THE HIGHEST Petersburg society is essentially one: in it every one knows every one else, every one even visits every one else. But this great set has its subdivisions. Anna Arkadyevna Karenin had friends and close ties in three different circles of this highest society. One circle was her husbands government, official set, consisting of his colleagues and subordinates, brought together in the most various and capricious manner, and belonging to different social strata. Anna found it difficult now to recall the feeling of almost awe-stricken reverence which she had at first entertained for these persons. Now she knew all of them as people know one another in a country town; she knew their habits and weaknesses, and where the shoe pinched each one of them. She knew their relations with one another and with the head authorities, knew who was for whom, and how each one maintained his position, and where they agreed and disagreed. But that circle of political, masculine interests had never interested her, in spite of Countess Lidia Ivanovnas influence, and she avoided it.
Another little set with which Anna was in close relations was the one by means of which Alexey Alexandrovitch had made his career. The centre of this circle was the Countess Lidia Ivanovna. It was a set made up of elderly, ugly, benevolent, and godly women, and clever, learned, and ambitious men. One of the clever people belonging to the set had called it the conscience of Petersburg society. Alexey Alexandrovitch had the highest esteem for this circle; and Anna, with her special gift for getting on with every one, had in the early days of her life in Petersburg made friends in this circle also. Now, since her return from Moscow, she had come to feel this set insufferable. It seemed to her that both she and all of them were insincere, and she felt so bored and ill at ease in that world that she went to see the Countess Lidia Ivanovna as little as possible.
The third circle with which Anna had ties was pre-eminently the fashionable worldthe world of balls, of dinners, of sumptuous dresses, the world that hung on to the court with one hand, so as to avoid sinking to the level of the demi-monde. For the demi-monde the members of that fashionable world believed that they despised, though their tastes were not merely similar, but in fact identical. Her connection with this circle was kept up through Princess Betsy Tverskoy, her cousins wife, who had an income of a hundred and twenty thousand roubles, and who had taken a great fancy to Anna ever since she first came out, showed her much attention, and drew her into her set, making fun of Countess Lidia Ivanovnas coterie.
Anna had at first avoided as far as she could Princess Tverskoys world, because it necessitated an expenditure beyond her means, and besides in her heart she preferred the first circle. But since her visit to Moscow she had done quite the contrary. She avoided her serious-minded friends, and went out into the fashionable world. There she met Vronsky, and experienced an agitating joy at those meetings. She met Vronsky specially often at Betsys, for Betsy was a Vronsky by birth and his cousin. Vronsky was everywhere where he had any chance of meeting Anna, and speaking to her, when he could, of his love. She gave him no encouragement, but every time she met him there surged up in her heart that same feeling of quickened life that had come upon her that day in the railway carriage when she saw him for the first time. She was conscious herself that her delight sparkled in her eyes and curved her lips into a smile, and she could not quench the expression of this delight.
At first Anna sincerely believed that she was displeased with him for daring to pursue her. Soon after her return from Moscow, on arriving at a soiree where she had expected to meet him, and not finding him there, she realised distinctly from the rush of disappointment that she had been deceiving herself, and that this pursuit was not merely not distasteful to her, but that it made the whole interest of her life.
The celebrated singer was singing for the second time, and all the fashionable world was in the theatre. Vronsky, seeing his cousin from his stall in the front row, did not wait till the entracte, but went to her box.
Why, whatever hope can you have? said Betsy, offended on behalf of her friend. Entendons nous. But in her eyes there were gleams of light that betrayed that she understood perfectly and precisely as he did what hope he might have.
None whatever, said Vronsky, laughing and showing his even rows of teeth. Excuse me, he added, taking an opera-glass out of her hand, and proceeding to scrutinise, over her bare shoulder, the row of boxes facing them. Im afraid Im becoming ridiculous.
He was very well aware that he ran no risk of being ridiculous in the eyes of Betsy or any other fashionable people. He was very well aware that in their eyes the position of an unsuccessful lover of a girl, or of any woman free to marry, might be ridiculous. But the position of a man pursuing a married woman, and, regardless of everything, staking his life on drawing her into adultery, has something fine and grand about it, and can never be ridiculous; and so it was with a proud and gay smile under his moustaches that he lowered the opera-glass and looked at his cousin.
I must tell you about that. I was busily employed, and doing what, do you suppose? Ill give you a hundred guesses, a thousand youd never guess. Ive been reconciling a husband with a man whod insulted his wife. Yes, really!
Blessed are the peacemakers; theirs is the kingdom of heaven, said Betsy, vaguely recollecting she had heard some similar saying from some one. Very well, then, sit down, and tell me what its all about.