FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 16

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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All the rooms of the summer villa
were full of porters, gardeners, and footmen going
to and fro carrying out things.  Cupboards and
chests were open; twice they had sent to the shop
for cord; pieces of newspaper were tossing about on
the floor.  Two trunks, some bags and strapped-up
rugs, had been carried down into the hall.  The
carriage and two hired cabs were waiting at the steps. 
Anna, forgetting her inward agitation in the work
of packing, was standing at a table in her boudoir,
packing her traveling bag, when Annushka called her
attention to the rattle of some carriage driving up. 
Anna looked out of the window and saw Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
courier on the steps, ringing at the front door bell.

“Run and find out what it is,”
she said, and with a calm sense of being prepared
for anything, she sat down in a low chair, folding
her hands on her knees.  A footman brought in
a thick packet directed in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
hand.

“The courier has orders to wait
for an answer,” he said.

“Very well,” she said,
and as soon as he had left the room she tore open
the letter with trembling fingers.  A roll of
unfolded notes done up in a wrapper fell out of it. 
She disengaged the letter and began reading it at
the end.  “Preparations shall be made for
your arrival here…I attach particular significance
to compliance…” she read.  She ran on,
then back, read it all through, and once more read
the letter all through again from the beginning. 
When she had finished, she felt that she was cold
all over, and that a fearful calamity, such as she
had not expected, had burst upon her.

In the morning she had regretted that
she had spoken to her husband, and wished for nothing
so much as that those words could be unspoken. 
And here this letter regarded them as unspoken, and
gave her what she had wanted.  But now this letter
seemed to her more awful than anything she had been
able to conceive.

“He’s right!” she
said; “of course, he’s always right; he’s
a Christian, he’s generous!  Yes, vile,
base creature!  And no one understands it except
me, and no one ever will; and I can’t explain
it.  They say he’s so religious, so high-principled,
so upright, so clever; but they don’t see what
I’ve seen.  They don’t know how he
has crushed my life for eight years, crushed everything
that was living in me ­he has not once even
thought that I’m a live woman who must have
love.  They don’t know how at every step
he’s humiliated me, and been just as pleased
with himself.  Haven’t I striven, striven
with all my strength, to find something to give meaning
to my life?  Haven’t I struggled to love
him, to love my son when I could not love my husband? 
But the time came when I knew that I couldn’t
cheat myself any longer, that I was alive, that I
was not to blame, that God has made me so that I must
love and live.  And now what does he do? 
If he’d killed me, if he’d killed him,
I could have borne anything, I could have forgiven
anything; but, no, he….  How was it I didn’t
guess what he would do?  He’s doing just
what’s characteristic of his mean character. 
He’ll keep himself in the right, while me,
in my ruin, he’ll drive still lower to worse
ruin yet…”

She recalled the words from the letter. 
“You can conjecture what awaits you and your
son….”  “That’s a threat to
take away my child, and most likely by their stupid
law he can.  But I know very well why he says
it.  He doesn’t believe even in my love
for my child, or he despises it (just as he always
used to ridicule it).  He despises that feeling
in me, but he knows that I won’t abandon my
child, that I can’t abandon my child, that there
could be no life for me without my child, even with
him whom I love; but that if I abandoned my child
and ran away from him, I should be acting like the
most infamous, basest of women.  He knows that,
and knows that I am incapable of doing that.”

She recalled another sentence in the
letter.  “Our life must go on as it has
done in the past….”  “That life
was miserable enough in the old days; it has been
awful of late.  What will it be now?  And
he knows all that; he knows that I can’t repent
that I breathe, that I love; he knows that it can
lead to nothing but lying and deceit; but he wants
to go on torturing me.  I know him; I know that
he’s at home and is happy in deceit, like a fish
swimming in the water.  No, I won’t give
him that happiness.  I’ll break through
the spiderweb of lies in which he wants to catch me,
come what may.  Anything’s better than lying
and deceit.

“But how?  My God! my God! 
Was ever a woman so miserable as I am?…”

“No; I will break through it,
I will break through it!” she cried, jumping
up and keeping back her tears.  And she went to
the writing table to write him another letter. 
But at the bottom of her heart she felt that she
was not strong enough to break through anything, that
she was not strong enough to get out of her old position,
however false and dishonorable it might be.

She sat down at the writing table,
but instead of writing she clasped her hands on the
table, and, laying her head on them, burst into tears,
with sobs and heaving breast like a child crying. 
She was weeping that her dream of her position being
made clear and definite had been annihilated forever. 
She knew beforehand that everything would go on in
the old way, and far worse, indeed, than in the old
way.  She felt that the position in the world
that she enjoyed, and that had seemed to her of so
little consequence in the morning, that this position
was precious to her, that she would not have the strength
to exchange it for the shameful position of a woman
who has abandoned husband and child to join her lover;
that however much she might struggle, she could not
be stronger than herself.  She would never know
freedom in love, but would remain forever a guilty
wife, with the menace of detection hanging over her
at every instant; deceiving her husband for the sake
of a shameful connection with a man living apart and
away from her, whose life she could never share. 
She knew that this was how it would be, and at the
same time it was so awful that she could not even
conceive what it would end in.  And she cried
without restraint, as children cry when they are punished.

The sound of the footman’s steps
forced her to rouse herself, and, hiding her face
from him, she pretended to be writing.

“The courier asks if there’s
an answer,” the footman announced.

“An answer?  Yes,”
said Anna.  “Let him wait.  I’ll
ring.”

“What can I write?” she
thought.  “What can I decide upon alone? 
What do I know?  What do I want?  What is
there I care for?” Again she felt that her
soul was beginning to be split in two.  She was
terrified again at this feeling, and clutched at the
first pretext for doing something which might divert
her thoughts from herself.  “I ought to
see Alexey” (so she called Vronsky in her thoughts);
“no one but he can tell me what I ought to do. 
I’ll go to Betsy’s, perhaps I shall see
him there,” she said to herself, completely
forgetting that when she had told him the day before
that she was not going to Princess Tverskaya’s,
he had said that in that case he should not go either. 
She went up to the table, wrote to her husband, “I
have received your letter.  ­A.”;
and, ringing the bell, gave it to the footman.

“We are not going,” she
said to Annushka, as she came in.

“Not going at all?”

“No; don’t unpack till
tomorrow, and let the carriage wait.  I’m
going to the princess’s.”

“Which dress am I to get ready?”

 

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