FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 26

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

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The external relations of Alexey Alexandrovitch
and his wife had remained unchanged.  The sole
difference lay in the fact that he was more busily
occupied than ever.  As in former years, at the
beginning of the spring he had gone to a foreign watering-place
for the sake of his health, deranged by the winter’s
work that every year grew heavier.  And just
as always he returned in July and at once fell to
work as usual with increased energy.  As usual,
too, his wife had moved for the summer to a villa out
of town, while he remained in Petersburg.  From
the date of their conversation after the party at
Princess Tverskaya’s he had never spoken again
to Anna of his suspicions and his jealousies, and
that habitual tone of his bantering mimicry was the
most convenient tone possible for his present attitude
to his wife.  He was a little colder to his wife. 
He simply seemed to be slightly displeased with her
for that first midnight conversation, which she had
repelled.  In his attitude to her there was a
shade of vexation, but nothing more.  “You
would not be open with me,” he seemed to say,
mentally addressing her; “so much the worse
for you.  Now you may beg as you please, but I
won’t be open with you.  So much the worse
for you!” he said mentally, like a man who,
after vainly attempting to extinguish a fire, should
fly in a rage with his vain efforts and say, “Oh,
very well then! you shall burn for this!” This
man, so subtle and astute in official life, did not
realize all the senselessness of such an attitude
to his wife.  He did not realize it, because
it was too terrible to him to realize his actual position,
and he shut down and locked and sealed up in his heart
that secret place where lay hid his feelings towards
his family, that is, his wife and son.  He who
had been such a careful father, had from the end of
that winter become peculiarly frigid to his son, and
adopted to him just the same bantering tone he used
with his wife.  “Aha, young man!”
was the greeting with which he met him.

Alexey Alexandrovitch asserted and
believed that he had never in any previous year had
so much official business as that year.  But he
was not aware that he sought work for himself that
year, that this was one of the means for keeping shut
that secret place where lay hid his feelings towards
his wife and son and his thoughts about them, which
became more terrible the longer they lay there. 
If anyone had had the right to ask Alexey Alexandrovitch
what he thought of his wife’s behavior, the mild
and peaceable Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made
no answer, but he would have been greatly angered
with any man who should question him on that subject. 
For this reason there positively came into Alexey
Alexandrovitch’s face a look of haughtiness and
severity whenever anyone inquired after his wife’s
health.  Alexey Alexandrovitch did not want to
think at all about his wife’s behavior, and
he actually succeeded in not thinking about it at
all.

Alexey Alexandrovitch’s permanent
summer villa was in Peterhof, and the Countess Lidia
Ivanovna used as a rule to spend the summer there,
close to Anna, and constantly seeing her.  That
year Countess Lidia Ivanovna declined to settle in
Peterhof, was not once at Anna Arkadyevna’s,
and in conversation with Alexey Alexandrovitch hinted
at the unsuitability of Anna’s close intimacy
with Betsy and Vronsky.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
sternly cut her short, roundly declaring his wife
to be above suspicion, and from that time began to
avoid Countess Lidia Ivanovna.  He did not want
to see, and did not see, that many people in society
cast dubious glances on his wife; he did not want to
understand, and did not understand, why his wife had
so particularly insisted on staying at Tsarskoe, where
Betsy was staying, and not far from the camp of Vronsky’s
regiment.  He did not allow himself to think
about it, and he did not think about it; but all the
same though he never admitted it to himself, and had
no proofs, not even suspicious evidence, in the bottom
of his heart he knew beyond all doubt that he was
a deceived husband, and he was profoundly miserable
about it.

How often during those eight years
of happy life with his wife Alexey Alexandrovitch
had looked at other men’s faithless wives and
other deceived husbands and asked himself:  “How
can people descend to that? how is it they don’t
put an end to such a hideous position?” But
now, when the misfortune had come upon himself, he
was so far from thinking of putting an end to the
position that he would not recognize it at all, would
not recognize it just because it was too awful, too
unnatural.

Since his return from abroad Alexey
Alexandrovitch had twice been at their country villa. 
Once he dined there, another time he spent the evening
there with a party of friends, but he had not once
stayed the night there, as it had been his habit to
do in previous years.

The day of the races had been a very
busy day for Alexey Alexandrovitch; but when mentally
sketching out the day in the morning, he made up his
mind to go to their country house to see his wife
immediately after dinner, and from there to the races,
which all the Court were to witness, and at which he
was bound to be present.  He was going to see
his wife, because he had determined to see her once
a week to keep up appearances.  And besides,
on that day, as it was the fifteenth, he had to give
his wife some money for her expenses, according to
their usual arrangement.

With his habitual control over his
thoughts, though he thought all this about his wife,
he did not let his thoughts stray further in regard
to her.

That morning was a very full one for
Alexey Alexandrovitch.  The evening before, Countess
Lidia Ivanovna had sent him a pamphlet by a celebrated
traveler in China, who was staying in Petersburg,
and with it she enclosed a note begging him to see
the traveler himself, as he was an extremely interesting
person from various points of view, and likely to
be useful.  Alexey Alexandrovitch had not had
time to read the pamphlet through in the evening, and
finished it in the morning.  Then people began
arriving with petitions, and there came the reports,
interviews, appointments, dismissals, apportionment
of rewards, pensions, grants, notes, the workaday
round, as Alexey Alexandrovitch called it, that always
took up so much time.  Then there was private
business of his own, a visit from the doctor and the
steward who managed his property.  The steward
did not take up much time.  He simply gave Alexey
Alexandrovitch the money he needed together with a
brief statement of the position of his affairs, which
was not altogether satisfactory, as it had happened
that during that year, owing to increased expenses,
more had been paid out than usual, and there was a
deficit.  But the doctor, a celebrated Petersburg
doctor, who was an intimate acquaintance of Alexey
Alexandrovitch, took up a great deal of time. 
Alexey Alexandrovitch had not expected him that day,
and was surprised at his visit, and still more so
when the doctor questioned him very carefully about
his health, listened to his breathing, and tapped
at his liver.  Alexey Alexandrovitch did not know
that his friend Lidia Ivanovna, noticing that he was
not as well as usual that year, had begged the doctor
to go and examine him.  “Do this for my
sake,” the Countess Lidia Ivanovna had said to
him.

“I will do it for the sake of
Russia, countess,” replied the doctor.

“A priceless man!” said the Countess Lidia
Ivanovna.

The doctor was extremely dissatisfied
with Alexey Alexandrovitch.  He found the liver
considerably enlarged, and the digestive powers weakened,
while the course of mineral waters had been quite
without effect.  He prescribed more physical exercise
as far as possible, and as far as possible less mental
strain, and above all no worry ­in other
words, just what was as much out of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
power as abstaining from breathing.  Then he
withdrew, leaving in Alexey Alexandrovitch an unpleasant
sense that something was wrong with him, and that
there was no chance of curing it.

As he was coming away, the doctor
chanced to meet on the staircase an acquaintance of
his, Sludin, who was secretary of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
department.  They had been comrades at the university,
and though they rarely met, they thought highly of
each other and were excellent friends, and so there
was no one to whom the doctor would have given his
opinion of a patient so freely as to Sludin.

“How glad I am you’ve
been seeing him!” said Sludin.  “He’s
not well, and I fancy….  Well, what do you
think of him?”

“I’ll tell you,”
said the doctor, beckoning over Sludin’s head
to his coachman to bring the carriage round. 
“It’s just this,” said the doctor,
taking a finger of his kid glove in his white hands
and pulling it, “if you don’t strain the
strings, and then try to break them, you’ll
find it a difficult job; but strain a string to its
very utmost, and the mere weight of one finger on the
strained string will snap it.  And with his close
assiduity, his conscientious devotion to his work,
he’s strained to the utmost; and there’s
some outside burden weighing on him, and not a light
one,” concluded the doctor, raising his eyebrows
significantly.  “Will you be at the races?”
he added, as he sank into his seat in the carriage.

“Yes, yes, to be sure; it does
waste a lot of time,” the doctor responded vaguely
to some reply of Sludin’s he had not caught.

Directly after the doctor, who had
taken up so much time, came the celebrated traveler,
and Alexey Alexandrovitch, by means of the pamphlet
he had only just finished reading and his previous
acquaintance with the subject, impressed the traveler
by the depth of his knowledge of the subject and the
breadth and enlightenment of his view of it.

At the same time as the traveler there
was announced a provincial marshal of nobility on
a visit to Petersburg, with whom Alexey Alexandrovitch
had to have some conversation.  After his departure,
he had to finish the daily routine of business with
his secretary, and then he still had to drive round
to call on a certain great personage on a matter of
grave and serious import.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
only just managed to be back by five o’clock,
his dinner-hour, and after dining with his secretary,
he invited him to drive with him to his country villa
and to the races.

Though he did not acknowledge it to
himself, Alexey Alexandrovitch always tried nowadays
to secure the presence of a third person in his interviews
with his wife.

 

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