FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 21

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

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Before Betsy had time to walk out
of the drawing-room, she was met in the doorway by
Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had just come from Yeliseev’s,
where a consignment of fresh oysters had been received.

“Ah! princess! what a delightful
meeting!” he began.  “I’ve been
to see you.”

“A meeting for one minute, for
I’m going,” said Betsy, smiling and putting
on her glove.

“Don’t put on your glove
yet, princess; let me kiss your hand.  There’s
nothing I’m so thankful to the revival of the
old fashions for as the kissing the hand.” 
He kissed Betsy’s hand.  “When shall
we see each other?”

“You don’t deserve it,” answered
Betsy, smiling.

“Oh, yes, I deserve a great
deal, for I’ve become a most serious person. 
I don’t only manage my own affairs, but other
people’s too,” he said, with a significant
expression.

“Oh, I’m so glad!”
answered Betsy, at once understanding that he was
speaking of Anna.  And going back into the drawing
room, they stood in a corner.  “He’s
killing her,” said Betsy in a whisper full of
meaning.  “It’s impossible, impossible…”

“I’m so glad you think
so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, shaking his head
with a serious and sympathetically distressed expression,
“that’s what I’ve come to Petersburg
for.”

“The whole town’s talking
of it,” she said.  “It’s an
impossible position.  She pines and pines away. 
He doesn’t understand that she’s one
of those women who can’t trifle with their feelings. 
One of two things:  either let him take her away,
act with energy, or give her a divorce.  This
is stifling her.”

“Yes, yes…just so…” 
Oblonsky said, sighing.  “That’s what
I’ve come for.  At least not solely for
that…I’ve been made a Kammerherr; of
course, one has to say thank you.  But the chief
thing was having to settle this.”

“Well, God help you!” said Betsy.

After accompanying Betsy to the outside
hall, once more kissing her hand above the glove,
at the point where the pulse beats, and murmuring
to her such unseemly nonsense that she did not know
whether to laugh or be angry, Stepan Arkadyevitch went
to his sister.  He found her in tears.

Although he happened to be bubbling
over with good spirits, Stepan Arkadyevitch immediately
and quite naturally fell into the sympathetic, poetically
emotional tone which harmonized with her mood. 
He asked her how she was, and how she had spent the
morning.

“Very, very miserably. 
Today and this morning and all past days and days
to come,” she said.

“I think you’re giving
way to pessimism.  You must rouse yourself, you
must look life in the face.  I know it’s
hard, but…”

“I have heard it said that women
love men even for their vices,” Anna began suddenly,
“but I hate him for his virtues.  I can’t
live with him.  Do you understand? the sight of
him has a physical effect on me, it makes me beside
myself.  I can’t, I can’t live with
him.  What am I to do?  I have been unhappy,
and used to think one couldn’t be more unhappy,
but the awful state of things I am going through now,
I could never have conceived.  Would you believe
it, that knowing he’s a good man, a splendid
man, that I’m not worth his little finger, still
I hate him.  I hate him for his generosity. 
And there’s nothing left for me but…”

She would have said death, but Stepan
Arkadyevitch would not let her finish.

“You are ill and overwrought,”
he said; “believe me, you’re exaggerating
dreadfully.  There’s nothing so terrible
in it.”

And Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. 
No one else in Stepan Arkadyevitch’s place,
having to do with such despair, would have ventured
to smile (the smile would have seemed brutal); but
in his smile there was so much of sweetness and almost
feminine tenderness that his smile did not wound,
but softened and soothed.  His gentle, soothing
words and smiles were as soothing and softening as
almond oil.  And Anna soon felt this.

“No, Stiva,” she said,
“I’m lost, lost! worse than lost! 
I can’t say yet that all is over; on the contrary,
I feel that it’s not over.  I’m an
overstrained string that must snap.  But it’s
not ended yet…and it will have a fearful end.”

“No matter, we must let the
string be loosened, little by little.  There’s
no position from which there is no way of escape.”

“I have thought, and thought.  Only one…”

Again he knew from her terrified eyes
that this one way of escape in her thought was death,
and he would not let her say it.

“Not at all,” he said. 
“Listen to me.  You can’t see your
own position as I can.  Let me tell you candidly
my opinion.”  Again he smiled discreetly
his almond-oil smile.  “I’ll begin
from the beginning.  You married a man twenty
years older than yourself.  You married him without
love and not knowing what love was.  It was a
mistake, let’s admit.”

“A fearful mistake!” said Anna.

“But I repeat, it’s an
accomplished fact.  Then you had, let us say,
the misfortune to love a man not your husband. 
That was a misfortune; but that, too, is an accomplished
fact.  And your husband knew it and forgave it.” 
He stopped at each sentence, waiting for her to object,
but she made no answer.  “That’s so. 
Now the question is:  can you go on living with
your husband?  Do you wish it?  Does he
wish it?”

“I know nothing, nothing.”

“But you said yourself that you can’t
endure him.”

“No, I didn’t say so. 
I deny it.  I can’t tell, I don’t
know anything about it.”

“Yes, but let…”

“You can’t understand. 
I feel I’m lying head downwards in a sort of
pit, but I ought not to save myself.  And I can’t
. . .”

“Never mind, we’ll slip
something under and pull you out.  I understand
you:  I understand that you can’t take it
on yourself to express your wishes, your feelings.”

“There’s nothing, nothing
I wish…except for it to be all over.”

“But he sees this and knows
it.  And do you suppose it weighs on him any
less than on you?  You’re wretched, he’s
wretched, and what good can come of it? while divorce
would solve the difficulty completely.” 
With some effort Stepan Arkadyevitch brought out
his central idea, and looked significantly at her.

She said nothing, and shook her cropped
head in dissent.  But from the look in her face,
that suddenly brightened into its old beauty, he saw
that if she did not desire this, it was simply because
it seemed to her unattainable happiness.

“I’m awfully sorry for
you!  And how happy I should be if I could arrange
things!” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling more
boldly.  “Don’t speak, don’t
say a word!  God grant only that I may speak
as I feel.  I’m going to him.”

Anna looked at him with dreamy, shining
eyes, and said nothing.

 

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