FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 22

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

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The rain did not last long, and by
the time Vronsky arrived, his shaft-horse trotting
at full speed and dragging the trace-horses galloping
through the mud, with their reins hanging loose, the
sun had peeped out again, the roofs of the summer villas
and the old limetrees in the gardens on both sides
of the principal streets sparkled with wet brilliance,
and from the twigs came a pleasant drip and from the
roofs rushing streams of water.  He thought no
more of the shower spoiling the race course, but was
rejoicing now that ­thanks to the rain ­he
would be sure to find her at home and alone, as he
knew that Alexey Alexandrovitch, who had lately returned
from a foreign watering place, had not moved from
Petersburg.

Hoping to find her alone, Vronsky
alighted, as he always did, to avoid attracting attention,
before crossing the bridge, and walked to the house. 
He did not go up the steps to the street door, but
went into the court.

“Has your master come?” he asked a gardener.

“No, sir.  The mistress
is at home.  But will you please go to the front
door; there are servants there,” the gardener
answered.  “They’ll open the door.”

“No, I’ll go in from the garden.”

And feeling satisfied that she was
alone, and wanting to take her by surprise, since
he had not promised to be there today, and she would
certainly not expect him to come before the races,
he walked, holding his sword and stepping cautiously
over the sandy path, bordered with flowers, to the
terrace that looked out upon the garden.  Vronsky
forgot now all that he had thought on the way of the
hardships and difficulties of their position. 
He thought of nothing but that he would see her directly,
not in imagination, but living, all of her, as she
was in reality.  He was just going in, stepping
on his whole foot so as not to creak, up the worn
steps of the terrace, when he suddenly remembered
what he always forgot, and what caused the most torturing
side of his relations with her, her son with his questioning ­hostile,
as he fancied ­eyes.

This boy was more often than anyone
else a check upon their freedom.  When he was
present, both Vronsky and Anna did not merely avoid
speaking of anything that they could not have repeated
before everyone; they did not even allow themselves
to refer by hints to anything the boy did not understand. 
They had made no agreement about this, it had settled
itself.  They would have felt it wounding themselves
to deceive the child.  In his presence they talked
like acquaintances.  But in spite of this caution,
Vronsky often saw the child’s intent, bewildered
glance fixed upon him, and a strange shyness, uncertainty,
at one time friendliness, at another, coldness and
reserve, in the boy’s manner to him; as though
the child felt that between this man and his mother
there existed some important bond, the significance
of which he could not understand.

As a fact, the boy did feel that he
could not understand this relation, and he tried painfully,
and was not able to make clear to himself what feeling
he ought to have for this man.  With a child’s
keen instinct for every manifestation of feeling, he
saw distinctly that his father, his governess, his
nurse, ­all did not merely dislike Vronsky,
but looked on him with horror and aversion, though
they never said anything about him, while his mother
looked on him as her greatest friend.

“What does it mean?  Who
is he?  How ought I to love him?  If I don’t
know, it’s my fault; either I’m stupid
or a naughty boy,” thought the child. 
And this was what caused his dubious, inquiring, sometimes
hostile, expression, and the shyness and uncertainty
which Vronsky found so irksome.  This child’s
presence always and infallibly called up in Vronsky
that strange feeling of inexplicable loathing which
he had experienced of late.  This child’s
presence called up both in Vronsky and in Anna a feeling
akin to the feeling of a sailor who sees by the compass
that the direction in which he is swiftly moving is
far from the right one, but that to arrest his motion
is not in his power, that every instant is carrying
him further and further away, and that to admit to
himself his deviation from the right direction is
the same as admitting his certain ruin.

This child, with his innocent outlook
upon life, was the compass that showed them the point
to which they had departed from what they knew, but
did not want to know.

This time Seryozha was not at home,
and she was completely alone.  She was sitting
on the terrace waiting for the return of her son,
who had gone out for his walk and been caught in the
rain.  She had sent a manservant and a maid out
to look for him.  Dressed in a white gown, deeply
embroidered, she was sitting in a corner of the terrace
behind some flowers, and did not hear him.  Bending
her curly black head, she pressed her forehead against
a cool watering pot that stood on the parapet, and
both her lovely hands, with the rings he knew so well,
clasped the pot.  The beauty of her whole figure,
her head, her neck, her hands, struck Vronsky every
time as something new and unexpected.  He stood
still, gazing at her in ecstasy.  But, directly
he would have made a step to come nearer to her, she
was aware of his presence, pushed away the watering
pot, and turned her flushed face towards him.

“What’s the matter? 
You are ill?” he said to her in French, going
up to her.  He would have run to her, but remembering
that there might be spectators, he looked round towards
the balcony door, and reddened a little, as he always
reddened, feeling that he had to be afraid and be
on his guard.

“No, I’m quite well,”
she said, getting up and pressing his outstretched
hand tightly.  “I did not expect…thee.”

“Mercy! what cold hands!” he said.

“You startled me,” she
said.  “I’m alone, and expecting
Seryozha; he’s out for a walk; they’ll
come in from this side.”

But, in spite of her efforts to be
calm, her lips were quivering.

“Forgive me for coming, but
I couldn’t pass the day without seeing you,”
he went on, speaking French, as he always did to avoid
using the stiff Russian plural form, so impossibly
frigid between them, and the dangerously intimate
singular.

“Forgive you?  I’m so glad!”

“But you’re ill or worried,”
he went on, not letting go her hands and bending over
her.  “What were you thinking of?”

“Always the same thing,” she said, with
a smile.

She spoke the truth.  If ever
at any moment she had been asked what she was thinking
of, she could have answered truly:  of the same
thing, of her happiness and her unhappiness. 
She was thinking, just when he came upon her, of this: 
why was it, she wondered, that to others, to Betsy
(she knew of her secret connection with Tushkevitch)
it was all easy, while to her it was such torture? 
Today this thought gained special poignancy from
certain other considerations.  She asked him about
the races.  He answered her questions, and, seeing
that she was agitated, trying to calm her, he began
telling her in the simplest tone the details of his
preparations for the races.

“Tell him or not tell him?”
she thought, looking into his quiet, affectionate
eyes.  “He is so happy, so absorbed in his
races that he won’t understand as he ought,
he won’t understand all the gravity of this
fact to us.”

“But you haven’t told
me what you were thinking of when I came in,”
he said, interrupting his narrative; “please
tell me!”

She did not answer, and, bending her
head a little, she looked inquiringly at him from
under her brows, her eyes shining under their long
lashes.  Her hand shook as it played with a leaf
she had picked.  He saw it, and his face expressed
that utter subjection, that slavish devotion, which
had done so much to win her.

“I see something has happened. 
Do you suppose I can be at peace, knowing you have
a trouble I am not sharing?  Tell me, for God’s
sake,” he repeated imploringly.

“Yes, I shan’t be able
to forgive him if he does not realize all the gravity
of it.  Better not tell; why put him to the proof?”
she thought, still staring at him in the same way,
and feeling the hand that held the leaf was trembling
more and more.

“For God’s sake!” he repeated, taking
her hand.

“Shall I tell you?”

“Yes, yes, yes . . .”

“I’m with child,”
she said, softly and deliberately.  The leaf in
her hand shook more violently, but she did not take
her eyes off him, watching how he would take it. 
He turned white, would have said something, but stopped;
he dropped her hand, and his head sank on his breast. 
“Yes, he realizes all the gravity of it,”
she thought, and gratefully she pressed his hand.

But she was mistaken in thinking he
realized the gravity of the fact as she, a woman,
realized it.  On hearing it, he felt come upon
him with tenfold intensity that strange feeling of
loathing of someone.  But at the same time, he
felt that the turning-point he had been longing for
had come now; that it was impossible to go on concealing
things from her husband, and it was inevitable in
one way or another that they should soon put an end
to their unnatural position.  But, besides that,
her emotion physically affected him in the same way. 
He looked at her with a look of submissive tenderness,
kissed her hand, got up, and, in silence, paced up
and down the terrace.

“Yes,” he said, going
up to her resolutely.  “Neither you nor
I have looked on our relations as a passing amusement,
and now our fate is sealed.  It is absolutely
necessary to put an end” ­he looked
round as he spoke ­“to the deception
in which we are living.”

“Put an end?  How put an
end, Alexey?” she said softly.

She was calmer now, and her face lighted
up with a tender smile.

“Leave your husband and make our life one.”

“It is one as it is,” she answered, scarcely
audibly.

“Yes, but altogether; altogether.”

“But how, Alexey, tell me how?”
she said in melancholy mockery at the hopelessness
of her own position.  “Is there any way
out of such a position?  Am I not the wife of
my husband?”

“There is a way out of every
position.  We must take our line,” he said. 
“Anything’s better than the position in
which you’re living.  Of course, I see
how you torture yourself over everything ­the
world and your son and your husband.”

“Oh, not over my husband,”
she said, with a quiet smile.  “I don’t
know him, I don’t think of him.  He doesn’t
exist.”

“You’re not speaking sincerely. 
I know you.  You worry about him too.”

“Oh, he doesn’t even know,”
she said, and suddenly a hot flush came over her face;
her cheeks, her brow, her neck crimsoned, and tears
of shame came into her eyes.  “But we won’t
talk of him.”

 

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