She had risen to meet him, not concealing her pleasure at seeing him; and in the quiet ease with which she held out her little vigorous hand, introduced him to Vorkuev and indicated a red-haired, pretty little girl who was sitting at work, calling her her pupil, Levin recognized and liked the manners of a woman of the great world, always self-possessed and natural.
“I am delighted, delighted,” she repeated, and on her lips these simple words took for Levin’s ears a special significance. “I have known you and liked you for a long while, both from your friendship with Stiva and for your wife’s sake…. I knew her for a very short time, but she left on me the impression of an exquisite flower, simply a flower. And to think she will soon be a mother!”
She spoke easily and without haste, looking now and then from Levin to her brother, and Levin felt that the impression he was making was good, and he felt immediately at home, simple and happy with her, as though he had known her from childhood.
“Ivan Petrovitch and I settled in Alexey’s study,” she said in answer to Stepan Arkadyevitch’s question whether he might smoke, “just so as to be able to smoke”—and glancing at Levin, instead of asking whether he would smoke, she pulled closer a tortoise-shell cigar-case and took a cigarette.
“How are you feeling today?” her brother asked her.
“Oh, nothing. Nerves, as usual.”
“Yes, isn’t it extraordinarily fine?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, noticing that Levin was scrutinizing the picture.
“I have never seen a better portrait.”
“And extraordinarily like, isn’t it?” said Vorkuev.
Levin looked from the portrait to the original. A peculiar brilliance lighted up Anna’s face when she felt his eyes on her. Levin flushed, and to cover his confusion would have asked whether she had seen Darya Alexandrovna lately; but at that moment Anna spoke. “We were just talking, Ivan Petrovitch and I, of Vashtchenkov’s last pictures. Have you seen them?”
“Yes, I have seen them,” answered Levin.
“But, I beg your pardon, I interrupted you … you were saying?…”
Levin asked if she had seen Dolly lately.
“She was here yesterday. She was very indignant with the high school people on Grisha’s account. The Latin teacher, it seems, had been unfair to him.”
“Yes, I have seen his pictures. I didn’t care for them very much,” Levin went back to the subject she had started.
Levin talked now not at all with that purely businesslike attitude to the subject with which he had been talking all the morning. Every word in his conversation with her had a special significance. And talking to her was pleasant; still pleasanter it was to listen to her.
Anna talked not merely naturally and cleverly, but cleverly and carelessly, attaching no value to her own ideas and giving great weight to the ideas of the person she was talking to.
The conversation turned on the new movement in art, on the new illustrations of the Bible by a French artist. Vorkuev attacked the artist for a realism carried to the point of coarseness.
Levin said that the French had carried conventionality further than anyone, and that consequently they see a great merit in the return to realism. In the fact of not lying they see poetry.
Never had anything clever said by Levin given him so much pleasure as this remark. Anna’s face lighted up at once, as at once she appreciated the thought. She laughed.
“I laugh,” she said, “as one laughs when one sees a very true portrait. What you said so perfectly hits off French art now, painting and literature too, indeed—Zola, Daudet. But perhaps it is always so, that men form their conceptions from fictitious, conventional types, and then—all the combinaisons made—they are tired of the fictitious figures and begin to invent more natural, true figures.”
“That’s perfectly true,” said Vorknev.
“So you’ve been at the club?” she said to her brother.
“Yes, yes, this is a woman!” Levin thought, forgetting himself and staring persistently at her lovely, mobile face, which at that moment was all at once completely transformed. Levin did not hear what she was talking of as she leaned over to her brother, but he was struck by the change of her expression. Her face—so handsome a moment before in its repose—suddenly wore a look of strange curiosity, anger, and pride. But this lasted only an instant. She dropped her eyelids, as though recollecting something.
“Oh, well, but that’s of no interest to anyone,” she said, and she turned to the English girl.
“Please order the tea in the drawing-room,” she said in English.
The girl got up and went out.
“Well, how did she get through her examination?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“Splendidly! She’s a very gifted child and a sweet character.”
“It will end in your loving her more than your own.”
“There a man speaks. In love there’s no more nor less. I love my daughter with one love, and her with another.”
“I was just telling Anna Arkadyevna,” said Vorkuev, “that if she were to put a hundredth part of the energy she devotes to this English girl to the public question of the education of Russian children, she would be doing a great and useful work.”
“Yes, but I can’t help it; I couldn’t do it. Count Alexey Kirillovitch urged me very much” (as she uttered the words Count Alexey Kirillovitch she glanced with appealing timidity at Levin, and he unconsciously responded with a respectful and reassuring look); “he urged me to take up the school in the village. I visited it several times. The children were very nice, but I could not feel drawn to the work. You speak of energy. Energy rests upon love; and come as it will, there’s no forcing it. I took to this child—I could not myself say why.”
And she glanced again at Levin. And her smile and her glance—all told him that it was to him only she was addressing her words, valuing his good opinion, and at the same time sure beforehand that they understood each other.
“I quite understand that,” Levin answered. “It’s impossible to give one’s heart to a school or such institutions in general, and I believe that’s just why philanthropic institutions always give such poor results.”
She was silent for a while, then she smiled.
“Yes, yes,” she agreed; “I never could. Je n’ai pas le cœur assez large to love a whole asylum of horrid little girls. Cela ne m’a jamais réussi. There are so many women who have made themselves une position sociale in that way. And now more than ever,” she said with a mournful, confiding expression, ostensibly addressing her brother, but unmistakably intending her words only for Levin, “now when I have such need of some occupation, I cannot.” And suddenly frowning (Levin saw that she was frowning at herself for talking about herself) she changed the subject. “I know about you,” she said to Levin; “that you’re not a public-spirited citizen, and I have defended you to the best of my ability.”
“How have you defended me?”
“Oh, according to the attacks made on you. But won’t you have some tea?” She rose and took up a book bound in morocco.
“Give it to me, Anna Arkadyevna,” said Vorkuev, indicating the book. “It’s well worth taking up.”
“Oh, no, it’s all so sketchy.”
“I told him about it,” Stepan Arkadyevitch said to his sister, nodding at Levin.
“You shouldn’t have. My writing is something after the fashion of those little baskets and carving which Liza Mertsalova used to sell me from the prisons. She had the direction of the prison department in that society,” she turned to Levin; “and they were miracles of patience, the work of those poor wretches.”
And Levin saw a new trait in this woman, who attracted him so extraordinarily. Besides wit, grace, and beauty, she had truth. She had no wish to hide from him all the bitterness of her position. As she said that she sighed, and her face suddenly taking a hard expression, looked as it were turned to stone. With that expression on her face she was more beautiful than ever; but the expression was new; it was utterly unlike that expression, radiant with happiness and creating happiness, which had been caught by the painter in her portrait. Levin looked more than once at the portrait and at her figure, as taking her brother’s arm she walked with him to the high doors and he felt for her a tenderness and pity at which he wondered himself.
She asked Levin and Vorkuev to go into the drawing-room, while she stayed behind to say a few words to her brother. “About her divorce, about Vronsky, and what he’s doing at the club, about me?” wondered Levin. And he was so keenly interested by the question of what she was saying to Stepan Arkadyevitch, that he scarcely heard what Vorkuev was telling him of the qualities of the story for children Anna Arkadyevna had written.
At tea the same pleasant sort of talk, full of interesting matter, continued. There was not a single instant when a subject for conversation was to seek; on the contrary, it was felt that one had hardly time to say what one had to say, and eagerly held back to hear what the others were saying. And all that was said, not only by her, but by Vorkuev and Stepan Arkadyevitch—all, so it seemed to Levin, gained peculiar significance from her appreciation and her criticism. While he followed this interesting conversation, Levin was all the time admiring her—her beauty, her intelligence, her culture, and at the same time her directness and genuine depth of feeling. He listened and talked, and all the while he was thinking of her inner life, trying to divine her feelings. And though he had judged her so severely hitherto, now by some strange chain of reasoning he was justifying her and was also sorry for her, and afraid that Vronsky did not fully understand her. At eleven o’clock, when Stepan Arkadyevitch got up to go (Vorkuev had left earlier), it seemed to Levin that he had only just come. Regretfully Levin too rose.
“Good-bye,” she said, holding his hand and glancing into his face with a winning look. “I am very glad que la glace est rompue.”
She dropped his hand, and half closed her eyes.
“Tell your wife that I love her as before, and that if she cannot pardon me my position, then my wish for her is that she may never pardon it. To pardon it, one must go through what I have gone through, and may God spare her that.”
“Certainly, yes, I will tell her….” Levin said, blushing.