Alexei Alexandrovich had seen nothing striking or improper in the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a table apart, in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed that to the rest of the party this appeared as something striking and improper, and for that reason it seemed to him, too, to be improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his wife.
On reaching home Alexei Alexandrovich went to his study, as he usually did, seated himself in his low chair, opened a book on the Papacy at the place he had marked by inserting the paper knife, read till one o'clock, just as he usually did. But from time to time he would rub his high forehead and shake his head, as though to drive away something. At his usual time he got up and made his toilet for the night. Anna Arkadyevna had not yet come in. With a book under his arm he went upstairs. But this evening, instead of his usual thoughts and meditations upon official details, his thoughts were absorbed by his wife and something disagreeable connected with her. Contrary to his usual habit, he did not get into bed, but fell to walking up and down the rooms with his hands clasped behind his back. He could not go to bed, feeling that it was absolutely needful for him first to think thoroughly over the situation that had just arisen.
When Alexei Alexandrovich had made up his mind that he must have a talk with his wife, it had seemed a very easy and simple matter. But now, when he began to think over the question that had just presented itself, it seemed to him very complicated and difficult.
Alexei Alexandrovich was not jealous. Jealousy, according to his notions, was an insult to one's wife, and one ought to have confidence in one's wife. Why one ought to have that confidence- that is to say, a complete conviction that his young wife would always love him- he did not ask himself. But he had never experienced such a lack of confidence, because he had confidence in her, and told himself that he ought to have it. Now, though his conviction that jealousy was a shameful feeling, and that one ought to feel confidence, had not broken down, he still felt that he was standing face to face with something illogical and fatuous, and did not know what ought to be done. Alexei Alexandrovich was standing face to face with life, with the possibility of his wife's loving someone other than himself, and this seemed to him very fatuous and incomprehensible, because it was of the very stuff of life. All his life Alexei Alexandrovich had lived and worked in official spheres, having to do merely with the reflections of life. And every time he had stumbled against life itself he had shrunk away from it. Now he experienced a feeling akin to that of a man who, while calmly crossing a precipice by a bridge, should suddenly discover that the bridge is broken, and that there is a chasm below. That chasm was life itself- the bridge, that artificial life in which Alexei Alexandrovich had lived. For the first time the question presented itself to him of the possibility of his wife's loving someone else, and he was horrified at it.
He did not undress, but walked up and down with his regular tread over the resounding parquet of the dining room, where one lamp was burning; over the carpet of the dark drawing room, in which the light was reflected merely on the big new portrait of himself hanging over the sofa; and across her boudoir, where two candles burned, lighting up the portraits of her parents and feminine friends, and the pretty knickknacks of her writing table, every one of which he knew so well. He walked across her boudoir to the bedroom door and turned back again.
At each turn in his walk, especially on the parquet of the well-lit dining room, he halted and said to himself, "Yes, this I must decide and put a stop to; I must express my view of it and my decision." And he turned back again. "But just what shall I express? And what decision?" he would say to himself in the drawing room- and found no answer. "But, after all," he asked himself before turning into the boudoir," what has occurred? Nothing. She was talking a long while with him. But what of that? Surely women in society can talk to whom they please. And then, jealousy means debasing both her and myself," he soliloquized as he entered her boudoir; but this dictum, which had always had such weight with him before, had now no weight and no meaning whatsoever. And from the bedroom door he turned back again; but as he entered the dark drawing room some inner voice told him that it was not so, and that if others had noticed, it meant that there was something. And he said to himself again in the dining room: "Yes, I must decide and put a stop to it, and express my views...." And again at the turn in the drawing room he asked himself: "Decide how?" And again he asked inwardly: "What has occurred?" And answered: "Nothing," and recollected that jealousy was a feeling insulting to his wife; but again in the drawing room he was convinced that something had happened. His thoughts, like his body, were describing a complete circle, without alighting upon anything new. He noticed this, rubbed his forehead, and sat down in her boudoir.
There, looking at her table, with the malachite blotting case lying at the top, and an unfinished letter, his thoughts suddenly changed. He began to think of her, of what her thoughts and emotions must be. For the first time he pictured vividly to himself her personal life, her ideas, her desires, and the thought that she could and must have a separate life of her own seemed to him so appalling that he made haste to drive it away. It was the chasm which he was afraid to peep into. To put himself in thought and feeling in another person's place was a spiritual action foreign to Alexei Alexandrovich. He looked on this spiritual action as a harmful and dangerous abuse of the fancy.
"And the worst of it all," thought he, "is that just now, at the very moment when my great work is approaching completion" (he was thinking of the project he was bringing forward at the time), "when I stand in need of all my mental peace and all my energies- just now this stupid worry has to come falling about my ears. But what's to be done? I'm not one of those men who submit to uneasiness and worry without having the force of character to face them."
"I must think this over, come to a decision, and put it out of my mind," he said aloud.
"The question of her feelings, of what has passed and may be passing in her soul- that's not my affair; that's the affair of her conscience, and falls under the head of religion," he said to himself, feeling consolation in the sense that he had found to which division of regulating principles this new circumstance could be properly referred.
"And so," Alexei Alexandrovich said to himself, "questions as to her feelings, and so on, are questions for her conscience, with which I can have nothing to do. My duty is clearly defined. As the head of the family, I am a person bound in duty to guide her, and, consequently, in part the person responsible; I am bound to point out the danger I perceive, to warn her, even to use my authority. I ought to speak plainly to her."
And everything that he would say tonight to his wife took clear shape in Alexei Alexandrovich's head. Thinking over what he would say, he somewhat regretted that he should have to use his time and mental powers for domestic consumption, with so little to show for it, but, in spite of that, the form and consistency of the speech before him shaped itself as clearly and distinctly in his head as a ministerial report. "I must speak on, and express fully, the following points: first, an explanation of the value to be attached to public opinion and to decorum; secondly, an explanation of the religious significance of marriage; thirdly, if need be, a reference to the calamity possibly ensuing to our son; fourthly, a reference to the unhappiness likely to result to herself." And, interlacing his fingers, the palms downward, Alexei Alexandrovich stretched his hands, and the joints of the fingers cracked.
This gesture, this bad habit- the joining of his hands cracking his fingers, always soothed him, and gave precision to his thoughts, so needful to him now. There was the sound of a carriage driving up to the front door. Alexei Alexandrovich halted in the middle of the room.
A woman's step was heard mounting the stairs. Alexei Alexandrovich, ready for his speech, stood squeezing his crossed fingers, waiting for their crack to come again. One joint cracked.
Already, from the sound of light steps on the stairs, he was aware that she was close, and though he was satisfied with his speech, he felt frightened because of the explanation confronting him.