Anna Karenina (Part 4 – Chapter 21-23)
Before Betsy had time to walk out of the drawing-room, she was met in the doorway by Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had just come from Yeliseev’s, where a consignment of fresh oysters had been received.
“Ah! princess! what a delightful meeting!” he began. “I’ve been to see you.”
“A meeting for one minute, for I’m going,” said Betsy, smiling and putting on her glove.
“Don’t put on your glove yet, princess; let me kiss your hand. There’s nothing I’m so thankful to the revival of the old fashions for as the kissing the hand.” He kissed Betsy’s hand. “When shall we see each other?”
“You don’t deserve it,” answered Betsy, smiling.
“Oh, yes, I deserve a great deal, for I’ve become a most serious person. I don’t only manage my own affairs, but other people’s too,” he said with a significant expression.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” answered Betsy, at once understanding that he was speaking of Anna. And going back into the drawing room, they stood in a corner. “He’s killing her,” said Betsy in a whisper full of meaning. “It’s impossible, impossible…”
“I’m so glad you think so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, shaking his head with a serious and sympathetically distressed expression, “that’s what I’ve come to Petersburg for.”
“The whole town’s talking of it,” she said. “It’s an impossible position. She pines and pines away. He doesn’t understand that she’s one of those women who can’t trifle with their feelings. One of two things! either let him take her away, act with energy, or give her a divorce. This is stifling her.”
“Yes, yes…just so…” Oblonsky said, sighing. “That’s what I’ve come for. At least not solely for that…I’ve been made a Kammerherr; of course, one has to say thank you. But the chief thing was having to settle this.”
“Well, God help you!” said Betsy.
After accompanying Betsy to the outside hall, once more kissing her hand above the glove, at the point where the pulse beats, and murmuring to her such unseemly nonsense that she did not know whether to laugh or be angry, Stepan Arkadyevitch went to his sister. He found her in tears.
Although he happened to be bubbling over with good spirits, Stepan Arkadyevitch immediately and quite naturally fell into the sympathetic, poetically emotional tone which harmonized with her mood. He asked her how she was, and how she had spent the morning.
“Very, very miserably. Today and this morning and all past days and days to come,” she said.
“I think you’re giving way to pessimism. You must rouse yourself, you must look life in the face. I know it’s hard, but…”
“I have heard it said that women love men even for their vices,” Anna began suddenly, “but I hate him for his virtues. I can’t live with him. Do you understand? the sight of him has a physical effect on me, it makes me beside myself. I can’t, I can’t live with him. What am I to do? I have been unhappy, and used to think one couldn’t be more unhappy, but the awful state of things I am going through now, I could never have conceived. Would you believe it, that knowing he’s a good man, a splendid man, that I’m not worth his little finger, still I hate him. I hate him for his generosity. And there’s nothing left for me but…”
She would have said death, but Stepan Arkadyevitch would not let her finish.
“You are ill and overwrought,” he said; “believe me, you’re exaggerating dreadfully. There’s nothing so terrible in it.”
And Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. No one else in Stepan Arkadyevitch’s place, having to do with such despair, would have ventured to smile (the smile would have seemed brutal); but in his smile there was so much of sweetness and almost feminine tenderness that his smile did not wound, but softened and soothed. His gentle, soothing words and smiles were as soothing and softening as almond oil. And Anna soon felt this.
“No, Stiva,” she said, “I’m lost, lost! worse than lost! I can’t say yet that all is over; on the contrary, I feel that it’s not over. I’m an overstrained string that must snap. But it’s not ended yet…and it will have a fearful end.”
“No matter, we must let the string be loosened, little by little. There’s no position from which there is no way of escape.”
“I have thought, and thought. Only one…”
Again he knew from her terrified eyes that this one way of escape in her thought was death, and he would not let her say it.
“Not at all,” he said. “Listen to me. You can’t see your own position as I can. Let me tell you candidly my opinion.” Again he smiled discreetly his almond-oil smile. “I’ll begin from the beginning. You married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married him without love and not knowing what love was. It was a mistake, let’s admit.”
“A fearful mistake!” said Anna.
“But I repeat, it’s an accomplished fact. Then you had, let us say, the misfortune to love a man not your husband. That was a misfortune; but that, too, is an accomplished fact. And your husband knew it and forgave it.” He stopped at each sentence, waiting for her to object, but she made no answer. “That’s so. Now the question is: can you go on living with your husband? Do you wish it? Does he wish it?”
“I know nothing, nothing.”
“But you said yourself that you can’t endure him.”
“No, I didn’t say so. I deny it. I can’t tell, I don’t know anything about it.”
“Yes, but let…”
“You can’t understand. I feel I’m lying head downwards in a sort of pit, but I ought not to save myself. And I can’t . . .”
“Never mind, we’ll slip something under and pull you out. I understand you: I understand that you can’t take it on yourself to express your wishes, your feelings.”
“There’s nothing, nothing I wish…except for it to be all over.”
“But he sees this and knows it. And do you suppose it weighs on him any less than on you? You’re wretched, he’s wretched, and what good can come of it? while divorce would solve the difficulty completely.” With some effort Stepan Arkadyevitch brought out his central idea, and looked significantly at her.
She said nothing, and shook her cropped head in dissent. But from the look in her face, that suddenly brightened into its old beauty, he saw that if she did not desire this, it was simply because it seemed to her unattainable happiness.
“I’m awfully sorry for you! And how happy I should be if I could arrange things!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling more boldly. “Don’t speak, don’t say a word! God grant only that I may speak as I feel. I’m going to him.”
Anna looked at him with dreamy, shining eyes, and said nothing.
Stepan Arkadyevitch, with the same somewhat solemn expression with which he used to take his presidential chair at his board, walked into Alexey Alexandrovitch’s room. Alexey Alexandrovitch was walking about his room with his hands behind his back, thinking of just what Stepan Arkadyevitch had been discussing with his wife.
“I’m not interrupting you?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, on the sight of his brother-in-law becoming suddenly aware of a sense of embarrassment unusual with him. To conceal this embarrassment he took out a cigarette case he had just bought that opened in a new way, and sniffing the leather, took a cigarette out of it.
“No. Do you want anything?” Alexey Alexandrovitch asked without eagerness.
“Yes, I wished…I wanted…yes, I wanted to talk to you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, with surprise aware of an unaccustomed timidity.
This feeling was so unexpected and so strange that he did not believe it was the voice of conscience telling him that what he was meaning to do was wrong.
Stepan Arkadyevitch made an effort and struggled with the timidity that had come over him.
“I hope you believe in my love for my sister and my sincere affection and respect for you,” he said, reddening.
Alexey Alexandrovitch stood still and said nothing, but his face struck Stepan Arkadyevitch by its expression of an unresisting sacrifice.
“I intended…I wanted to have a little talk with you about my sister and your mutual position,” he said, still struggling with an unaccustomed constraint.
Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled mournfully, looked at his brother-in-law, and without answering went up to the table, took from it an unfinished letter, and handed it to his brother-in-law.
“I think unceasingly of the same thing. And here is what I had begun writing, thinking I could say it better by letter, and that my presence irritates her,” he said, as he gave him the letter.
Stepan Arkadyevitch took the letter, looked with incredulous surprise at the lusterless eyes fixed so immovably on him, and began to read.
“I see that my presence is irksome to you. Painful as it is to me to believe it, I see that it is so, and cannot be otherwise. I don’t blame you, and God is my witness that on seeing you at the time of your illness I resolved with my whole heart to forget all that had passed between us and to begin a new life. I do not regret, and shall never regret, what I have done; but I have desired one thing–your good, the good of your soul–and now I see I have not attained that. Tell me yourself what will give you true happiness and peace to your soul. I put myself entirely in your hands, and trust to your feeling of what’s right.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch handed back the letter, and with the same surprise continued looking at his brother-in-law, not knowing what to say. This silence was so awkward for both of them that Stepan Arkadyevitch’s lips began twitching nervously, while he still gazed without speaking at Karenin’s face.
“That’s what I wanted to say to her,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, turning away.
“Yes, yes…” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, not able to answer for the tears that were choking him.
“Yes, yes, I understand you,” he brought out at last.
“I want to know what she would like,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“I am afraid she does not understand her own position. She is not a judge,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recovering himself. “She is crushed, simply crushed by your generosity. If she were to read this letter, she would be incapable of saying anything, she would only hang her head lower than ever.”
“Yes, but what’s to be done in that case? how explain, how find out her wishes?”
“If you will allow me to give my opinion, I think that it lies with you to point out directly the steps you consider necessary to end the position.”
“So you consider it must be ended?” Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted him. “But how?” he added, with a gesture of his hands before his eyes not usual with him. “I see no possible way out of it.”
“There is some way of getting out of every position,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, standing up and becoming more cheerful. “There was a time when you thought of breaking off…. If you are convinced now that you cannot make each other happy…”
“Happiness may be variously understood. But suppose that I agree to everything, that I want nothing: what way is there of getting out of our position?”
“If you care to know my opinion,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch with the same smile of softening, almond-oil tenderness with which he had been talking to Anna. His kindly smile was so winning that Alexey Alexandrovitch, feeling his own weakness and unconsciously swayed by it, was ready to believe what Stepan Arkadyevitch was saying.
“She will never speak out about it. But one thing is possible, one thing she might desire,” he went on: “that is the cessation of your relations and all memories associated with them. To my thinking, in your position what’s essential is the formation of a new attitude to one another. And that can only rest on a basis of freedom on both sides.”
“Divorce,” Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted, in a tone of aversion.
“Yes, I imagine that divorce–yes, divorce,” Stepan Arkadyevitch repeated, reddening. “That is from every point of view the most rational course for married people who find themselves in the position you are in. What can be done if married people find that life is impossible for them together? That may always happen.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
“There’s only one point to be considered: is either of the parties desirous of forming new ties? If not, it is very simple,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, feeling more and more free from constraint.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, scowling with emotion, muttered something to himself, and made no answer. All that seemed so simple to Stepan Arkadyevitch, Alexey Alexandrovitch had thought over thousands of times. And, so far from being simple, it all seemed to him utterly impossible. Divorce, the details of which he knew by this time, seemed to him now out of the question, because the sense of his own dignity and respect for religion forbade his taking upon himself a fictitious charge of adultery, and still more suffering his wife, pardoned and beloved by him, to be caught in the fact and put to public shame. Divorce appeared to him impossible also on other still more weighty grounds.
What would become of his son in case of a divorce? To leave him with his mother was out of the question. The divorced mother would have her own illegitimate family, in which his position as a stepson and his education would not be good. Keep him with him? He knew that would be an act of vengeance on his part, and that he did not want. But apart from this, what more than all made divorce seem impossible to Alexey Alexandrovitch was, that by consenting to a divorce he would be completely ruining Anna. The saying of Darya Alexandrovna at Moscow, that in deciding on a divorce he was thinking of himself, and not considering that by this he would be ruining her irrevocably, had sunk into his heart. And connecting this saying with his forgiveness of her, with his devotion to the children, he understood it now in his own way. To consent to a divorce, to give her her freedom, meant in his thoughts to take from himself the last tie that bound him to life–the children whom he loved; and to take from her the last prop that stayed her on the path of right, to thrust her down to her ruin. If she were divorced, he knew she would join her life to Vronsky’s, and their tie would be an illegitimate and criminal one, since a wife, by the interpretation of the ecclesiastical law, could not marry while her husband was living. “She will join him, and in a year or two he will throw her over, or she will form a new tie,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch. “And I, by agreeing to an unlawful divorce, shall be to blame for her ruin.” He had thought it all over hundreds of times, and was convinced that a divorce was not at all simple, as Stepan Arkadyevitch had said, but was utterly impossible. He did not believe a single word Stepan Arkadyevitch said to him; to every word he had a thousand objections to make, but he listened to him, feeling that his words were the expression of that mighty brutal force which controlled his life and to which he would have to submit.
“The only question is on what terms you agree to give her a divorce. She does not want anything, does not dare ask you for anything, she leaves it all to your generosity.”
“My God, my God! what for?” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch, remembering the details of divorce proceedings in which the husband took the blame on himself, and with just the same gesture with which Vronsky had done the same, he hid his face for shame in his hands.
“You are distressed, I understand that. But if you think it over…”
“Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Yes, yes!” he cried in a shrill voice. “I will take the disgrace on myself, I will give up even my son, but…but wouldn’t it be better to let it alone? Still you may do as you like…”
And turning away so that his brother-in-law could not see him, he sat down on a chair at the window. There was bitterness, there was shame in his heart, but with bitterness and shame he felt joy and emotion at the height of his own meekness.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was touched. He was silent for a space.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch, believe me, she appreciates your generosity,” he said. “But it seems it was the will of God,” he added, and as he said it felt how foolish a remark it was, and with difficulty repressed a smile at his own foolishness.
Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made some reply, but tears stopped him.
“This is an unhappy fatality, and one must accept it as such. I accept the calamity as an accomplished fact, and am doing my best to help both her and you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
When he went out of his brother-in-law’s room he was touched, but that did not prevent him from being glad he had successfully brought the matter to a conclusion, for he felt certain Alexey Alexandrovitch would not go back on his words. To this satisfaction was added the fact that an idea had just struck him for a riddle turning on his successful achievement, that when the affair was over he would ask his wife and most intimate friends. He put this riddle into two or three different ways. “But I’ll work it out better than that,” he said to himself with a smile.
Vronsky’s wound had been a dangerous one, though it did not touch the heart, and for several days he had lain between life and death. The first time he was able to speak, Varya, his brother’s wife, was alone in the room.
“Varya,” he said, looking sternly at her, “I shot myself by accident. And please never speak of it, and tell everyone so. Or else it’s too ridiculous.”
Without answering his words, Varya bent over him, and with a delighted smile gazed into his face. His eyes were clear, not feverish; but their expression was stern.
“Thank God!” she said. “You’re not in pain?”
“A little here.” He pointed to his breast.
“Then let me change your bandages.”
In silence, stiffening his broad jaws, he looked at her while she bandaged him up. When she had finished he said:
“I’m not delirious. Please manage that there may be no talk of my having shot myself on purpose.”
“No one does say so. Only I hope you won’t shoot yourself by accident any more,” she said, with a questioning smile.
“Of course I won’t, but it would have been better…”
And he smiled gloomily.
In spite of these words and this smile, which so frightened Varya, when the inflammation was over and he began to recover, he felt that he was completely free from one part of his misery. By his action he had, as it were, washed away the shame and humiliation he had felt before. He could now think calmly of Alexey Alexandrovitch. He recognized all his magnanimity, but he did not now feel himself humiliated by it. Besides, he got back again into the beaten track of his life. He saw the possibility of looking men in the face again without shame, and he could live in accordance with his own habits. One thing he could not pluck out of his heart, though he never ceased struggling with it, was the regret, amounting to despair, that he had lost her forever. That now, having expiated his sin against the husband, he was bound to renounce her, and never in future to stand between her with her repentance and her husband, he had firmly decided in his heart; but he could not tear out of his heart his regret at the loss of her love, he could not erase from his memory those moments of happiness that he had so little prized at the time, and that haunted him in all their charm.
Serpuhovskoy had planned his appointment at Tashkend, and Vronsky agreed to the proposition without the slightest hesitation. But the nearer the time of departure came, the bitterer was the sacrifice he was making to what he thought his duty.
His wound had healed, and he was driving about making preparations for his departure for Tashkend.
“To see her once and then to bury myself, to die,” he thought, and as he was paying farewell visits, he uttered this thought to Betsy. Charged with this commission, Betsy had gone to Anna, and brought him back a negative reply.
“So much the better,” thought Vronsky, when he received the news. “It was a weakness, which would have shattered what strength I have left.”
Next day Betsy herself came to him in the morning, and announced that she had heard through Oblonsky as a positive fact that Alexey Alexandrovitch had agreed to a divorce, and that therefore Vronsky could see Anna.
Without even troubling himself to see Betsy out of his fiat, forgetting all his resolutions, without asking when he could see her, where her husband was, Vronsky drove straight to the Karenins’. He ran up the stairs seeing no one and nothing, and with a rapid step, almost breaking into a run, he went into her room. And without considering, without noticing whether there was anyone in the room or not, he flung his arms round her, and began to cover her face, her hands, her neck with kisses.
Anna had been preparing herself for this meeting, had thought what she would say to him, but she did not succeed in saying anything of it; his passion mastered her. She tried to calm him, to calm herself, but it was too late. His feeling infected her. Her lips trembled so that for a long while she could say nothing.
“Yes, you have conquered me, and I am yours,” she said at last, pressing his hands to her bosom.
“So it had to be,” he said. “So long as we live, it must be so. I know it now.”
“That’s true,” she said, getting whiter and whiter, and embracing his head. “Still there is something terrible in it after all that has happened.”
“It will all pass, it will all pass; we shall be so happy. Our love, if it could be stronger, will be strengthened by there being something terrible in it,” he said, lifting his head and parting his strong teeth in a smile.
And she could not but respond with a smile–not to his words, but to the love in his eyes. She took his hand and stroked her chilled cheeks and cropped head with it.
“I don’t know you with this short hair. You’ve grown so pretty. A boy. But how pale you are!”
“Yes, I’m very weak,” she said, smiling. And her lips began trembling again.
“We’ll go to Italy; you will get strong,” he said.
“Can it be possible we could be like husband and wife, alone, your family with you?” she said, looking close into his eyes.
“It only seems strange to me that it can ever have been otherwise.”
“Stiva says that HE has agreed to everything, but I can’t accept HIS generosity,” she said, looking dreamily past Vronsky’s face. “I don’t want a divorce; it’s all the same to me now. Only I don’t know what he will decide about Seryozha.”
He could not conceive how at this moment of their meeting she could remember and think of her son, of divorce. What did it all matter?
“Don’t speak of that, don’t think of it,” he said, turning her hand in his, and trying to draw her attention to him; but still she did not look at him.
“Oh, why didn’t I die! it would have been better,” she said, and silent tears flowed down both her cheeks; but she tried to smile, so as not to wound him.
To decline the flattering and dangerous appointment at Tashkend would have been, Vronsky had till then considered, disgraceful and impossible. But now, without an instant’s consideration, he declined it, and observing dissatisfaction in the most exalted quarters at this step, he immediately retired from the army.
A month later Alexey Alexandrovitch was left alone with his son in his house at Petersburg, while Anna and Vronsky had gone abroad, not having obtained a divorce, but having absolutely declined all idea of one.