FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 3

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

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“You met him?” she asked,
when they had sat down at the table in the lamplight. 
“You’re punished, you see, for being late.”

“Yes; but how was it? 
Wasn’t he to be at the council?”

“He had been and come back,
and was going out somewhere again.  But that’s
no matter.  Don’t talk about it.  Where
have you been?  With the prince still?”

She knew every detail of his existence. 
He was going to say that he had been up all night
and had dropped asleep, but looking at her thrilled
and rapturous face, he was ashamed.  And he said
he had had to go to report on the prince’s departure.

“But it’s over now?  He is gone?”

“Thank God it’s over! 
You wouldn’t believe how insufferable it’s
been for me.”

“Why so?  Isn’t it
the life all of you, all young men, always lead?”
she said, knitting her brows; and taking up the crochet
work that was lying on the table, she began drawing
the hook out of it, without looking at Vronsky.

“I gave that life up long ago,”
said he, wondering at the change in her face, and
trying to divine its meaning.  “And I confess,”
he said, with a smile, showing his thick, white teeth,
“this week I’ve been, as it were, looking
at myself in a glass, seeing that life, and I didn’t
like it.”

She held the work in her hands, but
did not crochet, and looked at him with strange, shining,
and hostile eyes.

“This morning Liza came to see
me ­they’re not afraid to call on
me, in spite of the Countess Lidia Ivanovna,”
she put in ­“and she told me about
your Athenian evening.  How loathsome!”

“I was just going to say…”

She interrupted him.  “It was that Therese
you used to know?”

“I was just saying…”

“How disgusting you are, you
men!  How is it you can’t understand that
a woman can never forget that,” she said, getting
more and more angry, and so letting him see the cause
of her irritation, “especially a woman who cannot
know your life?  What do I know?  What have
I ever known?” she said, “what you tell
me.  And how do I know whether you tell me the
truth?…”

“Anna, you hurt me.  Don’t
you trust me?  Haven’t I told you that
I haven’t a thought I wouldn’t lay bare
to you?”

“Yes, yes,” she said,
evidently trying to suppress her jealous thoughts. 
“But if only you knew how wretched I am! 
I believe you, I believe you….  What were
you saying?”

But he could not at once recall what
he had been going to say.  These fits of jealousy,
which of late had been more and more frequent with
her, horrified him, and however much he tried to disguise
the fact, made him feel cold to her, although he knew
the cause of her jealousy was her love for him. 
How often he had told himself that her love was happiness;
and now she loved him as a woman can love when love
has outweighed for her all the good things of life ­and
he was much further from happiness than when he had
followed her from Moscow.  Then he had thought
himself unhappy, but happiness was before him; now
he felt that the best happiness was already left behind. 
She was utterly unlike what she had been when he
first saw her.  Both morally and physically she
had changed for the worse.  She had broadened
out all over, and in her face at the time when she
was speaking of the actress there was an evil expression
of hatred that distorted it.  He looked at her
as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered,
with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which
he picked and ruined it.  And in spite of this
he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he
could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that
love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment
it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that
what bound him to her could not be broken.

“Well, well, what was it you
were going to say about the prince?  I have driven
away the fiend,” she added.  The fiend was
the name they had given her jealousy.  “What
did you begin to tell me about the prince?  Why
did you find it so tiresome?”

“Oh, it was intolerable!”
he said, trying to pick up the thread of his interrupted
thought.  “He does not improve on closer
acquaintance.  If you want him defined, here he
is:  a prime, well-fed beast such as takes medals
at the cattle shows, and nothing more,” he said,
with a tone of vexation that interested her.

“No; how so?” she replied. 
“He’s seen a great deal, anyway; he’s
cultured?”

“It’s an utterly different
culture ­their culture.  He’s
cultivated, one sees, simply to be able to despise
culture, as they despise everything but animal pleasures.”

“But don’t you all care
for these animal pleasures?” she said, and again
he noticed a dark look in her eyes that avoided him.

“How is it you’re defending him?”
he said, smiling.

“I’m not defending him,
it’s nothing to me; but I imagine, if you had
not cared for those pleasures yourself, you might have
got out of them.  But if it affords you satisfaction
to gaze at Therese in the attire of Eve…”

“Again, the devil again,”
Vronsky said, taking the hand she had laid on the
table and kissing it.

“Yes; but I can’t help
it.  You don’t know what I have suffered
waiting for you.  I believe I’m not jealous. 
I’m not jealous:  I believe you when you’re
here; but when you’re away somewhere leading
your life, so incomprehensible to me…”

She turned away from him, pulled the
hook at last out of the crochet work, and rapidly,
with the help of her forefinger, began working loop
after loop of the wool that was dazzling white in
the lamplight, while the slender wrist moved swiftly,
nervously in the embroidered cuff.

“How was it, then?  Where
did you meet Alexey Alexandrovitch?” Her voice
sounded in an unnatural and jarring tone.

“We ran up against each other in the doorway.”

“And he bowed to you like this?”

She drew a long face, and half-closing
her eyes, quickly transformed her expression, folded
her hands, and Vronsky suddenly saw in her beautiful
face the very expression with which Alexey Alexandrovitch
had bowed to him.  He smiled, while she laughed
gaily, with that sweet, deep laugh, which was one of
her greatest charms.

“I don’t understand him
in the least,” said Vronsky.  “If
after your avowal to him at your country house he
had broken with you, if he had called me out ­but
this I can’t understand.  How can he put
up with such a position?  He feels it, that’s
evident.”

“He?” she said sneeringly. 
“He’s perfectly satisfied.”

“What are we all miserable for,
when everything might be so happy?”

“Only not he.  Don’t
I know him, the falsity in which he’s utterly
steeped?…  Could one, with any feeling, live
as he is living with me?  He understands nothing,
and feels nothing.  Could a man of any feeling
live in the same house with his unfaithful wife? 
Could he talk to her, call her ’my dear’?”

And again she could not help mimicking
him:  “’Anna, ma chère; Anna,
dear’!”

“He’s not a man, not a
human being ­he’s a doll!  No
one knows him; but I know him.  Oh, if I’d
been in his place, I’d long ago have killed,
have torn to pieces a wife like me.  I wouldn’t
have said, ‘Anna, ma chère’! 
He’s not a man, he’s an official machine. 
He doesn’t understand that I’m your wife,
that he’s outside, that he’s superfluous…. 
Don’t let’s talk of him!…”

“You’re unfair, very unfair,
dearest,” said Vronsky, trying to soothe her. 
“But never mind, don’t let’s talk
of him.  Tell me what you’ve been doing? 
What is the matter?  What has been wrong with
you, and what did the doctor say?”

She looked at him with mocking amusement. 
Evidently she had hit on other absurd and grotesque
aspects in her husband and was awaiting the moment
to give expression to them.

But he went on: 

“I imagine that it’s not
illness, but your condition.  When will it be?”

The ironical light died away in her
eyes, but a different smile, a consciousness of something,
he did not know what, and of quiet melancholy, came
over her face.

“Soon, soon.  You say that
our position is miserable, that we must put an end
to it.  If you knew how terrible it is to me,
what I would give to be able to love you freely and
boldly!  I should not torture myself and torture
you with my jealousy….  And it will come soon,
but not as we expect.”

And at the thought of how it would
come, she seemed so pitiable to herself that tears
came into her eyes, and she could not go on. 
She laid her hand on his sleeve, dazzling and white
with its rings in the lamplight.

“It won’t come as we suppose. 
I didn’t mean to say this to you, but you’ve
made me.  Soon, soon, all will be over, and we
shall all, all be at peace, and suffer no more.”

“I don’t understand,” he said, understanding
her.

“You asked when?  Soon. 
And I shan’t live through it.  Don’t
interrupt me!” and she made haste to speak. 
“I know it; I know for certain.  I shall
die; and I’m very glad I shall die, and release
myself and you.”

Tears dropped from her eyes; he bent
down over her hand and began kissing it, trying to
hide his emotion, which, he knew, had no sort of grounds,
though he could not control it.

“Yes, it’s better so,”
she said, tightly gripping his hand.  “That’s
the only way, the only way left us.”

He had recovered himself, and lifted his head.

“How absurd!  What absurd nonsense you
are talking!”

“No, it’s the truth.”

“What, what’s the truth?”

“That I shall die.  I have had a dream.”

“A dream?” repeated Vronsky,
and instantly he recalled the peasant of his dream.

“Yes, a dream,” she said. 
“It’s a long while since I dreamed it. 
I dreamed that I ran into my bedroom, that I had to
get something there, to find out something; you know
how it is in dreams,” she said, her eyes wide
with horror; “and in the bedroom, in the corner,
stood something.”

“Oh, what nonsense!  How can you believe…”

But she would not let him interrupt
her.  What she was saying was too important to
her.

“And the something turned round,
and I saw it was a peasant with a disheveled beard,
little, and dreadful looking.  I wanted to run
away, but he bent down over a sack, and was fumbling
there with his hands…”

She showed how he had moved his hands. 
There was terror in her face.  And Vronsky,
remembering his dream, felt the same terror filling
his soul.

“He was fumbling and kept talking
quickly, quickly in French, you know:  Il faut
lé battre, lé fer, lé brayer, lé pétrir
…. 
And in my horror I tried to wake up, and woke up…but
woke up in the dream.  And I began asking myself
what it meant.  And Korney said to me:  ‘In
childbirth you’ll die, ma’am, you’ll
die….’  And I woke up.”

“What nonsense, what nonsense!”
said Vronsky; but he felt himself that there was no
conviction in his voice.

“But don’t let’s
talk of it.  Ring the bell, I’ll have tea. 
And stay a little now; it’s not long I shall…”

But all at once she stopped. 
The expression of her face instantaneously changed. 
Horror and excitement were suddenly replaced by a
look of soft, solemn, blissful attention.  He
could not comprehend the meaning of the change. 
She was listening to the stirring of the new life
within her.

 

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