Anna Karenina ( Part 5 – Chapter 21-25)
From the moment when Alexey Alexandrovitch understood from his interviews with Betsy and with Stepan Arkadyevitch that all that was expected of him was to leave his wife in peace, without burdening her with his presence, and that his wife herself desired this, he felt so distraught that he could come to no decision of himself; he did not know himself what he wanted now, and putting himself in the hands of those who were so pleased to interest themselves in his affairs, he met everything with unqualified assent. It was only when Anna had left his house, and the English governess sent to ask him whether she should dine with him or separately, that for the first time he clearly comprehended his position, and was appalled by it. Most difficult of all in this position was the fact that he could not in any way connect and reconcile his past with what was now. It was not the past when he had lived happily with his wife that troubled him. The transition from that past to a knowledge of his wife’s unfaithfulness he had lived through miserably already; that state was painful, but he could understand it. If his wife had then, on declaring to him her unfaithfulness, left him, he would have been wounded, unhappy, but he would not have been in the hopeless position–incomprehensible to himself–in which he felt himself now. He could not now reconcile his immediate past, his tenderness, his love for his sick wife, and for the other man’s child with what was now the case, that is with the fact that, as it were, in return for all this he now found himself alone, put to shame, a laughing-stock, needed by no one, and despised by everyone.
For the first two days after his wife’s departure Alexey Alexandrovitch received applicants for assistance and his chief secretary, drove to the committee, and went down to dinner in the dining room as usual. Without giving himself a reason for what he was doing, he strained every nerve of his being for those two days, simply to preserve an appearance of composure, and even of indifference. Answering inquiries about the disposition of Anna Arkadyevna’s rooms and belongings, he had exercised immense self-control to appear like a man in whose eyes what had occurred was not unforeseen nor out of the ordinary course of events, and he attained his aim: no one could have detected in him signs of despair. But on the second day after her departure, when Korney gave him a bill from a fashionable draper’s shop, which Anna had forgotten to pay, and announced that the clerk from the shop was waiting, Alexey Alexandrovitch told him to show the clerk up.
“Excuse me, your excellency, for venturing to trouble you. But if you direct us to apply to her excellency, would you graciously oblige us with her address?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch pondered, as it seemed to the clerk, and all at once, turning round, he sat down at the table. Letting his head sink into his hands, he sat for a long while in that position, several times attempted to speak and stopped short. Korney, perceiving his master’s emotion, asked the clerk to call another time. Left alone, Alexey Alexandrovitch recognized that he had not the strength to keep up the line of firmness and composure any longer. He gave orders for the carriage that was awaiting him to be taken back, and for no one to be admitted, and he did not go down to dinner.
He felt that he could not endure the weight of universal contempt and exasperation, which he had distinctly seen in the face of the clerk and of Korney, and of everyone, without exception, whom he had met during those two days. He felt that he could not turn aside from himself the hatred of men, because that hatred did not come from his being bad (in that case he could have tried to be better), but from his being shamefully and repulsively unhappy. He knew that for this, for the very fact that his heart was torn with grief, they would be merciless to him. He felt that men would crush him as dogs strangle a torn dog yelping with pain. He knew that his sole means of security against people was to hide his wounds from them, and instinctively he tried to do this for two days, but now he felt incapable of keeping up the unequal struggle.
His despair was even intensified by the consciousness that he was utterly alone in his sorrow. In all Petersburg there was not a human being to whom he could express what he was feeling, who would feel for him, not as a high official, not as a member of society, but simply as a suffering man; indeed he had not such a one in the whole world.
Alexey Alexandrovitch grew up an orphan. There were two brothers. They did not remember their father, and their mother died when Alexey Alexandrovitch was ten years old. The property was a small one. Their uncle, Karenin, a government official of high standing, at one time a favorite of the late Tsar, had brought them up.
On completing his high school and university courses with medals, Alexey Alexandrovitch had, with his uncle’s aid, immediately started in a prominent position in the service, and from that time forward he had devoted himself exclusively to political ambition. In the high school and the university, and afterwards in the service, Alexey Alexandrovitch had never formed a close friendship with anyone. His brother had been the person nearest to his heart, but he had a post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was always abroad, where he had died shortly after Alexey Alexandrovitch’s marriage.
While he was governor of a province, Anna’s aunt, a wealthy provincial lady, had thrown him–middle-aged as he was, though young for a governor–with her niece, and had succeeded in putting him in such a position that he had either to declare himself or to leave the town. Alexey Alexandrovitch was not long in hesitation. There were at the time as many reasons for the step as against it, and there was no overbalancing consideration to outweigh his invariable rule of abstaining when in doubt. But Anna’s aunt had through a common acquaintance insinuated that he had already compromised the girl, and that he was in honor bound to make her an offer. He made the offer, and concentrated on his betrothed and his wife all the feeling of which he was capable.
The attachment he felt to Anna precluded in his heart every need of intimate relations with others. And now among all his acquaintances he had not one friend. He had plenty of so-called connections, but no friendships. Alexey Alexandrovitch had plenty of people whom he could invite to dinner, to whose sympathy he could appeal in any public affair he was concerned about, whose interest he could reckon upon for anyone he wished to help, with whom he could candidly discuss other people’s business and affairs of state. But his relations with these people were confined to one clearly defined channel, and had a certain routine from which it was impossible to depart. There was one man, a comrade of his at the university, with whom he had made friends later, and with whom he could have spoken of a personal sorrow; but this friend had a post in the Department of Education in a remote part of Russia. Of the people in Petersburg the most intimate and most possible were his chief secretary and his doctor.
Mihail Vassilievitch Sludin, the chief secretary, was a straightforward, intelligent, good-hearted, and conscientious man, and Alexey Alexandrovitch was aware of his personal goodwill. But their five years of official work together seemed to have put a barrier between them that cut off warmer relations.
After signing the papers brought him, Alexey Alexandrovitch had sat for a long while in silence, glancing at Mihail Vassilievitch, and several times he attempted to speak, but could not. He had already prepared the phrase: “You have heard of my trouble?” But he ended by saying, as usual: “So you’ll get this ready for me?” and with that dismissed him.
The other person was the doctor, who had also a kindly feeling for him; but there had long existed a taciturn understanding between them that both were weighed down by work, and always in a hurry.
Of his women friends, foremost amongst them Countess Lidia Ivanovna, Alexey Alexandrovitch never thought. All women, simply as women, were terrible and distasteful to him.
Alexey Alexandrovitch had forgotten the Countess Lidia Ivanovna, but she had not forgotten him. At the bitterest moment of his lonely despair she came to him, and without waiting to be announced, walked straight into his study. She found him as he was sitting with his head in both hands.
“J’ai force la consigne,” she said, walking in with rapid steps and breathing hard with excitement and rapid exercise. “I have heard all! Alexey Alexandrovitch! Dear friend!” she went on, warmly squeezing his hand in both of hers and gazing with her fine pensive eyes into his.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, frowning, got up, and disengaging his hand, moved her a chair.
“Won’t you sit down, countess? I’m seeing no one because I’m unwell, countess,” he said, and his lips twitched.
“Dear friend!” repeated Countess Lidia Ivanovna, never taking her eyes off his, and suddenly her eyebrows rose at the inner corners, describing a triangle on her forehead, her ugly yellow face became still uglier, but Alexey Alexandrovitch felt that she was sorry for him and was preparing to cry. And he too was softened; he snatched her plump hand and proceeded to kiss it.
“Dear friend!” she said in a voice breaking with emotion. “You ought not to give way to grief. Your sorrow is a great one, but you ought to find consolation.”
“I am crushed, I am annihilated, I am no longer a man!” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, letting go her hand, but still gazing into her brimming eyes. “My position is so awful because I can find nowhere, I cannot find within me strength to support me.”
“You will find support; seek it–not in me, though I beseech you to believe in my friendship,” she said, with a sigh. “Our support is love, that love that He has vouchsafed us. His burden is light,” she said, with the look of ecstasy Alexey Alexandrovitch knew so well. “He will be your support and your succor.”
Although there was in these words a flavor of that sentimental emotion at her own lofty feelings, and that new mystical fervor which had lately gained ground in Petersburg, and which seemed to Alexey Alexandrovitch disproportionate, still it was pleasant to him to hear this now.
“I am weak. I am crushed. I foresaw nothing, and now I understand nothing.”
“Dear friend,” repeated Lidia Ivanovna.
“It’s not the loss of what I have not now, it’s not that!” pursued Alexey Alexandrovitch. “I do not grieve for that. But I cannot help feeling humiliated before other people for the position I am placed in. It is wrong, but I can’t help it, I can’t help it.”
“Not you it was performed that noble act of forgiveness, at which I was moved to ecstasy, and everyone else too, but He, working within your heart,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, raising her eyes rapturously, “and so you cannot be ashamed of your act.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch knitted his brows, and crooking his hands, he cracked his fingers.
“One must know all the facts,” he said in his thin voice. “A man’s strength has its limits, countess, and I have reached my limits. The whole day I have had to be making arrangements, arrangements about household matters arising” (he emphasized the word arising) “from my new, solitary position. The servants, the governess, the accounts…. These pinpricks have stabbed me to the heart, and I have not the strength to bear it. At dinner… yesterday, I was almost getting up from the dinner table. I could not bear the way my son looked at me. He did not ask me the meaning of it all, but he wanted to ask, and I could not bear the look in his eyes. He was afraid to look at me, but that is not all….” Alexey Alexandrovitch would have referred to the bill that had been brought him, but his voice shook, and he stopped. That bill on blue paper, for a hat and ribbons, he could not recall without a rush of self-pity.
“I understand, dear friend,” said Lidia Ivanovna. “I understand it all. Succor and comfort you will find not in me, though I have come only to aid you if I can. If I could take from off you all these petty, humiliating cares…I understand that a woman’s word, a woman’s superintendence is needed. You will intrust it to me?”
Silently and gratefully Alexey Alexandrovitch pressed her hand.
“Together we will take care of Seryozha. Practical affairs are not my strong point. But I will set to work. I will be your housekeeper. Don’t thank me. I do it not from myself…”
“I cannot help thanking you.”
“But, dear friend, do not give way to the feeling of which you spoke–being ashamed of what is the Christian’s highest glory: he who humbles himself shall be exalted. And you cannot thank me. You must thank Him, and pray to Him for succor. In Him alone we find peace, consolation, salvation, and love,” she said, and turning her eyes heavenwards, she began praying, as Alexey Alexandrovitch gathered from her silence.
Alexey Alexandrovitch listened to her now, and those expressions which had seemed to him, if not distasteful, at least exaggerated, now seemed to him natural and consolatory. Alexey Alexandrovitch had disliked this new enthusiastic fervor. He was a believer, who was interested in religion primarily in its political aspect, and the new doctrine which ventured upon several new interpretations, just because it paved the way to discussion and analysis, was in principle disagreeable to him. He had hitherto taken up a cold and even antagonistic attitude to this new doctrine, and with Countess Lidia Ivanovna, who had been carried away by it, he had never argued, but by silence had assiduously parried her attempts to provoke him into argument. Now for the first time he heard her words with pleasure, and did not inwardly oppose them.
“I am very, very grateful to you, both for your deeds and for your words,” he said, when she had finished praying.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna once more pressed both her friend’s hands.
“Now I will enter upon my duties,” she said with a smile after a pause, as she wiped away the traces of tears. “I am going to Seryozha. Only in the last extremity shall I apply to you.” And she got up and went out.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna went into Seryozha’s part of the house, and dropping tears on the scared child’s cheeks, she told him that his father was a saint and his mother was dead.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna kept her promise. She did actually take upon herself the care of the organization and management of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s household. But she had not overstated the case when saying that practical affairs were not her strong point. All her arrangements had to be modified because they could not be carried out, and they were modified by Korney, Alexey Alexandrovitch’s valet, who, though no one was aware of the fact, now managed Karenin’s household, and quietly and discreetly reported to his master while he was dressing all it was necessary for him to know. But Lidia Ivanovna’s help was none the less real; she gave Alexey Alexandrovitch moral support in the consciousness of her love and respect for him, and still more, as it was soothing to her to believe, in that she almost turned him to Christianity–that is, from an indifferent and apathetic believer she turned him into an ardent and steadfast adherent of the new interpretation of Christian doctrine, which had been gaining ground of late in Petersburg. It was easy for Alexey Alexandrovitch to believe in this teaching. Alexey Alexandrovitch, like Lidia Ivanovna indeed, and others who shared their views, was completely devoid of vividness of imagination, that spiritual faculty in virtue of which the conceptions evoked by the imagination become so vivid that they must needs be in harmony with other conceptions, and with actual fact. He saw nothing impossible and inconceivable in the idea that death, though existing for unbelievers, did not exist for him, and that, as he was possessed of the most perfect faith, of the measure of which he was himself the judge, therefore there was no sin in his soul, and he was experiencing complete salvation here on earth.
It is true that the erroneousness and shallowness of this conception of his faith was dimly perceptible to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and he knew that when, without the slightest idea that his forgiveness was the action of a higher power, he had surrendered directly to the feeling of forgiveness, he had felt more happiness than now when he was thinking every instant that Christ was in his heart, and that in signing official papers he was doing His will. But for Alexey Alexandrovitch it was a necessity to think in that way; it was such a necessity for him in his humiliation to have some elevated standpoint, however imaginary, from which, looked down upon by all, he could look down on others, that he clung, as to his one salvation, to his delusion of salvation.
The Countess Lidia Ivanovna had, as a very young and sentimental girl, been married to a wealthy man of high rank, an extremely good-natured, jovial, and extremely dissipated rake. Two months after marriage her husband abandoned her, and her impassioned protestations of affection he met with a sarcasm and even hostility that people knowing the count’s good heart, and seeing no defects in the sentimental Lidia, were at loss to explain. Though they were divorced and lived apart, yet whenever the husband met the wife, he invariably behaved to her with the same malignant irony, the cause of which was incomprehensible.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna had long given up being in love with her husband, but from that time she had never given up being in love with someone. She was in love with several people at once, both men and women; she had been in love with almost everyone who had been particularly distinguished in any way. She was in love with all the new princes and princesses who married into the imperial family; she had been in love with a high dignitary of the Church, a vicar, and a parish priest; she had been in love with a journalist, three Slavophiles, with Komissarov, with a minister, a doctor, an English missionary and Karenin. All these passions constantly waning or growing more ardent, did not prevent her from keeping up the most extended and complicated relations with the court and fashionable society. But from the time that after Karenin’s trouble she took him under her special protection, from the time that she set to work in Karenin’s household looking after his welfare, she felt that all her other attachments were not the real thing, and that she was now genuinely in love, and with no one but Karenin. The feeling she now experienced for him seemed to her stronger than any of her former feelings. Analyzing her feeling, and comparing it with former passions, she distinctly perceived that she would not have been in love with Komissarov if he had not saved the life of the Tsar, that she would not have been in love with Ristitch-Kudzhitsky if there had been no Slavonic question, but that she loved Karenin for himself, for his lofty, uncomprehended soul, for the sweet–to her–high notes of his voice, for his drawling intonation, his weary eyes, his character, and his soft white hands with their swollen veins. She was not simply overjoyed at meeting him, but she sought in his face signs of the impression she was making on him. She tried to please him, not by her words only, but in her whole person. For his sake it was that she now lavished more care on her dress than before. She caught herself in reveries on what might have been, if she had not been married and he had been free. She blushed with emotion when he came into the room, she could not repress a smile of rapture when he said anything amiable to her.
For several days now Countess Lidia Ivanovna had been in a state of intense excitement. She had learned that Anna and Vronsky were in Petersburg. Alexey Alexandrovitch must be saved from seeing her, he must be saved even from the torturing knowledge that that awful woman was in the same town with him, and that he might meet her any minute.
Lidia Ivanovna made inquiries through her friends as to what those infamous people, as she called Anna and Vronsky, intended doing, and she endeavored so to guide every movement of her friend during those days that he could not come across them. The young adjutant, an acquaintance of Vronsky, through whom she obtained her information, and who hoped through Countess Lidia Ivanovna to obtain a concession, told her that they had finished their business and were going away next day. Lidia Ivanovna had already begun to calm down, when the next morning a note was brought her, the handwriting of which she recognized with horror. It was the handwriting of Anna Karenina. The envelope was of paper as thick as bark; on the oblong yellow paper there was a huge monogram, and the letter smelt of agreeable scent.
“Who brought it?”
“A commissionaire from the hotel.”
It was some time before Countess Lidia Ivanovna could sit down to read the letter. Her excitement brought on an attack of asthma, to which she was subject. When she had recovered her composure, she read the following letter in French:
“Madame la Comtesse,
“The Christian feelings with which your heart is filled give me the, I feel, unpardonable boldness to write to you. I am miserable at being separated from my son. I entreat permission to see him once before my departure. Forgive me for recalling myself to your memory. I apply to you and not to Alexey Alexandrovitch, simply because I do not wish to cause that generous man to suffer in remembering me. Knowing your friendship for him, I know you will understand me. Could you send Seryozha to me, or should I come to the house at some fixed hour, or will you let me know when and where I could see him away from home? I do not anticipate a refusal, knowing the magnanimity of him with whom it rests. You cannot conceive the craving I have to see him, and so cannot conceive the gratitude your help will arouse in me.
Everything in this letter exasperated Countess Lidia Ivanovna: its contents and the allusion to magnanimity, and especially its free and easy–as she considered–tone.
“Say that there is no answer,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, and immediately opening her blotting-book, she wrote to Alexey Alexandrovitch that she hoped to see him at one o’clock at the levee.
“I must talk with you of a grave and painful subject. There we will arrange where to meet. Best of all at my house, where I will order tea as you like it. Urgent. He lays the cross, but He gives the strength to bear it,” she added, so as to give him some slight preparation. Countess Lidia Ivanovna usually wrote some two or three letters a day to Alexey Alexandrovitch. She enjoyed that form of communication, which gave opportunity for a refinement and air of mystery not afforded by their personal interviews.
The levee was drawing to a close. People met as they were going away, and gossiped of the latest news, of the newly bestowed honors and the changes in the positions of the higher functionaries.
“If only Countess Marya Borissovna were Minister of War, and Princess Vatkovskaya were Commander-in-Chief,” said a gray-headed, little old man in a gold-embroidered uniform, addressing a tall, handsome maid of honor who had questioned him about the new appointments.
“And me among the adjutants,” said the maid of honor, smiling.
“You have an appointment already. You’re over the ecclesiastical department. And your assistant’s Karenin.”
“Good-day, prince!” said the little old man to a man who came up to him.
“What were you saying of Karenin?” said the prince.
“He and Putyatov have received the Alexander Nevsky.”
“I thought he had it already.”
“No. Just look at him,” said the little old man, pointing with his embroidered hat to Karenin in a court uniform with the new red ribbon across his shoulders, standing in the doorway of the hall with an influential member of the Imperial Council. “Pleased and happy as a brass farthing,” he added, stopping to shake hands with a handsome gentleman of the bedchamber of colossal proportions.
“No; he’s looking older,” said the gentleman of the bedchamber.
“From overwork. He’s always drawing up projects nowadays. He won’t let a poor devil go nowadays till he’s explained it all to him under heads.”
“Looking older, did you say? Il fait des passions. I believe Countess Lidia Ivanovna’s jealous now of his wife.”
“Oh, come now, please don’t say any harm of Countess Lidia Ivanovna.”
“Why, is there any harm in her being in love with Karenin?”
“But is it true Madame Karenina’s here?”
“Well, not here in the palace, but in Petersburg. I met her yesterday with Alexey Vronsky, bras dessous, bras dessous, in the Morsky.”
“C’est un homme qui n’a pas…” the gentleman of the bedchamber was beginning, but he stopped to make room, bowing, for a member of the Imperial family to pass.
Thus people talked incessantly of Alexey Alexandrovitch, finding fault with him and laughing at him, while he, blocking up the way of the member of the Imperial Council he had captured, was explaining to him point by point his new financial project, never interrupting his discourse for an instant for fear he should escape.
Almost at the same time that his wife left Alexey Alexandrovitch there had come to him that bitterest moment in the life of an official–the moment when his upward career comes to a full stop. This full stop had arrived and everyone perceived it, but Alexey Alexandrovitch himself was not yet aware that his career was over. Whether it was due to his feud with Stremov, or his misfortune with his wife, or simply that Alexey Alexandrovitch had reached his destined limits, it had become evident to everyone in the course of that year that his career was at an end. He still filled a position of consequence, he sat on many commissions and committees, but he was a man whose day was over, and from whom nothing was expected. Whatever he said, whatever he proposed, was heard as though it were something long familiar, and the very thing that was not needed. But Alexey Alexandrovitch was not aware of this, and, on the contrary, being cut off from direct participation in governmental activity, he saw more clearly than ever the errors and defects in the action of others, and thought it his duty to point out means for their correction. Shortly after his separation from his wife, he began writing his first note on the new judicial procedure, the first of the endless series of notes he was destined to write in the future.
Alexey Alexandrovitch did not merely fail to observe his hopeless position in the official world, he was not merely free from anxiety on this head, he was positively more satisfied than ever with his own activity.
“He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife,” says the Apostle Paul, and Alexey Alexandrovitch, who was now guided in every action by Scripture, often recalled this text. It seemed to him that ever since he had been left without a wife, he had in these very projects of reform been serving the Lord more zealously than before.
The unmistakable impatience of the member of the Council trying to get away from him did not trouble Alexey Alexandrovitch; he gave up his exposition only when the member of the Council, seizing his chance when one of the Imperial family was passing, slipped away from him.
Left alone, Alexey Alexandrovitch looked down, collecting his thoughts, then looked casually about him and walked towards the door, where he hoped to meet Countess Lidia Ivanovna.
“And how strong they all are, how sound physically,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch, looking at the powerfully built gentleman of the bedchamber with his well-combed, perfumed whiskers, and at the red neck of the prince, pinched by his tight uniform. He had to pass them on his way. “Truly is it said that all the world is evil,” he thought, with another sidelong glance at the calves of the gentleman of the bedchamber.
Moving forward deliberately, Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed with his customary air of weariness and dignity to the gentleman who had been talking about him, and looking towards the door, his eyes sought Countess Lidia Ivanovna.
“Ah! Alexey Alexandrovitch!” said the little old man, with a malicious light in his eyes, at the moment when Karenin was on a level with them, and was nodding with a frigid gesture, “I haven’t congratulated you yet,” said the old man, pointing to his newly received ribbon.
“Thank you,” answered Alexey Alexandrovitch. “What an EXQUISITE day to-day,” he added, laying emphasis in his peculiar way on the word EXQUISITE.
That they laughed at him he was well aware, but he did not expect anything but hostility from them; he was used to that by now.
Catching sight of the yellow shoulders of Lidia Ivanovna jutting out above her corset, and her fine pensive eyes bidding him to her, Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled, revealing untarnished white teeth, and went towards her.
Lidia Ivanovna’s dress had cost her great pains, as indeed all her dresses had done of late. Her aim in dress was now quite the reverse of that she had pursued thirty years before. Then her desire had been to adorn herself with something, and the more adorned the better. Now, on the contrary, she was perforce decked out in a way so inconsistent with her age and her figure, that her one anxiety was to contrive that the contrast between these adornments and her own exterior should not be too appalling. And as far as Alexey Alexandrovitch was concerned she succeeded, and was in his eyes attractive. For him she was the one island not only of goodwill to him, but of love in the midst of the sea of hostility and jeering that surrounded him.
Passing through rows of ironical eyes, he was drawn as naturally to her loving glance as a plant to the sun.
“I congratulate you,” she said to him, her eyes on his ribbon.
Suppressing a smile of pleasure, he shrugged his shoulders, closing his eyes, as though to say that that could not be a source of joy to him. Countess Lidia Ivanovna was very well aware that it was one of his chief sources of satisfaction, though he never admitted it.
“How is our angel?” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, meaning Seryozha.
“I can’t say I was quite pleased with him,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, raising his eyebrows and opening his eyes. “And Sitnikov is not satisfied with him.” (Sitnikov was the tutor to whom Seryozha’s secular education had been intrusted.) “As I have mentioned to you, there’s a sort of coldness in him towards the most important questions which ought to touch the heart of every man and every child….” Alexey Alexandrovitch began expounding his views on the sole question that interested him besides the service–the education of his son.
When Alexey Alexandrovitch with Lidia Ivanovna’s help had been brought back anew to life and activity, he felt it his duty to undertake the education of the son left on his hands. Having never before taken any interest in educational questions, Alexey Alexandrovitch devoted some time to the theoretical study of the subject. After reading several books on anthropology, education, and didactics, Alexey Alexandrovitch drew up a plan of education, and engaging the best tutor in Petersburg to superintend it, he set to work, and the subject continually absorbed him.
“Yes, but the heart. I see in him his father’s heart, and with such a heart a child cannot go far wrong,” said Lidia Ivanovna with enthusiasm.
“Yes, perhaps…. As for me, I do my duty. It’s all I can do.”
“You’re coming to me,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, after a pause; “we have to speak of a subject painful for you. I would give anything to have spared you certain memories, but others are not of the same mind. I have received a letter from HER. SHE is here in Petersburg.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch shuddered at the allusion to his wife, but immediately his face assumed the deathlike rigidity which expressed utter helplessness in the matter.
“I was expecting it,” he said.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna looked at him ecstatically, and tears of rapture at the greatness of his soul came into her eyes.
When Alexey Alexandrovitch came into the Countess Lidia Ivanovna’s snug little boudoir, decorated with old china and hung with portraits, the lady herself had not yet made her appearance.
She was changing her dress.
A cloth was laid on a round table, and on it stood a china tea service and a silver spirit-lamp and tea kettle. Alexey Alexandrovitch looked idly about at the endless familiar portraits which adorned the room, and sitting down to the table, he opened a New Testament lying upon it. The rustle of the countess’s silk skirt drew his attention off.
“Well now, we can sit quietly,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, slipping hurriedly with an agitated smile between the table and the sofa, “and talk over our tea.”
After some words of preparation, Countess Lidia Ivanovna, breathing hard and flushing crimson, gave into Alexey Alexandrovitch’s hands the letter she had received.
After reading the letter, he sat a long while in silence.
“I don’t think I have the right to refuse her,” he said, timidly lifting his eyes.
“Dear friend, you never see evil in anyone!”
“On the contrary, I see that all is evil. But whether it is just…”
His face showed irresolution, and a seeking for counsel, support, and guidance in a matter he did not understand.
“No,” Countess Lidia Ivanovna interrupted him; “there are limits to everything. I can understand immorality,” she said, not quite truthfully, since she never could understand that which leads women to immorality; “but I don’t understand cruelty: to whom? to you! How can she stay in the town where you are? No, the longer one lives the more one learns. And I’m learning to understand your loftiness and her baseness.”
“Who is to throw a stone?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, unmistakably pleased with the part he had to play. “I have forgiven all, and so I cannot deprive her of what is exacted by love in her–by her love for her son….”
“But is that love, my friend? Is it sincere? Admitting that you have forgiven–that you forgive–have we the right to work on the feelings of that angel? He looks on her as dead. He prays for her, and beseeches God to have mercy on her sins. And it is better so. But now what will he think?”
“I had not thought of that,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, evidently agreeing.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna hid her face in her hands and was silent. she was praying.
“If you ask my advice,” she said, having finished her prayer and uncovered her face, “I do not advise you to do this. Do you suppose I don’t see how you are suffering, how this has torn open your wounds? But supposing that, as always, you don’t think of yourself, what can it lead to?–to fresh suffering for you, to torture for the child. If there were a trace of humanity left in her, she ought not to wish for it herself. No, I have no hesitation in saying I advise not, and if you will intrust it to me, I will write to her.”
And Alexey Alexandrovitch consented, and Countess Lidia Ivanovna sent the following letter in French:
“To be reminded of you might have results for your son in leading to questions on his part which could not be answered without implanting in the child’s soul a spirit of censure towards what should be for him sacred, and therefore I beg you to interpret your husband’s refusal in the spirit of Christian love. I pray to Almighty God to have mercy on you.
This letter attained the secret object which Countess Lidia Ivanovna had concealed from herself. It wounded Anna to the quick.
For his part, Alexey Alexandrovitch, on returning home from Lidia Ivanovna’s, could not all that day concentrate himself on his usual pursuits, and find that spiritual peace of one saved and believing which he had felt of late.
The thought of his wife, who had so greatly sinned against him, and towards whom he had been so saintly, as Countess Lidia Ivanovna had so justly told him, ought not to have troubled him; but he was not easy; he could not understand the book he was reading; he could not drive away harassing recollections of his relations with her, of the mistake which, as it now seemed, he had made in regard to her. The memory of how he had received her confession of infidelity on their way home from the races (especially that he had insisted only on the observance of external decorum, and had not sent a challenge) tortured him like a remorse. He was tortured too by the thought of the letter he had written her; and most of all, his forgiveness, which nobody wanted, and his care of the other man’s child made his heart burn with shame and remorse.
And just the same feeling of shame and regret he felt now, as he reviewed all his past with her, recalling the awkward words in which, after long wavering, he had made her an offer.
“But how have I been to blame?” he said to himself. And this question always excited another question in him–whether they felt differently, did their loving and marrying differently, these Vronskys and Oblonskys…these gentlemen of the bedchamber, with their fine calves. And there passed before his mind a whole series of these mettlesome, vigorous, self- confident men, who always and everywhere drew his inquisitive attention in spite of himself. He tried to dispel these thoughts, he tried to persuade himself that he was not living for this transient life, but for the life of eternity, and that there was peace and love in his heart.
But the fact that he had in this transient, trivial life made, as it seemed to him, a few trivial mistakes tortured him as though the eternal salvation in which he believed had no existence. But this temptation did not last long, and soon there was reestablished once more in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s soul the peace and the elevation by virtue of which he could forget what he did not want to remember.