FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 19

Leo TolstoyAug 21, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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When Anna went into the room, Dolly
was sitting in the little drawing-room with a white-headed
fat little boy, already like his father, giving him
a lesson in French reading.  As the boy read,
he kept twisting and trying to tear off a button that
was nearly off his jacket.  His mother had several
times taken his hand from it, but the fat little hand
went back to the button again.  His mother pulled
the button off and put it in her pocket.

“Keep your hands still, Grisha,”
she said, and she took up her work, a coverlet she
had long been making.  She always set to work
on it at depressed moments, and now she knitted at
it nervously, twitching her fingers and counting the
stitches.  Though she had sent word the day before
to her husband that it was nothing to her whether
his sister came or not, she had made everything ready
for her arrival, and was expecting her sister-in-law
with emotion.

Dolly was crushed by her sorrow, utterly
swallowed up by it.  Still she did not forget
that Anna, her sister-in-law, was the wife of one
of the most important personages in Petersburg, and
was a Petersburg grande dame.  And, thanks
to this circumstance, she did not carry out her threat
to her husband ­that is to say, she remembered
that her sister-in-law was coming.  “And,
after all, Anna is in no wise to blame,” thought
Dolly.  “I know nothing of her except the
very best, and I have seen nothing but kindness and
affection from her towards myself.”  It was
true that as far as she could recall her impressions
at Petersburg at the Karenins’, she did not
like their household itself; there was something artificial
in the whole framework of their family life. 
“But why should I not receive her?  If only
she doesn’t take it into her head to console
me!” thought Dolly.  “All consolation
and counsel and Christian forgiveness, all that I have
thought over a thousand times, and it’s all
no use.”

All these days Dolly had been alone
with her children.  She did not want to talk
of her sorrow, but with that sorrow in her heart she
could not talk of outside matters.  She knew that
in one way or another she would tell Anna everything,
and she was alternately glad at the thought of speaking
freely, and angry at the necessity of speaking of
her humiliation with her, his sister, and of hearing
her ready-made phrases of good advice and comfort. 
She had been on the lookout for her, glancing at her
watch every minute, and, as so often happens, let slip
just that minute when her visitor arrived, so that
she did not hear the bell.

Catching a sound of skirts and light
steps at the door, she looked round, and her care-worn
face unconsciously expressed not gladness, but wonder. 
She got up and embraced her sister-in-law.

“What, here already!” she said as she
kissed her.

“Dolly, how glad I am to see you!”

“I am glad, too,” said
Dolly, faintly smiling, and trying by the expression
of Anna’s face to find out whether she knew. 
“Most likely she knows,” she thought,
noticing the sympathy in Anna’s face. 
“Well, come along, I’ll take you to your
room,” she went on, trying to defer as long
as possible the moment of confidences.

“Is this Grisha?  Heavens,
how he’s grown!” said Anna; and kissing
him, never taking her eyes off Dolly, she stood still
and flushed a little.  “No, please, let
us stay here.”

She took off her kerchief and her
hat, and catching it in a lock of her black hair,
which was a mass of curls, she tossed her head and
shook her hair down.

“You are radiant with health
and happiness!” said Dolly, almost with envy.

“I?….  Yes,” said
Anna.  “Merciful heavens, Tanya!  You’re
the same age as my Seryozha,” she added, addressing
the little girl as she ran in.  She took her
in her arms and kissed her.  “Delightful
child, delightful!  Show me them all.”

She mentioned them, not only remembering
the names, but the years, months, characters, illnesses
of all the children, and Dolly could not but appreciate
that.

“Very well, we will go to them,”
she said.  “It’s a pity Vassya’s
asleep.”

After seeing the children, they sat
down, alone now, in the drawing room, to coffee. 
Anna took the tray, and then pushed it away from
her.

“Dolly,” she said, “he has told
me.”

Dolly looked coldly at Anna; she was
waiting now for phrases of conventional sympathy,
but Anna said nothing of the sort.

“Dolly, dear,” she said,
“I don’t want to speak for him to you,
nor to try to comfort you; that’s impossible. 
But, darling, I’m simply sorry, sorry from
my heart for you!”

Under the thick lashes of her shining
eyes tears suddenly glittered.  She moved nearer
to her sister-in-law and took her hand in her vigorous
little hand.  Dolly did not shrink away, but
her face did not lose its frigid expression. 
She said: 

“To comfort me’s impossible. 
Everything’s lost after what has happened,
everything’s over!”

And directly she had said this, her
face suddenly softened.  Anna lifted the wasted,
thin hand of Dolly, kissed it and said: 

“But, Dolly, what’s to
be done, what’s to be done?  How is it best
to act in this awful position ­that’s
what you must think of.”

“All’s over, and there’s
nothing more,” said Dolly.  “And the
worst of all is, you see, that I can’t cast him
off:  there are the children, I am tied. 
And I can’t live with him! it’s a torture
to me to see him.”

“Dolly, darling, he has spoken
to me, but I want to hear it from you:  tell me
about it.”

Dolly looked at her inquiringly.

Sympathy and love unfeigned were visible on Anna’s
face.

“Very well,” she said
all at once.  “But I will tell you it from
the beginning.  You know how I was married. 
With the education mamma gave us I was more than
innocent, I was stupid.  I knew nothing. 
I know they say men tell their wives of their former
lives, but Stiva” ­she corrected herself ­“Stepan
Arkadyevitch told me nothing.  You’ll hardly
believe it, but till now I imagined that I was the
only woman he had known.  So I lived eight years. 
You must understand that I was so far from suspecting
infidelity, I regarded it as impossible, and then ­
try to imagine it ­with such ideas, to find
out suddenly all the horror, all the loathsomeness…. 
You must try and understand me.  To be fully
convinced of one’s happiness, and all at once…”
continued Dolly, holding back her sobs, “to get
a letter…his letter to his mistress, my governess. 
No, it’s too awful!” She hastily pulled
out her handkerchief and hid her face in it. 
“I can understand being carried away by feeling,”
she went on after a brief silence, “but deliberately,
slyly deceiving me…and with whom?…  To go
on being my husband together with her…it’s
awful!  You can’t understand…”

“Oh, yes, I understand! 
I understand!  Dolly, dearest, I do understand,”
said Anna, pressing her hand.

“And do you imagine he realizes
all the awfulness of my position?” Dolly resumed. 
“Not the slightest!  He’s happy and
contented.”

“Oh, no!” Anna interposed
quickly.  “He’s to be pitied, he’s
weighed down by remorse…”

“Is he capable of remorse?”
Dolly interrupted, gazing intently into her sister-in-law’s
face.

“Yes.  I know him. 
I could not look at him without feeling sorry for
him.  We both know him.  He’s good-hearted,
but he’s proud, and now he’s so humiliated. 
What touched me most…” (and here Anna guessed
what would touch Dolly most) “he’s tortured
by two things:  that he’s ashamed for the
children’s sake, and that, loving you ­yes,
yes, loving you beyond everything on earth,”
she hurriedly interrupted Dolly, who would have answered ­“he
has hurt you, pierced you to the heart.  ’No,
no, she cannot forgive me,’ he keeps saying.”

Dolly looked dreamily away beyond
her sister-in-law as she listened to her words.

“Yes, I can see that his position
is awful; it’s worse for the guilty than the
innocent,” she said, “if he feels that
all the misery comes from his fault.  But how
am I to forgive him, how am I to be his wife again
after her?  For me to live with him now would
be torture, just because I love my past love for him…”

And sobs cut short her words. 
But as though of set design, each time she was softened
she began to speak again of what exasperated her.

“She’s young, you see,
she’s pretty,” she went on.  “Do
you know, Anna, my youth and my beauty are gone, taken
by whom?  By him and his children.  I have
worked for him, and all I had has gone in his service,
and now of course any fresh, vulgar creature has more
charm for him.  No doubt they talked of me together,
or, worse still, they were silent.  Do you understand?”

Again her eyes glowed with hatred.

“And after that he will tell
me….  What! can I believe him?  Never! 
No, everything is over, everything that once made
my comfort, the reward of my work, and my sufferings…. 
Would you believe it, I was teaching Grisha just
now:  once this was a joy to me, now it is a torture. 
What have I to strive and toil for?  Why are
the children here?  What’s so awful is that
all at once my heart’s turned, and instead of
love and tenderness, I have nothing but hatred for
him; yes, hatred.  I could kill him.”

“Darling Dolly, I understand,
but don’t torture yourself.  You are so
distressed, so overwrought, that you look at many things
mistakenly.”

Dolly grew calmer, and for two minutes
both were silent.

“What’s to be done? 
Think for me, Anna, help me.  I have thought
over everything, and I see nothing.”

Anna could think of nothing, but her
heart responded instantly to each word, to each change
of expression of her sister-in-law.

“One thing I would say,”
began Anna.  “I am his sister, I know his
character, that faculty of forgetting everything, everything”
(she waved her hand before her forehead), “that
faculty for being completely carried away, but for
completely repenting too.  He cannot believe
it, he cannot comprehend now how he can have acted
as he did.”

“No; he understands, he understood!”
Dolly broke in.  “But I…you are forgetting
me…does it make it easier for me?”

“Wait a minute.  When he
told me, I will own I did not realize all the awfulness
of your position.  I saw nothing but him, and
that the family was broken up.  I felt sorry for
him, but after talking to you, I see it, as a woman,
quite differently.  I see your agony, and I can’t
tell you how sorry I am for you!  But, Dolly,
darling, I fully realize your sufferings, only there
is one thing I don’t know; I don’t know…I
don’t know how much love there is still in your
heart for him.  That you know ­whether
there is enough for you to be able to forgive him. 
If there is, forgive him!”

“No,” Dolly was beginning,
but Anna cut her short, kissing her hand once more.

“I know more of the world than
you do,” she said.  “I know how men
like Stiva look at it.  You speak of his talking
of you with her.  That never happened. 
Such men are unfaithful, but their home and wife are
sacred to them.  Somehow or other these women
are still looked on with contempt by them, and do not
touch on their feeling for their family.  They
draw a sort of line that can’t be crossed between
them and their families.  I don’t understand
it, but it is so.”

“Yes, but he has kissed her…”

“Dolly, hush, darling. 
I saw Stiva when he was in love with you.  I
remember the time when he came to me and cried, talking
of you, and all the poetry and loftiness of his feeling
for you, and I know that the longer he has lived with
you the loftier you have been in his eyes.  You
know we have sometimes laughed at him for putting
in at every word:  ‘Dolly’s a marvelous
woman.’  You have always been a divinity
for him, and you are that still, and this has not
been an infidelity of the heart…”

“But if it is repeated?”

“It cannot be, as I understand it…”

“Yes, but could you forgive it?”

“I don’t know, I can’t
judge….  Yes, I can,” said Anna, thinking
a moment; and grasping the position in her thought
and weighing it in her inner balance, she added: 
“Yes, I can, I can, I can.  Yes, I could
forgive it.  I could not be the same, no; but
I could forgive it, and forgive it as though it had
never been, never been at all…”

“Oh, of course,” Dolly
interposed quickly, as though saying what she had
more than once thought, “else it would not be
forgiveness.  If one forgives, it must be completely,
completely.  Come, let us go; I’ll take
you to your room,” she said, getting up, and
on the way she embraced Anna.  “My dear,
how glad I am you came.  It has made things better,
ever so much better.”

 

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