Anna Karenina (Part 5 – Chapter 26-30)
“Well, Kapitonitch?” said Seryozha, coming back rosy and good- humored from his walk the day before his birthday, and giving his overcoat to the tall old hall porter, who smiled down at the little person from the height of his long figure. “Well, has the bandaged clerk been here today? Did papa see him?”
“He saw him. The minute the chief secretary came out, I announced him,” said the hall porter with a good-humored wink. “Here, I’ll take it off.”
“Seryozha!” said the tutor, stopping in the doorway leading to the inner rooms. “Take it off yourself.” But Seryozha, though he heard his tutor’s feeble voice, did not pay attention to it. He stood keeping hold of the hall porter’s belt, and gazing into his face.
“Well, and did papa do what he wanted for him?”
The hall porter nodded his head affirmatively. The clerk with his face tied up, who had already been seven times to ask some favor of Alexey Alexandrovitch, interested both Seryozha and the hall porter. Seryozha had come upon him in the hall, and had heard him plaintively beg the hall porter to announce him, saying that he and his children had death staring them in the face.
Since then Seryozha, having met him a second time in the hall, took great interest in him.
“Well, was he very glad?” he asked.
“Glad? I should think so! Almost dancing as he walked away.”
“And has anything been left?” asked Seryozha, after a pause.
“Come, sir,” said the hall-porter; then with a shake of his head he whispered, “Something from the countess.”
Seryozha understood at once that what the hall porter was speaking of was a present from Countess Lidia Ivanovna for his birthday.
“What do you say? Where?”
“Korney took it to your papa. A fine plaything it must be too!”
“How big? Like this?”
“Rather small, but a fine thing.”
“No, a thing. Run along, run along, Vassily Lukitch is calling you,” said the porter, hearing the tutor’s steps approaching, and carefully taking away from his belt the little hand in the glove half pulled off, he signed with his head towards the tutor.
“Vassily Lukitch, in a tiny minute!” answered Seryozha with that gay and loving smile which always won over the conscientious Vassily Lukitch.
Seryozha was too happy, everything was too delightful for him to be able to help sharing with his friend the porter the family good fortune of which he had heard during his walk in the public gardens from Lidia Ivanovna’s niece. This piece of good news seemed to him particularly important from its coming at the same time with the gladness of the bandaged clerk and his own gladness at toys having come for him. It seemed to Seryozha that this was a day on which everyone ought to be glad and happy.
“You know papa’s received the Alexander Nevsky today?”
“To be sure I do! People have been already to congratulate him.”
“And is he glad?”
“Glad at the Tsar’s gracious favor! I should think so! It’s a proof he’s deserved it,” said the porter severely and seriously.
Seryozha fell to dreaming, gazing up at the face of the porter, which he had thoroughly studied in every detail, especially the chin that hung down between the gray whiskers, never seen by anyone but Seryozha, who saw him only from below.
“Well, and has your daughter been to see you lately?”
The porter’s daughter was a ballet dancer.
“When is she to come on week-days? They’ve their lessons to learn too. And you’ve your lesson, sir; run along.”
On coming into the room, Seryozha, instead of sitting down to his lessons, told his tutor of his supposition that what had been brought him must be a machine. “What do you think?” he inquired.
But Vassily Lukitch was thinking of nothing but the necessity of learning the grammar lesson for the teacher, who was coming at two.
“No, do just tell me, Vassily Lukitch,” he asked suddenly, when he was seated at their work table with the book in his hands, “what is greater than the Alexander Nevsky? You know papa’s received the Alexander Nevsky?”
Vassily Lukitch replied that the Vladimir was greater than the Alexander Nevsky.
“And higher still?”
“Well, highest of all is the Andrey Pervozvanny.”
“And higher than the Andrey?”
“I don’t know.”
“What, you don’t know?” and Seryozha, leaning on his elbows, sank into deep meditation.
His meditations were of the most complex and diverse character. He imagined his father’s having suddenly been presented with both the Vladimir and the Andrey today, and in consequence being much better tempered at his lesson, and dreamed how, when he was grown up, he would himself receive all the orders, and what they might invent higher than the Andrey. Directly any higher order were invented, he would win it. They would make a higher one still, and he would immediately win that too.
The time passed in such meditations, and when the teacher came, the lesson about the adverbs of place and time and manner of action was not ready, and the teacher was not only displeased, but hurt. This touched Seryozha. He felt he was not to blame for not having learned the lesson; however much he tried, he was utterly unable to do that. As long as the teacher was explaining to him, he believed him and seemed to comprehend, but as soon as he was left alone, he was positively unable to recollect and to understand that the short and familiar word “suddenly” is an adverb of manner of action. Still he was sorry that he had disappointed the teacher.
He chose a moment when the teacher was looking in silence at the book.
“Mihail Ivanitch, when is your birthday?” he asked all, of a sudden.
“You’d much better be thinking about your work. Birthdays are of no importance to a rational being. It’s a day like any other on which one has to do one’s work.”
Seryozha looked intently at the teacher, at his scanty beard, at his spectacles, which had slipped down below the ridge on his nose, and fell into so deep a reverie that he heard nothing of what the teacher was explaining to him. He knew that the teacher did not think what he said; he felt it from the tone in which it was said. “But why have they all agreed to speak just in the same manner always the dreariest and most useless stuff? Why does he keep me off; why doesn’t he love me?” he asked himself mournfully, and could not think of an answer.
After the lesson with the grammar teacher came his father’s lesson. While waiting for his father, Seryozha sat at the table playing with a penknife, and fell to dreaming. Among Seryozha’s favorite occupations was searching for his mother during his walks. He did not believe in death generally, and in her death in particular, in spite of what Lidia Ivanovna had told him and his father had confirmed, and it was just because of that, and after he had been told she was dead, that he had begun looking for her when out for a walk. Every woman of full, graceful figure with dark hair was his mother. At the sight of such a woman such a feeling of tenderness was stirred within him that his breath failed him, and tears came into his eyes. And he was on the tiptoe of expectation that she would come up to him, would lift her veil. All her face would be visible, she would smile, she would hug him, he would sniff her fragrance, feel the softness of her arms, and cry with happiness, just as he had one evening lain on her lap while she tickled him, and he laughed and bit her white, ring-covered fingers. Later, when he accidentally learned from his old nurse that his mother was not dead, and his father and Lidia Ivanovna had explained to him that she was dead to him because she was wicked (which he could not possibly believe, because he loved her), he went on seeking her and expecting her in the same way. That day in the public gardens there had been a lady in a lilac veil, whom he had watched with a throbbing heart, believing it to be she as she came towards them along the path. The lady had not come up to them, but had disappeared somewhere. That day, more intensely than ever, Seryozha felt a rush of love for her, and now, waiting for his father, he forgot everything, and cut all round the edge of the table with his penknife, staring straight before him with sparkling eyes and dreaming of her.
“Here is your papa!” said Vassily Lukitch, rousing him.
Seryozha jumped up and went up to his father, and kissing his hand, looked at him intently, trying to discover signs of his joy at receiving the Alexander Nevsky.
“Did you have a nice walk?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, sitting down in his easy chair, pulling the volume of the Old Testament to him and opening it. Although Alexey Alexandrovitch had more than once told Seryozha that every Christian ought to know Scripture history thoroughly, he often referred to the Bible himself during the lesson, and Seryozha observed this.
“Yes, it was very nice indeed, papa,” said Seryozha, sitting sideways on his chair and rocking it, which was forbidden. “I saw Nadinka” (Nadinka was a niece of Lidia Ivanovna’s who was being brought up in her house). “She told me you’d been given a new star. Are you glad, papa?”
“First of all, don’t rock your chair, please,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. “And secondly, it’s not the reward that’s precious, but the work itself. And I could have wished you understood that. If you now are going to work, to study in order to win a reward, then the work will seem hard to you; but when you work” (Alexey Alexandrovitch, as he spoke, thought of how he had been sustained by a sense of duty through the wearisome labor of the morning, consisting of signing one hundred and eighty papers), “loving your work, you will find your reward in it.”
Seryozha’s eyes, that had been shining with gaiety and tenderness, grew dull and dropped before his father’s gaze. This was the same long-familiar tone his father always took with him, and Seryozha had learned by now to fall in with it. His father always talked to him–so Seryozha felt–as though he were addressing some boy of his own imagination, one of those boys that exist in books, utterly unlike himself. And Seryozha always tried with his father to act being the story-book boy.
“You understand that, I hope?” said his father.
“Yes, papa,” answered Seryozha, acting the part of the imaginary boy.
The lesson consisted of learning by heart several verses out of the Gospel and the repetition of the beginning of the Old Testament. The verses from the Gospel Seryozha knew fairly well, but at the moment when he was saying them he became so absorbed in watching the sharply protruding, bony knobbiness of his father’s forehead, that he lost the thread, and he transposed the end of one verse and the beginning of another. So it was evident to Alexey Alexandrovitch that he did not understand what he was saying, and that irritated him.
He frowned, and began explaining what Seryozha had heard many times before and never could remember, because he understood it too well, just as that “suddenly” is an adverb of manner of action. Seryozha looked with scared eyes at his father, and could think of nothing but whether his father would make him repeat what he had said, as he sometimes did. And this thought so alarmed Seryozha that he now understood nothing. But his father did not make him repeat it, and passed on to the lesson out of the Old Testament. Seryozha recounted the events themselves well enough, but when he had to answer questions as to what certain events prefigured, he knew nothing, though he had already been punished over this lesson. The passage at which he was utterly unable to say anything, and began fidgeting and cutting the table and swinging his chair, was where he had to repeat the patriarchs before the Flood. He did not know one of them, except Enoch, who had been taken up alive to heaven. Last time he had remembered their names, but now he had forgotten them utterly, chiefly because Enoch was the personage he liked best in the whole of the Old Testament, and Enoch’s translation to heaven was connected in his mind with a whole long train of thought, in which he became absorbed now while he gazed with fascinated eyes at his father’s watch-chain and a half-unbuttoned button on his waistcoat.
In death, of which they talked to him so often, Seryozha disbelieved entirely. He did not believe that those he loved could die, above all that he himself would die. That was to him something utterly inconceivable and impossible. But he had been told that all men die; he had asked people, indeed, whom he trusted, and they too, had confirmed it; his old nurse, too, said the same, though reluctantly. But Enoch had not died, and so it followed that everyone did not die. “And why cannot anyone else so serve God and be taken alive to heaven?” thought Seryozha. Bad people, that is those Seryozha did not like, they might die, but the good might all be like Enoch.
“Well, what are the names of the patriarchs?”
“But you have said that already. This is bad, Seryozha, very bad. If you don’t try to learn what is more necessary than anything for a Christian,” said his father, getting up, “whatever can interest you? I am displeased with you, and Piotr Ignatitch” (this was the most important of his teachers) “is displeased with you…. I shall have to punish you.”
His father and his teacher were both displeased with Seryozha, and he certainly did learn his lessons very badly. But still it could not be said he was a stupid boy. On the contrary, he was far cleverer than the boys his teacher held up as examples to Seryozha. In his father’s opinion, he did not want to learn what he was taught. In reality he could not learn that. He could not, because the claims of his own soul were more binding on him than those claims his father and his teacher made upon him. Those claims were in opposition, and he was in direct conflict with his education. He was nine years old; he was a child; but he knew his own soul, it was precious to him, he guarded it as the eyelid guards the eye, and without the key of love he let no one into his soul. His teachers complained that he would not learn, while his soul was brimming over with thirst for knowledge. And he learned from Kapitonitch, from his nurse, from Nadinka, from Vassily Lukitch, but not from his teachers. The spring his father and his teachers reckoned upon to turn their mill-wheels had long dried up at the source, but its waters did their work in another channel.
His father punished Seryozha by not letting him go to see Nadinka, Lidia Ivanovna’s niece; but this punishment turned out happily for Seryozha. Vassily Lukitch was in a good humor, and showed him how to make windmills. The whole evening passed over this work and in dreaming how to make a windmill on which he could turn himself–clutching at the sails or tying himself on and whirling round. Of his mother Seryozha did not think all the evening, but when he had gone to bed, he suddenly remembered her, and prayed in his own words that his mother tomorrow for his birthday might leave off hiding herself and come to him.
“Vassily Lukitch, do you know what I prayed for tonight extra besides the regular things?”
“That you might learn your lessons better?”
“No. You’ll never guess. A splendid thing; but it’s a secret! When it comes to pass I’ll tell you. Can’t you guess!”
“No, I can’t guess. You tell me,” said Vassily Lukitch with a smile, which was rare with him. “Come, lie down, I’m putting out the candle.”
“Without the candle I can see better what I see and what I prayed for. There! I was almost telling the secret!” said Seryozha, laughing gaily.
When the candle was taken away, Seryozha heard and felt his mother. She stood over him, and with loving eyes caressed him. But then came windmills, a knife, everything began to be mixed up, and he fell asleep.
On arriving in Petersburg, Vronsky and Anna stayed at one of the best hotels; Vronsky apart in a lower story, Anna above with her child, its nurse, and her maid, in a large suite of four rooms.
On the day of his arrival Vronsky went to his brother’s. There he found his mother, who had come from Moscow on business. His mother and sister-in-law greeted him as usual: they asked him about his stay abroad, and talked of their common acquaintances, but did not let drop a single word in allusion to his connection with Anna. His brother came the next morning to see Vronsky, and of his own accord asked him about her, and Alexey Vronsky told him directly that he looked upon his connection with Madame Karenina as marriage; that he hoped to arrange a divorce, and then to marry her, and until then he considered her as much a wife as any other wife, and he begged him to tell their mother and his wife so.
“If the world disapproves, I don’t care,” said Vronsky; “but if my relations want to be on terms of relationship with me, they will have to be on the same terms with my wife.”
The elder brother, who had always a respect for his younger brother’s judgment, could not well tell whether he was right or not till the world had decided the question; for his part he had nothing against it, and with Alexey he went up to see Anna.
Before his brother, as before everyone, Vronsky addressed Anna with a certain formality, treating her as he might a very intimate friend, but it was understood that his brother knew their real relations, and they talked about Anna’s going to Vronsky’s estate.
In spite of all his social experience Vronsky was, in consequence of the new position in which he was placed, laboring under a strange misapprehension. One would have thought he must have understood that society was closed for him and Anna; but now some vague ideas had sprung up in his brain that this was only the case in old-fashioned days, and that now with the rapidity of modern progress (he had unconsciously become by now a partisan of every sort of progress) the views of society had changed, and that the question whether they would be received in society was not a foregone conclusion. “Of course,” he thought, “she would not be received at court, but intimate friends can and must look at it in the proper light.” One may sit for several hours at a stretch with one’s legs crossed in the same position, if one knows that there’s nothing to prevent one’s changing one’s position; but if a man knows that he must remain sitting so with crossed legs, then cramps come on, the legs begin to twitch and to strain towards the spot to which one would like to draw them. This was what Vronsky was experiencing in regard to the world. Though at the bottom of his heart he knew that the world was shut on them, he put it to the test whether the world had not changed by now and would not receive them. But he very quickly perceived that though the world was open for him personally, it was closed for Anna. Just as in the game of cat and mouse, the hands raised for him were dropped to bar the way for Anna.
One of the first ladies of Petersburg society whom Vronsky saw was his cousin Betsy.
“At last!” she greeted him joyfully. “And Anna? How glad I am! Where are you stopping? I can fancy after your delightful travels you must find our poor Petersburg horrid. I can fancy your honeymoon in Rome. How about the divorce? Is that all over?”
Vronsky noticed that Betsy’s enthusiasm waned when she learned that no divorce had as yet taken place.
“People will throw stones at me, I know,” she said, “but I shall come and see Anna; yes, I shall certainly come. You won’t be here long, I suppose?”
And she did certainly come to see Anna the same day, but her tone was not at all the same as in former days. She unmistakably prided herself on her courage, and wished Anna to appreciate the fidelity of her friendship. She only stayed ten minutes, talking of society gossip, and on leaving she said:
“You’ve never told me when the divorce is to be? Supposing I’m ready to fling my cap over the mill, other starchy people will give you the cold shoulder until you’re married. And that’s so simple nowadays. Ca se fait. So you’re going on Friday? Sorry we shan’t see each other again.”
From Betsy’s tone Vronsky might have grasped what he had to expect from the world; but he made another effort in his own family. His mother he did not reckon upon. He knew that his mother, who had been so enthusiastic over Anna at their first acquaintance, would have no mercy on her now for having ruined her son’s career. But he had more hope of Varya, his brother’s wife. He fancied she would not throw stones, and would go simply arid directly to see Anna, and would receive her in her own house.
The day after his arrival Vronsky went to her, and finding her alone, expressed his wishes directly.
“You know, Alexey,” she said after hearing him, “how fond I am of you, and how ready I am to do anything for you; but I have not spoken, because I knew I could be of no use to you and to Anna Arkadyevna,” she said, articulating the name “Anna Arkadyevna” with particular care. “Don’t suppose, please, that I judge her. Never; perhaps in her place I should have done the same. I don’t and can’t enter into that,” she said, glancing timidly at his gloomy face. “But one must call things by their names. You want me to go and see her, to ask her here, and to rehabilitate her in society; but do understand that I CANNOT do so. I have daughters growing up, and I must live in the world for my husband’s sake. Well, I’m ready to come and see Anna Arkadyevna: she will understand that I can’t ask her here, or I should have to do so in such a way that she would not meet people who look at things differently; that would offend her. I can’t raise her…”
“Oh, I don’t regard her as fallen more than hundreds of women you do receive!” Vronsky interrupted her still more gloomily, and he got up in silence, understanding that his sister-in-law’s decision was not to be shaken.
“Alexey! don’t be angry with me. Please understand that I’m not to blame,” began Varya, looking at him with a timid smile.
“I’m not angry with you,” he said still as gloomily; “but I’m sorry in two ways. I’m sorry, too, that this means breaking up our friendship–if not breaking up, at least weakening it. You will understand that for me, too, it cannot be otherwise.”
And with that he left her.
Vronsky knew that further efforts were useless, and that he had to spend these few days in Petersburg as though in a strange town, avoiding every sort of relation with his own old circle in order not to be exposed to the annoyances and humiliations which were so intolerable to him. One of the most unpleasant features of his position in Petersburg was that Alexey Alexandrovitch and his name seemed to meet him everywhere. He could not begin to talk of anything without the conversation turning on Alexey Alexandrovitch; he could not go anywhere without risk of meeting him. So at least it seemed to Vronsky, just as it seems to a man with a sore finger that he is continually, as though on purpose, grazing his sore finger on everything.
Their stay in Petersburg was the more painful to Vronsky that he perceived all the time a sort of new mood that he could not understand in Anna. At one time she would seem in love with him, and then she would become cold, irritable, and impenetrable. She was worrying over something, and keeping something back from him, and did not seem to notice the humiliations which poisoned his existence, and for her, with her delicate intuition, must have been still more unbearable.
One of Anna’s objects in coming back to Russia had been to see her son. From the day she left Italy the thought of it had never ceased to agitate her. And as she got nearer to Petersburg, the delight and importance of this meeting grew ever greater in her imagination. She did not even put to herself the question how to arrange it. It seemed to her natural and simple to see her son when she should be in the same town with him. But on her arrival in Petersburg she was suddenly made distinctly aware of her present position in society, and she grasped the fact that to arrange this meeting was no easy matter.
She had now been two days in Petersburg. The thought of her son never left her for a single instant, but she had not yet seen him. To go straight to the house, where she might meet Alexey Alexandrovitch, that she felt she had no right to do. She might be refused admittance and insulted. To write and so enter into relations with her husband–that it made her miserable to think of doing; she could only be at peace when she did not think of her husband. To get a glimpse of her son out walking, finding out where and when he went out, was not enough for her; she had so looked forward to this meeting, she had so much she must say to him, she so longed to embrace him, to kiss him. Seryozha’s old nurse might be a help to her and show her what to do. But the nurse was not now living in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s house. In this uncertainty, and in efforts to find the nurse, two days had slipped by.
Hearing of the close intimacy between Alexey Alexandrovitch and Countess Lidia Ivanovna, Anna decided on the third day to write to her a letter, which cost her great pains, and in which she intentionally said that permission to see her son must depend on her husband’s generosity. She knew that if the letter were shown to her husband, he would keep up his character of magnanimity, and would not refuse her request.
The commissionaire who took the letter had brought her back the most cruel and unexpected answer, that there was no answer. She had never felt so humiliated as at the moment when, sending for the commissionaire, she heard from him the exact account of how he had waited, and how afterwards he had been told there was no answer. Anna felt humiliated, insulted, but she saw that from her point of view Countess Lidia Ivanovna was right. Her suffering was the more poignant that she had to bear it in solitude. She could not and would not share it with Vronsky. She knew that to him, although he was the primary cause of her distress, the question of her seeing her son would seem a matter of very little consequence. She knew that he would never be capable of understanding all the depth of her suffering, that for his cool tone at any allusion to it she would begin to hate him. And she dreaded that more than anything in the world, and so she hid from him everything that related to her son. Spending the whole day at home she considered ways of seeing her son, and had reached a decision to write to her husband. She was just composing this letter when she was handed the letter from Lidia Ivanovna. The countess’s silence had subdued and depressed her, but the letter, all that she read between the lines in it, so exasperated her, this malice was so revolting beside her passionate, legitimate tenderness for her son, that she turned against other people and left off blaming herself.
“This coldness–this pretense of feeling!” she said to herself. “They must needs insult me and torture the child, and I am to submit to it! Not on any consideration! She is worse than I am. I don’t lie, anyway.” And she decided on the spot that next day, Seryozha’s birthday, she would go straight to her husband’s house, bribe or deceive the servants, but at any cost see her son and overturn the hideous deception with which they were encompassing the unhappy child.
She went to a toy shop, bought toys and thought over a plan of action. She would go early in the morning at eight o’clock, when Alexey Alexandrovitch would be certain not to be up. She would have money in her hand to give the hall porter and the footman, so that they should let her in, and not raising her veil, she would say that she had come from Seryozha’s godfather to congratulate him, and that she had been charged to leave the toys at his bedside. She had prepared everything but the words she should say to her son. Often as she had dreamed of it, she could never think of anything.
The next day, at eight o’clock in the morning, Anna got out of a hired sledge and rang at the front entrance of her former home.
“Run and see what’s wanted. Some lady,” said Kapitonitch, who, not yet dressed, in his overcoat and galoshes, had peeped out of the window and seen a lady in a veil standing close up to the door. His assistant, a lad Anna did not know, had no sooner opened the door to her than she came in, and pulling a three-rouble note out of her muff put it hurriedly into his hand.
“Seryozha–Sergey Alexeitch,” she said, and was going on. Scrutinizing the note, the porter’s assistant stopped her at the second glass door.
“Whom do you want?” he asked.
She did not hear his words and made no answer.
Noticing the embarrassment of the unknown lady, Kapitonitch went out to her, opened the second door for her, and asked her what she was pleased to want.
“From Prince Skorodumov for Sergey Alexeitch,” she said.
“His honor’s not up yet,” said the porter, looking at her attentively.
Anna had not anticipated that the absolutely unchanged hall of the house where she had lived for nine years would so greatly affect her. Memories sweet and painful rose one after another in her heart, and for a moment she forgot what she was here for.
“Would you kindly wait?” said Kapitonitch, taking off her fur cloak.
As he took off the cloak, Kapitonitch glanced at her face, recognized her, and made her a low bow in silence.
“Please walk in, your excellency,” he said to her.
She tried to say something, but her voice refused to utter any sound; with a guilty and imploring glance at the old man she went with light, swift steps up the stairs. Bent double, and his galoshes catching in the steps, Kapitonitch ran after her, trying to overtake her.
“The tutor’s there; maybe he’s not dressed. I’ll let him know.”
Anna still mounted the familiar staircase, not understanding what the old man was saying.
“This way, to the left, if you please. Excuse its not being tidy. His honor’s in the old parlor now,” the hall porter said, panting. “Excuse me, wait a little, your excellency; I’ll just see,” he said, and overtaking her, he opened the high door and disappeared behind it. Anna stood still waiting. “He’s only just awake,” said the hall porter, coming out. And at the very instant the porter said this, Anna caught the sound of a childish yawn. From the sound of this yawn alone she knew her son and seemed to see him living before her eyes.
“Let me in; go away!” she said, and went in through the high doorway. On the right of the door stood a bed, and sitting up in the bed was the boy. His little body bent forward with his nightshirt unbuttoned, he was stretching and still yawning. The instant his lips came together they curved into a blissfully sleepy smile, and with that smile he slowly and deliciously rolled back again.
“Seryozha!” she whispered, going noiselessly up to him.
When she was parted from him, and all this latter time when she had been feeling a fresh rush of love for him, she had pictured him as he was at four years old, when she had loved him most of all. Now he was not even the same as when she had left him; he was still further from the four-year-old baby, more grown and thinner. How thin his face was, how short his hair was! What long hands! How he had changed since she left him! But it was he with his head, his lips, his soft neck and broad little shoulders.
“Seryozha!” she repeated just in the child’s ear.
He raised himself again on his elbow, turned his tangled head from side to side as though looking for something, and opened his eyes. Slowly and inquiringly he looked for several seconds at his mother standing motionless before him, then all at once he smiled a blissful smile, and shutting his eyes, rolled not backwards but towards her into her arms.
“Seryozha! my darling boy!” she said, breathing hard and putting her arms round his plump little body. “Mother!” he said, wriggling about in her arms so as to touch her hands with different parts of him.
Smiling sleepily still with closed eyes, he flung fat little arms round her shoulders, rolled towards her, with the delicious sleepy warmth and fragrance that is only found in children, and began rubbing his face against her neck and shoulders.
“I know,” he said, opening his eyes; “it’s my birthday today. I knew you’d come. I’ll get up directly.”
And saying that he dropped asleep.
Anna looked at him hungrily; she saw how he had grown and changed in her absence. She knew, and did not know, the bare legs so long now, that were thrust out below the quilt, those short-cropped curls on his neck in which she had so often kissed him. She touched all this and could say nothing; tears choked her.
“What are you crying for, mother?” he said, waking completely up. “Mother, what are you crying for?” he cried in a tearful voice.
“I won’t cry…I’m crying for joy. It’s so long since I’ve seen you. I won’t, I won’t,” she said, gulping down her tears and turning away. “Come, it’s time for you to dress now,” she added, after a pause, and, never letting go his hands, she sat down by his bedside on the chair, where his clothes were put ready for him.
“How do you dress without me? How…” she tried to begin talking simply and cheerfully, but she could not, and again she turned away.
“I don’t have a cold bath, papa didn’t order it. And you’ve not seen Vassily Lukitch? He’ll come in soon. Why, you’re sitting on my clothes!”
And Seryozha went off into a peal of laughter. She looked at him and smiled.
“Mother, darling, sweet one!” he shouted, flinging himself on her again and hugging her. It was as though only now, on seeing her smile, he fully grasped what had happened.
“I don’t want that on,” he said, taking off her hat. And as it were, seeing her afresh without her hat, he fell to kissing her again.
“But what did you think about me? You didn’t think I was dead?”
“I never believed it.”
“You didn’t believe it, my sweet?”
“I knew, I knew!” he repeated his favorite phrase, and snatching the hand that was stroking his hair, he pressed the open palm to his mouth and kissed it.
Meanwhile Vassily Lukitch had not at first understood who this lady was, and had learned from their conversation that it was no other person than the mother who had left her husband, and whom he had not seen, as he had entered the house after her departure. He was in doubt whether to go in or not, or whether to communicate with Alexey Alexandrovitch. Reflecting finally that his duty was to get Seryozha up at the hour fixed, and that it was therefore not his business to consider who was there, the mother or anyone else, but simply to do his duty, he finished dressing, went to the door and opened it.
But the embraces of the mother and child, the sound of their voices, and what they were saying, made him change his mind.
He shook his head, and with a sigh he closed the door. “I’ll wait another ten minutes,” he said to himself, clearing his throat and wiping away tears.
Among the servants of the household there was intense excitement all this time. All had heard that their mistress had come, and that Kapitonitch had let her in, and that she was even now in the nursery, and that their master always went in person to the nursery at nine o’clock, and every one fully comprehended that it was impossible for the husband and wife to meet, and that they must prevent it. Korney, the valet, going down to the hall porter’s room, asked who had let her in, and how it was he had done so, and ascertaining that Kapitonitch had admitted her and shown her up, he gave the old man a talking-to. The hall porter was doggedly silent, but when Korney told him he ought to be sent away, Kapitonitch darted up to him, and waving his hands in Korney’s face, began:
“Oh yes, to be sure you’d not have let her in! After ten years’ service, and never a word but of kindness, and there you’d up and say, ‘Be off, go along, get away with you!’ Oh yes, you’re a shrewd one at politics, I dare say! You don’t need to be taught how to swindle the master, and to filch fur coats!”
“Soldier!” said Korney contemptuously, and he turned to the nurse who was coming in. “Here, what do you think, Marya Efimovna: he let her in without a word to anyone,” Korney said addressing her. “Alexey Alexandrovitch will be down immediately–and go into the nursery!”
“A pretty business, a pretty business!” said the nurse. “You, Korney Vassilievitch, you’d best keep him some way or other, the master, while I’ll run and get her away somehow. A pretty business!”
When the nurse went into the nursery, Seryozha was telling his mother how he and Nadinka had had a fall in sledging downhill, and had turned over three times. She was listening to the sound of his voice, watching his face and the play of expression on it, touching his hand, but she did not follow what he was saying. She must go, she must leave him,–this was the only thing she was thinking and feeling. She heard the steps of Vassily Lukitch coming up to the door and coughing; she heard, too, the steps of the nurse as she came near; but she sat like one turned to stone, incapable of beginning to speak or to get up.
“Mistress, darling!” began the nurse, going up to Anna and kissing her hands and shoulders. “God has brought joy indeed to our boy on his birthday. You aren’t changed one bit.”
“Oh, nurse dear, I didn’t know you were in the house,” said Anna, rousing herself for a moment.
“I’m not living here, I’m living with my daughter. I came for the birthday, Anna Arkadyevna, darling!”
The nurse suddenly burst into tears, and began kissing her hand again.
Seryozha, with radiant eyes and smiles, holding his mother by one hand and his nurse by the other, pattered on the rug with his fat little bare feet. The tenderness shown by his beloved nurse to his mother threw him into an ecstasy.
“Mother! She often comes to see me, and when she comes…” he was beginning, but he stopped, noticing that the nurse was saying something in a whisper to his mother, and that in his mother’s face there was a look of dread and something like shame, which was so strangely unbecoming to her.
She went up to him.
“My sweet!” she said.
She could not say good-bye, but the expression on her face said it, and he understood. “Darling, darling Kootik!” she used the name by which she had called him when he was little, “you won’t forget me? You…” but she could not say more.
How often afterwards she thought of words she might have said. But now she did not know how to say it, and could say nothing. But Seryozha knew all she wanted to say to him. He understood that she was unhappy and loved him. He understood even what the nurse had whispered. He had caught the words “always at nine o’clock,” and he knew that this was said of his father, and that his father and mother could not meet. That he understood, but one thing he could not understand–why there should be a look of dread and shame in her face?… She was not in fault, but she was afraid of him and ashamed of something. He would have liked to put a question that would have set at rest this doubt, but he did not dare; he saw that she was miserable, and he felt for her. Silently he pressed close to her and whispered, “Don’t go yet. He won’t come just yet.”
The mother held him away from her to see what he was thinking, what to say to him, and in his frightened face she read not only that he was speaking of his father, but, as it were, asking her what he ought to think about his father.
“Seryozha, my darling,” she said, “love him; he’s better and kinder than I am, and I have done him wrong. When you grow up you will judge.”
“There’s no one better than you!…” he cried in despair through his tears, and, clutching her by the shoulders, he began squeezing her with all his force to him, his arms trembling with the strain.
“My sweet, my little one!” said Anna, and she cried as weakly and childishly as he.
At that moment the door opened. Vassily Lukitch came in.
At the other door there was the sound of steps, and the nurse in a scared whisper said, “He’s coming,” and gave Anna her hat.
Seryozha sank onto the bed and sobbed, hiding his face in his hands. Anna removed his hands, once more kissed his wet face, and with rapid steps went to the door. Alexey Alexandrovitch walked in, meeting her. Seeing her, he stopped short and bowed his head.
Although she had just said he was better and kinder than she, in the rapid glance she flung at him, taking in his whole figure in all its details, feelings of repulsion and hatred for him and jealousy over her son took possession of her. With a swift gesture she put down her veil, and, quickening her pace, almost ran out of the room.
She had not time to undo, and so carried back with her, the parcel of toys she had chosen the day before in a toy shop with such love and sorrow.