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Chapter 18


"Now there is something I want to talk about, and you know what
it is. About Anna," Stepan Arkadyevitch said, pausing for a
brief space, and shaking off the unpleasant impression.

As soon as Oblonsky uttered Anna's name, the face of Alexey
Alexandrovitch was completely transformed; all the life was gone
out of it, and it looked weary and dead.

"What is it exactly that you want from me?" he said, moving in
his chair and snapping his pince-nez.

"A definite settlement, Alexey Alexandrovitch, some settlement of
the position. I'm appealing to you" ("not as an injured
husband," Stepan Arkadyevitch was going to say, but afraid of
wrecking his negotiation by this, he changed the words) "not as a
statesman" (which did not sound a propos), "but simply as a man,
and a good-hearted man and a Christian. You must have pity on
her," he said.

"That is, in what way precisely?" Karenin said softly.

"Yes, pity on her. If you had seen her as I have!--I have been
spending all the winter with her--you would have pity on her.
Her position is awful, simply awful!"

"I had imagined," answered Alexey Alexandrovitch in a higher,
almost shrill voice, "that Anna Arkadyevna had everything she had
desired for herself."

"Oh, Alexey Alexandrovitch, for heaven's sake, don't let us
indulge in recriminations! What is past is past, and you know
what she wants and is waiting for--divorce."

"But I believe Anna Arkadyevna refuses a divorce, if I make it a
condition to leave me my son. I replied in that sense, and
supposed that the matter was ended. I consider it at an end,"
shrieked Alexey Alexandrovitch.

"But, for heaven's sake, don't get hot!" said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, touching his brother-in-law's knee. "The matter is
not ended. If you will allow me to recapitulate, it was like
this: when you parted, you were as magnanimous as could possibly
be; you were ready to give her everything--freedom, divorce even.
She appreciated that. No, don't think that. She did appreciate
it--to such a degree that at the first moment, feeling how she
had wronged you, she did not consider and could not consider
everything. She gave up everything. But experience, time, have
shown that her position is unbearable, impossible."

"The life of Anna Arkadyevna can have no interest for me," Alexey
Alexandrovitch put in, lifting his eyebrows.

"Allow me to disbelieve that," Stepan Arkadyevitch replied
gently. "Her position is intolerable for her, and of no benefit
to anyone whatever. She has deserved it, you will say. She
knows that and asks you for nothing; she says plainly that she
dare not ask you. But I, all of us, her relatives, all who love
her, beg you, entreat you. Why should she suffer? Who is any
the better for it?"

"Excuse me, you seem to put me in the position of the guilty
party," observed Alexey Alexandrovitch.

"Oh, no, oh, no, not at all! please understand me," said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, touching his hand again, as though feeling sure
this physical contact would soften his brother-in-law. "All I
say is this: her position is intolerable, and it might be
alleviated by you, and you will lose nothing by it. I will
arrange it all for you, so that you'll not notice it. You did
promise it, you know."

"The promise was given before. And I had supposed that the
question of my son had settled the matter. Besides, I had hoped
that Anna Arkadyevna had enough generosity..." Alexey
Alexandrovitch articulated with difficulty, his lips twitching
and his face white.

"She leaves it all to your generosity. She begs, she implores
one thing of you--to extricate her from the impossible position
in which she is placed. She does not ask for her son now.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, you are a good man. Put yourself in her
position for a minute. The question of divorce for her in her
position is a question of life and death. If you had not
promised it once, she would have reconciled herself to her
position, she would have gone on living in the country. But you
promised it, and she wrote to you, and moved to Moscow. And here
she's been for six months in Moscow, where every chance meeting
cuts her to the heart, every day expecting an answer. Why, it's
like keeping a condemned criminal for six months with the rope
round his neck, promising him perhaps death, perhaps mercy. Have
pity on her, and I will undertake to arrange everything. Vos
scrupules..."

"I am not talking about that, about that..." Alexey
Alexandrovitch interrupted with disgust. "But, perhaps, I
promised what I had no right to promise."

"So you go back from your promise?"

"I have never refused to do all that is possible, but I want time
to consider how much of what I promised is possible."

"No, Alexey Alexandrovitch!" cried Oblonsky, jumping up, "I won't
believe that! She's unhappy as only an unhappy woman can be, and
you cannot refuse in such..."

"As much of what I promised as is possible. Vous professez
d'etre libre penseur. But I as a believer cannot, in a matter of
such gravity, act in opposition to the Christian law."

"But in Christian societies and among us, as far as I'm aware,
divorce is allowed," said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "Divorce is
sanctioned even by our church. And we see..."

"It is allowed, but not in the sense..."

"Alexey Alexandrovitch, you are not like yourself," said
Oblonsky, after a brief pause. "Wasn't it you (and didn't we all
appreciate it in you?) who forgave everything, and moved simply
by Christian feeling was ready to make any sacrifice? You said
yourself: if a man take thy coat, give him thy cloak also, and
now..."

"I beg," said Alexey Alexandrovitch shrilly, getting suddenly
onto his feet, his face white and his jaws twitching, "I beg you
to drop this...to drop...this subject!"

"Oh, no! Oh, forgive me, forgive me if I have wounded you," said
Stepan Arkadyevitch, holding out his hand with a smile of
embarrassment; "but like a messenger I have simply performed the
commission given me."

Alexey Alexandrovitch gave him his hand, pondered a little, and
said:

"I must think it over and seek for guidance. The day after
tomorrow I will give you a final answer," he said, after
considering a moment.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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