FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 7

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

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Steps were heard at the door, and
Princess Betsy, knowing it was Madame Karenina, glanced
at Vronsky.  He was looking towards the door,
and his face wore a strange new expression.  Joyfully,
intently, and at the same time timidly, he gazed at
the approaching figure, and slowly he rose to his
feet.  Anna walked into the drawing room. 
Holding herself extremely erect, as always, looking
straight before her, and moving with her swift, resolute,
and light step, that distinguished her from all other
society women, she crossed the short space to her hostess,
shook hands with her, smiled, and with the same smile
looked around at Vronsky.  Vronsky bowed low
and pushed a chair up for her.

She acknowledged this only by a slight
nod, flushed a little, and frowned.  But immediately,
while rapidly greeting her acquaintances, and shaking
the hands proffered to her, she addressed Princess
Betsy: 

“I have been at Countess Lidia’s,
and meant to have come here earlier, but I stayed
on.  Sir John was there.  He’s very
interesting.”

“Oh, that’s this missionary?”

“Yes; he told us about the life
in India, most interesting things.”

The conversation, interrupted by her
coming in, flickered up again like the light of a
lamp being blown out.

“Sir John!  Yes, Sir John;
I’ve seen him.  He speaks well.  The
Vlassieva girl’s quite in love with him.”

“And is it true the younger
Vlassieva girl’s to marry Topov?”

“Yes, they say it’s quite a settled thing.”

“I wonder at the parents!  They say it’s
a marriage for love.”

“For love?  What antediluvian
notions you have!  Can one talk of love in these
days?” said the ambassador’s wife.

“What’s to be done? 
It’s a foolish old fashion that’s kept
up still,” said Vronsky.

“So much the worse for those
who keep up the fashion.  The only happy marriages
I know are marriages of prudence.”

“Yes, but then how often the
happiness of these prudent marriages flies away like
dust just because that passion turns up that they
have refused to recognize,” said Vronsky.

“But by marriages of prudence
we mean those in which both parties have sown their
wild oats already.  That’s like scarlatina ­one
has to go through it and get it over.”

“Then they ought to find out
how to vaccinate for love, like smallpox.”

“I was in love in my young days
with a deacon,” said the Princess Myakaya. 
“I don’t know that it did me any good.”

“No; I imagine, joking apart,
that to know love, one must make mistakes and then
correct them,” said Princess Betsy.

“Even after marriage?”
said the ambassador’s wife playfully.

“‘It’s never too
late to mend.’” The attache repeated the
English proverb.

“Just so,” Betsy agreed;
“one must make mistakes and correct them. 
What do you think about it?” she turned to Anna,
who, with a faintly perceptible resolute smile on
her lips, was listening in silence to the conversation.

“I think,” said Anna,
playing with the glove she had taken off, “I
think…of so many men, so many minds, certainly so
many hearts, so many kinds of love.”

Vronsky was gazing at Anna, and with
a fainting heart waiting for what she would say. 
He sighed as after a danger escaped when she uttered
these words.

Anna suddenly turned to him.

“Oh, I have had a letter from
Moscow.  They write me that Kitty Shtcherbatskaya’s
very ill.”

“Really?” said Vronsky, knitting his brows.

Anna looked sternly at him.

“That doesn’t interest you?”

“On the contrary, it does, very
much.  What was it exactly they told you, if
I may know?” he questioned.

Anna got up and went to Betsy.

“Give me a cup of tea,” she said, standing
at her table.

While Betsy was pouring out the tea, Vronsky went
up to Anna.

“What is it they write to you?” he repeated.

“I often think men have no understanding
of what’s not honorable though they’re
always talking of it,” said Anna, without answering
him.  “I’ve wanted to tell you so
a long while,” she added, and moving a few steps
away, she sat down at a table in a corner covered
with albums.

“I don’t quite understand
the meaning of your words,” he said, handing
her the cup.

She glanced towards the sofa beside
her, and he instantly sat down.

“Yes, I have been wanting to
tell you,” she said, not looking at him. 
“You behaved wrongly, very wrongly.”

“Do you suppose I don’t
know that I’ve acted wrongly?  But who
was the cause of my doing so?”

“What do you say that to me
for?” she said, glancing severely at him.

“You know what for,” he
answered boldly and joyfully, meeting her glance and
not dropping his eyes.

Not he, but she, was confused.

“That only shows you have no
heart,” she said.  But her eyes said that
she knew he had a heart, and that was why she was afraid
of him.

“What you spoke of just now
was a mistake, and not love.”

“Remember that I have forbidden
you to utter that word, that hateful word,”
said Anna, with a shudder.  But at once she felt
that by that very word “forbidden” she
had shown that she acknowledged certain rights over
him, and by that very fact was encouraging him to
speak of love.  “I have long meant to tell
you this,” she went on, looking resolutely into
his eyes, and hot all over from the burning flush
on her cheeks.  “I’ve come on purpose
this evening, knowing I should meet you.  I have
come to tell you that this must end.  I have
never blushed before anyone, and you force me to feel
to blame for something.”

He looked at her and was struck by
a new spiritual beauty in her face.

“What do you wish of me?”
he said simply and seriously.

“I want you to go to Moscow
and ask for Kitty’s forgiveness,” she
said.

“You don’t wish that?” he said.

He saw she was saying what she forced
herself to say, not what she wanted to say.

“If you love me, as you say,”
she whispered, “do so that I may be at peace.”

His face grew radiant.

“Don’t you know that you’re
all my life to me?  But I know no peace, and I
can’t give it to you; all myself ­and
love…yes.  I can’t think of you and myself
apart.  You and I are one to me.  And I see
no chance before us of peace for me or for you. 
I see a chance of despair, of wretchedness…or I
see a chance of bliss, what bliss!…  Can it
be there’s no chance of it?” he murmured
with his lips; but she heard.

She strained every effort of her mind
to say what ought to be said.  But instead of
that she let her eyes rest on him, full of love, and
made no answer.

“It’s come!” he
thought in ecstasy.  “When I was beginning
to despair, and it seemed there would be no end ­it’s
come!  She loves me!  She owns it!”

“Then do this for me:  never
say such things to me, and let us be friends,”
she said in words; but her eyes spoke quite differently.

“Friends we shall never be,
you know that yourself.  Whether we shall be
the happiest or the wretchedest of people ­that’s
in your hands.”

She would have said something, but
he interrupted her.

“I ask one thing only: 
I ask for the right to hope, to suffer as I do. 
But if even that cannot be, command me to disappear,
and I disappear.  You shall not see me if my
presence is distasteful to you.”

“I don’t want to drive you away.”

“Only don’t change anything,
leave everything as it is,” he said in a shaky
voice.  “Here’s your husband.”

At that instant Alexey Alexandrovitch
did in fact walk into the room with his calm, awkward
gait.

Glancing at his wife and Vronsky,
he went up to the lady of the house, and sitting down
for a cup of tea, began talking in his deliberate,
always audible voice, in his habitual tone of banter,
ridiculing someone.

“Your Rambouillet is in full
conclave,” he said, looking round at all the
party; “the graces and the muses.”

But Princess Betsy could not endure
that tone of his ­ “sneering,”
as she called it, using the English word, and like
a skillful hostess she at once brought him into a
serious conversation on the subject of universal conscription. 
Alexey Alexandrovitch was immediately interested
in the subject, and began seriously defending the
new imperial decree against Princess Betsy, who had
attacked it.

Vronsky and Anna still sat at the little table.

“This is getting indecorous,”
whispered one lady, with an expressive glance at Madame
Karenina, Vronsky, and her husband.

“What did I tell you?” said Anna’s
friend.

But not only those ladies, almost
everyone in the room, even the Princess Myakaya and
Betsy herself, looked several times in the direction
of the two who had withdrawn from the general circle,
as though that were a disturbing fact.  Alexey
Alexandrovitch was the only person who did not once
look in that direction, and was not diverted from
the interesting discussion he had entered upon.

Noticing the disagreeable impression
that was being made on everyone, Princess Betsy slipped
someone else into her place to listen to Alexey Alexandrovitch,
and went up to Anna.

“I’m always amazed at
the clearness and precision of your husband’s
language,” she said.  “The most transcendental
ideas seem to be within my grasp when he’s speaking.”

“Oh, yes!” said Anna,
radiant with a smile of happiness, and not understanding
a word of what Betsy had said.  She crossed over
to the big table and took part in the general conversation.

Alexey Alexandrovitch, after staying
half an hour, went up to his wife and suggested that
they should go home together.  But she answered,
not looking at him, that she was staying to supper. 
Alexey Alexandrovitch made his bows and withdrew.

The fat old Tatar, Madame Karenina’s
coachman, was with difficulty holding one of her pair
of grays, chilled with the cold and rearing at the
entrance.  A footman stood opening the carriage
door.  The hall porter stood holding open the
great door of the house.  Anna Arkadyevna, with
her quick little hand, was unfastening the lace of
her sleeve, caught in the hook of her fur cloak, and
with bent head listening to the words Vronsky murmured
as he escorted her down.

“You’ve said nothing,
of course, and I ask nothing,” he was saying;
“but you know that friendship’s not what
I want:  that there’s only one happiness
in life for me, that word that you dislike so…yes,
love!…”

“Love,” she repeated slowly,
in an inner voice, and suddenly, at the very instant
she unhooked the lace, she added, “Why I don’t
like the word is that it means too much to me, far
more than you can understand,” and she glanced
into his face. “Au revoir!

She gave him her hand, and with her
rapid, springy step she passed by the porter and vanished
into the carriage.

Her glance, the touch of her hand,
set him aflame.  He kissed the palm of his hand
where she had touched it, and went home, happy in
the sense that he had got nearer to the attainment
of his aims that evening than during the last two
months.

 

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