The croquet party to which the Princess Tverskaya had invited Anna was to consist of two ladies and their adorers. These two ladies were the chief representatives of a select new Petersburg circle, nicknamed, in imitation of some imitation, les sept merveilles du monde. These ladies belonged to a circle which, though of the highest society, was utterly hostile to that in which Anna moved. Moreover, Stremov, one of the most influential people in Petersburg, and the elderly admirer of Liza Merkalova, was Alexey Alexandrovitch’s enemy in the political world. From all these considerations Anna had not meant to go, and the hints in Princess Tverskaya’s note referred to her refusal. But now Anna was eager to go, in the hope of seeing Vronsky.
Anna arrived at Princess Tverskaya’s earlier than the other guests.
At the same moment as she entered, Vronsky’s footman, with side-whiskers combed out like a Kammerjunker, went in too. He stopped at the door, and, taking off his cap, let her pass. Anna recognized him, and only then recalled that Vronsky had told her the day before that he would not come. Most likely he was sending a note to say so.
As she took off her outer garment in the hall, she heard the footman, pronouncing his “r’s” even like a Kammerjunker, say, “From the count for the princess,” and hand the note.
She longed to question him as to where his master was. She longed to turn back and send him a letter to come and see her, or to go herself to see him. But neither the first nor the second nor the third course was possible. Already she heard bells ringing to announce her arrival ahead of her, and Princess Tverskaya’s footman was standing at the open door waiting for her to go forward into the inner rooms.
“The princess is in the garden; they will inform her immediately. Would you be pleased to walk into the garden?” announced another footman in another room.
The position of uncertainty, of indecision, was still the same as at home—worse, in fact, since it was impossible to take any step, impossible to see Vronsky, and she had to remain here among outsiders, in company so uncongenial to her present mood. But she was wearing a dress that she knew suited her. She was not alone; all around was that luxurious setting of idleness that she was used to, and she felt less wretched than at home. She was not forced to think what she was to do. Everything would be done of itself. On meeting Betsy coming towards her in a white gown that struck her by its elegance, Anna smiled at her just as she always did. Princess Tverskaya was walking with Tushkevitch and a young lady, a relation, who, to the great joy of her parents in the provinces, was spending the summer with the fashionable princess.
There was probably something unusual about Anna, for Betsy noticed it at once.
“I slept badly,” answered Anna, looking intently at the footman who came to meet them, and, as she supposed, brought Vronsky’s note.
“How glad I am you’ve come!” said Betsy. “I’m tired, and was just longing to have some tea before they come. You might go”—she turned to Tushkevitch—“with Masha, and try the croquet ground over there where they’ve been cutting it. We shall have time to talk a little over tea; we’ll have a cozy chat, eh?” she said in English to Anna, with a smile, pressing the hand with which she held a parasol.
“Yes, especially as I can’t stay very long with you. I’m forced to go on to old Madame Vrede. I’ve been promising to go for a century,” said Anna, to whom lying, alien as it was to her nature, had become not merely simple and natural in society, but a positive source of satisfaction. Why she said this, which she had not thought of a second before, she could not have explained. She had said it simply from the reflection that as Vronsky would not be here, she had better secure her own freedom, and try to see him somehow. But why she had spoken of old Madame Vrede, whom she had to go and see, as she had to see many other people, she could not have explained; and yet, as it afterwards turned out, had she contrived the most cunning devices to meet Vronsky, she could have thought of nothing better.
“No. I’m not going to let you go for anything,” answered Betsy, looking intently into Anna’s face. “Really, if I were not fond of you, I should feel offended. One would think you were afraid my society would compromise you. Tea in the little dining-room, please,” she said, half closing her eyes, as she always did when addressing the footman.
Taking the note from him, she read it.
“Alexey’s playing us false,” she said in French; “he writes that he can’t come,” she added in a tone as simple and natural as though it could never enter her head that Vronsky could mean anything more to Anna than a game of croquet. Anna knew that Betsy knew everything, but, hearing how she spoke of Vronsky before her, she almost felt persuaded for a minute that she knew nothing.
“Ah!” said Anna indifferently, as though not greatly interested in the matter, and she went on smiling: “How can you or your friends compromise anyone?”
This playing with words, this hiding of a secret, had a great fascination for Anna, as, indeed, it has for all women. And it was not the necessity of concealment, not the aim with which the concealment was contrived, but the process of concealment itself which attracted her.
“I can’t be more Catholic than the Pope,” she said. “Stremov and Liza Merkalova, why, they’re the cream of the cream of society. Besides, they’re received everywhere, and I”—she laid special stress on the I—“have never been strict and intolerant. It’s simply that I haven’t the time.”
“No; you don’t care, perhaps, to meet Stremov? Let him and Alexey Alexandrovitch tilt at each other in the committee—that’s no affair of ours. But in the world, he’s the most amiable man I know, and a devoted croquet player. You shall see. And, in spite of his absurd position as Liza’s lovesick swain at his age, you ought to see how he carries off the absurd position. He’s very nice. Sappho Shtoltz you don’t know? Oh, that’s a new type, quite new.”
Betsy said all this, and, at the same time, from her good-humored, shrewd glance, Anna felt that she partly guessed her plight, and was hatching something for her benefit. They were in the little boudoir.
“I must write to Alexey though,” and Betsy sat down to the table, scribbled a few lines, and put the note in an envelope.
“I’m telling him to come to dinner. I’ve one lady extra to dinner with me, and no man to take her in. Look what I’ve said, will that persuade him? Excuse me, I must leave you for a minute. Would you seal it up, please, and send it off?” she said from the door; “I have to give some directions.”
Without a moment’s thought, Anna sat down to the table with Betsy’s letter, and, without reading it, wrote below: “It’s essential for me to see you. Come to the Vrede garden. I shall be there at six o’clock.” She sealed it up, and, Betsy coming back, in her presence handed the note to be taken.
At tea, which was brought them on a little tea-table in the cool little drawing-room, the cozy chat promised by Princess Tverskaya before the arrival of her visitors really did come off between the two women. They criticized the people they were expecting, and the conversation fell upon Liza Merkalova.
“She’s very sweet, and I always liked her,” said Anna.
“You ought to like her. She raves about you. Yesterday she came up to me after the races and was in despair at not finding you. She says you’re a real heroine of romance, and that if she were a man she would do all sorts of mad things for your sake. Stremov says she does that as it is.”
“But do tell me, please, I never could make it out,” said Anna, after being silent for some time, speaking in a tone that showed she was not asking an idle question, but that what she was asking was of more importance to her than it should have been; “do tell me, please, what are her relations with Prince Kaluzhsky, Mishka, as he’s called? I’ve met them so little. What does it mean?”
Betsy smiled with her eyes, and looked intently at Anna.
“It’s a new manner,” she said. “They’ve all adopted that manner. They’ve flung their caps over the windmills. But there are ways and ways of flinging them.”
“Yes, but what are her relations precisely with Kaluzhsky?”
Betsy broke into unexpectedly mirthful and irrepressible laughter, a thing which rarely happened with her.
“You’re encroaching on Princess Myakaya’s special domain now. That’s the question of an enfant terrible,” and Betsy obviously tried to restrain herself, but could not, and went off into peals of that infectious laughter that people laugh who do not laugh often. “You’d better ask them,” she brought out, between tears of laughter.
“No; you laugh,” said Anna, laughing too in spite of herself, “but I never could understand it. I can’t understand the husband’s rôle in it.”
“The husband? Liza Merkalova’s husband carries her shawl, and is always ready to be of use. But anything more than that in reality, no one cares to inquire. You know in decent society one doesn’t talk or think even of certain details of the toilet. That’s how it is with this.”
“Will you be at Madame Rolandak’s fête?” asked Anna, to change the conversation.
“I don’t think so,” answered Betsy, and, without looking at her friend, she began filling the little transparent cups with fragrant tea. Putting a cup before Anna, she took out a cigarette, and, fitting it into a silver holder, she lighted it.
“It’s like this, you see: I’m in a fortunate position,” she began, quite serious now, as she took up her cup. “I understand you, and I understand Liza. Liza now is one of those naïve natures that, like children, don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. Anyway, she didn’t comprehend it when she was very young. And now she’s aware that the lack of comprehension suits her. Now, perhaps, she doesn’t know on purpose,” said Betsy, with a subtle smile. “But, anyway, it suits her. The very same thing, don’t you see, may be looked at tragically, and turned into a misery, or it may be looked at simply and even humorously. Possibly you are inclined to look at things too tragically.”
“How I should like to know other people just as I know myself!” said Anna, seriously and dreamily. “Am I worse than other people, or better? I think I’m worse.”
“Enfant terrible, enfant terrible!” repeated Betsy. “But here they are.”