FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 13

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

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None but those who were most intimate
with Alexey Alexandrovitch knew that, while on the
surface the coldest and most reasonable of men, he
had one weakness quite opposed to the general trend
of his character.  Alexey Alexandrovitch could
not hear or see a child or woman crying without being
moved.  The sight of tears threw him into a state
of nervous agitation, and he utterly lost all power
of reflection.  The chief secretary of his department
and his private secretary were aware of this, and used
to warn women who came with petitions on no account
to give way to tears, if they did not want to ruin
their chances.  “He will get angry, and
will not listen to you,” they used to say. 
And as a fact, in such cases the emotional disturbance
set up in Alexey Alexandrovitch by the sight of tears
found expression in hasty anger.  “I can
do nothing.  Kindly leave the room!” he
would commonly cry in such cases.

When returning from the races Anna
had informed him of her relations with Vronsky, and
immediately afterwards had burst into tears, hiding
her face in her hands, Alexey Alexandrovitch, for
all the fury aroused in him against her, was aware
at the same time of a rush of that emotional disturbance
always produced in him by tears.  Conscious of
it, and conscious that any expression of his feelings
at that minute would be out of keeping with the position,
he tried to suppress every manifestation of life in
himself, and so neither stirred nor looked at her. 
This was what had caused that strange expression
of deathlike rigidity in his face which had so impressed
Anna.

When they reached the house he helped
her to get out of the carriage, and making an effort
to master himself, took leave of her with his usual
urbanity, and uttered that phrase that bound him to
nothing; he said that tomorrow he would let her know
his decision.

His wife’s words, confirming
his worst suspicions, had sent a cruel pang to the
heart of Alexey Alexandrovitch.  That pang was
intensified by the strange feeling of physical pity
for her set up by her tears.  But when he was
all alone in the carriage Alexey Alexandrovitch, to
his surprise and delight, felt complete relief both
from this pity and from the doubts and agonies of
jealousy.

He experienced the sensations of a
man who has had a tooth out after suffering long from
toothache.  After a fearful agony and a sense
of something huge, bigger than the head itself, being
torn out of his jaw, the sufferer, hardly able to
believe in his own good luck, feels all at once that
what has so long poisoned his existence and enchained
his attention, exists no longer, and that he can live
and think again, and take interest in other things
besides his tooth.  This feeling Alexey Alexandrovitch
was experiencing.  The agony had been strange
and terrible, but now it was over; he felt that he
could live again and think of something other than
his wife.

“No honor, no heart, no religion;
a corrupt woman.  I always knew it and always
saw it, though I tried to deceive myself to spare
her,” he said to himself.  And it actually
seemed to him that he always had seen it:  he
recalled incidents of their past life, in which he
had never seen anything wrong before ­now
these incidents proved clearly that she had always
been a corrupt woman.  “I made a mistake
in linking my life to hers; but there was nothing
wrong in my mistake, and so I cannot be unhappy. 
It’s not I that am to blame,” he told himself,
“but she.  But I have nothing to do with
her.  She does not exist for me…”

Everything relating to her and her
son, towards whom his sentiments were as much changed
as towards her, ceased to interest him.  The
only thing that interested him now was the question
of in what way he could best, with most propriety and
comfort for himself, and thus with most justice, extricate
himself from the mud with which she had spattered him
in her fall, and then proceed along his path of active,
honorable, and useful existence.

“I cannot be made unhappy by
the fact that a contemptible woman has committed a
crime.  I have only to find the best way out of
the difficult position in which she has placed me. 
And I shall find it,” he said to himself, frowning
more and more.  “I’m not the first
nor the last.”  And to say nothing of historical
instances dating from the “Fair Helen”
of Menelaus, recently revived in the memory of all,
a whole list of contemporary examples of husbands
with unfaithful wives in the highest society rose
before Alexey Alexandrovitch’s imagination. 
“Daryalov, Poltavsky, Prince Karibanov, Count
Paskudin, Dram….  Yes, even Dram, such an honest,
capable fellow…Semyonov, Tchagin, Sigonin,”
Alexey Alexandrovitch remembered.  “Admitting
that a certain quite irrational ridicule falls
to the lot of these men, yet I never saw anything
but a misfortune in it, and always felt sympathy for
it,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself, though
indeed this was not the fact, and he had never felt
sympathy for misfortunes of that kind, but the more
frequently he had heard of instances of unfaithful
wives betraying their husbands, the more highly he
had thought of himself.  “It is a misfortune
which may befall anyone.  And this misfortune
has befallen me.  The only thing to be done is
to make the best of the position.”

And he began passing in review the
methods of proceeding of men who had been in the same
position that he was in.

“Daryalov fought a duel….”

The duel had particularly fascinated
the thoughts of Alexey Alexandrovitch in his youth,
just because he was physically a coward, and was himself
well aware of the fact.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
could not without horror contemplate the idea of a
pistol aimed at himself, and had never made use of
any weapon in his life.  This horror had in his
youth set him pondering on dueling, and picturing
himself in a position in which he would have to expose
his life to danger.  Having attained success and
an established position in the world, he had long
ago forgotten this feeling; but the habitual bent
of feeling reasserted itself, and dread of his own
cowardice proved even now so strong that Alexey Alexandrovitch
spent a long while thinking over the question of dueling
in all its aspects, and hugging the idea of a duel,
though he was fully aware beforehand that he would
never under any circumstances fight one.

“There’s no doubt our
society is still so barbarous (it’s not the
same in England) that very many” ­and
among these were those whose opinion Alexey Alexandrovitch
particularly valued ­“look favorably
on the duel; but what result is attained by it? 
Suppose I call him out,” Alexey Alexandrovitch
went on to himself, and vividly picturing the night
he would spend after the challenge, and the pistol
aimed at him, he shuddered, and knew that he never
would do it ­“suppose I call him out. 
Suppose I am taught,” he went on musing, “to
shoot; I press the trigger,” he said to himself,
closing his eyes, “and it turns out I have killed
him,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself,
and he shook his head as though to dispel such silly
ideas.  “What sense is there in murdering
a man in order to define one’s relation to a
guilty wife and son?  I should still just as
much have to decide what I ought to do with her. 
But what is more probable and what would doubtless
occur ­I should be killed or wounded. 
I, the innocent person, should be the victim ­killed
or wounded.  It’s even more senseless. 
But apart from that, a challenge to fight would be
an act hardly honest on my side.  Don’t
I know perfectly well that my friends would never
allow me to fight a duel ­would never allow
the life of a statesman, needed by Russia, to be exposed
to danger?  Knowing perfectly well beforehand
that the matter would never come to real danger, it
would amount to my simply trying to gain a certain
sham reputation by such a challenge.  That would
be dishonest, that would be false, that would be deceiving
myself and others.  A duel is quite irrational,
and no one expects it of me.  My aim is simply
to safeguard my reputation, which is essential for
the uninterrupted pursuit of my public duties.” 
Official duties, which had always been of great consequence
in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s eyes, seemed of special
importance to his mind at this moment.  Considering
and rejecting the duel, Alexey Alexandrovitch turned
to divorce ­another solution selected by
several of the husbands he remembered.  Passing
in mental review all the instances he knew of divorces
(there were plenty of them in the very highest society
with which he was very familiar), Alexey Alexandrovitch
could not find a single example in which the object
of divorce was that which he had in view.  In
all these instances the husband had practically ceded
or sold his unfaithful wife, and the very party which,
being in fault, had not the right to contract a fresh
marriage, had formed counterfeit, pseudo-matrimonial
ties with a self-styled husband.  In his own
case, Alexey Alexandrovitch saw that a legal divorce,
that is to say, one in which only the guilty wife
would be repudiated, was impossible of attainment. 
He saw that the complex conditions of the life they
led made the coarse proofs of his wife’s guilt,
required by the law, out of the question; he saw that
a certain refinement in that life would not admit
of such proofs being brought forward, even if he had
them, and that to bring forward such proofs would
damage him in the public estimation more than it would
her.

An attempt at divorce could lead to
nothing but a public scandal, which would be a perfect
godsend to his enemies for calumny and attacks on
his high position in society.  His chief object,
to define the position with the least amount of disturbance
possible, would not be attained by divorce either. 
Moreover, in the event of divorce, or even of an
attempt to obtain a divorce, it was obvious that the
wife broke off all relations with the husband and
threw in her lot with the lover.  And in spite
of the complete, as he supposed, contempt and indifference
he now felt for his wife, at the bottom of his heart
Alexey Alexandrovitch still had one feeling left in
regard to her ­a disinclination to see her
free to throw in her lot with Vronsky, so that her
crime would be to her advantage.  The mere notion
of this so exasperated Alexey Alexandrovitch, that
directly it rose to his mind he groaned with inward
agony, and got up and changed his place in the carriage,
and for a long while after, he sat with scowling brows,
wrapping his numbed and bony legs in the fleecy rug.

“Apart from formal divorce,
One might still do like Karibanov, Paskudin, and that
good fellow Dram ­that is, separate from
one’s wife,” he went on thinking, when
he had regained his composure.  But this step
too presented the same drawback of public scandal
as a divorce, and what was more, a separation, quite
as much as a regular divorce, flung his wife into the
arms of Vronsky.  “No, it’s out of
the question, out of the question!” he said
again, twisting his rug about him again.  “I
cannot be unhappy, but neither she nor he ought to
be happy.”

The feeling of jealousy, which had
tortured him during the period of uncertainty, had
passed away at the instant when the tooth had been
with agony extracted by his wife’s words. 
But that feeling had been replaced by another, the
desire, not merely that she should not be triumphant,
but that she should get due punishment for her crime. 
He did not acknowledge this feeling, but at the bottom
of his heart he longed for her to suffer for having
destroyed his peace of mind ­his honor. 
And going once again over the conditions inseparable
from a duel, a divorce, a separation, and once again
rejecting them, Alexey Alexandrovitch felt convinced
that there was only one solution, ­to keep
her with him, concealing what had happened from the
world, and using every measure in his power to break
off the intrigue, and still more ­though
this he did not admit to himself ­to punish
her.  “I must inform her of my conclusion,
that thinking over the terrible position in which
she has placed her family, all other solutions will
be worse for both sides than an external status
quo
, and that such I agree to retain, on the strict
condition of obedience on her part to my wishes, that
is to say, cessation of all intercourse with her lover.” 
When this decision had been finally adopted, another
weighty consideration occurred to Alexey Alexandrovitch
in support of it.  “By such a course only
shall I be acting in accordance with the dictates
of religion,” he told himself.  “In
adopting this course, I am not casting off a guilty
wife, but giving her a chance of amendment; and, indeed,
difficult as the task will be to me, I shall devote
part of my energies to her reformation and salvation.”

Though Alexey Alexandrovitch was perfectly
aware that he could not exert any moral influence
over his wife, that such an attempt at reformation
could lead to nothing but falsity; though in passing
through these difficult moments he had not once thought
of seeking guidance in religion, yet now, when his
conclusion corresponded, as it seemed to him, with
the requirements of religion, this religious sanction
to his decision gave him complete satisfaction, and
to some extent restored his peace of mind.  He
was pleased to think that, even in such an important
crisis in life, no one would be able to say that he
had not acted in accordance with the principles of
that religion whose banner he had always held aloft
amid the general coolness and indifference. 
As he pondered over subsequent developments, Alexey
Alexandrovitch did not see, indeed, why his relations
with his wife should not remain practically the same
as before.  No doubt, she could never regain
his esteem, but there was not, and there could not
be, any sort of reason that his existence should be
troubled, and that he should suffer because she was
a bad and faithless wife.  “Yes, time will
pass; time, which arranges all things, and the old
relations will be reestablished,” Alexey Alexandrovitch
told himself; “so far reestablished, that is,
that I shall not be sensible of a break in the continuity
of my life.  She is bound to be unhappy, but I
am not to blame, and so I cannot be unhappy.”

 

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