When Vronsky went to Moscow from Petersburg, he had left his
large set of rooms in Morskaia to his friend and favorite comrade
Petritsky was a young lieutenant, not particularly
well-connected, and not merely not wealthy, but always hopelessly
in debt. Towards evening he was always drunk, and he had often
been locked up after all sorts of ludicrous and disgraceful
scandals, but he was a favorite both of his comrades and his
superior officers. On arriving at twelve o'clock from the
station at his flat, Vronsky saw, at the outer door, a hired
carriage familiar to him. While still outside his own door, as
he rang, he heard masculine laughter, the lisp of a feminine
voice, and Petritsky's voice. "If that's one of the villains,
don't let him in!" Vronsky told the servant not to announce him,
and slipped quietly into the first room. Baroness Shilton, a
friend of Petritsky's, with a rosy little face and flaxen hair,
resplendent in a lilac satin gown, and filling the whole room,
like a canary, with her Parisian chatter, sat at the round table
making coffee. Petritsky, in his overcoat, and the cavalry
captain Kamerovsky, in full uniform, probably just come from
duty, were sitting each side of her.
"Bravo! Vronsky!" shouted Petritsky, jumping up, scraping his
chair. "Our host himself! Baroness, some coffee for him out of
the new coffee pot. Why, we didn't expect you! Hope you're
satisfied with the ornament of your study," he said, indicating
the baroness. "You know each other, of course?"
"I should think so," said Vronsky, with a bright smile, pressing
the baroness's little hand. "What next! I'm an old friend."
"You're home after a journey," said the baroness, "so I'm flying.
Oh, I'll be off this minute, if I'm in the way."
"You're home, wherever you are, baroness," said Vronsky. "How do
you do, Kamerovsky?" he added, coldly shaking hands with
"There, you never know how to say such pretty things," said the
baroness, turning to Petritsky.
"No; what's that for? After dinner I say things quite as good."
"After dinner there's no credit in them? Well, then, I'll make
you some coffee, so go and wash and get ready," said the
baroness, sitting down again, and anxiously turning the screw in
the new coffee pot. "Pierre, give me the coffee," she said,
addressing Petritsky, whom she called as a contraction of his
surname, making no secret of her relations with him. "I'll put
"You'll spoil it!"
"No, I won't spoil it! Well, and your wife?" said the baroness
suddenly, interrupting Vronsky's conversation with his comrade.
"We've been marrying you here. Have you brought your wife?"
"No, baroness. I was born a Bohemian, and a Bohemian I shall
"So much the better, so much the better. Shake hands on it."
And the baroness, detaining Vronsky, began telling him, with many
jokes, about her last new plans of life, asking his advice.
"He persists in refusing to give me a divorce! Well, what am I
to do?" (HE was her husband.) "Now I want to begin a suit
against him. What do you advise? Kamerovsky, look after the
coffee; it's boiling over. You see, I'm engrossed with business!
I want a lawsuit, because I must have my property. Do you
understand the folly of it, that on the pretext of my being
unfaithful to him," she said contemptuously, "he wants to get the
benefit of my fortune."
Vronsky heard with pleasure this light-hearted prattle of a
pretty woman, agreed with her, gave her half-joking counsel, and
altogether dropped at once into the tone habitual to him in
talking to such women. In his Petersburg world all people were
divided into utterly opposed classes. One, the lower class,
vulgar, stupid, and, above all, ridiculous people, who believe
that one husband ought to live with the one wife whom he has
lawfully married; that a girl should be innocent, a woman modest,
and a man manly, self-controlled, and strong; that one ought to
bring up one's children, earn one's bread, and pay one's debts;
and various similar absurdities. This was the class of
old-fashioned and ridiculous people. But there was another class
of people, the real people. To this class they all belonged, and
in it the great thing was to be elegant, generous, plucky, gay,
to abandon oneself without a blush to every passion, and to laugh
at everything else.
For the first moment only, Vronsky was startled after the
impression of a quite different world that he had brought with
him from Moscow. But immediately as though slipping his feet
into old slippers, he dropped back into the light-hearted,
pleasant world he had always lived in.
The coffee was never really made, but spluttered over every one,
and boiled away, doing just what was required of it--that is,
providing much cause for much noise and laughter, and spoiling a
costly rug and the baroness's gown.
"Well now, good-bye, or you'll never get washed, and I shall have
on my conscience the worst sin a gentleman can commit. So you
would advise a knife to his throat?"
"To be sure, and manage that your hand may not be far from his
lips. He'll kiss your hand, and all will end satisfactorily,"
"So at the Francais!" and, with a rustle of her skirts, she
Kamerovsky got up too, and Vronsky, not waiting for him to go,
shook hands and went off to his dressing room.
While he was washing, Petritsky described to him in brief
outlines his position, as far as it had changed since Vronsky had
left Petersburg. No money at all. His father said he wouldn't
give him any and pay his debts. His tailor was trying to get him
locked up, and another fellow, too, was threatening to get him
locked up. The colonel of the regiment had announced that if
these scandals did not cease he would have to leave. As for the
baroness, he was sick to death of her, especially since she'd
taken to offering continually to lend him money. But he had
found a girl--he'd show her to Vronsky--a marvel, exquisite, in
the strict Oriental style, "genre of the slave Rebecca, don't
you know." He'd had a row, too, with Berkoshov, and was going to
send seconds to him, but of course it would come to nothing.
Altogether everything was supremely amusing and jolly. And, not
letting his comrade enter into further details of his position,
Petritsky proceeded to tell him all the interesting news. As he
listened to Petritsky's familiar stories in the familiar setting
of the rooms he had spent the last three years in, Vronsky felt a
delightful sense of coming back to the careless Petersburg life
that he was used to.
"Impossible!" he cried, letting down the pedal of the washing
basin in which he had been sousing his healthy red neck.
"Impossible!" he cried, at the news that Laura had flung over
Fertinghof and had made up to Mileev. "And is he as stupid and
pleased as ever? Well, and how's Buzulukov?"
"Oh, there is a tale about Buzulukov--simply lovely!" cried
Petritsky. "You know his weakness for balls, and he never misses
a single court ball. He went to a big ball in a new helmet.
Have you seen the new helmets? Very nice, lighter. Well, so
he's standing.... No, I say, do listen."
"I am listening," answered Vronsky, rubbing himself with a rough
"Up comes the Grand Duchess with some ambassador or other, and,
as ill-luck would have it, she begins talking to him about the
new helmets. The Grand Duchess positively wanted to show the new
helmet to the ambassador. They see our friend standing there."
(Petritsky mimicked how he was standing with the helmet.) "The
Grand Duchess asked him to give her the helmet; he doesn't give
it to her. What do you think of that? Well, every one's winking
at him, nodding, frowning--give it to her, do! He doesn't give
it to her. He's mute as a fish. Only picture it!... Well,
the...what's his name, whatever he was...tries to take the helmet
from him...he won't give it up!... He pulls it from him, and
hands it to the Grand Duchess. 'Here, your Highness,' says he,
'is the new helmet.' She turned the helmet the other side up,
And--just picture it!--plop went a pear and sweetmeats out of it,
two pounds of sweetmeats!...He'd been storing them up, the
Vronsky burst into roars of laughter. And long afterwards, when
he was talking of other things, he broke out into his healthy
laugh, showing his strong, close rows of teeth, when he thought
of the helmet.
Having heard all the news, Vronsky, with the assistance of his
valet, got into his uniform, and went off to report himself. He
intended, when he had done that, to drive to his brother's and to
Betsy's and to pay several visits with a view to beginning to go
into that society where he might meet Madame Karenina. As he
always did in Petersburg, he left home not meaning to return till
late at night.