All the rooms of the summer villa were full of porters, gardeners, and footmen going to and fro carrying out things. Cupboards and chests were open; twice they had sent to the shop for cord; pieces of newspaper were tossing about on the floor. Two trunks, some bags and strapped-up rugs, had been carried down into the hall. The carriage and two hired cabs were waiting at the steps. Anna, forgetting her inward agitation in the work of packing, was standing at a table in her boudoir, packing her traveling bag, when Annushka called her attention to the rattle of some carriage driving up. Anna looked out of the window and saw Alexey Alexandrovitch’s courier on the steps, ringing at the front door bell.
“Run and find out what it is,” she said, and with a calm sense of being prepared for anything, she sat down in a low chair, folding her hands on her knees. A footman brought in a thick packet directed in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s hand.
“The courier has orders to wait for an answer,” he said.
“Very well,” she said, and as soon as he had left the room she tore open the letter with trembling fingers. A roll of unfolded notes done up in a wrapper fell out of it. She disengaged the letter and began reading it at the end. “Preparations shall be made for your arrival here ... I attach particular significance to compliance....” she read. She ran on, then back, read it all through, and once more read the letter all through again from the beginning. When she had finished, she felt that she was cold all over, and that a fearful calamity, such as she had not expected, had burst upon her.
In the morning she had regretted that she had spoken to her husband, and wished for nothing so much as that those words could be unspoken. And here this letter regarded them as unspoken, and gave her what she had wanted. But now this letter seemed to her more awful than anything she had been able to conceive.
“He’s right!” she said; “of course, he’s always right; he’s a Christian, he’s generous! Yes, vile, base creature! And no one understands it except me, and no one ever will; and I can’t explain it. They say he’s so religious, so high-principled, so upright, so clever; but they don’t see what I’ve seen. They don’t know how he has crushed my life for eight years, crushed everything that was living in me—he has not once even thought that I’m a live woman who must have love. They don’t know how at every step he’s humiliated me, and been just as pleased with himself. Haven’t I striven, striven with all my strength, to find something to give meaning to my life? Haven’t I struggled to love him, to love my son when I could not love my husband? But the time came when I knew that I couldn’t cheat myself any longer, that I was alive, that I was not to blame, that God has made me so that I must love and live. And now what does he do? If he’d killed me, if he’d killed him, I could have borne anything, I could have forgiven anything; but, no, he.... How was it I didn’t guess what he would do? He’s doing just what’s characteristic of his mean character. He’ll keep himself in the right, while me, in my ruin, he’ll drive still lower to worse ruin yet....”
She recalled the words from the letter. “You can conjecture what awaits you and your son....” “That’s a threat to take away my child, and most likely by their stupid law he can. But I know very well why he says it. He doesn’t believe even in my love for my child, or he despises it (just as he always used to ridicule it). He despises that feeling in me, but he knows that I won’t abandon my child, that I can’t abandon my child, that there could be no life for me without my child, even with him whom I love; but that if I abandoned my child and ran away from him, I should be acting like the most infamous, basest of women. He knows that, and knows that I am incapable of doing that.”
She recalled another sentence in the letter. “Our life must go on as it has done in the past....” “That life was miserable enough in the old days; it has been awful of late. What will it be now? And he knows all that; he knows that I can’t repent that I breathe, that I love; he knows that it can lead to nothing but lying and deceit; but he wants to go on torturing me. I know him; I know that he’s at home and is happy in deceit, like a fish swimming in the water. No, I won’t give him that happiness. I’ll break through the spiderweb of lies in which he wants to catch me, come what may. Anything’s better than lying and deceit.
“But how? My God! my God! Was ever a woman so miserable as I am?...”
“No; I will break through it, I will break through it!” she cried, jumping up and keeping back her tears. And she went to the writing-table to write him another letter. But at the bottom of her heart she felt that she was not strong enough to break through anything, that she was not strong enough to get out of her old position, however false and dishonorable it might be.
She sat down at the writing-table, but instead of writing she clasped her hands on the table, and, laying her head on them, burst into tears, with sobs and heaving breast like a child crying. She was weeping that her dream of her position being made clear and definite had been annihilated forever. She knew beforehand that everything would go on in the old way, and far worse, indeed, than in the old way. She felt that the position in the world that she enjoyed, and that had seemed to her of so little consequence in the morning, that this position was precious to her, that she would not have the strength to exchange it for the shameful position of a woman who has abandoned husband and child to join her lover; that however much she might struggle, she could not be stronger than herself. She would never know freedom in love, but would remain forever a guilty wife, with the menace of detection hanging over her at every instant; deceiving her husband for the sake of a shameful connection with a man living apart and away from her, whose life she could never share. She knew that this was how it would be, and at the same time it was so awful that she could not even conceive what it would end in. And she cried without restraint, as children cry when they are punished.
The sound of the footman’s steps forced her to rouse herself, and, hiding her face from him, she pretended to be writing.
“The courier asks if there’s an answer,” the footman announced.
“An answer? Yes,” said Anna. “Let him wait. I’ll ring.”
“What can I write?” she thought. “What can I decide upon alone? What do I know? What do I want? What is there I care for?” Again she felt that her soul was beginning to be split in two. She was terrified again at this feeling, and clutched at the first pretext for doing something which might divert her thoughts from herself. “I ought to see Alexey” (so she called Vronsky in her thoughts); “no one but he can tell me what I ought to do. I’ll go to Betsy’s, perhaps I shall see him there,” she said to herself, completely forgetting that when she had told him the day before that she was not going to Princess Tverskaya’s, he had said that in that case he should not go either. She went up to the table, wrote to her husband, “I have received your letter.—A.”; and, ringing the bell, gave it to the footman.
“We are not going,” she said to Annushka, as she came in.
“Not going at all?”
“No; don’t unpack till tomorrow, and let the carriage wait. I’m going to the princess’s.”
“Which dress am I to get ready?”
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