Unconsciously going over in his memory the conversations that had taken place during and after dinner, Alexey Alexandrovitch returned to his solitary room. Darya Alexandrovna’s words about forgiveness had aroused in him nothing but annoyance. The applicability or non-applicability of the Christian precept to his own case was too difficult a question to be discussed lightly, and this question had long ago been answered by Alexey Alexandrovitch in the negative. Of all that had been said, what stuck most in his memory was the phrase of stupid, good-natured Turovtsin—“Acted like a man, he did! Called him out and shot him!” Everyone had apparently shared this feeling, though from politeness they had not expressed it.
“But the matter is settled, it’s useless thinking about it,” Alexey Alexandrovitch told himself. And thinking of nothing but the journey before him, and the revision work he had to do, he went into his room and asked the porter who escorted him where his man was. The porter said that the man had only just gone out. Alexey Alexandrovitch ordered tea to be sent him, sat down to the table, and taking the guidebook, began considering the route of his journey.
“Two telegrams,” said his manservant, coming into the room. “I beg your pardon, your excellency; I’d only just that minute gone out.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch took the telegrams and opened them. The first telegram was the announcement of Stremov’s appointment to the very post Karenin had coveted. Alexey Alexandrovitch flung the telegram down, and flushing a little, got up and began to pace up and down the room. “Quos vult perdere dementat,” he said, meaning by quos the persons responsible for this appointment. He was not so much annoyed that he had not received the post, that he had been conspicuously passed over; but it was incomprehensible, amazing to him that they did not see that the wordy phrase-monger Stremov was the last man fit for it. How could they fail to see how they were ruining themselves, lowering their prestige by this appointment?
“Something else in the same line,” he said to himself bitterly, opening the second telegram. The telegram was from his wife. Her name, written in blue pencil, “Anna,” was the first thing that caught his eye. “I am dying; I beg, I implore you to come. I shall die easier with your forgiveness,” he read. He smiled contemptuously, and flung down the telegram. That this was a trick and a fraud, of that, he thought for the first minute, there could be no doubt.
“There is no deceit she would stick at. She was near her confinement. Perhaps it is the confinement. But what can be their aim? To legitimize the child, to compromise me, and prevent a divorce,” he thought. “But something was said in it: I am dying….” He read the telegram again, and suddenly the plain meaning of what was said in it struck him.
“And if it is true?” he said to himself. “If it is true that in the moment of agony and nearness to death she is genuinely penitent, and I, taking it for a trick, refuse to go? That would not only be cruel, and everyone would blame me, but it would be stupid on my part.”
“Piotr, call a coach; I am going to Petersburg,” he said to his servant.
Alexey Alexandrovitch decided that he would go to Petersburg and see his wife. If her illness was a trick, he would say nothing and go away again. If she was really in danger, and wished to see him before her death, he would forgive her if he found her alive, and pay her the last duties if he came too late.
All the way he thought no more of what he ought to do.
With a sense of weariness and uncleanness from the night spent in the train, in the early fog of Petersburg Alexey Alexandrovitch drove through the deserted Nevsky and stared straight before him, not thinking of what was awaiting him. He could not think about it, because in picturing what would happen, he could not drive away the reflection that her death would at once remove all the difficulty of his position. Bakers, closed shops, night-cabmen, porters sweeping the pavements flashed past his eyes, and he watched it all, trying to smother the thought of what was awaiting him, and what he dared not hope for, and yet was hoping for. He drove up to the steps. A sledge and a carriage with the coachman asleep stood at the entrance. As he went into the entry, Alexey Alexandrovitch, as it were, got out his resolution from the remotest corner of his brain, and mastered it thoroughly. Its meaning ran: “If it’s a trick, then calm contempt and departure. If truth, do what is proper.”
The porter opened the door before Alexey Alexandrovitch rang. The porter, Kapitonitch, looked queer in an old coat, without a tie, and in slippers.
“How is your mistress?”
“A successful confinement yesterday.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch stopped short and turned white. He felt distinctly now how intensely he had longed for her death.
“And how is she?”
Korney in his morning apron ran downstairs.
“Very ill,” he answered. “There was a consultation yesterday, and the doctor’s here now.”
“Take my things,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, and feeling some relief at the news that there was still hope of her death, he went into the hall.
On the hatstand there was a military overcoat. Alexey Alexandrovitch noticed it and asked:
“Who is here?”
“The doctor, the midwife, and Count Vronsky.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the inner rooms.
In the drawing-room there was no one; at the sound of his steps there came out of her boudoir the midwife in a cap with lilac ribbons.
She went up to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and with the familiarity given by the approach of death took him by the arm and drew him towards the bedroom.
“Thank God you’ve come! She keeps on about you and nothing but you,” she said.
“Make haste with the ice!” the doctor’s peremptory voice said from the bedroom.
Alexey Alexandrovitch went into her boudoir.
At the table, sitting sideways in a low chair, was Vronsky, his face hidden in his hands, weeping. He jumped up at the doctor’s voice, took his hands from his face, and saw Alexey Alexandrovitch. Seeing the husband, he was so overwhelmed that he sat down again, drawing his head down to his shoulders, as if he wanted to disappear; but he made an effort over himself, got up and said:
“She is dying. The doctors say there is no hope. I am entirely in your power, only let me be here … though I am at your disposal. I….”
Alexey Alexandrovitch, seeing Vronsky’s tears, felt a rush of that nervous emotion always produced in him by the sight of other people’s suffering, and turning away his face, he moved hurriedly to the door, without hearing the rest of his words. From the bedroom came the sound of Anna’s voice saying something. Her voice was lively, eager, with exceedingly distinct intonations. Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the bedroom, and went up to the bed. She was lying turned with her face towards him. Her cheeks were flushed crimson, her eyes glittered, her little white hands thrust out from the sleeves of her dressing gown were playing with the quilt, twisting it about. It seemed as though she were not only well and blooming, but in the happiest frame of mind. She was talking rapidly, musically, and with exceptionally correct articulation and expressive intonation.
“For Alexey—I am speaking of Alexey Alexandrovitch (what a strange and awful thing that both are Alexey, isn’t it?)—Alexey would not refuse me. I should forget, he would forgive…. But why doesn’t he come? He’s so good he doesn’t know himself how good he is. Ah, my God, what agony! Give me some water, quick! Oh, that will be bad for her, my little girl! Oh, very well then, give her to a nurse. Yes, I agree, it’s better in fact. He’ll be coming; it will hurt him to see her. Give her to the nurse.”
“Anna Arkadyevna, he has come. Here he is!” said the midwife, trying to attract her attention to Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“Oh, what nonsense!” Anna went on, not seeing her husband. “No, give her to me; give me my little one! He has not come yet. You say he won’t forgive me, because you don’t know him. No one knows him. I’m the only one, and it was hard for me even. His eyes I ought to know—Seryozha has just the same eyes—and I can’t bear to see them because of it. Has Seryozha had his dinner? I know everyone will forget him. He would not forget. Seryozha must be moved into the corner room, and Mariette must be asked to sleep with him.”
All of a sudden she shrank back, was silent; and in terror, as though expecting a blow, as though to defend herself, she raised her hands to her face. She had seen her husband.
“No, no!” she began. “I am not afraid of him; I am afraid of death. Alexey, come here. I am in a hurry, because I’ve no time, I’ve not long left to live; the fever will begin directly and I shall understand nothing more. Now I understand, I understand it all, I see it all!”
Alexey Alexandrovitch’s wrinkled face wore an expression of agony; he took her by the hand and tried to say something, but he could not utter it; his lower lip quivered, but he still went on struggling with his emotion, and only now and then glanced at her. And each time he glanced at her, he saw her eyes gazing at him with such passionate and triumphant tenderness as he had never seen in them.
“Wait a minute, you don’t know … stay a little, stay!…” She stopped, as though collecting her ideas. “Yes,” she began; “yes, yes, yes. This is what I wanted to say. Don’t be surprised at me. I’m still the same…. But there is another woman in me, I’m afraid of her: she loved that man, and I tried to hate you, and could not forget about her that used to be. I’m not that woman. Now I’m my real self, all myself. I’m dying now, I know I shall die, ask him. Even now I feel—see here, the weights on my feet, on my hands, on my fingers. My fingers—see how huge they are! But this will soon all be over…. Only one thing I want: forgive me, forgive me quite. I’m terrible, but my nurse used to tell me; the holy martyr—what was her name? She was worse. And I’ll go to Rome; there’s a wilderness, and there I shall be no trouble to anyone, only I’ll take Seryozha and the little one…. No, you can’t forgive me! I know, it can’t be forgiven! No, no, go away, you’re too good!” She held his hand in one burning hand, while she pushed him away with the other.
The nervous agitation of Alexey Alexandrovitch kept increasing, and had by now reached such a point that he ceased to struggle with it. He suddenly felt that what he had regarded as nervous agitation was on the contrary a blissful spiritual condition that gave him all at once a new happiness he had never known. He did not think that the Christian law that he had been all his life trying to follow, enjoined on him to forgive and love his enemies; but a glad feeling of love and forgiveness for his enemies filled his heart. He knelt down, and laying his head in the curve of her arm, which burned him as with fire through the sleeve, he sobbed like a little child. She put her arm around his head, moved towards him, and with defiant pride lifted up her eyes.
“That is he. I knew him! Now, forgive me, everyone, forgive me!… They’ve come again; why don’t they go away?… Oh, take these cloaks off me!”
The doctor unloosed her hands, carefully laying her on the pillow, and covered her up to the shoulders. She lay back submissively, and looked before her with beaming eyes.
“Remember one thing, that I needed nothing but forgiveness, and I want nothing more…. Why doesn’t he come?” she said, turning to the door towards Vronsky. “Do come, do come! Give him your hand.”
Vronsky came to the side of the bed, and seeing Anna, again hid his face in his hands.
“Uncover your face—look at him! He’s a saint,” she said. “Oh! uncover your face, do uncover it!” she said angrily. “Alexey Alexandrovitch, do uncover his face! I want to see him.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch took Vronsky’s hands and drew them away from his face, which was awful with the expression of agony and shame upon it.
“Give him your hand. Forgive him.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch gave him his hand, not attempting to restrain the tears that streamed from his eyes.
“Thank God, thank God!” she said, “now everything is ready. Only to stretch my legs a little. There, that’s capital. How badly these flowers are done—not a bit like a violet,” she said, pointing to the hangings. “My God, my God! when will it end? Give me some morphine. Doctor, give me some morphine! Oh, my God, my God!”
And she tossed about on the bed.
The doctors said that it was puerperal fever, and that it was ninety-nine chances in a hundred it would end in death. The whole day long there was fever, delirium, and unconsciousness. At midnight the patient lay without consciousness, and almost without pulse.
The end was expected every minute.
Vronsky had gone home, but in the morning he came to inquire, and Alexey Alexandrovitch meeting him in the hall, said: “Better stay, she might ask for you,” and himself led him to his wife’s boudoir. Towards morning, there was a return again of excitement, rapid thought and talk, and again it ended in unconsciousness. On the third day it was the same thing, and the doctors said there was hope. That day Alexey Alexandrovitch went into the boudoir where Vronsky was sitting, and closing the door sat down opposite him.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch,” said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the position was coming, “I can’t speak, I can’t understand. Spare me! However hard it is for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me.”
He would have risen; but Alexey Alexandrovitch took him by the hand and said:
“I beg you to hear me out; it is necessary. I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won’t conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. When I got the telegram, I came here with the same feelings; I will say more, I longed for her death. But….” He paused, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his feeling to him. “But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!”
Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.
“This is my position: you can trample me in the mud, make me the laughing-stock of the world, I will not abandon her, and I will never utter a word of reproach to you,” Alexey Alexandrovitch went on. “My duty is clearly marked for me; I ought to be with her, and I will be. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now I suppose it would be better for you to go away.”
He got up, and sobs cut short his words. Vronsky too was getting up, and in a stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him from under his brows. He did not understand Alexey Alexandrovitch’s feeling, but he felt that it was something higher and even unattainable for him with his view of life.