Anna Karenina (Part 6 – Chapter 21-25)
“No, I think the princess is tired, and horses don’t interest her,” Vronsky said to Anna, who wanted to go on to the stables, where Sviazhsky wished to see the new stallion. “You go on, while I escort the princess home, and we’ll have a little talk,” he said, “if you would like that?” he added, turning to her.
“I know nothing about horses, and I shall be delighted,” answered Darya Alexandrovna, rather astonished.
She saw by Vronsky’s face that he wanted something from her. She was not mistaken. As soon as they had passed through the little gate back into the garden, he looked in the direction Anna had taken, and having made sure that she could neither hear nor see them, he began:
“You guess that I have something I want to say to you,” he said, looking at her with laughing eyes. “I am not wrong in believing you to be a friend of Anna’s.” He took off his hat, and taking out his handkerchief, wiped his head, which was growing bald.
Darya Alexandrovna made no answer, and merely stared at him with dismay. When she was left alone with him, she suddenly felt afraid; his laughing eyes and stern expression scared her.
The most diverse suppositions as to what he was about to speak of to her flashed into her brain. “He is going to beg me to come to stay with them with the children, and I shall have to refuse; or to create a set will receive Anna in Moscow…. Or isn’t it Vassenka Veslovsky and his relations with Anna? Or perhaps about Kitty, that he feels he was to blame?” All her conjectures were unpleasant, but she did not guess what he really wanted to talk about to her.
“You have so much influence with Anna, she is so fond of you,” he said; “do help me.”
Darya Alexandrovna looked with timid inquiry into his energetic face, which under the lime-trees was continually being lighted up in patches by the sunshine, and then passing into complete shadow again. She waited for him to say more, but he walked in silence beside her, scratching with his cane in the gravel.
“You have come to see us, you, the only woman of Anna’s former friends–I don’t count Princess Varvara–but I know that you have done this not because you regard our position as normal, but because, understanding all the difficulty of the position, you still love her and want to be a help to her. Have I understood you rightly?” he asked, looking round at her.
“Oh, yes,” answered Darya Alexandrovna, putting down her sunshade, “but…”
“No,” he broke in, and unconsciously, oblivious of the awkward position into which he was putting his companion, he stopped abruptly, so that she had to stop short too. “No one feels more deeply and intensely than I do all the difficulty of Anna’s position; and that you may well understand, if you do me the honor of supposing I have any heart. I am to blame for that position, and that is why I feel it.”
“I understand,” said Darya Alexandrovna, involuntarily admiring the sincerity and firmness with which he said this. “But just because you feel yourself responsible, you exaggerate it, I am afraid,” she said. “Her position in the world is difficult, I can well understand.”
“In the world it is hell!” he brought out quickly, frowning darkly. “You can’t imagine moral sufferings greater than what she went through in Petersburg in that fortnight…and I beg you to believe it.”
“Yes, but here, so long as neither Anna…nor you miss society…”
“Society!” he said contemptuously, “how could I miss society?”
“So far–and it may be so always–you are happy and at peace. I see in Anna that she is happy, perfectly happy, she has had time to tell me so much already,” said Darya Alexandrovna, smiling; and involuntarily, as she said this, at the same moment a doubt entered her mind whether Anna really were happy.
But Vronsky, it appeared, had no doubts on that score.
“Yes, yes,” he said, “I know that she has revived after all her sufferings; she is happy. She is happy in the present. But I?… I am afraid of what is before us…I beg your pardon, you would like to walk on?”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Well, then, let us sit here.”
Darya Alexandrovna sat down on a garden seat in a corner of the avenue. He stood up facing her.
“I see that she is happy,” he repeated, and the doubt whether she were happy sank more deeply into Darya Alexandrovna’s mind. “But can it last? Whether we have acted rightly or wrongly is another question, but the die is cast,” he said, passing from Russian to French, “and we are bound together for life. We are united by all the ties of love that we hold most sacred. We have a child, we may have other children. But the law and all the conditions of our position are such that thousands of complications arise which she does not see and does not want to see. And that one can well understand. But I can’t help seeing them. My daughter is by law not my daughter, but Karenin’s. I cannot bear this falsity!” he said, with a vigorous gesture of refusal, and he looked with gloomy inquiry towards Darya Alexandrovna.
She made no answer, but simply gazed at him. He went on:
“One day a son may be born, my son, and he will be legally a Karenin; he will not be the heir of my name nor of my property, and however happy we may be in our home life and however many children we may have, there will be no real tie between us. They will be Karenins. You can understand the bitterness and horror of this position! I have tried to speak of this to Anna. It irritates her. She does not understand, and to her I cannot speak plainly of all this. Now look at another side. I am happy, happy in her love, but I must have occupation. I have found occupation, and am proud of what I am doing and consider it nobler than the pursuits of my former companions at court and in the army. And most certainly I would not change the work I am doing for theirs. I am working here, settled in my own place, and I am happy and contented, and we need nothing more to make us happy. I love my work here. Ce n’est pas un pis-aller, on the contrary…”
Darya Alexandrovna noticed that at this point in his explanation he grew confused, and she did not quite understand this digression, but she felt that having once begun to speak of matters near his heart, of which he could not speak to Anna, he was now making a clean breast of everything, and that the question of his pursuits in the country fell into the same category of matters near his heart, as the question of his relations with Anna.
“Well, I will go on,” he said, collecting himself. “The great thing is that as I work I want to have a conviction that what I am doing will not die with me, that I shall have heirs to come after me,–and this I have not. Conceive the position of a man who knows that his children, the children of the woman he loves, will not be his, but will belong to someone who hates them and cares nothing about them! It is awful!”
He paused, evidently much moved.
“Yes, indeed, I see that. But what can Anna do?” queried Darya Alexandrovna.
“Yes, that brings me to the object of my conversation,” he said, calming himself with an effort. “Anna can, it depends on her…. Even to petition the Tsar for legitimization, a divorce is essential. And that depends on Anna. Her husband agreed to a divorce–at that time your husband had arranged it completely. And now, I know, he would not refuse it. It is only a matter of writing to him. He said plainly at that time that if she expressed the desire, he would not refuse. Of course,” he said gloomily, “it is one of those Pharisaical cruelties of which only such heartless men are capable. He knows what agony any recollection of him must give her, and knowing her, he must have a letter from her. I can understand that it is agony to her. But the matter is of such importance, that one must passer par-dessus toutes ces finesses de sentiment. Il y va du bonheur et de l’existence d’Anne et de ses enfants. I won’t speak of myself, though it’s hard for me, very hard,” he said, with an expression as though he were threatening someone for its being hard for him. “And so it is, princess, that I am shamelessly clutching at you as an anchor of salvation. Help me to persuade her to write to him and ask for a divorce.”
“Yes, of course,” Darya Alexandrovna said dreamily, as she vividly recalled her last interview with Alexey Alexandrovitch. “Yes, of course,” she repeated with decision, thinking of Anna.
“Use your influence with her, make her write. I don’t like–I’m almost unable to speak about this to her.”
“Very well, I will talk to her. But how is it she does not think of it herself?” said Darya Alexandrovna, and for some reason she suddenly at that point recalled Anna’s strange new habit of half-closing her eyes. And she remembered that Anna drooped her eyelids just when the deeper questions of life were touched upon. “Just as though she half-shut her eyes to her own life, so as not to see everything,” thought Dolly. “Yes, indeed, for my own sake and for hers I will talk to her,” Dolly said in reply to his look of gratitude.
They got up and walked to the house.
When Anna found Dolly at home before her, she looked intently in her eyes, as though questioning her about the talk she had had with Vronsky, but she made no inquiry in words.
“I believe it’s dinner time,” she said. “We’ve not seen each other at all yet. I am reckoning on the evening. Now I want to go and dress. I expect you do too; we all got splashed at the buildings.”
Dolly went to her room and she felt amused. To change her dress was impossible, for she had already put on her best dress. But in order to signify in some way her preparation for dinner, she asked the maid to brush her dress, changed her cuffs and tie, and put some lace on her head.
“This is all I can do,” she said with a smile to Anna, who came in to her in a third dress, again of extreme simplicity.
“Yes, we are too formal here,” she said, as it were apologizing for her magnificence. “Alexey is delighted at your visit, as he rarely is at anything. He has completely lost his heart to you,” she added. “You’re not tired?”
There was no time for talking about anything before dinner. Going into the drawing room they found Princess Varvara already there, and the gentlemen of the party in black frock-coats. The architect wore a swallow-tail coat. Vronsky presented the doctor and the steward to his guest. The architect he had already introduced to her at the hospital.
A stout butler, resplendent with a smoothly shaven round chin and a starched white cravat, announced that dinner was ready, and the ladies got up. Vronsky asked Sviazhsky to take in Anna Arkadyevna, and himself offered his arm to Dolly. Veslovsky was before Tushkevitch in offering his arm to Princess Varvara, so that Tushkevitch with the steward and the doctor walked in alone.
The dinner, the dining room, the service, the waiting at table, the wine, and the food, were not simply in keeping with the general tone of modern luxury throughout all the house, but seemed even more sumptuous and modern. Darya Alexandrovna watched this luxury which was novel to her, and as a good housekeeper used to managing a household–although she never dreamed of adapting anything she saw to her own household, as it was all in a style of luxury far above her own manner of living–she could not help scrutinizing every detail, and wondering how and by whom it was all done. Vassenka Veslovsky, her husband, and even Sviazhsky, and many other people she knew, would never have considered this question, and would have readily believed what every well-bred host tries to make his guests feel, that is, that all that is well-ordered in his house has cost him, the host, no trouble whatever, but comes of itself. Darya Alexandrovna was well aware that even porridge for the children’s breakfast does not come of itself, and that therefore, where so complicated and magnificent a style of luxury was maintained, someone must give earnest attention to its organization. And from the glance with which Alexey Kirillovitch scanned the table, from the way he nodded to the butler, and offered Darya Alexandrovna her choice between cold soup and hot soup, she saw that it was all organized and maintained by the care of the master of the house himself. It was evident that it all rested no more upon Anna than upon Veslovsky. She, Sviazhsky, the princess, and Veslovsky, were equally guests, with light hearts enjoying what had been arranged for them.
Anna was the hostess only in conducting the conversation. The conversation was a difficult one for the lady of the house at a small table with persons present, like the steward and the architect, belonging to a completely different world, struggling not to be overawed by an elegance to which they were unaccustomed, and unable to sustain a large share in the general conversation. But this difficult conversation Anna directed with her usual tact and naturalness, and indeed she did so with actual enjoyment, as Darya Alexandrovna observed. The conversation began about the row Tushkevitch and Veslovsky had taken alone together in the boat, and Tushkevitch began describing the last boat races in Petersburg at the Yacht Club. But Anna, seizing the first pause, at once turned to the architect to draw him out of his silence.
“Nikolay Ivanitch was struck,” she said, meaning Sviazhsky, “at the progress the new building had made since he was here last; but I am there every day, and every day I wonder at the rate at which it grows.”
“It’s first-rate working with his excellency,” said the architect with a smile (he was respectful and composed, though with a sense of his own dignity). “It’s a very different matter to have to do with the district authorities. Where one would have to write out sheaves of papers, here I call upon the count, and in three words we settle the business.”
“The American way of doing business,” said Sviazhsky, with a smile.
“Yes, there they build in a rational fashion…”
The conversation passed to the misuse of political power in the United States, but Anna quickly brought it round to another topic, so as to draw the steward into talk.
“Have you ever seen a reaping machine?” she said, addressing Darya Alexandrovna. “We had just ridden over to look at one when we met. It’s the first time I ever saw one.”
“How do they work?” asked Dolly.
“Exactly like little scissors. A plank and a lot of little scissors. Like this.”
Anna took a knife and fork in her beautiful white hands covered with rings, and began showing how the machine worked. It was clear that she saw nothing would be understood from her explanation; but aware that her talk was pleasant and her hands beautiful she went on explaining.
“More like little penknives,” Veslovsky said playfully, never taking his eyes off her.
Anna gave a just perceptible smile, but made no answer. “Isn’t it true, Karl Fedoritch, that it’s just like little scissors?” she said to the steward.
“Oh, ja,” answered the German. “Es it ein ganz einfaches Ding,” and he began to explain the construction of the machine.
“It’s a pity it doesn’t bind too. I saw one at the Vienna exhibition, which binds with a wire,” said Sviazhsky. “They would be more profitable in use.”
“Es kommt drauf an…. Der Preis vom Draht muss ausgerechnet werden.” And the German, roused from his taciturnity, turned to Vronsky. “Das laesst sich ausrechnen, Erlaucht.” The German was just feeling in the pocket where were his pencil and the notebook he always wrote in, but recollecting that he was at a dinner, and observing Vronsky’s chilly glance, he checked himself. “Zu compliziert, macht zu viel Klopot,” he concluded.
“Wuenscht man Dochots, so hat man auch Klopots,” said Vassenka Veslovsky, mimicking the German. “J’adore l’allemand,” he addressed Anna again with the same smile.
“Cessez,” she said with playful severity.
“We expected to find you in the fields, Vassily Semyonitch,” she said to the doctor, a sickly-looking man; “have you been there?”
“I went there, but I had taken flight,” the doctor answered with gloomy jocoseness.
“Then you’ve taken a good constitutional?”
“Well, and how was the old woman? I hope it’s not typhus?”
“Typhus it is not, but it’s taking a bad turn.”
“What a pity!” said Anna, and having thus paid the dues of civility to her domestic circle, she turned to her own friends.
“It would be a hard task, though, to construct a machine from your description, Anna Arkadyevna,” Sviazhsky said jestingly.
“Oh, no, why so?” said Anna with a smile that betrayed that she knew there was something charming in her disquisitions upon the machine that had been noticed by Sviazhsky. This new trait of girlish coquettishness made an unpleasant impression on Dolly.
“But Anna Arkadyevna’s knowledge of architecture is marvelous,” said Tushkevitch.
“To be sure, I heard Anna Arkadyevna talking yesterday about plinths and damp-courses,” said Veslovsky. “Have I got it right?”
“There’s nothing marvelous about it, when one sees and hears so much of it,” said Anna. “But, I dare say, you don’t even know what houses are made of?”
Darya Alexandrovna saw that Anna disliked the tone of raillery that existed between her and Veslovsky, but fell in with it against her will.
Vronsky acted in this matter quite differently from Levin. He obviously attached no significance to Veslovsky’s chattering; on the contrary, he encouraged his jests.
“Come now, tell us, Veslovsky, how are the stones held together?”
“By cement, of course.”
“Bravo! And what is cement?”
“Oh, some sort of paste …no, putty,” said Veslovsky, raising a general laugh.
The company at dinner, with the exception of the doctor, the architect, and the steward, who remained plunged in gloomy silence, kept up a conversation that never paused, glancing off one subject, fastening on another, and at times stinging one or the other to the quick. Once Darya Alexandrovna felt wounded to the quick, and got so hot that she positively flushed and wondered afterwards whether she had said anything extreme or unpleasant. Sviazhsky began talking of Levin, describing his strange view that machinery is simply pernicious in its effects on Russian agriculture.
“I have not the pleasure of knowing this M. Levin,” Vronsky said, smiling, “but most likely he has never seen the machines he condemns; or if he has seen and tried any, it must have been after a queer fashion, some Russian imitation, not a machine from abroad. What sort of views can anyone have on such a subject?”
“Turkish views, in general,” Veslovsky said, turning to Anna with a smile.
“I can’t defend his opinions,” Darya Alexandrovna said, firing up; “but I can say that he’s a highly cultivated man, and if he were here he would know very well how to answer you, though I am not capable of doing so.”
“I like him extremely, and we are great friends,” Sviazhsky said, smiling good-naturedly. “Mais pardon, il est un petit peu toque; he maintains, for instance, that district councils and arbitration boards are all of no use, and he is unwilling to take part in anything.”
“It’s our Russian apathy,” said Vronsky, pouring water from an iced decanter into a delicate glass on a high stem; “we’ve no sense of the duties our privileges impose upon us, and so we refuse to recognize these duties.”
“I know no man more strict in the performance of his duties,” said Darya Alexandrovna, irritated by Vronsky’s tone of superiority.
“For my part,” pursued Vronsky, who was evidently for some reason or other keenly affected by this conversation, “such as I am, I am, on the contrary, extremely grateful for the honor they have done me, thanks to Nikolay Ivanitch” (he indicated Sviazhsky), “in electing me a justice of the peace. I consider that for me the duty of being present at the session, of judging some peasants’ quarrel about a horse, is as important as anything I can do. And I shall regard it as an honor if they elect me for the district council. It’s only in that way I can pay for the advantages I enjoy as a landowner. Unluckily they don’t understand the weight that the big landowners ought to have in the state.”
It was strange to Darya Alexandrovna to hear how serenely confident he was of being right at his own table. She thought how Levin, who believed the opposite, was just as positive in his opinions at his own table. But she loved Levin, and so she was on his side.
“So we can reckon upon you, count, for the coming elections?” said Sviazhsky. “But you must come a little beforehand, so as to be on the spot by the eighth. If you would do me the honor to stop with me.”
“I rather agree with your beau-frere,” said Anna, “though not quite on the same ground as he,” she added with a smile. “I’m afraid that we have too many of these public duties in these latter days. Just as in old days there were so many government functionaries that one had to call in a functionary for every single thing, so now everyone’s doing some sort of public duty. Alexey has been here now six months, and he’s a member, I do believe, of five or six different public bodies. Du train que cela va, the whole time will be wasted on it. And I’m afraid that with such a multiplicity of these bodies, they’ll end in being a mere form. How many are you a member of, Nikolay Ivanitch?” she turned to Sviazhsky–“over twenty, I fancy.”
Anna spoke lightly, but irritation could be discerned in her tone. Darya Alexandrovna, watching Anna and Vronsky attentively, detected it instantly. She noticed, too, that as she spoke Vronsky’s face had immediately taken a serious and obstinate expression. Noticing this, and that Princess Varvara at once made haste to change the conversation by talking of Petersburg acquaintances, and remembering what Vronsky had without apparent connection said in the garden of his work in the country, Dolly surmised that this question of public activity was connected with some deep private disagreement between Anna and Vronsky.
The dinner, the wine, the decoration of the table were all very good; but it was all like what Darya Alexandrovna had seen at formal dinners and balls which of late years had become quite unfamiliar to her; it all had the same impersonal and constrained character, and so on an ordinary day and in a little circle of friends it made a disagreeable impression on her.
After dinner they sat on the terrace, then they proceeded to play lawn tennis. The players, divided into two parties, stood on opposite sides of a tightly drawn net with gilt poles on the carefully leveled and rolled croquet-ground. Darya Alexandrovna made an attempt to play, but it was a long time before she could understand the game, and by the time she did understand it, she was so tired that she sat down with Princess Varvara and simply looked on at the players. Her partner, Tushkevitch, gave up playing too, but the others kept the game up for a long time. Sviazhsky and Vronsky both played very well and seriously. They kept a sharp lookout on the balls served to them, and without haste or getting in each other’s way, they ran adroitly up to them, waited for the rebound, and neatly and accurately returned them over the net. Veslovsky played worse than the others. He was too eager, but he kept the players lively with his high spirits. His laughter and outcries never paused. Like the other men of the party, with the ladies’ permission, he took off his coat, and his solid, comely figure in his white shirt-sleeves, with his red perspiring face and his impulsive movements, made a picture that imprinted itself vividly on the memory.
When Darya Alexandrovna lay in bed that night, as soon as she closed her eyes, she saw Vassenka Veslovsky flying about the croquet ground.
During the game Darya Alexandrovna was not enjoying herself. She did not like the light tone of raillery that was kept up all the time between Vassenka Veslovsky and Anna, and the unnaturalness altogether of grown-up people, all alone without children, playing at a child’s game. But to avoid breaking up the party and to get through the time somehow, after a rest she joined the game again, and pretended to be enjoying it. All that day it seemed to her as though she were acting in a theater with actors cleverer than she, and that her bad acting was spoiling the whole performance. She had come with the intention of staying two days, if all went well. But in the evening, during the game, she made up her mind that she would go home next day. The maternal cares and worries, which she had so hated on the way, now, after a day spent without them, struck her in quite another light, and tempted her back to them.
When, after evening tea and a row by night in the boat, Darya Alexandrovna went alone to her room, took off her dress, and began arranging her thin hair for the night, she had a great sense of relief.
It was positively disagreeable to her to think that Anna was coming to see her immediately. She longed to be alone with her own thoughts.
Dolly was wanting to go to bed when Anna came in to see her, attired for the night. In the course of the day Anna had several times begun to speak of matters near her heart, and every time after a few words she had stopped: “Afterwards, by ourselves, we’ll talk about everything. I’ve got so much I want to tell you,” she said.
Now they were by themselves, and Anna did not know what to talk about. She sat in the window looking at Dolly, and going over in her own mind all the stores of intimate talk which had seemed so inexhaustible beforehand, and she found nothing. At that moment it seemed to her that everything had been said already.
“Well, what of Kitty?” she said with a heavy sigh, looking penitently at Dolly. “Tell me the truth, Dolly: isn’t she angry with me?”
“Angry? Oh, no!” said Darya Alexandrovna, smiling.
“But she hates me, despises me?”
“Oh, no! But you know that sort of thing isn’t forgiven.”
“Yes, yes,” said Anna, turning away and looking out of the open window. “But I was not to blame. And who is to blame? What’s the meaning of being to blame? Could it have been otherwise? What do you think? Could it possibly have happened that you didn’t become the wife of Stiva?”
“Really, I don’t know. But this is what I want you to tell me…”
“Yes, yes, but we’ve not finished about Kitty. Is she happy? He’s a very nice man, they say.”
“He’s much more than very nice. I don’t know a better man.”
“Ah, how glad I am! I’m so glad! Much more than very nice,” she repeated.
“But tell me about yourself. We’ve a great deal to talk about. And I’ve had a talk with…” Dolly did not know what to call him. She felt it awkward to call him either the count or Alexey Kirillovitch.
“With Alexey,” said Anna, “I know what you talked about. But I wanted to ask you directly what you think of me, of my life?”
“How am I to say like that straight off? I really don’t know.”
“No, tell me all the same…. You see my life. But you mustn’t forget that you’re seeing us in the summer, when you have come to us and we are not alone…. But we came here early in the spring, lived quite alone, and shall be alone again, and I desire nothing better. But imagine me living alone without him, alone, and that will be…I see by everything that it will often be repeated, that he will be half the time away from home,” she said, getting up and sitting down close by Dolly.
“Of course,” she interrupted Dolly, who would have answered, “of course I won’t try to keep him by force. I don’t keep him indeed. The races are just coming, his horses are running, he will go. I’m very glad. But think of me, fancy my position…. But what’s the use of talking about it?” She smiled. “Well, what did he talk about with you?”
“He spoke of what I want to speak about of myself, and it’s easy for me to be his advocate; of whether there is not a possibility …whether you could not…” (Darya Alexandrovna hesitated) “correct, improve your position…. You know how I look at it…. But all the same, if possible, you should get married….”
“Divorce, you mean?” said Anna. “Do you know, the only woman who came to see me in Petersburg was Betsy Tverskaya? You know her, of course? Au fond, c’est la femme la plus depravee qui existe. She had an intrigue with Tushkevitch, deceiving her husband in the basest way. And she told me that she did not care to know me so long as my position was irregular. Don’t imagine I would compare…I know you, darling. But I could not help remembering…. Well, so what did he say to you?” she repeated.
“He said that he was unhappy on your account and his own. Perhaps you will say that it’s egoism, but what a legitimate and noble egoism. He wants first of all to legitimize his daughter, and to be your husband, to have a legal right to you.”
“What wife, what slave can be so utterly a slave as I, in my position?” she put in gloomily.
“The chief thing he desires…he desires that you should not suffer.”
“That’s impossible. Well?”
“Well, and the most legitimate desire–he wishes that your children should have a name.”
“What children?” Anna said, not looking at Dolly, and half closing her eyes.
“Annie and those to come…”
“He need not trouble on that score; I shall have no more children.”
“How can you tell that you won’t?”
“I shall not, because I don’t wish it.” And, in spite of all her emotion, Anna smiled, as she caught the naive expression of curiosity, wonder, and horror on Dolly’s face.
“The doctor told me after my illness…”
“Impossible!” said Dolly, opening her eyes wide.
For her this was one of those discoveries the consequences and deductions from which are so immense that all that one feels for the first instant is that it is impossible to take it all in, and that one will have to reflect a great, great deal upon it.
This discovery, suddenly throwing light on all those families of one or two children, which had hitherto been so incomprehensible to her, aroused so many ideas, reflections, and contradictory emotions, that she had nothing to say, and simply gazed with wide-open eyes of wonder at Anna. This was the very thing she had been dreaming of, but now learning that it was possible, she was horrified. She felt that it was too simple a solution of too complicated a problem.
“N’est-ce pas immoral?” was all she said, after a brief pause.
“Why so? Think, I have a choice between two alternatives: either to be with child, that is an invalid, or to be the friend and companion of my husband–practically my husband,” Anna said in a tone intentionally superficial and frivolous.
“Yes, yes,” said Darya Alexandrovna, hearing the very arguments she had used to herself, and not finding the same force in them as before.
“For you, for other people,” said Anna, as though divining her thoughts, “there may be reason to hesitate; but for me…. You must consider, I am not his wife; he loves me as long as he loves me. And how am I to keep his love? Not like this!”
She moved her white hands in a curve before her waist with extraordinary rapidity, as happens during moments of excitement; ideas and memories rushed into Darya Alexandrovna’s head. “I,” she thought, “did not keep my attraction for Stiva; he left me for others, and the first woman for whom he betrayed me did not keep him by being always pretty and lively. He deserted her and took another. And can Anna attract and keep Count Vronsky in that way? If that is what he looks for, he will find dresses and manners still more attractive and charming. And however white and beautiful her bare arms are, however beautiful her full figure and her eager face under her black curls, he will find something better still, just as my disgusting, pitiful, and charming husband does.”
Dolly made no answer, she merely sighed. Anna noticed this sigh, indicating dissent, and she went on. In her armory she had other arguments so strong that no answer could be made to them.
“Do you say that it’s not right? But you must consider,” she went on; “you forget my position. How can I desire children? I’m not speaking of the suffering, I’m not afraid of that. Think only, what are my children to be? Ill-fated children, who will have to bear a stranger’s name. For the very fact of their birth they will be forced to be ashamed of their mother, their father, their birth.”
“But that is just why a divorce is necessary.” But Anna did not hear her. She longed to give utterance to all the arguments with which she had so many times convinced herself.
“What is reason given me for, if I am not to use it to avoid bringing unhappy beings into the world!” She looked at Dolly, but without waiting for a reply she went on:
“I should always feel I had wronged these unhappy children,” she said. “If they are not, at any rate they are not unhappy; while if they are unhappy, I alone should be to blame for it.”
These were the very arguments Darya Alexandrovna had used in her own reflections; but she heard them without understanding them. “How can one wrong creatures that don’t exist?” she thought. And all at once the idea struck her: could it possibly, under any circumstances, have been better for her favorite Grisha if he had never existed? And this seemed to her so wild, so strange, that she shook her head to drive away this tangle of whirling, mad ideas.
“No, I don’t know; it’s not right,” was all she said, with an expression of disgust on her face.
“Yes, but you mustn’t forget that you and I…. And besides that,” added Anna, in spite of the wealth of her arguments and the poverty of Dolly’s objections, seeming still to admit that it was not right, “don’t forget the chief point, that I am not now in the same position as you. For you the question is: do you desire not to have any more children; while for me it is: do I desire to have them? And that’s a great difference. You must see that I can’t desire it in my position.”
Darya Alexandrovna made no reply. She suddenly felt that she had got far away from Anna; that there lay between them a barrier of questions on which they could never agree, and about which it was better not to speak.
“Then there is all the more reason for you to legalize your position, if possible,” said Dolly.
“Yes, if possible,” said Anna, speaking all at once in an utterly different tone, subdued and mournful.
“Surely you don’t mean a divorce is impossible? I was told your husband had consented to it.”
“Dolly, I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Oh, we won’t then,” Darya Alexandrovna hastened to say, noticing the expression of suffering on Anna’s face. “All I see is that you take too gloomy a view of things.”
“I? Not at all! I’m always bright and happy. You see, je fais des passions. Veslovsky…”
“Yes, to tell the truth, I don’t like Veslovsky’s tone,” said Darya Alexandrovna, anxious to change the subject.
“Oh, that’s nonsense! It amuses Alexey, and that’s all; but he’s a boy, and quite under my control. You know, I turn him as I please. It’s just as it might be with your Grisha…. Dolly!”– she suddenly changed the subject–“you say I take too gloomy a view of things. You can’t understand. It’s too awful! I try not to take any view of it at all.”
“But I think you ought to. You ought to do all you can.”
“But what can I do? Nothing. You tell me to marry Alexey, and say I don’t think about it. I don’t think about it!” she repeated, and a flush rose into her face. She got up, straightening her chest, and sighed heavily. With her light step she began pacing up and down the room, stopping now and then. “I don’t think of it? Not a day, not an hour passes that I don’t think of it, and blame myself for thinking of it…because thinking of that may drive me mad. Drive me mad!” she repeated. “When I think of it, I can’t sleep without morphine. But never mind. Let us talk quietly. They tell me, divorce. In the first place, he won’t give me a divorce. He’s under the influence of Countess Lidia Ivanovna now.”
Darya Alexandrovna, sitting erect on a chair, turned her head, following Anna with a face of sympathetic suffering.
“You ought to make the attempt,” she said softly.
“Suppose I make the attempt. What does it mean?” she said, evidently giving utterance to a thought, a thousand times thought over and learned by heart. “It means that I, hating him, but still recognizing that I have wronged him–and I consider him magnanimous–that I humiliate myself to write to him…. Well, suppose I make the effort; I do it. Either I receive a humiliating refusal or consent…. Well, I have received his consent, say…” Anna was at that moment at the furthest end of the room, and she stopped there, doing something to the curtain at the window. “I receive his consent, but my…my son? They won’t give him up to me. He will grow up despising me, with his father, whom I’ve abandoned. Do you see, I love… equally, I think, but both more than myself–two creatures, Seryozha and Alexey.”
She came out into the middle of the room and stood facing Dolly, with her arms pressed tightly across her chest. I her white dressing gown her figure seemed more than usually grand and broad. She bent her head, and with shining, wet eyes looked from under her brows at Dolly, a thin little pitiful figure in her patched dressing jacket and nightcap, shaking all over with emotion.
“It is only those two creatures that I love, and one excludes the other. I can’t have them together, and that’s the only thing I want. And since I can’t have that, I don’t care about the rest. I don’t care about anything, anything. And it will end one way or another, and so I can’t, I don’t like to talk of it. So don’t blame me, don’t judge me for anything. You can’t with your pure heart understand all that I’m suffering.” She went up, sat down beside Dolly, and with a guilty look, peeped into her face and took her hand.
“What are you thinking? What are you thinking about me? Don’t despise me. I don’t deserve contempt. I’m simply unhappy. If anyone is unhappy, I am,” she articulated, and turning away, she burst into tears.
Left alone, Darya Alexandrovna said her prayers and went to bed. She had felt for Anna with all her heart while she was speaking to her, but now she could not force herself to think of her. The memories of home and of her children rose up in her imagination with a peculiar charm quite new to her, with a sort of new brilliance. That world of her own seemed to her now so sweet and precious that she would not on any account spend an extra day outside it, and she made up her mind that she would certainly go back next day.
Anna meantime went back to her boudoir, took a wine glass and dropped into it several drops of a medicine, of which the principal ingredient was morphine. After drinking it off and sitting still a little while, she went into her bedroom in a soothed and more cheerful frame of mind.
When she went into the bedroom, Vronsky looked intently at her. He was looking for traces of the conversation which he knew that, staying so long in Dolly’s room, she must have had with her. But in her expression of restrained excitement, and of a sort of reserve, he could find nothing but the beauty that always bewitched him afresh though he was used to it, the consciousness of it, and the desire that it should affect him. He did not want to ask her what they had been talking of, but he hoped that she would tell him something of her own accord. But she only said:
“I am so glad you like Dolly. You do, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’ve known her a long while, you know. She’s very good-hearted, I suppose, mais excessivement terre-a-terre. Still, I’m very glad to see her.”
He took Anna’s hand and looked inquiringly into her eyes.
Misinterpreting the look, she smiled to him. Next morning, in spite of the protests of her hosts, Darya Alexandrovna prepared for her homeward journey. Levin’s coachman, in his by no means new coat and shabby hat, with his ill-matched horses and his coach with the patched mud-guards, drove with gloomy determination into the covered gravel approach.
Darya Alexandrovna disliked taking leave of Princess Varvara and the gentlemen of the party. After a day spent together, both she and her hosts were distinctly aware that they did not get on together, and that it was better for them not to meet. Only Anna was sad. She knew that now, from Dolly’s departure, no one again would stir up within her soul the feelings that had been roused by their conversation. It hurt her to stir up these feelings, but yet she knew that that was the best part of her soul, and that that part of her soul would quickly be smothered in the life she was leading.
As she drove out into the open country, Darya Alexandrovna had a delightful sense of relief, and she felt tempted to ask the two men how they had liked being at Vronsky’s, when suddenly the coachman, Philip, expressed himself unasked:
“Rolling in wealth they may be, but three pots of oats was all they gave us. Everything cleared up till there wasn’t a grain left by cockcrow. What are three pots? A mere mouthful! And oats now down to forty-five kopecks. At our place, no fear, all comers may have as much as they can eat.”
“The master’s a screw,” put in the counting house clerk.
“Well, did you like their horses?” asked Dolly.
“The horses!–there’s no two opinions about them. And the food was good. But it seemed to me sort of dreary there, Darya Alexandrovna. I don’t know what you thought,” he said, turning his handsome, good-natured face to her.
“I thought so too. Well, shall we get home by evening?”
“Eh, we must!”
On reaching home and finding everyone entirely satisfactory and particularly charming, Darya Alexandrovna began with great liveliness telling them how she had arrived, how warmly they had received her, of the luxury and good taste in which the Vronskys lived, and of their recreations, and she would not allow a word to be said against them.
“One has to know Anna and Vronsky–I have got to know him better now–to see how nice they are, and how touching,” she said, speaking now with perfect sincerity, and forgetting the vague feeling of dissatisfaction and awkwardness she had experienced there.
Vronsky and Anna spent the whole summer and part of the winter in the country, living in just the same condition, and still taking no steps to obtain a divorce. It was an understood thing between them that they should not go away anywhere; but both felt, the longer they lived alone, especially in the autumn, without guests in the house, that they could not stand this existence, and that they would have to alter it.
Their life was apparently such that nothing better could be desired. They had the fullest abundance of everything; they had a child, and both had occupation. Anna devoted just as much care to her appearance when they had no visitors, and she did a great deal of reading, both of novels and of what serious literature was in fashion. She ordered all the books that were praised in the foreign papers and reviews she received, and read them with that concentrated attention which is only given to what is read in seclusion. Moreover, every subject that was of interest to Vronsky, she studied in books and special journals, so that he often went straight to her with questions relating to agriculture or architecture, sometimes even with questions relating to horse-breeding or sport. He was amazed at her knowledge, her memory, and at first was disposed to doubt it, to ask for confirmation of her facts; and she would find what he asked for in some book, and show it to him.
The building of the hospital, too, interested her. She did not merely assist, but planned and suggested a great deal herself. But her chief thought was still of herself–how far she was dear to Vronsky, how far she could make up to him for all he had given up. Vronsky appreciated this desire not only to please, but to serve him, which had become the sole aim of her existence, but at the same time he wearied of the loving snares in which she tried to hold him fast. As time went on, and he saw himself more and more often held fast in these snares, he had an ever growing desire, not so much to escape from them, as to try whether they hindered his freedom. Had it not been for this growing desire to be free, not to have scenes every time he wanted to go to the town to a meeting or a race, Vronsky would have been perfectly satisfied with his life. The role he had taken up, the role of a wealthy landowner, one of that class which ought to be the very heart of the Russian aristocracy, was entirely to his taste; and now, after spending six months in that character, he derived even greater satisfaction from it. And his management of his estate, which occupied and absorbed him more and more, was most successful. In spite of the immense sums cost him by the hospital, by machinery, by cows ordered from Switzerland, and many other things, he was convinced that he was not wasting, but increasing his substance. In all matters affecting income, the sales of timber, wheat, and wool, the letting of lands, Vronsky was hard as a rock, and knew well how to keep up prices. In all operations on a large scale on this and his other estates, he kept to the simplest methods involving no risk, and in trifling details he was careful and exacting to an extreme degree. In spite of all the cunning and ingenuity of the German steward, who would try to tempt him into purchases by making his original estimate always far larger than really required, and then representing to Vronsky that he might get the thing cheaper, and so make a profit, Vronsky did not give in. He listened to his steward, cross-examined him, and only agreed to his suggestions when the implement to be ordered or constructed was the very newest, not yet known in Russia, and likely to excite wonder. Apart from such exceptions, he resolved upon an increased outlay only where there was a surplus, and in making such an outlay he went into the minutest details, and insisted on getting the very best for his money; so that by the method on which he managed his affairs, it was clear that he was not wasting, but increasing his substance.
In October there were the provincial elections in the Kashinsky province, where were the estates of Vronsky, Sviazhsky, Koznishev, Oblonsky, and a small part of Levin’s land.
These elections were attracting public attention from several circumstances connected with them, and also from the people taking part in them. There had been a great deal of talk about them, and great preparations were being made for them. Persons who never attended the elections were coming from Moscow, from Petersburg, and from abroad to attend these. Vronsky had long before promised Sviazhsky to go to them. Before the elections Sviazhsky, who often visited Vozdvizhenskoe, drove over to fetch Vronsky. On the day before there had been almost a quarrel between Vronsky and Anna over this proposed expedition. It was the very dullest autumn weather, which is so dreary in the country, and so, preparing himself for a struggle, Vronsky, with a hard and cold expression, informed Anna of his departure as he had never spoken to her before. But, to his surprise, Anna accepted the information with great composure, and merely asked when he would be back. He looked intently at her, at a loss to explain this composure. She smiled at his look. He knew that way she had of withdrawing into herself, and knew that it only happened when she had determined upon something without letting him know her plans. He was afraid of this; but he was so anxious to avoid a scene that he kept up appearances, and half sincerely believed in what he longed to believe in–her reasonableness.
“I hope you won’t be dull?”
“I hope not,” said Anna. “I got a box of books yesterday from Gautier’s. No, I shan’t be dull.”
“She’s trying to take that tone, and so much the better,” he thought, “or else it would be the same thing over and over again.”
And he set off for the elections without appealing to her for a candid explanation. It was the first time since the beginning of their intimacy that he had parted from her without a full explanation. From one point of view this troubled him, but on the other side he felt that it was better so. “At first there will be, as this time, something undefined kept back, and then she will get used to it. I any case I can give up anything for her, but not my masculine independence,” he thought.