Chapter 5

`This is rather indiscreet, but it's so charming that one is awfully tempted to tell the story,' said Vronsky, looking at her with laughing eyes. `I don't intend to mention any names.'

`But I shall guess them - so much the better.'

`Listen, then: two festive young men were driving along...'

`Officers of your regiment, of course?'

`I didn't say they were officers - just two young men who had been lunching.'

`In other words, drinking.'

`Possibly. They were driving on their way to dinner with a friend in the gayest of moods. And they catch sight of a pretty woman in a hired sleigh, who overtakes them, looks back at them, and - so it seemed to them, at any rate - nods to them and laughs. They, of course, follow her - galloping at full speed. To their amazement, the fair one alights at the entrance of the very house to which they were going. The fair one darts upstairs to the top floor. All they got was a glimpse of rosebud lips under a short veil, and of exquisite little feet.'

`You tell this with such feeling that it seems to me you yourself must have been one of the two.'

`But what did you tell me just now?... Well, the young men enter their comrade's apartment - he was giving a farewell dinner. There they certainly did take a drop too much, as is always the case at farewell dinners. And at dinner they inquire who lives at the top in that house. No one knows; only their host's valet, in answer to their inquiry whether any ``young ladies' are living on the top floor, answered that there were a great many of them. After dinner the two young men go into their host's study, and write a letter to the fair unknown. They composed a passionate epistle, really a declaration, and then carry the letter upstairs themselves, so as to explain whatever might prove not altogether clear in the letter.'

`Why do you tell me such nasty things? And then?'

`They ring. A maidservant opens the door, they hand her the letter, and assure her that they're both so enamored that they'll die on the spot at the door. The maid, stupefied, carries on the negotiations. Suddenly a gentleman appears - with side whiskers like country sausages, he is as red as a lobster and, informing them that there is no one living in that flat except his wife, he sends them both packing.'

`How do you know he had side whiskers like sausages, as you put it?'

`Ah, do but listen. Recently I went to make peace between them.'

`Well, and what was the upshot?'

`That's the most interesting part. This couple turned out to be a most happy one - a government clerk and his lady. The government clerk lodges a complaint, whereupon I become a mediator - and what a mediator!... I assure you Talleyrand was a nobody compared to me.'

`Just what was the difficulty?'

`Ah, do but listen.... We make fitting apologies: ``We are in despair; we entreat forgiveness for the unfortunate misunderstanding.'' The government clerk with the country sausages begins to melt, and he, too, desires to express his sentiments, but no sooner does he begin to express them than he gets heated and says nasty things, and again I'm obliged to trot out all my diplomatic talents. ``I agree that their action was bad, but I beg of you to take into consideration the misunderstanding, and their youth; besides, the young men had just come from their lunch. You understand. Their repentance is heartfelt and they beg you to forgive their misbehavior.'' The government clerk was softened once more. ``I consent, Count, and am

  By PanEris using Melati.

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