by Leo Tolstoy
Translated by Constance Garnett
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.
Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky—Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world—woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o’clock in the morning, not in his wife’s bedroom, but on the leather-covered sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and buried his face in it; but all at once he jumped up, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.
“Yes, yes, how was it now?” he thought, going over his dream. “Now, how was it? To be sure! Alabin was giving a dinner at Darmstadt; no, not Darmstadt, but something American. Yes, but then, Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables, and the tables sang, Il mio tesoro—not Il mio tesoro though, but something better, and there were some sort of little decanters on the table, and they were women, too,” he remembered.
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s eyes twinkled gaily, and he pondered with a smile. “Yes, it was nice, very nice. There was a great deal more that was delightful, only there’s no putting it into words, or even expressing it in one’s thoughts awake.” And noticing a gleam of light peeping in beside one of the serge curtains, he cheerfully dropped his feet over the edge of the sofa, and felt about with them for his slippers, a present on his last birthday, worked for him by his wife on gold-colored morocco. And, as he had done every day for the last nine years, he stretched out his hand, without getting up, towards the place where his dressing-gown always hung in his bedroom. And thereupon he suddenly remembered that he was not sleeping in his wife’s room, but in his study, and why: the smile vanished from his face, he knitted his brows.
“Ah, ah, ah! Oo!…” he muttered, recalling everything that had happened. And again every detail of his quarrel with his wife was present to his imagination, all the hopelessness of his position, and worst of all, his own fault.
“Yes, she won’t forgive me, and she can’t forgive me. And the most awful thing about it is that it’s all my fault—all my fault, though I’m not to blame. That’s the point of the whole situation,” he reflected. “Oh, oh, oh!” he kept repeating in despair, as he remembered the acutely painful sensations caused him by this quarrel.
Most unpleasant of all was the first minute when, on coming, happy and good-humored, from the theater, with a huge pear in his hand for his wife, he had not found his wife in the drawing-room, to his surprise had not found her in the study either, and saw her at last in her bedroom with the unlucky letter that revealed everything in her hand.
She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household details, and limited in her ideas, as he considered, was sitting perfectly still with the letter in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and indignation.
“What’s this? this?” she asked, pointing to the letter.
And at this recollection, Stepan Arkadyevitch, as is so often the case, was not so much annoyed at the fact itself as at the way in which he had met his wife’s words.
There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault. Instead of being hurt, denying, defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent even—anything would have been better than what he did do—his face utterly involuntarily (reflex spinal action, reflected Stepan Arkadyevitch, who was fond of physiology)—utterly involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore idiotic smile.
This idiotic smile he could not forgive himself. Catching sight of that smile, Dolly shuddered as though at physical pain, broke out with her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words, and rushed out of the room. Since then she had refused to see her husband.
“It’s that idiotic smile that’s to blame for it all,” thought Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“But what’s to be done? What’s to be done?” he said to himself in despair, and found no answer.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was a truthful man in his relations with himself. He was incapable of deceiving himself and persuading himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not at this date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, and only a year younger than himself. All he repented of was that he had not succeeded better in hiding it from his wife. But he felt all the difficulty of his position and was sorry for his wife, his children, and himself. Possibly he might have managed to conceal his sins better from his wife if he had anticipated that the knowledge of them would have had such an effect on her. He had never clearly thought out the subject, but he had vaguely conceived that his wife must long ago have suspected him of being unfaithful to her, and shut her eyes to the fact. He had even supposed that she, a worn-out woman no longer young or good-looking, and in no way remarkable or interesting, merely a good mother, ought from a sense of fairness to take an indulgent view. It had turned out quite the other way.
“Oh, it’s awful! oh dear, oh dear! awful!” Stepan Arkadyevitch kept repeating to himself, and he could think of nothing to be done. “And how well things were going up till now! how well we got on! She was contented and happy in her children; I never interfered with her in anything; I let her manage the children and the house just as she liked. It’s true it’s bad her having been a governess in our house. That’s bad! There’s something common, vulgar, in flirting with one’s governess. But what a governess!” (He vividly recalled the roguish black eyes of Mlle. Roland and her smile.) “But after all, while she was in the house, I kept myself in hand. And the worst of it all is that she’s already … it seems as if ill-luck would have it so! Oh, oh! But what, what is to be done?”
There was no solution, but that universal solution which life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble. That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day—that is, forget oneself. To forget himself in sleep was impossible now, at least till nighttime; he could not go back now to the music sung by the decanter-women; so he must forget himself in the dream of daily life.
“Then we shall see,” Stepan Arkadyevitch said to himself, and getting up he put on a gray dressing-gown lined with blue silk, tied the tassels in a knot, and, drawing a deep breath of air into his broad, bare chest, he walked to the window with his usual confident step, turning out his feet that carried his full frame so easily. He pulled up the blind and rang the bell loudly. It was at once answered by the appearance of an old friend, his valet, Matvey, carrying his clothes, his boots, and a telegram. Matvey was followed by the barber with all the necessaries for shaving.
“Are there any papers from the office?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch, taking the telegram and seating himself at the looking-glass.
“On the table,” replied Matvey, glancing with inquiring sympathy at his master; and, after a short pause, he added with a sly smile, “They’ve sent from the carriage-jobbers.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch made no reply, he merely glanced at Matvey in the looking-glass. In the glance, in which their eyes met in the looking-glass, it was clear that they understood one another. Stepan Arkadyevitch’s eyes asked: “Why do you tell me that? don’t you know?”
Matvey put his hands in his jacket pockets, thrust out one leg, and gazed silently, good-humoredly, with a faint smile, at his master.
“I told them to come on Sunday, and till then not to trouble you or themselves for nothing,” he said. He had obviously prepared the sentence beforehand.
Stepan Arkadyevitch saw Matvey wanted to make a joke and attract attention to himself. Tearing open the telegram, he read it through, guessing at the words, misspelt as they always are in telegrams, and his face brightened.
“Matvey, my sister Anna Arkadyevna will be here tomorrow,” he said, checking for a minute the sleek, plump hand of the barber, cutting a pink path through his long, curly whiskers.
“Thank God!” said Matvey, showing by this response that he, like his master, realized the significance of this arrival—that is, that Anna Arkadyevna, the sister he was so fond of, might bring about a reconciliation between husband and wife.
“Alone, or with her husband?” inquired Matvey.
Stepan Arkadyevitch could not answer, as the barber was at work on his upper lip, and he raised one finger. Matvey nodded at the looking-glass.
“Alone. Is the room to be got ready upstairs?”
“Inform Darya Alexandrovna: where she orders.”
“Darya Alexandrovna?” Matvey repeated, as though in doubt.
“Yes, inform her. Here, take the telegram; give it to her, and then do what she tells you.”
“You want to try it on,” Matvey understood, but he only said, “Yes, sir.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch was already washed and combed and ready to be dressed, when Matvey, stepping deliberately in his creaky boots, came back into the room with the telegram in his hand. The barber had gone.
“Darya Alexandrovna told me to inform you that she is going away. Let him do—that is you—as he likes,” he said, laughing only with his eyes, and putting his hands in his pockets, he watched his master with his head on one side. Stepan Arkadyevitch was silent a minute. Then a good-humored and rather pitiful smile showed itself on his handsome face.
“Eh, Matvey?” he said, shaking his head.
“It’s all right, sir; she will come round,” said Matvey.
“Do you think so? Who’s there?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch, hearing the rustle of a woman’s dress at the door.
“It’s I,” said a firm, pleasant, woman’s voice, and the stern, pockmarked face of Matrona Philimonovna, the nurse, was thrust in at the doorway.
“Well, what is it, Matrona?” queried Stepan Arkadyevitch, going up to her at the door.
Although Stepan Arkadyevitch was completely in the wrong as regards his wife, and was conscious of this himself, almost everyone in the house (even the nurse, Darya Alexandrovna’s chief ally) was on his side.
“Well, what now?” he asked disconsolately.
“Go to her, sir; own your fault again. Maybe God will aid you. She is suffering so, it’s sad to see her; and besides, everything in the house is topsy-turvy. You must have pity, sir, on the children. Beg her forgiveness, sir. There’s no help for it! One must take the consequences….”
“But she won’t see me.”
“You do your part. God is merciful; pray to God, sir, pray to God.”
“Come, that’ll do, you can go,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, blushing suddenly. “Well now, do dress me.” He turned to Matvey and threw off his dressing-gown decisively.
Matvey was already holding up the shirt like a horse’s collar, and, blowing off some invisible speck, he slipped it with obvious pleasure over the well-groomed body of his master.
When he was dressed, Stepan Arkadyevitch sprinkled some scent on himself, pulled down his shirt-cuffs, distributed into his pockets his cigarettes, pocketbook, matches, and watch with its double chain and seals, and shaking out his handkerchief, feeling himself clean, fragrant, healthy, and physically at ease, in spite of his unhappiness, he walked with a slight swing on each leg into the dining-room, where coffee was already waiting for him, and beside the coffee, letters and papers from the office.
He read the letters. One was very unpleasant, from a merchant who was buying a forest on his wife’s property. To sell this forest was absolutely essential; but at present, until he was reconciled with his wife, the subject could not be discussed. The most unpleasant thing of all was that his pecuniary interests should in this way enter into the question of his reconciliation with his wife. And the idea that he might be led on by his interests, that he might seek a reconciliation with his wife on account of the sale of the forest—that idea hurt him.
When he had finished his letters, Stepan Arkadyevitch moved the office-papers close to him, rapidly looked through two pieces of business, made a few notes with a big pencil, and pushing away the papers, turned to his coffee. As he sipped his coffee, he opened a still damp morning paper, and began reading it.
Stepan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal paper, not an extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority. And in spite of the fact that science, art, and politics had no special interest for him, he firmly held those views on all these subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he only changed them when the majority changed them—or, more strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly changed of themselves within him.
Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society—owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity—to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. If there was a reason for his preferring liberal to conservative views, which were held also by many of his circle, it arose not from his considering liberalism more rational, but from its being in closer accordance with his manner of life. The liberal party said that in Russia everything is wrong, and certainly Stepan Arkadyevitch had many debts and was decidedly short of money. The liberal party said that marriage is an institution quite out of date, and that it needs reconstruction; and family life certainly afforded Stepan Arkadyevitch little gratification, and forced him into lying and hypocrisy, which was so repulsive to his nature. The liberal party said, or rather allowed it to be understood, that religion is only a curb to keep in check the barbarous classes of the people; and Stepan Arkadyevitch could not get through even a short service without his legs aching from standing up, and could never make out what was the object of all the terrible and high-flown language about another world when life might be so very amusing in this world. And with all this, Stepan Arkadyevitch, who liked a joke, was fond of puzzling a plain man by saying that if he prided himself on his origin, he ought not to stop at Rurik and disown the first founder of his family—the monkey. And so Liberalism had become a habit of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s, and he liked his newspaper, as he did his cigar after dinner, for the slight fog it diffused in his brain. He read the leading article, in which it was maintained that it was quite senseless in our day to raise an outcry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up all conservative elements, and that the government ought to take measures to crush the revolutionary hydra; that, on the contrary, “in our opinion the danger lies not in that fantastic revolutionary hydra, but in the obstinacy of traditionalism clogging progress,” etc., etc. He read another article, too, a financial one, which alluded to Bentham and Mill, and dropped some innuendoes reflecting on the ministry. With his characteristic quickwittedness he caught the drift of each innuendo, divined whence it came, at whom and on what ground it was aimed, and that afforded him, as it always did, a certain satisfaction. But today that satisfaction was embittered by Matrona Philimonovna’s advice and the unsatisfactory state of the household. He read, too, that Count Beist was rumored to have left for Wiesbaden, and that one need have no more gray hair, and of the sale of a light carriage, and of a young person seeking a situation; but these items of information did not give him, as usual, a quiet, ironical gratification. Having finished the paper, a second cup of coffee and a roll and butter, he got up, shaking the crumbs of the roll off his waistcoat; and, squaring his broad chest, he smiled joyously: not because there was anything particularly agreeable in his mind—the joyous smile was evoked by a good digestion.
But this joyous smile at once recalled everything to him, and he grew thoughtful.
Two childish voices (Stepan Arkadyevitch recognized the voices of Grisha, his youngest boy, and Tanya, his eldest girl) were heard outside the door. They were carrying something, and dropped it.
“I told you not to sit passengers on the roof,” said the little girl in English; “there, pick them up!”
“Everything’s in confusion,” thought Stepan Arkadyevitch; “there are the children running about by themselves.” And going to the door, he called them. They threw down the box, that represented a train, and came in to their father.
The little girl, her father’s favorite, ran up boldly, embraced him, and hung laughingly on his neck, enjoying as she always did the smell of scent that came from his whiskers. At last the little girl kissed his face, which was flushed from his stooping posture and beaming with tenderness, loosed her hands, and was about to run away again; but her father held her back.
“How is mamma?” he asked, passing his hand over his daughter’s smooth, soft little neck. “Good morning,” he said, smiling to the boy, who had come up to greet him. He was conscious that he loved the boy less, and always tried to be fair; but the boy felt it, and did not respond with a smile to his father’s chilly smile.
“Mamma? She is up,” answered the girl.
Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed. “That means that she’s not slept again all night,” he thought.
“Well, is she cheerful?”
The little girl knew that there was a quarrel between her father and mother, and that her mother could not be cheerful, and that her father must be aware of this, and that he was pretending when he asked about it so lightly. And she blushed for her father. He at once perceived it, and blushed too.
“I don’t know,” she said. “She did not say we must do our lessons, but she said we were to go for a walk with Miss Hoole to grandmamma’s.”
“Well, go, Tanya, my darling. Oh, wait a minute, though,” he said, still holding her and stroking her soft little hand.
He took off the mantelpiece, where he had put it yesterday, a little box of sweets, and gave her two, picking out her favorites, a chocolate and a fondant.
“For Grisha?” said the little girl, pointing to the chocolate.
“Yes, yes.” And still stroking her little shoulder, he kissed her on the roots of her hair and neck, and let her go.
“The carriage is ready,” said Matvey; “but there’s someone to see you with a petition.”
“Been here long?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“Half an hour.”
“How many times have I told you to tell me at once?”
“One must let you drink your coffee in peace, at least,” said Matvey, in the affectionately gruff tone with which it was impossible to be angry.
“Well, show the person up at once,” said Oblonsky, frowning with vexation.
The petitioner, the widow of a staff captain Kalinin, came with a request impossible and unreasonable; but Stepan Arkadyevitch, as he generally did, made her sit down, heard her to the end attentively without interrupting her, and gave her detailed advice as to how and to whom to apply, and even wrote her, in his large, sprawling, good and legible hand, a confident and fluent little note to a personage who might be of use to her. Having got rid of the staff captain’s widow, Stepan Arkadyevitch took his hat and stopped to recollect whether he had forgotten anything. It appeared that he had forgotten nothing except what he wanted to forget—his wife.
“Ah, yes!” He bowed his head, and his handsome face assumed a harassed expression. “To go, or not to go!” he said to himself; and an inner voice told him he must not go, that nothing could come of it but falsity; that to amend, to set right their relations was impossible, because it was impossible to make her attractive again and able to inspire love, or to make him an old man, not susceptible to love. Except deceit and lying nothing could come of it now; and deceit and lying were opposed to his nature.
“It must be some time, though: it can’t go on like this,” he said, trying to give himself courage. He squared his chest, took out a cigarette, took two whiffs at it, flung it into a mother-of-pearl ashtray, and with rapid steps walked through the drawing-room, and opened the other door into his wife’s bedroom.
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.
Stepan Arkadyevitch had learned easily at school, thanks to his excellent abilities, but he had been idle and mischievous, and therefore was one of the lowest in his class. But in spite of his habitually dissipated mode of life, his inferior grade in the service, and his comparative youth, he occupied the honorable and lucrative position of president of one of the government boards at Moscow. This post he had received through his sister Anna’s husband, Alexey Alexandrovitch Karenin, who held one of the most important positions in the ministry to whose department the Moscow office belonged. But if Karenin had not got his brother-in-law this berth, then through a hundred other personages—brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, and aunts—Stiva Oblonsky would have received this post, or some other similar one, together with the salary of six thousand absolutely needful for him, as his affairs, in spite of his wife’s considerable property, were in an embarrassed condition.
Half Moscow and Petersburg were friends and relations of Stepan Arkadyevitch. He was born in the midst of those who had been and are the powerful ones of this world. One-third of the men in the government, the older men, had been friends of his father’s, and had known him in petticoats; another third were his intimate chums, and the remainder were friendly acquaintances. Consequently the distributors of earthly blessings in the shape of places, rents, shares, and such, were all his friends, and could not overlook one of their own set; and Oblonsky had no need to make any special exertion to get a lucrative post. He had only not to refuse things, not to show jealousy, not to be quarrelsome or take offense, all of which from his characteristic good nature he never did. It would have struck him as absurd if he had been told that he would not get a position with the salary he required, especially as he expected nothing out of the way; he only wanted what the men of his own age and standing did get, and he was no worse qualified for performing duties of the kind than any other man.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was not merely liked by all who knew him for his good humor, but for his bright disposition, and his unquestionable honesty. In him, in his handsome, radiant figure, his sparkling eyes, black hair and eyebrows, and the white and red of his face, there was something which produced a physical effect of kindliness and good humor on the people who met him. “Aha! Stiva! Oblonsky! Here he is!” was almost always said with a smile of delight on meeting him. Even though it happened at times that after a conversation with him it seemed that nothing particularly delightful had happened, the next day, and the next, everyone was just as delighted at meeting him again.
After filling for three years the post of president of one of the government boards at Moscow, Stepan Arkadyevitch had won the respect, as well as the liking, of his fellow-officials, subordinates, and superiors, and all who had had business with him. The principal qualities in Stepan Arkadyevitch which had gained him this universal respect in the service consisted, in the first place, of his extreme indulgence for others, founded on a consciousness of his own shortcomings; secondly, of his perfect liberalism—not the liberalism he read of in the papers, but the liberalism that was in his blood, in virtue of which he treated all men perfectly equally and exactly the same, whatever their fortune or calling might be; and thirdly—the most important point—his complete indifference to the business in which he was engaged, in consequence of which he was never carried away, and never made mistakes.
On reaching the offices of the board, Stepan Arkadyevitch, escorted by a deferential porter with a portfolio, went into his little private room, put on his uniform, and went into the boardroom. The clerks and copyists all rose, greeting him with good-humored deference. Stepan Arkadyevitch moved quickly, as ever, to his place, shook hands with his colleagues, and sat down. He made a joke or two, and talked just as much as was consistent with due decorum, and began work. No one knew better than Stepan Arkadyevitch how to hit on the exact line between freedom, simplicity, and official stiffness necessary for the agreeable conduct of business. A secretary, with the good-humored deference common to everyone in Stepan Arkadyevitch’s office, came up with papers, and began to speak in the familiar and easy tone which had been introduced by Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“We have succeeded in getting the information from the government department of Penza. Here, would you care?…”
“You’ve got them at last?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laying his finger on the paper. “Now, gentlemen….”
And the sitting of the board began.
“If they knew,” he thought, bending his head with a significant air as he listened to the report, “what a guilty little boy their president was half an hour ago.” And his eyes were laughing during the reading of the report. Till two o’clock the sitting would go on without a break, and at two o’clock there would be an interval and luncheon.
It was not yet two, when the large glass doors of the boardroom suddenly opened and someone came in.
All the officials sitting on the further side under the portrait of the Tsar and the eagle, delighted at any distraction, looked round at the door; but the doorkeeper standing at the door at once drove out the intruder, and closed the glass door after him.
When the case had been read through, Stepan Arkadyevitch got up and stretched, and by way of tribute to the liberalism of the times took out a cigarette in the boardroom and went into his private room. Two of the members of the board, the old veteran in the service, Nikitin, and the Kammerjunker Grinevitch, went in with him.
“We shall have time to finish after lunch,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“To be sure we shall!” said Nikitin.
“A pretty sharp fellow this Fomin must be,” said Grinevitch of one of the persons taking part in the case they were examining.
Stepan Arkadyevitch frowned at Grinevitch’s words, giving him thereby to understand that it was improper to pass judgment prematurely, and made him no reply.
“Who was that came in?” he asked the doorkeeper.
“Someone, your excellency, crept in without permission directly my back was turned. He was asking for you. I told him: when the members come out, then….”
“Where is he?”
“Maybe he’s gone into the passage, but here he comes anyway. That is he,” said the doorkeeper, pointing to a strongly built, broad-shouldered man with a curly beard, who, without taking off his sheepskin cap, was running lightly and rapidly up the worn steps of the stone staircase. One of the members going down—a lean official with a portfolio—stood out of his way and looked disapprovingly at the legs of the stranger, then glanced inquiringly at Oblonsky.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was standing at the top of the stairs. His good-naturedly beaming face above the embroidered collar of his uniform beamed more than ever when he recognized the man coming up.
“Why, it’s actually you, Levin, at last!” he said with a friendly mocking smile, scanning Levin as he approached. “How is it you have deigned to look me up in this den?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, and not content with shaking hands, he kissed his friend. “Have you been here long?”
“I have just come, and very much wanted to see you,” said Levin, looking shyly and at the same time angrily and uneasily around.
“Well, let’s go into my room,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, who knew his friend’s sensitive and irritable shyness, and, taking his arm, he drew him along, as though guiding him through dangers.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was on familiar terms with almost all his acquaintances, and called almost all of them by their Christian names: old men of sixty, boys of twenty, actors, ministers, merchants, and adjutant-generals, so that many of his intimate chums were to be found at the extreme ends of the social ladder, and would have been very much surprised to learn that they had, through the medium of Oblonsky, something in common. He was the familiar friend of everyone with whom he took a glass of champagne, and he took a glass of champagne with everyone, and when in consequence he met any of his disreputable chums, as he used in joke to call many of his friends, in the presence of his subordinates, he well knew how, with his characteristic tact, to diminish the disagreeable impression made on them. Levin was not a disreputable chum, but Oblonsky, with his ready tact, felt that Levin fancied he might not care to show his intimacy with him before his subordinates, and so he made haste to take him off into his room.
Levin was almost of the same age as Oblonsky; their intimacy did not rest merely on champagne. Levin had been the friend and companion of his early youth. They were fond of one another in spite of the difference of their characters and tastes, as friends are fond of one another who have been together in early youth. But in spite of this, each of them—as is often the way with men who have selected careers of different kinds—though in discussion he would even justify the other’s career, in his heart despised it. It seemed to each of them that the life he led himself was the only real life, and the life led by his friend was a mere phantasm. Oblonsky could not restrain a slight mocking smile at the sight of Levin. How often he had seen him come up to Moscow from the country where he was doing something, but what precisely Stepan Arkadyevitch could never quite make out, and indeed he took no interest in the matter. Levin arrived in Moscow always excited and in a hurry, rather ill at ease and irritated by his own want of ease, and for the most part with a perfectly new, unexpected view of things. Stepan Arkadyevitch laughed at this, and liked it. In the same way Levin in his heart despised the town mode of life of his friend, and his official duties, which he laughed at, and regarded as trifling. But the difference was that Oblonsky, as he was doing the same as everyone did, laughed complacently and good-humoredly, while Levin laughed without complacency and sometimes angrily.
“We have long been expecting you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, going into his room and letting Levin’s hand go as though to show that here all danger was over. “I am very, very glad to see you,” he went on. “Well, how are you? Eh? When did you come?”
Levin was silent, looking at the unknown faces of Oblonsky’s two companions, and especially at the hand of the elegant Grinevitch, which had such long white fingers, such long yellow filbert-shaped nails, and such huge shining studs on the shirt-cuff, that apparently they absorbed all his attention, and allowed him no freedom of thought. Oblonsky noticed this at once, and smiled.
“Ah, to be sure, let me introduce you,” he said. “My colleagues: Philip Ivanitch Nikitin, Mihail Stanislavitch Grinevitch”—and turning to Levin—“a district councilor, a modern district councilman, a gymnast who lifts thirteen stone with one hand, a cattle-breeder and sportsman, and my friend, Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin, the brother of Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev.”
“Delighted,” said the veteran.
“I have the honor of knowing your brother, Sergey Ivanovitch,” said Grinevitch, holding out his slender hand with its long nails.
Levin frowned, shook hands coldly, and at once turned to Oblonsky. Though he had a great respect for his half-brother, an author well known to all Russia, he could not endure it when people treated him not as Konstantin Levin, but as the brother of the celebrated Koznishev.
“No, I am no longer a district councilor. I have quarreled with them all, and don’t go to the meetings any more,” he said, turning to Oblonsky.
“You’ve been quick about it!” said Oblonsky with a smile. “But how? why?”
“It’s a long story. I will tell you some time,” said Levin, but he began telling him at once. “Well, to put it shortly, I was convinced that nothing was really done by the district councils, or ever could be,” he began, as though someone had just insulted him. “On one side it’s a plaything; they play at being a parliament, and I’m neither young enough nor old enough to find amusement in playthings; and on the other side” (he stammered) “it’s a means for the coterie of the district to make money. Formerly they had wardships, courts of justice, now they have the district council—not in the form of bribes, but in the form of unearned salary,” he said, as hotly as though someone of those present had opposed his opinion.
“Aha! You’re in a new phase again, I see—a conservative,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “However, we can go into that later.”
“Yes, later. But I wanted to see you,” said Levin, looking with hatred at Grinevitch’s hand.
Stepan Arkadyevitch gave a scarcely perceptible smile.
“How was it you used to say you would never wear European dress again?” he said, scanning his new suit, obviously cut by a French tailor. “Ah! I see: a new phase.”
Levin suddenly blushed, not as grown men blush, slightly, without being themselves aware of it, but as boys blush, feeling that they are ridiculous through their shyness, and consequently ashamed of it and blushing still more, almost to the point of tears. And it was so strange to see this sensible, manly face in such a childish plight, that Oblonsky left off looking at him.
“Oh, where shall we meet? You know I want very much to talk to you,” said Levin.
Oblonsky seemed to ponder.
“I’ll tell you what: let’s go to Gurin’s to lunch, and there we can talk. I am free till three.”
“No,” answered Levin, after an instant’s thought, “I have got to go on somewhere else.”
“All right, then, let’s dine together.”
“Dine together? But I have nothing very particular, only a few words to say, and a question I want to ask you, and we can have a talk afterwards.”
“Well, say the few words, then, at once, and we’ll gossip after dinner.”
“Well, it’s this,” said Levin; “but it’s of no importance, though.”
His face all at once took an expression of anger from the effort he was making to surmount his shyness.
“What are the Shtcherbatskys doing? Everything as it used to be?” he said.
Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had long known that Levin was in love with his sister-in-law, Kitty, gave a hardly perceptible smile, and his eyes sparkled merrily.
“You said a few words, but I can’t answer in a few words, because…. Excuse me a minute….”
A secretary came in, with respectful familiarity and the modest consciousness, characteristic of every secretary, of superiority to his chief in the knowledge of their business; he went up to Oblonsky with some papers, and began, under pretense of asking a question, to explain some objection. Stepan Arkadyevitch, without hearing him out, laid his hand genially on the secretary’s sleeve.
“No, you do as I told you,” he said, softening his words with a smile, and with a brief explanation of his view of the matter he turned away from the papers, and said: “So do it that way, if you please, Zahar Nikititch.”
The secretary retired in confusion. During the consultation with the secretary Levin had completely recovered from his embarrassment. He was standing with his elbows on the back of a chair, and on his face was a look of ironical attention.
“I don’t understand it, I don’t understand it,” he said.
“What don’t you understand?” said Oblonsky, smiling as brightly as ever, and picking up a cigarette. He expected some queer outburst from Levin.
“I don’t understand what you are doing,” said Levin, shrugging his shoulders. “How can you do it seriously?”
“Why, because there’s nothing in it.”
“You think so, but we’re overwhelmed with work.”
“On paper. But, there, you’ve a gift for it,” added Levin.
“That’s to say, you think there’s a lack of something in me?”
“Perhaps so,” said Levin. “But all the same I admire your grandeur, and am proud that I’ve a friend in such a great person. You’ve not answered my question, though,” he went on, with a desperate effort looking Oblonsky straight in the face.
“Oh, that’s all very well. You wait a bit, and you’ll come to this yourself. It’s very nice for you to have over six thousand acres in the Karazinsky district, and such muscles, and the freshness of a girl of twelve; still you’ll be one of us one day. Yes, as to your question, there is no change, but it’s a pity you’ve been away so long.”
“Oh, why so?” Levin queried, panic-stricken.
“Oh, nothing,” responded Oblonsky. “We’ll talk it over. But what’s brought you up to town?”
“Oh, we’ll talk about that, too, later on,” said Levin, reddening again up to his ears.
“All right. I see,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “I should ask you to come to us, you know, but my wife’s not quite the thing. But I tell you what; if you want to see them, they’re sure now to be at the Zoological Gardens from four to five. Kitty skates. You drive along there, and I’ll come and fetch you, and we’ll go and dine somewhere together.”
“Capital. So good-bye till then.”
“Now mind, you’ll forget, I know you, or rush off home to the country!” Stepan Arkadyevitch called out laughing.
And Levin went out of the room, only when he was in the doorway remembering that he had forgotten to take leave of Oblonsky’s colleagues.
“That gentleman must be a man of great energy,” said Grinevitch, when Levin had gone away.
“Yes, my dear boy,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, nodding his head, “he’s a lucky fellow! Over six thousand acres in the Karazinsky district; everything before him; and what youth and vigor! Not like some of us.”
“You have a great deal to complain of, haven’t you, Stepan Arkadyevitch?”
“Ah, yes, I’m in a poor way, a bad way,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch with a heavy sigh.
When Oblonsky asked Levin what had brought him to town, Levin blushed, and was furious with himself for blushing, because he could not answer, “I have come to make your sister-in-law an offer,” though that was precisely what he had come for.
The families of the Levins and the Shtcherbatskys were old, noble Moscow families, and had always been on intimate and friendly terms. This intimacy had grown still closer during Levin’s student days. He had both prepared for the university with the young Prince Shtcherbatsky, the brother of Kitty and Dolly, and had entered at the same time with him. In those days Levin used often to be in the Shtcherbatskys’ house, and he was in love with the Shtcherbatsky household. Strange as it may appear, it was with the household, the family, that Konstantin Levin was in love, especially with the feminine half of the household. Levin did not remember his own mother, and his only sister was older than he was, so that it was in the Shtcherbatskys’ house that he saw for the first time that inner life of an old, noble, cultivated, and honorable family of which he had been deprived by the death of his father and mother. All the members of that family, especially the feminine half, were pictured by him, as it were, wrapped about with a mysterious poetical veil, and he not only perceived no defects whatever in them, but under the poetical veil that shrouded them he assumed the existence of the loftiest sentiments and every possible perfection. Why it was the three young ladies had one day to speak French, and the next English; why it was that at certain hours they played by turns on the piano, the sounds of which were audible in their brother’s room above, where the students used to work; why they were visited by those professors of French literature, of music, of drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all the three young ladies, with Mademoiselle Linon, drove in the coach to the Tversky boulevard, dressed in their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long one, Natalia in a half-long one, and Kitty in one so short that her shapely legs in tightly-drawn red stockings were visible to all beholders; why it was they had to walk about the Tversky boulevard escorted by a footman with a gold cockade in his hat—all this and much more that was done in their mysterious world he did not understand, but he was sure that everything that was done there was very good, and he was in love precisely with the mystery of the proceedings.
In his student days he had all but been in love with the eldest, Dolly, but she was soon married to Oblonsky. Then he began being in love with the second. He felt, as it were, that he had to be in love with one of the sisters, only he could not quite make out which. But Natalia, too, had hardly made her appearance in the world when she married the diplomat Lvov. Kitty was still a child when Levin left the university. Young Shtcherbatsky went into the navy, was drowned in the Baltic, and Levin’s relations with the Shtcherbatskys, in spite of his friendship with Oblonsky, became less intimate. But when early in the winter of this year Levin came to Moscow, after a year in the country, and saw the Shtcherbatskys, he realized which of the three sisters he was indeed destined to love.
One would have thought that nothing could be simpler than for him, a man of good family, rather rich than poor, and thirty-two years old, to make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been looked upon as a good match. But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.
After spending two months in Moscow in a state of enchantment, seeing Kitty almost every day in society, into which he went so as to meet her, he abruptly decided that it could not be, and went back to the country.
Levin’s conviction that it could not be was founded on the idea that in the eyes of her family he was a disadvantageous and worthless match for the charming Kitty, and that Kitty herself could not love him. In her family’s eyes he had no ordinary, definite career and position in society, while his contemporaries by this time, when he was thirty-two, were already, one a colonel, and another a professor, another director of a bank and railways, or president of a board like Oblonsky. But he (he knew very well how he must appear to others) was a country gentleman, occupied in breeding cattle, shooting game, and building barns; in other words, a fellow of no ability, who had not turned out well, and who was doing just what, according to the ideas of the world, is done by people fit for nothing else.
The mysterious, enchanting Kitty herself could not love such an ugly person as he conceived himself to be, and, above all, such an ordinary, in no way striking person. Moreover, his attitude to Kitty in the past—the attitude of a grown-up person to a child, arising from his friendship with her brother—seemed to him yet another obstacle to love. An ugly, good-natured man, as he considered himself, might, he supposed, be liked as a friend; but to be loved with such a love as that with which he loved Kitty, one would need to be a handsome and, still more, a distinguished man.
He had heard that women often did care for ugly and ordinary men, but he did not believe it, for he judged by himself, and he could not himself have loved any but beautiful, mysterious, and exceptional women.
But after spending two months alone in the country, he was convinced that this was not one of those passions of which he had had experience in his early youth; that this feeling gave him not an instant’s rest; that he could not live without deciding the question, would she or would she not be his wife, and that his despair had arisen only from his own imaginings, that he had no sort of proof that he would be rejected. And he had now come to Moscow with a firm determination to make an offer, and get married if he were accepted. Or … he could not conceive what would become of him if he were rejected.
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