Chapter 23

Vronsky had several times already, though not so resolutely as now, tried to bring her to consider her position, and every time he had been confronted by the same superficiality and frivolity with which she met his appeal now. It was as though there were something in this which she could not or would not face, as though directly she began to speak of this, she, the real Anna, retreated somehow into herself, and another strange and unaccountable woman came out, whom he did not love and whom he feared, and who was in opposition to him. But today he was resolved to have it out.

`Whether he knows or not,' said Vronsky, in his usual calm and firm tone, `whether he knows or not, has nothing to do with us. We cannot... You cannot stay like this, especially now.'

`What's to be done, according to you?' she asked with the same frivolous irony. She who had so feared he would take her condition too frivolously, was now vexed with him for deducing from it the necessity of taking some step.

`Tell him everything, and leave him.'

`Very well, let us suppose I do that,' she said. `Do you know what the result of that would be? I can tell you it all beforehand,' and a wicked light gleamed in her eyes, that had been so tender a minute before. ```Eh, you love another man, and have entered into a criminal liaison with him?'' (Mimicking her husband, she threw an emphasis on the word `criminal,' as Alexei Alexandrovich did.) ```I warned you of the results in the religious, the civil, and the domestic aspects. You have not listened to me. Now I cannot let you disgrace my name'' - `and my son,' she had meant to say, but about her son she could not jest - ``disgrace my name, and'' - and more in the same style,' she added. `In general terms, he'll say in his official manner, and with all distinctness and precision, that he cannot let me go, but will take all measures in his power to prevent scandal. And he will calmly and punctiliously act in accordance with his words. That's what will happen. He's not a man, but a machine - and a spiteful machine when he's angry,' she added, recalling Alexei Alexandrovich as she spoke, with all the peculiarities of his figure and manner of speaking, and reckoning against him every defect she could find in him, forgiving him nothing for the great wrong she herself was doing him.

`But, Anna,' said Vronsky, in a soft and persuasive voice, trying to soothe her, `we absolutely must tell him, at any rate, and then be guided by the line he takes.'

`What - run away?'

`And why not run away? I don't see how we can keep on like this. And not for my sake - I see that you suffer.'

`Yes, run away, and become your mistress,' she said angrily.

`Anna,' he said, with reproachful tenderness.

`Yes,' she went on, `become your mistress, and complete the ruin of...'

Again she would have said `my son,' but she could not utter that word.

Vronsky could not understand how she, with her strong and truthful nature, could endure this state of deceit, and not long to get out of it. But he did not suspect that the chief cause of it was the word son, which she could not utter. When she thought of her son, and his future attitude to his mother, who had abandoned his father, she felt such terror at what she had done that she no longer reasoned, but, being a woman, could only try to comfort herself with lying assurances and words so that everything should remain as it always had been, and that it was possible to forget the fearful question of how it would be with her son.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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