Anna Karenina (Part Three – Chapter 21-25)
“We’ve come to fetch you. Your lessive lasted a good time today,” said Petritsky. “Well, is it over?”
“It is over,” answered Vronsky, smiling with his eyes only, and twirling the tips of his mustaches as circumspectly as though after the perfect order into which his affairs had been brought any over-bold or rapid movement might disturb it.
“You’re always just as if you’d come out of a bath after it,” said Petritsky. “I’ve come from Gritsky’s” (that was what they called the colonel); “they’re expecting you.”
Vronsky, without answering, looked at his comrade, thinking of something else.
“Yes; is that music at his place?” he said, listening to the familiar sounds of polkas and waltzes floating across to him. “What’s the fete?”
“Aha!” said Vronsky, “why, I didn’t know.”
The smile in his eyes gleamed more brightly than ever.
Having once made up his mind that he was happy in his love, that he sacrificed his ambition to it–having anyway taken up this position, Vronsky was incapable of feeling either envious of Serpuhovskoy or hurt with him for not coming first to him when he came to the regiment. Serpuhovskoy was a good friend, and he was delighted he had come.
“Ah, I’m very glad!”
The colonel, Demin, had taken a large country house. The whole party were in the wide lower balcony. In the courtyard the first objects that met Vronsky’s eyes were a band of singers in white linen coats, standing near a barrel of vodka, and the robust, good-humored figure of the colonel surrounded by officers. He had gone out as far as the first step of the balcony and was loudly shouting across the band that played Offenbach’s quadrille, waving his arms and giving some orders to a few soldiers standing on one side. A group of soldiers, a quartermaster, and several subalterns came up to the balcony with Vronsky. The colonel returned to the table, went out again onto the steps with a tumbler in his hand, and proposed the toast, “To the health of our former comrade, the gallant general, Prince Serpuhovskoy. Hurrah!”
The colonel was followed by Serpuhovskoy, who came out onto the steps smiling, with a glass in his hand.
“You always get younger, Bondarenko,” he said to the rosy-checked, smart-looking quartermaster standing just before him, still youngish looking though doing his second term of service.
It was three years since Vronsky had seen Serpuhovskoy. He looked more robust, had let his whiskers grow, but was still the same graceful creature, whose face and figure were even more striking from their softness and nobility than their beauty. The only change Vronsky detected in him was that subdued, continual radiance of beaming content which settles on the faces of men who are successful and are sure of the recognition of their success by everyone. Vronsky knew that radiant air, and immediately observed it in Serpuhovskoy.
As Serpuhovskoy came down the steps he saw Vronsky. A smile of pleasure lighted up his face. He tossed his head upwards and waved the glass in his hand, greeting Vronsky, and showing him by the gesture that he could not come to him before the quartermaster, who stood craning forward his lips ready to be kissed.
“Here he is!” shouted the colonel. “Yashvin told me you were in one of your gloomy tempers.”
Serpuhovskoy kissed the moist, fresh lips of the gallant-looking quartermaster, and wiping his mouth with his handkerchief, went up to Vronsky.
“How glad I am!” he said, squeezing his hand and drawing him on one side.
“You look after him,” the colonel shouted to Yashvin, pointing to Vronsky; and he went down below to the soldiers.
“Why weren’t you at the races yesterday? I expected to see you there,” said Vronsky, scrutinizing Serpuhovskoy.
“I did go, but late. I beg your pardon,” he added, and he turned to the adjutant: “Please have this divided from me, each man as much as it runs to.” And he hurriedly took notes for three hundred roubles from his pocketbook, blushing a little.
“Vronsky! Have anything to eat or drink?” asked Yashvin. “Hi, something for the count to eat! Ah, here it is: have a glass!”
The fete at the colonel’s lasted a long while. There was a great deal of drinking. They tossed Serpuhovskoy in the air and caught him again several times. Then they did the same to the colonel. Then, to the accompaniment of the band, the colonel himself danced with Petritsky. Then the colonel, who began to show signs of feebleness, sat down on a bench in the courtyard and began demonstrating to Yashvin the superiority of Russia over Poland, especially in cavalry attack, and there was a lull in the revelry for a moment. Serpuhovskoy went into the house to the bathroom to wash his hands and found Vronsky there; Vronsky was drenching his head with water. He had taken off his coat and put his sunburnt, hairy neck under the tap, and was rubbing it and his head with his hands. When he had finished, Vronsky sat down by Serpuhovskoy. They both sat down in the bathroom on a lounge, and a conversation began which was very interesting to both of them.
“I’ve always been hearing about you through my wife,” said Serpuhovskoy. “I’m glad you’ve been seeing her pretty often.”
“She’s friendly with Varya, and they’re the only women in Petersburg I care about seeing,” answered Vronsky, smiling. He smiled because he foresaw the topic the conversation would turn on, and he was glad of it.
“The only ones?” Serpuhovskoy queried, smiling.
“Yes; and I heard news of you, but not only through your wife,” said Vronsky, checking his hint by a stern expression of face. “I was greatly delighted to hear of your success, but not a bit surprised. I expected even more.”
Serpuhovskoy smiled. Such an opinion of him was obviously agreeable to him, and he did not think it necessary to conceal it.
“Well, I on the contrary expected less–I’ll own frankly. But I’m glad, very glad. I’m ambitious; that’s my weakness, and I confess to it.”
“Perhaps you wouldn’t confess to it if you hadn’t been successful,” said Vronsky.
“I don’t suppose so,” said Serpuhovskoy, smiling again. “I won’t say life wouldn’t be worth living without it, but it would be dull. Of course I may be mistaken, but I fancy I have a certain capacity for the line I’ve chosen, and that power of any sort in my hands, if it is to be, will be better than in the hands of a good many people I know,” said Serpuhovskoy, with beaming consciousness of success; “and so the nearer I get to it, the better pleased I am.”
“Perhaps that is true for you, but not for everyone. I used to think so too, but here I live and think life worth living not only for that.”
“There it’s out! here it comes!” said Serpuhovskoy, laughing. “Ever since I heard about you, about your refusal, I began…. Of course, I approved of what you did. But there are ways of doing everything. And I think your action was good in itself, but you didn’t do it quite in the way you ought to have done.”
“What’s done can’t be undone, and you know I never go back on what I’ve done. And besides, I’m very well off.”
“Very well off–for the time. But you’re not satisfied with that. I wouldn’t say this to your brother. He’s a nice child, like our host here. There he goes!” he added, listening to the roar of “hurrah!”–“and he’s happy, but that does not satisfy you.”
“I didn’t say it did satisfy me.”
“Yes, but that’s not the only thing. Such men as you are wanted.”
“By whom? By society, by Russia. Russia needs men; she needs a party, or else everything goes and will go to the dogs.”
“How do you mean? Bertenev’s party against the Russian communists?”
“No,” said Serpuhovskoy, frowning with vexation at being suspected of such an absurdity. “Tout ca est une blague. That’s always been and always will be. There are no communists. But intriguing people have to invent a noxious, dangerous party. It’s an old trick. No, what’s wanted is a powerful party of independent men like you and me.”
“But why so?” Vronsky mentioned a few men who were in power. “Why aren’t they independent men?”
“Simply because they have not, or have not had from birth, an independent fortune; they’ve not had a name, they’ve not been close to the sun and center as we have. They can be bought either by money or by favor. And they have to find a support for themselves in inventing a policy. And they bring forward some notion, some policy that they don’t believe in, that does harm; and the whole policy is really only a means to a government house and so much income. Cela n’est pas plus fin que ca, when you get a peep at their cards. I may be inferior to them, stupider perhaps, though I don’t see why I should be inferior to them. But you and I have one important advantage over them for certain, in being more difficult to buy. And such men are more needed than ever.”
Vronsky listened attentively, but he was not so much interested by the meaning of the words as by the attitude of Serpuhovskoy who was already contemplating a struggle with the existing powers, and already had his likes and dislikes in that higher world, while his own interest in the governing world did not go beyond the interests of his regiment. Vronsky felt, too, how powerful Serpuhovskoy might become through his unmistakable faculty for thinking things out and for taking things in, through his intelligence and gift of words, so rarely met with in the world in which he moved. And, ashamed as he was of the feeling, he felt envious.
“Still I haven’t the one thing of most importance for that,” he answered; “I haven’t the desire for power. I had it once, but it’s gone.”
“Excuse me, that’s not true,” said Serpuhovskoy, smiling.
“Yes, it is true, it is true…now!” Vronsky added, to be truthful.
“Yes, it’s true now, that’s another thing; but that NOW won’t last forever.”
“Perhaps,” answered Vronsky.
“You say PERHAPS,” Serpuhovskoy went on, as though guessing his thoughts, “but I say FOR CERTAIN. And that’s what I wanted to see you for. Your action was just what it should have been. I see that, but you ought not to keep it up. I only ask you to give me carte blanche. I’m not going to offer you my protection…though, indeed, why shouldn’t I protect you?– you’ve protected me often enough! I should hope our friendship rises above all that sort of thing. Yes,” he said, smiling to him as tenderly as a woman, “give me carte blanche, retire from the regiment, and I’ll draw you upwards imperceptibly.”
“But you must understand that I want nothing,” said Vronsky, “except that all should be as it is.”
Serpuhovskoy got up and stood facing him.
“You say that all should be as it is. I understand what that means. But listen: we’re the same age, you’ve known a greater number of women perhaps than I have.” Serpohovskoy’s smile and gestures told Vronsky that he mustn’t be afraid, that he would be tender and careful in touching the sore place. “But I’m married, and believe me, in getting to know thoroughly one’s wife, if one loves her, as someone has said, one gets to know all women better than if one knew thousands of them.”
“We’re coming directly!” Vronsky shouted to an officer, who looked into the room and called them to the colonel.
Vronsky was longing now to hear to the end and know what Serpuhovskey would say to him.
“And here’s my opinion for you. Women are the chief stumbling block in a man’s career. It’s hard to love a woman and do anything. There’s only one way of having love conveniently without its being a hindrance–that’s marriage. How, how am I to tell you what I mean?” said Serpuhovskoy, who liked similes. “Wait a minute, wait a minute! Yes, just as you can only carry a fardeau and do something with your hands, when the fardeau is tied on your back, and that’s marriage. And that’s what I felt when I was married. My hands were suddenly set free. But to drag that fardeau about with you without marriage, your hands will always be so full that you can do nothing. Look at Mazankov, at Krupov. They’ve ruined their careers for the sake of women.”
“What women!” said Vronsky, recalling the Frenchwoman and the actress with whom the two men he had mentioned were connected.
“The firmer the woman’s footing in society, the worse it is. That’s much the same as–not merely carrying the fardeau in your arms–but tearing it away from someone else.”
“You have never loved,” Vronsky said softly, looking straight before him and thinking of Anna.
“Perhaps. But you remember what I’ve said to you. And another thing, women are all more materialistic than men. We make something immense out of love, but they are always terre-a-terre.”
“Directly, directly!” he cried to a footman who came in. But the footman had not come to call them again, as he supposed. The footman brought Vronsky a note.
“A man brought it from Princess Tverskaya.”
Vronsky opened the letter, and flushed crimson.
“My head’s begun to ache; I’m going home,” he said to Serpuhovskoy.
“Oh, good-bye then. You give me carte blanche!”
“We’ll talk about it later on; I’ll look you up in Petersburg.
It was six o’clock already, and so, in order to be there quickly, and at the same time not to drive with his own horses, known to everyone, Vronsky got into Yashvin’s hired fly, and told the driver to drive as quickly as possible. It was a roomy, old-fashioned fly, with seats for four. He sat in one corner, stretched his legs out on the front seat, and sank into meditation.
A vague sense of the order into which his affairs had been brought, a vague recollection of the friendliness and flattery of Serpuhovskoy, who had considered him a man that was needed, and most of all, the anticipation of the interview before him–all blended into a general, joyous sense of life. This feeling was so strong that he could not help smiling. He dropped his legs, crossed one leg over the other knee, and taking it in his hand, felt the springy muscle of the calf, where it had been grazed the day before by his fall, and leaning back he drew several deep breaths.
“I’m happy, very happy!” he said to himself. He had often before had this sense of physical joy in his own body, but he had never felt so fond of himself, of his own body, as at that moment. He enjoyed the slight ache in his strong leg, he enjoyed the muscular sensation of movement in his chest as he breathed. The bright, cold August day, which had made Anna feel so hopeless, seemed to him keenly stimulating, and refreshed his face and neck that still tingled from the cold water. The scent of brilliantine on his whiskers struck him as particularly pleasant in the fresh air. Everything he saw from the carriage window, everything in that cold pure air, in the pale light of the sunset, was as fresh, and gay, and strong as he was himself: the roofs of the houses shining in the rays of the setting sun, the sharp outlines of fences and angles of buildings, the figures of passers-by, the carriages that met him now and then, the motionless green of the trees and grass, the fields with evenly drawn furrows of potatoes, and the slanting shadows that fell from the houses, and trees, and bushes, and even from the rows of potatoes–everything was bright like a pretty landscape just finished and freshly varnished.
“Get on, get on!” he said to the driver, putting his head out of the window, and pulling a three-rouble note out of his pocket he handed it to the man as he looked round. The driver’s hand fumbled with something at the lamp, the whip cracked, and the carriage rolled rapidly along the smooth highroad.
“I want nothing, nothing but this happiness,” he thought, staring at the bone button of the bell in the space between the windows, and picturing to himself Anna just as he had seen her last time. “And as I go on, I love her more and more. Here’s the garden of the Vrede Villa. Whereabouts will she be? Where? How? Why did she fix on this place to meet me, and why does she write in Betsy’s letter?” he thought, wondering now for the first time at it. But there was now no time for wonder. He called to the driver to stop before reaching the avenue, and opening the door, jumped out of the carriage as it was moving, and went into the avenue that led up to the house. There was no one in the avenue; but looking round to the right he caught sight of her. Her face was hidden by a veil, but he drank in with glad eyes the special movement in walking, peculiar to her alone, the slope of the shoulders, and the setting of the head, and at once a sort of electric shock ran all over him. With fresh force, he felt conscious of himself from the springy motions of his legs to the movements of his lungs as he breathed, and something set his lips twitching.
Joining him, she pressed his hand tightly.
“You’re not angry that I sent for you? I absolutely had to see you,” she said; and the serious and set line of her lips, which he saw under the veil, transformed his mood at once.
“I angry! But how have you come, where from?”
“Never mind,” she said, laying her hand on his, “come along, I must talk to you.”
He saw that something had happened, and that the interview would not be a joyous one. In her presence he had no will of his own: without knowing the grounds of her distress, he already felt the same distress unconsciously passing over him.
“What is it? what?” he asked her, squeezing her hand with his elbow, and trying to read her thoughts in her face.
She walked on a few steps in silence, gathering up her courage; then suddenly she stopped.
“I did not tell you yesterday,” she began, breathing quickly and painfully, “that coming home with Alexey Alexandrovitch I told him everything…told him I could not be his wife, that…and told him everything.”
He heard her, unconsciously bending his whole figure down to her as though hoping in this way to soften the hardness of her position for her. But directly she had said this he suddenly drew himself up, and a proud and hard expression came over his face.
“Yes, yes, that’s better, a thousand times better! I know how painful it was,” he said. But she was not listening to his words, she was reading his thoughts from the expression of his face. She could not guess that that expression arose from the first idea that presented itself to Vronsky–that a duel was now inevitable. The idea of a duel had never crossed her mind, and so she put a different interpretation on this passing expression of hardness.
When she got her husband’s letter, she knew then at the bottom of her heart that everything would go on in the old way, that she would not have the strength of will to forego her position, to abandon her son, and to join her lover. The morning spent at Princess Tverskaya’s had confirmed her still more in this. But this interview was still of the utmost gravity for her. She hoped that this interview would transform her position, and save her. If on hearing this news he were to say to her resolutely, passionately, without an instant’s wavering: “Throw up everything and come with me!” she would give up her son and go away with him. But this news had not produced what she had expected in him; he simply seemed as though he were resenting some affront.
“It was not in the least painful to me. It happened of itself,” she said irritably; “and see…” she pulled her husband’s letter out of her glove.
“I understand, I understand,” he interrupted her, taking the letter, but not reading it, and trying to soothe her. “The one thing I longed for, the one thing I prayed for, was to cut short this position, so as to devote my life to your happiness.”
“Why do you tell me that?” she said. “Do you suppose I can doubt it? If I doubted…”
“Who’s that coming?” said Vronsky suddenly, pointing to two ladies walking towards them. “Perhaps they know us!” and he hurriedly turned off, drawing her after him into a side path.
“Oh, I don’t care!” she said. Her lips were quivering. And he fancied that her eyes looked with strange fury at him from under the veil. “I tell you that’s not the point–I can’t doubt that; but see what he writes to me. Read it.” She stood still again.
Again, just as at the first moment of hearing of her rupture with her husband, Vronsky, on reading the letter, was unconsciously carried away by the natural sensation aroused in him by his own relation to the betrayed husband. Now while he held his letter in his hands, he could not help picturing the challenge, which he would most likely find at home today or tomorrow, and the duel itself in which, with the same cold and haughty expression that his face was assuming at this moment he would await the injured husband’s shot, after having himself fired into the air. And at that instant there flashed across his mind the thought of what Serpuhovskoy had just said to him, and what he had himself been thinking in the morning–that it was better not to bind himself –and he knew that this thought he could not tell her.
Having read the letter, he raised his eyes to her, and there was no determination in them. She saw at once that he had been thinking about it before by himself. She knew that whatever he might say to her, he would not say all he thought. And she knew that her last hope had failed her. This was not what she had been reckoning on.
“You see the sort of man he is,” she said, with a shaking voice; “he…”
“Forgive me, but I rejoice at it,” Vronsky interrupted. “For God’s sake, let me finish!” he added, his eyes imploring her to give him time to explain his words. “I rejoice, because things cannot, cannot possibly remain as he supposes.”
“Why can’t they?” Anna said, restraining her tears, and obviously attaching no sort of consequence to what he said. She felt that her fate was sealed.
Vronsky meant that after the duel–inevitable, he thought– things could not go on as before, but he said something different.
“It can’t go on. I hope that now you will leave him. I hope”– he was confused, and reddened–“that you will let me arrange and plan our life. Tomorrow…” he was beginning.
She did not let him go on.
“But my child!” she shrieked. “You see what he writes! I should have to leave him, and I can’t and won’t do that.”
“But, for God’s sake, which is better?–leave your child, or keep up this degrading position?”
“To whom is it degrading?”
“To all, and most of all to you.”
“You say degrading…don’t say that. Those words have no meaning for me,” she said in a shaking voice. She did not want him now to say what was untrue. She had nothing left her but his love, and she wanted to love him. “Don’t you understand that from the day I loved you everything has changed for me? For me there is one thing, and one thing only–your love. If that’s mine, I feel so exalted, so strong, that nothing can be humiliating to me. I am proud of my position, because…proud of being… proud….” She could not say what she was proud of. Tears of shame and despair choked her utterance. She stood still and sobbed.
He felt, too, something swelling in his throat and twitching in his nose, and for the first time in his life he felt on the point of weeping. He could not have said exactly what it was touched him so. He felt sorry for her, and he felt he could not help her, and with that he knew that he was to blame for her wretchedness, and that he had done something wrong.
“Is not a divorce possible?” he said feebly. She shook her head, not answering. “Couldn’t you take your son, and still leave him?”
“Yes; but it all depends on him. Now I must go to him,” she said shortly. Her presentiment that all would again go on in the old way had not deceived her.
“On Tuesday I shall be in Petersburg, and everything can be settled.”
“Yes,” she said. “But don’t let us talk any more of it.”
Anna’s carriage, which she had sent away, and ordered to come back to the little gate of the Vrede garden, drove up. Anna said good-bye to Vronsky, and drove home.
On Monday there was the usual sitting of the Commission of the 2nd of June. Alexey Alexandrovitch walked into the hall where the sitting was held, greeted the members and the president, as usual, and sat down in his place, putting his hand on the papers laid ready before him. Among these papers lay the necessary evidence and a rough outline of the speech he intended to make. But he did not really need these documents. He remembered every point, and did not think it necessary to go over in his memory what he would say. He knew that when the time came, and when he saw his enemy facing him, and studiously endeavoring to assume an expression of indifference, his speech would flow of itself better than he could prepare it now. He felt that the import of his speech was of such magnitude that every word of it would have weight. Meantime, as he listened to the usual report, he had the most innocent and inoffensive air. No one, looking at his white hands, with their swollen veins and long fingers, so softly stroking the edges of the white paper that lay before him, and at the air of weariness with which his head drooped on one side, would have suspected that in a few minutes a torrent of words would flow from his lips that would arouse a fearful storm, set the members shouting and attacking one another, and force the president to call for order. When the report was over, Alexey Alexandrovitch announced in his subdued, delicate voice that he had several points to bring before the meeting in regard to the Commission for the Reorganization of the Native Tribes. All attention was turned upon him. Alexey Alexandrovitch cleared his throat, and not looking at his opponent, but selecting, as he always did while he was delivering his speeches, the first person sitting opposite him, an inoffensive little old man, who never had an opinion of any sort in the Commission, began to expound his views. When he reached the point about the fundamental and radical law, his opponent jumped up and began to protest. Stremov, who was also a member of the Commission, and also stung to the quick, began defending himself, and altogether a stormy sitting followed; but Alexey Alexandrovitch triumphed, and his motion was carried, three new commissions were appointed, and the next day in a certain Petersburg circle nothing else was talked of but this sitting. Alexey Alexandrovitch’s success had been even greater than he had anticipated.
Next morning, Tuesday, Alexey Alexandrovitch, on waking up, recollected with pleasure his triumph of the previous day, and he could not help smiling, though he tried to appear indifferent, when the chief secretary of his department, anxious to flatter him, informed him of the rumors that had reached him concerning what had happened in the Commission.
Absorbed in business with the chief secretary, Alexey Alexandrovitch had completely forgotten that it was Tuesday, the day fixed by him for the return of Anna Arkadyevna, and he was surprised and received a shock of annoyance when a servant came in to inform him of her arrival.
Anna had arrived in Petersburg early in the morning; the carriage had been sent to meet her in accordance with her telegram, and so Alexey Alexandrovitch might have known of her arrival. But when she arrived, he did not meet her. She was told that he had not yet gone out, but was busy with his secretary. She sent word to her husband that she had come, went to her own room, and occupied herself in sorting out her things, expecting he would come to her. But an hour passed; he did not come. She went into the dining room on the pretext of giving some directions, and spoke loudly on purpose, expecting him to come out there; but he did not come, though she heard him go to the door of his study as he parted from the chief secretary. She knew that he usually went out quickly to his office, and she wanted to see him before that, so that their attitude to one another might be defined.
She walked across the drawing room and went resolutely to him. When she went into his study he was in official uniform, obviously ready to go out, sitting at a little table on which he rested his elbows, looking dejectedly before him. She saw him before he saw her, and she saw that he was thinking of her.
On seeing her, he would have risen, but changed his mind, then his face flushed hotly–a thing Anna had never seen before, and he got up quickly and went to meet her, looking not at her eyes, but above them at her forehead and hair. He went up to her, took her by the hand, and asked her to sit down.
“I am very glad you have come,” he said, sitting down beside her, and obviously wishing to say something, he stuttered. Several times he tried to begin to speak, but stopped. In spite of the fact that, preparing herself for meeting him, she had schooled herself to despise and reproach him, she did not know what to say to him, and she felt sorry for him. And so the silence lasted for some time. “Is Seryozha quite well?” he said, and not waiting for an answer, he added: “I shan’t be dining at home today, and I have got to go out directly.”
“I had thought of going to Moscow,” she said.
“No, you did quite, quite right to come,” he said, and was silent again.
Seeing that he was powerless to begin the conversation, she began herself.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch,” she said, looking at him and not dropping her eyes under his persistent gaze at her hair, “I’m a guilty woman, I’m a bad woman, but I am the same as I was, as I told you then, and I have come to tell you that I can change nothing.”
“I have asked you no question about that,” he said, all at once, resolutely and with hatred looking her straight in the face; “that was as I had supposed.” Under the influence of anger he apparently regained complete possession of all his faculties. “But as I told you then, and have written to you,” he said in a thin, shrill voice, “I repeat now, that I am not bound to know this. I ignore it. Not all wives are so kind as you, to be in such a hurry to communicate such agreeable news to their husbands.” He laid special emphasis on the word “agreeable.” “I shall ignore it so long as the world knows nothing of it, so long as my name is not disgraced. And so I simply inform you that our relations must be just as they have always been, and that only in the event of your compromising me I shall be obliged to take steps to secure my honor.”
“But our relations cannot be the same as always,” Anna began in a timid voice, looking at him with dismay.
When she saw once more those composed gestures, heard that shrill, childish, and sarcastic voice, her aversion for him extinguished her pity for him, and she felt only afraid, but at all costs she wanted to make clear her position.
“I cannot be your wife while I…” she began.
He laughed a cold and malignant laugh.
“The manner of life you have chosen is reflected, I suppose, in your ideas. I have too much respect or contempt, or both…I respect your past and despise your present…that I was far from the interpretation you put on my words.”
Anna sighed and bowed her head.
“Though indeed I fail to comprehend how, with the independence you show,” he went on, getting hot, “–announcing your infidelity to your husband and seeing nothing reprehensible in it, apparently–you can see anything reprehensible in performing a wife’s duties in relation to your husband.”
“Alexey Alexandrovitch! What is it you want of me?”
“I want you not to meet that man here, and to conduct yourself so that neither the world nor the servants can reproach you…not to see him. That’s not much, I think. And in return you will enjoy all the privileges of a faithful wife without fulfilling her duties. That’s all I have to say to you. Now it’s time for me to go. I’m not dining at home.” He got up and moved towards the door.
Anna got up too. Bowing in silence, he let her pass before him.
The night spent by Levin on the haycock did not pass without result for him. The way in which he had been managing his land revolted him and had lost all attraction for him. In spite of the magnificent harvest, never had there been, or, at least, never it seemed to him, had there been so many hindrances and so many quarrels between him and the peasants as that year, and the origin of these failures and this hostility was now perfectly comprehensible to him. The delight he had experienced in the work itself, and the consequent greater intimacy with the peasants, the envy he felt of them, of their life, the desire to adopt that life, which had been to him that night not a dream but an intention, the execution of which he had thought out in detail –all this had so transformed his view of the farming of the land as he had managed it, that he could not take his former interest in it, and could not help seeing that unpleasant relation between him and the workspeople which was the foundation of it all. The herd of improved cows such as Pava, the whole land ploughed over and enriched, the nine level fields surrounded with hedges, the two hundred and forty acres heavily manured, the seed sown in drills, and all the rest of it–it was all splendid if only the work had been done for themselves, or for themselves and comrades –people in sympathy with them. But he saw clearly now (his work on a book of agriculture, in which the chief element in husbandry was to have been the laborer, greatly assisted him in this) that the sort of farming he was carrying on was nothing but a cruel and stubborn struggle between him and the laborers, in which there was on one side–his side–a continual intense effort to change everything to a pattern he considered better; on the other side, the natural order of things. And in the struggle he saw that with immense expenditure of force on his side, and with no effort or even intention on the other side, all that was attained was that the work did not go to the liking of either side, and that splendid tools, splendid cattle and land were spoiled with no good to anyone. Worst of all, the energy expended on this work was not simply wasted. He could not help feeling now, since the meaning of this system had become clear to him, that the aim of his energy was a most unworthy one. In reality, what was the struggle about? He was struggling for every farthing of his share (and he could not help it, for he had only to relax his efforts, and he would not have had the money to pay his laborers’ wages), while they were only struggling to be able to do their work easily and agreeably, that is to say, as they were used to doing it. It was for his interests that every laborer should work as hard as possible, and that while doing so he should keep his wits about him, so as to try not to break the winnowing machines, the horse rakes, the thrashing machines, that he should attend to what he was doing. What the laborer wanted was to work as pleasantly as possible, with rests, and above all, carelessly and heedlessly, without thinking. That summer Levin saw this at every step. He sent the men to mow some clover for hay, picking out the worst patches where the clover was overgrown with grass and weeds and of no use for seed; again and again they mowed the best acres of clover, justifying themselves by the pretense that the bailiff had told them to, and trying to pacify him with the assurance that it would be splendid hay; but he knew that it was owing to those acres being so much easier to mow. He sent out a hay machine for pitching the hay–it was broken at the first row because it was dull work for a peasant to sit on the seat in front with the great wings waving above him. And he was told, “Don’t trouble, your honor, sure, the womenfolks will pitch it quick enough.” The ploughs were practically useless, because it never occurred to the laborer to raise the share when he turned the plough, and forcing it round, he strained the horses and tore up the ground, and Levin was begged not to mind about it. The horses were allowed to stray into the wheat because not a single laborer would consent to be night-watchman, and in spite of orders to the contrary, the laborers insisted on taking turns for night duty, and Ivan, after working all day long, fell asleep, and was very penitent for his fault, saying, “Do what you will to me, your honor.”
They killed three of the best calves by letting them into the clover aftermath without care as to their drinking, and nothing would make the men believe that they had been blown out by the clover, but they told him, by way of consolation, that one of his neighbors had lost a hundred and twelve head of cattle in three days. All this happened, not because anyone felt ill-will to Levin or his farm; on the contrary, he knew that they liked him, thought him a simple gentleman (their highest praise); but it happened simply because all they wanted was to work merrily and carelessly, and his interests were not only remote and incomprehensible to them, but fatally opposed to their most just claims. Long before, Levin had felt dissatisfaction with his own position in regard to the land. He saw where his boat leaked, but he did not look for the leak, perhaps purposely deceiving himself. (Nothing would be left him if he lost faith in it.) But now he could deceive himself no longer. The farming of the land, as he was managing it, had become not merely unattractive but revolting to him, and he could take no further interest in it.
To this now was joined the presence, only twenty-five miles off, of Kitty Shtcherbatskaya, whom he longed to see and could not see. Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya had invited him, when he was over there, to come; to come with the object of renewing his offer to her sister, who would, so she gave him to understand, accept him now. Levin himself had felt on seeing Kitty Shtcherbatskaya that he had never ceased to love her; but he could not go over to the Oblonskys’, knowing she was there. The fact that he had made her an offer, and she had refused him, had placed an insuperable barrier between her and him. “I can’t ask her to be my wife merely because she can’t be the wife of the man she wanted to marry,” he said to himself. The thought of this made him cold and hostile to her. “I should not be able to speak to her without a feeling of reproach; I could not look at her without resentment; and she will only hate me all the more, as she’s bound to. And besides, how can I now, after what Darya Alexandrovna told me, go to see them? Can I help showing that I know what she told me? And me to go magnanimously to forgive her, and have pity on her! Me go through a performance before her of forgiving, and deigning to bestow my love on her!… What induced Darya Alexandrovna to tell me that? By chance I might have seen her, then everything would have happened of itself; but, as it is, it’s out of the question, out of the question!”
Darya Alexandrovna sent him a letter, asking him for a side-saddle for Kitty’s use. “I’m told you have a side-saddle,” she wrote to him; “I hope you will bring it over yourself.”
This was more than he could stand. How could a woman of any intelligence, of any delicacy, put her sister in such a humiliating position! He wrote ten notes, and tore them all up, and sent the saddle without any reply. To write that he would go was impossible, because he could not go; to write that he could not come because something prevented him, or that he would be away, that was still worse. He sent the saddle without an answer, and with a sense of having done something shameful; he handed over all the now revolting business of the estate to the bailiff, and set off next day to a remote district to see his friend Sviazhsky, who had splendid marshes for grouse in his neighborhood, and had lately written to ask him to keep a long-standing promise to stay with him. The grouse-marsh, in the Surovsky district, had long tempted Levin, but he had continually put off this visit on account of his work on the estate. Now he was glad to get away from the neighborhood of the Shtcherbatskys, and still more from his farm work, especially on a shooting expedition, which always in trouble served as the best consolation.
In the Surovsky district there was no railway nor service of post horses, and Levin drove there with his own horses in his big, old-fashioned carriage.
He stopped halfway at a well-to-do peasant’s to feed his horses. A bald, well-preserved old man, with a broad, red beard, gray on his cheeks, opened the gate, squeezing against the gatepost to let the three horses pass. Directing the coachman to a place under the shed in the big, clean, tidy yard, with charred, old-fashioned ploughs in it, the old man asked Levin to come into the parlor. A cleanly dressed young woman, with clogs on her bare feet, was scrubbing the floor in the new outer room. She was frightened of the dog, that ran in after Levin, and uttered a shriek, but began laughing at her own fright at once when she was told the dog would not hurt her. Pointing Levin with her bare arm to the door into the parlor, she bent down again, hiding her handsome face, and went on scrubbing.
“Would you like the samovar?” she asked.
The parlor was a big room, with a Dutch stove, and a screen dividing it into two. Under the holy pictures stood a table painted in patterns, a bench, and two chairs. Near the entrance was a dresser full of crockery. The shutters were closed, there were few flies, and it was so clean that Levin was anxious that Laska, who had been running along the road and bathing in puddles, should not muddy the floor, and ordered her to a place in the corner by the door. After looking round the parlor, Levin went out in the back yard. The good-looking young woman in clogs, swinging the empty pails on the yoke, ran on before him to the well for water.
“Look sharp, my girl!” the old man shouted after her, good-humoredly, and he went up to Levin. “Well, sir, are you going to Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky? His honor comes to us too,” he began, chatting, leaning his elbows on the railing of the steps. In the middle of the old man’s account of his acquaintance with Sviazhsky, the gates creaked again, and laborers came into the yard from the fields, with wooden ploughs and harrows. The horses harnessed to the ploughs and harrows were sleek and fat. The laborers were obviously of the household: two were young men in cotton shirts and caps, the two others were hired laborers in homespun shirts, one an old man, the other a young fellow. Moving off from the steps, the old man went up to the horses and began unharnessing them.
“What have they been ploughing?” asked Levin.
“Ploughing up the potatoes. We rent a bit of land too. Fedot, don’t let out the gelding, but take it to the trough, and we’ll put the other in harness.”
“Oh, father, the ploughshares I ordered, has he brought them along?” asked the big, healthy-looking fellow, obviously the old man’s son.
“There…in the outer room,” answered the old man, bundling together the harness he had taken off, and flinging it on the ground. “You can put them on, while they have dinner.”
The good-looking young woman came into the outer room with the full pails dragging at her shoulders. More women came on the scene from somewhere, young and handsome, middle-aged, old and ugly, with children and without children.
The samovar was beginning to sing; the laborers and the family, having disposed of the horses, came in to dinner. Levin, getting his provisions out of his carriage, invited the old man to take tea with him.
“Well, I have had some today already,” said the old man, obviously accepting the invitation with pleasure. “But just a glass for company.”
Over their tea Levin heard all about the old man’s farming. Ten years before, the old man had rented three hundred acres from the lady who owned them, and a year ago he had bought them and rented another three hundred from a neighboring landowner. A small part of the land–the worst part–he let out for rent, while a hundred acres of arable land he cultivated himself with his family and two hired laborers. The old man complained that things were doing badly. But Levin saw that he simply did so from a feeling of propriety, and that his farm was in a flourishing condition. If it had been unsuccessful he would not have bought land at thirty-five roubles the acre, he would not have married his three sons and a nephew, he would not have rebuilt twice after fires, and each time on a larger scale. In spite of the old man’s complaints, it was evident that he was proud, and justly proud, of his prosperity, proud of his sons, his nephew, his sons’ wives, his horses and his cows, and especially of the fact that he was keeping all this farming going. From his conversation with the old man, Levin thought he was not averse to new methods either. He had planted a great many potatoes, and his potatoes, as Levin had seen driving past, were already past flowering and beginning to die down, while Levin’s were only just coming into flower. He earthed up his potatoes with a modern plough borrowed from a neighboring landowner. He sowed wheat. The trifling fact that, thinning out his rye, the old man used the rye he thinned out for his horses, specially struck Levin. How many times had Levin seen this splendid fodder wasted, and tried to get it saved; but always it had turned out to be impossible. The peasant got this done, and he could not say enough in praise of it as food for the beasts.
“What have the wenches to do? They carry it out in bundles to the roadside, and the cart brings it away.”
“Well, we landowners can’t manage well with our laborers,” said Levin, handing him a glass of tea.
“Thank you,” said the old man, and he took the glass, but refused sugar, pointing to a lump he had left. “They’re simple destruction,” said he. “Look at Sviazhsky’s, for instance. We know what the land’s like–first-rate, yet there’s not much of a crop to boast of. It’s not looked after enough–that’s all it is!”
“But you work your land with hired laborers?”
“We’re all peasants together. We go into everything ourselves. If a man’s no use, he can go, and we can manage by ourselves.”
“Father Finogen wants some tar,” said the young woman in the clogs, coming in.
“Yes, yes, that’s how it is, sir!” said the old man, getting up, and crossing himself deliberately, he thanked Levin and went out.
When Levin went into the kitchen to call his coachman he saw the whole family at dinner. The women were standing up waiting on them. The young, sturdy-looking son was telling something funny with his mouth full of pudding, and they were all laughing, the woman in the clogs, who was pouring cabbage soup into a bowl, laughing most merrily of all.
Very probably the good-looking face of the young woman in the dogs had a good deal to do with the impression of well-being this peasant household made upon Levin, but the impression was so strong that Levin could never get rid of it. And all the way from the old peasant’s to Sviazhsky’s he kept recalling this peasant farm as though there were something in this impression that demanded his special attention.