Anna karenina, p.123
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       Anna Karenina, p.123

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 22

  Stepan Arkadyevitch, with the same somewhat solemn expression with whichhe used to take his presidential chair at his board, walked into AlexeyAlexandrovitch's room. Alexey Alexandrovitch was walking about his roomwith his hands behind his back, thinking of just what StepanArkadyevitch had been discussing with his wife.

  "I'm not interrupting you?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, on the sight ofhis brother-in-law becoming suddenly aware of a sense of embarrassmentunusual with him. To conceal this embarrassment he took out a cigarettecase he had just bought that opened in a new way, and sniffing theleather, took a cigarette out of it.

  "No. Do you want anything?" Alexey Alexandrovitch asked withouteagerness.

  "Yes, I wished ... I wanted ... yes, I wanted to talk to you," saidStepan Arkadyevitch, with surprise aware of an unaccustomed timidity.

  This feeling was so unexpected and so strange that he did not believe itwas the voice of conscience telling him that what he was meaning to dowas wrong.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch made an effort and struggled with the timidity thathad come over him.

  "I hope you believe in my love for my sister and my sincere affectionand respect for you," he said, reddening.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch stood still and said nothing, but his face struckStepan Arkadyevitch by its expression of an unresisting sacrifice.

  "I intended ... I wanted to have a little talk with you about my sisterand your mutual position," he said, still struggling with anunaccustomed constraint.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled mournfully, looked at his brother-in-law,and without answering went up to the table, took from it an unfinishedletter, and handed it to his brother-in-law.

  "I think unceasingly of the same thing. And here is what I had begunwriting, thinking I could say it better by letter, and that my presenceirritates her," he said, as he gave him the letter.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch took the letter, looked with incredulous surprise atthe lusterless eyes fixed so immovably on him, and began to read.

  "I see that my presence is irksome to you. Painful as it is to me tobelieve it, I see that it is so, and cannot be otherwise. I don't blameyou, and God is my witness that on seeing you at the time of yourillness I resolved with my whole heart to forget all that had passedbetween us and to begin a new life. I do not regret, and shall neverregret, what I have done; but I have desired one thing--your good, thegood of your soul--and now I see I have not attained that. Tell meyourself what will give you true happiness and peace to your soul. I putmyself entirely in your hands, and trust to your feeling of what'sright."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch handed back the letter, and with the same surprisecontinued looking at his brother-in-law, not knowing what to say. Thissilence was so awkward for both of them that Stepan Arkadyevitch's lipsbegan twitching nervously, while he still gazed without speaking atKarenin's face.

  "That's what I wanted to say to her," said Alexey Alexandrovitch,turning away.

  "Yes, yes..." said Stepan Arkadyevitch, not able to answer for the tearsthat were choking him.

  "Yes, yes, I understand you," he brought out at last.

  "I want to know what she would like," said Alexey Alexandrovitch.

  "I am afraid she does not understand her own position. She is not ajudge," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recovering himself. "She is crushed,simply crushed by your generosity. If she were to read this letter, shewould be incapable of saying anything, she would only hang her headlower than ever."

  "Yes, but what's to be done in that case? how explain, how find out herwishes?"

  "If you will allow me to give my opinion, I think that it lies with youto point out directly the steps you consider necessary to end theposition."

  "So you consider it must be ended?" Alexey Alexandrovitch interruptedhim. "But how?" he added, with a gesture of his hands before his eyesnot usual with him. "I see no possible way out of it."

  "There is some way of getting out of every position," said StepanArkadyevitch, standing up and becoming more cheerful. "There was a timewhen you thought of breaking off.... If you are convinced now that youcannot make each other happy..."

  "Happiness may be variously understood. But suppose that I agree toeverything, that I want nothing: what way is there of getting out of ourposition?"

  "If you care to know my opinion," said Stepan Arkadyevitch with the samesmile of softening, almond-oil tenderness with which he had been talkingto Anna. His kindly smile was so winning that Alexey Alexandrovitch,feeling his own weakness and unconsciously swayed by it, was ready tobelieve what Stepan Arkadyevitch was saying.

  "She will never speak out about it. But one thing is possible, one thingshe might desire," he went on, "that is the cessation of your relationsand all memories associated with them. To my thinking, in your positionwhat's essential is the formation of a new attitude to one another. Andthat can only rest on a basis of freedom on both sides."

  "Divorce," Alexey Alexandrovitch interrupted, in a tone of aversion.

  "Yes, I imagine that divorce--yes, divorce," Stepan Arkadyevitchrepeated, reddening. "That is from every point of view the most rationalcourse for married people who find themselves in the position you arein. What can be done if married people find that life is impossible forthem together? That may always happen."

  Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed heavily and closed his eyes.

  "There's only one point to be considered: is either of the partiesdesirous of forming new ties? If not, it is very simple," said StepanArkadyevitch, feeling more and more free from constraint.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch, scowling with emotion, muttered something tohimself, and made no answer. All that seemed so simple to StepanArkadyevitch, Alexey Alexandrovitch had thought over thousands of times.And, so far from being simple, it all seemed to him utterly impossible.Divorce, the details of which he knew by this time, seemed to him nowout of the question, because the sense of his own dignity and respectfor religion forbade his taking upon himself a fictitious charge ofadultery, and still more suffering his wife, pardoned and beloved byhim, to be caught in the fact and put to public shame. Divorce appearedto him impossible also on other still more weighty grounds.

  What would become of his son in case of a divorce? To leave him with hismother was out of the question. The divorced mother would have her ownillegitimate family, in which his position as a stepson and hiseducation would not be good. Keep him with him? He knew that would be anact of vengeance on his part, and that he did not want. But apart fromthis, what more than all made divorce seem impossible to AlexeyAlexandrovitch was, that by consenting to a divorce he would becompletely ruining Anna. The saying of Darya Alexandrovna at Moscow,that in deciding on a divorce he was thinking of himself, and notconsidering that by this he would be ruining her irrevocably, had sunkinto his heart. And connecting this saying with his forgiveness of her,with his devotion to the children, he understood it now in his own way.To consent to a divorce, to give her her freedom, meant in his thoughtsto take from himself the last tie that bound him to life--the childrenwhom he loved; and to take from her the last prop that stayed her on thepath of right, to thrust her down to her ruin. If she were divorced, heknew she would join her life to Vronsky's, and their tie would be anillegitimate and criminal one, since a wife, by the interpretation ofthe ecclesiastical law, could not marry while her husband was living."She will join him, and in a year or two he will throw her over, or shewill form a new tie," thought Alexey Alexandrovitch. "And I, by agreeingto an unlawful divorce, shall be to blame for her ruin." He had thoughtit all over hundreds of times, and was convinced that a divorce was notat all simple, as Stepan Arkadyevitch had said, but was utterlyimpossible. He did not believe a single word Stepan Arkadyevitch said tohim; to every word he had a thousand objections to make, but he listenedto him, feeling that his words were the expression of that mighty brutalforce which controlled his life and to which he would have to submit.

  "The only question is on what terms you agree to give her a divorce. Shedoes not want anything, do
es not dare ask you for anything, she leavesit all to your generosity."

  "My God, my God! what for?" thought Alexey Alexandrovitch, rememberingthe details of divorce proceedings in which the husband took the blameon himself, and with just the same gesture with which Vronsky had donethe same, he hid his face for shame in his hands.

  "You are distressed, I understand that. But if you think it over..."

  "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the otheralso; and if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also,"thought Alexey Alexandrovitch.

  "Yes, yes!" he cried in a shrill voice. "I will take the disgrace onmyself, I will give up even my son, but ... but wouldn't it be better tolet it alone? Still you may do as you like..."

  And turning away so that his brother-in-law could not see him, he satdown on a chair at the window. There was bitterness, there was shame inhis heart, but with bitterness and shame he felt joy and emotion at theheight of his own meekness.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch was touched. He was silent for a space.

  "Alexey Alexandrovitch, believe me, she appreciates your generosity," hesaid. "But it seems it was the will of God," he added, and as he said itfelt how foolish a remark it was, and with difficulty repressed a smileat his own foolishness.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made some reply, but tears stopped him.

  "This is an unhappy fatality, and one must accept it as such. I acceptthe calamity as an accomplished fact, and am doing my best to help bothher and you," said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

  When he went out of his brother-in-law's room he was touched, but thatdid not prevent him from being glad he had successfully brought thematter to a conclusion, for he felt certain Alexey Alexandrovitch wouldnot go back on his words. To this satisfaction was added the fact thatan idea had just struck him for a riddle turning on his successfulachievement, that when the affair was over he would ask his wife andmost intimate friends. He put this riddle into two or three differentways. "But I'll work it out better than that," he said to himself with asmile.

 
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