FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 23

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

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Vronsky had several times already,
though not so resolutely as now, tried to bring her
to consider their position, and every time he had
been confronted by the same superficiality and triviality
with which she met his appeal now.  It was as
though there were something in this which she could
not or would not face, as though directly she began
to speak of this, she, the real Anna, retreated somehow
into herself, and another strange and unaccountable
woman came out, whom he did not love, and whom he
feared, and who was in opposition to him.  But
today he was resolved to have it out.

“Whether he knows or not,”
said Vronsky, in his usual quiet and resolute tone,
“that’s nothing to do with us.  We
cannot…you cannot stay like this, especially now.”

“What’s to be done, according
to you?” she asked with the same frivolous irony. 
She who had so feared he would take her condition
too lightly was now vexed with him for deducing from
it the necessity of taking some step.

“Tell him everything, and leave him.”

“Very well, let us suppose I
do that,” she said.  “Do you know
what the result of that would be?  I can tell
you it all beforehand,” and a wicked light gleamed
in her eyes, that had been so soft a minute before.
“’Eh, you love another man, and have
entered into criminal intrigues with him?’”
(Mimicking her husband, she threw an emphasis on
the word “criminal,” as Alexey Alexandrovitch
did.) “’I warned you of the results in
the religious, the civil, and the domestic relation. 
You have not listened to me.  Now I cannot let
you disgrace my name, ­’” “and
my son,” she had meant to say, but about her
son she could not jest, ­“’disgrace
my name, and’ ­and more in the same
style,” she added.  “In general terms,
he’ll say in his official manner, and with all
distinctness and precision, that he cannot let me
go, but will take all measures in his power to prevent
scandal.  And he will calmly and punctually act
in accordance with his words.  That’s what
will happen.  He’s not a man, but a machine,
and a spiteful machine when he’s angry,”
she added, recalling Alexey Alexandrovitch as she
spoke, with all the peculiarities of his figure and
manner of speaking, and reckoning against him every
defect she could find in him, softening nothing for
the great wrong she herself was doing him.

“But, Anna,” said Vronsky,
in a soft and persuasive voice, trying to soothe her,
“we absolutely must, anyway, tell him, and then
be guided by the line he takes.”

“What, run away?”

“And why not run away? 
I don’t see how we can keep on like this. 
And not for my sake ­I see that you suffer.”

“Yes, run away, and become your
mistress,” she said angrily.

“Anna,” he said, with reproachful tenderness.

“Yes,” she went on, “become
your mistress, and complete the ruin of…”

Again she would have said “my
son,” but she could not utter that word.

Vronsky could not understand how she,
with her strong and truthful nature, could endure
this state of deceit, and not long to get out of it. 
But he did not suspect that the chief cause of it
was the word ­son, which she could
not bring herself to pronounce.  When she thought
of her son, and his future attitude to his mother,
who had abandoned his father, she felt such terror
at what she had done, that she could not face it; but,
like a woman, could only try to comfort herself with
lying assurances that everything would remain as it
always had been, and that it was possible to forget
the fearful question of how it would be with her son.

“I beg you, I entreat you,”
she said suddenly, taking his hand, and speaking in
quite a different tone, sincere and tender, “never
speak to me of that!”

“But, Anna…”

“Never.  Leave it to me. 
I know all the baseness, all the horror of my position;
but it’s not so easy to arrange as you think. 
And leave it to me, and do what I say.  Never
speak to me of it.  Do you promise me?…No, no,
promise!…”

“I promise everything, but I
can’t be at peace, especially after what you
have told me.  I can’t be at peace, when
you can’t be at peace….”

“I?” she repeated. 
“Yes, I am worried sometimes; but that will
pass, if you will never talk about this.  When
you talk about it ­it’s only then
it worries me.”

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“I know,” she interrupted
him, “how hard it is for your truthful nature
to lie, and I grieve for you.  I often think that
you have ruined your whole life for me.”

“I was just thinking the very
same thing,” he said; “how could you sacrifice
everything for my sake?  I can’t forgive
myself that you’re unhappy!”

“I unhappy?” she said,
coming closer to him, and looking at him with an ecstatic
smile of love.  “I am like a hungry man
who has been given food.  He may be cold, and
dressed in rags, and ashamed, but he is not unhappy. 
I unhappy?  No, this is my unhappiness….”

She could hear the sound of her son’s
voice coming towards them, and glancing swiftly round
the terrace, she got up impulsively.  Her eyes
glowed with the fire he knew so well; with a rapid
movement she raised her lovely hands, covered with
rings, took his head, looked a long look into his
face, and, putting up her face with smiling, parted
lips, swiftly kissed his mouth and both eyes, and
pushed him away.  She would have gone, but he
held her back.

“When?” he murmured in
a whisper, gazing in ecstasy at her.

“Tonight, at one o’clock,”
she whispered, and, with a heavy sigh, she walked
with her light, swift step to meet her son.

Seryozha had been caught by the rain
in the big garden, and he and his nurse had taken
shelter in an arbor.

“Well, au revoir,”
she said to Vronsky.  “I must soon be getting
ready for the races.  Betsy promised to fetch
me.”

Vronsky, looking at his watch, went away hurriedly.

 

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