FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 8

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

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Alexey Alexandrovitch had seen nothing
striking or improper in the fact that his wife was
sitting with Vronsky at a table apart, in eager conversation
with him about something.  But he noticed that
to the rest of the party this appeared something striking
and improper, and for that reason it seemed to him
too to be improper.  He made up his mind that
he must speak of it to his wife.

On reaching home Alexey Alexandrovitch
went to his study, as he usually did, seated himself
in his low chair, opened a book on the Papacy at the
place where he had laid the paper-knife in it, and
read till one o’clock, just as he usually did. 
But from time to time he rubbed his high forehead
and shook his head, as though to drive away something. 
At his usual time he got up and made his toilet for
the night.  Anna Arkadyevna had not yet come
in.  With a book under his arm he went upstairs. 
But this evening, instead of his usual thoughts and
meditations upon official details, his thoughts were
absorbed by his wife and something disagreeable connected
with her.  Contrary to his usual habit, he did
not get into bed, but fell to walking up and down
the rooms with his hands clasped behind his back. 
He could not go to bed, feeling that it was absolutely
needful for him first to think thoroughly over the
position that had just arisen.

When Alexey Alexandrovitch had made
up his mind that he must talk to his wife about it,
it had seemed a very easy and simple matter. 
But now, when he began to think over the question
that had just presented itself, it seemed to him very
complicated and difficult.

Alexey Alexandrovitch was not jealous. 
Jealousy according to his notions was an insult to
one’s wife, and one ought to have confidence
in one’s wife.  Why one ought to have confidence ­
that is to say, complete conviction that his young
wife would always love him ­he did not ask
himself.  But he had no experience of lack of
confidence, because he had confidence in her, and
told himself that he ought to have it.  Now, though
his conviction that jealousy was a shameful feeling
and that one ought to feel confidence, had not broken
down, he felt that he was standing face to face with
something illogical and irrational, and did not know
what was to be done.  Alexey Alexandrovitch was
standing face to face with life, with the possibility
of his wife’s loving someone other than himself,
and this seemed to him very irrational and incomprehensible
because it was life itself.  All his life Alexey
Alexandrovitch had lived and worked in official spheres,
having to do with the reflection of life.  And
every time he had stumbled against life itself he
had shrunk away from it.  Now he experienced a
feeling akin to that of a man who, while calmly crossing
a precipice by a bridge, should suddenly discover
that the bridge is broken, and that there is a chasm
below.  That chasm was life itself, the bridge
that artificial life in which Alexey Alexandrovitch
had lived.  For the first time the question presented
itself to him of the possibility of his wife’s
loving someone else, and he was horrified at it.

He did not undress, but walked up
and down with his regular tread over the resounding
parquet of the dining room, where one lamp was burning,
over the carpet of the dark drawing room, in which
the light was reflected on the big new portrait of
himself hanging over the sofa, and across her boudoir,
where two candles burned, lighting up the portraits
of her parents and woman friends, and the pretty knick-knacks
of her writing table, that he knew so well. 
He walked across her boudoir to the bedroom door,
and turned back again.  At each turn in his walk,
especially at the parquet of the lighted dining room,
he halted and said to himself, “Yes, this I
must decide and put a stop to; I must express my view
of it and my decision.”  And he turned back
again.  “But express what ­what
decision?” he said to himself in the drawing
room, and he found no reply.  “But after
all,” he asked himself before turning into the
boudoir, “what has occurred?  Nothing. 
She was talking a long while with him.  But
what of that?  Surely women in society can talk
to whom they please.  And then, jealousy means
lowering both myself and her,” he told himself
as he went into her boudoir; but this dictum, which
had always had such weight with him before, had now
no weight and no meaning at all.  And from the
bedroom door he turned back again; but as he entered
the dark drawing room some inner voice told him that
it was not so, and that if others noticed it that
showed that there was something.  And he said
to himself again in the dining room, “Yes, I
must decide and put a stop to it, and express my view
of it…”  And again at the turn in the
drawing room he asked himself, “Decide how?”
And again he asked himself, “What had occurred?”
and answered, “Nothing,” and recollected
that jealousy was a feeling insulting to his wife;
but again in the drawing room he was convinced that
something had happened.  His thoughts, like his
body, went round a complete circle, without coming
upon anything new.  He noticed this, rubbed his
forehead, and sat down in her boudoir.

There, looking at her table, with
the malachite blotting case lying at the top and an
unfinished letter, his thoughts suddenly changed. 
He began to think of her, of what she was thinking
and feeling.  For the first time he pictured
vividly to himself her personal life, her ideas, her
desires, and the idea that she could and should have
a separate life of her own seemed to him so alarming
that he made haste to dispel it.  It was the chasm
which he was afraid to peep into.  To put himself
in thought and feeling in another person’s place
was a spiritual exercise not natural to Alexey Alexandrovitch. 
He looked on this spiritual exercise as a harmful
and dangerous abuse of the fancy.

“And the worst of it all,”
thought he, “is that just now, at the very moment
when my great work is approaching completion”
(he was thinking of the project he was bringing forward
at the time), “when I stand in need of all my
mental peace and all my energies, just now this stupid
worry should fall foul of me.  But what’s
to be done?  I’m not one of those men who
submit to uneasiness and worry without having the
force of character to face them.

“I must think it over, come
to a decision, and put it out of my mind,” he
said aloud.

“The question of her feelings,
of what has passed and may be passing in her soul,
that’s not my affair; that’s the affair
of her conscience, and falls under the head of religion,”
he said to himself, feeling consolation in the sense
that he had found to which division of regulating
principles this new circumstance could be properly
referred.

“And so,” Alexey Alexandrovitch
said to himself, “questions as to her feelings,
and so on, are questions for her conscience, with
which I can have nothing to do.  My duty is clearly
defined.  As the head of the family, I am a person
bound in duty to guide her, and consequently, in part
the person responsible; I am bound to point out the
danger I perceive, to warn her, even to use my authority. 
I ought to speak plainly to her.”  And everything
that he would say tonight to his wife took clear shape
in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s head.  Thinking
over what he would say, he somewhat regretted that
he should have to use his time and mental powers for
domestic consumption, with so little to show for it,
but, in spite of that, the form and contents of the
speech before him shaped itself as clearly and distinctly
in his head as a ministerial report.

“I must say and express fully
the following points:  first, exposition of the
value to be attached to public opinion and to decorum;
secondly, exposition of religious significance of
marriage; thirdly, if need be, reference to the calamity
possibly ensuing to our son; fourthly, reference to
the unhappiness likely to result to herself.” 
And, interlacing his fingers, Alexey Alexandrovitch
stretched them, and the joints of the fingers cracked. 
This trick, a bad habit, the cracking of his fingers,
always soothed him, and gave precision to his thoughts,
so needful to him at this juncture.

There was the sound of a carriage
driving up to the front door.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
halted in the middle of the room.

A woman’s step was heard mounting
the stairs.  Alexey Alexandrovitch, ready for
his speech, stood compressing his crossed fingers,
waiting to see if the crack would not come again. 
One joint cracked.

Already, from the sound of light steps
on the stairs, he was aware that she was close, and
though he was satisfied with his speech, he felt frightened
of the explanation confronting him…

 

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