FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 22

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Stepan Arkadyevitch, with the same
somewhat solemn expression with which he used to take
his presidential chair at his board, walked into Alexey
Alexandrovitch’s room.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
was walking about his room with his hands behind his
back, thinking of just what Stepan Arkadyevitch had
been discussing with his wife.

“I’m not interrupting
you?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, on the sight
of his brother-in-law becoming suddenly aware of a
sense of embarrassment unusual with him.  To
conceal this embarrassment he took out a cigarette
case he had just bought that opened in a new way,
and sniffing the leather, took a cigarette out of it.

“No.  Do you want anything?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch asked without eagerness.

“Yes, I wished…I wanted…yes,
I wanted to talk to you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
with surprise aware of an unaccustomed timidity.

This feeling was so unexpected and
so strange that he did not believe it was the voice
of conscience telling him that what he was meaning
to do was wrong.

Stepan Arkadyevitch made an effort
and struggled with the timidity that had come over
him.

“I hope you believe in my love
for my sister and my sincere affection and respect
for you,” he said, reddening.

Alexey Alexandrovitch stood still
and said nothing, but his face struck Stepan Arkadyevitch
by its expression of an unresisting sacrifice.

“I intended…I wanted to have
a little talk with you about my sister and your mutual
position,” he said, still struggling with an
unaccustomed constraint.

Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled mournfully,
looked at his brother-in-law, and without answering
went up to the table, took from it an unfinished letter,
and handed it to his brother-in-law.

“I think unceasingly of the
same thing.  And here is what I had begun writing,
thinking I could say it better by letter, and that
my presence irritates her,” he said, as he gave
him the letter.

Stepan Arkadyevitch took the letter,
looked with incredulous surprise at the lusterless
eyes fixed so immovably on him, and began to read.

“I see that my presence is irksome
to you.  Painful as it is to me to believe it,
I see that it is so, and cannot be otherwise. 
I don’t blame you, and God is my witness that
on seeing you at the time of your illness I resolved
with my whole heart to forget all that had passed
between us and to begin a new life.  I do not
regret, and shall never regret, what I have done; but
I have desired one thing ­your good, the
good of your soul ­and now I see I have
not attained that.  Tell me yourself what will
give you true happiness and peace to your soul. 
I put myself entirely in your hands, and trust to
your feeling of what’s right.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch handed back the
letter, and with the same surprise continued looking
at his brother-in-law, not knowing what to say. 
This silence was so awkward for both of them that
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s lips began twitching nervously,
while he still gazed without speaking at Karenin’s
face.

“That’s what I wanted
to say to her,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch,
turning away.

“Yes, yes…” said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, not able to answer for the tears that
were choking him.

“Yes, yes, I understand you,”
he brought out at last.

“I want to know what she would
like,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“I am afraid she does not understand
her own position.  She is not a judge,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recovering himself. 
“She is crushed, simply crushed by your generosity. 
If she were to read this letter, she would be incapable
of saying anything, she would only hang her head lower
than ever.”

“Yes, but what’s to be
done in that case? how explain, how find out her wishes?”

“If you will allow me to give
my opinion, I think that it lies with you to point
out directly the steps you consider necessary to end
the position.”

“So you consider it must be
ended?” Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted him. 
“But how?” he added, with a gesture of
his hands before his eyes not usual with him. 
“I see no possible way out of it.”

“There is some way of getting
out of every position,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
standing up and becoming more cheerful.  “There
was a time when you thought of breaking off…. 
If you are convinced now that you cannot make each
other happy…”

“Happiness may be variously
understood.  But suppose that I agree to everything,
that I want nothing:  what way is there of getting
out of our position?”

“If you care to know my opinion,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch with the same smile of softening,
almond-oil tenderness with which he had been talking
to Anna.  His kindly smile was so winning that
Alexey Alexandrovitch, feeling his own weakness and
unconsciously swayed by it, was ready to believe what
Stepan Arkadyevitch was saying.

“She will never speak out about
it.  But one thing is possible, one thing she
might desire,” he went on, “that is the
cessation of your relations and all memories associated
with them.  To my thinking, in your position
what’s essential is the formation of a new attitude
to one another.  And that can only rest on a basis
of freedom on both sides.”

“Divorce,” Alexey Alexandrovitch
interrupted, in a tone of aversion.

“Yes, I imagine that divorce ­yes,
divorce,” Stepan Arkadyevitch repeated, reddening. 
“That is from every point of view the most
rational course for married people who find themselves
in the position you are in.  What can be done
if married people find that life is impossible for
them together?  That may always happen.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed heavily
and closed his eyes.

“There’s only one point
to be considered:  is either of the parties desirous
of forming new ties?  If not, it is very simple,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, feeling more and more free
from constraint.

Alexey Alexandrovitch, scowling with
emotion, muttered something to himself, and made no
answer.  All that seemed so simple to Stepan
Arkadyevitch, Alexey Alexandrovitch had thought over
thousands of times.  And, so far from being simple,
it all seemed to him utterly impossible.  Divorce,
the details of which he knew by this time, seemed
to him now out of the question, because the sense
of his own dignity and respect for religion forbade
his taking upon himself a fictitious charge of adultery,
and still more suffering his wife, pardoned and beloved
by him, to be caught in the fact and put to public
shame.  Divorce appeared to him impossible also
on other still more weighty grounds.

What would become of his son in case
of a divorce?  To leave him with his mother was
out of the question.  The divorced mother would
have her own illegitimate family, in which his position
as a stepson and his education would not be good. 
Keep him with him?  He knew that would be an
act of vengeance on his part, and that he did not
want.  But apart from this, what more than all
made divorce seem impossible to Alexey Alexandrovitch
was, that by consenting to a divorce he would be completely
ruining Anna.  The saying of Darya Alexandrovna
at Moscow, that in deciding on a divorce he was thinking
of himself, and not considering that by this he would
be ruining her irrevocably, had sunk into his heart. 
And connecting this saying with his forgiveness of
her, with his devotion to the children, he understood
it now in his own way.  To consent to a divorce,
to give her her freedom, meant in his thoughts to
take from himself the last tie that bound him to life ­the
children whom he loved; and to take from her the last
prop that stayed her on the path of right, to thrust
her down to her ruin.  If she were divorced,
he knew she would join her life to Vronsky’s,
and their tie would be an illegitimate and criminal
one, since a wife, by the interpretation of the ecclesiastical
law, could not marry while her husband was living. 
“She will join him, and in a year or two he will
throw her over, or she will form a new tie,”
thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.  “And I,
by agreeing to an unlawful divorce, shall be to blame
for her ruin.”  He had thought it all over
hundreds of times, and was convinced that a divorce
was not at all simple, as Stepan Arkadyevitch had
said, but was utterly impossible.  He did not
believe a single word Stepan Arkadyevitch said to him;
to every word he had a thousand objections to make,
but he listened to him, feeling that his words were
the expression of that mighty brutal force which controlled
his life and to which he would have to submit.

“The only question is on what
terms you agree to give her a divorce.  She does
not want anything, does not dare ask you for anything,
she leaves it all to your generosity.”

“My God, my God! what for?”
thought Alexey Alexandrovitch, remembering the details
of divorce proceedings in which the husband took the
blame on himself, and with just the same gesture with
which Vronsky had done the same, he hid his face for
shame in his hands.

“You are distressed, I understand
that.  But if you think it over…”

“Whosoever shall smite thee
on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also; and
if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak
also,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“Yes, yes!” he cried in
a shrill voice.  “I will take the disgrace
on myself, I will give up even my son, but…but wouldn’t
it be better to let it alone?  Still you may do
as you like…”

And turning away so that his brother-in-law
could not see him, he sat down on a chair at the window. 
There was bitterness, there was shame in his heart,
but with bitterness and shame he felt joy and emotion
at the height of his own meekness.

Stepan Arkadyevitch was touched. 
He was silent for a space.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch, believe
me, she appreciates your generosity,” he said. 
“But it seems it was the will of God,”
he added, and as he said it felt how foolish a remark
it was, and with difficulty repressed a smile at his
own foolishness.

Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made
some reply, but tears stopped him.

“This is an unhappy fatality,
and one must accept it as such.  I accept the
calamity as an accomplished fact, and am doing my best
to help both her and you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

When he went out of his brother-in-law’s
room he was touched, but that did not prevent him
from being glad he had successfully brought the matter
to a conclusion, for he felt certain Alexey Alexandrovitch
would not go back on his words.  To this satisfaction
was added the fact that an idea had just struck him
for a riddle turning on his successful achievement,
that when the affair was over he would ask his wife
and most intimate friends.  He put this riddle
into two or three different ways.  “But
I’ll work it out better than that,” he
said to himself with a smile.

 

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