FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 4

Leo TolstoyAug 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The highest Petersburg society is
essentially one:  in it everyone knows everyone
else, everyone even visits everyone else.  But
this great set has its subdivisions.  Anna Arkadyevna
Karenina had friends and close ties in three different
circles of this highest society.  One circle
was her husband’s government official set, consisting
of his colleagues and subordinates, brought together
in the most various and capricious manner, and belonging
to different social strata.  Anna found it difficult
now to recall the feeling of almost awe-stricken reverence
which she had at first entertained for these persons. 
Now she knew all of them as people know one another
in a country town; she knew their habits and weaknesses,
and where the shoe pinched each one of them. 
She knew their relations with one another and with
the head authorities, knew who was for whom, and how
each one maintained his position, and where they agreed
and disagreed.  But the circle of political, masculine
interests had never interested her, in spite of countess
Lidia Ivanovna’s influence, and she avoided
it.

Another little set with which Anna
was in close relations was the one by means of which
Alexey Alexandrovitch had made his career.  The
center of this circle was the Countess Lidia Ivanovna. 
It was a set made up of elderly, ugly, benevolent,
and godly women, and clever, learned, and ambitious
men.  One of the clever people belonging to the
set had called it “the conscience of Petersburg
society.”  Alexey Alexandrovitch had the
highest esteem for this circle, and Anna with her
special gift for getting on with everyone, had in
the early days of her life in Petersburg made friends
in this circle also.  Now, since her return from
Moscow, she had come to feel this set insufferable. 
It seemed to her that both she and all of them were
insincere, and she felt so bored and ill at ease in
that world that she went to see the Countess Lidia
Ivanovna as little as possible.

The third circle with which Anna had
ties was preeminently the fashionable world ­the
world of balls, of dinners, of sumptuous dresses,
the world that hung on to the court with one hand,
so as to avoid sinking to the level of the demi-monde. 
For the demi-monde the members of that fashionable
world believed that they despised, though their tastes
were not merely similar, but in fact identical. 
Her connection with this circle was kept up through
Princess Betsy Tverskaya, her cousin’s wife,
who had an income of a hundred and twenty thousand
roubles, and who had taken a great fancy to Anna ever
since she first came out, showed her much attention,
and drew her into her set, making fun of Countess
Lidia Ivanovna’s coterie.

“When I’m old and ugly
I’ll be the same,” Betsy used to say; “but
for a pretty young woman like you it’s early
days for that house of charity.”

Anna had at first avoided as far as
she could Princess Tverskaya’s world, because
it necessitated an expenditure beyond her means, and
besides in her heart she preferred the first circle. 
But since her visit to Moscow she had done quite the
contrary.  She avoided her serious-minded friends,
and went out into the fashionable world.  There
she met Vronsky, and experienced an agitating joy
at those meetings.  She met Vronsky specially
often at Betsy’s for Betsy was a Vronsky by birth
and his cousin.  Vronsky was everywhere where
he had any chance of meeting Anna, and speaking to
her, when he could, of his love.  She gave him
no encouragement, but every time she met him there
surged up in her heart that same feeling of quickened
life that had come upon her that day in the railway
carriage when she saw him for the first time. 
She was conscious herself that her delight sparkled
in her eyes and curved her lips into a smile, and
she could not quench the expression of this delight.

At first Anna sincerely believed that
she was displeased with him for daring to pursue her. 
Soon after her return from Moscow, on arriving at
a soiree where she had expected to meet him, and not
finding him there, she realized distinctly from the
rush of disappointment that she had been deceiving
herself, and that this pursuit was not merely not
distasteful to her, but that it made the whole interest
of her life.

A celebrated singer was singing for
the second time, and all the fashionable world was
in the theater.  Vronsky, seeing his cousin from
his stall in the front row, did not wait till the
entr’acte, but went to her box.

“Why didn’t you come to
dinner?” she said to him.  “I marvel
at the second sight of lovers,” she added with
a smile, so that no one but he could hear; “she
wasn’t there
.  But come after the opera.”

Vronsky looked inquiringly at her. 
She nodded.  He thanked her by a smile, and
sat down beside her.

“But how I remember your jeers!”
continued Princess Betsy, who took a peculiar pleasure
in following up this passion to a successful issue. 
“What’s become of all that?  You’re
caught, my dear boy.”

“That’s my one desire,
to be caught,” answered Vronsky, with his serene,
good-humored smile.  “If I complain of anything
it’s only that I’m not caught enough,
to tell the truth.  I begin to lose hope.”

“Why, whatever hope can you
have?” said Betsy, offended on behalf of her
friend. “Enendons nous….” But
in her eyes there were gleams of light that betrayed
that she understood perfectly and precisely as he
did what hope he might have.

“None whatever,” said
Vronsky, laughing and showing his even rows of teeth. 
“Excuse me,” he added, taking an opera
glass out of her hand, and proceeding to scrutinize,
over her bare shoulder, the row of boxes facing them. 
“I’m afraid I’m becoming ridiculous.”

He was very well aware that he ran
no risk of being ridiculous in the eyes of Betsy or
any other fashionable people.  He was very well
aware that in their eyes the position of an unsuccessful
lover of a girl, or of any woman free to marry, might
be ridiculous.  But the position of a man pursuing
a married woman, and, regardless of everything, staking
his life on drawing her into adultery, has something
fine and grand about it, and can never be ridiculous;
and so it was with a proud and gay smile under his
mustaches that he lowered the opera glass and looked
at his cousin.

“But why was it you didn’t
come to dinner?” she said, admiring him.

“I must tell you about that. 
I was busily employed, and doing what, do you suppose? 
I’ll give you a hundred guesses, a thousand…you’d
never guess.  I’ve been reconciling a husband
with a man who’d insulted his wife.  Yes,
really!”

“Well, did you succeed?”

“Almost.”

“You really must tell me about
it,” she said, getting up.  “Come
to me in the next entr’acte.

“I can’t; I’m going to the French
theater.”

“From Nilsson?” Betsy
queried in horror, though she could not herself have
distinguished Nilsson’s voice from any chorus
girl’s.

“Can’t help it. 
I’ve an appointment there, all to do with my
mission of peace.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’” said
Betsy, vaguely recollecting she had heard some similar
saying from someone.  “Very well, then,
sit down, and tell me what it’s all about.”

And she sat down again.

 

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