said the Englishman.
“There, darling! There!” said Vronsky, going up to the mare and speaking soothingly to her.
But the nearer he came, the more excited she grew. Only when he stood by her head, she was suddenly quieter, while the muscles quivered under her soft, delicate coat. Vronsky patted her strong neck, straightened over her sharp withers a stray lock of her mane that had fallen on the other side, and moved his face near her dilated nostrils, transparent as a bat’s wing. She drew a loud breath and snorted out through her tense nostrils, started, pricked up her sharp ear, and put out her strong, black lip towards Vronsky, as though she would nip hold of his sleeve. But remembering the muzzle, she shook it and again began restlessly stamping one after the other her shapely legs.
“Quiet, darling, quiet!” he said, patting her again over her hind-quarters; and with a glad sense that his mare was in the best possible condition, he went out of the horse-box.
The mare’s excitement had infected Vronsky. He felt that his heart was throbbing, and that he, too, like the mare, longed to move, to bite; it was both dreadful and delicious.
“Well, I rely on you, then,” he said to the Englishman; “half-past six on the ground.”
“All right,” said the Englishman. “Oh, where are you going, my lord?” he asked suddenly, using the title “my lord,” which he had scarcely ever used before.
Vronsky in amazement raised his head, and stared, as he knew how to stare, not into the Englishman’s eyes, but at his forehead, astounded at the impertinence of his question. But realizing that in asking this the Englishman had been looking at him not as an employer, but as a jockey, he answered:
“I’ve got to go to Bryansky’s; I shall be home within an hour.”
“How often I’m asked that question today!” he said to himself, and he blushed, a thing which rarely happened to him. The Englishman looked gravely at him; and, as though he, too, knew where Vronsky was going, he added:
“The great thing’s to keep quiet before a race,” said he; “don’t get out of temper or upset about anything.”
“All right,” answered Vronsky, smiling; and jumping into his carriage, he told the man to drive to Peterhof.
Before he had driven many paces away, the dark clouds that had been threatening rain all day broke, and there was a heavy downpour of rain.
“What a pity!” thought Vronsky, putting up the roof of the carriage. “It was muddy before, now it will be a perfect swamp.” As he sat in solitude in the closed carriage, he took out his mother’s letter and his brother’s note, and read them through.
Yes, it was the same thing over and over again. Everyone, his mother, his brother, everyone thought fit to interfere in the affairs of his heart. This interference aroused in him a feeling of angry hatred—a feeling he had rarely known before. “What business is it of theirs? Why does everybody feel called upon to concern himself about me? And why do they worry me so? Just because they see that this is something they can’t understand. If it were a common, vulgar, worldly intrigue, they would have left me alone. They feel that this is something different, that this is not a mere pastime, that this woman is dearer to me than life. And this is incomprehensible, and that’s why it annoys them. Whatever our destiny is or may be, we have made it ourselves, and we do not complain of it,” he said, in the word we linking himself with Anna. “No, they must needs teach us how to live. They haven’t an idea of what happiness is; they don’t know that without our love, for us there is neither happiness nor unhappiness—no life at all,” he thought.
He was angry with all of them for their interference just because he felt in his soul that they, all these people, were right. He felt that the love that bound him to Anna was not a momentary impulse, which would pass, as worldly intrigues do pass, leaving no other traces in the life of either but pleasant or unpleasant memories. He felt all the torture of his own and her position, all the difficulty there was for them, conspicuous as they were in the eye of all the world, in concealing their love, in lying and deceiving; and in lying, deceiving, feigning, and continually thinking of others, when the passion that united them was so intense that they were both oblivious of everything else but their love.
He vividly recalled all the constantly recurring instances of inevitable necessity for lying and deceit, which were so against his natural bent. He recalled particularly vividly the shame he had more than once detected in her at this necessity for lying and deceit. And he experienced the strange feeling that had sometimes come upon him since his secret love for Anna. This was a feeling of loathing for something—whether for Alexey Alexandrovitch, or for himself, or for the whole world, he could not have said. But he always drove away this strange feeling. Now, too, he shook it off and continued the thread of his thoughts.
“Yes, she was unhappy before, but proud and at peace; and now she cannot be at peace and feel secure in her dignity, though she does not show it. Yes, we must put an end to it,” he decided.
And for the first time the idea clearly presented itself that it was essential to put an end to this false position, and the sooner the better. “Throw up everything, she and I, and hide ourselves somewhere alone with our love,” he said to himself.
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