Anna came in with hanging head, playing with the tassels of her hood. Her face was brilliant and glowing; but this glow was not one of brightness; it suggested the fearful glow of a conflagration in the midst of a dark night. On seeing her husband, Anna raised her head and smiled, as though she had just waked up.
“You’re not in bed? What a wonder!” she said, letting fall her hood, and without stopping, she went on into the dressing-room. “It’s late, Alexey Alexandrovitch,” she said, when she had gone through the doorway.
“Anna, it’s necessary for me to have a talk with you.”
“With me?” she said, wonderingly. She came out from behind the door of the dressing-room, and looked at him. “Why, what is it? What about?” she asked, sitting down. “Well, let’s talk, if it’s so necessary. But it would be better to get to sleep.”
Anna said what came to her lips, and marveled, hearing herself, at her own capacity for lying. How simple and natural were her words, and how likely that she was simply sleepy! She felt herself clad in an impenetrable armor of falsehood. She felt that some unseen force had come to her aid and was supporting her.
“Anna, I must warn you,” he began.
“Warn me?” she said. “Of what?”
She looked at him so simply, so brightly, that anyone who did not know her as her husband knew her could not have noticed anything unnatural, either in the sound or the sense of her words. But to him, knowing her, knowing that whenever he went to bed five minutes later than usual, she noticed it, and asked him the reason; to him, knowing that every joy, every pleasure and pain that she felt she communicated to him at once; to him, now to see that she did not care to notice his state of mind, that she did not care to say a word about herself, meant a great deal. He saw that the inmost recesses of her soul, that had always hitherto lain open before him, were closed against him. More than that, he saw from her tone that she was not even perturbed at that, but as it were said straight out to him: “Yes, it’s shut up, and so it must be, and will be in future.” Now he experienced a feeling such as a man might have, returning home and finding his own house locked up. “But perhaps the key may yet be found,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“I want to warn you,” he said in a low voice, “that through thoughtlessness and lack of caution you may cause yourself to be talked about in society. Your too animated conversation this evening with Count Vronsky” (he enunciated the name firmly and with deliberate emphasis) “attracted attention.”
He talked and looked at her laughing eyes, which frightened him now with their impenetrable look, and, as he talked, he felt all the uselessness and idleness of his words.
“You’re always like that,” she answered, as though completely misapprehending him, and of all he had said only taking in the last phrase. “One time you don’t like my being dull, and another time you don’t like my being lively. I wasn’t dull. Does that offend you?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch shivered, and bent his hands to make the joints crack.
“Oh, please, don’t do that, I do so dislike it,” she said.
“Anna, is this you?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, quietly making an effort over himself, and restraining the motion of his fingers.
“But what is it all about?” she said, with such genuine and droll wonder. “What do you want of me?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch paused, and rubbed his forehead and his eyes. He saw that instead of doing as he had intended—that is to say, warning his wife against a mistake in the eyes of the world—he had unconsciously become agitated over what was the affair of her conscience, and was struggling against the barrier he fancied between them.
“This is what I meant to say to you,” he went on coldly and composedly, “and I beg you to listen to it. I consider jealousy, as you know, a humiliating and degrading feeling, and I shall never allow myself to be influenced by it; but there are certain rules of decorum which cannot be disregarded with impunity. This evening it was not I observed it, but judging by the impression made on the company, everyone observed that your conduct and deportment were not altogether what could be desired.”
“I positively don’t understand,” said Anna, shrugging her shoulders—“He doesn’t care,” she thought. “But other people noticed it, and that’s what upsets him.”—“You’re not well, Alexey Alexandrovitch,” she added, and she got up, and would have gone towards the door; but he moved forward as though he would stop her.
His face was ugly and forbidding, as Anna had never seen him. She stopped, and bending her head back and on one side, began with her rapid hand taking out her hairpins.
“Well, I’m listening to what’s to come,” she said, calmly and ironically; “and indeed I listen with interest, for I should like to understand what’s the matter.”
She spoke, and marveled at the confident, calm, and natural tone in which she was speaking, and the choice of the words she used.
“To enter into all the details of your feelings I have no right, and besides, I regard that as useless and even harmful,” began Alexey Alexandrovitch. “Ferreting in one’s soul, one often ferrets out something that might have lain there unnoticed. Your feelings are an affair of your own conscience; but I am in duty bound to you, to myself, and to God, to point out to you your duties. Our life has been joined, not by man, but by God. That union can only be severed by a crime, and a crime of that nature brings its own chastisement.”
“I don’t understand a word. And, oh dear! how sleepy I am, unluckily,” she said, rapidly passing her hand through her hair, feeling for the remaining hairpins.
“Anna, for God’s sake don’t speak like that!” he said gently. “Perhaps I am mistaken, but believe me, what I say, I say as much for myself as for you. I am your husband, and I love you.”
For an instant her face fell, and the mocking gleam in her eyes died away; but the word love threw her into revolt again. She thought: “Love? Can he love? If he hadn’t heard there was such a thing as love, he would never have used the word. He doesn’t even know what love is.”
“Alexey Alexandrovitch, really I don’t understand,” she said. “Define what it is you find….”
“Pardon, let me say all I have to say. I love you. But I am not speaking of myself; the most important persons in this matter are our son and yourself. It may very well be, I repeat, that my words seem to you utterly unnecessary and out of place; it may be that they are called forth by my mistaken impression. In that case, I beg you to forgive me. But if you are conscious yourself of even the smallest foundation for them, then I beg you to think a little, and if your heart prompts you, to speak out to me….”
Alexey Alexandrovitch was unconsciously saying something utterly unlike what he had prepared.
“I have nothing to say. And besides,” she said hurriedly, with difficulty repressing a smile, “it’s really time to be in bed.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed, and, without saying more, went into the bedroom.
When she came into the bedroom, he was already in bed. His lips were sternly compressed, and his eyes looked away from her. Anna got into her bed, and lay expecting every minute that he would begin to speak to her again. She both feared his speaking and wished for it. But he was silent. She waited for a long while without moving, and had forgotten about him. She thought of that other; she pictured him, and felt how her heart was flooded with emotion and guilty delight at the thought of him. Suddenly she heard an even, tranquil snore. For the first instant Alexey Alexandrovitch seemed, as it were, appalled at his own snoring, and ceased; but after an interval of two breathings the snore sounded again, with a new tranquil rhythm.
“It’s late, it’s late,” she whispered with a smile. A long while she lay, not moving, with open eyes, whose brilliance she almost fancied she could herself see in the darkness.