On arriving in Petersburg, Vronsky and Anna stayed at one of the best hotels; Vronsky apart in a lower story, Anna above with her child, its nurse, and her maid, in a large suite of four rooms.
On the day of his arrival Vronsky went to his brother’s. There he found his mother, who had come from Moscow on business. His mother and sister-in-law greeted him as usual: they asked him about his stay abroad, and talked of their common acquaintances, but did not let drop a single word in allusion to his connection with Anna. His brother came the next morning to see Vronsky, and of his own accord asked him about her, and Alexey Vronsky told him directly that he looked upon his connection with Madame Karenina as marriage; that he hoped to arrange a divorce, and then to marry her, and until then he considered her as much a wife as any other wife, and he begged him to tell their mother and his wife so.
“If the world disapproves, I don’t care,” said Vronsky; “but if my relations want to be on terms of relationship with me, they will have to be on the same terms with my wife.”
The elder brother, who had always a respect for his younger brother’s judgment, could not well tell whether he was right or not till the world had decided the question; for his part he had nothing against it, and with Alexey he went up to see Anna.
Before his brother, as before everyone, Vronsky addressed Anna with a certain formality, treating her as he might a very intimate friend, but it was understood that his brother knew their real relations, and they talked about Anna’s going to Vronsky’s estate.
In spite of all his social experience Vronsky was, in consequence of the new position in which he was placed, laboring under a strange misapprehension. One would have thought he must have understood that society was closed for him and Anna; but now some vague ideas had sprung up in his brain that this was only the case in old-fashioned days, and that now with the rapidity of modern progress (he had unconsciously become by now a partisan of every sort of progress) the views of society had changed, and that the question whether they would be received in society was not a foregone conclusion. “Of course,” he thought, “she would not be received at court, but intimate friends can and must look at it in the proper light.” One may sit for several hours at a stretch with one’s legs crossed in the same position, if one knows that there’s nothing to prevent one’s changing one’s position; but if a man knows that he must remain sitting so with crossed legs, then cramps come on, the legs begin to twitch and to strain towards the spot to which one would like to draw them. This was what Vronsky was experiencing in regard to the world. Though at the bottom of his heart he knew that the world was shut on them, he put it to the test whether the world had not changed by now and would not receive them. But he very quickly perceived that though the world was open for him personally, it was closed for Anna. Just as in the game of cat and mouse, the hands raised for him were dropped to bar the way for Anna.
One of the first ladies of Petersburg society whom Vronsky saw was his cousin Betsy.
“At last!” she greeted him joyfully. “And Anna? How glad I am! Where are you stopping? I can fancy after your delightful travels you must find our poor Petersburg horrid. I can fancy your honeymoon in Rome. How about the divorce? Is that all over?”
Vronsky noticed that Betsy’s enthusiasm waned when she learned that no divorce had as yet taken place.
“People will throw stones at me, I know,” she said, “but I shall come and see Anna; yes, I shall certainly come. You won’t be here long, I suppose?”
And she did certainly come to see Anna the same day, but her tone was not at all the same as in former days. She unmistakably prided herself on her courage, and wished Anna to appreciate the fidelity of her friendship. She only stayed ten minutes, talking of society gossip, and on leaving she said:
“You’ve never told me when the divorce is to be? Supposing I’m ready to fling my cap over the mill, other starchy people will give you the cold shoulder until you’re married. And that’s so simple nowadays. Ça se fait. So you’re going on Friday? Sorry we shan’t see each other again.”
From Betsy’s tone Vronsky might have grasped what he had to expect from the world; but he made another effort in his own family. His mother he did not reckon upon. He knew that his mother, who had been so enthusiastic over Anna at their first acquaintance, would have no mercy on her now for having ruined her son’s career. But he had more hope of Varya, his brother’s wife. He fancied she would not throw stones, and would go simply and directly to see Anna, and would receive her in her own house.
The day after his arrival Vronsky went to her, and finding her alone, expressed his wishes directly.
“You know, Alexey,” she said after hearing him, “how fond I am of you, and how ready I am to do anything for you; but I have not spoken, because I knew I could be of no use to you and to Anna Arkadyevna,” she said, articulating the name “Anna Arkadyevna” with particular care. “Don’t suppose, please, that I judge her. Never; perhaps in her place I should have done the same. I don’t and can’t enter into that,” she said, glancing timidly at his gloomy face. “But one must call things by their names. You want me to go and see her, to ask her here, and to rehabilitate her in society; but do understand that I cannot do so. I have daughters growing up, and I must live in the world for my husband’s sake. Well, I’m ready to come and see Anna Arkadyevna: she will understand that I can’t ask her here, or I should have to do so in such a way that she would not meet people who look at things differently; that would offend her. I can’t raise her….”
“Oh, I don’t regard her as fallen more than hundreds of women you do receive!” Vronsky interrupted her still more gloomily, and he got up in silence, understanding that his sister-in-law’s decision was not to be shaken.
“Alexey! don’t be angry with me. Please understand that I’m not to blame,” began Varya, looking at him with a timid smile.
“I’m not angry with you,” he said still as gloomily; “but I’m sorry in two ways. I’m sorry, too, that this means breaking up our friendship—if not breaking up, at least weakening it. You will understand that for me, too, it cannot be otherwise.”
And with that he left her.
Vronsky knew that further efforts were useless, and that he had to spend these few days in Petersburg as though in a strange town, avoiding every sort of relation with his own old circle in order not to be exposed to the annoyances and humiliations which were so intolerable to him. One of the most unpleasant features of his position in Petersburg was that Alexey Alexandrovitch and his name seemed to meet him everywhere. He could not begin to talk of anything without the conversation turning on Alexey Alexandrovitch; he could not go anywhere without risk of meeting him. So at least it seemed to Vronsky, just as it seems to a man with a sore finger that he is continually, as though on purpose, grazing his sore finger on everything.
Their stay in Petersburg was the more painful to Vronsky that he perceived all the time a sort of new mood that he could not understand in Anna. At one time she would seem in love with him, and then she would become cold, irritable, and impenetrable. She was worrying over something, and keeping something back from him, and did not seem to notice the humiliations which poisoned his existence, and for her, with her delicate intuition, must have been still more unbearable.