Chapter 27

Anna was upstairs, standing before the looking glass, and, with Annushka's assistance, pinning the last ribbon on her gown when she heard carriage wheels crunching the gravel at the entrance.

`It's too early for Betsy,' she thought, and, glancing out of the window, she caught sight of the carriage and, protruded from it, the black hat of Alexei Alexandrovich, and the ears that she knew so well. `How unlucky! Can he be going to stay the night?' she wondered, and the thought of all that might come of such a chance struck her as so awful and terrible that, without dwelling on it for a moment, she went down to meet him with a bright and radiant face; and conscious of the presence of that spirit of falsehood and deceit in herself that she had come to know of late, she abandoned herself to that spirit and began talking, hardly knowing what she was saying.

`Ah, how lovely of you!' she said, giving her husband her hand, and with a smile greeting Sludin, who was like one of the family. `You're staying the night, I hope?' was the first word the spirit of falsehood prompted her to utter. `And now we'll go together. Only it's a pity I've promised Betsy. She's coming for me.'

Alexei Alexandrovich knit his brows at Betsy's name.

`Oh, I'm not going to separate the inseparables,' he said in his usual bantering tone. `I'm going with Mikhail Vassilyevich. Even the doctors order me to walk. I'll walk, and fancy myself at the springs again.'

`There's no hurry,' said Anna. `Would you like tea?'

She rang.

`Bring in tea, and tell Seriozha that Alexei Alexandrovich is here. Well, tell me, how have you been? Mikhail Vassilyevich, you've not been to see me before. Look how lovely it is out on the terrace,' she said, turning first to one and then to the other.

She spoke very simply and naturally, but too much and too fast. She was the more aware of this from noticing in the inquisitive look which Mikhail Vassilyevich turned on her that he was, as it were, keeping watch on her.

Mikhail Vassilyevich promptly went out on the terrace.

She sat down beside her husband.

`You don't look quite well,' she said.

`Yes,' he said; `the doctor's been with me today and wasted an hour of my time. I feel that some one of our friends must have sent him: my health's so precious....'

`Come: what did he say?'

She questioned him about his health, and what he had been doing, and tried to persuade him to take a rest and come out to her.

All this she said brightly, rapidly, and with a peculiar brilliance in her eyes. But Alexei Alexandrovich did not now attach any special significance to this tone of hers. He heard only her words and gave them only the direct sense they bore. And he answered simply, though jestingly. There was nothing remarkable in all this conversation, but never after could Anna recall this brief scene without an agonizing pang of shame.

Seriozha came in, preceded by his governess. If Alexei Alexandrovich had allowed himself to observe he would have noticed the timid and bewildered eyes with which Seriozha glanced first at his father and then at his mother. But he would not see anything, and he did not see it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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