There is really only one circle of Peterburg upper society: everyone knows everyone else, even visits each other. But this great circle has subdivisions of its own. Anna Arkadyevna Karenina had friends and close ties in three different circles. One circle was her husband's set of civil servants and officials, consisting of his colleagues and subordinates, brought together in a most diversified and capricious manner, yet separated by social conditions. Anna could now recall only with difficulty the feeling of almost pious reverence which she had at first borne for these persons. Now she knew all of them, as people know one another in a provincial town; she knew their habits and weaknesses, and where the shoe pinched each one of them. She knew their attitudes toward one another and to the chief center; knew who backed whom, and how and wherewithal each one maintained his position, and who agreed or disagreed with whom; but this circle of political, masculine interests could not interest her, and, in spite of Countess Lidia Ivanovna's suggestions, she avoided it.
Another small circle, with which Anna was intimate, was the one by means of which Alexei Alexandrovich had made his career. The center of this circle was the Countess Lidia Ivanovna. This was a circle of elderly, homely, virtuous and pious women, and clever, learned and ambitious men. One of the clever people belonging to this small circle had called it "the conscience of Peterburg society." Alexei Alexandrovich appreciated this circle very much, and Anna, who knew so well how to get on with all, had in the early days of her life in Peterburg found friends even in this circle. But now, upon her return from Moscow, this set had become unbearable to her. It seemed to her that both she and all of them were dissimulating, and she experienced such boredom and lack of ease in their society that she tried to visit the Countess Lidia Ivanovna as infrequently as possible.
And, finally, the third circle with which Anna had ties was the really fashionable world- the world of balls, of dinners, of sumptuous dresses; the world that hung on to the court with one hand, in order not to sink to the level of the demimonde, which the members of the fashionable world believed they despised- yet the tastes of both were not only similar, but precisely the same. Her connection with this circle was maintained through Princess Betsy Tverskaia, her cousin's wife, who had an income of a hundred and twenty thousand roubles, and who had taken a great liking to Anna ever since she first came out, looking after her and drawing her into her own circle, poking fun at that of Countess Lidia Ivanovna.
"When I'm old and shall have lost my looks, I'll be the same," Betsy used to say; "but for a young and pretty woman like you it's much too early to join that Old Ladies' Home."
Anna had at first avoided, as much as she could, Princess Tverskaia's world, because it necessitated expenditures above her means- and, besides, at soul she preferred the first circle; but after her trip to Moscow, things fell out quite the other way. She avoided her moral friends, and went out into the fashionable world. There she would meet Vronsky, and experienced an agitating joy at such meetings. Especially often did she meet Vronsky at Betsy's, for Betsy was a Vronsky by birth, and his cousin. Vronsky went everywhere where he might meet Anna, and, at every chance he had, spoke to her of his love. She offered him no encouragement, yet every time she met him there was kindled in her soul that same feeling of animation which had come upon her that day in the railway carriage when she had seen him for the first time. She felt herself that her delight shone in her eyes and puckered her lips into a smile- and she could not quench the expression of this delight.
At first Anna had sincerely believed that she was displeased with him for daring to pursue her; but not long after her return from Moscow, on arriving at a soiree where she had anticipated meeting him, yet not finding him there, she realized clearly, from the feeling of sadness which overcame her, that she had been deceiving herself, and that this pursuit was not merely not distasteful to her, but that it constituted all the interest of her life.
It was the second performance of a celebrated cantatrice, and all the fashionable world was in the theater. Vronsky, seeing his cousin from his seat in the front row, did not wait till the entr'acte, but went to her box.
"Why didn't you come to dinner?" she said to him. "I marvel at this clairvoyance of lovers," she added with a smile, so that no one but he could hear, "she wasn't there. But do come after the opera."
Vronsky looked inquiringly at her. She nodded. He thanked her by a smile, and sat down beside her.
"But how I remember your jeers!" continued Princess Betsy, who took special delight in following up the progress of this passion. "What's become of all that? You're caught, my dear fellow."
"That's my one desire- to be caught," answered Vronsky, with his calm, good-natured smile. "If I complain at all, it's only that I'm not caught enough, if the truth were told. I begin to lose hope."
"Why, whatever hope can you expect?" said Betsy, offended on behalf of her friend. "Entendons nous...." But in her eyes flitted gleams of light, which proclaimed that she understood very well, even as much as he did, what hope he might entertain.
"None whatever," said Vronsky, laughing and showing his closely set teeth. "Excuse me," he added, taking the binoculars out of her hand, and proceeding to scrutinize, over her bare shoulder, the row of boxes opposite them. "I'm afraid I'm becoming ridiculous."
He was very well aware that he ran no risk of being ridiculous in the eyes of Betsy and all other fashionable people. He was very well aware that in the eyes of these people the role of the hapless lover of a girl, or in general, of any woman free to marry, might be ridiculous; but the role of a man pursuing a married woman, and, regardless of everything, staking his life on drawing her into adultery- that role has something beautiful and majestic about it, and can never be ridiculous, and so it was with a proud and gay smile under his mustaches that he lowered the binoculars and looked at his cousin.
"But why didn't you come to dinner?" she said, admiring him.
"I must tell you about that. I was busy- and with what, do you suppose? I'll give you a hundred guesses, a thousand... you'd never guess. I've been reconciling a husband with a man who'd insulted his wife. Yes, really!"
"Well, did you reconcile them?"
"You really must tell me about it," she said, getting up. "Come to me in the next entr'acte."
"I can't; I'm going to the French theater."
"Leaving Nilsson?" Betsy queried in horror, though she could not herself have distinguished Nilsson from any chorus girl.
"What can I do? I've an appointment there, all because of my mission of peace."
"'Blessed are the peacemakers;' 'they shall be saved'," said Betsy, recalling something of that sort she had heard from somebody or other. "Very well, then, sit down, and tell me what it's all about."
And she resumed her seat.