“You met him?” she asked, when they had sat down at the table in the lamplight. “You’re punished, you see, for being late.”
“Yes; but how was it? Wasn’t he to be at the council?”
“He had been and come back, and was going out somewhere again. But that’s no matter. Don’t talk about it. Where have you been? With the prince still?”
She knew every detail of his existence. He was going to say that he had been up all night and had dropped asleep, but looking at her thrilled and rapturous face, he was ashamed. And he said he had had to go to report on the prince’s departure.
“But it’s over now? He is gone?”
“Thank God it’s over! You wouldn’t believe how insufferable it’s been for me.”
“Why so? Isn’t it the life all of you, all young men, always lead?” she said, knitting her brows; and taking up the crochet work that was lying on the table, she began drawing the hook out of it, without looking at Vronsky.
“I gave that life up long ago,” said he, wondering at the change in her face, and trying to divine its meaning. “And I confess,” he said, with a smile, showing his thick, white teeth, “this week I’ve been, as it were, looking at myself in a glass, seeing that life, and I didn’t like it.”
She held the work in her hands, but did not crochet, and looked at him with strange, shining, and hostile eyes.
“This morning Liza came to see me—they’re not afraid to call on me, in spite of the Countess Lidia Ivanovna,” she put in—“and she told me about your Athenian evening. How loathsome!”
“I was just going to say....”
She interrupted him. “It was that Thérèse you used to know?”
“I was just saying....”
“How disgusting you are, you men! How is it you can’t understand that a woman can never forget that,” she said, getting more and more angry, and so letting him see the cause of her irritation, “especially a woman who cannot know your life? What do I know? What have I ever known?” she said, “what you tell me. And how do I know whether you tell me the truth?...”
“Anna, you hurt me. Don’t you trust me? Haven’t I told you that I haven’t a thought I wouldn’t lay bare to you?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, evidently trying to suppress her jealous thoughts. “But if only you knew how wretched I am! I believe you, I believe you.... What were you saying?”
But he could not at once recall what he had been going to say. These fits of jealousy, which of late had been more and more frequent with her, horrified him, and however much he tried to disguise the fact, made him feel cold to her, although he knew the cause of her jealousy was her love for him. How often he had told himself that her love was happiness; and now she loved him as a woman can love when love has outweighed for her all the good things of life—and he was much further from happiness than when he had followed her from Moscow. Then he had thought himself unhappy, but happiness was before him; now he felt that the best happiness was already left behind. She was utterly unlike what she had been when he first saw her. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worse. She had broadened out all over, and in her face at the time when she was speaking of the actress there was an evil expression of hatred that distorted it. He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken.
“Well, well, what was it you were going to say about the prince? I have driven away the fiend,” she added. The fiend was the name they had given her jealousy. “What did you begin to tell me about the prince? Why did you find it so tiresome?”
“Oh, it was intolerable!” he said, trying to pick up the thread of his interrupted thought. “He does not improve on closer acquaintance. If you want him defined, here he is: a prime, well-fed beast such as takes medals at the cattle shows, and nothing more,” he said, with a tone of vexation that interested her.
“No; how so?” she replied. “He’s seen a great deal, anyway; he’s cultured?”
“It’s an utterly different culture—their culture. He’s cultivated, one sees, simply to be able to despise culture, as they despise everything but animal pleasures.”
“But don’t you all care for these animal pleasures?” she said, and again he noticed a dark look in her eyes that avoided him.
“How is it you’re defending him?” he said, smiling.
“I’m not defending him, it’s nothing to me; but I imagine, if you had not cared for those pleasures yourself, you might have got out of them. But if it affords you satisfaction to gaze at Thérèse in the attire of Eve....”
“Again, the devil again,” Vronsky said, taking the hand she had laid on the table and kissing it.
“Yes; but I can’t help it. You don’t know what I have suffered waiting for you. I believe I’m not jealous. I’m not jealous: I believe you when you’re here; but when you’re away somewhere leading your life, so incomprehensible to me....”
She turned away from him, pulled the hook at last out of the crochet work, and rapidly, with the help of her forefinger, began working loop after loop of the wool that was dazzling white in the lamplight, while the slender wrist moved swiftly, nervously in the embroidered cuff.
“How was it, then? Where did you meet Alexey Alexandrovitch?” Her voice sounded in an unnatural and jarring tone.
“We ran up against each other in the doorway.”
“And he bowed to you like this?”
She drew a long face, and half-closing her eyes, quickly transformed her expression, folded her hands, and Vronsky suddenly saw in her beautiful face the very expression with which Alexey Alexandrovitch had bowed to him. He smiled, while she laughed gaily, with that sweet, deep laugh, which was one of her greatest charms.
“I don’t understand him in the least,” said Vronsky. “If after your avowal to him at your country house he had broken with you, if he had called me out—but this I can’t understand. How can he put up with such a position? He feels it, that’s evident.”
“He?” she said sneeringly. “He’s perfectly satisfied.”
“What are we all miserable for, when everything might be so happy?”
“Only not he. Don’t I know him, the falsity in which he’s utterly steeped?... Could one, with any feeling, live as he is living with me? He understands nothing, and feels nothing. Could a man of any feeling live in the same house with his unfaithful wife? Could he talk to her, call her ‘my dear’?”
And again she could not help mimicking him: “‘Anna, ma chère; Anna, dear’!”
“He’s not a man, not a human being—he’s a doll! No one knows him; but I know him. Oh, if I’d been in his place, I’d long ago have killed, have torn to pieces a wife like me. I wouldn’t have said, ‘Anna, ma chère’! He’s not a man, he’s an official machine. He doesn’t understand that I’m your wife, that he’s outside, that he’s superfluous.... Don’t let’s talk of him!...”
“You’re unfair, very unfair, dearest,” said Vronsky, trying to soothe her. “But never mind, don’t let’s talk of him. Tell me what you’ve been doing? What is the matter? What has been wrong with you, and what did the doctor say?”
She looked at him with mocking amusement. Evidently she had hit on other absurd and grotesque aspects in her husband and was awaiting the moment to give expression to them.
But he went on:
“I imagine that it’s not illness, but your condition. When will it be?”
The ironical light died away in her eyes, but a different smile, a consciousness of something, he did not know what, and of quiet melancholy, came over her face.
“Soon, soon. You say that our position is miserable, that we must put an end to it. If you knew how terrible it is to me, what I would give to be able to love you freely and boldly! I should not torture myself and torture you with my jealousy.... And it will come soon, but not as we expect.”
And at the thought of how it would come, she seemed so pitiable to herself that tears came into her eyes, and she could not go on. She laid her hand on his sleeve, dazzling and white with its rings in the lamplight.
“It won’t come as we suppose. I didn’t mean to say this to you, but you’ve made me. Soon, soon, all will be over, and we shall all, all be at peace, and suffer no more.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, understanding her.
“You asked when? Soon. And I shan’t live through it. Don’t interrupt me!” and she made haste to speak. “I know it; I know for certain. I shall die; and I’m very glad I shall die, and release myself and you.”
Tears dropped from her eyes; he bent down over her hand and began kissing it, trying to hide his emotion, which, he knew, had no sort of grounds, though he could not control it.
“Yes, it’s better so,” she said, tightly gripping his hand. “That’s the only way, the only way left us.”
He had recovered himself, and lifted his head.
“How absurd! What absurd nonsense you are talking!”
“No, it’s the truth.”
“What, what’s the truth?”
“That I shall die. I have had a dream.”
“A dream?” repeated Vronsky, and instantly he recalled the peasant of his dream.
“Yes, a dream,” she said. “It’s a long while since I dreamed it. I dreamed that I ran into my bedroom, that I had to get something there, to find out something; you know how it is in dreams,” she said, her eyes wide with horror; “and in the bedroom, in the corner, stood something.”
“Oh, what nonsense! How can you believe....”
But she would not let him interrupt her. What she was saying was too important to her.
“And the something turned round, and I saw it was a peasant with a disheveled beard, little, and dreadful looking. I wanted to run away, but he bent down over a sack, and was fumbling there with his hands....”
She showed how he had moved his hands. There was terror in her face. And Vronsky, remembering his dream, felt the same terror filling his soul.
“He was fumbling and kept talking quickly, quickly in French, you know: Il faut le battre, le fer, le broyer, le pétrir.... And in my horror I tried to wake up, and woke up ... but woke up in the dream. And I began asking myself what it meant. And Korney said to me: ‘In childbirth you’ll die, ma’am, you’ll die....’ And I woke up.”
“What nonsense, what nonsense!” said Vronsky; but he felt himself that there was no conviction in his voice.
“But don’t let’s talk of it. Ring the bell, I’ll have tea. And stay a little now; it’s not long I shall....”
But all at once she stopped. The expression of her face instantaneously changed. Horror and excitement were suddenly replaced by a look of soft, solemn, blissful attention. He could not comprehend the meaning of the change. She was listening to the stirring of the new life within her.
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