Darya Alexandrovna, in a dressing jacket, and with her now scanty, once luxuriant and beautiful hair fastened up with hairpins on the nape of her neck, with a sunken, thin face and large, startled eyes, which looked prominent from the thinness of her face, was standing among a litter of all sorts of things scattered all over the room, before an open bureau, from which she was taking something. Hearing her husband’s steps, she stopped, looking towards the door, and trying assiduously to give her features a severe and contemptuous expression. She felt she was afraid of him, and afraid of the coming interview. She was just attempting to do what she had attempted to do ten times already in these last three days—to sort out the children’s things and her own, so as to take them to her mother’s—and again she could not bring herself to do this; but now again, as each time before, she kept saying to herself, “that things cannot go on like this, that she must take some step” to punish him, put him to shame, avenge on him some little part at least of the suffering he had caused her. She still continued to tell herself that she should leave him, but she was conscious that this was impossible; it was impossible because she could not get out of the habit of regarding him as her husband and loving him. Besides this, she realized that if even here in her own house she could hardly manage to look after her five children properly, they would be still worse off where she was going with them all. As it was, even in the course of these three days, the youngest was unwell from being given unwholesome soup, and the others had almost gone without their dinner the day before. She was conscious that it was impossible to go away; but, cheating herself, she went on all the same sorting out her things and pretending she was going.
Seeing her husband, she dropped her hands into the drawer of the bureau as though looking for something, and only looked round at him when he had come quite up to her. But her face, to which she tried to give a severe and resolute expression, betrayed bewilderment and suffering.
“Dolly!” he said in a subdued and timid voice. He bent his head towards his shoulder and tried to look pitiful and humble, but for all that he was radiant with freshness and health. In a rapid glance she scanned his figure that beamed with health and freshness. “Yes, he is happy and content!” she thought; “while I…. And that disgusting good nature, which everyone likes him for and praises—I hate that good nature of his,” she thought. Her mouth stiffened, the muscles of the cheek contracted on the right side of her pale, nervous face.
“What do you want?” she said in a rapid, deep, unnatural voice.
“Dolly!” he repeated, with a quiver in his voice. “Anna is coming today.”
“Well, what is that to me? I can’t see her!” she cried.
“But you must, really, Dolly….”
“Go away, go away, go away!” she shrieked, not looking at him, as though this shriek were called up by physical pain.
Stepan Arkadyevitch could be calm when he thought of his wife, he could hope that she would come round, as Matvey expressed it, and could quietly go on reading his paper and drinking his coffee; but when he saw her tortured, suffering face, heard the tone of her voice, submissive to fate and full of despair, there was a catch in his breath and a lump in his throat, and his eyes began to shine with tears.
“My God! what have I done? Dolly! For God’s sake!… You know….” He could not go on; there was a sob in his throat.
She shut the bureau with a slam, and glanced at him.
“Dolly, what can I say?… One thing: forgive…. Remember, cannot nine years of my life atone for an instant….”
She dropped her eyes and listened, expecting what he would say, as it were beseeching him in some way or other to make her believe differently.
“—instant of passion?” he said, and would have gone on, but at that word, as at a pang of physical pain, her lips stiffened again, and again the muscles of her right cheek worked.
“Go away, go out of the room!” she shrieked still more shrilly, “and don’t talk to me of your passion and your loathsomeness.”
She tried to go out, but tottered, and clung to the back of a chair to support herself. His face relaxed, his lips swelled, his eyes were swimming with tears.
“Dolly!” he said, sobbing now; “for mercy’s sake, think of the children; they are not to blame! I am to blame, and punish me, make me expiate my fault. Anything I can do, I am ready to do anything! I am to blame, no words can express how much I am to blame! But, Dolly, forgive me!”
She sat down. He listened to her hard, heavy breathing, and he was unutterably sorry for her. She tried several times to begin to speak, but could not. He waited.
“You remember the children, Stiva, to play with them; but I remember them, and know that this means their ruin,” she said—obviously one of the phrases she had more than once repeated to herself in the course of the last few days.
She had called him “Stiva,” and he glanced at her with gratitude, and moved to take her hand, but she drew back from him with aversion.
“I think of the children, and for that reason I would do anything in the world to save them, but I don’t myself know how to save them. By taking them away from their father, or by leaving them with a vicious father—yes, a vicious father…. Tell me, after what … has happened, can we live together? Is that possible? Tell me, eh, is it possible?” she repeated, raising her voice, “after my husband, the father of my children, enters into a love affair with his own children’s governess?”
“But what could I do? what could I do?” he kept saying in a pitiful voice, not knowing what he was saying, as his head sank lower and lower.
“You are loathsome to me, repulsive!” she shrieked, getting more and more heated. “Your tears mean nothing! You have never loved me; you have neither heart nor honorable feeling! You are hateful to me, disgusting, a stranger—yes, a complete stranger!” With pain and wrath she uttered the word so terrible to herself—stranger.
He looked at her, and the fury expressed in her face alarmed and amazed him. He did not understand how his pity for her exasperated her. She saw in him sympathy for her, but not love. “No, she hates me. She will not forgive me,” he thought.
“It is awful! awful!” he said.
At that moment in the next room a child began to cry; probably it had fallen down. Darya Alexandrovna listened, and her face suddenly softened.
She seemed to be pulling herself together for a few seconds, as though she did not know where she was, and what she was doing, and getting up rapidly, she moved towards the door.
“Well, she loves my child,” he thought, noticing the change of her face at the child’s cry, “my child: how can she hate me?”
“Dolly, one word more,” he said, following her.
“If you come near me, I will call in the servants, the children! They may all know you are a scoundrel! I am going away at once, and you may live here with your mistress!”
And she went out, slamming the door.
Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed, wiped his face, and with a subdued tread walked out of the room. “Matvey says she will come round; but how? I don’t see the least chance of it. Ah, oh, how horrible it is! And how vulgarly she shouted,” he said to himself, remembering her shriek and the words—“scoundrel” and “mistress.” “And very likely the maids were listening! Horribly vulgar! horrible!” Stepan Arkadyevitch stood a few seconds alone, wiped his face, squared his chest, and walked out of the room.
It was Friday, and in the dining-room the German watchmaker was winding up the clock. Stepan Arkadyevitch remembered his joke about this punctual, bald watchmaker, “that the German was wound up for a whole lifetime himself, to wind up watches,” and he smiled. Stepan Arkadyevitch was fond of a joke: “And maybe she will come round! That’s a good expression, ‘come round,’” he thought. “I must repeat that.”
“Matvey!” he shouted. “Arrange everything with Darya in the sitting room for Anna Arkadyevna,” he said to Matvey when he came in.
Stepan Arkadyevitch put on his fur coat and went out onto the steps.
“You won’t dine at home?” said Matvey, seeing him off.
“That’s as it happens. But here’s for the housekeeping,” he said, taking ten roubles from his pocketbook. “That’ll be enough.”
“Enough or not enough, we must make it do,” said Matvey, slamming the carriage door and stepping back onto the steps.
Darya Alexandrovna meanwhile having pacified the child, and knowing from the sound of the carriage that he had gone off, went back again to her bedroom. It was her solitary refuge from the household cares which crowded upon her directly she went out from it. Even now, in the short time she had been in the nursery, the English governess and Matrona Philimonovna had succeeded in putting several questions to her, which did not admit of delay, and which only she could answer: “What were the children to put on for their walk? Should they have any milk? Should not a new cook be sent for?”
“Ah, let me alone, let me alone!” she said, and going back to her bedroom she sat down in the same place as she had sat when talking to her husband, clasping tightly her thin hands with the rings that slipped down on her bony fingers, and fell to going over in her memory all the conversation. “He has gone! But has he broken it off with her?” she thought. “Can it be he sees her? Why didn’t I ask him! No, no, reconciliation is impossible. Even if we remain in the same house, we are strangers—strangers forever!” She repeated again with special significance the word so dreadful to her. “And how I loved him! my God, how I loved him!… How I loved him! And now don’t I love him? Don’t I love him more than before? The most horrible thing is,” she began, but did not finish her thought, because Matrona Philimonovna put her head in at the door.
“Let us send for my brother,” she said; “he can get a dinner anyway, or we shall have the children getting nothing to eat till six again, like yesterday.”
“Very well, I will come directly and see about it. But did you send for some new milk?”
And Darya Alexandrovna plunged into the duties of the day, and drowned her grief in them for a time.