FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 25

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

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When Alexey Alexandrovitch came into
the Countess Lidia Ivanovna’s snug little boudoir,
decorated with old china and hung with portraits,
the lady herself had not yet made her appearance.

She was changing her dress.

A cloth was laid on a round table,
and on it stood a china tea service and a silver spirit-lamp
and tea kettle.  Alexey Alexandrovitch looked
idly about at the endless familiar portraits which
adorned the room, and sitting down to the table, he
opened a New Testament lying upon it.  The rustle
of the countess’s silk skirt drew his attention
off.

“Well now, we can sit quietly,”
said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, slipping hurriedly with
an agitated smile between the table and the sofa,
“and talk over our tea.”

After some words of preparation, Countess
Lidia Ivanovna, breathing hard and flushing crimson,
gave into Alexey Alexandrovitch’s hands the
letter she had received.

After reading the letter, he sat a
long while in silence.

“I don’t think I have
the right to refuse her,” he said, timidly lifting
his eyes.

“Dear friend, you never see evil in anyone!”

“On the contrary, I see that
all is evil.  But whether it is just…”

His face showed irresolution, and
a seeking for counsel, support, and guidance in a
matter he did not understand.

“No,” Countess Lidia Ivanovna
interrupted him; “there are limits to everything. 
I can understand immorality,” she said, not
quite truthfully, since she never could understand
that which leads women to immorality; “but I
don’t understand cruelty:  to whom? to you! 
How can she stay in the town where you are? 
No, the longer one lives the more one learns. 
And I’m learning to understand your loftiness
and her baseness.”

“Who is to throw a stone?”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch, unmistakably pleased with
the part he had to play.  “I have forgiven
all, and so I cannot deprive her of what is exacted
by love in her ­by her love for her son….”

“But is that love, my friend? 
Is it sincere?  Admitting that you have forgiven ­that
you forgive ­have we the right to work on
the feelings of that angel?  He looks on her
as dead.  He prays for her, and beseeches God
to have mercy on her sins.  And it is better
so.  But now what will he think?”

“I had not thought of that,”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch, evidently agreeing.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna hid her face
in her hands and was silent. she was praying.

“If you ask my advice,”
she said, having finished her prayer and uncovered
her face, “I do not advise you to do this. 
Do you suppose I don’t see how you are suffering,
how this has torn open your wounds?  But supposing
that, as always, you don’t think of yourself,
what can it lead to? ­to fresh suffering
for you, to torture for the child.  If there
were a trace of humanity left in her, she ought not
to wish for it herself.  No, I have no hesitation
in saying I advise not, and if you will intrust it
to me, I will write to her.”

And Alexey Alexandrovitch consented,
and Countess Lidia Ivanovna sent the following letter
in French: 

“Dear Madame,

“To be reminded of you might
have results for your son in leading to questions
on his part which could not be answered without implanting
in the child’s soul a spirit of censure towards
what should be for him sacred, and therefore I beg
you to interpret your husband’s refusal in the
spirit of Christian love.  I pray to Almighty
God to have mercy on you. 
                                Countess
Lidia”

This letter attained the secret object
which Countess Lidia Ivanovna had concealed from herself. 
It wounded Anna to the quick.

For his part, Alexey Alexandrovitch,
on returning home from Lidia Ivanovna’s, could
not all that day concentrate himself on his usual
pursuits, and find that spiritual peace of one saved
and believing which he had felt of late.

The thought of his wife, who had so
greatly sinned against him, and towards whom he had
been so saintly, as Countess Lidia Ivanovna had so
justly told him, ought not to have troubled him; but
he was not easy; he could not understand the book he
was reading; he could not drive away harassing recollections
of his relations with her, of the mistake which, as
it now seemed, he had made in regard to her. 
The memory of how he had received her confession
of infidelity on their way home from the races (especially
that he had insisted only on the observance of external
decorum, and had not sent a challenge) tortured him
like a remorse.  He was tortured too by the thought
of the letter he had written her; and most of all,
his forgiveness, which nobody wanted, and his care
of the other man’s child made his heart burn
with shame and remorse.

And just the same feeling of shame
and regret he felt now, as he reviewed all his past
with her, recalling the awkward words in which, after
long wavering, he had made her an offer.

“But how have I been to blame?”
he said to himself.  And this question always
excited another question in him ­whether
they felt differently, did their loving and marrying
differently, these Vronskys and Oblonskys…these
gentlemen of the bedchamber, with their fine calves. 
And there passed before his mind a whole series of
these mettlesome, vigorous, self-confident men, who
always and everywhere drew his inquisitive attention
in spite of himself.  He tried to dispel these
thoughts, he tried to persuade himself that he was
not living for this transient life, but for the life
of eternity, and that there was peace and love in
his heart.

But the fact that he had in this transient,
trivial life made, as it seemed to him, a few trivial
mistakes tortured him as though the eternal salvation
in which he believed had no existence.  But this
temptation did not last long, and soon there was reestablished
once more in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s soul the
peace and the elevation by virtue of which he could
forget what he did not want to remember.

 

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