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

Part IV

Chapter XXIII

VRONSKY’S wound had been a dangerous one, though it did not touch the heart, and for several days he had lain between life and death. The first time he was able to speak, Varya, his brother’s wife, was alone in the room.

‘Varya,’ he said, looking sternly at her, ‘I shot myself by accident. And please never speak of it, and tell every one so. Or else it’s too ridiculous.’

Without answering his words, Varya bent over him, and with a delighted smile gazed into his face. His eyes were clear, not feverish; but their expression was stern.

‘Thank God!’ she said. ‘You’re not in pain?’

‘A little here.’ He pointed to his breast.

‘Then let me change your bandages.’

In silence, stiffening his broad jaws, he looked at her while she bandaged him up. When she had finished he said—

‘I’m not delirious. Please manage that there may be no talk of my having shot myself on purpose.’

‘No one does say so. Only I hope you won’t shoot yourself by accident any more,’ she said, with a questioning smile.

‘Of course I won’t, but it would have been better…’

And he smiled gloomily.

In spite of these words and this smile, which so frightened Varya, when the inflammation was over and he began to recover, he felt that he was completely free from one part of his misery. By his action he had, as it were, washed away the shame and humiliation he had felt before. He could now think calmly of Alexey Alexandrovitch. He recognised all his magnanimity, but he did not now feel himself humiliated by it. Besides, he got back again into the beaten track of his life. He saw the possibility of looking men in the face again without shame, and he could live in accordance with his own habits. One thing he could not pluck out of his heart, though he never ceased struggling with it, was the regret, amounting to despair, that he had lost her for ever. That now, having expiated his sin against the husband, he was bound to renounce her, and never in future to stand between her with her repentance and her husband, he had firmly decided in his heart; but he could not tear out of his heart his regret at the loss of her love, he could not erase from his memory those moments of happiness that he had so little prized at the time, and that haunted him in all their charm.

Serpuhovskoy had planned his appointment at Tashkend, and Vronsky agreed to the proposition without the slightest hesitation. But the nearer the time of departure came, the bitterer was the sacrifice he was making to what he thought his duty.

His wound had healed, and he was driving about making preparations for his departure for Tashkend.

‘To see her once and then to bury himself, to die,’ he thought, and as he was paying farewell visits, he uttered this thought to Betsy. Charged with this commission, Betsy had gone to Anna, and brought him back a negative reply.

‘So much the better,’ thought Vronsky, when he received the news. ‘It was a weakness, which would have shattered what strength I have left.’

Next day Betsy herself came to him in the morning, and announced that she had heard through Oblonsky as a positive fact that Alexey Alexandrovitch had agreed to a divorce, and that therefore Vronsky could see Anna.

Without even troubling himself to see Betsy out of his flat, forgetting all his resolutions, without asking when he could see her, where her husband was, Vronsky drove straight to the Karenins.’ He ran up the stairs seeing no one and nothing, and with a rapid step, almost breaking into a run, he went into her room. And without considering, without noticing whether there was any one in the room or not, he flung his arms around her, and began to cover her face, her hands, her neck with kisses.

Anna had been preparing herself for this meeting, had thought what she would say to him, but she did not succeed in saying anything of it; his passion mastered her. She tried to calm him, to calm herself, but it was too late. His feeling infected her. Her lips trembled so that for a long while she could say nothing.

‘Yes, you have conquered me, and I am yours,’ she said at last, pressing his hands to her bosom.

‘So it had to be,’ he said. ‘So long as we live, it must be so. I know it now.’

‘That’s true,’ she said, getting whither and whither, and embracing his head. ‘Still there is something terrible in it after all that has happened.’

‘It will all pass, it will all pass; we shall be so happy. Our love, if it could be stronger, will be strengthened by there being something terrible in it,’ he said, lifting his head and parting his strong teeth in a smile.

And she could not but respond with a smile—not to his words, but to the love in his eyes. She took his hand and stroked her chilled cheeks and cropped head with it.

‘I don’t know you with this short hair. You’ve grown so pretty. A boy. But how pale you are!’

‘Yes, I’m very weak,’ she said, smiling. And her lips began trembling again.

‘We’ll go to Italy; you will get strong,’ he said.

‘Can it be possible we could be like husband and wife, alone, your family with you?’ she said, looking close into his eyes.

‘It only seems strange to me that it can ever have been otherwise.’

‘Stiva says that he has agreed to everything, but I can’t accept his generosity,’ she said, looking dreamily past Vronsky’s face. ‘I don’t want a divorce; it’s all the same to me now. Only I don’t know what he will decide about Seryozha.’

He could not conceive how at this moment of their meeting she could remember and think of her son, of divorce. What did it all matter?

‘Don’t speak of that, don’t think of it,’ he said, turning her hand in his, and trying to draw her attention to him; but still she did not look at him.

‘Oh, why didn’t I die! it would have been better,’ she said, and silent tears flowed down both her cheeks; but she tried to smile, so as not to wound him.

To decline the flattering and dangerous appointment at Tashkend would have been, Vronsky had till then considered, disgraceful and impossible. But now, without an instant’s consideration, he declined it, and observing dissatisfaction in the most exalted quarters at this step, he immediately retired from the army.

A month later Alexey Alexandrovitch was left alone with his son in his house at Petersburg, while Anna and Vronsky had gone abroad, not having obtained a divorce, but having absolutely declined all idea of one.