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