WHEN Anna went into the room, Dolly was sitting in the little drawing-room with a white-headed fat little boy, already like his father, giving him a lesson in French reading. As the boy read, he kept twisting and trying to tear off a button that was nearly off his jacket. His mother had several times taken his hand from it, but the fat little hand went back to the button again. His mother pulled the button off and put it in her pocket.
Keep your hands still, Grisha, she said, and she took up her work, a coverlet she had long been making. She always set to work on it at depressed moments, and now she knitted at it nervously, twitching her fingers and counting the stitches. Though she had sent word the day before to her husband that it was nothing to her whether his sister came or not, she had made everything ready for her arrival, and was expecting her sister-in-law with emotion.
Dolly was crushed by her sorrow, utterly swallowed up by it. Still she did not forget that Anna, her sister-in-law, was the wife of one of the most important personages in Petersburg, and was a Petersburg grande dame. And, thanks to this circumstance, she did not carry out her threat to her husbandthat is to say, she remembered that her sister-in-law was coming. And, after all, Anna is in no wise to blame, thought Dolly. I know nothing of her except the very best, and I have seen nothing but kindness and affection from her towards myself. It was true that as far as she could recall her impressions at Petersburg at the Karenins, she did not like their household itself; there was something artificial in the whole framework of their family life. But why should I not receive her? If only she doesnt take it into her head to console me! thought Dolly. All consolation and counsel and Christian forgiveness, all that I have thought over a thousand times, and its all no use.
All these days Dolly had been alone with her children. She did not want to talk of her sorrow, but with that sorrow in her heart she could not talk of outside matters. She knew that in one way or another she would tell Anna everything, and she was alternately glad at the thought of speaking freely, and angry at the necessity of speaking of her humiliation with her, his sister, and of hearing her ready-made phrases of good advice and comfort. She had been on the look-out for her, glancing at her watch every minute, and, as often happens, let slip just that minute when her visitor arrived, so that she did not hear the bell.
I am glad too, said Dolly, faintly smiling, and trying by the expression of Annas face to find out whether she knew. Most likely she knows, she thought, noticing the sympathy in Annas face. Well, come along, Ill take you to your room, she went on, trying to defer as long as possible the moment of confidences.
I? Yes, said Anna. Merciful heavens, Tanya! Youre the same age as my Seryozha, she added, addressing the little girl as she ran in. She took her in her arms and kissed her. Delightful child, delightful! Show me them all.
Under the thick lashes of her shining eyes tears suddenly glittered. She moved nearer to her sister-in-law and took her hand in her vigorous little hand. Dolly did not shrink away, but her face did not lose its frigid expression. She said
Alls over, and theres nothing more, said Dolly. And the worst of it all is, you see, that I cant cast him off: there are the children, I am tied. And I cant live with him; its a torture to me to see him.
Very well, she said all at once. But I will tell you it from the beginning. You know how I was married. With the education mamma gave us I was more than innocent, I was stupid. I knew nothing. I know they say men tell their wives of their former lives, but Stiva she corrected herselfStepan Arkadyevitch told me nothing. Youll hardly believe it, but till now I imagined that I was the only woman he had known. So I lived eight years. You must understand that I was so far from suspecting infidelity, I regarded it as impossible, and thentry to imagine itwith such ideas to find out suddenly all the horror, all the loath-someness . You must try and understand me. To be fully convinced of ones happiness, and all at once continued Dolly, holding back her sobs, to get a letter his letter to his mistress, my governess. No, its too awful! She hastily pulled out her handkerchief and hid her face in it. I can understand being carried away by feeling, she went on after a brief silence, but deliberately, slyly deceiving me and with whom? To go on being my husband together with her its awful! You cant understand
Yes. I know him. I could not look at him without feeling sorry for him. We both know him. Hes good-hearted, but hes proud, and now hes so humiliated. What touched me most (and here Anna guessed what would touch Dolly most) hes tortured by two things: that hes ashamed for the childrens sake, and that, loving youyes, yes, loving you beyond everything on earth, she hurriedly interrupted Dolly, who would have answeredhe has hurt you, pierced you to the heart. No, no, she cannot forgive me, he keeps saying.
Yes, I can see that his position is awful; its worse for the guilty than the innocent, she said, if he feels that all the misery comes from his fault. But how am I to forgive him, how am I to be his wife again after her? For me to live with him now would be torture, just because I love my past love for him
Shes young, you see, shes pretty, she went on. Do you know, Anna, my youth and my beauty are gone, taken by whom? By him and his children. I have worked for him, and all I had has gone in his service, and now of course any fresh, vulgar creature has more charm for him. No doubt they talked of me together, or, worse still, they were silent. Do you understand?
And after that he will tell me What! can I believe him? Never! No, everything is over, everything that once made my comfort, the reward of my work, and my sufferings. Would you believe it, I was teaching Grisha just now: once this was a joy to me, now it is a torture. What have I to strive and toil for? Why are the children here? Whats so awful is that all at once my hearts turned, and instead of love and tenderness, I have nothing but hatred for him; yes, hatred. I could kill him.
One thing I would say, began Anna. I am his sister, I know his character, that faculty of forgetting everything, everything (she waved her hand before her forehead), that faculty for being completely carried away, but for completely repenting too. He cannot believe it, he cannot comprehend now how he can have acted as he did.
Wait a minute. When he told me, I will own I did not realise all the awfulness of your position. I saw nothing but him, and that the family was broken up. I felt sorry for him, but after talking to you, I see it, as a woman, quite differently. I see your agony, and I cant tell you how sorry I am for you! But Dolly, darling, I fully realise your sufferings, only there is one thing I dont know: I dont know I dont know how much love there is still in your heart for him. That you knowwhether there is enough for you to be able to forgive him. If there is, forgive him!
I know more of the world than you do, she said. I know how men like Stiva look at it. You speak of his talking of you with her. That never happened. Such men are unfaithful, but their own home and wife are sacred to them. Somehow or other these women are still looked on with contempt by them, and do not touch on their feeling for their family. They draw a sort of line that cant be crossed between them and their families. I dont understand it, but it is so.
Dolly, hush, darling. I saw Stiva when he was in love with you. I remember the time when he came to me and cried, talking of you, and all the poetry and loftiness of his feeling for you, and I know that the longer he has lived with you the loftier you have been in his eyes. You know we have sometimes laughed at him for putting in at every word: Dollys a marvellous woman. You have always been a divinity for him, and you are that still, and this has not been an infidelity of the heart .
I dont know, I cant judge . Yes, I can, said Anna, thinking a moment; and grasping the position in her thought and weighing it in her inner balance, she added: Yes, I can, I can, I can. Yes, I could forgive it. I could not be the same, no; but I could forgive it, and forgive it as though it had never been, never been at all.
Oh, of course, Dolly interposed quickly, as though saying what she had more than once thought, else it would not be forgiveness. If one forgives, it must be completely, completely. Come, let us go; Ill take you to your room, she said, getting up, and on the way she embraced Anna. My dear, how glad I am you came. It has made things better, ever so much better.