FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 23

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

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Vronsky’s wound had been a dangerous
one, though it did not touch the heart, and for several
days he had lain between life and death.  The
first time he was able to speak, Varya, his brother’s
wife, was alone in the room.

“Varya,” he said, looking
sternly at her, “I shot myself by accident. 
And please never speak of it, and tell everyone so. 
Or else it’s too ridiculous.”

Without answering his words, Varya
bent over him, and with a delighted smile gazed into
his face.  His eyes were clear, not feverish;
but their expression was stern.

“Thank God!” she said.  “You’re
not in pain?”

“A little here.”  He pointed to his
breast.

“Then let me change your bandages.”

In silence, stiffening his broad jaws,
he looked at her while she bandaged him up. 
When she had finished he said: 

“I’m not delirious. 
Please manage that there may be no talk of my having
shot myself on purpose.”

“No one does say so.  Only
I hope you won’t shoot yourself by accident
any more,” she said, with a questioning smile.

“Of course I won’t, but
it would have been better…”

And he smiled gloomily.

In spite of these words and this smile,
which so frightened Varya, when the inflammation was
over and he began to recover, he felt that he was
completely free from one part of his misery. 
By his action he had, as it were, washed away the
shame and humiliation he had felt before.  He
could now think calmly of Alexey Alexandrovitch. 
He recognized all his magnanimity, but he did not
now feel himself humiliated by it.  Besides, he
got back again into the beaten track of his life. 
He saw the possibility of looking men in the face
again without shame, and he could live in accordance
with his own habits.  One thing he could not pluck
out of his heart, though he never ceased struggling
with it, was the regret, amounting to despair, that
he had lost her forever.  That now, having expiated
his sin against the husband, he was bound to renounce
her, and never in future to stand between her with
her repentance and her husband, he had firmly decided
in his heart; but he could not tear out of his heart
his regret at the loss of her love, he could not erase
from his memory those moments of happiness that he
had so little prized at the time, and that haunted
him in all their charm.

Serpuhovskoy had planned his appointment
at Tashkend, and Vronsky agreed to the proposition
without the slightest hesitation.  But the nearer
the time of departure came, the bitterer was the sacrifice
he was making to what he thought his duty.

His wound had healed, and he was driving
about making preparations for his departure for Tashkend.

“To see her once and then to
bury myself, to die,” he thought, and as he
was paying farewell visits, he uttered this thought
to Betsy.  Charged with this commission, Betsy
had gone to Anna, and brought him back a negative
reply.

“So much the better,”
thought Vronsky, when he received the news.  “It
was a weakness, which would have shattered what strength
I have left.”

Next day Betsy herself came to him
in the morning, and announced that she had heard through
Oblonsky as a positive fact that Alexey Alexandrovitch
had agreed to a divorce, and that therefore Vronsky
could see Anna.

Without even troubling himself to
see Betsy out of his flat, forgetting all his resolutions,
without asking when he could see her, where her husband
was, Vronsky drove straight to the Karenins’. 
He ran up the stairs seeing no one and nothing, and
with a rapid step, almost breaking into a run, he went
into her room.  And without considering, without
noticing whether there was anyone in the room or not,
he flung his arms round her, and began to cover her
face, her hands, her neck with kisses.

Anna had been preparing herself for
this meeting, had thought what she would say to him,
but she did not succeed in saying anything of it;
his passion mastered her.  She tried to calm him,
to calm herself, but it was too late.  His feeling
infected her.  Her lips trembled so that for a
long while she could say nothing.

“Yes, you have conquered me,
and I am yours,” she said at last, pressing
his hands to her bosom.

“So it had to be,” he
said.  “So long as we live, it must be so. 
I know it now.”

“That’s true,” she
said, getting whiter and whiter, and embracing his
head.  “Still there is something terrible
in it after all that has happened.”

“It will all pass, it will all
pass; we shall be so happy.  Our love, if it
could be stronger, will be strengthened by there being
something terrible in it,” he said, lifting his
head and parting his strong teeth in a smile.

And she could not but respond with
a smile ­not to his words, but to the love
in his eyes.  She took his hand and stroked her
chilled cheeks and cropped head with it.

“I don’t know you with
this short hair.  You’ve grown so pretty. 
A boy.  But how pale you are!”

“Yes, I’m very weak,”
she said, smiling.  And her lips began trembling
again.

“We’ll go to Italy; you will get strong,”
he said.

“Can it be possible we could
be like husband and wife, alone, your family with
you?” she said, looking close into his eyes.

“It only seems strange to me
that it can ever have been otherwise.”

“Stiva says that he has
agreed to everything, but I can’t accept his
generosity,” she said, looking dreamily past
Vronsky’s face.  “I don’t want
a divorce; it’s all the same to me now. 
Only I don’t know what he will decide about
Seryozha.”

He could not conceive how at this
moment of their meeting she could remember and think
of her son, of divorce.  What did it all matter?

“Don’t speak of that,
don’t think of it,” he said, turning her
hand in his, and trying to draw her attention to him;
but still she did not look at him.

“Oh, why didn’t I die!
it would have been better,” she said, and silent
tears flowed down both her cheeks; but she tried to
smile, so as not to wound him.

To decline the flattering and dangerous
appointment at Tashkend would have been, Vronsky had
till then considered, disgraceful and impossible. 
But now, without an instant’s consideration,
he declined it, and observing dissatisfaction in the
most exalted quarters at this step, he immediately
retired from the army.

A month later Alexey Alexandrovitch
was left alone with his son in his house at Petersburg,
while Anna and Vronsky had gone abroad, not having
obtained a divorce, but having absolutely declined
all idea of one.

 

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