Unconsciously going over in his memory the conversations that had taken place during and after dinner, Alexei Alexandrovich returned to his solitary room. Darya Alexandrovna's words about forgiveness had aroused in him nothing but annoyance. The applicability or nonapplicability of the Christian precept to his own case was too difficult a question to be discussed lightly, and this question had long ago been answered by Alexei Alexandrovich in the negative. Of all that had been said, what stuck most in his memory was the phrase of stupid, good-natured Turovtsin: "Acted like a man, he did! Called him out and shot him!" Everyone had apparently shared this feeling, though from politeness they had not expressed it.
"But the matter is settled; it's useless thinking about it," Alexei Alexandrovich told himself. And thinking of nothing but the journey before him, and the revision work he had to do, he went into his room and asked the porter who escorted him where his man was; the porter said that the man had just gone out. Alexei Alexandrovich ordered tea to be sent him, sat down to the table, and, taking the schedule, began considering the route of his journey.
"Two telegrams," said his valet, coming into the room. "I beg your pardon, Your Excellency; I'd just stepped out this very minute."
Alexei Alexandrovich took the telegrams and opened them. The first telegram was the announcement of Stremov's appointment to the very post Karenin had coveted. Alexei Alexandrovich flung the telegram down, and, flushing, got up and began to pace up and down the room. "Quos vult perdere dementat," he said, meaning by quos the persons responsible for this appointment. He was not so much annoyed at not receiving the post, as at having been so conspicuously passed over; but it was incomprehensible, amazing to him that they did not see that the wordy phrasemonger Stremov was the last man fit for it. How could they fail to see they were ruining themselves, lowering their prestige by this appointment?
"Something else in the same line," he said to himself bitterly, opening the second telegram. The telegram was from his wife. Her name, written in blue pencil, "Anna," was the first thing that caught his eye. "I am dying; I beg, I implore you to come. I shall die easier with your forgiveness," he read. He smiled contemptuously, and flung down the telegram. That this was a trick and a fraud, of that- he thought for the first minute- there could be no doubt.
"There is no deceit she would stick at. She was near her confinement. Perhaps it is the confinement. But what can be their aim? To legitimize the child, to compromise me, and prevent a divorce," he thought. "But something was said in it: I am dying..." He read the telegram again, and suddenly the plain meaning of what was said in it struck him. "And if it is true?" he said to himself. "If it is true that in the moment of agony and nearness to death she is genuinely penitent, and I, taking it for a trick, refuse to go? That would not only be cruel, and everyone would blame me, but it would be stupid on my part."
"Piotr, call a coach; I am going to Peterburg," he said to his servant.
Alexei Alexandrovich decided that he would go to Peterburg and see his wife. If her illness was a trick, he would say nothing and go away again. If she were really in danger, and wished to see him before her death, he would forgive her if he found her alive, and pay her the last duties if he came too late.
All the way he thought no more of what he ought to do.
With a sense of weariness and uncleanness from the night spent in the train, in the early fog of Peterburg, Alexei Alexandrovich drove through the deserted Nevsky Prospect, and stared straight before him, without thinking of what was awaiting him. He could not think about it, because in picturing what would happen, he could not drive away the reflection that her death would at once remove all the difficulty of his position. Bakers, closed shops, night cabmen, street sweepers sweeping the pavements flashed past his eyes, and he watched it all, trying to smother the thought of what was awaiting him, and what he dared not hope for, and yet was hoping for. He drove up to the steps. A hackney sleigh, and a coach with its coachman asleep, stood at the entrance. As he went into the entry, Alexei Alexandrovich seemed to get out his resolution from the remotest corner of his brain, and mastered it thoroughly. Its meaning ran: "If it's a trick, then calm contempt and departure. If truth, do what is seemly."
The porter opened the door before Alexei Alexandrovich rang. The porter, Kapitonich, looked queer in an old coat, without a tie, and in slippers.
"How is your mistress?"
"She was confined yesterday, successfully."
Alexei Alexandrovich stopped short and turned white. He felt distinctly now how intensely he had longed for her death.
"And how is she?"
Kornei in his morning apron ran downstairs.
"Very ill," he answered. "There was a consultation yesterday, and the doctor's here now."
"Take my things," said Alexei Alexandrovich, and, feeling some relief at the news that there was still hope of her death, he went into the hall.
On the hatstand there was a military overcoat. Alexei Alexandrovich noticed it and asked:
"Who is here?"
"The doctor, the midwife, and Count Vronsky."
Alexei Alexandrovich went into the inner rooms.
In the drawing room there was no one; at the sound of his steps the midwife came out of Anna's boudoir, in a cap with lilac ribbons.
She went up to Alexei Alexandrovich, and with the familiarity given by the approach of death took him by the arm and drew him toward the bedroom.
"Thank God you've come! She keeps on talking about you, and nothing but you," she said.
"Make haste with the ice!" the doctor's peremptory voice came from the bedroom.
Alexei Alexandrovich went into the boudoir. At her table, sitting sideways in a low chair, was Vronsky, his face hidden in his hands, weeping. He jumped up at the doctor's voice, took his hands from his face, and saw Alexei Alexandrovich. Seeing the husband, he was so overwhelmed that he sat down again, drawing his head into his shoulders, as if he wanted to disappear; but he made an effort over himself, got up and said:
"She is dying. The doctors say there is no hope. I am entirely in your power, only let me be here... though I am at your disposal. I..."
Alexei Alexandrovich, seeing Vronsky's tears, felt a rush of that nervous emotion always produced in him by the sight of other people's sufferings, and, turning away his face, he moved hurriedly to the door, without hearing the rest of the words. From the bedroom came the sound of Anna's voice saying something. Her voice was lively, animated, with exceedingly distinct intonations. Alexei Alexandrovich went into the bedroom, and walked up to the bed. She was lying with her face turned toward him. Her cheeks were flushed crimson, her eyes glittered, her little white hands thrust out from the cuffs of her dressing gown were playing with the quilt, twisting it about. It seemed as though she were not only well and blooming, but in the happiest frame of mind. She was talking rapidly, musically, and with exceptionally correct articulation and expressive intonation.
"Because Alexei- I am speaking of Alexei Alexandrovich (what a strange and awful thing that both are Alexeis, isn't it?)- Alexei would not refuse me. I should forget, he would forgive... But why doesn't he come? He's so good, he doesn't know himself how good he is. Ah, my God, what pangs! Give me some water, quick! Oh, that will be bad for her- my little girl! Oh, very well then, give her to a nurse. Yes, I agree, it's better in fact. He'll be coming; it will hurt him to see her. Give her to the nurse."
"Anna Arkadyevna, he has come. Here he is!" said the midwife, trying to attract her attention to Alexei Alexandrovich.
"Oh, what nonsense!" Anna went on, not seeing her husband. "No, give her to me; give me my little one! He has not come yet. You say he won't forgive me, because you don't know him. No one knows him. I'm the only one, and it was hard for me even. I ought to know his eyes- Seriozha has just such eyes- and I can't bear to see them because of it. Has Seriozha had his dinner? I know everyone will forget to do it. He would not forget. Seriozha must be moved into the corner room, and Mariette must be asked to sleep with him."
All of a sudden she shrank back, and was silent; and in terror, as though expecting a blow, as though to defend herself, she raised her hands to her face. She had seen her husband.
"No, no!" she began. "I am not afraid of him; I am afraid of death. Alexei, come here. I am in a hurry, because I've no time, I haven't long left to live; the fever will begin directly and I shall understand nothing more. Now I understand, I understand it all- I see it all!"
Alexei Alexandrovich's wrinkled face wore an expression of suffering; he took her by the hand and tried to say something, but he could not utter it; his lower lip quivered, but he still went on struggling with his emotion, and only now and then glanced at her. And each time he glanced at her, he saw her eyes gazing at him with such passionate and exultant tenderness as he had never yet seen in them.
"Wait a minute, you don't know... Stay a little, stay!..." She stopped, as though collecting her ideas. "Yes," she began, "yes, yes, yes! This is what I wanted to say. Don't be surprised at me. I'm still the same... But there is another woman in me- I'm afraid of her: she loved that man, and I tried to hate you, and could not forget about her that used to be. That woman isn't myself. Now I'm my real self. I'm dying now, I know I shall die- ask him. Even now I feel- see here, the weights on my feet, on my hands, on my fingers. My fingers- see how huge they are! But this will soon be all over... Only one thing I want: forgive me, forgive me quite. I'm terrible, but my nurse would tell me- the holy martyr- what was her name? She was worse. And I'll go to Rome; there's a wilderness, and there I shall be no trouble to anyone, only I'll take Seriozha and the little one.... No, you can't forgive me! I know, it can't be forgiven! No, no, go away, you're too good!" She held his hand in one burning hand, while she pushed him away with the other.
The nervous agitation of Alexei Alexandrovich kept increasing, and had by now reached such a point that he ceased to struggle with it. He suddenly felt that what he had regarded as nervous agitation was on the contrary a blissful spiritual condition that gave him all at once a new happiness he had never known. He did not think that the Christian law, which he had been all his life trying to follow, enjoined on him to forgive and love his enemies; but a joyous feeling of love and forgiveness for his enemies filled his heart. He knelt down, and laying his head in the curve of her arm, which burned him as with fire through the sleeve, he sobbed like a little child. She put her arm around his head, which was beginning to grow bald, moved toward him, and with defiant pride lifted up her eyes.
"That is he. I knew him! Now, good-by, everyone, good-by!... They've come again; why don't they go away?... Oh, take these fur coats off me!"
The doctor unloosed her hands, carefully laying her on the pillow, and covered her up to the shoulders. She lay back submissively, and looked before her with beaming eyes.
"Remember one thing, that I needed nothing but forgiveness, and I want nothing more.... Why doesn't he come?" she said, turning to the door, toward Vronsky. "Do come, do come! Give him your hand."
Vronsky came to the side of the bed, and seeing Anna, again hid his face in his hands.
"Uncover your face- look at him! He's a saint," she said. "Oh! uncover your face, do uncover it!" she said angrily. "Alexei Alexandrovich, do uncover his face! I want to see him."
Alexei Alexandrovich took Vronsky's hands and drew them away from his face, which was awful with the expression of agony and shame upon it.
"Give him your hand. Forgive him."
Alexei Alexandrovich gave him his hand, not attempting to restrain the tears that streamed from his eyes.
"Thank God, thank God!" she said, "now everything is ready. Only to stretch my legs a little. There, that's capital. How badly these flowers are done- not a bit like a violet," she said, pointing to the hangings. "My God, my God! when will it end? Give me some morphine. Doctor, give me some morphine! Oh, my God, my God!"
And she tossed about on the bed.
The doctors said that it was puerperal fever, and that ninety-nine chances in a hundred it would end in death. The whole day long there was fever, delirium, and unconsciousness. At midnight the patient lay without consciousness, and almost without pulse.
The end was expected every minute.
Vronsky had gone home, but in the morning he came to inquire, and Alexei Alexandrovich, meeting him in the hall, said: "Better stay, she might ask for you," and himself led him to his wife's boudoir. Toward morning there was a return again of excitement, rapid thought and talk, and again it ended in unconsciousness. On the third day it was the same thing, and the doctors said there was hope. That day Alexei Alexandrovich went into the boudoir where Vronsky was sitting, and, closing the door, sat down opposite him.
"Alexei Alexandrovich," said Vronsky, feeling that a statement of the situation was coming, "I can't speak, I can't understand. Spare me! However hard it is for you, believe me, it is more terrible for me."
He would have risen; but Alexei Alexandrovich took him by the hand and said:
"I beg you to hear me out; it is necessary. I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me, and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won't conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her. When I got the telegram, I came here with the same feelings; I will say more- I longed for her death. But..." He paused, pondering whether to disclose or not to disclose his feelings. "But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek, I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!"
Tears stood in his eyes, and the luminous, serene look in them impressed Vronsky.
"This is my position: you can trample me in the mud, make me the laughingstock of the world- I will not abandon her, and I will never utter a word of reproach to you," Alexei Alexandrovich went on. "My duty is clearly marked for me; I ought to be with her, and I will be. If she wishes to see you, I will let you know, but now I suppose it would be better for you to go away."
He got up, and sobs cut short his words. Vronsky too was getting up, and in a stooping, not yet erect posture, looked up at him from under his brows. He did not understand Alexei Alexandrovich's feeling, but he felt that it was something higher, and even unattainable for him with his view of life.