Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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The mistake made by Alexei Alexandrovich, when preparing to see his wife, in having overlooked the possibility that her repentance might be sincere, and that 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 the 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 insolvable 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 neglected 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 nurse and wet 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 plump little hands with clenched fingers, that rubbed the little eyes and bridge of the nose with the back of their palms. At such moments particularly Alexei Alexandrovich 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, Alexei Alexandrovich 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, yet not daring, to tell him something; and, as though foreseeing that their present relations could not continue, she seemed to be expecting something from him.
Toward the end of February Anna’s baby daughter, who had also been named Anna, happened to fall ill. Alexei Alexandrovich 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 footman, in a gallooned livery and a bear-fur cape, holding a white fur cloak.
“Who is here?” asked Alexei Alexandrovich.
“Princess Elizaveta Fiodorovna Tverskaia,” the footman answered, and it seemed to Alexei Alexandrovich that the fellow grinned.
During all this difficult time Alexei Alexandrovich had noticed that his worldly acquaintances, especially women, took a peculiar interest in him and his wife. He observed all these acquaintances 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 footman. Everyone seemed, somehow, hugely delighted, as though just come from a wedding. When they met him, they inquired with ill-disguised enjoyment after his wife’s health.
The presence of Princess Tverskaia was unpleasant to Alexei Alexandrovich from the memories associated with her, and also because he disliked her, and he went straight to the nursery. In the day nursery Seriozha, 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 mignardise. She hurriedly got up, curtsied, and pulled Seriozha.
Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Alexei Alexandrovich, 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 wet nurse had no milk, sir.”
Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Alexei Alexandrovich.
“She’s very restless,” answered the nurse in a whisper.
“Miss Edwards says that perhaps the wet nurse has no milk,” he said.
“I think so too, Alexei Alexandrovich.”
“Then why didn’t you say so?”
“Who’s one to say it to? Anna Arkadyevna is still ill…” said the nurse discontentedly.
The nurse was an old servant of the family. And in her simple words there seemed to Alexei Alexandrovich an allusion to his position.
The baby screamed louder than ever, struggling and choking. 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 Alexei Alexandrovich.
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, Alexei Alexandrovich saw a sneer at his position.
“Luckless child,” said the nurse, hushing the baby, and still walking up and down with it.
Alexei Alexandrovich 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, Alexei Alexandrovich 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 charming 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 toward her bedroom. As he walked over the soft rug toward 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 refusal and his too. But your husband ought to be above that,” Betsy was saying.
“It’s not for my husband- it’s for myself I don’t wish it. Don’t say that!” answered Anna’s excited voice.
“Yes, but you must care to say good-by 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, Alexei Alexandrovich stopped and would have gone back unobserved. But reflecting that this would be undignified, he turned back again, and, clearing his throat, he approached 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 animation 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 over her head like a shade on a lamp, in a dove-colored dress with crude oblique 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 Alexei Alexandrovich 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 significant and affable air, as though she were bestowing an order of magnanimity on him for his conduct toward his wife.
Alexei Alexandrovich 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 complexion,” 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, I mean you,” she turned to Alexei Alexandrovich, and her neck and brow were suffused with crimson. “I won’t and can’t keep anything secret from you,” she said.
Alexei Alexandrovich cracked his fingers and bowed his head.
“Betsy’s been telling me that Count Vronsky wants to come here to say good-by 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 Alexei Alexandrovich,” Betsy corrected her.
“Oh, no, I can’t receive him; and what object would there be in…” She stopped suddenly, and glanced inquiringly at her husband (he did not look at her). “In short, I don’t wish it….”
Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Tverskaia, 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 Tverskaia.
“Well, good-by, my darling,” said Betsy, getting up. She kissed Anna, and went out. Alexei Alexandrovich escorted her out.
“Alexei Alexandrovich! 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 love her so, and respect you, that I venture to advise. Receive him. Alexei 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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Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina – Contents
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