It was six o’clock already, and so, in order to be there quickly, and at the same time not to drive with his own horses, known to everyone, Vronsky got into Yashvin’s hired fly, and told the driver to drive as quickly as possible. It was a roomy, old-fashioned fly, with seats for four. He sat in one corner, stretched his legs out on the front seat, and sank into meditation.
A vague sense of the order into which his affairs had been brought, a vague recollection of the friendliness and flattery of Serpuhovskoy, who had considered him a man that was needed, and most of all, the anticipation of the interview before him—all blended into a general, joyous sense of life. This feeling was so strong that he could not help smiling. He dropped his legs, crossed one leg over the other knee, and taking it in his hand, felt the springy muscle of the calf, where it had been grazed the day before by his fall, and leaning back he drew several deep breaths.
“I’m happy, very happy!” he said to himself. He had often before had this sense of physical joy in his own body, but he had never felt so fond of himself, of his own body, as at that moment. He enjoyed the slight ache in his strong leg, he enjoyed the muscular sensation of movement in his chest as he breathed. The bright, cold August day, which had made Anna feel so hopeless, seemed to him keenly stimulating, and refreshed his face and neck that still tingled from the cold water. The scent of brilliantine on his whiskers struck him as particularly pleasant in the fresh air. Everything he saw from the carriage window, everything in that cold pure air, in the pale light of the sunset, was as fresh, and gay, and strong as he was himself: the roofs of the houses shining in the rays of the setting sun, the sharp outlines of fences and angles of buildings, the figures of passers-by, the carriages that met him now and then, the motionless green of the trees and grass, the fields with evenly drawn furrows of potatoes, and the slanting shadows that fell from the houses, and trees, and bushes, and even from the rows of potatoes—everything was bright like a pretty landscape just finished and freshly varnished.
“Get on, get on!” he said to the driver, putting his head out of the window, and pulling a three-rouble note out of his pocket he handed it to the man as he looked round. The driver’s hand fumbled with something at the lamp, the whip cracked, and the carriage rolled rapidly along the smooth highroad.
“I want nothing, nothing but this happiness,” he thought, staring at the bone button of the bell in the space between the windows, and picturing to himself Anna just as he had seen her last time. “And as I go on, I love her more and more. Here’s the garden of the Vrede Villa. Whereabouts will she be? Where? How? Why did she fix on this place to meet me, and why does she write in Betsy’s letter?” he thought, wondering now for the first time at it. But there was now no time for wonder. He called to the driver to stop before reaching the avenue, and opening the door, jumped out of the carriage as it was moving, and went into the avenue that led up to the house. There was no one in the avenue; but looking round to the right he caught sight of her. Her face was hidden by a veil, but he drank in with glad eyes the special movement in walking, peculiar to her alone, the slope of the shoulders, and the setting of the head, and at once a sort of electric shock ran all over him. With fresh force, he felt conscious of himself from the springy motions of his legs to the movements of his lungs as he breathed, and something set his lips twitching.
Joining him, she pressed his hand tightly.
“You’re not angry that I sent for you? I absolutely had to see you,” she said; and the serious and set line of her lips, which he saw under the veil, transformed his mood at once.
“I angry! But how have you come, where from?”
“Never mind,” she said, laying her hand on his, “come along, I must talk to you.”
He saw that something had happened, and that the interview would not be a joyous one. In her presence he had no will of his own: without knowing the grounds of her distress, he already felt the same distress unconsciously passing over him.
“What is it? what?” he asked her, squeezing her hand with his elbow, and trying to read her thoughts in her face.
She walked on a few steps in silence, gathering up her courage; then suddenly she stopped.
“I did not tell you yesterday,” she began, breathing quickly and painfully, “that coming home with Alexey Alexandrovitch I told him everything … told him I could not be his wife, that … and told him everything.”
He heard her, unconsciously bending his whole figure down to her as though hoping in this way to soften the hardness of her position for her. But directly she had said this he suddenly drew himself up, and a proud and hard expression came over his face.
“Yes, yes, that’s better, a thousand times better! I know how painful it was,” he said. But she was not listening to his words, she was reading his thoughts from the expression of his face. She could not guess that that expression arose from the first idea that presented itself to Vronsky—that a duel was now inevitable. The idea of a duel had never crossed her mind, and so she put a different interpretation on this passing expression of hardness.
When she got her husband’s letter, she knew then at the bottom of her heart that everything would go on in the old way, that she would not have the strength of will to forego her position, to abandon her son, and to join her lover. The morning spent at Princess Tverskaya’s had confirmed her still more in this. But this interview was still of the utmost gravity for her. She hoped that this interview would transform her position, and save her. If on hearing this news he were to say to her resolutely, passionately, without an instant’s wavering: “Throw up everything and come with me!” she would give up her son and go away with him. But this news had not produced what she had expected in him; he simply seemed as though he were resenting some affront.
“It was not in the least painful to me. It happened of itself,” she said irritably; “and see….” she pulled her husband’s letter out of her glove.
“I understand, I understand,” he interrupted her, taking the letter, but not reading it, and trying to soothe her. “The one thing I longed for, the one thing I prayed for, was to cut short this position, so as to devote my life to your happiness.”
“Why do you tell me that?” she said. “Do you suppose I can doubt it? If I doubted….”
“Who’s that coming?” said Vronsky suddenly, pointing to two ladies walking towards them. “Perhaps they know us!” and he hurriedly turned off, drawing her after him into a side path.
“Oh, I don’t care!” she said. Her lips were quivering. And he fancied that her eyes looked with strange fury at him from under the veil. “I tell you that’s not the point—I can’t doubt that; but see what he writes to me. Read it.” She stood still again.
Again, just as at the first moment of hearing of her rupture with her husband, Vronsky, on reading the letter, was unconsciously carried away by the natural sensation aroused in him by his own relation to the betrayed husband. Now while he held his letter in his hands, he could not help picturing the challenge, which he would most likely find at home today or tomorrow, and the duel itself, in which, with the same cold and haughty expression that his face was assuming at this moment he would await the injured husband’s shot, after having himself fired into the air. And at that instant there flashed across his mind the thought of what Serpuhovskoy had just said to him, and what he had himself been thinking in the morning—that it was better not to bind himself—and he knew that this thought he could not tell her.
Having read the letter, he raised his eyes to her, and there was no determination in them. She saw at once that he had been thinking about it before by himself. She knew that whatever he might say to her, he would not say all he thought. And she knew that her last hope had failed her. This was not what she had been reckoning on.
“You see the sort of man he is,” she said, with a shaking voice; “he….”
“Forgive me, but I rejoice at it,” Vronsky interrupted. “For God’s sake, let me finish!” he added, his eyes imploring her to give him time to explain his words. “I rejoice, because things cannot, cannot possibly remain as he supposes.”
“Why can’t they?” Anna said, restraining her tears, and obviously attaching no sort of consequence to what he said. She felt that her fate was sealed.
Vronsky meant that after the duel—inevitable, he thought—things could not go on as before, but he said something different.
“It can’t go on. I hope that now you will leave him. I hope”—he was confused, and reddened—“that you will let me arrange and plan our life. Tomorrow….” he was beginning.
She did not let him go on.
“But my child!” she shrieked. “You see what he writes! I should have to leave him, and I can’t and won’t do that.”
“But, for God’s sake, which is better?—leave your child, or keep up this degrading position?”
“To whom is it degrading?”
“To all, and most of all to you.”
“You say degrading … don’t say that. Those words have no meaning for me,” she said in a shaking voice. She did not want him now to say what was untrue. She had nothing left her but his love, and she wanted to love him. “Don’t you understand that from the day I loved you everything has changed for me? For me there is one thing, and one thing only—your love. If that’s mine, I feel so exalted, so strong, that nothing can be humiliating to me. I am proud of my position, because … proud of being … proud….” She could not say what she was proud of. Tears of shame and despair choked her utterance. She stood still and sobbed.
He felt, too, something swelling in his throat and twitching in his nose, and for the first time in his life he felt on the point of weeping. He could not have said exactly what it was touched him so. He felt sorry for her, and he felt he could not help her, and with that he knew that he was to blame for her wretchedness, and that he had done something wrong.
“Is not a divorce possible?” he said feebly. She shook her head, not answering. “Couldn’t you take your son, and still leave him?”
“Yes; but it all depends on him. Now I must go to him,” she said shortly. Her presentiment that all would again go on in the old way had not deceived her.
“On Tuesday I shall be in Petersburg, and everything can be settled.”
“Yes,” she said. “But don’t let us talk any more of it.”
Anna’s carriage, which she had sent away, and ordered to come back to the little gate of the Vrede garden, drove up. Anna said good-bye to Vronsky, and drove home.