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Chapter 19


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.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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