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

Part II

Chapter XXIII

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 to-day 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 I 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, any way, 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 happiness.…’

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.

‘To-day, 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 arbour.

‘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.