At the end of the winter, in the Shtcherbatskys’ house, a consultation was being held, which was to pronounce on the state of Kitty’s health and the measures to be taken to restore her failing strength. She had been ill, and as spring came on she grew worse. The family doctor gave her cod liver oil, then iron, then nitrate of silver, but as the first and the second and the third were alike in doing no good, and as his advice when spring came was to go abroad, a celebrated physician was called in. The celebrated physician, a very handsome man, still youngish, asked to examine the patient. He maintained, with peculiar satisfaction, it seemed, that maiden modesty is a mere relic of barbarism, and that nothing could be more natural than for a man still youngish to handle a young girl naked. He thought it natural because he did it every day, and felt and thought, as it seemed to him, no harm as he did it and consequently he considered modesty in the girl not merely as a relic of barbarism, but also as an insult to himself.
There was nothing for it but to submit, since, although all the doctors had studied in the same school, had read the same books, and learned the same science, and though some people said this celebrated doctor was a bad doctor, in the princess’s household and circle it was for some reason accepted that this celebrated doctor alone had some special knowledge, and that he alone could save Kitty. After a careful examination and sounding of the bewildered patient, dazed with shame, the celebrated doctor, having scrupulously washed his hands, was standing in the drawing-room talking to the prince. The prince frowned and coughed, listening to the doctor. As a man who had seen something of life, and neither a fool nor an invalid, he had no faith in medicine, and in his heart was furious at the whole farce, specially as he was perhaps the only one who fully comprehended the cause of Kitty’s illness. “Conceited blockhead!” he thought, as he listened to the celebrated doctor’s chatter about his daughter’s symptoms. The doctor was meantime with difficulty restraining the expression of his contempt for this old gentleman, and with difficulty condescending to the level of his intelligence. He perceived that it was no good talking to the old man, and that the principal person in the house was the mother. Before her he decided to scatter his pearls. At that instant the princess came into the drawing-room with the family doctor. The prince withdrew, trying not to show how ridiculous he thought the whole performance. The princess was distracted, and did not know what to do. She felt she had sinned against Kitty.
“Well, doctor, decide our fate,” said the princess. “Tell me everything.”
“Is there hope?” she meant to say, but her lips quivered, and she could not utter the question. “Well, doctor?”
“Immediately, princess. I will talk it over with my colleague, and then I will have the honor of laying my opinion before you.”
“So we had better leave you?”
“As you please.”
The princess went out with a sigh.
When the doctors were left alone, the family doctor began timidly explaining his opinion, that there was a commencement of tuberculous trouble, but ... and so on. The celebrated doctor listened to him, and in the middle of his sentence looked at his big gold watch.
“Yes,” said he. “But....”
The family doctor respectfully ceased in the middle of his observations.
“The commencement of the tuberculous process we are not, as you are aware, able to define; till there are cavities, there is nothing definite. But we may suspect it. And there are indications; malnutrition, nervous excitability, and so on. The question stands thus: in presence of indications of tuberculous process, what is to be done to maintain nutrition?”
“But, you know, there are always moral, spiritual causes at the back in these cases,” the family doctor permitted himself to interpolate with a subtle smile.
“Yes, that’s an understood thing,” responded the celebrated physician, again glancing at his watch. “Beg pardon, is the Yausky bridge done yet, or shall I have to drive around?” he asked. “Ah! it is. Oh, well, then I can do it in twenty minutes. So we were saying the problem may be put thus: to maintain nutrition and to give tone to the nerves. The one is in close connection with the other, one must attack both sides at once.”
“And how about a tour abroad?” asked the family doctor.
“I’ve no liking for foreign tours. And take note: if there is an early stage of tuberculous process, of which we cannot be certain, a foreign tour will be of no use. What is wanted is means of improving nutrition, and not for lowering it.” And the celebrated doctor expounded his plan of treatment with Soden waters, a remedy obviously prescribed primarily on the ground that they could do no harm.
The family doctor listened attentively and respectfully.
“But in favor of foreign travel I would urge the change of habits, the removal from conditions calling up reminiscences. And then the mother wishes it,” he added.
“Ah! Well, in that case, to be sure, let them go. Only, those German quacks are mischievous.... They ought to be persuaded.... Well, let them go then.”
He glanced once more at his watch.
“Oh! time’s up already,” And he went to the door. The celebrated doctor announced to the princess (a feeling of what was due from him dictated his doing so) that he ought to see the patient once more.
“What! another examination!” cried the mother, with horror.
“Oh, no, only a few details, princess.”
“Come this way.”
And the mother, accompanied by the doctor, went into the drawing-room to Kitty. Wasted and flushed, with a peculiar glitter in her eyes, left there by the agony of shame she had been put through, Kitty stood in the middle of the room. When the doctor came in she flushed crimson, and her eyes filled with tears. All her illness and treatment struck her as a thing so stupid, ludicrous even! Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders? But she could not grieve her mother, especially as her mother considered herself to blame.
“May I trouble you to sit down, princess?” the celebrated doctor said to her.
He sat down with a smile, facing her, felt her pulse, and again began asking her tiresome questions. She answered him, and all at once got up, furious.
“Excuse me, doctor, but there is really no object in this. This is the third time you’ve asked me the same thing.”
The celebrated doctor did not take offense.
“Nervous irritability,” he said to the princess, when Kitty had left the room. “However, I had finished....”
And the doctor began scientifically explaining to the princess, as an exceptionally intelligent woman, the condition of the young princess, and concluded by insisting on the drinking of the waters, which were certainly harmless. At the question: Should they go abroad? the doctor plunged into deep meditation, as though resolving a weighty problem. Finally his decision was pronounced: they were to go abroad, but to put no faith in foreign quacks, and to apply to him in any need.
It seemed as though some piece of good fortune had come to pass after the doctor had gone. The mother was much more cheerful when she went back to her daughter, and Kitty pretended to be more cheerful. She had often, almost always, to be pretending now.
“Really, I’m quite well, mamma. But if you want to go abroad, let’s go!” she said, and trying to appear interested in the proposed tour, she began talking of the preparations for the journey.
Soon after the doctor, Dolly had arrived. She knew that there was to be a consultation that day, and though she was only just up after her confinement (she had another baby, a little girl, born at the end of the winter), though she had trouble and anxiety enough of her own, she had left her tiny baby and a sick child, to come and hear Kitty’s fate, which was to be decided that day.
“Well, well?” she said, coming into the drawing-room, without taking off her hat. “You’re all in good spirits. Good news, then?”
They tried to tell her what the doctor had said, but it appeared that though the doctor had talked distinctly enough and at great length, it was utterly impossible to report what he had said. The only point of interest was that it was settled they should go abroad.
Dolly could not help sighing. Her dearest friend, her sister, was going away. And her life was not a cheerful one. Her relations with Stepan Arkadyevitch after their reconciliation had become humiliating. The union Anna had cemented turned out to be of no solid character, and family harmony was breaking down again at the same point. There had been nothing definite, but Stepan Arkadyevitch was hardly ever at home; money, too, was hardly ever forthcoming, and Dolly was continually tortured by suspicions of infidelity, which she tried to dismiss, dreading the agonies of jealousy she had been through already. The first onslaught of jealousy, once lived through, could never come back again, and even the discovery of infidelities could never now affect her as it had the first time. Such a discovery now would only mean breaking up family habits, and she let herself be deceived, despising him and still more herself, for the weakness. Besides this, the care of her large family was a constant worry to her: first, the nursing of her young baby did not go well, then the nurse had gone away, now one of the children had fallen ill.
“Well, how are all of you?” asked her mother.
“Ah, mamma, we have plenty of troubles of our own. Lili is ill, and I’m afraid it’s scarlatina. I have come here now to hear about Kitty, and then I shall shut myself up entirely, if—God forbid—it should be scarlatina.”
The old prince too had come in from his study after the doctor’s departure, and after presenting his cheek to Dolly, and saying a few words to her, he turned to his wife:
“How have you settled it? you’re going? Well, and what do you mean to do with me?”
“I suppose you had better stay here, Alexander,” said his wife.
“That’s as you like.”
“Mamma, why shouldn’t father come with us?” said Kitty. “It would be nicer for him and for us too.”
The old prince got up and stroked Kitty’s hair. She lifted her head and looked at him with a forced smile. It always seemed to her that he understood her better than anyone in the family, though he did not say much about her. Being the youngest, she was her father’s favorite, and she fancied that his love gave him insight. When now her glance met his blue kindly eyes looking intently at her, it seemed to her that he saw right through her, and understood all that was not good that was passing within her. Reddening, she stretched out towards him expecting a kiss, but he only patted her hair and said:
“These stupid chignons! There’s no getting at the real daughter. One simply strokes the bristles of dead women. Well, Dolinka,” he turned to his elder daughter, “what’s your young buck about, hey?”
“Nothing, father,” answered Dolly, understanding that her husband was meant. “He’s always out; I scarcely ever see him,” she could not resist adding with a sarcastic smile.
“Why, hasn’t he gone into the country yet—to see about selling that forest?”
“No, he’s still getting ready for the journey.”
“Oh, that’s it!” said the prince. “And so am I to be getting ready for a journey too? At your service,” he said to his wife, sitting down. “And I tell you what, Katia,” he went on to his younger daughter, “you must wake up one fine day and say to yourself: Why, I’m quite well, and merry, and going out again with father for an early morning walk in the frost. Hey?”
What her father said seemed simple enough, yet at these words Kitty became confused and overcome like a detected criminal. “Yes, he sees it all, he understands it all, and in these words he’s telling me that though I’m ashamed, I must get over my shame.” She could not pluck up spirit to make any answer. She tried to begin, and all at once burst into tears, and rushed out of the room.
“See what comes of your jokes!” the princess pounced down on her husband. “You’re always....” she began a string of reproaches.
The prince listened to the princess’s scolding rather a long while without speaking, but his face was more and more frowning.
“She’s so much to be pitied, poor child, so much to be pitied, and you don’t feel how it hurts her to hear the slightest reference to the cause of it. Ah! to be so mistaken in people!” said the princess, and by the change in her tone both Dolly and the prince knew she was speaking of Vronsky. “I don’t know why there aren’t laws against such base, dishonorable people.”
“Ah, I can’t bear to hear you!” said the prince gloomily, getting up from his low chair, and seeming anxious to get away, yet stopping in the doorway. “There are laws, madam, and since you’ve challenged me to it, I’ll tell you who’s to blame for it all: you and you, you and nobody else. Laws against such young gallants there have always been, and there still are! Yes, if there has been nothing that ought not to have been, old as I am, I’d have called him out to the barrier, the young dandy. Yes, and now you physic her and call in these quacks.”
The prince apparently had plenty more to say, but as soon as the princess heard his tone she subsided at once, and became penitent, as she always did on serious occasions.
“Alexander, Alexander,” she whispered, moving to him and beginning to weep.
As soon as she began to cry the prince too calmed down. He went up to her.
“There, that’s enough, that’s enough! You’re wretched too, I know. It can’t be helped. There’s no great harm done. God is merciful ... thanks....” he said, not knowing what he was saying, as he responded to the tearful kiss of the princess that he felt on his hand. And the prince went out of the room.
Before this, as soon as Kitty went out of the room in tears, Dolly, with her motherly, family instincts, had promptly perceived that here a woman’s work lay before her, and she prepared to do it. She took off her hat, and, morally speaking, tucked up her sleeves and prepared for action. While her mother was attacking her father, she tried to restrain her mother, so far as filial reverence would allow. During the prince’s outburst she was silent; she felt ashamed for her mother, and tender towards her father for so quickly being kind again. But when her father left them she made ready for what was the chief thing needful—to go to Kitty and console her.
“I’d been meaning to tell you something for a long while, mamma: did you know that Levin meant to make Kitty an offer when he was here the last time? He told Stiva so.”
“Well, what then? I don’t understand....”
“So did Kitty perhaps refuse him?... She didn’t tell you so?”
“No, she has said nothing to me either of one or the other; she’s too proud. But I know it’s all on account of the other.”
“Yes, but suppose she has refused Levin, and she wouldn’t have refused him if it hadn’t been for the other, I know. And then, he has deceived her so horribly.”
It was too terrible for the princess to think how she had sinned against her daughter, and she broke out angrily.
“Oh, I really don’t understand! Nowadays they will all go their own way, and mothers haven’t a word to say in anything, and then....”
“Mamma, I’ll go up to her.”
“Well, do. Did I tell you not to?” said her mother.
When she went into Kitty’s little room, a pretty, pink little room, full of knick-knacks in vieux saxe, as fresh, and pink, and white, and gay as Kitty herself had been two months ago, Dolly remembered how they had decorated the room the year before together, with what love and gaiety. Her heart turned cold when she saw Kitty sitting on a low chair near the door, her eyes fixed immovably on a corner of the rug. Kitty glanced at her sister, and the cold, rather ill-tempered expression of her face did not change.
“I’m just going now, and I shall have to keep in and you won’t be able to come to see me,” said Dolly, sitting down beside her. “I want to talk to you.”
“What about?” Kitty asked swiftly, lifting her head in dismay.
“What should it be, but your trouble?”
“I have no trouble.”
“Nonsense, Kitty. Do you suppose I could help knowing? I know all about it. And believe me, it’s of so little consequence.... We’ve all been through it.”
Kitty did not speak, and her face had a stern expression.
“He’s not worth your grieving over him,” pursued Darya Alexandrovna, coming straight to the point.
“No, because he has treated me with contempt,” said Kitty, in a breaking voice. “Don’t talk of it! Please, don’t talk of it!”
“But who can have told you so? No one has said that. I’m certain he was in love with you, and would still be in love with you, if it hadn’t....”
“Oh, the most awful thing of all for me is this sympathizing!” shrieked Kitty, suddenly flying into a passion. She turned round on her chair, flushed crimson, and rapidly moving her fingers, pinched the clasp of her belt first with one hand and then with the other. Dolly knew this trick her sister had of clenching her hands when she was much excited; she knew, too, that in moments of excitement Kitty was capable of forgetting herself and saying a great deal too much, and Dolly would have soothed her, but it was too late.
“What, what is it you want to make me feel, eh?” said Kitty quickly. “That I’ve been in love with a man who didn’t care a straw for me, and that I’m dying of love for him? And this is said to me by my own sister, who imagines that ... that ... that she’s sympathizing with me!... I don’t want these condolences and humbug!”
“Kitty, you’re unjust.”
“Why are you tormenting me?”
“But I ... quite the contrary ... I see you’re unhappy....”
But Kitty in her fury did not hear her.
“I’ve nothing to grieve over and be comforted about. I am too proud ever to allow myself to care for a man who does not love me.”
“Yes, I don’t say so either.... Only one thing. Tell me the truth,” said Darya Alexandrovna, taking her by the hand: “tell me, did Levin speak to you?...”
The mention of Levin’s name seemed to deprive Kitty of the last vestige of self-control. She leaped up from her chair, and flinging her clasp on the ground, she gesticulated rapidly with her hands and said:
“Why bring Levin in too? I can’t understand what you want to torment me for. I’ve told you, and I say it again, that I have some pride, and never, never would I do as you’re doing—go back to a man who’s deceived you, who has cared for another woman. I can’t understand it! You may, but I can’t!”
And saying these words she glanced at her sister, and seeing that Dolly sat silent, her head mournfully bowed, Kitty, instead of running out of the room as she had meant to do, sat down near the door, and hid her face in her handkerchief.
The silence lasted for two minutes: Dolly was thinking of herself. That humiliation of which she was always conscious came back to her with a peculiar bitterness when her sister reminded her of it. She had not looked for such cruelty in her sister, and she was angry with her. But suddenly she heard the rustle of a skirt, and with it the sound of heart-rending, smothered sobbing, and felt arms about her neck. Kitty was on her knees before her.
“Dolinka, I am so, so wretched!” she whispered penitently. And the sweet face covered with tears hid itself in Darya Alexandrovna’s skirt.
As though tears were the indispensable oil, without which the machinery of mutual confidence could not run smoothly between the two sisters, the sisters after their tears talked, not of what was uppermost in their minds, but, though they talked of outside matters, they understood each other. Kitty knew that the words she had uttered in anger about her husband’s infidelity and her humiliating position had cut her poor sister to the heart, but that she had forgiven her. Dolly for her part knew all she had wanted to find out. She felt certain that her surmises were correct; that Kitty’s misery, her inconsolable misery, was due precisely to the fact that Levin had made her an offer and she had refused him, and Vronsky had deceived her, and that she was fully prepared to love Levin and to detest Vronsky. Kitty said not a word of that; she talked of nothing but her spiritual condition.
“I have nothing to make me miserable,” she said, getting calmer; “but can you understand that everything has become hateful, loathsome, coarse to me, and I myself most of all? You can’t imagine what loathsome thoughts I have about everything.”
“Why, whatever loathsome thoughts can you have?” asked Dolly, smiling.
“The most utterly loathsome and coarse: I can’t tell you. It’s not unhappiness, or low spirits, but much worse. As though everything that was good in me was all hidden away, and nothing was left but the most loathsome. Come, how am I to tell you?” she went on, seeing the puzzled look in her sister’s eyes. “Father began saying something to me just now.... It seems to me he thinks all I want is to be married. Mother takes me to a ball: it seems to me she only takes me to get me married off as soon as may be, and be rid of me. I know it’s not the truth, but I can’t drive away such thoughts. Eligible suitors, as they call them—I can’t bear to see them. It seems to me they’re taking stock of me and summing me up. In old days to go anywhere in a ball dress was a simple joy to me, I admired myself; now I feel ashamed and awkward. And then! The doctor.... Then....” Kitty hesitated; she wanted to say further that ever since this change had taken place in her, Stepan Arkadyevitch had become insufferably repulsive to her, and that she could not see him without the grossest and most hideous conceptions rising before her imagination.
“Oh, well, everything presents itself to me, in the coarsest, most loathsome light,” she went on. “That’s my illness. Perhaps it will pass off.”
“But you mustn’t think about it.”
“I can’t help it. I’m never happy except with the children at your house.”
“What a pity you can’t be with me!”
“Oh, yes, I’m coming. I’ve had scarlatina, and I’ll persuade mamma to let me.”
Kitty insisted on having her way, and went to stay at her sister’s and nursed the children all through the scarlatina, for scarlatina it turned out to be. The two sisters brought all the six children successfully through it, but Kitty was no better in health, and in Lent the Shtcherbatskys went abroad.
The highest Petersburg society is essentially one: in it everyone knows everyone else, everyone even visits everyone else. But this great set has its subdivisions. Anna Arkadyevna Karenina had friends and close ties in three different circles of this highest society. One circle was her husband’s government official set, consisting of his colleagues and subordinates, brought together in the most various and capricious manner, and belonging to different social strata. Anna found it difficult now to recall the feeling of almost awe-stricken reverence which she had at first entertained for these persons. Now she knew all of them as people know one another in a country town; she knew their habits and weaknesses, and where the shoe pinched each one of them. She knew their relations with one another and with the head authorities, knew who was for whom, and how each one maintained his position, and where they agreed and disagreed. But the circle of political, masculine interests had never interested her, in spite of countess Lidia Ivanovna’s influence, and she avoided it.
Another little set with which Anna was in close relations was the one by means of which Alexey Alexandrovitch had made his career. The center of this circle was the Countess Lidia Ivanovna. It was a set made up of elderly, ugly, benevolent, and godly women, and clever, learned, and ambitious men. One of the clever people belonging to the set had called it “the conscience of Petersburg society.” Alexey Alexandrovitch had the highest esteem for this circle, and Anna with her special gift for getting on with everyone, had in the early days of her life in Petersburg made friends in this circle also. Now, since her return from Moscow, she had come to feel this set insufferable. It seemed to her that both she and all of them were insincere, and she felt so bored and ill at ease in that world that she went to see the Countess Lidia Ivanovna as little as possible.
The third circle with which Anna had ties was preeminently the fashionable world—the world of balls, of dinners, of sumptuous dresses, the world that hung on to the court with one hand, so as to avoid sinking to the level of the demi-monde. For the demi-monde the members of that fashionable world believed that they despised, though their tastes were not merely similar, but in fact identical. Her connection with this circle was kept up through Princess Betsy Tverskaya, her cousin’s wife, who had an income of a hundred and twenty thousand roubles, and who had taken a great fancy to Anna ever since she first came out, showed her much attention, and drew her into her set, making fun of Countess Lidia Ivanovna’s coterie.
“When I’m old and ugly I’ll be the same,” Betsy used to say; “but for a pretty young woman like you it’s early days for that house of charity.”
Anna had at first avoided as far as she could Princess Tverskaya’s world, because it necessitated an expenditure beyond her means, and besides in her heart she preferred the first circle. But since her visit to Moscow she had done quite the contrary. She avoided her serious-minded friends, and went out into the fashionable world. There she met Vronsky, and experienced an agitating joy at those meetings. She met Vronsky specially often at Betsy’s for Betsy was a Vronsky by birth and his cousin. Vronsky was everywhere where he had any chance of meeting Anna, and speaking to her, when he could, of his love. She gave him no encouragement, but every time she met him there surged up in her heart that same feeling of quickened life that had come upon her that day in the railway carriage when she saw him for the first time. She was conscious herself that her delight sparkled in her eyes and curved her lips into a smile, and she could not quench the expression of this delight.
At first Anna sincerely believed that she was displeased with him for daring to pursue her. Soon after her return from Moscow, on arriving at a soirée where she had expected to meet him, and not finding him there, she realized distinctly from the rush of disappointment that she had been deceiving herself, and that this pursuit was not merely not distasteful to her, but that it made the whole interest of her life.
The celebrated singer was singing for the second time, and all the fashionable world was in the theater. Vronsky, seeing his cousin from his stall in the front row, did not wait till the entr’acte, but went to her box.
“Why didn’t you come to dinner?” she said to him. “I marvel at the second sight of lovers,” she added with a smile, so that no one but he could hear; “she wasn’t there. But come after the opera.”
Vronsky looked inquiringly at her. She nodded. He thanked her by a smile, and sat down beside her.
“But how I remember your jeers!” continued Princess Betsy, who took a peculiar pleasure in following up this passion to a successful issue. “What’s become of all that? You’re caught, my dear boy.”
“That’s my one desire, to be caught,” answered Vronsky, with his serene, good-humored smile. “If I complain of anything it’s only that I’m not caught enough, to tell the truth. I begin to lose hope.”
“Why, whatever hope can you have?” said Betsy, offended on behalf of her friend. “Entendons nous....” But in her eyes there were gleams of light that betrayed that she understood perfectly and precisely as he did what hope he might have.
“None whatever,” said Vronsky, laughing and showing his even rows of teeth. “Excuse me,” he added, taking an opera-glass out of her hand, and proceeding to scrutinize, over her bare shoulder, the row of boxes facing them. “I’m afraid I’m becoming ridiculous.”
He was very well aware that he ran no risk of being ridiculous in the eyes of Betsy or any other fashionable people. He was very well aware that in their eyes the position of an unsuccessful lover of a girl, or of any woman free to marry, might be ridiculous. But the position of a man pursuing a married woman, and, regardless of everything, staking his life on drawing her into adultery, has something fine and grand about it, and can never be ridiculous; and so it was with a proud and gay smile under his mustaches that he lowered the opera-glass and looked at his cousin.
“But why was it you didn’t come to dinner?” she said, admiring him.
“I must tell you about that. I was busily employed, and doing what, do you suppose? I’ll give you a hundred guesses, a thousand ... you’d never guess. I’ve been reconciling a husband with a man who’d insulted his wife. Yes, really!”
“Well, did you succeed?”
“You really must tell me about it,” she said, getting up. “Come to me in the next entr’acte.”
“I can’t; I’m going to the French theater.”
“From Nilsson?” Betsy queried in horror, though she could not herself have distinguished Nilsson’s voice from any chorus girl’s.
“Can’t help it. I’ve an appointment there, all to do with my mission of peace.”
“‘Blessed are the peacemakers; theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’” said Betsy, vaguely recollecting she had heard some similar saying from someone. “Very well, then, sit down, and tell me what it’s all about.”
And she sat down again.
“This is rather indiscreet, but it’s so good it’s an awful temptation to tell the story,” said Vronsky, looking at her with his laughing eyes. “I’m not going to mention any names.”
“But I shall guess, so much the better.”
“Well, listen: two festive young men were driving—”
“Officers of your regiment, of course?”
“I didn’t say they were officers,—two young men who had been lunching.”
“In other words, drinking.”
“Possibly. They were driving on their way to dinner with a friend in the most festive state of mind. And they beheld a pretty woman in a hired sledge; she overtakes them, looks round at them, and, so they fancy anyway, nods to them and laughs. They, of course, follow her. They gallop at full speed. To their amazement, the fair one alights at the entrance of the very house to which they were going. The fair one darts upstairs to the top story. They get a glimpse of red lips under a short veil, and exquisite little feet.”
“You describe it with such feeling that I fancy you must be one of the two.”
“And after what you said, just now! Well, the young men go in to their comrade’s; he was giving a farewell dinner. There they certainly did drink a little too much, as one always does at farewell dinners. And at dinner they inquire who lives at the top in that house. No one knows; only their host’s valet, in answer to their inquiry whether any ‘young ladies’ are living on the top floor, answered that there were a great many of them about there. After dinner the two young men go into their host’s study, and write a letter to the unknown fair one. They compose an ardent epistle, a declaration in fact, and they carry the letter upstairs themselves, so as to elucidate whatever might appear not perfectly intelligible in the letter.”
“Why are you telling me these horrible stories? Well?”
“They ring. A maid-servant opens the door, they hand her the letter, and assure the maid that they’re both so in love that they’ll die on the spot at the door. The maid, stupefied, carries in their messages. All at once a gentleman appears with whiskers like sausages, as red as a lobster, announces that there is no one living in the flat except his wife, and sends them both about their business.”
“How do you know he had whiskers like sausages, as you say?”
“Ah, you shall hear. I’ve just been to make peace between them.”
“Well, and what then?”
“That’s the most interesting part of the story. It appears that it’s a happy couple, a government clerk and his lady. The government clerk lodges a complaint, and I became a mediator, and such a mediator!... I assure you Talleyrand couldn’t hold a candle to me.”
“Why, where was the difficulty?”
“Ah, you shall hear.... We apologize in due form: we are in despair, we entreat forgiveness for the unfortunate misunderstanding. The government clerk with the sausages begins to melt, but he, too, desires to express his sentiments, and as soon as ever he begins to express them, he begins to get hot and say nasty things, and again I’m obliged to trot out all my diplomatic talents. I allowed that their conduct was bad, but I urged him to take into consideration their heedlessness, their youth; then, too, the young men had only just been lunching together. ‘You understand. They regret it deeply, and beg you to overlook their misbehavior.’ The government clerk was softened once more. ‘I consent, count, and am ready to overlook it; but you perceive that my wife—my wife’s a respectable woman—has been exposed to the persecution, and insults, and effrontery of young upstarts, scoundrels....’ And you must understand, the young upstarts are present all the while, and I have to keep the peace between them. Again I call out all my diplomacy, and again as soon as the thing was about at an end, our friend the government clerk gets hot and red, and his sausages stand on end with wrath, and once more I launch out into diplomatic wiles.”
“Ah, he must tell you this story!” said Betsy, laughing, to a lady who came into her box. “He has been making me laugh so.”
“Well, bonne chance!” she added, giving Vronsky one finger of the hand in which she held her fan, and with a shrug of her shoulders she twitched down the bodice of her gown that had worked up, so as to be duly naked as she moved forward towards the footlights into the light of the gas, and the sight of all eyes.
Vronsky drove to the French theater, where he really had to see the colonel of his regiment, who never missed a single performance there. He wanted to see him, to report on the result of his mediation, which had occupied and amused him for the last three days. Petritsky, whom he liked, was implicated in the affair, and the other culprit was a capital fellow and first-rate comrade, who had lately joined the regiment, the young Prince Kedrov. And what was most important, the interests of the regiment were involved in it too.
Both the young men were in Vronsky’s company. The colonel of the regiment was waited upon by the government clerk, Venden, with a complaint against his officers, who had insulted his wife. His young wife, so Venden told the story—he had been married half a year—was at church with her mother, and suddenly overcome by indisposition, arising from her interesting condition, she could not remain standing, she drove home in the first sledge, a smart-looking one, she came across. On the spot the officers set off in pursuit of her; she was alarmed, and feeling still more unwell, ran up the staircase home. Venden himself, on returning from his office, heard a ring at their bell and voices, went out, and seeing the intoxicated officers with a letter, he had turned them out. He asked for exemplary punishment.
“Yes, it’s all very well,” said the colonel to Vronsky, whom he had invited to come and see him. “Petritsky’s becoming impossible. Not a week goes by without some scandal. This government clerk won’t let it drop, he’ll go on with the thing.”
Vronsky saw all the thanklessness of the business, and that there could be no question of a duel in it, that everything must be done to soften the government clerk, and hush the matter up. The colonel had called in Vronsky just because he knew him to be an honorable and intelligent man, and, more than all, a man who cared for the honor of the regiment. They talked it over, and decided that Petritsky and Kedrov must go with Vronsky to Venden’s to apologize. The colonel and Vronsky were both fully aware that Vronsky’s name and rank would be sure to contribute greatly to the softening of the injured husband’s feelings.
And these two influences were not in fact without effect; though the result remained, as Vronsky had described, uncertain.
On reaching the French theater, Vronsky retired to the foyer with the colonel, and reported to him his success, or non-success. The colonel, thinking it all over, made up his mind not to pursue the matter further, but then for his own satisfaction proceeded to cross-examine Vronsky about his interview; and it was a long while before he could restrain his laughter, as Vronsky described how the government clerk, after subsiding for a while, would suddenly flare up again, as he recalled the details, and how Vronsky, at the last half word of conciliation, skillfully manœuvered a retreat, shoving Petritsky out before him.
“It’s a disgraceful story, but killing. Kedrov really can’t fight the gentleman! Was he so awfully hot?” he commented, laughing. “But what do you say to Claire today? She’s marvelous,” he went on, speaking of a new French actress. “However often you see her, every day she’s different. It’s only the French who can do that.”
Princess Betsy drove home from the theater, without waiting for the end of the last act. She had only just time to go into her dressing-room, sprinkle her long, pale face with powder, rub it, set her dress to rights, and order tea in the big drawing-room, when one after another carriages drove up to her huge house in Bolshaia Morskaia. Her guests stepped out at the wide entrance, and the stout porter, who used to read the newspapers in the mornings behind the glass door, to the edification of the passers-by, noiselessly opened the immense door, letting the visitors pass by him into the house.
Almost at the same instant the hostess, with freshly arranged coiffure and freshened face, walked in at one door and her guests at the other door of the drawing-room, a large room with dark walls, downy rugs, and a brightly lighted table, gleaming with the light of candles, white cloth, silver samovar, and transparent china tea-things.
The hostess sat down at the table and took off her gloves. Chairs were set with the aid of footmen, moving almost imperceptibly about the room; the party settled itself, divided into two groups: one round the samovar near the hostess, the other at the opposite end of the drawing-room, round the handsome wife of an ambassador, in black velvet, with sharply defined black eyebrows. In both groups conversation wavered, as it always does, for the first few minutes, broken up by meetings, greetings, offers of tea, and as it were, feeling about for something to rest upon.
“She’s exceptionally good as an actress; one can see she’s studied Kaulbach,” said a diplomatic attaché in the group round the ambassador’s wife. “Did you notice how she fell down?...”
“Oh, please, don’t let us talk about Nilsson! No one can possibly say anything new about her,” said a fat, red-faced, flaxen-headed lady, without eyebrows and chignon, wearing an old silk dress. This was Princess Myakaya, noted for her simplicity and the roughness of her manners, and nicknamed enfant terrible. Princess Myakaya, sitting in the middle between the two groups, and listening to both, took part in the conversation first of one and then of the other. “Three people have used that very phrase about Kaulbach to me today already, just as though they had made a compact about it. And I can’t see why they liked that remark so.”
The conversation was cut short by this observation, and a new subject had to be thought of again.
“Do tell me something amusing but not spiteful,” said the ambassador’s wife, a great proficient in the art of that elegant conversation called by the English small talk. She addressed the attaché, who was at a loss now what to begin upon.
“They say that that’s a difficult task, that nothing’s amusing that isn’t spiteful,” he began with a smile. “But I’ll try. Get me a subject. It all lies in the subject. If a subject’s given me, it’s easy to spin something round it. I often think that the celebrated talkers of the last century would have found it difficult to talk cleverly now. Everything clever is so stale....”
“That has been said long ago,” the ambassador’s wife interrupted him, laughing.
The conversation began amiably, but just because it was too amiable, it came to a stop again. They had to have recourse to the sure, never-failing topic—gossip.
“Don’t you think there’s something Louis Quinze about Tushkevitch?” he said, glancing towards a handsome, fair-haired young man, standing at the table.
“Oh, yes! He’s in the same style as the drawing-room and that’s why it is he’s so often here.”
This conversation was maintained, since it rested on allusions to what could not be talked of in that room—that is to say, of the relations of Tushkevitch with their hostess.
Round the samovar and the hostess the conversation had been meanwhile vacillating in just the same way between three inevitable topics: the latest piece of public news, the theater, and scandal. It, too, came finally to rest on the last topic, that is, ill-natured gossip.
“Have you heard the Maltishtcheva woman—the mother, not the daughter—has ordered a costume in diable rose color?”
“Nonsense! No, that’s too lovely!”
“I wonder that with her sense—for she’s not a fool, you know—that she doesn’t see how funny she is.”
Everyone had something to say in censure or ridicule of the luckless Madame Maltishtcheva, and the conversation crackled merrily, like a burning faggot-stack.
The husband of Princess Betsy, a good-natured fat man, an ardent collector of engravings, hearing that his wife had visitors, came into the drawing-room before going to his club. Stepping noiselessly over the thick rugs, he went up to Princess Myakaya.
“How did you like Nilsson?” he asked.
“Oh, how can you steal upon anyone like that! How you startled me!” she responded. “Please don’t talk to me about the opera; you know nothing about music. I’d better meet you on your own ground, and talk about your majolica and engravings. Come now, what treasure have you been buying lately at the old curiosity shops?”
“Would you like me to show you? But you don’t understand such things.”
“Oh, do show me! I’ve been learning about them at those—what’s their names?... the bankers ... they’ve some splendid engravings. They showed them to us.”
“Why, have you been at the Schützburgs?” asked the hostess from the samovar.
“Yes, ma chère. They asked my husband and me to dinner, and told us the sauce at that dinner cost a hundred pounds,” Princess Myakaya said, speaking loudly, and conscious everyone was listening; “and very nasty sauce it was, some green mess. We had to ask them, and I made them sauce for eighteen pence, and everybody was very much pleased with it. I can’t run to hundred-pound sauces.”
“She’s unique!” said the lady of the house.
“Marvelous!” said someone.
The sensation produced by Princess Myakaya’s speeches was always unique, and the secret of the sensation she produced lay in the fact that though she spoke not always appropriately, as now, she said simple things with some sense in them. In the society in which she lived such plain statements produced the effect of the wittiest epigram. Princess Myakaya could never see why it had that effect, but she knew it had, and took advantage of it.
As everyone had been listening while Princess Myakaya spoke, and so the conversation around the ambassador’s wife had dropped, Princess Betsy tried to bring the whole party together, and turned to the ambassador’s wife.
“Will you really not have tea? You should come over here by us.”
“No, we’re very happy here,” the ambassador’s wife responded with a smile, and she went on with the conversation that had been begun.
It was a very agreeable conversation. They were criticizing the Karenins, husband and wife.
“Anna is quite changed since her stay in Moscow. There’s something strange about her,” said her friend.
“The great change is that she brought back with her the shadow of Alexey Vronsky,” said the ambassador’s wife.
“Well, what of it? There’s a fable of Grimm’s about a man without a shadow, a man who’s lost his shadow. And that’s his punishment for something. I never could understand how it was a punishment. But a woman must dislike being without a shadow.”
“Yes, but women with a shadow usually come to a bad end,” said Anna’s friend.
“Bad luck to your tongue!” said Princess Myakaya suddenly. “Madame Karenina’s a splendid woman. I don’t like her husband, but I like her very much.”
“Why don’t you like her husband? He’s such a remarkable man,” said the ambassador’s wife. “My husband says there are few statesmen like him in Europe.”
“And my husband tells me just the same, but I don’t believe it,” said Princess Myakaya. “If our husbands didn’t talk to us, we should see the facts as they are. Alexey Alexandrovitch, to my thinking, is simply a fool. I say it in a whisper ... but doesn’t it really make everything clear? Before, when I was told to consider him clever, I kept looking for his ability, and thought myself a fool for not seeing it; but directly I said, he’s a fool, though only in a whisper, everything’s explained, isn’t it?”
“How spiteful you are today!”
“Not a bit. I’d no other way out of it. One of the two had to be a fool. And, well, you know one can’t say that of oneself.”
“‘No one is satisfied with his fortune, and everyone is satisfied with his wit.’” The attaché repeated the French saying.
“That’s just it, just it,” Princess Myakaya turned to him. “But the point is that I won’t abandon Anna to your mercies. She’s so nice, so charming. How can she help it if they’re all in love with her, and follow her about like shadows?”
“Oh, I had no idea of blaming her for it,” Anna’s friend said in self-defense.
“If no one follows us about like a shadow, that’s no proof that we’ve any right to blame her.”
And having duly disposed of Anna’s friend, the Princess Myakaya got up, and together with the ambassador’s wife, joined the group at the table, where the conversation was dealing with the king of Prussia.
“What wicked gossip were you talking over there?” asked Betsy.
“About the Karenins. The princess gave us a sketch of Alexey Alexandrovitch,” said the ambassador’s wife with a smile, as she sat down at the table.
“Pity we didn’t hear it!” said Princess Betsy, glancing towards the door. “Ah, here you are at last!” she said, turning with a smile to Vronsky, as he came in.
Vronsky was not merely acquainted with all the persons whom he was meeting here; he saw them all every day; and so he came in with the quiet manner with which one enters a room full of people from whom one has only just parted.
“Where do I come from?” he said, in answer to a question from the ambassador’s wife. “Well, there’s no help for it, I must confess. From the opera bouffe. I do believe I’ve seen it a hundred times, and always with fresh enjoyment. It’s exquisite! I know it’s disgraceful, but I go to sleep at the opera, and I sit out the opera bouffe to the last minute, and enjoy it. This evening....”
He mentioned a French actress, and was going to tell something about her; but the ambassador’s wife, with playful horror, cut him short.
“Please don’t tell us about that horror.”
“All right, I won’t especially as everyone knows those horrors.”
“And we should all go to see them if it were accepted as the correct thing, like the opera,” chimed in Princess Myakaya.
Steps were heard at the door, and Princess Betsy, knowing it was Madame Karenina, glanced at Vronsky. He was looking towards the door, and his face wore a strange new expression. Joyfully, intently, and at the same time timidly, he gazed at the approaching figure, and slowly he rose to his feet. Anna walked into the drawing-room. Holding herself extremely erect, as always, looking straight before her, and moving with her swift, resolute, and light step, that distinguished her from all other society women, she crossed the short space to her hostess, shook hands with her, smiled, and with the same smile looked around at Vronsky. Vronsky bowed low and pushed a chair up for her.
She acknowledged this only by a slight nod, flushed a little, and frowned. But immediately, while rapidly greeting her acquaintances, and shaking the hands proffered to her, she addressed Princess Betsy:
“I have been at Countess Lidia’s, and meant to have come here earlier, but I stayed on. Sir John was there. He’s very interesting.”
“Oh, that’s this missionary?”
“Yes; he told us about the life in India, most interesting things.”
The conversation, interrupted by her coming in, flickered up again like the light of a lamp being blown out.
“Sir John! Yes, Sir John; I’ve seen him. He speaks well. The Vlassieva girl’s quite in love with him.”
“And is it true the younger Vlassieva girl’s to marry Topov?”
“Yes, they say it’s quite a settled thing.”
“I wonder at the parents! They say it’s a marriage for love.”
“For love? What antediluvian notions you have! Can one talk of love in these days?” said the ambassador’s wife.
“What’s to be done? It’s a foolish old fashion that’s kept up still,” said Vronsky.
“So much the worse for those who keep up the fashion. The only happy marriages I know are marriages of prudence.”
“Yes, but then how often the happiness of these prudent marriages flies away like dust just because that passion turns up that they have refused to recognize,” said Vronsky.
“But by marriages of prudence we mean those in which both parties have sown their wild oats already. That’s like scarlatina—one has to go through it and get it over.”
“Then they ought to find out how to vaccinate for love, like smallpox.”
“I was in love in my young days with a deacon,” said the Princess Myakaya. “I don’t know that it did me any good.”
“No; I imagine, joking apart, that to know love, one must make mistakes and then correct them,” said Princess Betsy.
“Even after marriage?” said the ambassador’s wife playfully.
“‘It’s never too late to mend.’” The attaché repeated the English proverb.
“Just so,” Betsy agreed; “one must make mistakes and correct them. What do you think about it?” she turned to Anna, who, with a faintly perceptible resolute smile on her lips, was listening in silence to the conversation.
“I think,” said Anna, playing with the glove she had taken off, “I think ... of so many men, so many minds, certainly so many hearts, so many kinds of love.”
Vronsky was gazing at Anna, and with a fainting heart waiting for what she would say. He sighed as after a danger escaped when she uttered these words.
Anna suddenly turned to him.
“Oh, I have had a letter from Moscow. They write me that Kitty Shtcherbatskaya’s very ill.”
“Really?” said Vronsky, knitting his brows.
Anna looked sternly at him.
“That doesn’t interest you?”
“On the contrary, it does, very much. What was it exactly they told you, if I may know?” he questioned.
Anna got up and went to Betsy.
“Give me a cup of tea,” she said, standing at her table.
While Betsy was pouring out the tea, Vronsky went up to Anna.
“What is it they write to you?” he repeated.
“I often think men have no understanding of what’s not honorable though they’re always talking of it,” said Anna, without answering him. “I’ve wanted to tell you so a long while,” she added, and moving a few steps away, she sat down at a table in a corner covered with albums.
“I don’t quite understand the meaning of your words,” he said, handing her the cup.
She glanced towards the sofa beside her, and he instantly sat down.
“Yes, I have been wanting to tell you,” she said, not looking at him. “You behaved wrongly, very wrongly.”
“Do you suppose I don’t know that I’ve acted wrongly? But who was the cause of my doing so?”
“What do you say that to me for?” she said, glancing severely at him.
“You know what for,” he answered boldly and joyfully, meeting her glance and not dropping his eyes.
Not he, but she, was confused.
“That only shows you have no heart,” she said. But her eyes said that she knew he had a heart, and that was why she was afraid of him.
“What you spoke of just now was a mistake, and not love.”
“Remember that I have forbidden you to utter that word, that hateful word,” said Anna, with a shudder. But at once she felt that by that very word “forbidden” she had shown that she acknowledged certain rights over him, and by that very fact was encouraging him to speak of love. “I have long meant to tell you this,” she went on, looking resolutely into his eyes, and hot all over from the burning flush on her cheeks. “I’ve come on purpose this evening, knowing I should meet you. I have come to tell you that this must end. I have never blushed before anyone, and you force me to feel to blame for something.”
He looked at her and was struck by a new spiritual beauty in her face.
“What do you wish of me?” he said simply and seriously.
“I want you to go to Moscow and ask for Kitty’s forgiveness,” she said.
“You don’t wish that?” he said.
He saw she was saying what she forced herself to say, not what she wanted to say.
“If you love me, as you say,” she whispered, “do so that I may be at peace.”
His face grew radiant.
“Don’t you know that you’re all my life to me? But I know no peace, and I can’t give it to you; all myself—and love ... yes. I can’t think of you and myself apart. You and I are one to me. And I see no chance before us of peace for me or for you. I see a chance of despair, of wretchedness ... or I see a chance of bliss, what bliss!... Can it be there’s no chance of it?” he murmured with his lips; but she heard.
She strained every effort of her mind to say what ought to be said. But instead of that she let her eyes rest on him, full of love, and made no answer.
“It’s come!” he thought in ecstasy. “When I was beginning to despair, and it seemed there would be no end—it’s come! She loves me! She owns it!”
“Then do this for me: never say such things to me, and let us be friends,” she said in words; but her eyes spoke quite differently.
“Friends we shall never be, you know that yourself. Whether we shall be the happiest or the wretchedest of people—that’s in your hands.”
She would have said something, but he interrupted her.
“I ask one thing only: I ask for the right to hope, to suffer as I do. But if even that cannot be, command me to disappear, and I disappear. You shall not see me if my presence is distasteful to you.”
“I don’t want to drive you away.”
“Only don’t change anything, leave everything as it is,” he said in a shaky voice. “Here’s your husband.”
At that instant Alexey Alexandrovitch did in fact walk into the room with his calm, awkward gait.
Glancing at his wife and Vronsky, he went up to the lady of the house, and sitting down for a cup of tea, began talking in his deliberate, always audible voice, in his habitual tone of banter, ridiculing someone.
“Your Rambouillet is in full conclave,” he said, looking round at all the party; “the graces and the muses.”
But Princess Betsy could not endure that tone of his—“sneering,” as she called it, using the English word, and like a skillful hostess she at once brought him into a serious conversation on the subject of universal conscription. Alexey Alexandrovitch was immediately interested in the subject, and began seriously defending the new imperial decree against Princess Betsy, who had attacked it.
Vronsky and Anna still sat at the little table.
“This is getting indecorous,” whispered one lady, with an expressive glance at Madame Karenina, Vronsky, and her husband.
“What did I tell you?” said Anna’s friend.
But not only those ladies, almost everyone in the room, even the Princess Myakaya and Betsy herself, looked several times in the direction of the two who had withdrawn from the general circle, as though that were a disturbing fact. Alexey Alexandrovitch was the only person who did not once look in that direction, and was not diverted from the interesting discussion he had entered upon.
Noticing the disagreeable impression that was being made on everyone, Princess Betsy slipped someone else into her place to listen to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and went up to Anna.
“I’m always amazed at the clearness and precision of your husband’s language,” she said. “The most transcendental ideas seem to be within my grasp when he’s speaking.”
“Oh, yes!” said Anna, radiant with a smile of happiness, and not understanding a word of what Betsy had said. She crossed over to the big table and took part in the general conversation.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, after staying half an hour, went up to his wife and suggested that they should go home together. But she answered, not looking at him, that she was staying to supper. Alexey Alexandrovitch made his bows and withdrew.
The fat old Tatar, Madame Karenina’s coachman, was with difficulty holding one of her pair of grays, chilled with the cold and rearing at the entrance. A footman stood opening the carriage door. The hall-porter stood holding open the great door of the house. Anna Arkadyevna, with her quick little hand, was unfastening the lace of her sleeve, caught in the hook of her fur cloak, and with bent head listening to the words Vronsky murmured as he escorted her down.
“You’ve said nothing, of course, and I ask nothing,” he was saying; “but you know that friendship’s not what I want: that there’s only one happiness in life for me, that word that you dislike so ... yes, love!...”
“Love,” she repeated slowly, in an inner voice, and suddenly, at the very instant she unhooked the lace, she added, “Why I don’t like the word is that it means too much to me, far more than you can understand,” and she glanced into his face. “Au revoir!”
She gave him her hand, and with her rapid, springy step she passed by the porter and vanished into the carriage.
Her glance, the touch of her hand, set him aflame. He kissed the palm of his hand where she had touched it, and went home, happy in the sense that he had got nearer to the attainment of his aims that evening than during the last two months.
Alexey Alexandrovitch had seen nothing striking or improper in the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a table apart, in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed that to the rest of the party this appeared something striking and improper, and for that reason it seemed to him too to be improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his wife.
On reaching home Alexey Alexandrovitch went to his study, as he usually did, seated himself in his low chair, opened a book on the Papacy at the place where he had laid the paper-knife in it, and read till one o’clock, just as he usually did. But from time to time he rubbed his high forehead and shook his head, as though to drive away something. At his usual time he got up and made his toilet for the night. Anna Arkadyevna had not yet come in. With a book under his arm he went upstairs. But this evening, instead of his usual thoughts and meditations upon official details, his thoughts were absorbed by his wife and something disagreeable connected with her. Contrary to his usual habit, he did not get into bed, but fell to walking up and down the rooms with his hands clasped behind his back. He could not go to bed, feeling that it was absolutely needful for him first to think thoroughly over the position that had just arisen.
When Alexey Alexandrovitch had made up his mind that he must talk to his wife about it, it had seemed a very easy and simple matter. But now, when he began to think over the question that had just presented itself, it seemed to him very complicated and difficult.
Alexey Alexandrovitch was not jealous. Jealousy according to his notions was an insult to one’s wife, and one ought to have confidence in one’s wife. Why one ought to have confidence—that is to say, complete conviction that his young wife would always love him—he did not ask himself. But he had no experience of lack of confidence, because he had confidence in her, and told himself that he ought to have it. Now, though his conviction that jealousy was a shameful feeling and that one ought to feel confidence, had not broken down, he felt that he was standing face to face with something illogical and irrational, and did not know what was to be done. Alexey Alexandrovitch was standing face to face with life, with the possibility of his wife’s loving someone other than himself, and this seemed to him very irrational and incomprehensible because it was life itself. All his life Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived and worked in official spheres, having to do with the reflection of life. And every time he had stumbled against life itself he had shrunk away from it. Now he experienced a feeling akin to that of a man who, while calmly crossing a precipice by a bridge, should suddenly discover that the bridge is broken, and that there is a chasm below. That chasm was life itself, the bridge that artificial life in which Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived. For the first time the question presented itself to him of the possibility of his wife’s loving someone else, and he was horrified at it.
He did not undress, but walked up and down with his regular tread over the resounding parquet of the dining-room, where one lamp was burning, over the carpet of the dark drawing-room, in which the light was reflected on the big new portrait of himself hanging over the sofa, and across her boudoir, where two candles burned, lighting up the portraits of her parents and woman friends, and the pretty knick-knacks of her writing-table, that he knew so well. He walked across her boudoir to the bedroom door, and turned back again. At each turn in his walk, especially at the parquet of the lighted dining-room, he halted and said to himself, “Yes, this I must decide and put a stop to; I must express my view of it and my decision.” And he turned back again. “But express what—what decision?” he said to himself in the drawing-room, and he found no reply. “But after all,” he asked himself before turning into the boudoir, “what has occurred? Nothing. She was talking a long while with him. But what of that? Surely women in society can talk to whom they please. And then, jealousy means lowering both myself and her,” he told himself as he went into her boudoir; but this dictum, which had always had such weight with him before, had now no weight and no meaning at all. And from the bedroom door he turned back again; but as he entered the dark drawing-room some inner voice told him that it was not so, and that if others noticed it that showed that there was something. And he said to himself again in the dining-room, “Yes, I must decide and put a stop to it, and express my view of it....” And again at the turn in the drawing-room he asked himself, “Decide how?” And again he asked himself, “What had occurred?” and answered, “Nothing,” and recollected that jealousy was a feeling insulting to his wife; but again in the drawing-room he was convinced that something had happened. His thoughts, like his body, went round a complete circle, without coming upon anything new. He noticed this, rubbed his forehead, and sat down in her boudoir.
There, looking at her table, with the malachite blotting case lying at the top and an unfinished letter, his thoughts suddenly changed. He began to think of her, of what she was thinking and feeling. For the first time he pictured vividly to himself her personal life, her ideas, her desires, and the idea that she could and should have a separate life of her own seemed to him so alarming that he made haste to dispel it. It was the chasm which he was afraid to peep into. To put himself in thought and feeling in another person’s place was a spiritual exercise not natural to Alexey Alexandrovitch. He looked on this spiritual exercise as a harmful and dangerous abuse of the fancy.
“And the worst of it all,” thought he, “is that just now, at the very moment when my great work is approaching completion” (he was thinking of the project he was bringing forward at the time), “when I stand in need of all my mental peace and all my energies, just now this stupid worry should fall foul of me. But what’s to be done? I’m not one of those men who submit to uneasiness and worry without having the force of character to face them.
“I must think it over, come to a decision, and put it out of my mind,” he said aloud.
“The question of her feelings, of what has passed and may be passing in her soul, that’s not my affair; that’s the affair of her conscience, and falls under the head of religion,” he said to himself, feeling consolation in the sense that he had found to which division of regulating principles this new circumstance could be properly referred.
“And so,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself, “questions as to her feelings, and so on, are questions for her conscience, with which I can have nothing to do. My duty is clearly defined. As the head of the family, I am a person bound in duty to guide her, and consequently, in part the person responsible; I am bound to point out the danger I perceive, to warn her, even to use my authority. I ought to speak plainly to her.” And everything that he would say tonight to his wife took clear shape in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s head. Thinking over what he would say, he somewhat regretted that he should have to use his time and mental powers for domestic consumption, with so little to show for it, but, in spite of that, the form and contents of the speech before him shaped itself as clearly and distinctly in his head as a ministerial report.
“I must say and express fully the following points: first, exposition of the value to be attached to public opinion and to decorum; secondly, exposition of religious significance of marriage; thirdly, if need be, reference to the calamity possibly ensuing to our son; fourthly, reference to the unhappiness likely to result to herself.” And, interlacing his fingers, Alexey Alexandrovitch stretched them, and the joints of the fingers cracked. This trick, a bad habit, the cracking of his fingers, always soothed him, and gave precision to his thoughts, so needful to him at this juncture.
There was the sound of a carriage driving up to the front door. Alexey Alexandrovitch halted in the middle of the room.
A woman’s step was heard mounting the stairs. Alexey Alexandrovitch, ready for his speech, stood compressing his crossed fingers, waiting to see if the crack would not come again. One joint cracked.
Already, from the sound of light steps on the stairs, he was aware that she was close, and though he was satisfied with his speech, he felt frightened of the explanation confronting him....
Anna came in with hanging head, playing with the tassels of her hood. Her face was brilliant and glowing; but this glow was not one of brightness; it suggested the fearful glow of a conflagration in the midst of a dark night. On seeing her husband, Anna raised her head and smiled, as though she had just waked up.
“You’re not in bed? What a wonder!” she said, letting fall her hood, and without stopping, she went on into the dressing-room. “It’s late, Alexey Alexandrovitch,” she said, when she had gone through the doorway.
“Anna, it’s necessary for me to have a talk with you.”
“With me?” she said, wonderingly. She came out from behind the door of the dressing-room, and looked at him. “Why, what is it? What about?” she asked, sitting down. “Well, let’s talk, if it’s so necessary. But it would be better to get to sleep.”
Anna said what came to her lips, and marveled, hearing herself, at her own capacity for lying. How simple and natural were her words, and how likely that she was simply sleepy! She felt herself clad in an impenetrable armor of falsehood. She felt that some unseen force had come to her aid and was supporting her.
“Anna, I must warn you,” he began.
“Warn me?” she said. “Of what?”
She looked at him so simply, so brightly, that anyone who did not know her as her husband knew her could not have noticed anything unnatural, either in the sound or the sense of her words. But to him, knowing her, knowing that whenever he went to bed five minutes later than usual, she noticed it, and asked him the reason; to him, knowing that every joy, every pleasure and pain that she felt she communicated to him at once; to him, now to see that she did not care to notice his state of mind, that she did not care to say a word about herself, meant a great deal. He saw that the inmost recesses of her soul, that had always hitherto lain open before him, were closed against him. More than that, he saw from her tone that she was not even perturbed at that, but as it were said straight out to him: “Yes, it’s shut up, and so it must be, and will be in future.” Now he experienced a feeling such as a man might have, returning home and finding his own house locked up. “But perhaps the key may yet be found,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“I want to warn you,” he said in a low voice, “that through thoughtlessness and lack of caution you may cause yourself to be talked about in society. Your too animated conversation this evening with Count Vronsky” (he enunciated the name firmly and with deliberate emphasis) “attracted attention.”
He talked and looked at her laughing eyes, which frightened him now with their impenetrable look, and, as he talked, he felt all the uselessness and idleness of his words.
“You’re always like that,” she answered, as though completely misapprehending him, and of all he had said only taking in the last phrase. “One time you don’t like my being dull, and another time you don’t like my being lively. I wasn’t dull. Does that offend you?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch shivered, and bent his hands to make the joints crack.
“Oh, please, don’t do that, I do so dislike it,” she said.
“Anna, is this you?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, quietly making an effort over himself, and restraining the motion of his fingers.
“But what is it all about?” she said, with such genuine and droll wonder. “What do you want of me?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch paused, and rubbed his forehead and his eyes. He saw that instead of doing as he had intended—that is to say, warning his wife against a mistake in the eyes of the world—he had unconsciously become agitated over what was the affair of her conscience, and was struggling against the barrier he fancied between them.
“This is what I meant to say to you,” he went on coldly and composedly, “and I beg you to listen to it. I consider jealousy, as you know, a humiliating and degrading feeling, and I shall never allow myself to be influenced by it; but there are certain rules of decorum which cannot be disregarded with impunity. This evening it was not I observed it, but judging by the impression made on the company, everyone observed that your conduct and deportment were not altogether what could be desired.”
“I positively don’t understand,” said Anna, shrugging her shoulders—“He doesn’t care,” she thought. “But other people noticed it, and that’s what upsets him.”—“You’re not well, Alexey Alexandrovitch,” she added, and she got up, and would have gone towards the door; but he moved forward as though he would stop her.
His face was ugly and forbidding, as Anna had never seen him. She stopped, and bending her head back and on one side, began with her rapid hand taking out her hairpins.
“Well, I’m listening to what’s to come,” she said, calmly and ironically; “and indeed I listen with interest, for I should like to understand what’s the matter.”
She spoke, and marveled at the confident, calm, and natural tone in which she was speaking, and the choice of the words she used.
“To enter into all the details of your feelings I have no right, and besides, I regard that as useless and even harmful,” began Alexey Alexandrovitch. “Ferreting in one’s soul, one often ferrets out something that might have lain there unnoticed. Your feelings are an affair of your own conscience; but I am in duty bound to you, to myself, and to God, to point out to you your duties. Our life has been joined, not by man, but by God. That union can only be severed by a crime, and a crime of that nature brings its own chastisement.”
“I don’t understand a word. And, oh dear! how sleepy I am, unluckily,” she said, rapidly passing her hand through her hair, feeling for the remaining hairpins.
“Anna, for God’s sake don’t speak like that!” he said gently. “Perhaps I am mistaken, but believe me, what I say, I say as much for myself as for you. I am your husband, and I love you.”
For an instant her face fell, and the mocking gleam in her eyes died away; but the word love threw her into revolt again. She thought: “Love? Can he love? If he hadn’t heard there was such a thing as love, he would never have used the word. He doesn’t even know what love is.”
“Alexey Alexandrovitch, really I don’t understand,” she said. “Define what it is you find....”
“Pardon, let me say all I have to say. I love you. But I am not speaking of myself; the most important persons in this matter are our son and yourself. It may very well be, I repeat, that my words seem to you utterly unnecessary and out of place; it may be that they are called forth by my mistaken impression. In that case, I beg you to forgive me. But if you are conscious yourself of even the smallest foundation for them, then I beg you to think a little, and if your heart prompts you, to speak out to me....”
Alexey Alexandrovitch was unconsciously saying something utterly unlike what he had prepared.
“I have nothing to say. And besides,” she said hurriedly, with difficulty repressing a smile, “it’s really time to be in bed.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed, and, without saying more, went into the bedroom.
When she came into the bedroom, he was already in bed. His lips were sternly compressed, and his eyes looked away from her. Anna got into her bed, and lay expecting every minute that he would begin to speak to her again. She both feared his speaking and wished for it. But he was silent. She waited for a long while without moving, and had forgotten about him. She thought of that other; she pictured him, and felt how her heart was flooded with emotion and guilty delight at the thought of him. Suddenly she heard an even, tranquil snore. For the first instant Alexey Alexandrovitch seemed, as it were, appalled at his own snoring, and ceased; but after an interval of two breathings the snore sounded again, with a new tranquil rhythm.
“It’s late, it’s late,” she whispered with a smile. A long while she lay, not moving, with open eyes, whose brilliance she almost fancied she could herself see in the darkness.
From that time a new life began for Alexey Alexandrovitch and for his wife. Nothing special happened. Anna went out into society, as she had always done, was particularly often at Princess Betsy’s, and met Vronsky everywhere. Alexey Alexandrovitch saw this, but could do nothing. All his efforts to draw her into open discussion she confronted with a barrier which he could not penetrate, made up of a sort of amused perplexity. Outwardly everything was the same, but their inner relations were completely changed. Alexey Alexandrovitch, a man of great power in the world of politics, felt himself helpless in this. Like an ox with head bent, submissively he awaited the blow which he felt was lifted over him. Every time he began to think about it, he felt that he must try once more, that by kindness, tenderness, and persuasion there was still hope of saving her, of bringing her back to herself, and every day he made ready to talk to her. But every time he began talking to her, he felt that the spirit of evil and deceit, which had taken possession of her, had possession of him too, and he talked to her in a tone quite unlike that in which he had meant to talk. Involuntarily he talked to her in his habitual tone of jeering at anyone who should say what he was saying. And in that tone it was impossible to say what needed to be said to her.
That which for Vronsky had been almost a whole year the one absorbing desire of his life, replacing all his old desires; that which for Anna had been an impossible, terrible, and even for that reason more entrancing dream of bliss, that desire had been fulfilled. He stood before her, pale, his lower jaw quivering, and besought her to be calm, not knowing how or why.
“Anna! Anna!” he said with a choking voice, “Anna, for pity’s sake!...”
But the louder he spoke, the lower she dropped her once proud and gay, now shame-stricken head, and she bowed down and sank from the sofa where she was sitting, down on the floor, at his feet; she would have fallen on the carpet if he had not held her.
“My God! Forgive me!” she said, sobbing, pressing his hands to her bosom.
She felt so sinful, so guilty, that nothing was left her but to humiliate herself and beg forgiveness; and as now there was no one in her life but him, to him she addressed her prayer for forgiveness. Looking at him, she had a physical sense of her humiliation, and she could say nothing more. He felt what a murderer must feel, when he sees the body he has robbed of life. That body, robbed by him of life, was their love, the first stage of their love. There was something awful and revolting in the memory of what had been bought at this fearful price of shame. Shame at their spiritual nakedness crushed her and infected him. But in spite of all the murderer’s horror before the body of his victim, he must hack it to pieces, hide the body, must use what he has gained by his murder.
And with fury, as it were with passion, the murderer falls on the body, and drags it and hacks at it; so he covered her face and shoulders with kisses. She held his hand, and did not stir. “Yes, these kisses—that is what has been bought by this shame. Yes, and one hand, which will always be mine—the hand of my accomplice.” She lifted up that hand and kissed it. He sank on his knees and tried to see her face; but she hid it, and said nothing. At last, as though making an effort over herself, she got up and pushed him away. Her face was still as beautiful, but it was only the more pitiful for that.
“All is over,” she said; “I have nothing but you. Remember that.”
“I can never forget what is my whole life. For one instant of this happiness....”
“Happiness!” she said with horror and loathing and her horror unconsciously infected him. “For pity’s sake, not a word, not a word more.”
She rose quickly and moved away from him.
“Not a word more,” she repeated, and with a look of chill despair, incomprehensible to him, she parted from him. She felt that at that moment she could not put into words the sense of shame, of rapture, and of horror at this stepping into a new life, and she did not want to speak of it, to vulgarize this feeling by inappropriate words. But later too, and the next day and the third day, she still found no words in which she could express the complexity of her feelings; indeed, she could not even find thoughts in which she could clearly think out all that was in her soul.
She said to herself: “No, just now I can’t think of it, later on, when I am calmer.” But this calm for thought never came; every time the thought rose of what she had done and what would happen to her, and what she ought to do, a horror came over her and she drove those thoughts away.
“Later, later,” she said—“when I am calmer.”
But in dreams, when she had no control over her thoughts, her position presented itself to her in all its hideous nakedness. One dream haunted her almost every night. She dreamed that both were her husbands at once, that both were lavishing caresses on her. Alexey Alexandrovitch was weeping, kissing her hands, and saying, “How happy we are now!” And Alexey Vronsky was there too, and he too was her husband. And she was marveling that it had once seemed impossible to her, was explaining to them, laughing, that this was ever so much simpler, and that now both of them were happy and contented. But this dream weighed on her like a nightmare, and she awoke from it in terror.
In the early days after his return from Moscow, whenever Levin shuddered and grew red, remembering the disgrace of his rejection, he said to himself: “This was just how I used to shudder and blush, thinking myself utterly lost, when I was plucked in physics and did not get my remove; and how I thought myself utterly ruined after I had mismanaged that affair of my sister’s that was entrusted to me. And yet, now that years have passed, I recall it and wonder that it could distress me so much. It will be the same thing too with this trouble. Time will go by and I shall not mind about this either.”
But three months had passed and he had not left off minding about it; and it was as painful for him to think of it as it had been those first days. He could not be at peace because after dreaming so long of family life, and feeling himself so ripe for it, he was still not married, and was further than ever from marriage. He was painfully conscious himself, as were all about him, that at his years it is not well for man to be alone. He remembered how before starting for Moscow he had once said to his cowman Nikolay, a simple-hearted peasant, whom he liked talking to: “Well, Nikolay! I mean to get married,” and how Nikolay had promptly answered, as of a matter on which there could be no possible doubt: “And high time too, Konstantin Dmitrievitch.” But marriage had now become further off than ever. The place was taken, and whenever he tried to imagine any of the girls he knew in that place, he felt that it was utterly impossible. Moreover, the recollection of the rejection and the part he had played in the affair tortured him with shame. However often he told himself that he was in no wise to blame in it, that recollection, like other humiliating reminiscences of a similar kind, made him twinge and blush. There had been in his past, as in every man’s, actions, recognized by him as bad, for which his conscience ought to have tormented him; but the memory of these evil actions was far from causing him so much suffering as those trivial but humiliating reminiscences. These wounds never healed. And with these memories was now ranged his rejection and the pitiful position in which he must have appeared to others that evening. But time and work did their part. Bitter memories were more and more covered up by the incidents—paltry in his eyes, but really important—of his country life. Every week he thought less often of Kitty. He was impatiently looking forward to the news that she was married, or just going to be married, hoping that such news would, like having a tooth out, completely cure him.
Meanwhile spring came on, beautiful and kindly, without the delays and treacheries of spring,—one of those rare springs in which plants, beasts, and man rejoice alike. This lovely spring roused Levin still more, and strengthened him in his resolution of renouncing all his past and building up his lonely life firmly and independently. Though many of the plans with which he had returned to the country had not been carried out, still his most important resolution—that of purity—had been kept by him. He was free from that shame, which had usually harassed him after a fall; and he could look everyone straight in the face. In February he had received a letter from Marya Nikolaevna telling him that his brother Nikolay’s health was getting worse, but that he would not take advice, and in consequence of this letter Levin went to Moscow to his brother’s and succeeded in persuading him to see a doctor and to go to a watering-place abroad. He succeeded so well in persuading his brother, and in lending him money for the journey without irritating him, that he was satisfied with himself in that matter. In addition to his farming, which called for special attention in spring, and in addition to reading, Levin had begun that winter a work on agriculture, the plan of which turned on taking into account the character of the laborer on the land as one of the unalterable data of the question, like the climate and the soil, and consequently deducing all the principles of scientific culture, not simply from the data of soil and climate, but from the data of soil, climate, and a certain unalterable character of the laborer. Thus, in spite of his solitude, or in consequence of his solitude, his life was exceedingly full. Only rarely he suffered from an unsatisfied desire to communicate his stray ideas to someone besides Agafea Mihalovna. With her indeed he not infrequently fell into discussion upon physics, the theory of agriculture, and especially philosophy; philosophy was Agafea Mihalovna’s favorite subject.
Spring was slow in unfolding. For the last few weeks it had been steadily fine frosty weather. In the daytime it thawed in the sun, but at night there were even seven degrees of frost. There was such a frozen surface on the snow that they drove the wagons anywhere off the roads. Easter came in the snow. Then all of a sudden, on Easter Monday, a warm wind sprang up, storm clouds swooped down, and for three days and three nights the warm, driving rain fell in streams. On Thursday the wind dropped, and a thick gray fog brooded over the land as though hiding the mysteries of the transformations that were being wrought in nature. Behind the fog there was the flowing of water, the cracking and floating of ice, the swift rush of turbid, foaming torrents; and on the following Monday, in the evening, the fog parted, the storm clouds split up into little curling crests of cloud, the sky cleared, and the real spring had come. In the morning the sun rose brilliant and quickly wore away the thin layer of ice that covered the water, and all the warm air was quivering with the steam that rose up from the quickened earth. The old grass looked greener, and the young grass thrust up its tiny blades; the buds of the guelder-rose and of the currant and the sticky birch-buds were swollen with sap, and an exploring bee was humming about the golden blossoms that studded the willow. Larks trilled unseen above the velvety green fields and the ice-covered stubble-land; peewits wailed over the low lands and marshes flooded by the pools; cranes and wild geese flew high across the sky uttering their spring calls. The cattle, bald in patches where the new hair had not grown yet, lowed in the pastures; the bowlegged lambs frisked round their bleating mothers. Nimble children ran about the drying paths, covered with the prints of bare feet. There was a merry chatter of peasant women over their linen at the pond, and the ring of axes in the yard, where the peasants were repairing ploughs and harrows. The real spring had come.