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When they rose from table, Levin would have liked to follow Kitty into the drawing-room; but he was afraid she might dislike this, as too obviously paying her attention. He remained in the little ring of men, taking part in the general conversation, and without looking at Kitty, he was aware of her movements, her looks, and the place where she was in the drawing-room.
He did at once, and without the smallest effort, keep the promise he had made her—always to think well of all men, and to like everyone always. The conversation fell on the village commune, in which Pestsov saw a sort of special principle, called by him the “choral” principle. Levin did not agree with Pestsov, nor with his brother, who had a special attitude of his own, both admitting and not admitting the significance of the Russian commune. But he talked to them, simply trying to reconcile and soften their differences. He was not in the least interested in what he said himself, and even less so in what they said; all he wanted was that they and everyone should be happy and contented. He knew now the one thing of importance; and that one thing was at first there, in the drawing-room, and then began moving across and came to a standstill at the door. Without turning round he felt the eyes fixed on him, and the smile, and he could not help turning round. She was standing in the doorway with Shtcherbatsky, looking at him.
“I thought you were going towards the piano,” said he, going up to her. “That’s something I miss in the country—music.”
“No; we only came to fetch you and thank you,” she said, rewarding him with a smile that was like a gift, “for coming. What do they want to argue for? No one ever convinces anyone, you know.”
“Yes; that’s true,” said Levin; “it generally happens that one argues warmly simply because one can’t make out what one’s opponent wants to prove.”
Levin had often noticed in discussions between the most intelligent people that after enormous efforts, and an enormous expenditure of logical subtleties and words, the disputants finally arrived at being aware that what they had so long been struggling to prove to one another had long ago, from the beginning of the argument, been known to both, but that they liked different things, and would not define what they liked for fear of its being attacked. He had often had the experience of suddenly in a discussion grasping what it was his opponent liked and at once liking it too, and immediately he found himself agreeing, and then all arguments fell away as useless. Sometimes, too, he had experienced the opposite, expressing at last what he liked himself, which he was devising arguments to defend, and, chancing to express it well and genuinely, he had found his opponent at once agreeing and ceasing to dispute his position. He tried to say this.
She knitted her brow, trying to understand. But directly he began to illustrate his meaning, she understood at once.
“I know: one must find out what he is arguing for, what is precious to him, then one can....”
She had completely guessed and expressed his badly expressed idea. Levin smiled joyfully; he was struck by this transition from the confused, verbose discussion with Pestsov and his brother to this laconic, clear, almost wordless communication of the most complex ideas.
Shtcherbatsky moved away from them, and Kitty, going up to a card-table, sat down, and, taking up the chalk, began drawing diverging circles over the new green cloth.
They began again on the subject that had been started at dinner—the liberty and occupations of women. Levin was of the opinion of Darya Alexandrovna that a girl who did not marry should find a woman’s duties in a family. He supported this view by the fact that no family can get on without women to help; that in every family, poor or rich, there are and must be nurses, either relations or hired.
“No,” said Kitty, blushing, but looking at him all the more boldly with her truthful eyes; “a girl may be so circumstanced that she cannot live in the family without humiliation, while she herself....”
At the hint he understood her.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes, yes, yes—you’re right; you’re right!”
And he saw all that Pestsov had been maintaining at dinner of the liberty of woman, simply from getting a glimpse of the terror of an old maid’s existence and its humiliation in Kitty’s heart; and loving her, he felt that terror and humiliation, and at once gave up his arguments.
A silence followed. She was still drawing with the chalk on the table. Her eyes were shining with a soft light. Under the influence of her mood he felt in all his being a continually growing tension of happiness.
“Ah! I’ve scribbled all over the table!” she said, and, laying down the chalk, she made a movement as though to get up.
“What! shall I be left alone—without her?” he thought with horror, and he took the chalk. “Wait a minute,” he said, sitting down to the table. “I’ve long wanted to ask you one thing.”
He looked straight into her caressing, though frightened eyes.
“Please, ask it.”
“Here,” he said; and he wrote the initial letters, w, y, t, m, i, c, n, b, d, t, m, n, o, t. These letters meant, “When you told me it could never be, did that mean never, or then?” There seemed no likelihood that she could make out this complicated sentence; but he looked at her as though his life depended on her understanding the words. She glanced at him seriously, then leaned her puckered brow on her hands and began to read. Once or twice she stole a look at him, as though asking him, “Is it what I think?”
“I understand,” she said, flushing a little.
“What is this word?” he said, pointing to the n that stood for never.
“It means never,” she said; “but that’s not true!”
He quickly rubbed out what he had written, gave her the chalk, and stood up. She wrote, t, i, c, n, a, d.
Dolly was completely comforted in the depression caused by her conversation with Alexey Alexandrovitch when she caught sight of the two figures: Kitty with the chalk in her hand, with a shy and happy smile looking upwards at Levin, and his handsome figure bending over the table with glowing eyes fastened one minute on the table and the next on her. He was suddenly radiant: he had understood. It meant, “Then I could not answer differently.”
He glanced at her questioningly, timidly.
“Yes,” her smile answered.
“And n... and now?” he asked.
“Well, read this. I’ll tell you what I should like—should like so much!” she wrote the initial letters, i, y, c, f, a, f, w, h. This meant, “If you could forget and forgive what happened.”
He snatched the chalk with nervous, trembling fingers, and breaking it, wrote the initial letters of the following phrase, “I have nothing to forget and to forgive; I have never ceased to love you.”
She glanced at him with a smile that did not waver.
“I understand,” she said in a whisper.
He sat down and wrote a long phrase. She understood it all, and without asking him, “Is it this?” took the chalk and at once answered.
For a long while he could not understand what she had written, and often looked into her eyes. He was stupefied with happiness. He could not supply the word she had meant; but in her charming eyes, beaming with happiness, he saw all he needed to know. And he wrote three letters. But he had hardly finished writing when she read them over her arm, and herself finished and wrote the answer, “Yes.”
“You’re playing secrétaire?” said the old prince. “But we must really be getting along if you want to be in time at the theater.”
Levin got up and escorted Kitty to the door.
In their conversation everything had been said; it had been said that she loved him, and that she would tell her father and mother that he would come tomorrow morning.
When Kitty had gone and Levin was left alone, he felt such uneasiness without her, and such an impatient longing to get as quickly, as quickly as possible, to tomorrow morning, when he would see her again and be plighted to her forever, that he felt afraid, as though of death, of those fourteen hours that he had to get through without her. It was essential for him to be with someone to talk to, so as not to be left alone, to kill time. Stepan Arkadyevitch would have been the companion most congenial to him, but he was going out, he said, to a soirée, in reality to the ballet. Levin only had time to tell him he was happy, and that he loved him, and would never, never forget what he had done for him. The eyes and the smile of Stepan Arkadyevitch showed Levin that he comprehended that feeling fittingly.
“Oh, so it’s not time to die yet?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, pressing Levin’s hand with emotion.
“N-n-no!” said Levin.
Darya Alexandrovna too, as she said good-bye to him, gave him a sort of congratulation, saying, “How glad I am you have met Kitty again! One must value old friends.” Levin did not like these words of Darya Alexandrovna’s. She could not understand how lofty and beyond her it all was, and she ought not to have dared to allude to it. Levin said good-bye to them, but, not to be left alone, he attached himself to his brother.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to a meeting.”
“Well, I’ll come with you. May I?”
“What for? Yes, come along,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, smiling. “What is the matter with you today?”
“With me? Happiness is the matter with me!” said Levin, letting down the window of the carriage they were driving in. “You don’t mind?—it’s so stifling. It’s happiness is the matter with me! Why is it you have never married?”
Sergey Ivanovitch smiled.
“I am very glad, she seems a nice gi....” Sergey Ivanovitch was beginning.
“Don’t say it! don’t say it!” shouted Levin, clutching at the collar of his fur coat with both hands, and muffling him up in it. “She’s a nice girl” were such simple, humble words, so out of harmony with his feeling.
Sergey Ivanovitch laughed outright a merry laugh, which was rare with him. “Well, anyway, I may say that I’m very glad of it.”
“That you may do tomorrow, tomorrow and nothing more! Nothing, nothing, silence,” said Levin, and muffling him once more in his fur coat, he added: “I do like you so! Well, is it possible for me to be present at the meeting?”
“Of course it is.”
“What is your discussion about today?” asked Levin, never ceasing smiling.
They arrived at the meeting. Levin heard the secretary hesitatingly read the minutes which he obviously did not himself understand; but Levin saw from this secretary’s face what a good, nice, kind-hearted person he was. This was evident from his confusion and embarrassment in reading the minutes. Then the discussion began. They were disputing about the misappropriation of certain sums and the laying of certain pipes, and Sergey Ivanovitch was very cutting to two members, and said something at great length with an air of triumph; and another member, scribbling something on a bit of paper, began timidly at first, but afterwards answered him very viciously and delightfully. And then Sviazhsky (he was there too) said something too, very handsomely and nobly. Levin listened to them, and saw clearly that these missing sums and these pipes were not anything real, and that they were not at all angry, but were all the nicest, kindest people, and everything was as happy and charming as possible among them. They did no harm to anyone, and were all enjoying it. What struck Levin was that he could see through them all today, and from little, almost imperceptible signs knew the soul of each, and saw distinctly that they were all good at heart. And Levin himself in particular they were all extremely fond of that day. That was evident from the way they spoke to him, from the friendly, affectionate way even those he did not know looked at him.
“Well, did you like it?” Sergey Ivanovitch asked him.
“Very much. I never supposed it was so interesting! Capital! Splendid!”
Sviazhsky went up to Levin and invited him to come round to tea with him. Levin was utterly at a loss to comprehend or recall what it was he had disliked in Sviazhsky, what he had failed to find in him. He was a clever and wonderfully good-hearted man.
“Most delighted,” he said, and asked after his wife and sister-in-law. And from a queer association of ideas, because in his imagination the idea of Sviazhsky’s sister-in-law was connected with marriage, it occurred to him that there was no one to whom he could more suitably speak of his happiness, and he was very glad to go and see them.
Sviazhsky questioned him about his improvements on his estate, presupposing, as he always did, that there was no possibility of doing anything not done already in Europe, and now this did not in the least annoy Levin. On the contrary, he felt that Sviazhsky was right, that the whole business was of little value, and he saw the wonderful softness and consideration with which Sviazhsky avoided fully expressing his correct view. The ladies of the Sviazhsky household were particularly delightful. It seemed to Levin that they knew all about it already and sympathized with him, saying nothing merely from delicacy. He stayed with them one hour, two, three, talking of all sorts of subjects but the one thing that filled his heart, and did not observe that he was boring them dreadfully, and that it was long past their bedtime.
Sviazhsky went with him into the hall, yawning and wondering at the strange humor his friend was in. It was past one o’clock. Levin went back to his hotel, and was dismayed at the thought that all alone now with his impatience he had ten hours still left to get through. The servant, whose turn it was to be up all night, lighted his candles, and would have gone away, but Levin stopped him. This servant, Yegor, whom Levin had noticed before, struck him as a very intelligent, excellent, and, above all, good-hearted man.
“Well, Yegor, it’s hard work not sleeping, isn’t it?”
“One’s got to put up with it! It’s part of our work, you see. In a gentleman’s house it’s easier; but then here one makes more.”
It appeared that Yegor had a family, three boys and a daughter, a sempstress, whom he wanted to marry to a cashier in a saddler’s shop.
Levin, on hearing this, informed Yegor that, in his opinion, in marriage the great thing was love, and that with love one would always be happy, for happiness rests only on oneself.
Yegor listened attentively, and obviously quite took in Levin’s idea, but by way of assent to it he enunciated, greatly to Levin’s surprise, the observation that when he had lived with good masters he had always been satisfied with his masters, and now was perfectly satisfied with his employer, though he was a Frenchman.
“Wonderfully good-hearted fellow!” thought Levin.
“Well, but you yourself, Yegor, when you got married, did you love your wife?”
“Ay! and why not?” responded Yegor.
And Levin saw that Yegor too was in an excited state and intending to express all his most heartfelt emotions.
“My life, too, has been a wonderful one. From a child up....” he was beginning with flashing eyes, apparently catching Levin’s enthusiasm, just as people catch yawning.
But at that moment a ring was heard. Yegor departed, and Levin was left alone. He had eaten scarcely anything at dinner, had refused tea and supper at Sviazhsky’s, but he was incapable of thinking of supper. He had not slept the previous night, but was incapable of thinking of sleep either. His room was cold, but he was oppressed by heat. He opened both the movable panes in his window and sat down to the table opposite the open panes. Over the snow-covered roofs could be seen a decorated cross with chains, and above it the rising triangle of Charles’s Wain with the yellowish light of Capella. He gazed at the cross, then at the stars, drank in the fresh freezing air that flowed evenly into the room, and followed as though in a dream the images and memories that rose in his imagination. At four o’clock he heard steps in the passage and peeped out at the door. It was the gambler Myaskin, whom he knew, coming from the club. He walked gloomily, frowning and coughing. “Poor, unlucky fellow!” thought Levin, and tears came into his eyes from love and pity for this man. He would have talked with him, and tried to comfort him, but remembering that he had nothing but his shirt on, he changed his mind and sat down again at the open pane to bathe in the cold air and gaze at the exquisite lines of the cross, silent, but full of meaning for him, and the mounting lurid yellow star. At seven o’clock there was a noise of people polishing the floors, and bells ringing in some servants’ department, and Levin felt that he was beginning to get frozen. He closed the pane, washed, dressed, and went out into the street.
The streets were still empty. Levin went to the house of the Shtcherbatskys. The visitors’ doors were closed and everything was asleep. He walked back, went into his room again, and asked for coffee. The day servant, not Yegor this time, brought it to him. Levin would have entered into conversation with him, but a bell rang for the servant, and he went out. Levin tried to drink coffee and put some roll in his mouth, but his mouth was quite at a loss what to do with the roll. Levin, rejecting the roll, put on his coat and went out again for a walk. It was nine o’clock when he reached the Shtcherbatskys’ steps the second time. In the house they were only just up, and the cook came out to go marketing. He had to get through at least two hours more.
All that night and morning Levin lived perfectly unconsciously, and felt perfectly lifted out of the conditions of material life. He had eaten nothing for a whole day, he had not slept for two nights, had spent several hours undressed in the frozen air, and felt not simply fresher and stronger than ever, but felt utterly independent of his body; he moved without muscular effort, and felt as if he could do anything. He was convinced he could fly upwards or lift the corner of the house, if need be. He spent the remainder of the time in the street, incessantly looking at his watch and gazing about him.
And what he saw then, he never saw again after. The children especially going to school, the bluish doves flying down from the roofs to the pavement, and the little loaves covered with flour, thrust out by an unseen hand, touched him. Those loaves, those doves, and those two boys were not earthly creatures. It all happened at the same time: a boy ran towards a dove and glanced smiling at Levin; the dove, with a whir of her wings, darted away, flashing in the sun, amid grains of snow that quivered in the air, while from a little window there came a smell of fresh-baked bread, and the loaves were put out. All of this together was so extraordinarily nice that Levin laughed and cried with delight. Going a long way round by Gazetny Place and Kislovka, he went back again to the hotel, and putting his watch before him, he sat down to wait for twelve o’clock. In the next room they were talking about some sort of machines, and swindling, and coughing their morning coughs. They did not realize that the hand was near twelve. The hand reached it. Levin went out onto the steps. The sledge-drivers clearly knew all about it. They crowded round Levin with happy faces, quarreling among themselves, and offering their services. Trying not to offend the other sledge drivers, and promising to drive with them too, Levin took one and told him to drive to the Shtcherbatskys’. The sledge-driver was splendid in a white shirt-collar sticking out over his overcoat and into his strong, full-blooded red neck. The sledge was high and comfortable, and altogether such a one as Levin never drove in after, and the horse was a good one, and tried to gallop but didn’t seem to move. The driver knew the Shtcherbatskys’ house, and drew up at the entrance with a curve of his arm and a “Wo!” especially indicative of respect for his fare. The Shtcherbatskys’ hall-porter certainly knew all about it. This was evident from the smile in his eyes and the way he said:
“Well, it’s a long while since you’ve been to see us, Konstantin Dmitrievitch!”
Not only he knew all about it, but he was unmistakably delighted and making efforts to conceal his joy. Looking into his kindly old eyes, Levin realized even something new in his happiness.
“Are they up?”
“Pray walk in! Leave it here,” said he, smiling, as Levin would have come back to take his hat. That meant something.
“To whom shall I announce your honor?” asked the footman.
The footman, though a young man, and one of the new school of footmen, a dandy, was a very kind-hearted, good fellow, and he too knew all about it.
“The princess ... the prince ... the young princess....” said Levin.
The first person he saw was Mademoiselle Linon. She walked across the room, and her ringlets and her face were beaming. He had only just spoken to her, when suddenly he heard the rustle of a skirt at the door, and Mademoiselle Linon vanished from Levin’s eyes, and a joyful terror came over him at the nearness of his happiness. Mademoiselle Linon was in great haste, and leaving him, went out at the other door. Directly she had gone out, swift, swift light steps sounded on the parquet, and his bliss, his life, himself—what was best in himself, what he had so long sought and longed for—was quickly, so quickly approaching him. She did not walk, but seemed, by some unseen force, to float to him. He saw nothing but her clear, truthful eyes, frightened by the same bliss of love that flooded his heart. Those eyes were shining nearer and nearer, blinding him with their light of love. She stopped still close to him, touching him. Her hands rose and dropped onto his shoulders.
She had done all she could—she had run up to him and given herself up entirely, shy and happy. He put his arms round her and pressed his lips to her mouth that sought his kiss.
She too had not slept all night, and had been expecting him all the morning.
Her mother and father had consented without demur, and were happy in her happiness. She had been waiting for him. She wanted to be the first to tell him her happiness and his. She had got ready to see him alone, and had been delighted at the idea, and had been shy and ashamed, and did not know herself what she was doing. She had heard his steps and voice, and had waited at the door for Mademoiselle Linon to go. Mademoiselle Linon had gone away. Without thinking, without asking herself how and what, she had gone up to him, and did as she was doing.
“Let us go to mamma!” she said, taking him by the hand. For a long while he could say nothing, not so much because he was afraid of desecrating the loftiness of his emotion by a word, as that every time he tried to say something, instead of words he felt that tears of happiness were welling up. He took her hand and kissed it.
“Can it be true?” he said at last in a choked voice. “I can’t believe you love me, dear!”
She smiled at that “dear,” and at the timidity with which he glanced at her.
“Yes!” she said significantly, deliberately. “I am so happy!”
Not letting go his hands, she went into the drawing-room. The princess, seeing them, breathed quickly, and immediately began to cry and then immediately began to laugh, and with a vigorous step Levin had not expected, ran up to him, and hugging his head, kissed him, wetting his cheeks with her tears.
“So it is all settled! I am glad. Love her. I am glad.... Kitty!”
“You’ve not been long settling things,” said the old prince, trying to seem unmoved; but Levin noticed that his eyes were wet when he turned to him.
“I’ve long, always wished for this!” said the prince, taking Levin by the arm and drawing him towards himself. “Even when this little feather-head fancied....”
“Papa!” shrieked Kitty, and shut his mouth with her hands.
“Well, I won’t!” he said. “I’m very, very ... plea... Oh, what a fool I am....”
He embraced Kitty, kissed her face, her hand, her face again, and made the sign of the cross over her.
And there came over Levin a new feeling of love for this man, till then so little known to him, when he saw how slowly and tenderly Kitty kissed his muscular hand.
The princess sat in her armchair, silent and smiling; the prince sat down beside her. Kitty stood by her father’s chair, still holding his hand. All were silent.
The princess was the first to put everything into words, and to translate all thoughts and feelings into practical questions. And all equally felt this strange and painful for the first minute.
“When is it to be? We must have the benediction and announcement. And when’s the wedding to be? What do you think, Alexander?”
“Here he is,” said the old prince, pointing to Levin—“he’s the principal person in the matter.”
“When?” said Levin blushing. “Tomorrow. If you ask me, I should say, the benediction today and the wedding tomorrow.”
“Come, mon cher, that’s nonsense!”
“Well, in a week.”
“He’s quite mad.”
“No, why so?”
“Well, upon my word!” said the mother, smiling, delighted at this haste. “How about the trousseau?”
“Will there really be a trousseau and all that?” Levin thought with horror. “But can the trousseau and the benediction and all that—can it spoil my happiness? Nothing can spoil it!” He glanced at Kitty, and noticed that she was not in the least, not in the very least, disturbed by the idea of the trousseau. “Then it must be all right,” he thought.
“Oh, I know nothing about it; I only said what I should like,” he said apologetically.
“We’ll talk it over, then. The benediction and announcement can take place now. That’s very well.”
The princess went up to her husband, kissed him, and would have gone away, but he kept her, embraced her, and, tenderly as a young lover, kissed her several times, smiling. The old people were obviously muddled for a moment, and did not quite know whether it was they who were in love again or their daughter. When the prince and the princess had gone, Levin went up to his betrothed and took her hand. He was self-possessed now and could speak, and he had a great deal he wanted to tell her. But he said not at all what he had to say.
“How I knew it would be so! I never hoped for it; and yet in my heart I was always sure,” he said. “I believe that it was ordained.”
“And I!” she said. “Even when....” She stopped and went on again, looking at him resolutely with her truthful eyes, “Even when I thrust from me my happiness. I always loved you alone, but I was carried away. I ought to tell you.... Can you forgive that?”
“Perhaps it was for the best. You will have to forgive me so much. I ought to tell you....”
This was one of the things he had meant to speak about. He had resolved from the first to tell her two things—that he was not chaste as she was, and that he was not a believer. It was agonizing, but he considered he ought to tell her both these facts.
“No, not now, later!” he said.
“Very well, later, but you must certainly tell me. I’m not afraid of anything. I want to know everything. Now it is settled.”
He added: “Settled that you’ll take me whatever I may be—you won’t give me up? Yes?”
Their conversation was interrupted by Mademoiselle Linon, who with an affected but tender smile came to congratulate her favorite pupil. Before she had gone, the servants came in with their congratulations. Then relations arrived, and there began that state of blissful absurdity from which Levin did not emerge till the day after his wedding. Levin was in a continual state of awkwardness and discomfort, but the intensity of his happiness went on all the while increasing. He felt continually that a great deal was being expected of him—what, he did not know; and he did everything he was told, and it all gave him happiness. He had thought his engagement would have nothing about it like others, that the ordinary conditions of engaged couples would spoil his special happiness; but it ended in his doing exactly as other people did, and his happiness being only increased thereby and becoming more and more special, more and more unlike anything that had ever happened.
“Now we shall have sweetmeats to eat,” said Mademoiselle Linon—and Levin drove off to buy sweetmeats.
“Well, I’m very glad,” said Sviazhsky. “I advise you to get the bouquets from Fomin’s.”
“Oh, are they wanted?” And he drove to Fomin’s.
His brother offered to lend him money, as he would have so many expenses, presents to give....
“Oh, are presents wanted?” And he galloped to Foulde’s.
And at the confectioner’s, and at Fomin’s, and at Foulde’s he saw that he was expected; that they were pleased to see him, and prided themselves on his happiness, just as everyone whom he had to do with during those days. What was extraordinary was that everyone not only liked him, but even people previously unsympathetic, cold, and callous, were enthusiastic over him, gave way to him in everything, treated his feeling with tenderness and delicacy, and shared his conviction that he was the happiest man in the world because his betrothed was beyond perfection. Kitty too felt the same thing. When Countess Nordston ventured to hint that she had hoped for something better, Kitty was so angry and proved so conclusively that nothing in the world could be better than Levin, that Countess Nordston had to admit it, and in Kitty’s presence never met Levin without a smile of ecstatic admiration.
The confession he had promised was the one painful incident of this time. He consulted the old prince, and with his sanction gave Kitty his diary, in which there was written the confession that tortured him. He had written this diary at the time with a view to his future wife. Two things caused him anguish: his lack of purity and his lack of faith. His confession of unbelief passed unnoticed. She was religious, had never doubted the truths of religion, but his external unbelief did not affect her in the least. Through love she knew all his soul, and in his soul she saw what she wanted, and that such a state of soul should be called unbelieving was to her a matter of no account. The other confession set her weeping bitterly.
Levin, not without an inner struggle, handed her his diary. He knew that between him and her there could not be, and should not be, secrets, and so he had decided that so it must be. But he had not realized what an effect it would have on her, he had not put himself in her place. It was only when the same evening he came to their house before the theater, went into her room and saw her tear-stained, pitiful, sweet face, miserable with suffering he had caused and nothing could undo, he felt the abyss that separated his shameful past from her dovelike purity, and was appalled at what he had done.
“Take them, take these dreadful books!” she said, pushing away the notebooks lying before her on the table. “Why did you give them me? No, it was better anyway,” she added, touched by his despairing face. “But it’s awful, awful!”
His head sank, and he was silent. He could say nothing.
“You can’t forgive me,” he whispered.
“Yes, I forgive you; but it’s terrible!”
But his happiness was so immense that this confession did not shatter it, it only added another shade to it. She forgave him; but from that time more than ever he considered himself unworthy of her, morally bowed down lower than ever before her, and prized more highly than ever his undeserved happiness.
Unconsciously going over in his memory the conversations that had taken place during and after dinner, Alexey Alexandrovitch returned to his solitary room. Darya Alexandrovna’s words about forgiveness had aroused in him nothing but annoyance. The applicability or non-applicability of the Christian precept to his own case was too difficult a question to be discussed lightly, and this question had long ago been answered by Alexey Alexandrovitch in the negative. Of all that had been said, what stuck most in his memory was the phrase of stupid, good-natured Turovtsin—“Acted like a man, he did! Called him out and shot him!” Everyone had apparently shared this feeling, though from politeness they had not expressed it.
“But the matter is settled, it’s useless thinking about it,” Alexey Alexandrovitch told himself. And thinking of nothing but the journey before him, and the revision work he had to do, he went into his room and asked the porter who escorted him where his man was. The porter said that the man had only just gone out. Alexey Alexandrovitch ordered tea to be sent him, sat down to the table, and taking the guidebook, began considering the route of his journey.
“Two telegrams,” said his manservant, coming into the room. “I beg your pardon, your excellency; I’d only just that minute gone out.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch took the telegrams and opened them. The first telegram was the announcement of Stremov’s appointment to the very post Karenin had coveted. Alexey Alexandrovitch flung the telegram down, and flushing a little, got up and began to pace up and down the room. “Quos vult perdere dementat,” he said, meaning by quos the persons responsible for this appointment. He was not so much annoyed that he had not received the post, that he had been conspicuously passed over; but it was incomprehensible, amazing to him that they did not see that the wordy phrase-monger Stremov was the last man fit for it. How could they fail to see how they were ruining themselves, lowering their prestige by this appointment?
“Something else in the same line,” he said to himself bitterly, opening the second telegram. The telegram was from his wife. Her name, written in blue pencil, “Anna,” was the first thing that caught his eye. “I am dying; I beg, I implore you to come. I shall die easier with your forgiveness,” he read. He smiled contemptuously, and flung down the telegram. That this was a trick and a fraud, of that, he thought for the first minute, there could be no doubt.
“There is no deceit she would stick at. She was near her confinement. Perhaps it is the confinement. But what can be their aim? To legitimize the child, to compromise me, and prevent a divorce,” he thought. “But something was said in it: I am dying....” He read the telegram again, and suddenly the plain meaning of what was said in it struck him.
“And if it is true?” he said to himself. “If it is true that in the moment of agony and nearness to death she is genuinely penitent, and I, taking it for a trick, refuse to go? That would not only be cruel, and everyone would blame me, but it would be stupid on my part.”
“Piotr, call a coach; I am going to Petersburg,” he said to his servant.
Alexey Alexandrovitch decided that he would go to Petersburg and see his wife. If her illness was a trick, he would say nothing and go away again. If she was really in danger, and wished to see him before her death, he would forgive her if he found her alive, and pay her the last duties if he came too late.
All the way he thought no more of what he ought to do.
With a sense of weariness and uncleanness from the night spent in the train, in the early fog of Petersburg Alexey Alexandrovitch drove through the deserted Nevsky and stared straight before him, not thinking of what was awaiting him. He could not think about it, because in picturing what would happen, he could not drive away the reflection that her death would at once remove all the difficulty of his position. Bakers, closed shops, night-cabmen, porters sweeping the pavements flashed past his eyes, and he watched it all, trying to smother the thought of what was awaiting him, and what he dared not hope for, and yet was hoping for. He drove up to the steps. A sledge and a carriage with the coachman asleep stood at the entrance. As he went into the entry, Alexey Alexandrovitch, as it were, got out his resolution from the remotest corner of his brain, and mastered it thoroughly. Its meaning ran: “If it’s a trick, then calm contempt and departure. If truth, do what is proper.”
The porter opened the door before Alexey Alexandrovitch rang. The porter, Kapitonitch, looked queer in an old coat, without a tie, and in slippers.
“How is your mistress?”
“A successful confinement yesterday.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch stopped short and turned white. He felt distinctly now how intensely he had longed for her death.
“And how is she?”
Korney in his morning apron ran downstairs.
“Very ill,” he answered. “There was a consultation yesterday, and the doctor’s here now.”
“Take my things,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, and feeling some relief at the news that there was still hope of her death, he went into the hall.
On the hatstand there was a military overcoat. Alexey Alexandrovitch noticed it and asked:
“Who is here?”
“The doctor, the midwife, and Count Vronsky.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the inner rooms.
In the drawing-room there was no one; at the sound of his steps there came out of her boudoir the midwife in a cap with lilac ribbons.
She went up to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and with the familiarity given by the approach of death took him by the arm and drew him towards the bedroom.
“Thank God you’ve come! She keeps on about you and nothing but you,” she said.
“Make haste with the ice!” the doctor’s peremptory voice said from the bedroom.
Alexey Alexandrovitch went into her boudoir.
At the table, sitting sideways in a low chair, was Vronsky, his face hidden in his hands, weeping. He jumped up at the doctor’s voice, took his hands from his face, and saw Alexey Alexandrovitch. Seeing the husband, he was so overwhelmed that he sat down again, drawing his head down to his shoulders, as if he wanted to disappear; but he made an effort over himself, got up and said:
“She is dying. The doctors say there is no hope. I am entirely in your power, only let me be here ... though I am at your disposal. I....”
Alexey Alexandrovitch, seeing Vronsky’s tears, felt a rush of that nervous emotion always produced in him by the sight of other people’s suffering, and turning away his face, he moved hurriedly to the door, without hearing the rest of his words. From the bedroom came the sound of Anna’s voice saying something. Her voice was lively, eager, with exceedingly distinct intonations. Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the bedroom, and went up to the bed. She was lying turned with her face towards him. Her cheeks were flushed crimson, her eyes glittered, her little white hands thrust out from the sleeves of her dressing gown were playing with the quilt, twisting it about. It seemed as though she were not only well and blooming, but in the happiest frame of mind. She was talking rapidly, musically, and with exceptionally correct articulation and expressive intonation.
“For Alexey—I am speaking of Alexey Alexandrovitch (what a strange and awful thing that both are Alexey, isn’t it?)—Alexey would not refuse me. I should forget, he would forgive.... But why doesn’t he come? He’s so good he doesn’t know himself how good he is. Ah, my God, what agony! Give me some water, quick! Oh, that will be bad for her, my little girl! Oh, very well then, give her to a nurse. Yes, I agree, it’s better in fact. He’ll be coming; it will hurt him to see her. Give her to the nurse.”
“Anna Arkadyevna, he has come. Here he is!” said the midwife, trying to attract her attention to Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Oh, what nonsense!” Anna went on, not seeing her husband. “No, give her to me; give me my little one! He has not come yet. You say he won’t forgive me, because you don’t know him. No one knows him. I’m the only one, and it was hard for me even. His eyes I ought to know—Seryozha has just the same eyes—and I can’t bear to see them because of it. Has Seryozha had his dinner? I know everyone will forget him. He would not forget. Seryozha must be moved into the corner room, and Mariette must be asked to sleep with him.”
All of a sudden she shrank back, was silent; and in terror, as though expecting a blow, as though to defend herself, she raised her hands to her face. She had seen her husband.
“No, no!” she began. “I am not afraid of him; I am afraid of death. Alexey, come here. I am in a hurry, because I’ve no time, I’ve not long left to live; the fever will begin directly and I shall understand nothing more. Now I understand, I understand it all, I see it all!”
Alexey Alexandrovitch’s wrinkled face wore an expression of agony; he took her by the hand and tried to say something, but he could not utter it; his lower lip quivered, but he still went on struggling with his emotion, and only now and then glanced at her. And each time he glanced at her, he saw her eyes gazing at him with such passionate and triumphant tenderness as he had never seen in them.
“Wait a minute, you don’t know ... stay a little, stay!...” She stopped, as though collecting her ideas. “Yes,” she began; “yes, yes, yes. This is what I wanted to say. Don’t be surprised at me. I’m still the same.... But there is another woman in me, I’m afraid of her: she loved that man, and I tried to hate you, and could not forget about her that used to be. I’m not that woman. Now I’m my real self, all myself. I’m dying now, I know I shall die, ask him. Even now I feel—see here, the weights on my feet, on my hands, on my fingers. My fingers—see how huge they are! But this will soon all be over.... Only one thing I want: forgive me, forgive me quite. I’m terrible, but my nurse used to tell me; the holy martyr—what was her name? She was worse. And I’ll go to Rome; there’s a wilderness, and there I shall be no trouble to anyone, only I’ll take Seryozha and the little one.... No, you can’t forgive me! I know, it can’t be forgiven! No, no, go away, you’re too good!” She held his hand in one burning hand, while she pushed him away with the other.
The nervous agitation of Alexey Alexandrovitch kept increasing, and had by now reached such a point that he ceased to struggle with it. He suddenly felt that what he had regarded as nervous agitation was on the contrary a blissful spiritual condition that gave him all at once a new happiness he had never known. He did not think that the Christian law that he had been all his life trying to follow, enjoined on him to forgive and love his enemies; but a glad feeling of love and forgiveness for his enemies filled his heart. He knelt down, and laying his head in the curve of her arm, which burned him as with fire through the sleeve, he sobbed like a little child. She put her arm around his head, moved towards him, and with defiant pride lifted up her eyes.
“That is he. I knew him! Now, forgive me, everyone, forgive me!... They’ve come again; why don’t they go away?... Oh, take these cloaks off me!”
The doctor unloosed her hands, carefully laying her on the pillow, and covered her up to the shoulders. She lay back submissively, and looked before her with beaming eyes.
“Remember one thing, that I needed nothing but forgiveness, and I want nothing more.... Why doesn’t he come?” she said, turning to the door towards Vronsky. “Do come, do come! Give him your hand.”
Vronsky came to the side of the bed, and seeing Anna, again hid his face in his hands.
“Uncover your face—look at him! He’s a saint,” she said. “Oh! uncover your face, do uncover it!” she said angrily. “Alexey Alexandrovitch, do uncover his face! I want to see him.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch took Vronsky’s hands and drew them away from his face, which was awful with the expression of agony and shame upon it.
“Give him your hand. Forgive him.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch gave him his hand, not attempting to restrain the tears that streamed from his eyes.
“Thank God, thank God!” she said, “now everything is ready. Only to stretch my legs a little. There, that’s capital. How badly these flowers are done—not a bit like a violet,” she said, pointing to the hangings. “My God, my God! when will it end? Give me some morphine. Doctor, give me some morphine! Oh, my God, my God!”
And she tossed about on the bed.
The doctors said that it was puerperal fever, and that it was ninety-nine chances in a hundred it would end in death. The whole day long there was fever, delirium, and unconsciousness. At midnight the patient lay without consciousness, and almost without pulse.
The end was expected every minute.
Vronsky had gone home, but in the morning he came to inquire, and Alexey Alexandrovitch meeting him in the hall, said: “Better stay, she might ask for you,” and himself led him to his wife’s boudoir. Towards morning, there was a return again of excitement, rapid thought and talk, and again it ended in unconsciousness. On the third day it was the same thing, and the doctors said there was hope. That day Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the boudoir where Vronsky was sitting, and closing the door sat down opposite him.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch,” said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the position was coming, “I can’t speak, I can’t understand. Spare me! However hard it is for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me.”
He would have risen; but Alexey Alexandrovitch took him by the hand and said:
“I beg you to hear me out; it is necessary. I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won’t conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. When I got the telegram, I came here with the same feelings; I will say more, I longed for her death. But....” He paused, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his feeling to him. “But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!”
Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.
“This is my position: you can trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock of the world, I will not abandon her, and I will never utter a word of reproach to you,” Alexey Alexandrovitch went on. “My duty is clearly marked for me; I ought to be with her, and I will be. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now I suppose it would be better for you to go away.”
He got up, and sobs cut short his words. Vronsky too was getting up, and in a stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him from under his brows. He did not understand Alexey Alexandrovitch’s feeling, but he felt that it was something higher and even unattainable for him with his view of life.
After the conversation with Alexey Alexandrovitch, Vronsky went out onto the steps of the Karenins’ house and stood still, with difficulty remembering where he was, and where he ought to walk or drive. He felt disgraced, humiliated, guilty, and deprived of all possibility of washing away his humiliation. He felt thrust out of the beaten track along which he had so proudly and lightly walked till then. All the habits and rules of his life that had seemed so firm, had turned out suddenly false and inapplicable. The betrayed husband, who had figured till that time as a pitiful creature, an incidental and somewhat ludicrous obstacle to his happiness, had suddenly been summoned by her herself, elevated to an awe-inspiring pinnacle, and on the pinnacle that husband had shown himself, not malignant, not false, not ludicrous, but kind and straightforward and large. Vronsky could not but feel this, and the parts were suddenly reversed. Vronsky felt his elevation and his own abasement, his truth and his own falsehood. He felt that the husband was magnanimous even in his sorrow, while he had been base and petty in his deceit. But this sense of his own humiliation before the man he had unjustly despised made up only a small part of his misery. He felt unutterably wretched now, for his passion for Anna, which had seemed to him of late to be growing cooler, now that he knew he had lost her forever, was stronger than ever it had been. He had seen all of her in her illness, had come to know her very soul, and it seemed to him that he had never loved her till then. And now when he had learned to know her, to love her as she should be loved, he had been humiliated before her, and had lost her forever, leaving with her nothing of himself but a shameful memory. Most terrible of all had been his ludicrous, shameful position when Alexey Alexandrovitch had pulled his hands away from his humiliated face. He stood on the steps of the Karenins’ house like one distraught, and did not know what to do.
“A sledge, sir?” asked the porter.
“Yes, a sledge.”
On getting home, after three sleepless nights, Vronsky, without undressing, lay down flat on the sofa, clasping his hands and laying his head on them. His head was heavy. Images, memories, and ideas of the strangest description followed one another with extraordinary rapidity and vividness. First it was the medicine he had poured out for the patient and spilt over the spoon, then the midwife’s white hands, then the queer posture of Alexey Alexandrovitch on the floor beside the bed.
“To sleep! To forget!” he said to himself with the serene confidence of a healthy man that if he is tired and sleepy, he will go to sleep at once. And the same instant his head did begin to feel drowsy and he began to drop off into forgetfulness. The waves of the sea of unconsciousness had begun to meet over his head, when all at once—it was as though a violent shock of electricity had passed over him. He started so that he leaped up on the springs of the sofa, and leaning on his arms got in a panic onto his knees. His eyes were wide open as though he had never been asleep. The heaviness in his head and the weariness in his limbs that he had felt a minute before had suddenly gone.
“You may trample me in the mud,” he heard Alexey Alexandrovitch’s words and saw him standing before him, and saw Anna’s face with its burning flush and glittering eyes, gazing with love and tenderness not at him but at Alexey Alexandrovitch; he saw his own, as he fancied, foolish and ludicrous figure when Alexey Alexandrovitch took his hands away from his face. He stretched out his legs again and flung himself on the sofa in the same position and shut his eyes.
“To sleep! To forget!” he repeated to himself. But with his eyes shut he saw more distinctly than ever Anna’s face as it had been on the memorable evening before the races.
“That is not and will not be, and she wants to wipe it out of her memory. But I cannot live without it. How can we be reconciled? how can we be reconciled?” he said aloud, and unconsciously began to repeat these words. This repetition checked the rising up of fresh images and memories, which he felt were thronging in his brain. But repeating words did not check his imagination for long. Again in extraordinarily rapid succession his best moments rose before his mind, and then his recent humiliation. “Take away his hands,” Anna’s voice says. He takes away his hands and feels the shamestruck and idiotic expression of his face.
He still lay down, trying to sleep, though he felt there was not the smallest hope of it, and kept repeating stray words from some chain of thought, trying by this to check the rising flood of fresh images. He listened, and heard in a strange, mad whisper words repeated: “I did not appreciate it, did not make enough of it. I did not appreciate it, did not make enough of it.”
“What’s this? Am I going out of my mind?” he said to himself. “Perhaps. What makes men go out of their minds; what makes men shoot themselves?” he answered himself, and opening his eyes, he saw with wonder an embroidered cushion beside him, worked by Varya, his brother’s wife. He touched the tassel of the cushion, and tried to think of Varya, of when he had seen her last. But to think of anything extraneous was an agonizing effort. “No, I must sleep!” He moved the cushion up, and pressed his head into it, but he had to make an effort to keep his eyes shut. He jumped up and sat down. “That’s all over for me,” he said to himself. “I must think what to do. What is left?” His mind rapidly ran through his life apart from his love of Anna.
“Ambition? Serpuhovskoy? Society? The court?” He could not come to a pause anywhere. All of it had had meaning before, but now there was no reality in it. He got up from the sofa, took off his coat, undid his belt, and uncovering his hairy chest to breathe more freely, walked up and down the room. “This is how people go mad,” he repeated, “and how they shoot themselves ... to escape humiliation,” he added slowly.
He went to the door and closed it, then with fixed eyes and clenched teeth he went up to the table, took a revolver, looked round him, turned it to a loaded barrel, and sank into thought. For two minutes, his head bent forward with an expression of an intense effort of thought, he stood with the revolver in his hand, motionless, thinking.
“Of course,” he said to himself, as though a logical, continuous, and clear chain of reasoning had brought him to an indubitable conclusion. In reality this “of course,” that seemed convincing to him, was simply the result of exactly the same circle of memories and images through which he had passed ten times already during the last hour—memories of happiness lost forever. There was the same conception of the senselessness of everything to come in life, the same consciousness of humiliation. Even the sequence of these images and emotions was the same.
“Of course,” he repeated, when for the third time his thought passed again round the same spellbound circle of memories and images, and pulling the revolver to the left side of his chest, and clutching it vigorously with his whole hand, as it were, squeezing it in his fist, he pulled the trigger. He did not hear the sound of the shot, but a violent blow on his chest sent him reeling. He tried to clutch at the edge of the table, dropped the revolver, staggered, and sat down on the ground, looking about him in astonishment. He did not recognize his room, looking up from the ground, at the bent legs of the table, at the wastepaper basket, and the tiger-skin rug. The hurried, creaking steps of his servant coming through the drawing-room brought him to his senses. He made an effort at thought, and was aware that he was on the floor; and seeing blood on the tiger-skin rug and on his arm, he knew he had shot himself.
“Idiotic! Missed!” he said, fumbling after the revolver. The revolver was close beside him—he sought further off. Still feeling for it, he stretched out to the other side, and not being strong enough to keep his balance, fell over, streaming with blood.
The elegant, whiskered manservant, who used to be continually complaining to his acquaintances of the delicacy of his nerves, was so panic-stricken on seeing his master lying on the floor, that he left him losing blood while he ran for assistance. An hour later Varya, his brother’s wife, had arrived, and with the assistance of three doctors, whom she had sent for in all directions, and who all appeared at the same moment, she got the wounded man to bed, and remained to nurse him.
The mistake made by Alexey Alexandrovitch in that, when preparing for seeing his wife, he had overlooked the possibility that her repentance might be sincere, and he might forgive her, and she might not die—this mistake was two months after his return from Moscow brought home to him in all its significance. But the mistake made by him had arisen not simply from his having overlooked that contingency, but also from the fact that until that day of his interview with his dying wife, he had not known his own heart. At his sick wife’s bedside he had for the first time in his life given way to that feeling of sympathetic suffering always roused in him by the sufferings of others, and hitherto looked on by him with shame as a harmful weakness. And pity for her, and remorse for having desired her death, and most of all, the joy of forgiveness, made him at once conscious, not simply of the relief of his own sufferings, but of a spiritual peace he had never experienced before. He suddenly felt that the very thing that was the source of his sufferings had become the source of his spiritual joy; that what had seemed insoluble while he was judging, blaming, and hating, had become clear and simple when he forgave and loved.
He forgave his wife and pitied her for her sufferings and her remorse. He forgave Vronsky, and pitied him, especially after reports reached him of his despairing action. He felt more for his son than before. And he blamed himself now for having taken too little interest in him. But for the little newborn baby he felt a quite peculiar sentiment, not of pity, only, but of tenderness. At first, from a feeling of compassion alone, he had been interested in the delicate little creature, who was not his child, and who was cast on one side during her mother’s illness, and would certainly have died if he had not troubled about her, and he did not himself observe how fond he became of her. He would go into the nursery several times a day, and sit there for a long while, so that the nurses, who were at first afraid of him, got quite used to his presence. Sometimes for half an hour at a stretch he would sit silently gazing at the saffron-red, downy, wrinkled face of the sleeping baby, watching the movements of the frowning brows, and the fat little hands, with clenched fingers, that rubbed the little eyes and nose. At such moments particularly, Alexey Alexandrovitch had a sense of perfect peace and inward harmony, and saw nothing extraordinary in his position, nothing that ought to be changed.
But as time went on, he saw more and more distinctly that however natural the position now seemed to him, he would not long be allowed to remain in it. He felt that besides the blessed spiritual force controlling his soul, there was another, a brutal force, as powerful, or more powerful, which controlled his life, and that this force would not allow him that humble peace he longed for. He felt that everyone was looking at him with inquiring wonder, that he was not understood, and that something was expected of him. Above all, he felt the instability and unnaturalness of his relations with his wife.
When the softening effect of the near approach of death had passed away, Alexey Alexandrovitch began to notice that Anna was afraid of him, ill at ease with him, and could not look him straight in the face. She seemed to be wanting, and not daring, to tell him something; and as though foreseeing their present relations could not continue, she seemed to be expecting something from him.
Towards the end of February it happened that Anna’s baby daughter, who had been named Anna too, fell ill. Alexey Alexandrovitch was in the nursery in the morning, and leaving orders for the doctor to be sent for, he went to his office. On finishing his work, he returned home at four. Going into the hall he saw a handsome groom, in a braided livery and a bear fur cape, holding a white fur cloak.
“Who is here?” asked Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Princess Elizaveta Federovna Tverskaya,” the groom answered, and it seemed to Alexey Alexandrovitch that he grinned.
During all this difficult time Alexey Alexandrovitch had noticed that his worldly acquaintances, especially women, took a peculiar interest in him and his wife. All these acquaintances he observed with difficulty concealing their mirth at something; the same mirth that he had perceived in the lawyer’s eyes, and just now in the eyes of this groom. Everyone seemed, somehow, hugely delighted, as though they had just been at a wedding. When they met him, with ill-disguised enjoyment they inquired after his wife’s health. The presence of Princess Tverskaya was unpleasant to Alexey Alexandrovitch from the memories associated with her, and also because he disliked her, and he went straight to the nursery. In the day nursery Seryozha, leaning on the table with his legs on a chair, was drawing and chatting away merrily. The English governess, who had during Anna’s illness replaced the French one, was sitting near the boy knitting a shawl. She hurriedly got up, curtseyed, and pulled Seryozha.
Alexey Alexandrovitch stroked his son’s hair, answered the governess’s inquiries about his wife, and asked what the doctor had said of the baby.
“The doctor said it was nothing serious, and he ordered a bath, sir.”
“But she is still in pain,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, listening to the baby’s screaming in the next room.
“I think it’s the wet-nurse, sir,” the Englishwoman said firmly.
“What makes you think so?” he asked, stopping short.
“It’s just as it was at Countess Paul’s, sir. They gave the baby medicine, and it turned out that the baby was simply hungry: the nurse had no milk, sir.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch pondered, and after standing still a few seconds he went in at the other door. The baby was lying with its head thrown back, stiffening itself in the nurse’s arms, and would not take the plump breast offered it; and it never ceased screaming in spite of the double hushing of the wet-nurse and the other nurse, who was bending over her.
“Still no better?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“She’s very restless,” answered the nurse in a whisper.
“Miss Edwarde says that perhaps the wet-nurse has no milk,” he said.
“I think so too, Alexey Alexandrovitch.”
“Then why didn’t you say so?”
“Who’s one to say it to? Anna Arkadyevna still ill....” said the nurse discontentedly.
The nurse was an old servant of the family. And in her simple words there seemed to Alexey Alexandrovitch an allusion to his position.
The baby screamed louder than ever, struggling and sobbing. The nurse, with a gesture of despair, went to it, took it from the wet-nurse’s arms, and began walking up and down, rocking it.
“You must ask the doctor to examine the wet-nurse,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. The smartly dressed and healthy-looking nurse, frightened at the idea of losing her place, muttered something to herself, and covering her bosom, smiled contemptuously at the idea of doubts being cast on her abundance of milk. In that smile, too, Alexey Alexandrovitch saw a sneer at his position.
“Luckless child!” said the nurse, hushing the baby, and still walking up and down with it.
Alexey Alexandrovitch sat down, and with a despondent and suffering face watched the nurse walking to and fro.
When the child at last was still, and had been put in a deep bed, and the nurse, after smoothing the little pillow, had left her, Alexey Alexandrovitch got up, and walking awkwardly on tiptoe, approached the baby. For a minute he was still, and with the same despondent face gazed at the baby; but all at once a smile, that moved his hair and the skin of his forehead, came out on his face, and he went as softly out of the room.
In the dining-room he rang the bell, and told the servant who came in to send again for the doctor. He felt vexed with his wife for not being anxious about this exquisite baby, and in this vexed humor he had no wish to go to her; he had no wish, either, to see Princess Betsy. But his wife might wonder why he did not go to her as usual; and so, overcoming his disinclination, he went towards the bedroom. As he walked over the soft rug towards the door, he could not help overhearing a conversation he did not want to hear.
“If he hadn’t been going away, I could have understood your answer and his too. But your husband ought to be above that,” Betsy was saying.
“It’s not for my husband; for myself I don’t wish it. Don’t say that!” answered Anna’s excited voice.
“Yes, but you must care to say good-bye to a man who has shot himself on your account....”
“That’s just why I don’t want to.”
With a dismayed and guilty expression, Alexey Alexandrovitch stopped and would have gone back unobserved. But reflecting that this would be undignified, he turned back again, and clearing his throat, he went up to the bedroom. The voices were silent, and he went in.
Anna, in a gray dressing gown, with a crop of short clustering black curls on her round head, was sitting on a settee. The eagerness died out of her face, as it always did, at the sight of her husband; she dropped her head and looked round uneasily at Betsy. Betsy, dressed in the height of the latest fashion, in a hat that towered somewhere over her head like a shade on a lamp, in a blue dress with violet crossway stripes slanting one way on the bodice and the other way on the skirt, was sitting beside Anna, her tall flat figure held erect. Bowing her head, she greeted Alexey Alexandrovitch with an ironical smile.
“Ah!” she said, as though surprised. “I’m very glad you’re at home. You never put in an appearance anywhere, and I haven’t seen you ever since Anna has been ill. I have heard all about it—your anxiety. Yes, you’re a wonderful husband!” she said, with a meaning and affable air, as though she were bestowing an order of magnanimity on him for his conduct to his wife.
Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed frigidly, and kissing his wife’s hand, asked how she was.
“Better, I think,” she said, avoiding his eyes.
“But you’ve rather a feverish-looking color,” he said, laying stress on the word “feverish.”
“We’ve been talking too much,” said Betsy. “I feel it’s selfishness on my part, and I am going away.”
She got up, but Anna, suddenly flushing, quickly caught at her hand.
“No, wait a minute, please. I must tell you ... no, you.” she turned to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and her neck and brow were suffused with crimson. “I won’t and can’t keep anything secret from you,” she said.
Alexey Alexandrovitch cracked his fingers and bowed his head.
“Betsy’s been telling me that Count Vronsky wants to come here to say good-bye before his departure for Tashkend.” She did not look at her husband, and was evidently in haste to have everything out, however hard it might be for her. “I told her I could not receive him.”
“You said, my dear, that it would depend on Alexey Alexandrovitch,” Betsy corrected her.
“Oh, no, I can’t receive him; and what object would there....” She stopped suddenly, and glanced inquiringly at her husband (he did not look at her). “In short, I don’t wish it....”
Alexey Alexandrovitch advanced and would have taken her hand.
Her first impulse was to jerk back her hand from the damp hand with big swollen veins that sought hers, but with an obvious effort to control herself she pressed his hand.
“I am very grateful to you for your confidence, but....” he said, feeling with confusion and annoyance that what he could decide easily and clearly by himself, he could not discuss before Princess Tverskaya, who to him stood for the incarnation of that brute force which would inevitably control him in the life he led in the eyes of the world, and hinder him from giving way to his feeling of love and forgiveness. He stopped short, looking at Princess Tverskaya.
“Well, good-bye, my darling,” said Betsy, getting up. She kissed Anna, and went out. Alexey Alexandrovitch escorted her out.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch! I know you are a truly magnanimous man,” said Betsy, stopping in the little drawing-room, and with special warmth shaking hands with him once more. “I am an outsider, but I so love her and respect you that I venture to advise. Receive him. Alexey Vronsky is the soul of honor, and he is going away to Tashkend.”
“Thank you, princess, for your sympathy and advice. But the question of whether my wife can or cannot see anyone she must decide herself.”
He said this from habit, lifting his brows with dignity, and reflected immediately that whatever his words might be, there could be no dignity in his position. And he saw this by the suppressed, malicious, and ironical smile with which Betsy glanced at him after this phrase.
Alexey Alexandrovitch took leave of Betsy in the drawing-room, and went to his wife. She was lying down, but hearing his steps she sat up hastily in her former attitude, and looked in a scared way at him. He saw she had been crying.
“I am very grateful for your confidence in me.” He repeated gently in Russian the phrase he had said in Betsy’s presence in French, and sat down beside her. When he spoke to her in Russian, using the Russian “thou” of intimacy and affection, it was insufferably irritating to Anna. “And I am very grateful for your decision. I, too, imagine that since he is going away, there is no sort of necessity for Count Vronsky to come here. However, if....”
“But I’ve said so already, so why repeat it?” Anna suddenly interrupted him with an irritation she could not succeed in repressing. “No sort of necessity,” she thought, “for a man to come and say good-bye to the woman he loves, for whom he was ready to ruin himself, and has ruined himself, and who cannot live without him. No sort of necessity!” she compressed her lips, and dropped her burning eyes to his hands with their swollen veins. They were rubbing each other.
“Let us never speak of it,” she added more calmly.
“I have left this question to you to decide, and I am very glad to see....” Alexey Alexandrovitch was beginning.
“That my wish coincides with your own,” she finished quickly, exasperated at his talking so slowly while she knew beforehand all he would say.
“Yes,” he assented; “and Princess Tverskaya’s interference in the most difficult private affairs is utterly uncalled for. She especially....”
“I don’t believe a word of what’s said about her,” said Anna quickly. “I know she really cares for me.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed and said nothing. She played nervously with the tassel of her dressing-gown, glancing at him with that torturing sensation of physical repulsion for which she blamed herself, though she could not control it. Her only desire now was to be rid of his oppressive presence.
“I have just sent for the doctor,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“I am very well; what do I want the doctor for?”
“No, the little one cries, and they say the nurse hasn’t enough milk.”
“Why didn’t you let me nurse her, when I begged to? Anyway” (Alexey Alexandrovitch knew what was meant by that “anyway”), “she’s a baby, and they’re killing her.” She rang the bell and ordered the baby to be brought her. “I begged to nurse her, I wasn’t allowed to, and now I’m blamed for it.”
“I don’t blame....”
“Yes, you do blame me! My God! why didn’t I die!” And she broke into sobs. “Forgive me, I’m nervous, I’m unjust,” she said, controlling herself, “but do go away....”
“No, it can’t go on like this,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself decidedly as he left his wife’s room.
Never had the impossibility of his position in the world’s eyes, and his wife’s hatred of him, and altogether the might of that mysterious brutal force that guided his life against his spiritual inclinations, and exacted conformity with its decrees and change in his attitude to his wife, been presented to him with such distinctness as that day. He saw clearly that all the world and his wife expected of him something, but what exactly, he could not make out. He felt that this was rousing in his soul a feeling of anger destructive of his peace of mind and of all the good of his achievement. He believed that for Anna herself it would be better to break off all relations with Vronsky; but if they all thought this out of the question, he was even ready to allow these relations to be renewed, so long as the children were not disgraced, and he was not deprived of them nor forced to change his position. Bad as this might be, it was anyway better than a rupture, which would put her in a hopeless and shameful position, and deprive him of everything he cared for. But he felt helpless; he knew beforehand that everyone was against him, and that he would not be allowed to do what seemed to him now so natural and right, but would be forced to do what was wrong, though it seemed the proper thing to them.
Before Betsy had time to walk out of the drawing-room, she was met in the doorway by Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had just come from Yeliseev’s, where a consignment of fresh oysters had been received.
“Ah! princess! what a delightful meeting!” he began. “I’ve been to see you.”
“A meeting for one minute, for I’m going,” said Betsy, smiling and putting on her glove.
“Don’t put on your glove yet, princess; let me kiss your hand. There’s nothing I’m so thankful to the revival of the old fashions for as the kissing the hand.” He kissed Betsy’s hand. “When shall we see each other?”
“You don’t deserve it,” answered Betsy, smiling.
“Oh, yes, I deserve a great deal, for I’ve become a most serious person. I don’t only manage my own affairs, but other people’s too,” he said, with a significant expression.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” answered Betsy, at once understanding that he was speaking of Anna. And going back into the drawing-room, they stood in a corner. “He’s killing her,” said Betsy in a whisper full of meaning. “It’s impossible, impossible....”
“I’m so glad you think so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, shaking his head with a serious and sympathetically distressed expression, “that’s what I’ve come to Petersburg for.”
“The whole town’s talking of it,” she said. “It’s an impossible position. She pines and pines away. He doesn’t understand that she’s one of those women who can’t trifle with their feelings. One of two things: either let him take her away, act with energy, or give her a divorce. This is stifling her.”
“Yes, yes ... just so....” Oblonsky said, sighing. “That’s what I’ve come for. At least not solely for that ... I’ve been made a Kammerherr; of course, one has to say thank you. But the chief thing was having to settle this.”
“Well, God help you!” said Betsy.
After accompanying Betsy to the outside hall, once more kissing her hand above the glove, at the point where the pulse beats, and murmuring to her such unseemly nonsense that she did not know whether to laugh or be angry, Stepan Arkadyevitch went to his sister. He found her in tears.
Although he happened to be bubbling over with good spirits, Stepan Arkadyevitch immediately and quite naturally fell into the sympathetic, poetically emotional tone which harmonized with her mood. He asked her how she was, and how she had spent the morning.
“Very, very miserably. Today and this morning and all past days and days to come,” she said.
“I think you’re giving way to pessimism. You must rouse yourself, you must look life in the face. I know it’s hard, but....”
“I have heard it said that women love men even for their vices,” Anna began suddenly, “but I hate him for his virtues. I can’t live with him. Do you understand? the sight of him has a physical effect on me, it makes me beside myself. I can’t, I can’t live with him. What am I to do? I have been unhappy, and used to think one couldn’t be more unhappy, but the awful state of things I am going through now, I could never have conceived. Would you believe it, that knowing he’s a good man, a splendid man, that I’m not worth his little finger, still I hate him. I hate him for his generosity. And there’s nothing left for me but....”
She would have said death, but Stepan Arkadyevitch would not let her finish.
“You are ill and overwrought,” he said; “believe me, you’re exaggerating dreadfully. There’s nothing so terrible in it.”
And Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. No one else in Stepan Arkadyevitch’s place, having to do with such despair, would have ventured to smile (the smile would have seemed brutal); but in his smile there was so much of sweetness and almost feminine tenderness that his smile did not wound, but softened and soothed. His gentle, soothing words and smiles were as soothing and softening as almond oil. And Anna soon felt this.
“No, Stiva,” she said, “I’m lost, lost! worse than lost! I can’t say yet that all is over; on the contrary, I feel that it’s not over. I’m an overstrained string that must snap. But it’s not ended yet ... and it will have a fearful end.”
“No matter, we must let the string be loosened, little by little. There’s no position from which there is no way of escape.”
“I have thought, and thought. Only one....”
Again he knew from her terrified eyes that this one way of escape in her thought was death, and he would not let her say it.
“Not at all,” he said. “Listen to me. You can’t see your own position as I can. Let me tell you candidly my opinion.” Again he smiled discreetly his almond-oil smile. “I’ll begin from the beginning. You married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married him without love and not knowing what love was. It was a mistake, let’s admit.”
“A fearful mistake!” said Anna.
“But I repeat, it’s an accomplished fact. Then you had, let us say, the misfortune to love a man not your husband. That was a misfortune; but that, too, is an accomplished fact. And your husband knew it and forgave it.” He stopped at each sentence, waiting for her to object, but she made no answer. “That’s so. Now the question is: can you go on living with your husband? Do you wish it? Does he wish it?”
“I know nothing, nothing.”
“But you said yourself that you can’t endure him.”
“No, I didn’t say so. I deny it. I can’t tell, I don’t know anything about it.”
“Yes, but let....”
“You can’t understand. I feel I’m lying head downwards in a sort of pit, but I ought not to save myself. And I can’t....”
“Never mind, we’ll slip something under and pull you out. I understand you: I understand that you can’t take it on yourself to express your wishes, your feelings.”
“There’s nothing, nothing I wish ... except for it to be all over.”
“But he sees this and knows it. And do you suppose it weighs on him any less than on you? You’re wretched, he’s wretched, and what good can come of it? while divorce would solve the difficulty completely.” With some effort Stepan Arkadyevitch brought out his central idea, and looked significantly at her.
She said nothing, and shook her cropped head in dissent. But from the look in her face, that suddenly brightened into its old beauty, he saw that if she did not desire this, it was simply because it seemed to her unattainable happiness.
“I’m awfully sorry for you! And how happy I should be if I could arrange things!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling more boldly. “Don’t speak, don’t say a word! God grant only that I may speak as I feel. I’m going to him.”
Anna looked at him with dreamy, shining eyes, and said nothing.
Stepan Arkadyevitch, with the same somewhat solemn expression with which he used to take his presidential chair at his board, walked into Alexey Alexandrovitch’s room. Alexey Alexandrovitch was walking about his room with his hands behind his back, thinking of just what Stepan Arkadyevitch had been discussing with his wife.
“I’m not interrupting you?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, on the sight of his brother-in-law becoming suddenly aware of a sense of embarrassment unusual with him. To conceal this embarrassment he took out a cigarette case he had just bought that opened in a new way, and sniffing the leather, took a cigarette out of it.
“No. Do you want anything?” Alexey Alexandrovitch asked without eagerness.
“Yes, I wished ... I wanted ... yes, I wanted to talk to you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, with surprise aware of an unaccustomed timidity.
This feeling was so unexpected and so strange that he did not believe it was the voice of conscience telling him that what he was meaning to do was wrong.
Stepan Arkadyevitch made an effort and struggled with the timidity that had come over him.
“I hope you believe in my love for my sister and my sincere affection and respect for you,” he said, reddening.
Alexey Alexandrovitch stood still and said nothing, but his face struck Stepan Arkadyevitch by its expression of an unresisting sacrifice.
“I intended ... I wanted to have a little talk with you about my sister and your mutual position,” he said, still struggling with an unaccustomed constraint.
Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled mournfully, looked at his brother-in-law, and without answering went up to the table, took from it an unfinished letter, and handed it to his brother-in-law.
“I think unceasingly of the same thing. And here is what I had begun writing, thinking I could say it better by letter, and that my presence irritates her,” he said, as he gave him the letter.
Stepan Arkadyevitch took the letter, looked with incredulous surprise at the lusterless eyes fixed so immovably on him, and began to read.
“I see that my presence is irksome to you. Painful as it is to me to believe it, I see that it is so, and cannot be otherwise. I don’t blame you, and God is my witness that on seeing you at the time of your illness I resolved with my whole heart to forget all that had passed between us and to begin a new life. I do not regret, and shall never regret, what I have done; but I have desired one thing—your good, the good of your soul—and now I see I have not attained that. Tell me yourself what will give you true happiness and peace to your soul. I put myself entirely in your hands, and trust to your feeling of what’s right.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch handed back the letter, and with the same surprise continued looking at his brother-in-law, not knowing what to say. This silence was so awkward for both of them that Stepan Arkadyevitch’s lips began twitching nervously, while he still gazed without speaking at Karenin’s face.
“That’s what I wanted to say to her,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, turning away.
“Yes, yes....” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, not able to answer for the tears that were choking him.
“Yes, yes, I understand you,” he brought out at last.
“I want to know what she would like,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“I am afraid she does not understand her own position. She is not a judge,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recovering himself. “She is crushed, simply crushed by your generosity. If she were to read this letter, she would be incapable of saying anything, she would only hang her head lower than ever.”
“Yes, but what’s to be done in that case? how explain, how find out her wishes?”
“If you will allow me to give my opinion, I think that it lies with you to point out directly the steps you consider necessary to end the position.”
“So you consider it must be ended?” Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted him. “But how?” he added, with a gesture of his hands before his eyes not usual with him. “I see no possible way out of it.”
“There is some way of getting out of every position,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, standing up and becoming more cheerful. “There was a time when you thought of breaking off.... If you are convinced now that you cannot make each other happy....”
“Happiness may be variously understood. But suppose that I agree to everything, that I want nothing: what way is there of getting out of our position?”
“If you care to know my opinion,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch with the same smile of softening, almond-oil tenderness with which he had been talking to Anna. His kindly smile was so winning that Alexey Alexandrovitch, feeling his own weakness and unconsciously swayed by it, was ready to believe what Stepan Arkadyevitch was saying.
“She will never speak out about it. But one thing is possible, one thing she might desire,” he went on, “that is the cessation of your relations and all memories associated with them. To my thinking, in your position what’s essential is the formation of a new attitude to one another. And that can only rest on a basis of freedom on both sides.”
“Divorce,” Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted, in a tone of aversion.
“Yes, I imagine that divorce—yes, divorce,” Stepan Arkadyevitch repeated, reddening. “That is from every point of view the most rational course for married people who find themselves in the position you are in. What can be done if married people find that life is impossible for them together? That may always happen.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
“There’s only one point to be considered: is either of the parties desirous of forming new ties? If not, it is very simple,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, feeling more and more free from constraint.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, scowling with emotion, muttered something to himself, and made no answer. All that seemed so simple to Stepan Arkadyevitch, Alexey Alexandrovitch had thought over thousands of times. And, so far from being simple, it all seemed to him utterly impossible. Divorce, the details of which he knew by this time, seemed to him now out of the question, because the sense of his own dignity and respect for religion forbade his taking upon himself a fictitious charge of adultery, and still more suffering his wife, pardoned and beloved by him, to be caught in the fact and put to public shame. Divorce appeared to him impossible also on other still more weighty grounds.
What would become of his son in case of a divorce? To leave him with his mother was out of the question. The divorced mother would have her own illegitimate family, in which his position as a stepson and his education would not be good. Keep him with him? He knew that would be an act of vengeance on his part, and that he did not want. But apart from this, what more than all made divorce seem impossible to Alexey Alexandrovitch was, that by consenting to a divorce he would be completely ruining Anna. The saying of Darya Alexandrovna at Moscow, that in deciding on a divorce he was thinking of himself, and not considering that by this he would be ruining her irrevocably, had sunk into his heart. And connecting this saying with his forgiveness of her, with his devotion to the children, he understood it now in his own way. To consent to a divorce, to give her her freedom, meant in his thoughts to take from himself the last tie that bound him to life—the children whom he loved; and to take from her the last prop that stayed her on the path of right, to thrust her down to her ruin. If she were divorced, he knew she would join her life to Vronsky’s, and their tie would be an illegitimate and criminal one, since a wife, by the interpretation of the ecclesiastical law, could not marry while her husband was living. “She will join him, and in a year or two he will throw her over, or she will form a new tie,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch. “And I, by agreeing to an unlawful divorce, shall be to blame for her ruin.” He had thought it all over hundreds of times, and was convinced that a divorce was not at all simple, as Stepan Arkadyevitch had said, but was utterly impossible. He did not believe a single word Stepan Arkadyevitch said to him; to every word he had a thousand objections to make, but he listened to him, feeling that his words were the expression of that mighty brutal force which controlled his life and to which he would have to submit.
“The only question is on what terms you agree to give her a divorce. She does not want anything, does not dare ask you for anything, she leaves it all to your generosity.”
“My God, my God! what for?” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch, remembering the details of divorce proceedings in which the husband took the blame on himself, and with just the same gesture with which Vronsky had done the same, he hid his face for shame in his hands.
“You are distressed, I understand that. But if you think it over....”
“Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Yes, yes!” he cried in a shrill voice. “I will take the disgrace on myself, I will give up even my son, but ... but wouldn’t it be better to let it alone? Still you may do as you like....”
And turning away so that his brother-in-law could not see him, he sat down on a chair at the window. There was bitterness, there was shame in his heart, but with bitterness and shame he felt joy and emotion at the height of his own meekness.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was touched. He was silent for a space.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch, believe me, she appreciates your generosity,” he said. “But it seems it was the will of God,” he added, and as he said it felt how foolish a remark it was, and with difficulty repressed a smile at his own foolishness.
Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made some reply, but tears stopped him.
“This is an unhappy fatality, and one must accept it as such. I accept the calamity as an accomplished fact, and am doing my best to help both her and you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
When he went out of his brother-in-law’s room he was touched, but that did not prevent him from being glad he had successfully brought the matter to a conclusion, for he felt certain Alexey Alexandrovitch would not go back on his words. To this satisfaction was added the fact that an idea had just struck him for a riddle turning on his successful achievement, that when the affair was over he would ask his wife and most intimate friends. He put this riddle into two or three different ways. “But I’ll work it out better than that,” he said to himself with a smile.
Vronsky’s wound had been a dangerous one, though it did not touch the heart, and for several days he had lain between life and death. The first time he was able to speak, Varya, his brother’s wife, was alone in the room.
“Varya,” he said, looking sternly at her, “I shot myself by accident. And please never speak of it, and tell everyone so. Or else it’s too ridiculous.”
Without answering his words, Varya bent over him, and with a delighted smile gazed into his face. His eyes were clear, not feverish; but their expression was stern.
“Thank God!” she said. “You’re not in pain?”
“A little here.” He pointed to his breast.
“Then let me change your bandages.”
In silence, stiffening his broad jaws, he looked at her while she bandaged him up. When she had finished he said:
“I’m not delirious. Please manage that there may be no talk of my having shot myself on purpose.”
“No one does say so. Only I hope you won’t shoot yourself by accident any more,” she said, with a questioning smile.
“Of course I won’t, but it would have been better....”
And he smiled gloomily.
In spite of these words and this smile, which so frightened Varya, when the inflammation was over and he began to recover, he felt that he was completely free from one part of his misery. By his action he had, as it were, washed away the shame and humiliation he had felt before. He could now think calmly of Alexey Alexandrovitch. He recognized all his magnanimity, but he did not now feel himself humiliated by it. Besides, he got back again into the beaten track of his life. He saw the possibility of looking men in the face again without shame, and he could live in accordance with his own habits. One thing he could not pluck out of his heart, though he never ceased struggling with it, was the regret, amounting to despair, that he had lost her forever. That now, having expiated his sin against the husband, he was bound to renounce her, and never in future to stand between her with her repentance and her husband, he had firmly decided in his heart; but he could not tear out of his heart his regret at the loss of her love, he could not erase from his memory those moments of happiness that he had so little prized at the time, and that haunted him in all their charm.
Serpuhovskoy had planned his appointment at Tashkend, and Vronsky agreed to the proposition without the slightest hesitation. But the nearer the time of departure came, the bitterer was the sacrifice he was making to what he thought his duty.
His wound had healed, and he was driving about making preparations for his departure for Tashkend.
“To see her once and then to bury myself, to die,” he thought, and as he was paying farewell visits, he uttered this thought to Betsy. Charged with this commission, Betsy had gone to Anna, and brought him back a negative reply.
“So much the better,” thought Vronsky, when he received the news. “It was a weakness, which would have shattered what strength I have left.”
Next day Betsy herself came to him in the morning, and announced that she had heard through Oblonsky as a positive fact that Alexey Alexandrovitch had agreed to a divorce, and that therefore Vronsky could see Anna.
Without even troubling himself to see Betsy out of his flat, forgetting all his resolutions, without asking when he could see her, where her husband was, Vronsky drove straight to the Karenins’. He ran up the stairs seeing no one and nothing, and with a rapid step, almost breaking into a run, he went into her room. And without considering, without noticing whether there was anyone in the room or not, he flung his arms round her, and began to cover her face, her hands, her neck with kisses.
Anna had been preparing herself for this meeting, had thought what she would say to him, but she did not succeed in saying anything of it; his passion mastered her. She tried to calm him, to calm herself, but it was too late. His feeling infected her. Her lips trembled so that for a long while she could say nothing.
“Yes, you have conquered me, and I am yours,” she said at last, pressing his hands to her bosom.
“So it had to be,” he said. “So long as we live, it must be so. I know it now.”
“That’s true,” she said, getting whiter and whiter, and embracing his head. “Still there is something terrible in it after all that has happened.”
“It will all pass, it will all pass; we shall be so happy. Our love, if it could be stronger, will be strengthened by there being something terrible in it,” he said, lifting his head and parting his strong teeth in a smile.
And she could not but respond with a smile—not to his words, but to the love in his eyes. She took his hand and stroked her chilled cheeks and cropped head with it.
“I don’t know you with this short hair. You’ve grown so pretty. A boy. But how pale you are!”
“Yes, I’m very weak,” she said, smiling. And her lips began trembling again.
“We’ll go to Italy; you will get strong,” he said.
“Can it be possible we could be like husband and wife, alone, your family with you?” she said, looking close into his eyes.
“It only seems strange to me that it can ever have been otherwise.”
“Stiva says that he has agreed to everything, but I can’t accept his generosity,” she said, looking dreamily past Vronsky’s face. “I don’t want a divorce; it’s all the same to me now. Only I don’t know what he will decide about Seryozha.”
He could not conceive how at this moment of their meeting she could remember and think of her son, of divorce. What did it all matter?
“Don’t speak of that, don’t think of it,” he said, turning her hand in his, and trying to draw her attention to him; but still she did not look at him.
“Oh, why didn’t I die! it would have been better,” she said, and silent tears flowed down both her cheeks; but she tried to smile, so as not to wound him.
To decline the flattering and dangerous appointment at Tashkend would have been, Vronsky had till then considered, disgraceful and impossible. But now, without an instant’s consideration, he declined it, and observing dissatisfaction in the most exalted quarters at this step, he immediately retired from the army.
A month later Alexey Alexandrovitch was left alone with his son in his house at Petersburg, while Anna and Vronsky had gone abroad, not having obtained a divorce, but having absolutely declined all idea of one.
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