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Chapter 22


Stepan Arkadyevitch, with the same somewhat solemn expression
with which he used to take his presidential chair at his board,
walked into Alexey Alexandrovitch's room. Alexey Alexandrovitch
was walking about his room with his hands behind his back,
thinking of just what Stepan Arkadyevitch had been discussing
with his wife.

"I'm not interrupting you?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, on the
sight of his brother-in-law becoming suddenly aware of a sense of
embarrassment unusual with him. To conceal this embarrassment he
took out a cigarette case he had just bought that opened in a new
way, and sniffing the leather, took a cigarette out of it.

"No. Do you want anything?" Alexey Alexandrovitch asked without
eagerness.

"Yes, I wished...I wanted...yes, I wanted to talk to you," said
Stepan Arkadyevitch, with surprise aware of an unaccustomed
timidity.

This feeling was so unexpected and so strange that he did not
believe it was the voice of conscience telling him that what he
was meaning to do was wrong.

Stepan Arkadyevitch made an effort and struggled with the
timidity that had come over him.

"I hope you believe in my love for my sister and my sincere
affection and respect for you," he said, reddening.

Alexey Alexandrovitch stood still and said nothing, but his face
struck Stepan Arkadyevitch by its expression of an unresisting
sacrifice.

"I intended...I wanted to have a little talk with you about my
sister and your mutual position," he said, still struggling with
an unaccustomed constraint.

Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled mournfully, looked at his
brother-in-law, and without answering went up to the table, took
from it an unfinished letter, and handed it to his
brother-in-law.

"I think unceasingly of the same thing. And here is what I had
begun writing, thinking I could say it better by letter, and
that my presence irritates her," he said, as he gave him the
letter.

Stepan Arkadyevitch took the letter, looked with incredulous
surprise at the lusterless eyes fixed so immovably on him, and
began to read.

"I see that my presence is irksome to you. Painful as it is to
me to believe it, I see that it is so, and cannot be otherwise.
I don't blame you, and God is my witness that on seeing you at
the time of your illness I resolved with my whole heart to forget
all that had passed between us and to begin a new life. I do not
regret, and shall never regret, what I have done; but I have
desired one thing--your good, the good of your soul--and now I
see I have not attained that. Tell me yourself what will give
you true happiness and peace to your soul. I put myself entirely
in your hands, and trust to your feeling of what's right."

Stepan Arkadyevitch handed back the letter, and with the same
surprise continued looking at his brother-in-law, not knowing
what to say. This silence was so awkward for both of them that
Stepan Arkadyevitch's lips began twitching nervously, while he
still gazed without speaking at Karenin's face.

"That's what I wanted to say to her," said Alexey Alexandrovitch,
turning away.

"Yes, yes..." said Stepan Arkadyevitch, not able to answer for
the tears that were choking him.

"Yes, yes, I understand you," he brought out at last.

"I want to know what she would like," said Alexey Alexandrovitch.

"I am afraid she does not understand her own position. She is
not a judge," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recovering himself. "She
is crushed, simply crushed by your generosity. If she were to
read this letter, she would be incapable of saying anything, she
would only hang her head lower than ever."

"Yes, but what's to be done in that case? how explain, how find
out her wishes?"

"If you will allow me to give my opinion, I think that it lies
with you to point out directly the steps you consider necessary
to end the position."

"So you consider it must be ended?" Alexey Alexandrovitch
interrupted him. "But how?" he added, with a gesture of his
hands before his eyes not usual with him. "I see no possible way
out of it."

"There is some way of getting out of every position," said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, standing up and becoming more cheerful. "There was
a time when you thought of breaking off.... If you are convinced
now that you cannot make each other happy..."

"Happiness may be variously understood. But suppose that I agree
to everything, that I want nothing: what way is there of getting
out of our position?"

"If you care to know my opinion," said Stepan Arkadyevitch with
the same smile of softening, almond-oil tenderness with which he
had been talking to Anna. His kindly smile was so winning that
Alexey Alexandrovitch, feeling his own weakness and unconsciously
swayed by it, was ready to believe what Stepan Arkadyevitch was
saying.

"She will never speak out about it. But one thing is possible,
one thing she might desire," he went on: "that is the cessation
of your relations and all memories associated with them. To my
thinking, in your position what's essential is the formation of a
new attitude to one another. And that can only rest on a basis
of freedom on both sides."

"Divorce," Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted, in a tone of
aversion.

"Yes, I imagine that divorce--yes, divorce," Stepan Arkadyevitch
repeated, reddening. "That is from every point of view the most
rational course for married people who find themselves in the
position you are in. What can be done if married people find
that life is impossible for them together? That may always
happen."

Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed heavily and closed his eyes.

"There's only one point to be considered: is either of the
parties desirous of forming new ties? If not, it is very
simple," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, feeling more and more free
from constraint.

Alexey Alexandrovitch, scowling with emotion, muttered something
to himself, and made no answer. All that seemed so simple to
Stepan Arkadyevitch, Alexey Alexandrovitch had thought over
thousands of times. And, so far from being simple, it all seemed
to him utterly impossible. Divorce, the details of which he knew
by this time, seemed to him now out of the question, because the
sense of his own dignity and respect for religion forbade his
taking upon himself a fictitious charge of adultery, and still
more suffering his wife, pardoned and beloved by him, to be
caught in the fact and put to public shame. Divorce appeared to
him impossible also on other still more weighty grounds.

What would become of his son in case of a divorce? To leave him
with his mother was out of the question. The divorced mother
would have her own illegitimate family, in which his position as
a stepson and his education would not be good. Keep him with
him? He knew that would be an act of vengeance on his part, and
that he did not want. But apart from this, what more than all
made divorce seem impossible to Alexey Alexandrovitch was, that
by consenting to a divorce he would be completely ruining Anna.
The saying of Darya Alexandrovna at Moscow, that in deciding on a
divorce he was thinking of himself, and not considering that by
this he would be ruining her irrevocably, had sunk into his
heart. And connecting this saying with his forgiveness of her,
with his devotion to the children, he understood it now in his
own way. To consent to a divorce, to give her her freedom, meant
in his thoughts to take from himself the last tie that bound him
to life--the children whom he loved; and to take from her the
last prop that stayed her on the path of right, to thrust her
down to her ruin. If she were divorced, he knew she would join
her life to Vronsky's, and their tie would be an illegitimate and
criminal one, since a wife, by the interpretation of the
ecclesiastical law, could not marry while her husband was living.
"She will join him, and in a year or two he will throw her over,
or she will form a new tie," thought Alexey Alexandrovitch. "And
I, by agreeing to an unlawful divorce, shall be to blame for her
ruin." He had thought it all over hundreds of times, and was
convinced that a divorce was not at all simple, as Stepan
Arkadyevitch had said, but was utterly impossible. He did not
believe a single word Stepan Arkadyevitch said to him; to every
word he had a thousand objections to make, but he listened to
him, feeling that his words were the expression of that mighty
brutal force which controlled his life and to which he would have
to submit.

"The only question is on what terms you agree to give her a
divorce. She does not want anything, does not dare ask you for
anything, she leaves it all to your generosity."

"My God, my God! what for?" thought Alexey Alexandrovitch,
remembering the details of divorce proceedings in which the
husband took the blame on himself, and with just the same gesture
with which Vronsky had done the same, he hid his face for shame
in his hands.

"You are distressed, I understand that. But if you think it
over..."

"Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the
other also; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy
cloak also," thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.

"Yes, yes!" he cried in a shrill voice. "I will take the
disgrace on myself, I will give up even my son, but...but
wouldn't it be better to let it alone? Still you may do as you
like..."

And turning away so that his brother-in-law could not see him, he
sat down on a chair at the window. There was bitterness, there
was shame in his heart, but with bitterness and shame he felt joy
and emotion at the height of his own meekness.

Stepan Arkadyevitch was touched. He was silent for a space.

"Alexey Alexandrovitch, believe me, she appreciates your
generosity," he said. "But it seems it was the will of God," he
added, and as he said it felt how foolish a remark it was, and
with difficulty repressed a smile at his own foolishness.

Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made some reply, but tears
stopped him.

"This is an unhappy fatality, and one must accept it as such. I
accept the calamity as an accomplished fact, and am doing my best
to help both her and you," said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

When he went out of his brother-in-law's room he was touched, but
that did not prevent him from being glad he had successfully
brought the matter to a conclusion, for he felt certain Alexey
Alexandrovitch would not go back on his words. To this
satisfaction was added the fact that an idea had just struck him
for a riddle turning on his successful achievement, that when the
affair was over he would ask his wife and most intimate friends.
He put this riddle into two or three different ways. "But I'll
work it out better than that," he said to himself with a smile.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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