After a capital dinner and a great deal of cognac drunk at Bartniansky's, Stepan Arkadyevich, only a little later than the appointed time, went in to Countess Lidia Ivanovna's.
"Who else is with the countess? A Frenchman?" Stepan Arkadyevich asked the hall porter, as he glanced at the familiar overcoat of Alexei Alexandrovich and a queer, rather naive-looking overcoat with clasps.
"Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin and Count Bezzubov," the porter answered austerely.
"Princess Miaghkaia guessed right," thought Stepan Arkadyevich, as he went upstairs. "Curious! It would be quite as well, though, to get on friendly terms with her. She has immense influence. If she would say a word to Pomorsky, the thing would be a certainty."
It was still quite light out-of-doors, but in Countess Lidia Ivanovna's little drawing room the blinds were drawn and the lamps lighted.
At a round table under a lamp sat the Countess and Alexei Alexandrovich, talking softly. A short, thinnish man, very pale and handsome, with feminine hips and knock-kneed legs, with fine brilliant eyes and long hair lying on the collar of his coat, was standing at the other end of the room gazing at the portraits on the wall. After greeting the lady of the house and Alexei Alexandrovich, Stepan Arkadyevich could not resist glancing once more at the unknown man.
"Monsieur Landau!" the Countess addressed him with a suavity and circumspection that impressed Oblonsky. And she introduced them.
Landau looked round hurriedly, came up, and, smiling, laid his moist, lifeless hand in Stepan Arkadyevich's outstretched hand and immediately walked away, and fell to gazing at the portraits again. The Countess and Alexei Alexandrovich looked at each other significantly.
"I am very glad to see you, particularly today," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, pointing out to Stepan Arkadyevich a seat beside Karenin.
"I introduced you to him as Landau," she said in a soft voice, glancing at the Frenchman and again immediately after at Alexei Alexandrovich, "but he is really Count Bezzubov, as you're probably aware. Only he does not like the title."
"Yes, I heard so," answered Stepan Arkadyevich; "they say he completely cured Countess Bezzubova."
"She was here today, poor thing!" the Countess said, turning to Alexei Alexandrovich. "This separation is awful for her. It's such a blow to her!"
"And he positively is going?" queried Alexei Alexandrovich.
"Yes, he's going to Paris. He heard a voice yesterday," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, looking at Stepan Arkadyevich.
"Ah, a voice!" repeated Oblonsky, feeling that he must be as circumspect as he possibly could in this society, where something peculiar was happening, or was about to happen, to which he had not the key.
A moment's silence followed, after which Countess Lidia Ivanovna, as though approaching the main topic of conversation, said with a fine smile to Oblonsky:
"I've known you for a long while, and am very glad to make a closer acquaintance with you. Les amis de nos amis sont nos amis. But to be a true friend, one must enter into the spiritual state of one's friend, and I fear that you are not doing so in the case of Alexei Alexandrovich. You understand what I mean?" she said, lifting her fine pensive eyes.
"In part, Countess, I understand the position of Alexei Alexandrovich..." said Oblonsky. Having no clear idea what they were talking about, he wanted to confine himself to generalities.
"The change is not in his external position," Countess Lidia Ivanovna said sternly, following with eyes of love the figure of Alexei Alexandrovich as he got up and crossed over to Landau; "his heart is changed, a new heart has been vouchsafed him, and I fear you don't fully apprehend the change that has taken place in him."
"Oh, well, in general outlines I can conceive the change. We have always been friendly, and now..." said Stepan Arkadyevich, responding with a sympathetic glance to the expression of the Countess, and mentally balancing the question with which of the two ministers she was more intimate, so as to know which to have her speak to.
"The change that has taken place in him cannot lessen his love for his neighbors; on the contrary, that change can only intensify love in his heart. But I am afraid you do not understand me. Won't you have some tea?" she said, with her eyes indicating the footman, who was handing round tea on a tray.
"Not quite, Countess. Of course, his misfortune..."
"Yes, a misfortune which has proved the highest happiness, when his heart was made new, was filled to the full with it," she said, gazing with eyes full of love at Stepan Arkadyevich.
"I do believe I might ask her to speak to both of them," thought Stepan Arkadyevich.
"Oh, of course, Countess," he said; "but I imagine such changes are a matter so private that no one, even the most intimate friend, would care to speak of them."
"On the contrary! We ought to speak freely and help one another."
"Yes, undoubtedly so, but there is such a difference of convictions, and besides..." said Oblonsky with a soft smile.
"There can be no difference where it is a question of holy truth."
"Oh, no, of course; but..." and Stepan Arkadyevich paused in confusion. He understood at last that they were talking of religion.
"I fancy he will go into a trance immediately," said Alexei Alexandrovich in a whisper full of meaning, going up to Lidia Ivanovna.
Stepan Arkadyevich looked round. Landau was sitting at the window, leaning on his elbow and the back of his chair, his head drooping. Noticing that all eyes were turned on him, he raised his head and smiled a smile of childlike artlessness.
"Don't take any notice," said Lidia Ivanovna, and she lightly moved a chair up for Alexei Alexandrovich. "I have observed..." she was beginning, when a footman came into the room with a letter. Lidia Ivanovna rapidly ran her eyes over the note, and, excusing herself, wrote an answer with extraordinary rapidity, handed it to the man, and came back to the table. "I have observed," she went on, "that Moscow people, especially the men, are more than all others indifferent to religion."
"Oh, no, Countess, I thought Moscow people had the reputation of being the firmest in the faith," answered Stepan Arkadyevich.
"But as far as I can make out, you are unfortunately one of the indifferent ones," said Alexei Alexandrovich, turning to him with a weary smile.
"How anyone can be indifferent!" said Lidia Ivanovna.
"I am not so much indifferent on that subject as I am waiting in suspense," said Stepan Arkadyevich, with his most deprecating smile. "I hardly think that the time for such questions has come yet for me."
Alexei Alexandrovich and Lidia Ivanovna looked at each other.
"We can never tell whether the time has come for us or not," said Alexei Alexandrovich sternly. "We ought not to think whether we are ready or not ready. God's grace is not guided by human considerations: sometimes it comes not to those who strive for it, and comes to those who are unprepared, like Saul."
"No, I believe it won't be just yet," said Lidia Ivanovna, who had been meanwhile watching the movements of the Frenchman. Landau got up and came to them.
"Do you allow me to listen?" he asked.
"Oh, yes; I did not want to disturb you," said Lidia Ivanovna, gazing tenderly at him; "sit here with us."
"One has only not to close one's eyes to shut out the light," Alexei Alexandrovich went on.
"Ah, if you knew the happiness we know, feeling His presence ever in our hearts!" said Countess Lidia Ivanovna with a rapturous smile.
"But a man may feel himself inapt sometimes to rise to that height," said Stepan Arkadyevich, conscious of hypocrisy in admitting this religious height, but at the same time unable to bring himself to acknowledge his freethinking views before a person who, by a single word to Pomorsky, might procure him the coveted appointment.
"That is, you mean that sin keeps him back?" said Lidia Ivanovna. "But that is a false idea. There is no sin for believers, their sin has been atoned for. Pardon," she added, looking at the footman, who came in again with another letter. She read it and gave a verbal answer: "Tomorrow at the Grand Duchess's, say.- For the believer sin is not," she went on.
"Yes, but faith without works is dead," said Stepan Arkadyevich, recalling the phrase from the catechism, and only by his smile clinging to his independence.
"There you have it- from the epistle of St. James," said Alexei Alexandrovich, addressing Lidia Ivanovna, with a certain reproachfulness in his tone. It was unmistakably a subject they had discussed more than once before. "What harm has been done by the false interpretation of that passage! Nothing holds men back from belief like that misinterpretation. 'I have not works, so I cannot believe,' though all the while that's not what is said, but the very opposite."
"Striving for God, saving the soul by fasting," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, with disgusted contempt, "those are the crude ideas of our monks.... Yet that is nowhere said. It is far simpler and easier," she added, looking at Oblonsky with the same encouraging smile with which at Court she encouraged youthful maids of honor, disconcerted by the new surroundings of the Court.
"We are saved by Christ who suffered for us. We are saved by faith," Alexei Alexandrovich chimed in, with a glance of approval at her words.
"Vous comprenez l'anglais?" asked Lidia Ivanovna, and receiving a reply in the affirmative, she got up and began looking through a shelf of books.
"I want to read him Safe and Happy, or Under the Wing," she said, looking inquiringly at Karenin. And finding the book, and sitting down again in her place, she opened it. "It's very short. In it is described the way by which faith can be reached, and the happiness, above all earthly bliss, with which it fills the soul. The believer cannot be unhappy because he is not alone. But you will see." She was just settling herself to read when the footman came in again. "Madame Borozdina? Tell her tomorrow, at two o'clock. Yes," she said, marking the place in the book by inserting a finger, and gazing before her with her fine pensive eyes, "that is how true faith acts. You know Marie Sanina? You know about her trouble? She lost her only child. She was in despair. And what happened? She found this comforter, and she thanks God now for the death of her child. Such is the happiness faith brings!"
"Oh, yes, that is most..." said Stepan Arkadyevich, glad they were going to read, and let him have a chance to collect his faculties. "No, I see I'd better not ask her about anything today," he thought. "If only I can get out of this without putting my foot in it!"
"It will be dull for you," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, addressing Landau; "you don't know English- but it's short."
"Oh, I shall understand," said Landau, with the same smile, and he closed his eyes.
Alexei Alexandrovich and Lidia Ivanovna exchanged meaning glances, and the reading began.