FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 21

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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From the moment when Alexey Alexandrovitch
understood from his interviews with Betsy and with
Stepan Arkadyevitch that all that was expected of
him was to leave his wife in peace, without burdening
her with his presence, and that his wife herself desired
this, he felt so distraught that he could come to no
decision of himself; he did not know himself what he
wanted now, and putting himself in the hands of those
who were so pleased to interest themselves in his
affairs, he met everything with unqualified assent. 
It was only when Anna had left his house, and the
English governess sent to ask him whether she should
dine with him or separately, that for the first time
he clearly comprehended his position, and was appalled
by it.  Most difficult of all in this position
was the fact that he could not in any way connect
and reconcile his past with what was now.  It
was not the past when he had lived happily with his
wife that troubled him.  The transition from
that past to a knowledge of his wife’s unfaithfulness
he had lived through miserably already; that state
was painful, but he could understand it.  If his
wife had then, on declaring to him her unfaithfulness,
left him, he would have been wounded, unhappy, but
he would not have been in the hopeless position ­incomprehensible
to himself ­in which he felt himself now. 
He could not now reconcile his immediate past, his
tenderness, his love for his sick wife, and for the
other man’s child with what was now the case,
that is with the fact that, as it were, in return
for all this he now found himself alone, put to shame,
a laughing-stock, needed by no one, and despised by
everyone.

For the first two days after his wife’s
departure Alexey Alexandrovitch received applicants
for assistance and his chief secretary, drove to the
committee, and went down to dinner in the dining room
as usual.  Without giving himself a reason for
what he was doing, he strained every nerve of his
being for those two days, simply to preserve an appearance
of composure, and even of indifference.  Answering
inquiries about the disposition of Anna Arkadyevna’s
rooms and belongings, he had exercised immense self-control
to appear like a man in whose eyes what had occurred
was not unforeseen nor out of the ordinary course of
events, and he attained his aim:  no one could
have detected in him signs of despair.  But on
the second day after her departure, when Korney gave
him a bill from a fashionable draper’s shop,
which Anna had forgotten to pay, and announced that
the clerk from the shop was waiting, Alexey Alexandrovitch
told him to show the clerk up.

“Excuse me, your excellency,
for venturing to trouble you.  But if you direct
us to apply to her excellency, would you graciously
oblige us with her address?”

Alexey Alexandrovitch pondered, as
it seemed to the clerk, and all at once, turning round,
he sat down at the table.  Letting his head sink
into his hands, he sat for a long while in that position,
several times attempted to speak and stopped short. 
Korney, perceiving his master’s emotion, asked
the clerk to call another time.  Left alone,
Alexey Alexandrovitch recognized that he had not the
strength to keep up the line of firmness and composure
any longer.  He gave orders for the carriage that
was awaiting him to be taken back, and for no one
to be admitted, and he did not go down to dinner.

He felt that he could not endure the
weight of universal contempt and exasperation, which
he had distinctly seen in the face of the clerk and
of Korney, and of everyone, without exception, whom
he had met during those two days.  He felt that
he could not turn aside from himself the hatred of
men, because that hatred did not come from his being
bad (in that case he could have tried to be better),
but from his being shamefully and repulsively unhappy. 
He knew that for this, for the very fact that his heart
was torn with grief, they would be merciless to him. 
He felt that men would crush him as dogs strangle
a torn dog yelping with pain.  He knew that his
sole means of security against people was to hide
his wounds from them, and instinctively he tried to
do this for two days, but now he felt incapable of
keeping up the unequal struggle.

His despair was even intensified by
the consciousness that he was utterly alone in his
sorrow.  In all Petersburg there was not a human
being to whom he could express what he was feeling,
who would feel for him, not as a high official, not
as a member of society, but simply as a suffering
man; indeed he had not such a one in the whole world.

Alexey Alexandrovitch grew up an orphan. 
There were two brothers.  They did not remember
their father, and their mother died when Alexey Alexandrovitch
was ten years old.  The property was a small
one.  Their uncle, Karenin, a government official
of high standing, at one time a favorite of the late
Tsar, had brought them up.

On completing his high school and
university courses with medals, Alexey Alexandrovitch
had, with his uncle’s aid, immediately started
in a prominent position in the service, and from that
time forward he had devoted himself exclusively to
political ambition.  In the high school and the
university, and afterwards in the service, Alexey
Alexandrovitch had never formed a close friendship
with anyone.  His brother had been the person
nearest to his heart, but he had a post in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, and was always abroad, where he
had died shortly after Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
marriage.

While he was governor of a province,
Anna’s aunt, a wealthy provincial lady, had
thrown him ­middle-aged as he was, though
young for a governor ­with her niece, and
had succeeded in putting him in such a position that
he had either to declare himself or to leave the town. 
Alexey Alexandrovitch was not long in hesitation. 
There were at the time as many reasons for the step
as against it, and there was no overbalancing consideration
to outweigh his invariable rule of abstaining when
in doubt.  But Anna’s aunt had through
a common acquaintance insinuated that he had already
compromised the girl, and that he was in honor bound
to make her an offer.  He made the offer, and
concentrated on his betrothed and his wife all the
feeling of which he was capable.

The attachment he felt to Anna precluded
in his heart every need of intimate relations with
others.  And now among all his acquaintances
he had not one friend.  He had plenty of so-called
connections, but no friendships.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
had plenty of people whom he could invite to dinner,
to whose sympathy he could appeal in any public affair
he was concerned about, whose interest he could reckon
upon for anyone he wished to help, with whom he could
candidly discuss other people’s business and
affairs of state.  But his relations with these
people were confined to one clearly defined channel,
and had a certain routine from which it was impossible
to depart.  There was one man, a comrade of his
at the university, with whom he had made friends later,
and with whom he could have spoken of a personal sorrow;
but this friend had a post in the Department of Education
in a remote part of Russia.  Of the people in
Petersburg the most intimate and most possible were
his chief secretary and his doctor.

Mihail Vassilievitch Sludin, the chief
secretary, was a straightforward, intelligent, good-hearted,
and conscientious man, and Alexey Alexandrovitch was
aware of his personal goodwill.  But their five
years of official work together seemed to have put
a barrier between them that cut off warmer relations.

After signing the papers brought him,
Alexey Alexandrovitch had sat for a long while in
silence, glancing at Mihail Vassilievitch, and several
times he attempted to speak, but could not. 
He had already prepared the phrase:  “You
have heard of my trouble?” But he ended by
saying, as usual:  “So you’ll get this
ready for me?” and with that dismissed him.

The other person was the doctor, who
had also a kindly feeling for him; but there had long
existed a taciturn understanding between them that
both were weighed down by work, and always in a hurry.

Of his women friends, foremost amongst
them Countess Lidia Ivanovna, Alexey Alexandrovitch
never thought.  All women, simply as women, were
terrible and distasteful to him.

 

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