FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 9

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

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Anna came in with hanging head, playing
with the tassels of her hood.  Her face was brilliant
and glowing; but this glow was not one of brightness;
it suggested the fearful glow of a conflagration in
the midst of a dark night.  On seeing her husband,
Anna raised her head and smiled, as though she had
just waked up.

“You’re not in bed? 
What a wonder!” she said, letting fall her
hood, and without stopping, she went on into the dressing
room.  “It’s late, Alexey Alexandrovitch,”
she said, when she had gone through the doorway.

“Anna, it’s necessary
for me to have a talk with you.”

“With me?” she said, wonderingly. 
She came out from behind the door of the dressing
room, and looked at him.  “Why, what is
it?  What about?” she asked, sitting down. 
“Well, let’s talk, if it’s so necessary. 
But it would be better to get to sleep.”

Anna said what came to her lips, and
marveled, hearing herself, at her own capacity for
lying.  How simple and natural were her words,
and how likely that she was simply sleepy!  She
felt herself clad in an impenetrable armor of falsehood. 
She felt that some unseen force had come to her aid
and was supporting her.

“Anna, I must warn you,” he began.

“Warn me?” she said.  “Of what?”

She looked at him so simply, so brightly,
that anyone who did not know her as her husband knew
her could not have noticed anything unnatural, either
in the sound or the sense of her words.  But
to him, knowing her, knowing that whenever he went
to bed five minutes later than usual, she noticed
it, and asked him the reason; to him, knowing that
every joy, every pleasure and pain that she felt she
communicated to him at once; to him, now to see that
she did not care to notice his state of mind, that
she did not care to say a word about herself, meant
a great deal.  He saw that the inmost recesses
of her soul, that had always hitherto lain open before
him, were closed against him.  More than that,
he saw from her tone that she was not even perturbed
at that, but as it were said straight out to him: 
“Yes, it’s shut up, and so it must be,
and will be in future.”  Now he experienced
a feeling such as a man might have, returning home
and finding his own house locked up.  “But
perhaps the key may yet be found,” thought Alexey
Alexandrovitch.

“I want to warn you,”
he said in a low voice, “that through thoughtlessness
and lack of caution you may cause yourself to be talked
about in society.  Your too animated conversation
this evening with Count Vronsky” (he enunciated
the name firmly and with deliberate emphasis) “attracted
attention.”

He talked and looked at her laughing
eyes, which frightened him now with their impenetrable
look, and, as he talked, he felt all the uselessness
and idleness of his words.

“You’re always like that,”
she answered, as though completely misapprehending
him, and of all he had said only taking in the last
phrase.  “One time you don’t like
my being dull, and another time you don’t like
my being lively.  I wasn’t dull.  Does
that offend you?”

Alexey Alexandrovitch shivered, and
bent his hands to make the joints crack.

“Oh, please, don’t do
that, I do so dislike it,” she said.

“Anna, is this you?” said
Alexey Alexandrovitch, quietly making an effort over
himself, and restraining the motion of his fingers.

“But what is it all about?”
she said, with such genuine and droll wonder. 
“What do you want of me?”

Alexey Alexandrovitch paused, and
rubbed his forehead and his eyes.  He saw that
instead of doing as he had intended ­that
is to say, warning his wife against a mistake in the
eyes of the world ­he had unconsciously
become agitated over what was the affair of her conscience,
and was struggling against the barrier he fancied
between them.

“This is what I meant to say
to you,” he went on coldly and composedly, “and
I beg you to listen to it.  I consider jealousy,
as you know, a humiliating and degrading feeling, and
I shall never allow myself to be influenced by it;
but there are certain rules of decorum which cannot
be disregarded with impunity.  This evening it
was not I observed it, but judging by the impression
made on the company, everyone observed that your conduct
and deportment were not altogether what could be desired.”

“I positively don’t understand,”
said Anna, shrugging her shoulders ­“He
doesn’t care,” she thought.  “But
other people noticed it, and that’s what upsets
him.” ­“You’re not well,
Alexey Alexandrovitch,” she added, and she got
up, and would have gone towards the door; but he moved
forward as though he would stop her.

His face was ugly and forbidding,
as Anna had never seen him.  She stopped, and
bending her head back and on one side, began with
her rapid hand taking out her hairpins.

“Well, I’m listening to
what’s to come,” she said, calmly and
ironically; “and indeed I listen with interest,
for I should like to understand what’s the matter.”

She spoke, and marveled at the confident,
calm, and natural tone in which she was speaking,
and the choice of the words she used.

“To enter into all the details
of your feelings I have no right, and besides, I regard
that as useless and even harmful,” began Alexey
Alexandrovitch.  “Ferreting in one’s
soul, one often ferrets out something that might have
lain there unnoticed.  Your feelings are an affair
of your own conscience; but I am in duty bound to
you, to myself, and to God, to point out to you your
duties.  Our life has been joined, not by man,
but by God.  That union can only be severed by
a crime, and a crime of that nature brings its own
chastisement.”

“I don’t understand a
word.  And, oh dear! how sleepy I am, unluckily,”
she said, rapidly passing her hand through her hair,
feeling for the remaining hairpins.

“Anna, for God’s sake
don’t speak like that!” he said gently. 
“Perhaps I am mistaken, but believe me, what
I say, I say as much for myself as for you. 
I am your husband, and I love you.”

For an instant her face fell, and
the mocking gleam in her eyes died away; but the word
love threw her into revolt again.  She thought: 
“Love?  Can he love?  If he hadn’t
heard there was such a thing as love, he would never
have used the word.  He doesn’t even know
what love is.”

“Alexey Alexandrovitch, really
I don’t understand,” she said.  “Define
what it is you find…”

“Pardon, let me say all I have
to say.  I love you.  But I am not speaking
of myself; the most important persons in this matter
are our son and yourself.  It may very well be,
I repeat, that my words seem to you utterly unnecessary
and out of place; it may be that they are called forth
by my mistaken impression.  In that case, I beg
you to forgive me.  But if you are conscious
yourself of even the smallest foundation for them,
then I beg you to think a little, and if your heart
prompts you, to speak out to me…”

Alexey Alexandrovitch was unconsciously
saying something utterly unlike what he had prepared.

“I have nothing to say. 
And besides,” she said hurriedly, with difficulty
repressing a smile, “it’s really time to
be in bed.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed, and,
without saying more, went into the bedroom.

When she came into the bedroom, he
was already in bed.  His lips were sternly compressed,
and his eyes looked away from her.  Anna got
into her bed, and lay expecting every minute that he
would begin to speak to her again.  She both
feared his speaking and wished for it.  But he
was silent.  She waited for a long while without
moving, and had forgotten about him.  She thought
of that other; she pictured him, and felt how her
heart was flooded with emotion and guilty delight
at the thought of him.  Suddenly she heard an
even, tranquil snore.  For the first instant Alexey
Alexandrovitch seemed, as it were, appalled at his
own snoring, and ceased; but after an interval of
two breathings the snore sounded again, with a new
tranquil rhythm.

“It’s late, it’s
late,” she whispered with a smile.  A long
while she lay, not moving, with open eyes, whose brilliance
she almost fancied she could herself see in the darkness.

 

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