Anna Karenina (Part 7 – Chapter 16-20)
At ten o’clock the old prince, Sergey Ivanovitch, and Stepan Arkadyevitch were sitting at Levin’s. Having inquired after Kitty, they had dropped into conversation upon other subjects. Levin heard them, and unconsciously, as they talked, going over the past, over what had been up to that morning, he thought of himself as he had been yesterday till that point. It was as though a hundred years had passed since then. He felt himself exalted to unattainable heights, from which he studiously lowered himself so as not to wound the people he was talking to. He talked, and was all the time thinking of his wife, of her condition now, of his son, in whose existence he tried to school himself into believing. The whole world of woman, which had taken for him since his marriage a new value he had never suspected before, was now so exalted that he could not take it in in his imagination. He heard them talk of yesterday’s dinner at the club, and thought: “What is happening with her now? Is she asleep? How is she? What is she thinking of? Is he crying, my son Dmitri?” And in the middle of the conversation, in the middle of a sentence, he jumped up and went out of the room.
“Send me word if I can see her,” said the prince.
“Very well, in a minute,” answered Levin, and without stopping, he went to her room.
She was not asleep, she was talking gently with her mother, making plans about the christening.
Carefully set to rights, with hair well-brushed, in a smart little cap with some blue in it, her arms out on the quilt, she was lying on her back. Meeting his eyes, her eyes drew him to her. Her face, bright before, brightened still more as he drew near her. There was the same change in it from earthly to unearthly that is seen in the face of the dead. But then it means farewell, here it meant welcome. Again a rush of emotion, such as he had felt at the moment of the child’s birth, flooded his heart. She took his hand and asked him if he had slept. He could not answer, and turned away, struggling with his weakness.
“I have had a nap, Kostya!” she said to him; “and I am so comfortable now.”
She looked at him, but suddenly her expression changed.
“Give him to me,” she said, hearing the baby’s cry. “Give him to me, Lizaveta Petrovna, and he shall look at him.”
“To be sure, his papa shall look at him,” said Lizaveta Petrovna, getting up and bringing something red, and queer, and wriggling. “Wait a minute, we’ll make him tidy first,” and Lizaveta Petrovna laid the red wobbling thing on the bed, began untrussing and trussing up the baby, lifting it up and turning it over with one finger and powdering it with something.
Levin, looking at the tiny, pitiful creature, made strenuous efforts to discover in his heart some traces of fatherly feeling for it. He felt nothing towards it but disgust. But when it was undressed and he caught a glimpse of wee, wee, little hands, little feet, saffron-colored, with little toes, too, and positively with a little big toe different from the rest, and when he saw Lizaveta Petrovna closing the wide-open little hands, as though they were soft springs, and putting them into linen garments, such pity for the little creature came upon him, and such terror that she would hurt it, that he held her hand back.
Lizaveta Petrovna laughed.
“Don’t be frightened, don’t be frightened!”
When the baby had been put to rights and transformed into a firm doll, Lizaveta Petrovna dandled it as though proud of her handiwork, and stood a little away so that Levin might see his son in all his glory.
Kitty looked sideways in the same direction, never taking her eyes off the baby. “Give him to me! give him to me!” she said, and even made as though she would sit up.
“What are you thinking of, Katerina Alexandrovna, you mustn’t move like that! Wait a minute. I’ll give him to you. Here we’re showing papa what a fine fellow we are!”
And Lizaveta Petrovna, with one hand supporting the wobbling head, lifted up on the other arm the strange, limp, red creature, whose head was lost in its swaddling clothes. But it had a nose, too, and slanting eyes and smacking lips.
“A splendid baby!” said Lizaveta Petrovna.
Levin sighed with mortification. This splendid baby excited in him no feeling but disgust and compassion. It was not at all the feeling he had looked forward to.
He turned away while Lizaveta Petrovna put the baby to the unaccustomed breast.
Suddenly laughter made him look round. The baby had taken the breast.
“Come, that’s enough, that’s enough!” said Lizaveta Petrovna, but Kitty would not let the baby go. He fell asleep in her arms.
“Look, now,” said Kitty, turning the baby so that he could see it. The aged-looking little face suddenly puckered up still more and the baby sneezed.
Smiling, hardly able to restrain his tears, Levin kissed his wife and went out of the dark room. What he felt towards this little creature was utterly unlike what he had expected. There was nothing cheerful and joyous in the feeling; on the contrary, it was a new torture of apprehension. It was the consciousness of a new sphere of liability to pain. And this sense was so painful at first, the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy and even pride that he had felt when the baby sneezed.
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s affairs were in a very bad way.
The money for two-thirds of the forest had all been spent already, and he had borrowed from the merchant in advance at ten per cent discount, almost all the remaining third. The merchant would not give more, especially as Darya Alexandrovna, for the first time that winter insisting on her right to her own property, had refused to sign the receipt for the payment of the last third of the forest. All his salary went on household expenses and in payment of petty debts that could not be put off. There was positively no money.
This was unpleasant and awkward, and in Stepan Arkadyevitch’s opinion things could not go on like this. The explanation of the position was, in his view, to be found in the fact that his salary was too small. The post he filled had been unmistakably very good five years ago, but it was so no longer.
Petrov, the bank director, had twelve thousand; Sventitsky, a company director, had seventeen thousand; Mitin, who had founded a bank, received fifty thousand.
“Clearly I’ve been napping, and they’ve overlooked me,” Stepan Arkadyevitch thought about himself. And he began keeping his eyes and ears open, and towards the end of the winter he had discovered a very good berth and had formed a plan of attack upon it, at first from Moscow through aunts, uncles, and friends, and then, when the matter was well advanced, in the spring, he went himself to Petersburg. It was one of those snug, lucrative berths of which there are so many more nowadays than there used to be, with incomes ranging from one thousand to fifty thousand roubles. It was the post of secretary of the committee of the amalgamated agency of the southern railways, and of certain banking companies. This position, like all such appointments, called for such immense energy and such varied qualifications, that it was difficult for them to be found united in any one man. And since a man combining all the qualifications was not to be found, it was at least better that the post be filled by an honest than by a dishonest man. And Stepan Arkadyevitch was not merely an honest man–unemphatically–in the common acceptation of the words, he was an honest man–emphatically–in that special sense which the word has in Moscow, when they talk of an “honest” politician, an “honest” writer, an “honest” newspaper, an “honest” institution, an “honest” tendency, meaning not simply that the man or the institution is not dishonest, but that they are capable on occasion of taking a line of their own in opposition to the authorities.
Stepan Arkadyevitch moved in those circles in Moscow in which that expression had come into use, was regarded there as an honest man, and so had more right to this appointment than others.
The appointment yielded an income of from seven to ten thousand a year, and Oblonsky could fill it without giving up his government position. It was in the hands of two ministers, one lady, and two Jews, and all these people, though the way had been paved already with them, Stepan Arkadyevitch had to see in Petersburg. Besides this business, Stepan Arkadyevitch had promised his sister Anna to obtain from Karenin a definite answer on the question of divorce. And begging fifty roubles from Dolly, he set off for Petersburg.
Stepan Arkadyevitch sat in Karenin’s study listening to his report on the causes of the unsatisfactory position of Russian finance, and only waiting for the moment when he would finish to speak about his own business or about Anna.
“Yes, that’s very true,” he said, when Alexey Alexandrovitch took off the pince-nez, without which he could not read now, and looked inquiringly at his former brother-in-law, “that’s very true in particular cases, but still the principle of our day is freedom.”
“Yes, but I lay down another principle, embracing the principle of freedom,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, with emphasis on the word “embracing,” and he put on his pince-nez again, so as to read the passage in which this statement was made. And turning over the beautifully written, wide-margined manuscript, Alexey Alexandrovitch read aloud over again the conclusive passage.
“I don’t advocate protection for the sake of private interests, but for the public weal, and for the lower and upper classes equally,” he said, looking over his pince-nez at Oblonsky. “But THEY cannot grasp that, THEY are taken up now with personal interests, and carried away by phrases.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch knew that when Karenin began to talk of what THEY were doing and thinking, the persons who would not accept his report and were the cause of everything wrong in Russia, that it was coming near the end. And so now he eagerly abandoned the principle of free-trade, and fully agreed. Alexey Alexandrovitch paused, thoughtfully turning over the pages of his manuscript.
“Oh, by the way,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “I wanted to ask you, some time when you see Pomorsky, to drop him a hint that I should be very glad to get that new appointment of secretary of the committee of the amalgamated agency of the southern railways and banking companies.” Stepan Arkadyevitch was familiar by now with the title of the post he coveted, and he brought it out rapidly without mistake.
Alexey Alexandrovitch questioned him as to the duties of this new committee, and pondered. He was considering whether the new committee would not be acting in some way contrary to the views he had been advocating. But as the influence of the new committee was of a very complex nature, and his views were of very wide application, he could not decide this straight off, and taking off his pince-nez, he said:
“Of course, I can mention it to him; but what is your reason precisely for wishing to obtain the appointment?”
“It’s a good salary, rising to nine thousand, and my means…”
“Nine thousand!” repeated Alexey Alexandrovitch, and he frowned. The high figure of the salary made him reflect that on that side Stepan Arkadyevitch’s proposed position ran counter to the main tendency of his own projects of reform, which always leaned towards economy.
“I consider, and I have embodied my views in a note on the subject, that in our day these immense salaries are evidence of the unsound economic assiette of our finances.”
“But what’s to be done?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Suppose a bank director gets ten thousand–well, he’s worth it; or an engineer gets twenty thousand–after all, it’s a growing thing, you know!”
“I assume that a salary is the price paid for a commodity, and it ought to conform with the law of supply and demand. If the salary is fixed without any regard for that law, as, for instance, when I see two engineers leaving college together, both equally well trained and efficient, and one getting forty thousand while the other is satisfied with two; or when I see lawyers and hussars, having no special qualifications, appointed directors of banking companies with immense salaries, I conclude that the salary is not fixed in accordance with the law of supply and demand, but simply through personal interest. And this is an abuse of great gravity in itself, and one that reacts injuriously on the government service. I consider…”
Stepan Arkadyevitch made haste to interrupt his brother-in-law.
“Yes; but you must agree that it’s a new institution of undoubted utility that’s being started. After all, you know, it’s a growing thing! What they lay particular stress on is the thing being carried on honestly,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch with emphasis.
But the Moscow significance of the word “honest” was lost on Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Honesty is only a negative qualification,” he said.
“Well, you’ll do me a great service, anyway,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “by putting in a word to Pomorsky–just in the way of conversation….”
“But I fancy it’s more in Volgarinov’s hands,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Volgarinov has fully assented, as far as he’s concerned,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, turning red. Stepan Arkadyevitch reddened at the mention of that name, because he had been that morning at the Jew Volgarinov’s, and the visit had left an unpleasant recollection.
Stepan Arkadyevitch believed most positively that the committee in which he was trying to get an appointment was a new, genuine, and honest public body, but that morning when Volgarinov had– intentionally, beyond a doubt–kept him two hours waiting with other petitioners in his waiting room, he had suddenly felt uneasy.
Whether he was uncomfortable that he, a descendant of Rurik, Prince Oblonsky, had been kept for two hours waiting to see a Jew, or that for the first time in his life he was not following the example of his ancestors in serving the government, but was turning off into a new career, anyway he was very uncomfortable. During those two hours in Volgarinov’s waiting room Stepan Arkadyevitch, stepping jauntily about the room, pulling his whiskers, entering into conversation with the other petitioners, and inventing an epigram on his position, assiduously concealed from others, and even from himself, the feeling he was experiencing.
But all the time he was uncomfortable and angry, he could not have said why–whether because he could not get his epigram just right, or from some other reason. When at last Volgarinov had received him with exaggerated politeness and unmistakable triumph at his humiliation, and had all but refused the favor asked of him, Stepan Arkadyevitch had made haste to forget it all as soon as possible. And now, at the mere recollection, he blushed.
“Now there is something I want to talk about, and you know what it is. About Anna,” Stepan Arkadyevitch said, pausing for a brief space, and shaking off the unpleasant impression.
As soon as Oblonsky uttered Anna’s name, the face of Alexey Alexandrovitch was completely transformed; all the life was gone out of it, and it looked weary and dead.
“What is it exactly that you want from me?” he said, moving in his chair and snapping his pince-nez.
“A definite settlement, Alexey Alexandrovitch, some settlement of the position. I’m appealing to you” (“not as an injured husband,” Stepan Arkadyevitch was going to say, but afraid of wrecking his negotiation by this, he changed the words) “not as a statesman” (which did not sound a propos), “but simply as a man, and a good-hearted man and a Christian. You must have pity on her,” he said.
“That is, in what way precisely?” Karenin said softly.
“Yes, pity on her. If you had seen her as I have!–I have been spending all the winter with her–you would have pity on her. Her position is awful, simply awful!”
“I had imagined,” answered Alexey Alexandrovitch in a higher, almost shrill voice, “that Anna Arkadyevna had everything she had desired for herself.”
“Oh, Alexey Alexandrovitch, for heaven’s sake, don’t let us indulge in recriminations! What is past is past, and you know what she wants and is waiting for–divorce.”
“But I believe Anna Arkadyevna refuses a divorce, if I make it a condition to leave me my son. I replied in that sense, and supposed that the matter was ended. I consider it at an end,” shrieked Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“But, for heaven’s sake, don’t get hot!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, touching his brother-in-law’s knee. “The matter is not ended. If you will allow me to recapitulate, it was like this: when you parted, you were as magnanimous as could possibly be; you were ready to give her everything–freedom, divorce even. She appreciated that. No, don’t think that. She did appreciate it–to such a degree that at the first moment, feeling how she had wronged you, she did not consider and could not consider everything. She gave up everything. But experience, time, have shown that her position is unbearable, impossible.”
“The life of Anna Arkadyevna can have no interest for me,” Alexey Alexandrovitch put in, lifting his eyebrows.
“Allow me to disbelieve that,” Stepan Arkadyevitch replied gently. “Her position is intolerable for her, and of no benefit to anyone whatever. She has deserved it, you will say. She knows that and asks you for nothing; she says plainly that she dare not ask you. But I, all of us, her relatives, all who love her, beg you, entreat you. Why should she suffer? Who is any the better for it?”
“Excuse me, you seem to put me in the position of the guilty party,” observed Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Oh, no, oh, no, not at all! please understand me,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, touching his hand again, as though feeling sure this physical contact would soften his brother-in-law. “All I say is this: her position is intolerable, and it might be alleviated by you, and you will lose nothing by it. I will arrange it all for you, so that you’ll not notice it. You did promise it, you know.”
“The promise was given before. And I had supposed that the question of my son had settled the matter. Besides, I had hoped that Anna Arkadyevna had enough generosity…” Alexey Alexandrovitch articulated with difficulty, his lips twitching and his face white.
“She leaves it all to your generosity. She begs, she implores one thing of you–to extricate her from the impossible position in which she is placed. She does not ask for her son now. Alexey Alexandrovitch, you are a good man. Put yourself in her position for a minute. The question of divorce for her in her position is a question of life and death. If you had not promised it once, she would have reconciled herself to her position, she would have gone on living in the country. But you promised it, and she wrote to you, and moved to Moscow. And here she’s been for six months in Moscow, where every chance meeting cuts her to the heart, every day expecting an answer. Why, it’s like keeping a condemned criminal for six months with the rope round his neck, promising him perhaps death, perhaps mercy. Have pity on her, and I will undertake to arrange everything. Vos scrupules…”
“I am not talking about that, about that…” Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted with disgust. “But, perhaps, I promised what I had no right to promise.”
“So you go back from your promise?”
“I have never refused to do all that is possible, but I want time to consider how much of what I promised is possible.”
“No, Alexey Alexandrovitch!” cried Oblonsky, jumping up, “I won’t believe that! She’s unhappy as only an unhappy woman can be, and you cannot refuse in such…”
“As much of what I promised as is possible. Vous professez d’etre libre penseur. But I as a believer cannot, in a matter of such gravity, act in opposition to the Christian law.”
“But in Christian societies and among us, as far as I’m aware, divorce is allowed,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Divorce is sanctioned even by our church. And we see…”
“It is allowed, but not in the sense…”
“Alexey Alexandrovitch, you are not like yourself,” said Oblonsky, after a brief pause. “Wasn’t it you (and didn’t we all appreciate it in you?) who forgave everything, and moved simply by Christian feeling was ready to make any sacrifice? You said yourself: if a man take thy coat, give him thy cloak also, and now…”
“I beg,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch shrilly, getting suddenly onto his feet, his face white and his jaws twitching, “I beg you to drop this…to drop…this subject!”
“Oh, no! Oh, forgive me, forgive me if I have wounded you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, holding out his hand with a smile of embarrassment; “but like a messenger I have simply performed the commission given me.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch gave him his hand, pondered a little, and said:
“I must think it over and seek for guidance. The day after tomorrow I will give you a final answer,” he said, after considering a moment.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was about to go away when Korney came in to announce:
“Who’s Sergey Alexyevitch?” Stepan Arkadyevitch was beginning, but he remembered immediately.
“Ah, Seryozha!” he said aloud. “Sergey Alexeitch! I thought it was the director of a department. Anna asked me to see him too,” he thought.
And he recalled the timid, piteous expression with which Anna had said to him at parting: “Anyway, you will see him. Find out exactly where he is, who is looking after him. And Stiva…if it were possible! Could it be possible?” Stepan Arkadyevitch knew what was meant by that “if it were possible,”–if it were possible to arrange the divorce so as to let her have her son…. Stepan Arkadyevitch saw now that it was no good to dream of that, but still he was glad to see his nephew.
Alexey Alexandrovitch reminded his brother-in-law that they never spoke to the boy of his mother, and he begged him not to mention a single word about her.
“He was very ill after that interview with his mother, which we had not foreseen,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. “Ideed, we feared for his life. But with rational treatment, and sea-bathing in the summer, he regained his strength, and now, by the doctor’s advice, I have let him go to school. And certainly the companionship of school has had a good effect on him, and he is perfectly well, and making good progress.”
“What a fine fellow he’s grown! He’s not Seryozha now, but quite full-fledged Sergey Alexeitch!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling, as he looked at the handsome, broad-shouldered lad in blue coat and long trousers, who walked in alertly and confidently. The boy looked healthy and good-humored. He bowed to his uncle as to a stranger, but recognizing him, he blushed and turned hurriedly away from him, as though offended and irritated at something. The boy went up to his father and handed him a note of the marks he had gained in school.
“Well, that’s very fair,” said his father, “you can go.”
“He’s thinner and taller, and has grown out of being a child into a boy; I like that,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “Do you remember me?”
The boy looked back quickly at his uncle.
“Yes, mon oncle,” he answered, glancing at his father, and again he looked downcast.
His uncle called him to him, and took his hand.
“Well, and how are you getting on?” he said, wanting to talk to him, and not knowing what to say.
The boy, blushing and making no answer, cautiously drew his hand away. As soon as Stepan Arkadyevitch let go his hand, he glanced doubtfully at his father, and like a bird set free, he darted out of the room.
A year had passed since the last time Seryozha had seen his mother. Since then he had heard nothing more of her. And in the course of that year he had gone to school, and made friends among his schoolfellows. The dreams and memories of his mother, which had made him ill after seeing her, did not occupy his thoughts now. When they came back to him, he studiously drove them away, regarding them as shameful and girlish, below the dignity of a boy and a schoolboy. He knew that his father and mother were separated by some quarrel, he knew that he had to remain with his father, and he tried to get used to that idea.
He disliked seeing his uncle, so like his mother, for it called up those memories of which he was ashamed. He disliked it all the more as from some words he had caught as he waited at the study door, and still more from the faces of his father and uncle, he guessed that they must have been talking of his mother. And to avoid condemning the father with whom he lived and on whom he was dependent, and, above all, to avoid giving way to sentimentality, which he considered so degrading, Seryozha tried not to look at his uncle who had come to disturb his peace of mind, and not to think of what he recalled to him.
But when Stepan Arkadyevitch, going out after him, saw him on the stairs, and calling to him, asked him how he spent his playtime at school, Seryozha talked more freely to him away from his father’s presence.
“We have a railway now,” he said in answer to his uncle’s question. “It’s like this, do you see: two sit on a bench– they’re the passengers; and one stands up straight on the bench. And all are harnessed to it by their arms or by their belts, and they run through all the rooms–the doors are left open beforehand. Well, and it’s pretty hard work being the conductor!”
“That’s the one that stands?” Stepan Arkadyevitch inquired, smiling.
“Yes, you want pluck for it, and cleverness too, especially when they stop all of a sudden, or someone falls down.”
“Yes, that must be a serious matter,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, watching with mournful interest the eager eyes, like his mother’s; not childish now–no longer fully innocent. And though he had promised Alexey Alexandrovitch not to speak of Anna, he could not restrain himself.
“Do you remember your mother?” he asked suddenly.
“No, I don’t,” Seryozha said quickly. He blushed crimson, and his face clouded over. And his uncle could get nothing more out of him. His tutor found his pupil on the staircase half an hour later, and for a long while he could not make out whether he was ill-tempered or crying.
“What is it? I expect you hurt yourself when you fell down?” said the tutor. “I told you it was a dangerous game. And we shall have to speak to the director.”
“If I had hurt myself, nobody should have found it out, that’s certain.”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“Leave me alone! If I remember, or if I don’t remember?…what business is it of his? Why should I remember? Leave me in peace!” he said, addressing not his tutor, but the whole world.
Stepan Arkadyevitch, as usual, did not waste his time in Petersburg. In Petersburg, besides business, his sister’s divorce, and his coveted appointment, he wanted, as he always did, to freshen himself up, as he said, after the mustiness of Moscow.
In spite of its cafes chantants and its omnibuses, Moscow was yet a stagnant bog. Stepan Arkadyevitch always felt it. After living for some time in Moscow, especially in close relations with his family, he was conscious of a depression of spirits. After being a long time in Moscow without a change, he reached a point when he positively began to be worrying himself over his wife’s ill-humor and reproaches, over his children’s health and education, and the petty details of his official work; even the fact of being in debt worried him. But he had only to go and stay a little while in Petersburg, in the circle there in which he moved, where people lived–really lived–instead of vegetating as in Moscow, and all such ideas vanished and melted away at once, like wax before the fire. His wife?… Only that day he had been talking to Prince Tchetchensky. Prince Tchetchensky had a wife and family, grown-up pages in the corps,…and he had another illegitimate family of children also. Though the first family was very nice too, Prince Tchetchensky felt happier in his second family; and he used to take his eldest son with him to his second family, and told Stepan Arkadyevitch that he thought it good for his son, enlarging his ideas. What would have been said to that in Moscow?
His children? In Petersburg children did not prevent their parents from enjoying life. The children were brought up in schools, and there was no trace of the wild idea that prevailed in Moscow, in Lvov’s household, for instance, that all the luxuries of life were for the children, while the parents have nothing but work and anxiety. Here people understood that a man is in duty bound to live for himself, as every man of culture should live.
His official duties? Official work here was not the stiff, hopeless drudgery that it was in Moscow. Here there was some interest in official life. A chance meeting, a service rendered, a happy phrase, a knack of facetious mimicry, and a man’s career might be made in a trice. So it had been with Bryantsev, whom Stepan Arkadyevitch had met the previous day, and who was one of the highest functionaries in government now. There was some interest in official work like that.
The Petersburg attitude on pecuniary matters had an especially soothing effect on Stepan Arkadyevitch. Bartnyansky, who must spend at least fifty thousand to judge by the style he lived in, had made an interesting comment the day before on that subject.
As they were talking before dinner, Stepan Arkadyevitch said to Bartnyansky:
“You’re friendly, I fancy, with Mordvinsky; you might do me a favor: say a word to him, please, for me. There’s an appointment I should like to get–secretary of the agency…”
“Oh, I shan’t remember all that, if you tell it to me…. But what possesses you to have to do with railways and Jews?… Take it as you will, it’s a low business.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch did not say to Bartnyansky that it was a “growing thing”–Bartnyansky would not have understood that.
“I want the money, I’ve nothing to live on.”
“You’re living, aren’t you?”
“Yes, but in debt.”
“Are you, though? Heavily?” said Bartnyansky sympathetically.
“Very heavily: twenty thousand.”
Bartnyansky broke into good-humored laughter.
“Oh, lucky fellow!” said he. “My debts mount up to a million and a half, and I’ve nothing, and still I can live, as you see!”
And Stepan Arkadyevitch saw the correctness of this view not in words only but in actual fact. Zhivahov owed three hundred thousand, and hadn’t a farthing to bless himself with, and he lived, and in style too! Count Krivtsov was considered a hopeless case by everyone, and yet he kept two mistresses. Petrovsky had run through five millions, and still lived in just the same style, and was even a manager in the financial department with a salary of twenty thousand. But besides this, Petersburg had physically an agreeable effect on Stepan Arkadyevitch. It made him younger. In Moscow he sometimes found a gray hair in his head, dropped asleep after dinner, stretched, walked slowly upstairs, breathing heavily, was bored by the society of young women, and did not dance at balls. In Petersburg he always felt ten years younger.
His experience in Petersburg was exactly what had been described to him on the previous day by Prince Pyotr Oblonsky, a man of sixty, who had just come back from abroad:
“We don’t know the way to live here,” said Pyotr Oblonsky. “I spent the summer in Baden, and you wouldn’t believe it, I felt quite a young man. At a glimpse of a pretty woman, my thoughts…. One dines and drinks a glass of wine, and feels strong and ready for anything. I came home to Russia–had to see my wife, and, what’s more, go to my country place; and there, you’d hardly believe it, in a fortnight I’d got into a dressing gown and given up dressing for dinner. Needn’t say I had no thoughts left for pretty women. I became quite an old gentleman. There was nothing left for me but to think of my eternal salvation. I went off to Paris–I was as right as could be at once.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch felt exactly the difference that Pyotr Oblonsky described. In Moscow he degenerated so much that if he had had to be there for long together, he might in good earnest have come to considering his salvation; in Petersburg he felt himself a man of the world again.
Between Princess Betsy Tverskaya and Stepan Arkadyevitch there had long existed rather curious relations. Stepan Arkadyevitch always flirted with her in jest, and used to say to her, also in jest, the most unseemly things, knowing that nothing delighted her so much. The day after his conversation with Karenin, Stepan Arkadyevitch went to see her, and felt so youthful that in this jesting flirtation and nonsense he recklessly went so far that he did not know how to extricate himself, as unluckily he was so far from being attracted by her that he thought her positively disagreeable. What made it hard to change the conversation was the fact that he was very attractive to her. So that he was considerably relieved at the arrival of Princess Myakaya, which cut short their tete-a-tete.
“Ah, so you’re here!” said she when she saw him. “Well, and what news of your poor sister? You needn’t look at me like that,” she added. “Ever since they’ve all turned against her, all those who’re a thousand times worse than she, I’ve thought she did a very fine thing. I can’t forgive Vronsky for not letting me know when she was in Petersburg. I’d have gone to see her and gone about with her everywhere. Please give her my love. Come, tell me about her.”
“Yes, her position is very difficult; she…” began Stepan Arkadyevitch, in the simplicity of his heart accepting as sterling coin Princess Myakaya’s words “tell me about her.” Princess Myakaya interrupted him immediately, as she always did, and began talking herself.
“She’s done what they all do, except me–only they hide it. But she wouldn’t be deceitful, and she did a fine thing. And she did better still in throwing up that crazy brother-in-law of yours. You must excuse me. Everybody used to say he was so clever, so very clever; I was the only one that said he was a fool. Now that he’s so thick with Lidia Ivanovna and Landau, they all say he’s crazy, and I should prefer not to agree with everybody, but this time I can’t help it.”
“Oh, do please explain,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch; “what does it mean? Yesterday I was seeing him on my sister’s behalf, and I asked him to give me a final answer. He gave me no answer, and said he would think it over. But this morning, instead of an answer, I received an invitation from Countess Lidia Ivanovna for this evening.”
“Ah, so that’s it, that’s it!” said Princess Myakaya gleefully, “they’re going to ask Landau what he’s to say.”
“Ask Landau? What for? Who or what’s Landau?”
“What! you don’t know Jules Landau, le fameux Jules Landau, le clairvoyant? He’s crazy too, but on him your sister’s fate depends. See what comes of living in the provinces–you know nothing about anything. Landau, do you see, was a commis in a shop in Paris, and he went to a doctor’s; and in the doctor’s waiting room he fell asleep, and in his sleep he began giving advice to all the patients. And wonderful advice it was! Then the wife of Yury Meledinsky–you know, the invalid?–heard of this Landau, and had him to see her husband. And he cured her husband, though I can’t say that I see he did him much good, for he’s just as feeble a creature as ever he was, but they believed in him, and took him along with them and brought him to Russia. Here there’s been a general rush to him, and he’s begun doctoring everyone. He cured Countess Bezzubova, and she took such a fancy to him that she adopted him.”
“Yes, as her son. He’s not Landau any more now, but Count Bezzubov. That’s neither here nor there, though; but Lidia–I’m very fond of her, but she has a screw loose somewhere–has lost her heart to this Landau now, and nothing is settled now in her house or Alexey Alexandrovitch’s without him, and so your sister’s fate is now in the hands of Landau, alias Count Bezzubov.”