FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 23

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

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On Monday there was the usual sitting
of the Commission of the 2nd of June.  Alexey
Alexandrovitch walked into the hall where the sitting
was held, greeted the members and the president, as
usual, and sat down in his place, putting his hand
on the papers laid ready before him.  Among these
papers lay the necessary evidence and a rough outline
of the speech he intended to make.  But he did
not really need these documents.  He remembered
every point, and did not think it necessary to go
over in his memory what he would say.  He knew
that when the time came, and when he saw his enemy
facing him, and studiously endeavoring to assume an
expression of indifference, his speech would flow of
itself better than he could prepare it now. 
He felt that the import of his speech was of such
magnitude that every word of it would have weight. 
Meantime, as he listened to the usual report, he had
the most innocent and inoffensive air.  No one,
looking at his white hands, with their swollen veins
and long fingers, so softly stroking the edges of
the white paper that lay before him, and at the air
of weariness with which his head drooped on one side,
would have suspected that in a few minutes a torrent
of words would flow from his lips that would arouse
a fearful storm, set the members shouting and attacking
one another, and force the president to call for order. 
When the report was over, Alexey Alexandrovitch announced
in his subdued, delicate voice that he had several
points to bring before the meeting in regard to the
Commission for the Reorganization of the Native Tribes. 
All attention was turned upon him.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
cleared his throat, and not looking at his opponent,
but selecting, as he always did while he was delivering
his speeches, the first person sitting opposite him,
an inoffensive little old man, who never had an opinion
of any sort in the Commission, began to expound his
views.  When he reached the point about the fundamental
and radical law, his opponent jumped up and began
to protest.  Stremov, who was also a member of
the Commission, and also stung to the quick, began
defending himself, and altogether a stormy sitting
followed; but Alexey Alexandrovitch triumphed, and
his motion was carried, three new commissions were
appointed, and the next day in a certain Petersburg
circle nothing else was talked of but this sitting. 
Alexey Alexandrovitch’s success had been even
greater than he had anticipated.

Next morning, Tuesday, Alexey Alexandrovitch,
on waking up, recollected with pleasure his triumph
of the previous day, and he could not help smiling,
though he tried to appear indifferent, when the chief
secretary of his department, anxious to flatter him,
informed him of the rumors that had reached him concerning
what had happened in the Commission.

Absorbed in business with the chief
secretary, Alexey Alexandrovitch had completely forgotten
that it was Tuesday, the day fixed by him for the
return of Anna Arkadyevna, and he was surprised and
received a shock of annoyance when a servant came
in to inform him of her arrival.

Anna had arrived in Petersburg early
in the morning; the carriage had been sent to meet
her in accordance with her telegram, and so Alexey
Alexandrovitch might have known of her arrival. 
But when she arrived, he did not meet her. 
She was told that he had not yet gone out, but was
busy with his secretary.  She sent word to her
husband that she had come, went to her own room, and
occupied herself in sorting out her things, expecting
he would come to her.  But an hour passed; he
did not come.  She went into the dining room
on the pretext of giving some directions, and spoke
loudly on purpose, expecting him to come out there;
but he did not come, though she heard him go to the
door of his study as he parted from the chief secretary. 
She knew that he usually went out quickly to his
office, and she wanted to see him before that, so
that their attitude to one another might be defined.

She walked across the drawing room
and went resolutely to him.  When she went into
his study he was in official uniform, obviously ready
to go out, sitting at a little table on which he rested
his elbows, looking dejectedly before him.  She
saw him before he saw her, and she saw that he was
thinking of her.

On seeing her, he would have risen,
but changed his mind, then his face flushed hotly ­a
thing Anna had never seen before, and he got up quickly
and went to meet her, looking not at her eyes, but
above them at her forehead and hair.  He went
up to her, took her by the hand, and asked her to
sit down.

“I am very glad you have come,”
he said, sitting down beside her, and obviously wishing
to say something, he stuttered.  Several times
he tried to begin to speak, but stopped.  In spite
of the fact that, preparing herself for meeting him,
she had schooled herself to despise and reproach him,
she did not know what to say to him, and she felt
sorry for him.  And so the silence lasted for
some time.  “Is Seryozha quite well?”
he said, and not waiting for an answer, he added: 
“I shan’t be dining at home today, and
I have got to go out directly.”

“I had thought of going to Moscow,” she
said.

“No, you did quite, quite right
to come,” he said, and was silent again.

Seeing that he was powerless to begin
the conversation, she began herself.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch,”
she said, looking at him and not dropping her eyes
under his persistent gaze at her hair, “I’m
a guilty woman, I’m a bad woman, but I am the
same as I was, as I told you then, and I have come
to tell you that I can change nothing.”

“I have asked you no question
about that,” he said, all at once, resolutely
and with hatred looking her straight in the face;
“that was as I had supposed.”  Under
the influence of anger he apparently regained complete
possession of all his faculties.  “But as
I told you then, and have written to you,” he
said in a thin, shrill voice, “I repeat now,
that I am not bound to know this.  I ignore it. 
Not all wives are so kind as you, to be in such a
hurry to communicate such agreeable news to their
husbands.”  He laid special emphasis on
the word “agreeable.”  “I shall
ignore it so long as the world knows nothing of it,
so long as my name is not disgraced.  And so
I simply inform you that our relations must be just
as they have always been, and that only in the event
of your compromising me I shall be obliged to take
steps to secure my honor.”

“But our relations cannot be
the same as always,” Anna began in a timid voice,
looking at him with dismay.

When she saw once more those composed
gestures, heard that shrill, childish, and sarcastic
voice, her aversion for him extinguished her pity
for him, and she felt only afraid, but at all costs
she wanted to make clear her position.

“I cannot be your wife while I…” she
began.

He laughed a cold and malignant laugh.

“The manner of life you have
chosen is reflected, I suppose, in your ideas. 
I have too much respect or contempt, or both…I
respect your past and despise your present…that I
was far from the interpretation you put on my words.”

Anna sighed and bowed her head.

“Though indeed I fail to comprehend
how, with the independence you show,” he went
on, getting hot, “ ­announcing your
infidelity to your husband and seeing nothing reprehensible
in it, apparently ­you can see anything
reprehensible in performing a wife’s duties
in relation to your husband.”

“Alexey Alexandrovitch!  What is it you
want of me?”

“I want you not to meet that
man here, and to conduct yourself so that neither
the world nor the servants can reproach you…not to
see him.  That’s not much, I think. 
And in return you will enjoy all the privileges of
a faithful wife without fulfilling her duties. 
That’s all I have to say to you.  Now it’s
time for me to go.  I’m not dining at home.” 
He got up and moved towards the door.

Anna got up too.  Bowing in silence, he let her
pass before him.

 

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