Chapter 32

The first person to meet Anna at home was her son. He dashed down the stairs to her, in spite of the governes'ss call, and with frenzied rapture shrieked: `Mother! mother!' Running up to her, he hung on her neck.

`I told you it was mother!' he shouted to the governess. `I knew it!'

And her son, like her husband, aroused in Anna a feeling akin to disappointment. In her imagination he had been better than he was in reality. She had to descend to reality to enjoy him as he was. But, even so, he was charming, with his fair curls, his blue eyes and his chubby, graceful little legs in tightly pulled- up stockings. Anna experienced an almost physical delight in the sensation of his nearness, and his caresses; and a moral reassurance, when she met his ingenuous, trusting and loving glance, and heard his naive questions. Anna took out the presents Dolly's children had sent him, and told her son about Tania, a little girl in Moscow, and how Tania could read, and even taught the other children.

`Why, am I not as good as she?' asked Seriozha.

`To me you're better than anyone else in the whole world.'

`I know that,' said Seriozha, smiling.

Anna had scarcely drunk her coffee when the Countess Lidia Ivanovna was announced. The Countess Lidia Ivanovna was a tall, fleshy woman, with an unwholesomely yellow complexion and beautiful, pensive black eyes. Anna liked her, but today she seemed, for the first time, to see her with all her shortcomings.

`Well, my friend, were you the bearer of the olive branch?' asked Countess Lidia Ivanovna, the minute she entered the room.

`Yes, it's all over, but it was not at all as serious as we thought,' answered Anna. `My belle-soeur is, in general, much too categorical.'

But Countess Lidia Ivanovna, who was interested in everything that did not concern her, had a habit of never listening to what interested her; she interrupted Anna:

`Yes, there's plenty of sorrow and evil in the world - and I am so fatigued today!'

`Oh, why?' asked Anna, trying to repress a smile.

`I'm beginning to weary of vainly breaking lances for the truth, and at times I'm altogether unstrung. The affair with our Dear Sisters [this was a religiously patriotic, philanthropic institution] started off splendidly, but it's impossible to do anything with such people,' added Countess Lidia Ivanovna, with a mocking submissiveness to fate. `They pounced on the idea, and mangled it, and afterward they thrash it out so pettily and trivially. Two or three people, your husband among them, grasp all the significance of this affair but the others merely degrade it. Yesterday Pravdin wrote to me...'

Pravdin was a well-known Pan-Slavist abroad, and Countess Lidia Ivanovna told the gist of his letter.

Next the Countess spoke of other unpleasantnesses and intrigues against the work of the unification of the churches, and departed in haste, since that day she had to attend the meeting of another society, and also a Slavonic committee.

`All this is as it has always been; but how is it I didn't notice it before?' Anna asked herself. `Or has she been very much irritated today? It's really ludicrous: her object is to do good; she's a Christian; yet she's forever angry, and forever having enemies - and always enemies in the name of Christianity and doing good.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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