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Chapter 23

Vronsky's wound had been a dangerous one, though it did not
touch the heart, and for several days he had lain between life
and death. The first time he was able to speak, Varya, his
brother's wife, was alone in the room.

"Varya," he said, looking sternly at her, "I shot myself by
accident. And please never speak of it, and tell everyone so.
Or else it's too ridiculous."

Without answering his words, Varya bent over him, and with a
delighted smile gazed into his face. His eyes were clear, not
feverish; but their expression was stern.

"Thank God!" she said. "You're not in pain?"

"A little here." He pointed to his breast.

"Then let me change your bandages."

In silence, stiffening his broad jaws, he looked at her while she
bandaged him up. When she had finished he said:

"I'm not delirious. Please manage that there may be no talk of
my having shot myself on purpose."

"No one does say so. Only I hope you won't shoot yourself by
accident any more," she said, with a questioning smile.

"Of course I won't, but it would have been better..."

And he smiled gloomily.

In spite of these words and this smile, which so frightened
Varya, when the inflammation was over and he began to recover, he
felt that he was completely free from one part of his misery. By
his action he had, as it were, washed away the shame and
humiliation he had felt before. He could now think calmly of
Alexey Alexandrovitch. He recognized all his magnanimity, but he
did not now feel himself humiliated by it. Besides, he got back
again into the beaten track of his life. He saw the possibility
of looking men in the face again without shame, and he could live
in accordance with his own habits. One thing he could not pluck
out of his heart, though he never ceased struggling with it, was
the regret, amounting to despair, that he had lost her forever.
That now, having expiated his sin against the husband, he was
bound to renounce her, and never in future to stand between her
with her repentance and her husband, he had firmly decided in his
heart; but he could not tear out of his heart his regret at the
loss of her love, he could not erase from his memory those
moments of happiness that he had so little prized at the time,
and that haunted him in all their charm.

Serpuhovskoy had planned his appointment at Tashkend, and Vronsky
agreed to the proposition without the slightest hesitation. But
the nearer the time of departure came, the bitterer was the
sacrifice he was making to what he thought his duty.

His wound had healed, and he was driving about making
preparations for his departure for Tashkend.

"To see her once and then to bury myself, to die," he thought,
and as he was paying farewell visits, he uttered this thought to
Betsy. Charged with this commission, Betsy had gone to Anna, and
brought him back a negative reply.

"So much the better," thought Vronsky, when he received the news.
"It was a weakness, which would have shattered what strength I
have left."

Next day Betsy herself came to him in the morning, and announced
that she had heard through Oblonsky as a positive fact that
Alexey Alexandrovitch had agreed to a divorce, and that therefore
Vronsky could see Anna.

Without even troubling himself to see Betsy out of his fiat,
forgetting all his resolutions, without asking when he could see
her, where her husband was, Vronsky drove straight to the
Karenins'. He ran up the stairs seeing no one and nothing, and
with a rapid step, almost breaking into a run, he went into her
room. And without considering, without noticing whether there
was anyone in the room or not, he flung his arms round her, and
began to cover her face, her hands, her neck with kisses.

Anna had been preparing herself for this meeting, had thought
what she would say to him, but she did not succeed in saying
anything of it; his passion mastered her. She tried to calm him,
to calm herself, but it was too late. His feeling infected her.
Her lips trembled so that for a long while she could say nothing.

"Yes, you have conquered me, and I am yours," she said at last,
pressing his hands to her bosom.

"So it had to be," he said. "So long as we live, it must be so.
I know it now."

"That's true," she said, getting whiter and whiter, and embracing
his head. "Still there is something terrible in it after all
that has happened."

"It will all pass, it will all pass; we shall be so happy. Our
love, if it could be stronger, will be strengthened by there
being something terrible in it," he said, lifting his head and
parting his strong teeth in a smile.

And she could not but respond with a smile--not to his words, but
to the love in his eyes. She took his hand and stroked her
chilled cheeks and cropped head with it.

"I don't know you with this short hair. You've grown so pretty.
A boy. But how pale you are!"

"Yes, I'm very weak," she said, smiling. And her lips began
trembling again.

"We'll go to Italy; you will get strong," he said.

"Can it be possible we could be like husband and wife, alone,
your family with you?" she said, looking close into his eyes.

"It only seems strange to me that it can ever have been

"Stiva says that HE has agreed to everything, but I can't accept
HIS generosity," she said, looking dreamily past Vronsky's face.
"I don't want a divorce; it's all the same to me now. Only I
don't know what he will decide about Seryozha."

He could not conceive how at this moment of their meeting she
could remember and think of her son, of divorce. What did it all

"Don't speak of that, don't think of it," he said, turning her
hand in his, and trying to draw her attention to him; but still
she did not look at him.

"Oh, why didn't I die! it would have been better," she said, and
silent tears flowed down both her cheeks; but she tried to smile,
so as not to wound him.

To decline the flattering and dangerous appointment at Tashkend
would have been, Vronsky had till then considered, disgraceful
and impossible. But now, without an instant's consideration, he
declined it, and observing dissatisfaction in the most exalted
quarters at this step, he immediately retired from the army.

A month later Alexey Alexandrovitch was left alone with his son
in his house at Petersburg, while Anna and Vronsky had gone
abroad, not having obtained a divorce, but having absolutely
declined all idea of one.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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