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Chapter 23

The Countess Lidia Ivanovna had, as a very young and sentimental
girl, been married to a wealthy man of high rank, an extremely
good-natured, jovial, and extremely dissipated rake. Two months
after marriage her husband abandoned her, and her impassioned
protestations of affection he met with a sarcasm and even
hostility that people knowing the count's good heart, and seeing
no defects in the sentimental Lidia, were at loss to explain.
Though they were divorced and lived apart, yet whenever the
husband met the wife, he invariably behaved to her with the same
malignant irony, the cause of which was incomprehensible.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna had long given up being in love with her
husband, but from that time she had never given up being in love
with someone. She was in love with several people at once, both
men and women; she had been in love with almost everyone who had
been particularly distinguished in any way. She was in love with
all the new princes and princesses who married into the imperial
family; she had been in love with a high dignitary of the Church,
a vicar, and a parish priest; she had been in love with a
journalist, three Slavophiles, with Komissarov, with a minister,
a doctor, an English missionary and Karenin. All these passions
constantly waning or growing more ardent, did not prevent her
from keeping up the most extended and complicated relations with
the court and fashionable society. But from the time that after
Karenin's trouble she took him under her special protection, from
the time that she set to work in Karenin's household looking
after his welfare, she felt that all her other attachments were
not the real thing, and that she was now genuinely in love, and
with no one but Karenin. The feeling she now experienced for him
seemed to her stronger than any of her former feelings.
Analyzing her feeling, and comparing it with former passions, she
distinctly perceived that she would not have been in love with
Komissarov if he had not saved the life of the Tsar, that she
would not have been in love with Ristitch-Kudzhitsky if there had
been no Slavonic question, but that she loved Karenin for
himself, for his lofty, uncomprehended soul, for the sweet--to
her--high notes of his voice, for his drawling intonation, his
weary eyes, his character, and his soft white hands with their
swollen veins. She was not simply overjoyed at meeting him, but
she sought in his face signs of the impression she was making on
him. She tried to please him, not by her words only, but in her
whole person. For his sake it was that she now lavished more
care on her dress than before. She caught herself in reveries on
what might have been, if she had not been married and he had been
free. She blushed with emotion when he came into the room, she
could not repress a smile of rapture when he said anything
amiable to her.

For several days now Countess Lidia Ivanovna had been in a state
of intense excitement. She had learned that Anna and Vronsky
were in Petersburg. Alexey Alexandrovitch must be saved from
seeing her, he must be saved even from the torturing knowledge
that that awful woman was in the same town with him, and that he
might meet her any minute.

Lidia Ivanovna made inquiries through her friends as to what
those infamous people, as she called Anna and Vronsky, intended
doing, and she endeavored so to guide every movement of her
friend during those days that he could not come across them. The
young adjutant, an acquaintance of Vronsky, through whom she
obtained her information, and who hoped through Countess Lidia
Ivanovna to obtain a concession, told her that they had finished
their business and were going away next day. Lidia Ivanovna had
already begun to calm down, when the next morning a note was
brought her, the handwriting of which she recognized with horror.
It was the handwriting of Anna Karenina. The envelope was of
paper as thick as bark; on the oblong yellow paper there was a
huge monogram, and the letter smelt of agreeable scent.

"Who brought it?"

"A commissionaire from the hotel."

It was some time before Countess Lidia Ivanovna could sit down to
read the letter. Her excitement brought on an attack of asthma,
to which she was subject. When she had recovered her composure,
she read the following letter in French:

"Madame la Comtesse,

"The Christian feelings with which your heart is filled give me
the, I feel, unpardonable boldness to write to you. I am
miserable at being separated from my son. I entreat permission
to see him once before my departure. Forgive me for recalling
myself to your memory. I apply to you and not to Alexey
Alexandrovitch, simply because I do not wish to cause that
generous man to suffer in remembering me. Knowing your
friendship for him, I know you will understand me. Could you
send Seryozha to me, or should I come to the house at some fixed
hour, or will you let me know when and where I could see him away
from home? I do not anticipate a refusal, knowing the
magnanimity of him with whom it rests. You cannot conceive the
craving I have to see him, and so cannot conceive the gratitude
your help will arouse in me.


Everything in this letter exasperated Countess Lidia Ivanovna:
its contents and the allusion to magnanimity, and especially its
free and easy--as she considered--tone.

"Say that there is no answer," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, and
immediately opening her blotting-book, she wrote to Alexey
Alexandrovitch that she hoped to see him at one o'clock at the

"I must talk with you of a grave and painful subject. There we
will arrange where to meet. Best of all at my house, where I
will order tea as you like it. Urgent. He lays the cross, but
He gives the strength to bear it," she added, so as to give him
some slight preparation. Countess Lidia Ivanovna usually wrote
some two or three letters a day to Alexey Alexandrovitch. She
enjoyed that form of communication, which gave opportunity for a
refinement and air of mystery not afforded by their personal

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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