FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 19

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

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The mistake made by Alexey Alexandrovitch
in that, when preparing for seeing his wife, he had
overlooked the possibility that her repentance might
be sincere, and he might forgive her, and she might
not die ­this mistake was two months after
his return from Moscow brought home to him in all
its significance.  But the mistake made by him
had arisen not simply from his having overlooked that
contingency, but also from the fact that until that
day of his interview with his dying wife, he had not
known his own heart.  At his sick wife’s
bedside he had for the first time in his life given
way to that feeling of sympathetic suffering always
roused in him by the sufferings of others, and hitherto
looked on by him with shame as a harmful weakness. 
And pity for her, and remorse for having desired
her death, and most of all, the joy of forgiveness,
made him at once conscious, not simply of the relief
of his own sufferings, but of a spiritual peace he
had never experienced before.  He suddenly felt
that the very thing that was the source of his sufferings
had become the source of his spiritual joy; that what
had seemed insoluble while he was judging, blaming,
and hating, had become clear and simple when he forgave
and loved.

He forgave his wife and pitied her
for her sufferings and her remorse.  He forgave
Vronsky, and pitied him, especially after reports
reached him of his despairing action.  He felt
more for his son than before.  And he blamed
himself now for having taken too little interest in
him.  But for the little newborn baby he felt
a quite peculiar sentiment, not of pity, only, but
of tenderness.  At first, from a feeling of compassion
alone, he had been interested in the delicate little
creature, who was not his child, and who was cast
on one side during her mother’s illness, and
would certainly have died if he had not troubled about
her, and he did not himself observe how fond he became
of her.  He would go into the nursery several
times a day, and sit there for a long while, so that
the nurses, who were at first afraid of him, got quite
used to his presence.  Sometimes for half an hour
at a stretch he would sit silently gazing at the saffron-red,
downy, wrinkled face of the sleeping baby, watching
the movements of the frowning brows, and the fat little
hands, with clenched fingers, that rubbed the little
eyes and nose.  At such moments particularly,
Alexey Alexandrovitch had a sense of perfect peace
and inward harmony, and saw nothing extraordinary in
his position, nothing that ought to be changed.

But as time went on, he saw more and
more distinctly that however natural the position
now seemed to him, he would not long be allowed to
remain in it.  He felt that besides the blessed
spiritual force controlling his soul, there was another,
a brutal force, as powerful, or more powerful, which
controlled his life, and that this force would not
allow him that humble peace he longed for.  He
felt that everyone was looking at him with inquiring
wonder, that he was not understood, and that something
was expected of him.  Above all, he felt the instability
and unnaturalness of his relations with his wife.

When the softening effect of the near
approach of death had passed away, Alexey Alexandrovitch
began to notice that Anna was afraid of him, ill at
ease with him, and could not look him straight in
the face.  She seemed to be wanting, and not daring,
to tell him something; and as though foreseeing their
present relations could not continue, she seemed to
be expecting something from him.

Towards the end of February it happened
that Anna’s baby daughter, who had been named
Anna too, fell ill.  Alexey Alexandrovitch was
in the nursery in the morning, and leaving orders
for the doctor to be sent for, he went to his office. 
On finishing his work, he returned home at four. 
Going into the hall he saw a handsome groom, in a
braided livery and a bear fur cape, holding a white
fur cloak.

“Who is here?” asked Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“Princess Elizaveta Federovna
Tverskaya,” the groom answered, and it seemed
to Alexey Alexandrovitch that he grinned.

During all this difficult time Alexey
Alexandrovitch had noticed that his worldly acquaintances,
especially women, took a peculiar interest in him
and his wife.  All these acquaintances he observed
with difficulty concealing their mirth at something;
the same mirth that he had perceived in the lawyer’s
eyes, and just now in the eyes of this groom. 
Everyone seemed, somehow, hugely delighted, as though
they had just been at a wedding.  When they met
him, with ill-disguised enjoyment they inquired after
his wife’s health.  The presence of Princess
Tverskaya was unpleasant to Alexey Alexandrovitch
from the memories associated with her, and also because
he disliked her, and he went straight to the nursery. 
In the day nursery Seryozha, leaning on the table
with his legs on a chair, was drawing and chatting
away merrily.  The English governess, who had
during Anna’s illness replaced the French one,
was sitting near the boy knitting a shawl.  She
hurriedly got up, curtseyed, and pulled Seryozha.

Alexey Alexandrovitch stroked his
son’s hair, answered the governess’s inquiries
about his wife, and asked what the doctor had said
of the baby.

“The doctor said it was nothing
serious, and he ordered a bath, sir.”

“But she is still in pain,”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch, listening to the baby’s
screaming in the next room.

“I think it’s the wet-nurse,
sir,” the Englishwoman said firmly.

“What makes you think so?” he asked, stopping
short.

“It’s just as it was at
Countess Paul’s, sir.  They gave the baby
medicine, and it turned out that the baby was simply
hungry:  the nurse had no milk, sir.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch pondered, and
after standing still a few seconds he went in at the
other door.  The baby was lying with its head
thrown back, stiffening itself in the nurse’s
arms, and would not take the plump breast offered
it; and it never ceased screaming in spite of the
double hushing of the wet-nurse and the other nurse,
who was bending over her.

“Still no better?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“She’s very restless,” answered
the nurse in a whisper.

“Miss Edwarde says that perhaps
the wet-nurse has no milk,” he said.

“I think so too, Alexey Alexandrovitch.”

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

“Who’s one to say it to? 
Anna Arkadyevna still ill…” said the nurse
discontentedly.

The nurse was an old servant of the
family.  And in her simple words there seemed
to Alexey Alexandrovitch an allusion to his position.

The baby screamed louder than ever,
struggling and sobbing.  The nurse, with a gesture
of despair, went to it, took it from the wet-nurse’s
arms, and began walking up and down, rocking it.

“You must ask the doctor to
examine the wet-nurse,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. 
The smartly dressed and healthy-looking nurse, frightened
at the idea of losing her place, muttered something
to herself, and covering her bosom, smiled contemptuously
at the idea of doubts being cast on her abundance
of milk.  In that smile, too, Alexey Alexandrovitch
saw a sneer at his position.

“Luckless child!” said
the nurse, hushing the baby, and still walking up
and down with it.

Alexey Alexandrovitch sat down, and
with a despondent and suffering face watched the nurse
walking to and fro.

When the child at last was still,
and had been put in a deep bed, and the nurse, after
smoothing the little pillow, had left her, Alexey
Alexandrovitch got up, and walking awkwardly on tiptoe,
approached the baby.  For a minute he was still,
and with the same despondent face gazed at the baby;
but all at once a smile, that moved his hair and the
skin of his forehead, came out on his face, and he
went as softly out of the room.

In the dining room he rang the bell,
and told the servant who came in to send again for
the doctor.  He felt vexed with his wife for
not being anxious about this exquisite baby, and in
this vexed humor he had no wish to go to her; he had
no wish, either, to see Princess Betsy.  But
his wife might wonder why he did not go to her as
usual; and so, overcoming his disinclination, he went
towards the bedroom.  As he walked over the soft
rug towards the door, he could not help overhearing
a conversation he did not want to hear.

“If he hadn’t been going
away, I could have understood your answer and his
too.  But your husband ought to be above that,”
Betsy was saying.

“It’s not for my husband;
for myself I don’t wish it.  Don’t
say that!” answered Anna’s excited voice.

“Yes, but you must care to say
good-bye to a man who has shot himself on your account….”

“That’s just why I don’t want to.”

With a dismayed and guilty expression,
Alexey Alexandrovitch stopped and would have gone
back unobserved.  But reflecting that this would
be undignified, he turned back again, and clearing
his throat, he went up to the bedroom.  The voices
were silent, and he went in.

Anna, in a gray dressing gown, with
a crop of short clustering black curls on her round
head, was sitting on a settee.  The eagerness
died out of her face, as it always did, at the sight
of her husband; she dropped her head and looked round
uneasily at Betsy.  Betsy, dressed in the height
of the latest fashion, in a hat that towered somewhere
over her head like a shade on a lamp, in a blue dress
with violet crossway stripes slanting one way on the
bodice and the other way on the skirt, was sitting
beside Anna, her tall flat figure held erect. 
Bowing her head, she greeted Alexey Alexandrovitch
with an ironical smile.

“Ah!” she said, as though
surprised.  “I’m very glad you’re
at home.  You never put in an appearance anywhere,
and I haven’t seen you ever since Anna has been
ill.  I have heard all about it ­your
anxiety.  Yes, you’re a wonderful husband!”
she said, with a meaning and affable air, as though
she were bestowing an order of magnanimity on him
for his conduct to his wife.

Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed frigidly,
and kissing his wife’s hand, asked how she was.

“Better, I think,” she said, avoiding
his eyes.

“But you’ve rather a feverish-looking
color,” he said, laying stress on the word “feverish.”

“We’ve been talking too
much,” said Betsy.  “I feel it’s
selfishness on my part, and I am going away.”

She got up, but Anna, suddenly flushing,
quickly caught at her hand.

“No, wait a minute, please. 
I must tell you…no, you.” she turned to Alexey
Alexandrovitch, and her neck and brow were suffused
with crimson.  “I won’t and can’t
keep anything secret from you,” she said.

Alexey Alexandrovitch cracked his
fingers and bowed his head.

“Betsy’s been telling
me that Count Vronsky wants to come here to say good-bye
before his departure for Tashkend.”  She
did not look at her husband, and was evidently in
haste to have everything out, however hard it might
be for her.  “I told her I could not receive
him.”

“You said, my dear, that it
would depend on Alexey Alexandrovitch,” Betsy
corrected her.

“Oh, no, I can’t receive
him; and what object would there….”  She
stopped suddenly, and glanced inquiringly at her husband
(he did not look at her).  “In short, I
don’t wish it….”

Alexey Alexandrovitch advanced and
would have taken her hand.

Her first impulse was to jerk back
her hand from the damp hand with big swollen veins
that sought hers, but with an obvious effort to control
herself she pressed his hand.

“I am very grateful to you for
your confidence, but…” he said, feeling with
confusion and annoyance that what he could decide
easily and clearly by himself, he could not discuss
before Princess Tverskaya, who to him stood for the
incarnation of that brute force which would inevitably
control him in the life he led in the eyes of the
world, and hinder him from giving way to his feeling
of love and forgiveness.  He stopped short, looking
at Princess Tverskaya.

“Well, good-bye, my darling,”
said Betsy, getting up.  She kissed Anna, and
went out.  Alexey Alexandrovitch escorted her
out.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch! 
I know you are a truly magnanimous man,” said
Betsy, stopping in the little drawing-room, and with
special warmth shaking hands with him once more. 
“I am an outsider, but I so love her and respect
you that I venture to advise.  Receive him. 
Alexey Vronsky is the soul of honor, and he is going
away to Tashkend.”

“Thank you, princess, for your
sympathy and advice.  But the question of whether
my wife can or cannot see anyone she must decide herself.”

He said this from habit, lifting his
brows with dignity, and reflected immediately that
whatever his words might be, there could be no dignity
in his position.  And he saw this by the suppressed,
malicious, and ironical smile with which Betsy glanced
at him after this phrase.

 

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