Anna Karenina (Part Two – Chapter 21-25)
The temporary stable, a wooden shed, had been put up close to the race course, and there his mare was to have been taken the previous day. He had not yet seen her there.
During the last few days
he had not ridden her out for exercise himself, but had put her in the charge of the trainer, and so now he positively did not know in what condition his mare had arrived yesterday and was today. He had scarcely got out of his carriage when his groom, the so-called “stable boy,” recognizing the carriage some way off, called the trainer. A dry-looking Englishman, in high boots and a short jacket, clean-shaven, except for a tuft below his chin, came to meet him, walking with the uncouth gait of jockey, turning his elbows out and swaying from side to side.
“Well, how’s Frou-Frou?” Vronsky asked in English.
“All right, sir,” the Englishman’s voice responded somewhere in the inside of his throat. “Better not go in,” he added, touching his hat. “I’ve put a muzzle on her, and the mare’s fidgety. Better not go in, it’ll excite the mare.”
“No, I’m going in. I want to look at her.”
“Come along, then,” said the Englishman, frowning, and speaking with his mouth shut, and with swinging elbows, he went on in front with his disjointed gait.
They went into the little yard in front of the shed. A stable boy, spruce and smart in his holiday attire, met them with a broom in his hand, and followed them. In the shed there were five horses in their separate stalls, and Vronsky knew that his chief rival, Gladiator, a very tall chestnut horse, had been brought there, and must be standing among them. Even more than his mare, Vronsky longed to see Gladiator, whom he had never seen. But he knew that by the etiquette of the race course it was not merely impossible for him to see the horse, but improper even to ask questions about him. Just as he was passing along the passage, the boy opened the door into the second horse-box on the left, and Vronsky caught a glimpse of a big chestnut horse with white legs. He knew that this was Gladiator, but, with the feeling of a man turning away from the sight of another man’s open letter, he turned round and went into Frou-Frou’s stall.
“The horse is here belonging to Mak…Mak…I never can say the name,” said the Englishman, over his shoulder, pointing his big finger and dirty nail towards Gladiator’s stall.
“Mahotin? Yes, he’s my most serious rival,” said Vronsky.
“If you were riding him,” said the Englishman, “I’d bet on you.”
“Frou-Frou’s more nervous; he’s stronger,” said Vronsky, smiling at the compliment to his riding.
“In a steeplechase it all depends on riding and on pluck,” said the Englishman.
Of pluck–that is, energy and courage–Vronsky did not merely feel that he had enough; what was of far more importance, he was firmly convinced that no one in the world could have more of this “pluck” than he had.
“Don’t you think I want more thinning down?”
“Oh, no,” answered the Englishman. “Please, don’t speak loud. The mare’s fidgety,” he added, nodding towards the horse-box, before which they were standing, and from which came the sound of restless stamping in the straw.
He opened the door, and Vronsky went into the horse-box, dimly lighted by one little window. In the horse-box stood a dark bay mare, with a muzzle on, picking at the fresh straw with her hoofs. Looking round him in the twilight of the horse-box, Vronsky unconsciously took in once more in a comprehensive glance all the points of his favorite mare. Frou-Frou was a beast of medium size, not altogether free from reproach, from a breeder’s point of view. She was small-boned all over; though her chest was extremely prominent in front, it was narrow. Her hind-quarters were a little drooping, and in her fore-legs, and still more in her hind-legs, there was a noticeable curvature. The muscles of both hind- and fore-legs were not very thick; but across her shoulders the mare was exceptionally broad, a peculiarity specially striking now that she was lean from training. The bones of her legs below the knees looked no thicker than a finger from in front, but were extraordinarily thick seen from the side. She looked altogether, except across the shoulders, as it were, pinched in at the sides and pressed out in depth. But she had in the highest degree the quality that makes all defects forgotten: that quality was blood, the blood that tells, as the English expression has it. The muscles stood up sharply under the network of sinews, covered with this delicate, mobile skin, soft as satin, and they were hard a bone. Her clean-cut head with prominent, bright, spirited eyes, broadened out at the open nostrils, that showed the red blood in the cartilage within. About all her figure, and especially her head, there was a certain expression of energy, and, at the same time, of softness. She was one of those creatures which seem only not to speak because the mechanism of their mouth does not allow them to.
To Vronsky, at any rate, it seemed that she understood all he felt at that moment, looking at her.
Directly Vronsky went towards her, she drew in a deep breath, and, turning back her prominent eye till the white looked bloodshot, she started at the approaching figures from the opposite side, shaking her muzzle, and shifting lightly from one leg to the other.
“There, you see how fidgety she is,” said the Englishman.
“There, darling! There!” said Vronsky, going up to the mare and speaking soothingly to her.
But the nearer he came, the more excited she grew. Only when he stood by her head, she was suddenly quieter, while the muscles quivered under her soft, delicate coat. Vronsky patted her strong neck, straightened over her sharp withers a stray lock of her mane that had fallen on the other side, and moved his face near her dilated nostrils, transparent as a bat’s wing. She drew a loud breath and snorted out through her tense nostrils, started, pricked up her sharp ear, and put out her strong, black lip towards Vronsky, as though she would nip hold of his sleeve. But remembering the muzzle, she shook it and again began restlessly stamping one after the other her shapely legs.
“Quiet, darling, quiet!” he said, patting her again over her hind-quarters; and with a glad sense that his mare was in the best possible condition, he went out of the horse-box.
The mare’s excitement had infected Vronsky. He felt that his heart was throbbing, and that he, too, like the mare, longed to move, to bite; it was both dreadful and delicious.
“Well, I rely on you, then,” he said to the Englishman; “half-past six on the ground.”
“All right,” said the Englishman. “Oh, where are you going, my lord?” he asked suddenly, using the title “my lord,” which he had scarcely ever used before.
Vronsky in amazement raised his head, and stared, as he knew how to stare, not into the Englishman’s eyes, but at his forehead, astounded at the impertinence of his question. But realizing that in asking this the Englishman had been looking at him not as an employer, but as a jockey, he answered:
“I’ve got to go to Bryansky’s; I shall be home within an hour.”
“How often I’m asked that question today!” he said to himself, and he blushed, a thing which rarely happened to him. The Englishman looked gravely at him; and, as though he, too, knew where Vronsky was going, he added:
“The great thing’s to keep quiet before a race,” said he; “don’t get out of temper or upset about anything.”
“All right,” answered Vronsky, smiling; and jumping into his carriage, he told the man to drive to Peterhof.
Before he had driven many paces away, the dark clouds that had been threatening rain all day broke, and there was a heavy downpour of rain.
“What a pity!” thought Vronsky, putting up the roof of the carriage. “It was muddy before, now it will be a perfect swamp.” As he sat in solitude in the closed carriage, he took out his mother’s letter and his brother’s note, and read them through.
Yes, it was the same thing over and over again. Everyone, his mother, his brother, everyone thought fit to interfere in the affairs of his heart. This interference aroused in him a feeling of angry hatred–a feeling he had rarely known before. “What business is it of theirs? Why does everybody feel called upon to concern himself about me? And why do they worry me so? Just because they see that this is something they can’t understand. If it were a common, vulgar, worldly intrigue, they would have left me alone. They feel that this is something different, that this is not a mere pastime, that this woman is dearer to me than life. And this is incomprehensible, and that’s why it annoys them. Whatever our destiny is or may be, we have made it ourselves, and we do not complain of it,” he said, in the word we linking himself with Anna. “No, they must needs teach us how to live. They haven’t an idea of what happiness is; they don’t know that without our love, for us there is neither happiness nor unhappiness–no life at all,” he thought.
He was angry with all of them for their interference just because he felt in his soul that they, all these people, were right. He felt that the love that bound him to Anna was not a momentary impulse, which would pass, as worldly intrigues do pass, leaving no other traces in the life of either but pleasant or unpleasant memories. He felt all the torture of his own and her position, all the difficulty there was for them, conspicuous as they were in the eye of all the world, in concealing their love, in lying and deceiving; and in lying, deceiving, feigning, and continually thinking of others, when the passion that united them was so intense that they were both oblivious of everything else but their love.
He vividly recalled all the constantly recurring instances of inevitable necessity for lying and deceit, which were so against his natural bent. He recalled particularly vividly the shame he had more than once detected in her at this necessity for lying and deceit. And he experienced the strange feeling that had sometimes come upon him since his secret love for Anna. This was a feeling of loathing for something–whether for Alexey Alexandrovitch, or for himself, or for the whole world, he could not have said. But he always drove away this strange feeling. Now, too, he shook it off and continued the thread of his thoughts.
“Yes, she was unhappy before, but proud and at peace; and now she cannot be at peace and feel secure in her dignity, though she does not show it. Yes, we must put an end to it,” he decided.
And for the first time the idea clearly presented itself that it was essential to put an end to this false position, and the sooner the better. “Throw up everything, she and I, and hide ourselves somewhere alone with our love,” he said to himself.
The rain did not last long, and by the time Vronsky arrived, his shaft-horse trotting at full speed and dragging the trace-horses galloping through the mud, with their reins hanging loose, the sun had peeped out again, the roofs of the summer villas and the old limetrees in the gardens on both sides of the principal streets sparkled with wet brilliance, and from the twigs came a pleasant drip and from the roofs rushing streams of water. He thought no more of the shower spoiling the race course, but was rejoicing now that–thanks to the rain–he would be sure to find her at home and alone, as he knew that Alexey Alexandrovitch, who had lately returned from a foreign watering place, had not moved from Petersburg.
Hoping to find her alone, Vronsky alighted, as he always did, to avoid attracting attention, before crossing the bridge, and walked to the house. He did not go up the steps to the street door, but went into the court.
“Has your master come?” he asked a gardener.
“No, sir. The mistress is at home. But will you please go to the frond door; there are servants there,” the gardener answered. “They’ll open the door.”
“No, I’ll go in from the garden.”
And feeling satisfied that she was alone, and wanting to take her by surprise, since he had not promised to be there today, and she would certainly not expect him to come before the races, he walked, holding his sword and stepping cautiously over the sandy path, bordered with flowers, to the terrace that looked out upon the garden. Vronsky forgot now all that he had thought on the way of the hardships and difficulties of their position. He thought of nothing but that he would see her directly, not in imagination, but living, all of her, as she was in reality. He was just going in, stepping on his whole foot so as not to creak, up the worn steps of the terrace, when he suddenly remembered what he always forgot, and what caused the most torturing side of his relations with her, her son with his questioning–hostile, as he fancied–eyes.
This boy was more often than anyone else a check upon their freedom. When he was present, both Vronsky and Anna did not merely avoid speaking of anything that they could not have repeated before everyone; they did not even allow themselves to refer by hints to anything the boy did not understand. They had made no agreement about this, it had settled itself. They would have felt it wounding themselves to deceive the child. In his presence they talked like acquaintances. But in spite of this caution, Vronsky often saw the child’s intent, bewildered glance fixed upon him, and a strange shyness, uncertainty, at one time friendliness, at another, coldness and reserve, in the boy’s manner to him; as though the child felt that between this man and his mother there existed some important bond, the significance of which he could not understand.
As a fact, the boy did feel that he could not understand this relation, and he tried painfully, and was not able to make clear to himself what feeling he ought to have for this man. With a child’s keen instinct for every manifestation of feeling, he saw distinctly that his father, his governess, his nurse,–all did not merely dislike Vronsky, but looked on him with horror and aversion, though they never said anything about him, while his mother looked on him as her greatest friend.
“What does it mean? Who is he? How ought I to love him? If I don’t know, it’s my fault; either I’m stupid or a naughty boy,” thought the child. And this was what caused his dubious, inquiring, sometimes hostile, expression, and the shyness and uncertainty which Vronsky found so irksome. This child’s presence always and infallibly called up in Vronsky that strange feeling of inexplicable loathing which he had experienced of late. This child’s presence called up both in Vronsky and in Anna a feeling akin to the feeling of a sailor who sees by the compass that the direction in which he is swiftly moving is far from the right one, but that to arrest his motion is not in his power, that every instant is carrying him further and further away, and that to admit to himself his deviation from the right direction is the same as admitting his certain ruin.
This child, with his innocent outlook upon life, was the compass that showed them the point to which they had departed from what they knew, but did not want to know.
This time Seryozha was not at home, and she was completely alone. She was sitting on the terrace waiting for the return of her son, who had gone out for his walk and been caught in the rain. She had sent a manservant and a maid out to look for him. Dressed in a white gown, deeply embroidered, she was sitting in a corner of the terrace behind some flowers, and did not hear him. Bending her curly black head, she pressed her forehead against a cool watering pot that stood on the parapet, and both her lovely hands, with the rings he knew so well, clasped the pot. The beauty of her whole figure, her head, her neck, her hands, struck Vronsky every time as something new and unexpected. He stood still, gazing at her in ecstasy. But, directly he would have made a step to come nearer to her, she was aware of his presence, pushed away the watering pot, and turned her flushed face towards him.
“What’s the matter? You are ill?” he said to her in French, going up to her. He would have run to her, but remembering that there might be spectators, he looked round towards the balcony door, and reddened a little, as he always reddened, feeling that he had to be afraid and be on his guard.
“No, I’m quite well,” she said, getting up and pressing his outstretched hand tightly. “I did not expect…thee.”
“Mercy! what cold hands!” he said.
“You startled me,” she said. “I’m alone, and expecting Seryozha; he’s out for a walk; they’ll come in from this side.”
But, in spite of her efforts to be calm, her lips were quivering.
“Forgive me for coming, but I couldn’t pass the day without seeing you,” he went on, speaking French, as he always did to avoid using the stiff Russian plural form, so impossibly frigid between them, and the dangerously intimate singular.
“Forgive you? I’m so glad!”
“But you’re ill or worried,” he went on, not letting go her hands and bending over her. “What were you thinking of?”
“Always the same thing,” she said, with a smile.
She spoke the truth. If ever at any moment she had been asked what she was thinking of, she could have answered truly: of the same thing, of her happiness and her unhappiness. She was thinking, just when he came upon her of this: why was it, she wondered, that to others, to Betsy (she knew of her secret connection with Tushkevitch) it was all easy, while to her it was such torture? Today this thought gained special poignancy from certain other considerations. She asked him about the races. He answered her questions, and, seeing that she was agitated, trying to calm her, he began telling her in the simplest tone the details of his preparations for the races.
“Tell him or not tell him?” she thought, looking into his quiet, affectionate eyes. “He is so happy, so absorbed in his races that he won’t understand as he ought, he won’t understand all the gravity of this fact to us.”
“But you haven’t told me what you were thinking of when I came in,” he said, interrupting his narrative; “please tell me!”
She did not answer, and, bending her head a little, she looked inquiringly at him from under her brows, her eyes shining under their long lashes. Her hand shook as it played with a leaf she had picked. He saw it, and his face expressed that utter subjection, that slavish devotion, which had done so much to win her.
“I see something has happened. Do you suppose I can be at peace, knowing you have a trouble I am not sharing? Tell me, for God’s sake,” he repeated imploringly.
“Yes, I shan’t be able to forgive him if he does not realize all the gravity of it. Better not tell; why put him to the proof?” she thought, still staring at him in the same way, and feeling the hand that held the leaf was trembling more and more.
“For God’s sake!” he repeated, taking her hand.
“Shall I tell you?”
“Yes, yes, yes . . .”
“I’m with child,” she said, softly and deliberately. The leaf in her hand shook more violently, but she did not take her eyes off him, watching how he would take it. He turned white, would have said something, but stopped; he dropped her hand, and his head sank on his breast. “Yes, he realizes all the gravity of it,” she thought, and gratefully she pressed his hand.
But she was mistaken in thinking he realized the gravity of the fact as she, a woman, realized it. On hearing it, he felt come upon him with tenfold intensity that strange feeling of loathing of someone. But at the same time, he felt that the turning-point he had been longing for had come now; that it was impossible to go on concealing things from her husband, and it was inevitable in one way or another that they should soon put an end to their unnatural position. But, besides that, her emotion physically affected him in the same way. He looked at her with a look of submissive tenderness, kissed her hand, got up, and, in silence, paced up and down the terrace.
“Yes,” he said, going up to her resolutely. “Neither you nor I have looked on our relations as a passing amusement, and now our fate is sealed. It is absolutely necessary to put an end”–he looked round as he spoke–“to the deception in which we are living.”
“Put an end? How put an end, Alexey?” she said softly.
She was calmer now, and her face lighted up with a tender smile.
“Leave your husband and make our life one.”
“It is one as it is,” she answered, scarcely audibly.
“Yes, but altogether; altogether.”
“But how, Alexey, tell me how?” she said in melancholy mockery at the hopelessness of her own position. “Is there any way out of such a position? Am I not the wife of my husband?”
“There is a way out of every position. We must take our line,” he said. “Anything’s better than the position in which you’re living. Of course, I see how you torture yourself over everything–the world and your son and your husband.”
“Oh, not over my husband,” she said, with a quiet smile. “I don’t know him, I don’t think of him. He doesn’t exist.”
“You’re not speaking sincerely. I know you. You worry about him too.”
“Oh, he doesn’t even know,” she said, and suddenly a hot flush came over her face; her cheeks, her brow, her neck crimsoned, and tears of shame came into her eyes. “But we won’t talk of him.”
Vronsky had several times already, though not so resolutely as now, tried to bring her to consider their position, and every time he had been confronted by the same superficiality and triviality with which she met his appeal now. It was as though there were something in this which she could not or would not face, as though directly she began to speak of this, she, the real Anna, retreated somehow into herself, and another strange and unaccountable woman came out, whom he did not love, and whom he feared, and who was in opposition to him. But today he was resolved to have it out.
“Whether he knows or not,” said Vronsky, in his usual quiet and resolute tone, “that’s nothing to do with us. We cannot…you cannot stay like this, especially now.”
“What’s to be done, according to you?” she asked with the same frivolous irony. She who had so feared he would take her condition too lightly was now vexed with him for deducing from it the necessity of taking some step.
“Tell him everything, and leave him.”
“Very well, let us suppose I do that,” she said. “Do you know what the result of that would be? I can tell you it all beforehand,” and a wicked light gleamed in her eyes, that had been so soft a minute before. “‘Eh, you love another man, and have entered into criminal intrigues with him?'” (Mimicking her husband, she threw an emphasis on the word “criminal,” as Alexey Alexandrovitch did.) ” ‘I warned you of the results in the religious, the civil, and the domestic relation. You have not listened to me. Now In cannot let you disgrace my name,–‘” “and my son,” she had meant to say, but about her son she could not jest,–“‘disgrace my name, and’–and more in the same style,” she added. “In general terms, he’ll say in his official manner, and with all distinctness and precision, that he cannot let me go, but will take all measures in his power to prevent scandal. And he will calmly and punctually act in accordance with his words. That’s what will happen. He’s not a man, but a machine, and a spiteful machine when he’s angry,” she added, recalling Alexey Alexandrovitch as she spoke, with all the peculiarities of his figure and manner of speaking, and reckoning against him every defect she could find in him, softening nothing for the great wrong she herself was doing him.
“But, Anna,” said Vronsky, in a soft and persuasive voice, trying to soothe her, “we absolutely must, anyway, tell him, and then be guided by the line he takes.”
“What, run away?”
“And why not run away? I don’t see how we can keep on like this. And not for my sake–I see that you suffer.”
“Yes, run away, and become your mistress,” she said angrily.
“Anna,” he said, with reproachful tenderness.
“Yes,” she went on, “become your mistress, and complete the ruin of…”
Again she would have said “my son,” but she could not utter that word.
Vronsky could not understand how she, with her strong and truthful nature, could endure this state of deceit, and not long to get out of it. But he did not suspect that the chief cause of it was the word–son, which she could not bring herself to pronounce. When she thought of her son, and his future attitude to his mother, who had abandoned his father, she felt such terror at what she had done, that she could not face it; but, like a woman, could only try to comfort herself with lying assurances that everything would remain as it always had been, and that it was possible to forget the fearful question of how it would be with her son.
“I beg you, I entreat you,” she said suddenly, taking his hand, and speaking in quite a different tone, sincere and tender, “never speak to me of that!”
“Never. Leave it to me. I know all the baseness, all the horror of my position; but it’s not so easy to arrange as you think. And leave it to me, and do what I say. Never speak to me of it. Do you promise me?…No, no, promise!…”
“I promise everything, but I can’t be at peace, especially after what you have told me. I can’t be at peace, when you can’t be at peace….”
“I?” she repeated. “Yes, I am worried sometimes; but that will pass, if you will never talk about this. When you talk about it–it’s only then it worries me.”
“I don’t understand,” he said.
“I know,” she interrupted him, “how hard it is for your truthful nature to lie, and I grieve for you. I often think that you have ruined your whole life for me.”
“I was just thinking the very same thing,” he said; “how could you sacrifice everything for my sake? I can’t forgive myself that you’re unhappy!”
“I unhappy?” she said, coming closer to him, and looking at him with an ecstatic smile of love. “I am like a hungry man who has been given food. He may be cold, and dressed in rags, and ashamed, but he is not unhappy. I unhappy? No, this is my unhappiness….”
She could hear the sound of her son’s voice coming towards them, and glancing swiftly round the terrace, she got up impulsively. Her eyes glowed with the fire he knew so well; with a rapid movement she raised her lovely hands, covered with rings, took his head, looked a long look into his face, and, putting up her face with smiling, parted lips, swiftly kissed his mouth and both eyes, and pushed him away. She would have gone, but he held her back.
“When?” he murmured in a whisper, gazing in ecstasy at her.
“Tonight, at one o’clock,” she whispered, and, with a heavy sigh, she walked with her light, swift step to meet her son.
Seryozha had been caught by the rain in the big garden, and he and his nurse had taken shelter in an arbor.
“Well, au revoir,” she said to Vronsky. “I must soon be getting ready for the races. Betsy promised to fetch me.”
Vronsky, looking at his watch, went away hurriedly.
When Vronsky looked at his watch on the Karenins’ balcony, he was so greatly agitated and lost in his thoughts that he saw the figures on the watch’s face, but could not take in what time it was. He came out on to the highroad and walked, picking his way carefully through the mud, to his carriage. He was so completely absorbed in his feeling for Anna, that he did not even think what o’clock it was, and whether he had time to go to Bryansky’s. He had left him, as often happens, only the external faculty of memory, that points out each step one has to take, one after the other. He went up to his coachman, who was dozing on the box in the shadow, already lengthening, of a thick limetree; he admired the shifting clouds of midges circling over the hot horses, and, waking the coachman, he jumped into the carriage, and told him to drive to Bryansky’s. It was only after driving nearly five miles that he had sufficiently recovered himself to look at his watch, and realize that it was half-past five, and he was late.
There were several races fixed for that day: the Mounted Guards’ race, then the officers’ mile-and-a-half race, then the three-mile race, and then the race~for which he was entered. He could still be in time for his race, but if he went to Bryansky’s he could only just be in time, and he would arrive when the whole of the court would be in their places. That would be a pity. But he had promised Bryansky to come, and so he decided to drive on, telling the coachman not to spare the horses.
He reached Bryansky’s, spent five minutes there, and galloped back. This rapid drive calmed him. All that was painful in his relations with Anna, all the feeling of indefiniteness left by their conversation, had slipped out of his mind. He was thinking now with pleasure and excitement of the race, of his being anyhow, in time, and now and then the thought of the blissful interview awaiting him that night flashed across his imagination like a flaming light.
The excitement of the approaching race gained upon him as he drove further and further into the atmosphere of the races, overtaking carriages driving up from the summer villas or out of Petersburg.
At his quarters no one was left at home; all were at the races, and his valet was looking out for him at the gate. While he was changing his clothes, his valet told him that the second race had begun already, that a lot of gentlemen had been to ask for him, and a boy had twice run up from the stables. Dressing without hurry (he never hurried himself, and never lost his self-possession), Vronsky drove to the sheds. From the sheds he could see a perfect sea of carriages, and people on foot, soldiers surrounding the race course, and pavilions swarming with people. The second race was apparently going on, for just as he went into the sheds he heard a bell ringing. Going towards the stable, he met the white-legged chestnut, Mahotin’s Gladiator, being led to the race-course in a blue forage horsecloth, with what looked like huge ears edged with blue.
“Where’s Cord?” he asked the stable-boy.
“In the stable, putting on the saddle.”
In the open horse-box stood Frou-Frou, saddled ready. They were just going to lead her out.
“I’m not too late?”
“All right! All right!” said the Englishman; “don’t upset yourself!”
Vronsky once more took in in one glance the exquisite lines of his favorite mare; who was quivering all over, and with an effort he tore himself from the sight of her, and went out of the stable. He went towards the pavilions at the most favorable moment for escaping attention. The mile-and-a-half race was just finishing, and all eyes were fixed on the horse-guard in front and the light hussar behind, urging their horses on with a last effort close to the winning post. From the center and outside of the ring all were crowding to the winning post, and a group of soldiers and officers of the horse-guards were shouting loudly their delight at the expected triumph of their officer and comrade. Vronsky moved into the middle of the crowd unnoticed, almost at the very moment when the bell rang at the finish of the race, and the tall, mudspattered horse-guard who came in first, bending over the saddle, let go the reins of his panting gray horse that looked dark with sweat.
The horse, stiffening out its legs, with an effort stopped its rapid course, and the officer of the horse-guards looked round him like a man waking up from a heavy sleep, and just managed to smile. A crowd of friends and outsiders pressed round him.
Vronsky intentionally avoided that select crowd of the upper world, which was moving and talking with discreet freedom before the pavilions. He knew that Madame Karenina was there, and Betsy, and his brother’s wife, and he purposely did not go near them for fear of something distracting his attention. But he was continually met and stopped by acquaintances, who told him about the previous races, and kept asking him why he was so late.
At the time when the racers had to go to the pavilion to receive the prizes, and all attention was directed to that point, Vronsky’s elder brother, Alexander, a colonel with heavy fringed epaulets, came up to him. He was not tall, though as broadly built as Alexey, and handsomer and rosier than he; he had a red nose, and an open, drunken-looking face.
“Did you get my note?” he said. “There’s never any finding you.”
Alexander Vronsky, in spite of the dissolute life, and in especial the drunken habits, for which he was notorious, was quite one of the court circle.
Now, as he talked to his brother of a matter bound to be exceedingly disagreeable to him, knowing that the eyes of many people might be fixed upon him, he kept a smiling countenance, as though he were jesting with his brother about something of little moment.
“I got it, and I really can’t make out what YOU are worrying yourself about,” said Alexey.
“I’m worrying myself because the remark has just been made to me that you weren’t here, and that you were seen in Peterhof on Monday.”
“There are matters which only concern those directly interested in them, and the matter you are so worried about is…”
“Yes, but if so, you may as well cut the service….”
“I beg you not to meddle, and that’s all I have to say.”
Alexey Vronsky’s frowning face turned white, and his prominent lower jaw quivered, which happened rarely with him. Being a man of very warm heart, he was seldom angry; but when he was angry, and when his chin quivered, then, as Alexander Vronsky knew, he was dangerous. Alexander Vronsky smiled gaily.
“I only wanted to give you Mother’s letter. Answer it and don’t worry about anything just before the race. Bonne chance,” he added, smiling and he moved away from him. But after him another friendly greeting brought Vronsky to a standstill.
“So you won’t recognize your friends! How are you, mon cher?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, as conspicuously brilliant in the midst of all the Petersburg brilliance as he was in Moscow, his face rosy, and his whiskers sleek and glossy. “I came up yesterday, and I’m delighted that I shall see your triumph. When shall we meet?”
“Come tomorrow to the messroom,” said Vronsky, and squeezing him by the sleeve of his coat, with apologies, he moved away to the center of the race course, where the horses were being led for the great steeplechase.
The horses who had run in the last race were being led home, steaming and exhausted, by the stable-boys, and one after another the fresh horses for the coming race made their appearance, for the most part English racers, wearing horsecloths, and looking with their drawn-up bellies like strange, huge birds. On the right was led in Frou-Frou, lean and beautiful, lifting up her elastic, rather long pasterns, as though moved by springs. Not far from her they were taking the rug off the lop-eared Gladiator. The strong, exquisite, perfectly correct lines of the stallion, with his superb hind-quarters and excessively short pasterns almost over his hoofs, attracted Vronsky’s attention in spite of himself. He would have gone up to his mare, but he was again detained by an acquaintance.
“Oh, there’s Karenin!” said the acquaintance with whom he was chatting. “He’s looking for his wife, and she’s in the middle of the pavilion. Didn’t you see her?”
“No,” answered Vronsky, and without even glancing round towards the pavilion where his friend was pointing out Madame Karenina, he went up to his mare.
Vronsky had not had time to look at the saddle, about which he had to give some direction, when the competitors were summoned to the pavilion to receive their numbers and places in the row at starting. Seventeen officers, looking serious and severe, many with pale faces, met together in the pavilion and drew the numbers. Vronsky drew the number seven. The cry was heard: “Mount!”
Feeling that with the others riding in the race, he was the center upon which all eyes were fastened, Vronsky walked up to his mare in that state of nervous tension in which he usually became deliberate and composed in his movements. Cord, in honor of the races, had put on his best clothes, a black coat buttoned up, a stiffly starched collar, which propped up his cheeks, a round black hat, and top boots. He was calm and dignified as ever, and was with his own hands holding Frou-Frou by both reins, standing straight in front of her. Frou-Frou was still trembling as though in a fever. Her eye, full of fire, glanced sideways at Vronsky. Vronsky slipped his finger under the saddle-girth. The mare glanced aslant at him, drew up her lip, and twitched her ear. The Englishman puckered up his lips, intending to indicate a smile that anyone should verify his saddling.
“Get up; you won’t feel so excited.”
Vronsky looked round for the last time at his rivals. He knew that he would not see them during the race. Two were already riding forward to the point from which they were to start. Galtsin, a friend of Vronsky’s and one of his more formidable rivals, was moving round a bay horse that would not let him mount. A little light hussar in tight riding breeches rode off at a gallop, crouched up like a cat on the saddle, in imitation of English jockeys. Prince Kuzovlev sat with a white face on his thoroughbred mare from the Grabovsky stud, while an English groom led her by the bridle. Vronsky and all his comrades knew Kuzovlev and his peculiarity of “weak nerves” and terrible vanity. They knew that he was afraid of everything, afraid of riding a spirited horse. But now, just because it was terrible, because people broke their necks, and there was a doctor standing at each obstacle, and an ambulance with a cross on it, and a sister of mercy, he had made up his mind to take part in the race. Their eyes met, and Vronsky gave him a friendly and encouraging nod. Only one he did not see, his chief rival, Mahotin on Gladiator.
“Don’t be in a hurry,” said Cord to Vronsky, “and remember one thing: don’t hold her in at the fences, and don’t urge her on; let her go as she likes.”
“All right, all right,” said Vronsky, taking the reins.
“If you can, lead the race; but don’t lose heart till the last minute, even if you’re behind.”
Before the mare had time to move, Vronsky stepped with an agile, vigorous movement into the steel-toothed stirrup, and lightly and firmly seated himself on the creaking leather of the saddle. Getting his right foot in the stirrup, he smoothed the double reins, as he always did, between his fingers, and Cord let go.
As though she did not know which foot to put first, Frou-Frou started, dragging at the reins with her long neck, and as though she were on springs, shaking her rider from side to side. Cord quickened his step, following him. The excited mare, trying to shake off her rider first on one side and then the other, pulled at the reins, and Vronsky tried in vain with voice and hand to soothe her.
They were just reaching the dammed-up stream on their way to the starting point. Several of the riders were in front and several behind, when suddenly Vronsky heard the sound of a horse galloping in the mud behind him, and he was overtaken by Mahotin on his white-legged, lop-eared Gladiator. Mahotin smiled, showing his long teeth, but Vronsky looked angrily at him. He did not like him, and regarded him now as his most formidable rival. He was angry with him for galloping past and exciting his mare. Frou-Frou started into a gallop, her left foot forward, made two bounds, and fretting at the tightened reins, passed into a jolting trot, bumping her rider up and down. Cord, too, scowled, and followed Vronsky almost at a trot.
There were seventeen officers in all riding in this race. The race course was a large three-mile ring of the form of an ellipse in front of the pavilion. On this course nine obstacles had been arranged: the stream, a big and solid barrier five feet high, just before the pavilion, a dry ditch, a ditch full of water, a precipitous slope, an Irish barricade (one of the most difficult obstacles, consisting of a mound fenced with brushwood, beyond which was a ditch out of sight for the horses, so that the horse had to clear both obstacles or might be killed); then two more ditches filled with water, and one dry one; and the end of the race was just facing the pavilion. But the race began not in the ring, but two hundred yards away from it, and in that part of the course was the first obstacle, a dammed-up stream, seven feet in breadth, which the racers could leap or wade through as they preferred.
Three times they were ranged ready to start, but each time some horse thrust itself out of line, and they had to begin again. The umpire who was starting them, Colonel Sestrin, was beginning to lose his temper, when at last for the fourth time he shouted “Away!” and the racers started.
Every eye, every opera glass, was turned on the brightly colored group of riders at the moment they were in line to start.
“They’re off! They’re starting!” was heard on all sides after the hush of expectation.
And little groups and solitary figures among the public began running from place to place to get a better view. In the very first minute the close group of horsemen drew out, and it could be seen that they were approaching the stream in two’s and three’s and one behind another. To the spectators it seemed as though they had all started simultaneously, but to the racers there were seconds of difference that had great value to them.
Frou-Frou, excited and over-nervous, had lost the first moment, and several horses had started before her, but before reaching the stream, Vronsky, who was holding in the mare with all his force as she tugged at the bridle, easily overtook three, and there were left in front of him Mahotin’s chestnut Gladiator, whose hind-quarters were moving lightly and rhythmically up and down exactly in front of Vronsky, and in front of all, the dainty mare Diana bearing Kuzovlev more dead than alive.
For the first instant Vronsky was not master either of himself or his mare. Up to the first obstacle, the stream, he could not guide the motions of his mare.
Gladiator and Diana came up to it together and almost at the same instant; simultaneously they rose above the stream and flew across to the other side; Frou-Frou darted after them, as if flying; but at the very moment when Vronsky felt himself in the air, he suddenly saw almost under his mare’s hoofs Kuzovlev, who was floundering with Diana on the further side of the stream. (Kuzovlev had let go the reins as he took the leap, and the mare had sent him flying over her head.) Those details Vronsky learned later; at the moment all he saw was that just under him, where Frou-Frou must alight, Diana’s legs or head might be in the way. But Frou-Frou drew up her legs and back in the very act of leaping, like a falling cat, and, clearing the other mare, alighted beyond her.
“O the darling!” thought Vronsky.
After crossing the stream Vronsky had complete control of his mare, and began holding her in, intending to cross the great barrier behind Mahotin, and to try to overtake him in the clear ground of about five hundred yards that followed it.
The great barrier stood just in front of the imperial pavilion. The Tsar and the whole court and crowds of people were all gazing at them–at him, and Mahotin a length ahead of him, as they drew near the “devil,” as the solid barrier was called. Vronsky was aware of those eyes fastened upon him from all sides, but he saw nothing except the ears and neck of his own mare, the ground racing to meet him, and the back and white legs of Gladiator beating time swiftly before him, and keeping always the same distance ahead. Gladiator rose, with no sound of knocking against anything. With a wave of his short tail he disappeared from Vronsky’s sight.
“Bravo!” cried a voice.
At the same instant, under Vronsky’s eyes, right before him flashed the palings of the barrier. Without the slightest change in her action his mare flew over it; the palings vanished, and he heard only a crash behind him. The mare, excited by Gladiator’s keeping ahead, had risen too soon before the barrier, and grazed it with her hind hoofs. But her pace never changed, and Vronsky, feeling a spatter of mud in his face, realized that he was once more the same distance from Gladiator. Once more he perceived in front of him the same back and short tail, and again the same swiftly moving white legs that got no further away.
At the very moment when Vronsky thought that now was the time to overtake Mahotin, Frou-Frou herself, understanding his thoughts, without any incitement on his part, gained ground considerably, and began getting alongside of Mahotin on the most favorable side, close to the inner cord. Mahotin would not let her pass that side. Vronsky had hardly formed the thought that he could perhaps pass on the outer side, when Frou-Frou shifted her pace and began overtaking him on the other side. Frou-Frou’s shoulder, beginning by now to be dark with sweat, was even with Gladiator’s back. For a few lengths they moved evenly. But before the obstacle they were approaching, Vronsky began working at the reins, anxious to avoid having to take the outer circle, and swiftly passed Mahotin just upon the declivity. He caught a glimpse of his mud-stained face as he flashed by. He even fancied that he smiled. Vronsky passed Mahotin, but he was immediately aware of him close upon him, and he never ceased hearing the even-thudding hoofs and the rapid and still quite fresh breathing of Gladiator.
The next two obstacles, the water course and the barrier, were easily crossed, but Vronsky began to hear the snorting and thud of Gladiator closer upon him. He urged on his mare, and to his delight felt that she easily quickened her pace, and the thud of Gladiator’s hoofs was again heard at the same distance away.
Vronsky was at the head of the race, just as he wanted to be and as Cord had advised, and now he felt sure of being the winner. His excitement, his delight, and his tenderness for Frou-Frou grew keener and keener. He longed to look round again, but he did not dare do this, and tried to be cool and not to urge on his mare so to keep the same reserve of force in her as he felt that Gladiator still kept. There remained only one obstacle, the most difficult; if he could cross it ahead of the others he would come in first. He was flying towards the Irish barricade, Frou-Frou and he both together saw the barricade in the distance, and both the man and the mare had a moment’s hesitation. He saw the uncertainty in the mare’s ears and lifted the whip, but at the same time felt that his fears were groundless; the mare knew what was wanted. She quickened her pace and rose smoothly, just as he had fancied she would, and as she left the ground gave herself up to the force of her rush, which carried her far beyond the ditch; and with the same rhythm, without effort, with the same leg forward, Frou-Frou fell back into her pace again.
“Bravo, Vronsky!” he heard shouts from a knot of men–he knew they were his friends in the regiment–who were standing at the obstacle. He could not fail to recognize Yashvin’s voice though he did not see him.
“O my sweet!” he said inwardly to Frou-Frou, as he listened for what was happening behind. “He’s cleared it!” he thought, catching the thud of Gladiator’s hoofs behind him. There remained only the last ditch, filled with water and five feet wide. Vronsky did not even look at it, but anxious to get in a long way first began sawing away at the reins, lifting the mare’s head and letting it go in time with her paces. He felt that the mare was at her very last reserve of strength; not her neck and shoulders merely were wet, but the sweat was standing in drops on her mane, her head, her sharp ears, and her breath came in short, sharp gasps. But he knew that she had strength left more than enough for the remaining five hundred yards. It was only from feeling himself nearer the ground and from the peculiar smoothness of his motion that Vronsky knew how greatly the mare had quickened her pace. She flew over the ditch as though not noticing it. She flew over it like a bird; but at the same instant Vronsky, to his horror, felt that he had failed to keep up with the mare’s pace, that he had, he did not know how, made a fearful, unpardonable mistake, in recovering his seat in the saddle. All at once his position had shifted and he knew that something awful had happened. He could not yet make out what had happened, when the white legs of a chestnut horse flashed by close to him, and Mahotin passed at a swift gallop. Vronsky was touching the ground with one foot, and his mare was sinking on that foot. He just had time to free his leg when she fell on one side, gasping painfully, and, making vain efforts to rise with her delicate, soaking neck, she fluttered on the ground at his feet like a shot bird. The clumsy movement made by Vronsky had broken her back. But that he only knew much later. At that moment he knew only that Mahotin had down swiftly by, while he stood staggering alone on the muddy, motionless ground, and Frou-Frou lay gasping before him, bending her head back and gazing at him with her exquisite eyes. Still unable to realize what had happened, Vronsky tugged at his mare’s reins. Again she struggled all over like a fish, and her shoulders setting the saddle heaving, she rose on her front legs but unable to lift her back, she quivered all over and again fell on her side. With a face hideous with passion, his lower jaw trembling, and his cheeks white, Vronsky kicked her with his heel in the stomach and again fell to tugging at the rein. She did not stir, but thrusting her nose into the ground, she simply gazed at her master with her speaking eyes.
“A–a–a!” groaned Vronsky, clutching at his head. “Ah! what have I done!” he cried. “The race lost! And my fault! shameful, unpardonable! And the poor darling, ruined mare! Ah! what have I done!”
A crowd of men, a doctor and his assistant, the officers of his regiment, ran up to him. To his misery he felt that he was whole and unhurt. The mare had broken her back, and it was decided to shoot her. Vronsky could not answer questions, could not speak to anyone. He turned, and without picking up his cap that had fallen off, walked away from the race course, not knowing where he was going. He felt utterly wretched. For the first time in his life he knew the bitterest sort of misfortune, misfortune beyond remedy, and caused by his own fault.
Yashvin overtook him with his cap, and led him home, and half an hour later Vronsky had regained his self-possession. But the memory of that race remained for long in his heart, the cruelest and bitterest memory of his life.