Home  »  Anna Karenin  »  Chapter XVIII

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910). Anna Karenin.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Part I

Chapter XVIII

VRONSKY followed the guard to the carriage, and at the door of the compartment he stopped short to make room for a lady who was getting out.

With the insight of a man of the world, from one glance at this lady’s appearance Vronsky classified her as belonging to the best society. He begged pardon, and was getting into the carriage, but felt he must glance at her once more; not that she was very beautiful, not on account of the elegance and modest grace which were apparent in her whole figure, but because in the expression of her charming face, as she passed close by him, there was something peculiarly caressing and soft. As he looked round, she too turned her head. Her shining grey eyes, that looked dark from the thick lashes, rested with friendly attention on his face, as though she were recognising him, and then promptly turned away to the passing crowd, as though seeking some one. In that brief look Vronsky had time to notice the suppressed eagerness which played over her face, and flitted between the brilliant eyes and the faint smile that curved her red lips. It was as though her nature were so brimming over with something that against her will it showed itself now in the flash of her eyes, and now in her smile. Deliberately she shrouded the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in the faintly perceptible smile.

Vronsky stepped into the carriage. His mother, a dried-up old lady with black eyes and ringlets, screwed up her eyes, scanning her son, and smiled slightly with her thin lips. Getting up from the seat and handing her maid a bag, she gave her little wrinkled hand to her son to kiss, and lifting his head from her hand, kissed him on the cheek.

‘You got my telegram? Quite well? Thank God.’

‘You had a good journey?’ said her son, sitting down beside her, and involuntarily listening to a woman’s voice outside, the door. He knew it was the voice of the lady he had met at the door.

‘All the same I don’t agree with you,’ said the lady’s voice.

‘It’s the Petersburg view, madame.’

‘Not Petersburg, but simply feminine,’ she responded.

‘Well, well, allow me to kiss your hand.’

‘Good-bye, Ivan Petrovitch. And would you see if my brother is here, and send him to me?’ said the lady in the doorway, and stepped back again into the compartment.

‘Well, have you found your brother?’ said Countess Vronsky, addressing the lady.

Vronsky understood now that this was Madame Karenin.

‘Your brother is here,’ he said, standing up. ‘Excuse me, I did not know you, and, indeed, our acquaintance was so slight,’ said Vronsky bowing, ‘that no doubt you do not remember me.’

‘Oh no,’ said she, ‘I should have known you because your mother and I have been talking, I think, of nothing but you all the way.’ As she spoke she let the eagerness that would insist on coming out show itself in her smile. ‘And still no sign of my brother.’

‘Do call him, Alexy,’ said the old countess. Vronsky stepped out on to the platform and shouted.

‘Oblonsky! Here!’

Madame Karenin, however, did not wait for her brother, but catching sight of him she stepped out with her light, resolute step. And as soon as her brother had reached her, with a gesture that struck Vronsky by its decision and its grace, she flung her left arm round his neck, drew him rapidly to her, and kissed him warmly. Vronsky gazed, never taking his eyes from her, and smiled, he could not have said why. But recollecting that his mother was waiting for him, he went back again into the carriage.

‘She’s very sweet, isn’t she?’ said the countess of Madame Karenin. ‘Her husband put her with me, and I was delighted to have her. We’ve been talking all the way. And so you, I hear … vous filez le parfait amour. Tant mieux, moncher, tant mieux.’

‘I don’t know what you are referring to, maman, he answered coldly. ‘Come, maman, let us go.’

Madame Karenin entered the carriage again to say good-bye to the countess.

‘Well, countess, you have met your son, and I my brother,’ she said. ‘And all my gossip is exhausted. I should have nothing more to tell you.’

‘Oh no,’ said the countess, taking her hand. ‘I could go all round the world with you and never be dull. You are one of those delightful women in whose company it’s sweet to be silent as well as to talk. Now please don’t fret over your son; you can’t expect never to be parted.’

Madame Karenin stood quite still, holding herself very erect, and her eyes were smiling.

‘Anna Arkadyevna,’ the countess said in explanation to her son, ‘has a little son eight years old, I believe, and she has never been parted from him before, and she keeps fretting over leaving him.’

‘Yes, the countess and I have been talking all the time, I of my son and she of hers,’ said Madame Karenin, and again a smile lighted up her face, a caressing smile intended for him.

‘I am afraid that you must have been dreadfully bored,’ he said, promptly catching the ball of coquetry she had flung him. But apparently she did not care to pursue the conversation in that strain, and she turned to the old countess.

‘Thank you so much. The time has passed so quickly. Good-bye, countess.’

‘Good-bye, my love,’ answered the countess. ‘Let me have a kiss of your pretty face. I speak plainly, at my age, and I tell you simply that I’ve lost my heart to you.’

Stereotyped as the phrase was, Madame Karenin obviously believed it and was delighted by it. She flushed, bent down slightly, and put her cheek to the countess’s lips, drew herself up again, and with the same smile fluttering between her lips and her eyes, she gave her hand to Vronsky. He pressed the little hand she gave him, and was delighted, as though at something special, by the energetic squeeze with which she freely and vigorously shook his hand. She went out with the rapid step, which bore her rather fully-developed figure with such strange lightness.

‘Very charming,’ said the countess.

That was just what her son was thinking. His eyes followed her till her graceful figure was out of sight, and then the smile remained on his face. He saw out of window how she went up to her brother, put her arm in his, and began telling him something eagerly, obviously something that had nothing to do with him, Vronsky, and at that he felt annoyed.

‘Well, maman, are you perfectly well?’ he repeated, turning to his mother.

‘Everything has been delightful. Alexandre has been very good, and Marie has grown very pretty. She’s very interesting.’

And she began telling him again of what interested her most—the christening of her grandson, for which she had been staying in Petersburg, and the special favour shown her elder son by the Tsar.

‘Here’s Lavrenty,’ said Vronsky, looking out of window; ‘now we can go, if you like.’

The old butler, who had travelled with the countess, came to the carriage to announce that everything was ready, and the countess got up to go.

‘Come; there’s not such a crowd now,’ said Vronsky.

The maid took a handbag and the lapdog, the butler and a porter the other baggage. Vronsky gave his mother his arm; but just as they were getting out of the carriage several men ran suddenly by with panic-stricken faces. The stationmaster too ran by in his extraordinary coloured cap. Obviously something unusual had happened. The crowd who had left the train were running back again.

‘What? … What? … Where? … Flung himself!… Crushed!…’ was heard among the crowd. Stepan Arkadyevitch, with his sister on his arm turned back. They too looked scared, and stopped at the carriage door to avoid the crowd.

The ladies got in, while Vronsky and Stepan Arkadyevitch followed the crowd to find out details of the disaster.

A guard, either drunk or too much muffled up in the bitter frost, had not heard the train moving back, and had been crushed.

Before Vronsky and Oblonsky came back the ladies heard the facts from the butler.

Oblonsky and Vronsky had both seen the mutilated corpse. Oblonsky was evidently upset. He frowned and seemed ready to cry.

‘Ah, how awful! Ah, Anna, if you had seen it! Ah, how awful!’ he said.

Vronsky did not speak; his handsome face was serious, but perfectly composed.

‘Oh, if you had seen it, countess,’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch. ‘And his wife was there.… It was awful to see her!… She flung herself on the body. They say he was the only support of an immense family. How awful!’

‘Couldn’t one do anything for her?’ said Madame Karenin in an agitated whisper.

Vronsky glanced at her, and immediately got out of the carriage.

‘I’ll be back directly, maman,’ he remarked, turning round in the doorway.

When he came back a few minutes later Stepan Arkadyevitch was already in conversation with the countess about the new singer, while the countess was impatiently looking towards the door, waiting for her son.

‘Now let us be off,’ said Vronsky coming in. They went out together. Vronsky was in front with his mother. Behind walked Madame Karenin with her brother. Just as they were going out of the station the stationmaster overtook Vronsky.

‘You gave my assistant two hundred roubles. Would you kindly explain for whose benefit you intend them?’

‘For the widow,’ said Vronsky, shrugging his shoulders. ‘I should have thought there was no need to ask.’

‘You gave that?’ cried Oblonsky behind, and, pressing his sister’s hand, he added: ‘Very nice, very nice! Isn’t he a splendid fellow? Good-bye, countess.’

And he and his sister stood still, looking for her maid.

When they went out the Vronskys’ carriage had already driven away. People coming in were still talking of what happened.

‘What a horrible death!’ said a gentleman, passing by. ‘They say he was cut in two pieces.’

‘On the contrary, I think it’s the easiest—instantaneous,’ observed another.

‘How is it they don’t take proper precautions?’ said a third.

Madame Karenin seated herself in the carriage, and Stepan Arkadyevitch saw with surprise that her lips were quivering, and she was with difficulty restraining her tears.

‘What is it, Anna?’ he asked, when they had driven a few hundred yards.

‘It’s an omen of evil,’ she said.

‘What nonsense!’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch. ‘You’ve come, that’s the chief thing. You can’t conceive how I’m resting my hopes on you.’

‘Have you known Vronsky long?’ she asked.

‘Yes. You know we’re hoping he will marry Kitty.’

‘Yes?’ said Anna softly. ‘Come now, let us talk of you,’ she added, tossing her head, as though she would physically shake off something superfluous oppressing her. ‘Let us talk of your affairs. I got your letter, and here I am.’

‘Yes, all my hopes are in you,’ said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

‘Well, tell me all about it.’

And Stepan Arkadyevitch began to tell his story.

On reaching home Oblonsky helped his sister out, sighed, pressed her hand, and set off to his office.