FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 18

Leo TolstoyAug 25, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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“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 pincenez.

“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.

 

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