Anna Karenina (Part Two – Chapter 6-10)
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 attache 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 attache, 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 on 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 yo 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 Schuetzburgs?” asked the hostess from the samovar.
“Yes, ma chere. 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 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 attache 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?” aid the ambassador’s wife playfully.
“‘It’s never too late to mend.'” The attache 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…if 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 heat, 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 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 thought 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, wile 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 handing 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 listened 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.