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Chapter 22


Alexey Alexandrovitch had forgotten the Countess Lidia Ivanovna,
but she had not forgotten him. At the bitterest moment of his
lonely despair she came to him, and without waiting to be
announced, walked straight into his study. She found him as he
was sitting with his head in both hands.

"J'ai force la consigne," she said, walking in with rapid steps
and breathing hard with excitement and rapid exercise. "I have
heard all! Alexey Alexandrovitch! Dear friend!" she went on,
warmly squeezing his hand in both of hers and gazing with her
fine pensive eyes into his.

Alexey Alexandrovitch, frowning, got up, and disengaging his
hand, moved her a chair.

"Won't you sit down, countess? I'm seeing no one because I'm
unwell, countess," he said, and his lips twitched.

"Dear friend!" repeated Countess Lidia Ivanovna, never taking her
eyes off his, and suddenly her eyebrows rose at the inner
corners, describing a triangle on her forehead, her ugly yellow
face became still uglier, but Alexey Alexandrovitch felt that she
was sorry for him and was preparing to cry. And he too was
softened; he snatched her plump hand and proceeded to kiss it.

"Dear friend!" she said in a voice breaking with emotion. "You
ought not to give way to grief. Your sorrow is a great one, but
you ought to find consolation."

"I am crushed, I am annihilated, I am no longer a man!" said
Alexey Alexandrovitch, letting go her hand, but still gazing into
her brimming eyes. "My position is so awful because I can find
nowhere, I cannot find within me strength to support me."

"You will find support; seek it--not in me, though I beseech you
to believe in my friendship," she said, with a sigh. "Our
support is love, that love that He has vouchsafed us. His burden
is light," she said, with the look of ecstasy Alexey
Alexandrovitch knew so well. "He will be your support and your
succor."

Although there was in these words a flavor of that sentimental
emotion at her own lofty feelings, and that new mystical fervor
which had lately gained ground in Petersburg, and which seemed to
Alexey Alexandrovitch disproportionate, still it was pleasant to
him to hear this now.

"I am weak. I am crushed. I foresaw nothing, and now I
understand nothing."

"Dear friend," repeated Lidia Ivanovna.

"It's not the loss of what I have not now, it's not that!"
pursued Alexey Alexandrovitch. "I do not grieve for that. But
I cannot help feeling humiliated before other people for the
position I am placed in. It is wrong, but I can't help it, I
can't help it."

"Not you it was performed that noble act of forgiveness, at which
I was moved to ecstasy, and everyone else too, but He, working
within your heart," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, raising her
eyes rapturously, "and so you cannot be ashamed of your act."

Alexey Alexandrovitch knitted his brows, and crooking his hands,
he cracked his fingers.

"One must know all the facts," he said in his thin voice. "A
man's strength has its limits, countess, and I have reached my
limits. The whole day I have had to be making arrangements,
arrangements about household matters arising" (he emphasized the
word arising) "from my new, solitary position. The servants, the
governess, the accounts.... These pinpricks have stabbed me to
the heart, and I have not the strength to bear it. At dinner...
yesterday, I was almost getting up from the dinner table. I
could not bear the way my son looked at me. He did not ask me
the meaning of it all, but he wanted to ask, and I could not bear
the look in his eyes. He was afraid to look at me, but that is
not all...." Alexey Alexandrovitch would have referred to the
bill that had been brought him, but his voice shook, and he
stopped. That bill on blue paper, for a hat and ribbons, he
could not recall without a rush of self-pity.

"I understand, dear friend," said Lidia Ivanovna. "I understand
it all. Succor and comfort you will find not in me, though I
have come only to aid you if I can. If I could take from off you
all these petty, humiliating cares...I understand that a woman's
word, a woman's superintendence is needed. You will intrust it
to me?"

Silently and gratefully Alexey Alexandrovitch pressed her hand.

"Together we will take care of Seryozha. Practical affairs are
not my strong point. But I will set to work. I will be your
housekeeper. Don't thank me. I do it not from myself..."

"I cannot help thanking you."

"But, dear friend, do not give way to the feeling of which you
spoke--being ashamed of what is the Christian's highest glory:
*he who humbles himself shall be exalted*. And you cannot thank
me. You must thank Him, and pray to Him for succor. In Him
alone we find peace, consolation, salvation, and love," she said,
and turning her eyes heavenwards, she began praying, as Alexey
Alexandrovitch gathered from her silence.

Alexey Alexandrovitch listened to her now, and those expressions
which had seemed to him, if not distasteful, at least
exaggerated, now seemed to him natural and consolatory. Alexey
Alexandrovitch had disliked this new enthusiastic fervor. He was
a believer, who was interested in religion primarily in its
political aspect, and the new doctrine which ventured upon
several new interpretations, just because it paved the way to
discussion and analysis, was in principle disagreeable to him.
He had hitherto taken up a cold and even antagonistic attitude to
this new doctrine, and with Countess Lidia Ivanovna, who had been
carried away by it, he had never argued, but by silence had
assiduously parried her attempts to provoke him into argument.
Now for the first time he heard her words with pleasure, and did
not inwardly oppose them.

"I am very, very grateful to you, both for your deeds and for
your words," he said, when she had finished praying.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna once more pressed both her friend's
hands.

"Now I will enter upon my duties," she said with a smile after a
pause, as she wiped away the traces of tears. "I am going to
Seryozha. Only in the last extremity shall I apply to you." And
she got up and went out.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna went into Seryozha's part of the house,
and dropping tears on the scared child's cheeks, she told him
that his father was a saint and his mother was dead.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna kept her promise. She did actually take
upon herself the care of the organization and management of
Alexey Alexandrovitch's household. But she had not overstated
the case when saying that practical affairs were not her strong
point. All her arrangements had to be modified because they
could not be carried out, and they were modified by Korney,
Alexey Alexandrovitch's valet, who, though no one was aware of
the fact, now managed Karenin's household, and quietly and
discreetly reported to his master while he was dressing all it
was necessary for him to know. But Lidia Ivanovna's help was
none the less real; she gave Alexey Alexandrovitch moral support
in the consciousness of her love and respect for him, and still
more, as it was soothing to her to believe, in that she almost
turned him to Christianity--that is, from an indifferent and
apathetic believer she turned him into an ardent and steadfast
adherent of the new interpretation of Christian doctrine, which
had been gaining ground of late in Petersburg. It was easy for
Alexey Alexandrovitch to believe in this teaching. Alexey
Alexandrovitch, like Lidia Ivanovna indeed, and others who shared
their views, was completely devoid of vividness of imagination,
that spiritual faculty in virtue of which the conceptions evoked
by the imagination become so vivid that they must needs be in
harmony with other conceptions, and with actual fact. He saw
nothing impossible and inconceivable in the idea that death,
though existing for unbelievers, did not exist for him, and that,
as he was possessed of the most perfect faith, of the measure of
which he was himself the judge, therefore there was no sin in his
soul, and he was experiencing complete salvation here on earth.

It is true that the erroneousness and shallowness of this
conception of his faith was dimly perceptible to Alexey
Alexandrovitch, and he knew that when, without the slightest idea
that his forgiveness was the action of a higher power, he had
surrendered directly to the feeling of forgiveness, he had felt
more happiness than now when he was thinking every instant that
Christ was in his heart, and that in signing official papers he
was doing His will. But for Alexey Alexandrovitch it was a
necessity to think in that way; it was such a necessity for him
in his humiliation to have some elevated standpoint, however
imaginary, from which, looked down upon by all, he could look
down on others, that he clung, as to his one salvation, to his
delusion of salvation.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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