Alexey Alexandrovitch had seen nothing striking or improper in the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a table apart, in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed that to the rest of the party this appeared something striking and improper, and for that reason it seemed to him too to be improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his wife.
On reaching home Alexey Alexandrovitch went to his study, as he usually did, seated himself in his low chair, opened a book on the Papacy at the place where he had laid the paper-knife in it, and read till one o’clock, just as he usually did. But from time to time he rubbed his high forehead and shook his head, as though to drive away something. At his usual time he got up and made his toilet for the night. Anna Arkadyevna had not yet come in. With a book under his arm he went upstairs. But this evening, instead of his usual thoughts and meditations upon official details, his thoughts were absorbed by his wife and something disagreeable connected with her. Contrary to his usual habit, he did not get into bed, but fell to walking up and down the rooms with his hands clasped behind his back. He could not go to bed, feeling that it was absolutely needful for him first to think thoroughly over the position that had just arisen.
When Alexey Alexandrovitch had made up his mind that he must talk to his wife about it, it had seemed a very easy and simple matter. But now, when he began to think over the question that had just presented itself, it seemed to him very complicated and difficult.
Alexey Alexandrovitch was not jealous. Jealousy according to his notions was an insult to one’s wife, and one ought to have confidence in one’s wife. Why one ought to have confidence—that is to say, complete conviction that his young wife would always love him—he did not ask himself. But he had no experience of lack of confidence, because he had confidence in her, and told himself that he ought to have it. Now, though his conviction that jealousy was a shameful feeling and that one ought to feel confidence, had not broken down, he felt that he was standing face to face with something illogical and irrational, and did not know what was to be done. Alexey Alexandrovitch was standing face to face with life, with the possibility of his wife’s loving someone other than himself, and this seemed to him very irrational and incomprehensible because it was life itself. All his life Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived and worked in official spheres, having to do with the reflection of life. And every time he had stumbled against life itself he had shrunk away from it. Now he experienced a feeling akin to that of a man who, while calmly crossing a precipice by a bridge, should suddenly discover that the bridge is broken, and that there is a chasm below. That chasm was life itself, the bridge that artificial life in which Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived. For the first time the question presented itself to him of the possibility of his wife’s loving someone else, and he was horrified at it.
He did not undress, but walked up and down with his regular tread over the resounding parquet of the dining-room, where one lamp was burning, over the carpet of the dark drawing-room, in which the light was reflected on the big new portrait of himself hanging over the sofa, and across her boudoir, where two candles burned, lighting up the portraits of her parents and woman friends, and the pretty knick-knacks of her writing-table, that he knew so well. He walked across her boudoir to the bedroom door, and turned back again. At each turn in his walk, especially at the parquet of the lighted dining-room, he halted and said to himself, “Yes, this I must decide and put a stop to; I must express my view of it and my decision.” And he turned back again. “But express what—what decision?” he said to himself in the drawing-room, and he found no reply. “But after all,” he asked himself before turning into the boudoir, “what has occurred? Nothing. She was talking a long while with him. But what of that? Surely women in society can talk to whom they please. And then, jealousy means lowering both myself and her,” he told himself as he went into her boudoir; but this dictum, which had always had such weight with him before, had now no weight and no meaning at all. And from the bedroom door he turned back again; but as he entered the dark drawing-room some inner voice told him that it was not so, and that if others noticed it that showed that there was something. And he said to himself again in the dining-room, “Yes, I must decide and put a stop to it, and express my view of it….” And again at the turn in the drawing-room he asked himself, “Decide how?” And again he asked himself, “What had occurred?” and answered, “Nothing,” and recollected that jealousy was a feeling insulting to his wife; but again in the drawing-room he was convinced that something had happened. His thoughts, like his body, went round a complete circle, without coming upon anything new. He noticed this, rubbed his forehead, and sat down in her boudoir.
There, looking at her table, with the malachite blotting case lying at the top and an unfinished letter, his thoughts suddenly changed. He began to think of her, of what she was thinking and feeling. For the first time he pictured vividly to himself her personal life, her ideas, her desires, and the idea that she could and should have a separate life of her own seemed to him so alarming that he made haste to dispel it. It was the chasm which he was afraid to peep into. To put himself in thought and feeling in another person’s place was a spiritual exercise not natural to Alexey Alexandrovitch. He looked on this spiritual exercise as a harmful and dangerous abuse of the fancy.
“And the worst of it all,” thought he, “is that just now, at the very moment when my great work is approaching completion” (he was thinking of the project he was bringing forward at the time), “when I stand in need of all my mental peace and all my energies, just now this stupid worry should fall foul of me. But what’s to be done? I’m not one of those men who submit to uneasiness and worry without having the force of character to face them.
“I must think it over, come to a decision, and put it out of my mind,” he said aloud.
“The question of her feelings, of what has passed and may be passing in her soul, that’s not my affair; that’s the affair of her conscience, and falls under the head of religion,” he said to himself, feeling consolation in the sense that he had found to which division of regulating principles this new circumstance could be properly referred.
“And so,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself, “questions as to her feelings, and so on, are questions for her conscience, with which I can have nothing to do. My duty is clearly defined. As the head of the family, I am a person bound in duty to guide her, and consequently, in part the person responsible; I am bound to point out the danger I perceive, to warn her, even to use my authority. I ought to speak plainly to her.” And everything that he would say tonight to his wife took clear shape in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s head. Thinking over what he would say, he somewhat regretted that he should have to use his time and mental powers for domestic consumption, with so little to show for it, but, in spite of that, the form and contents of the speech before him shaped itself as clearly and distinctly in his head as a ministerial report.
“I must say and express fully the following points: first, exposition of the value to be attached to public opinion and to decorum; secondly, exposition of religious significance of marriage; thirdly, if need be, reference to the calamity possibly ensuing to our son; fourthly, reference to the unhappiness likely to result to herself.” And, interlacing his fingers, Alexey Alexandrovitch stretched them, and the joints of the fingers cracked. This trick, a bad habit, the cracking of his fingers, always soothed him, and gave precision to his thoughts, so needful to him at this juncture.
There was the sound of a carriage driving up to the front door. Alexey Alexandrovitch halted in the middle of the room.
A woman’s step was heard mounting the stairs. Alexey Alexandrovitch, ready for his speech, stood compressing his crossed fingers, waiting to see if the crack would not come again. One joint cracked.
Already, from the sound of light steps on the stairs, he was aware that she was close, and though he was satisfied with his speech, he felt frightened of the explanation confronting him….