THE EXTERNAL relations of Alexey Alexandrovitch and his wife had remained unchanged. The sole difference lay in the fact that he was more busily occupied than ever. As in former years, at the beginning of the spring he had gone to a foreign watering-place for the sake of his health, deranged by the winters work that every year grew heavier. And just as always he returned in July and at once fell to work as usual with increased energy. As usual, too, his wife had moved for the summer to a villa out of town, while he remained in Petersburg. From the date of their conversation after the party at Princess Tverskoys he had never spoken again to Anna of his suspicions and his jealousies, and that habitual tone of his of bantering mimicry was the most convenient tone possible for his present attitude to his wife. He was a little colder to his wife. He simply seemed to be slightly displeased with her for that first midnight conversation, which she had repelled. In his attitude to her there was a shade of vexation, but nothing more. You would not be open with me, he seemed to say, mentally addressing her; so much the worse for you. Now you may beg as you please, but I wont be open with you. So much the worse for you! he said mentally, like a man who, after vainly attempting to extinguish a fire, should fly in a rage with his vain efforts and say, Oh, very well then! you shall burn for this! This man, so subtle and astute in official life, did not realise all the senselessness of such an attitude to his wife. He did not realise it, because it was too terrible to him to realise his actual position, and he shut down and locked and sealed up in his heart that secret place where lay hid his feelings towards his family, that is, his wife and son. He who had been such a careful father, had from the end of that winter become peculiarly frigid to his son, and adopted to him just the same bantering tone he used with his wife. Aha, young man! was the greeting with which he met him.
Alexey Alexandrovitch asserted and believed that he had never in any previous year had so much official business as that year. But he was not aware that he sought work for himself that year, that this was one of the means for keeping shut that secret place where lay hid his feelings towards his wife and son and his thoughts about them, which became more terrible the longer they lay there. If any one had had the right to ask Alexey Alexandrovitch what he thought of his wifes behaviour, the mild and peaceable Alexey Alexandrovitch would have made no answer, but he would have been greatly angered with any man who should question him on that subject. For this reason there positively came into Alexey Alexandrovitchs face a look of haughtiness and severity whenever any one inquired after his wifes health. Alexey Alexandrovitch did not want to think at all about his wifes behaviour, and he actually succeeded in not thinking about it at all.
Alexey Alexandrovitchs permanent summer villa was in Peterhof, and the Countess Lidia Ivanovna used as a rule to spend the summer there, close to Anna, and constantly seeing her. That year Countess Lidia Ivanovna declined to settle in Peterhof, was not once at Anna Arkadyevnas, and in conversation with Alexey Alexandrovitch hinted at the unsuitability of Annas close intimacy with Betsy and Vronsky. Alexey Alexandrovitch sternly cut her short, roundly declaring his wife to be above suspicion, and from that time began to avoid Countess Lidia Ivanovna. He did not want to see, and did not see, that many people in society cast dubious glances on his wife; he did not want to understand, and did not understand, why his wife had so particularly insisted on staying at Tsarskoe, where Betsy was staying, and not far from the camp of Vronskys regiment. He did not allow himself to think about it, and he did not think about it; but all the same, though he never admitted it to himself, and had no proofs, nor even suspicious evidence, in the bottom of his heart he knew beyond all doubt that he was a deceived husband, and he was profoundly miserable about it.
How often during those eight years of happy life with his wife Alexey Alexandrovitch had looked at other mens faithless wives and other deceived husbands and asked himself: How can people descend to that? how is it they dont put an end to such a hideous position? But now, when the misfortune had come upon himself, he was so far from thinking of putting an end to the position that he would not recognise it at all, would not recognise it just because it was too awful, too unnatural.
Since his return from abroad Alexey Alexandrovitch had twice been at their country villa. Once he dined there, another time he spent the evening there with a party of friends, but he had not once stayed the night there, as it had been his habit to do in previous years.
The day of the races had been a very busy day for Alexey Alexandrovitch; but when mentally sketching out the day in the morning he made up his mind to go to their country house to see his wife immediately after dinner, and from there to the races, which all the Court were to witness, and at which he was bound to be present. He was going to see his wife, because he had determined to see her once a week to keep up appearances. And besides, on that day, as it was the fifteenth, he had to give his wife some money for her expenses, according to their usual arrangement.
That morning was a very full one for Alexey Alexandrovitch. The evening before, Countess Lidia Ivanovna had sent him a pamphlet by a celebrated traveller in China, who was staying in Petersburg, and with it she enclosed a note begging him to see the traveller himself, as he was an extremely interesting person from various points of view, and likely to be useful. Alexey Alexandrovitch had not had time to read the pamphlet through in the evening, and finished it in the morning. Then people began arriving with petitions, and there came the reports, interviews, appointments, dismissals, apportionment of rewards, pensions, grants, notes, the work-a-day round, as Alexey Alexandrovitch called it, that always took up so much time.
Then there was private business of his own, a visit from the doctor and the steward who managed his property. The steward did not take up much time. He simply gave Alexey Alexandrovitch the money he needed together with a brief statement of the position of his affairs, which was not altogether satisfactory, as it had happened that during that year, owing to increased expenses, more had been paid out than usual, and there was a deficit. But the doctor, a celebrated Petersburg doctor, who was an intimate acquaintance of Alexey Alexandrovitch, took up a great deal of time. Alexey Alexandrovitch had not expected him that day and was surprised at his visit, and still more so when the doctor questioned him very carefully about his health, listened to his breathing, and tapped at his liver. Alexey Alexandrovitch did not know that his friend Lidia Ivanovna, noticing that he was not as well as usual that year, had begged the doctor to go and examine him. Do this for my sake, the Countess Lidia Ivanovna had said to him.
The doctor was extremely dissatisfied with Alexey Alexandrovitch. He found the liver considerably enlarged, and the digestive powers weakened, while the course of mineral waters had been quite without effect. He prescribed more physical exercise as far as possible, and as far as possible less mental strain, and above all no worryin other words, just what was as much out of Alexey Alexandrovitchs power as abstaining from breathing. Then he withdrew, leaving in Alexey Alexandrovitch an unpleasant sense that something was wrong with him, and that there was no chance of curing it.
As he was coming away, the doctor chanced to meet on the staircase an acquaintance of his, Sludin, who was secretary of Alexey Alexandrovitchs department. They had been comrades at the university, and though they rarely met, they thought highly of each other and were excellent friends, and so there was no one to whom the doctor would have given his opinion of a patient so freely as to Sludin.
Ill tell you, said the doctor, beckoning over Sludins head to his coachman to bring the carriage round. Its just this, said the doctor, taking a finger of his kid glove in his white hands and pulling it, if you dont strain the strings, and then try to break them, youll find it a difficult job; but strain a string to its very utmost, and the mere weight of one finger on the strained string will snap it. And with his close assiduity, his conscientious devotion to his work, hes strained to the utmost; and theres some outside burden weighing on him, and not a light one, concluded the doctor, raising his eyebrows significantly. Will you be at the races? he added, as he sank into his seat in the carriage.
Directly after the doctor, who had taken up so much time, came the celebrated traveller, and Alexey Alexandrovitch, by means of the pamphlet he had only just finished reading and his previous acquaintance with the subject, impressed the traveller by the depth of his knowledge of the subject and the breadth and enlightenment of his view of it.
At the same time as the traveller there was announced a provincial marshal of nobility on a visit to Petersburg, with whom Alexey Alexandrovitch had to have some conversation. After his departure, he had to finish the daily routine of business with his secretary, and then he still had to drive round to call on a certain great personage on a matter of grave and serious import. Alexey Alexandrovitch only just managed to be back by five oclock, his dinner-hour, and after dining with his secretary, he invited him to drive with him to his country villa and to the races.