Alexei Alexandrovich came back from the Ministry at four o'clock, but as often happened, had no chance to drop in at her room. He went into his study to see the people waiting for him with petitions, and to sign certain papers brought him by his head clerk. At dinnertime (there were always at least three people dining with the Karenins) there arrived an old lady, a cousin of Alexei Alexandrovich; the director of the Department and his wife; and a young man who had been recommended to Alexei Alexandrovich for a post. Anna went into the drawing room to entertain these guests. Precisely at five o'clock, before the bronze Peter the First clock had finished the fifth stroke, Alexei Alexandrovich made his entry, in white tie and evening coat with two stars, as he had to go out directly after dinner. Every minute of Alexei Alexandrovich's life was taken up and apportioned. And in order to accomplish all that each day held for him, he adhered to the strictest orderliness. "Nor haste nor rest," was his device. He entered the dining hall, bowed to all, and hurriedly sat down, smiling to his wife:
"Yes, my solitude is over. You wouldn't believe how uncomfortable [he laid stress on the word uncomfortable] it is to dine alone."
At dinner he chatted with his wife about things at Moscow, and asked, with his mocking smile, about Stepan Arkadyevich; but the conversation was for the most part general, dealing with the official and public news of Peterburg. After dinner he spent half an hour with his guests, and, again with a smile, pressed his wife's hand, withdrew, and drove off to the Council. Anna went that evening neither to the Princess Betsy Tverskaia, who, hearing of her return, had invited her, nor to the theater, where she had a box for that evening. Her principal reason for not going out was because the dress she had expected to wear was not ready. All in all, Anna was exceedingly annoyed when she started to dress for the evening after the departure of her guests. Before her departure for Moscow she, who was generally a mistress of the art of dressing well yet inexpensively, had given her dressmaker three dresses to make over. The dresses were to be made over so that their old selves would be unrecognizable, and they should have been ready three days ago. It turned out that two dresses were nowhere near ready, while the other one had not been made over to Anna's liking. The dressmaker came to explain, asserting that her way was best, and Anna had become so heated that she blushed at the recollection. To regain her composure fully she went into the nursery and spent the whole evening with her son, putting him to bed herself, making the sign of the cross over him, and tucking him in. She was glad she had not gone out anywhere, and had spent the evening so well. She felt so lighthearted and calm, she saw so clearly that all that had seemed to her so significant on her railway journey was merely one of the ordinary trivial incidents of fashionable life, and that she had no cause to feel ashamed before anyone else or before herself. Anna sat down near the fireplace with an English novel and waited for her husband. Exactly at half-past nine she heard his ring, and he entered the room.
"Here you are at last!" she observed, extending her hand to him.
He kissed her hand and sat down beside her.
"All in all, I can see your trip was a success," he said to her.
"Yes, very much so," said she, and she began telling him everything from the beginning: her journey with Countess Vronskaia, her arrival, the accident at the station. Then she described the pity she had felt, first for her brother, and, afterward, for Dolly.
"I do not suppose there is any excuse for such a man, even though he is your brother," said Alexei Alexandrovich sternly.
Anna smiled. She knew that he said this precisely to show that family considerations could not prevent him from expressing his sincere opinion. She knew this trait in her husband and liked it.
"I am glad everything has ended so well, and that you have returned," he went on. "Well, and what do they say there about the new bill I have got passed in the Council?"
Anna had heard nothing of this bill, and she felt conscience-stricken that she could so readily forget what was to him of such importance.
"Here, on the other hand, this has created a great deal of talk," said he, with a self-satisfied smile.
She saw that Alexei Alexandrovich wanted to tell her something that pleased him about it, and she brought him by questions to telling it. With the same self-satisfied smile he told her of the ovations he had received as a consequence of the bill he had passed.
"I was very, very happy. It shows that at last an intelligent and firm view of the matter is forming among us."
After his second cup of tea, with cream and bread, Alexei Alexandrovich got up, and went toward his study.
"And you went nowhere this evening? Weren't You really bored?" he said.
"Oh, no!" she answered, getting up after him and accompanying him across the room to his study. "What are you reading now?" she asked.
"Just now I'm reading Duc de Lille- Poisie des enfers," he answered. "A most remarkable book."
Anna smiled, as people smile at the weaknesses of those they love, and, putting her hand in his, she kept him company to the door of his study. She knew his habit, now become a necessity, of reading in the evening. She knew, too, that in spite of his official duties, which engrossed almost all his time, he deemed it his duty to keep up with everything of note that appeared in the intellectual sphere. She knew, too, that his actual interest lay in books dealing with politics, philosophy and theology, that art was utterly foreign to his nature; but, in spite of this- or rather, in consequence of it- Alexei Alexandrovich never missed anything which created a sensation in the world of art, but made it his duty to read everything. She knew that in politics, in philosophy, in theology, Alexei Alexandrovich was a doubter and a seeker; yet in matters of art and poetry- and, above all, of music, of which he was totally devoid of understanding- he had the most definite and decided opinions. He was fond of discoursing on Shakespeare, Raphael, Beethoven, on the significance of new schools of poetry and music, all of which were classified by him with most obvious consistency.
"Well, God be with you," she said at the door of the study, where a shaded candle and a decanter of water were already placed near his armchair. "As for me, I'm going to write to Moscow."
He squeezed her hand, and again kissed it.
"Still, he's a good man; truthful, kindhearted, and remarkable in his own sphere," Anna said to herself, back in her room, as though defending him before someone who accused him, saying that one could not love him. "But why is it his ears stick out so queerly? Or has he had his hair cut?..."
Exactly at twelve, as Anna was still sitting at her desk finishing a letter to Dolly, she heard the sound of measured, slippered steps, and Alexei Alexandrovich, washed and combed, a book under his arm, approached her.
"Come, come," said he, with a particular smile, and passed on into their bedroom.
"And what right had he to look at him like that?" reflected Anna, recalling how Vronsky had looked at Alexei Alexandrovich.
Having disrobed, she went into the bedroom; but her face had none of the animation which, during her stay at Moscow, had fairly spurted from her eyes and her smile; on the contrary, now the fire seemed extinct in her, or hidden somewhere far away.