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Chapter 23


Vronsky had several times already, though not so resolutely as
now, tried to bring her to consider their position, and every
time he had been confronted by the same superficiality and
triviality with which she met his appeal now. It was as though
there were something in this which she could not or would not
face, as though directly she began to speak of this, she, the
real Anna, retreated somehow into herself, and another strange
and unaccountable woman came out, whom he did not love, and whom
he feared, and who was in opposition to him. But today he was
resolved to have it out.

"Whether he knows or not," said Vronsky, in his usual quiet and
resolute tone, "that's nothing to do with us. We cannot...you
cannot stay like this, especially now."

"What's to be done, according to you?" she asked with the same
frivolous irony. She who had so feared he would take her
condition too lightly was now vexed with him for deducing from it
the necessity of taking some step.

"Tell him everything, and leave him."

"Very well, let us suppose I do that," she said. "Do you know
what the result of that would be? I can tell you it all
beforehand," and a wicked light gleamed in her eyes, that had
been so soft a minute before. "'Eh, you love another man, and
have entered into criminal intrigues with him?'" (Mimicking her
husband, she threw an emphasis on the word "criminal," as Alexey
Alexandrovitch did.) " 'I warned you of the results in the
religious, the civil, and the domestic relation. You have not
listened to me. Now In cannot let you disgrace my name,--'"
"and my son," she had meant to say, but about her son she could
not jest,--"'disgrace my name, and'--and more in the same
style," she added. "In general terms, he'll say in his official
manner, and with all distinctness and precision, that he cannot
let me go, but will take all measures in his power to prevent
scandal. And he will calmly and punctually act in accordance
with his words. That's what will happen. He's not a man, but a
machine, and a spiteful machine when he's angry," she added,
recalling Alexey Alexandrovitch as she spoke, with all the
peculiarities of his figure and manner of speaking, and reckoning
against him every defect she could find in him, softening nothing
for the great wrong she herself was doing him.

"But, Anna," said Vronsky, in a soft and persuasive voice, trying
to soothe her, "we absolutely must, anyway, tell him, and then be
guided by the line he takes."

"What, run away?"

"And why not run away? I don't see how we can keep on like this.
And not for my sake--I see that you suffer."

"Yes, run away, and become your mistress," she said angrily.

"Anna," he said, with reproachful tenderness.

"Yes," she went on, "become your mistress, and complete the ruin
of..."

Again she would have said "my son," but she could not utter that
word.

Vronsky could not understand how she, with her strong and
truthful nature, could endure this state of deceit, and not long
to get out of it. But he did not suspect that the chief cause of
it was the word--son, which she could not bring herself to
pronounce. When she thought of her son, and his future attitude
to his mother, who had abandoned his father, she felt such terror
at what she had done, that she could not face it; but, like a
woman, could only try to comfort herself with lying assurances
that everything would remain as it always had been, and that it
was possible to forget the fearful question of how it would be
with her son.

"I beg you, I entreat you," she said suddenly, taking his hand,
and speaking in quite a different tone, sincere and tender,
"never speak to me of that!"

"But, Anna..."

"Never. Leave it to me. I know all the baseness, all the horror
of my position; but it's not so easy to arrange as you think.
And leave it to me, and do what I say. Never speak to me of it.
Do you promise me?...No, no, promise!..."

"I promise everything, but I can't be at peace, especially after
what you have told me. I can't be at peace, when you can't be at
peace...."

"I?" she repeated. "Yes, I am worried sometimes; but that will
pass, if you will never talk about this. When you talk about
it--it's only then it worries me."

"I don't understand," he said.

"I know," she interrupted him, "how hard it is for your truthful
nature to lie, and I grieve for you. I often think that you have
ruined your whole life for me."

"I was just thinking the very same thing," he said; "how could
you sacrifice everything for my sake? I can't forgive myself
that you're unhappy!"

"I unhappy?" she said, coming closer to him, and looking at him
with an ecstatic smile of love. "I am like a hungry man who has
been given food. He may be cold, and dressed in rags, and
ashamed, but he is not unhappy. I unhappy? No, this is my
unhappiness...."

She could hear the sound of her son's voice coming towards them,
and glancing swiftly round the terrace, she got up impulsively.
Her eyes glowed with the fire he knew so well; with a rapid
movement she raised her lovely hands, covered with rings, took
his head, looked a long look into his face, and, putting up her
face with smiling, parted lips, swiftly kissed his mouth and both
eyes, and pushed him away. She would have gone, but he held her
back.

"When?" he murmured in a whisper, gazing in ecstasy at her.

"Tonight, at one o'clock," she whispered, and, with a heavy
sigh, she walked with her light, swift step to meet her son.

Seryozha had been caught by the rain in the big garden, and he
and his nurse had taken shelter in an arbor.

"Well, au revoir," she said to Vronsky. "I must soon be getting
ready for the races. Betsy promised to fetch me."

Vronsky, looking at his watch, went away hurriedly.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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