One of Anna's objects in coming back to Russia had been to see
her son. From the day she left Italy the thought of it had never
ceased to agitate her. And as she got nearer to Petersburg, the
delight and importance of this meeting grew ever greater in her
imagination. She did not even put to herself the question how to
arrange it. It seemed to her natural and simple to see her son
when she should be in the same town with him. But on her arrival
in Petersburg she was suddenly made distinctly aware of her
present position in society, and she grasped the fact that to
arrange this meeting was no easy matter.
She had now been two days in Petersburg. The thought of her son
never left her for a single instant, but she had not yet seen
him. To go straight to the house, where she might meet Alexey
Alexandrovitch, that she felt she had no right to do. She might
be refused admittance and insulted. To write and so enter into
relations with her husband--that it made her miserable to think
of doing; she could only be at peace when she did not think of
her husband. To get a glimpse of her son out walking, finding
out where and when he went out, was not enough for her; she had
so looked forward to this meeting, she had so much she must say
to him, she so longed to embrace him, to kiss him. Seryozha's
old nurse might be a help to her and show her what to do. But
the nurse was not now living in Alexey Alexandrovitch's house.
In this uncertainty, and in efforts to find the nurse, two days
had slipped by.
Hearing of the close intimacy between Alexey Alexandrovitch and
Countess Lidia Ivanovna, Anna decided on the third day to write
to her a letter, which cost her great pains, and in which she
intentionally said that permission to see her son must depend on
her husband's generosity. She knew that if the letter were shown
to her husband, he would keep up his character of magnanimity,
and would not refuse her request.
The commissionaire who took the letter had brought her back the
most cruel and unexpected answer, that there was no answer. She
had never felt so humiliated as at the moment when, sending for
the commissionaire, she heard from him the exact account of how
he had waited, and how afterwards he had been told there was no
answer. Anna felt humiliated, insulted, but she saw that from
her point of view Countess Lidia Ivanovna was right. Her
suffering was the more poignant that she had to bear it in
solitude. She could not and would not share it with Vronsky.
She knew that to him, although he was the primary cause of her
distress, the question of her seeing her son would seem a matter
of very little consequence. She knew that he would never be
capable of understanding all the depth of her suffering, that for
his cool tone at any allusion to it she would begin to hate him.
And she dreaded that more than anything in the world, and so she
hid from him everything that related to her son. Spending the
whole day at home she considered ways of seeing her son, and had
reached a decision to write to her husband. She was just
composing this letter when she was handed the letter from Lidia
Ivanovna. The countess's silence had subdued and depressed her,
but the letter, all that she read between the lines in it, so
exasperated her, this malice was so revolting beside her
passionate, legitimate tenderness for her son, that she turned
against other people and left off blaming herself.
"This coldness--this pretense of feeling!" she said to herself.
"They must needs insult me and torture the child, and I am to
submit to it! Not on any consideration! She is worse than I am.
I don't lie, anyway." And she decided on the spot that next day,
Seryozha's birthday, she would go straight to her husband's
house, bribe or deceive the servants, but at any cost see her son
and overturn the hideous deception with which they were
encompassing the unhappy child.
She went to a toy shop, bought toys and thought over a plan of
action. She would go early in the morning at eight o'clock, when
Alexey Alexandrovitch would be certain not to be up. She would
have money in her hand to give the hall porter and the footman,
so that they should let her in, and not raising her veil, she
would say that she had come from Seryozha's godfather to
congratulate him, and that she had been charged to leave the toys
at his bedside. She had prepared everything but the words she
should say to her son. Often as she had dreamed of it, she could
never think of anything.
The next day, at eight o'clock in the morning, Anna got out of a
hired sledge and rang at the front entrance of her former home.
"Run and see what's wanted. Some lady," said Kapitonitch, who,
not yet dressed, in his overcoat and galoshes, had peeped out of
the window and seen a lady in a veil standing close up to the
door. His assistant, a lad Anna did not know, had no sooner
opened the door to her than she came in, and pulling a
three-rouble note out of her muff put it hurriedly into his hand.
"Seryozha--Sergey Alexeitch," she said, and was going on.
Scrutinizing the note, the porter's assistant stopped her at the
second glass door.
"Whom do you want?" he asked.
She did not hear his words and made no answer.
Noticing the embarrassment of the unknown lady, Kapitonitch went
out to her, opened the second door for her, and asked her what
she was pleased to want.
"From Prince Skorodumov for Sergey Alexeitch," she said.
"His honor's not up yet," said the porter, looking at her
Anna had not anticipated that the absolutely unchanged hall of
the house where she had lived for nine years would so greatly
affect her. Memories sweet and painful rose one after another in
her heart, and for a moment she forgot what she was here for.
"Would you kindly wait?" said Kapitonitch, taking off her fur
As he took off the cloak, Kapitonitch glanced at her face,
recognized her, and made her a low bow in silence.
"Please walk in, your excellency," he said to her.
She tried to say something, but her voice refused to utter any
sound; with a guilty and imploring glance at the old man she went
with light, swift steps up the stairs. Bent double, and his
galoshes catching in the steps, Kapitonitch ran after her, trying
to overtake her.
"The tutor's there; maybe he's not dressed. I'll let him know."
Anna still mounted the familiar staircase, not understanding what
the old man was saying.
"This way, to the left, if you please. Excuse its not being
tidy. His honor's in the old parlor now," the hall porter said,
panting. "Excuse me, wait a little, your excellency; I'll just
see," he said, and overtaking her, he opened the high door and
disappeared behind it. Anna stood still waiting. "He's only
just awake," said the hall porter, coming out. And at the very
instant the porter said this, Anna caught the sound of a childish
yawn. From the sound of this yawn alone she knew her son and
seemed to see him living before her eyes.
"Let me in; go away!" she said, and went in through the high
doorway. On the right of the door stood a bed, and sitting up in
the bed was the boy. His little body bent forward with his
nightshirt unbuttoned, he was stretching and still yawning. The
instant his lips came together they curved into a blissfully
sleepy smile, and with that smile he slowly and deliciously
rolled back again.
"Seryozha!" she whispered, going noiselessly up to him.
When she was parted from him, and all this latter time when she
had been feeling a fresh rush of love for him, she had pictured
him as he was at four years old, when she had loved him most of
all. Now he was not even the same as when she had left him; he
was still further from the four-year-old baby, more grown and
thinner. How thin his face was, how short his hair was! What
long hands! How he had changed since she left him! But it was
he with his head, his lips, his soft neck and broad little
"Seryozha!" she repeated just in the child's ear.
He raised himself again on his elbow, turned his tangled head
from side to side as though looking for something, and opened his
eyes. Slowly and inquiringly he looked for several seconds at
his mother standing motionless before him, then all at once he
smiled a blissful smile, and shutting his eyes, rolled not
backwards but towards her into her arms.
"Seryozha! my darling boy!" she said, breathing hard and putting
her arms round his plump little body. "Mother!" he said,
wriggling about in her arms so as to touch her hands with
different parts of him.
Smiling sleepily still with closed eyes, he flung fat little arms
round her shoulders, rolled towards her, with the delicious
sleepy warmth and fragrance that is only found in children, and
began rubbing his face against her neck and shoulders.
"I know," he said, opening his eyes; "it's my birthday today. I
knew you'd come. I'll get up directly."
And saying that he dropped asleep.
Anna looked at him hungrily; she saw how he had grown and changed
in her absence. She knew, and did not know, the bare legs so
long now, that were thrust out below the quilt, those
short-cropped curls on his neck in which she had so often kissed
him. She touched all this and could say nothing; tears choked
"What are you crying for, mother?" he said, waking completely up.
"Mother, what are you crying for?" he cried in a tearful voice.
"I won't cry...I'm crying for joy. It's so long since I've seen
you. I won't, I won't," she said, gulping down her tears and
turning away. "Come, it's time for you to dress now," she added,
after a pause, and, never letting go his hands, she sat down by
his bedside on the chair, where his clothes were put ready for
"How do you dress without me? How..." she tried to begin talking
simply and cheerfully, but she could not, and again she turned
"I don't have a cold bath, papa didn't order it. And you've not
seen Vassily Lukitch? He'll come in soon. Why, you're sitting
on my clothes!"
And Seryozha went off into a peal of laughter. She looked at him
"Mother, darling, sweet one!" he shouted, flinging himself on her
again and hugging her. It was as though only now, on seeing her
smile, he fully grasped what had happened.
"I don't want that on," he said, taking off her hat. And as it
were, seeing her afresh without her hat, he fell to kissing her
"But what did you think about me? You didn't think I was dead?"
"I never believed it."
"You didn't believe it, my sweet?"
"I knew, I knew!" he repeated his favorite phrase, and snatching
the hand that was stroking his hair, he pressed the open palm to
his mouth and kissed it.