FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 17

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

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Unconsciously going over in his memory
the conversations that had taken place during and
after dinner, Alexey Alexandrovitch returned to his
solitary room.  Darya Alexandrovna’s words
about forgiveness had aroused in him nothing but annoyance. 
The applicability or non-applicability of the Christian
precept to his own case was too difficult a question
to be discussed lightly, and this question had long
ago been answered by Alexey Alexandrovitch in the
negative.  Of all that had been said, what stuck
most in his memory was the phrase of stupid, good-natured
Turovtsin ­“Acted like a man, he
did!  Called him out and shot him!

Everyone had apparently shared this feeling, though
from politeness they had not expressed it.

“But the matter is settled,
it’s useless thinking about it,” Alexey
Alexandrovitch told himself.  And thinking of
nothing but the journey before him, and the revision
work he had to do, he went into his room and asked
the porter who escorted him where his man was. 
The porter said that the man had only just gone out. 
Alexey Alexandrovitch ordered tea to be sent him,
sat down to the table, and taking the guidebook, began
considering the route of his journey.

“Two telegrams,” said
his manservant, coming into the room.  “I
beg your pardon, your excellency; I’d only just
that minute gone out.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch took the telegrams
and opened them.  The first telegram was the
announcement of Stremov’s appointment to the
very post Karenin had coveted.  Alexey Alexandrovitch
flung the telegram down, and flushing a little, got
up and began to pace up and down the room. “Quos
vult perdere dementat
,” he said, meaning
by quos the persons responsible for this appointment. 
He was not so much annoyed that he had not received
the post, that he had been conspicuously passed over;
but it was incomprehensible, amazing to him that they
did not see that the wordy phrase-monger Stremov was
the last man fit for it.  How could they fail
to see how they were ruining themselves, lowering
their prestige by this appointment?

“Something else in the same
line,” he said to himself bitterly, opening
the second telegram.  The telegram was from his
wife.  Her name, written in blue pencil, “Anna,”
was the first thing that caught his eye.  “I
am dying; I beg, I implore you to come.  I shall
die easier with your forgiveness,” he read. 
He smiled contemptuously, and flung down the telegram. 
That this was a trick and a fraud, of that, he thought
for the first minute, there could be no doubt.

“There is no deceit she would
stick at.  She was near her confinement. 
Perhaps it is the confinement.  But what can
be their aim?  To legitimize the child, to compromise
me, and prevent a divorce,” he thought. 
“But something was said in it:  I am dying….” 
He read the telegram again, and suddenly the plain
meaning of what was said in it struck him.

“And if it is true?” he
said to himself.  “If it is true that in
the moment of agony and nearness to death she is genuinely
penitent, and I, taking it for a trick, refuse to go? 
That would not only be cruel, and everyone would
blame me, but it would be stupid on my part.”

“Piotr, call a coach; I am going
to Petersburg,” he said to his servant.

Alexey Alexandrovitch decided that
he would go to Petersburg and see his wife. 
If her illness was a trick, he would say nothing and
go away again.  If she was really in danger, and
wished to see him before her death, he would forgive
her if he found her alive, and pay her the last duties
if he came too late.

All the way he thought no more of
what he ought to do.

With a sense of weariness and uncleanness
from the night spent in the train, in the early fog
of Petersburg Alexey Alexandrovitch drove through
the deserted Nevsky and stared straight before him,
not thinking of what was awaiting him.  He could
not think about it, because in picturing what would
happen, he could not drive away the reflection that
her death would at once remove all the difficulty
of his position.  Bakers, closed shops, night-cabmen,
porters sweeping the pavements flashed past his eyes,
and he watched it all, trying to smother the thought
of what was awaiting him, and what he dared not hope
for, and yet was hoping for.  He drove up to
the steps.  A sledge and a carriage with the
coachman asleep stood at the entrance.  As he
went into the entry, Alexey Alexandrovitch, as it
were, got out his resolution from the remotest corner
of his brain, and mastered it thoroughly.  Its
meaning ran:  “If it’s a trick, then
calm contempt and departure.  If truth, do what
is proper.”

The porter opened the door before
Alexey Alexandrovitch rang.  The porter, Kapitonitch,
looked queer in an old coat, without a tie, and in
slippers.

“How is your mistress?”

“A successful confinement yesterday.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch stopped short
and turned white.  He felt distinctly now how
intensely he had longed for her death.

“And how is she?”

Korney in his morning apron ran downstairs.

“Very ill,” he answered. 
“There was a consultation yesterday, and the
doctor’s here now.”

“Take my things,” said
Alexey Alexandrovitch, and feeling some relief at
the news that there was still hope of her death, he
went into the hall.

On the hatstand there was a military
overcoat.  Alexey Alexandrovitch noticed it and
asked: 

“Who is here?”

“The doctor, the midwife, and Count Vronsky.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the inner rooms.

In the drawing room there was no one;
at the sound of his steps there came out of her boudoir
the midwife in a cap with lilac ribbons.

She went up to Alexey Alexandrovitch,
and with the familiarity given by the approach of
death took him by the arm and drew him towards the
bedroom.

“Thank God you’ve come! 
She keeps on about you and nothing but you,”
she said.

“Make haste with the ice!”
the doctor’s peremptory voice said from the
bedroom.

Alexey Alexandrovitch went into her boudoir.

At the table, sitting sideways in
a low chair, was Vronsky, his face hidden in his hands,
weeping.  He jumped up at the doctor’s
voice, took his hands from his face, and saw Alexey
Alexandrovitch.  Seeing the husband, he was so
overwhelmed that he sat down again, drawing his head
down to his shoulders, as if he wanted to disappear;
but he made an effort over himself, got up and said: 

“She is dying.  The doctors
say there is no hope.  I am entirely in your
power, only let me be here…though I am at your disposal. 
I…”

Alexey Alexandrovitch, seeing Vronsky’s
tears, felt a rush of that nervous emotion always
produced in him by the sight of other people’s
suffering, and turning away his face, he moved hurriedly
to the door, without hearing the rest of his words. 
From the bedroom came the sound of Anna’s voice
saying something.  Her voice was lively, eager,
with exceedingly distinct intonations.  Alexey
Alexandrovitch went into the bedroom, and went up to
the bed.  She was lying turned with her face
towards him.  Her cheeks were flushed crimson,
her eyes glittered, her little white hands thrust
out from the sleeves of her dressing gown were playing
with the quilt, twisting it about.  It seemed
as though she were not only well and blooming, but
in the happiest frame of mind.  She was talking
rapidly, musically, and with exceptionally correct
articulation and expressive intonation.

“For Alexey ­I am
speaking of Alexey Alexandrovitch (what a strange
and awful thing that both are Alexey, isn’t it?) ­Alexey
would not refuse me.  I should forget, he would
forgive….  But why doesn’t he come? 
He’s so good he doesn’t know himself how
good he is.  Ah, my God, what agony!  Give
me some water, quick!  Oh, that will be bad for
her, my little girl!  Oh, very well then, give
her to a nurse.  Yes, I agree, it’s better
in fact.  He’ll be coming; it will hurt
him to see her.  Give her to the nurse.”

“Anna Arkadyevna, he has come. 
Here he is!” said the midwife, trying to attract
her attention to Alexey Alexandrovitch.

“Oh, what nonsense!” Anna
went on, not seeing her husband.  “No,
give her to me; give me my little one!  He has
not come yet.  You say he won’t forgive
me, because you don’t know him.  No one
knows him.  I’m the only one, and it was
hard for me even.  His eyes I ought to know ­Seryozha
has just the same eyes ­and I can’t
bear to see them because of it.  Has Seryozha
had his dinner?  I know everyone will forget
him.  He would not forget.  Seryozha must
be moved into the corner room, and Mariette must be
asked to sleep with him.”

All of a sudden she shrank back, was
silent; and in terror, as though expecting a blow,
as though to defend herself, she raised her hands
to her face.  She had seen her husband.

“No, no!” she began. 
“I am not afraid of him; I am afraid of death. 
Alexey, come here.  I am in a hurry, because
I’ve no time, I’ve not long left to live;
the fever will begin directly and I shall understand
nothing more.  Now I understand, I understand
it all, I see it all!”

Alexey Alexandrovitch’s wrinkled
face wore an expression of agony; he took her by the
hand and tried to say something, but he could not
utter it; his lower lip quivered, but he still went
on struggling with his emotion, and only now and then
glanced at her.  And each time he glanced at
her, he saw her eyes gazing at him with such passionate
and triumphant tenderness as he had never seen in
them.

“Wait a minute, you don’t
know…stay a little, stay!…”  She stopped,
as though collecting her ideas.  “Yes,”
she began; “yes, yes, yes.  This is what
I wanted to say.  Don’t be surprised at
me.  I’m still the same….  But there
is another woman in me, I’m afraid of her: 
she loved that man, and I tried to hate you, and could
not forget about her that used to be.  I’m
not that woman.  Now I’m my real self,
all myself.  I’m dying now, I know I shall
die, ask him.  Even now I feel ­see
here, the weights on my feet, on my hands, on my fingers. 
My fingers ­see how huge they are! 
But this will soon all be over….  Only one
thing I want:  forgive me, forgive me quite. 
I’m terrible, but my nurse used to tell me;
the holy martyr ­what was her name? 
She was worse.  And I’ll go to Rome; there’s
a wilderness, and there I shall be no trouble to any
one, only I’ll take Seryozha and the little
one….  No, you can’t forgive me! 
I know, it can’t be forgiven!  No, no,
go away, you’re too good!” She held his
hand in one burning hand, while she pushed him away
with the other.

The nervous agitation of Alexey Alexandrovitch
kept increasing, and had by now reached such a point
that he ceased to struggle with it.  He suddenly
felt that what he had regarded as nervous agitation
was on the contrary a blissful spiritual condition
that gave him all at once a new happiness he had never
known.  He did not think that the Christian law
that he had been all his life trying to follow, enjoined
on him to forgive and love his enemies; but a glad
feeling of love and forgiveness for his enemies filled
his heart.  He knelt down, and laying his head
in the curve of her arm, which burned him as with
fire through the sleeve, he sobbed like a little child. 
She put her arm around his head, moved towards him,
and with defiant pride lifted up her eyes.

“That is he.  I knew him! 
Now, forgive me, everyone, forgive me!…  They’ve
come again; why don’t they go away?… 
Oh, take these cloaks off me!”

The doctor unloosed her hands, carefully
laying her on the pillow, and covered her up to the
shoulders.  She lay back submissively, and looked
before her with beaming eyes.

“Remember one thing, that I
needed nothing but forgiveness, and I want nothing
more….  Why doesn’t he come?”
she said, turning to the door towards Vronsky. 
“Do come, do come!  Give him your hand.”

Vronsky came to the side of the bed,
and seeing Anna, again hid his face in his hands.

“Uncover your face ­look
at him!  He’s a saint,” she said. 
“Oh! uncover your face, do uncover it!”
she said angrily.  “Alexey Alexandrovitch,
do uncover his face!  I want to see him.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch took Vronsky’s
hands and drew them away from his face, which was
awful with the expression of agony and shame upon
it.

“Give him your hand.  Forgive him.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch gave him his
hand, not attempting to restrain the tears that streamed
from his eyes.

“Thank God, thank God!”
she said, “now everything is ready.  Only
to stretch my legs a little.  There, that’s
capital.  How badly these flowers are done ­not
a bit like a violet,” she said, pointing to
the hangings.  “My God, my God! when will
it end?  Give me some morphine.  Doctor,
give me some morphine!  Oh, my God, my God!”

And she tossed about on the bed.

The doctors said that it was puerperal
fever, and that it was ninety-nine chances in a hundred
it would end in death.  The whole day long there
was fever, delirium, and unconsciousness.  At
midnight the patient lay without consciousness, and
almost without pulse.

The end was expected every minute.

Vronsky had gone home, but in the
morning he came to inquire, and Alexey Alexandrovitch
meeting him in the hall, said:  “Better
stay, she might ask for you,” and himself led
him to his wife’s boudoir.  Towards morning,
there was a return again of excitement, rapid thought
and talk, and again it ended in unconsciousness. 
On the third day it was the same thing, and the doctors
said there was hope.  That day Alexey Alexandrovitch
went into the boudoir where Vronsky was sitting, and
closing the door sat down opposite him.

“Alexey Alexandrovitch,”
said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the position
was coming, “I can’t speak, I can’t
understand.  Spare me!  However hard it is
for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me.”

He would have risen; but Alexey Alexandrovitch
took him by the hand and said: 

“I beg you to hear me out; it
is necessary.  I must explain my feelings, the
feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so
that you may not be in error regarding me.  You
know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun
to take proceedings.  I won’t conceal from
you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I
was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by
a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. 
When I got the telegram, I came here with the same
feelings; I will say more, I longed for her death. 
But….”  He paused, pondering whether
to disclose or not to disclose his feeling to him. 
“But I saw her and forgave her.  And the
happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. 
I forgive completely.  I would offer the other
cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. 
I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss
of forgiveness!”

Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous,
serene look in them impressed Vronsky.

“This is my position:  you
can trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock
of the world, I will not abandon her, and I will never
utter a word of reproach to you,” Alexey Alexandrovitch
went on.  “My duty is clearly marked for
me; I ought to be with her, and I will be.  If
she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now
I suppose it would be better for you to go away.”

He got up, and sobs cut short his
words.  Vronsky too was getting up, and in a
stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him
from under his brows.  He did not understand Alexey
Alexandrovitch’s feeling, but he felt that it
was something higher and even unattainable for him
with his view of life.

 

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