she had been when he first saw her. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worse. She had broadened out all over, and in her face at the time when she was speaking of the actress there was an evil expression of hatred that distorted it. He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now when, as at this moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that his bond with her could not be broken.

`Well, well, what was it you were going to say about the Prince? I have driven away the fiend, I have,' she added. The fiend was the name they had given her jealousy. `What did you begin to tell me about the Prince? Why did you find it so tiresome?'

`Oh, it was intolerable!' he said, trying to pick up the thread of his interrupted thought. `He does not improve on closer acquaintance. If you want him defined, here he is: a prime, well-fed animal, such as takes medals at the cattle shows, and nothing more,' he said, with a tone of vexation that interested her.

`No; how so?' she replied. `He's seen a great deal, anyway; he's cultured?'

`It's an utterly different culture - their culture. He's cultivated, one sees, simply to be able to despise culture, as they despise everything but animal pleasures.'

`But don't you all care for these animal pleasures?' she said, and again he noticed a dark look in her eyes that avoided him.

`How is it you're defending him?' he said, smiling.

`I'm not defending him, it's nothing to me; but I imagine, if you had not cared for those pleasures yourself, you might have got out of them. But it affords you satisfaction to gaze at Thérèse in the attire of Eve...'

`Again - again the devil,' Vronsky said, taking the hand she had laid on the table and kissing it.

`Yes; but I can't help it. You don't know what I have suffered waiting for you. I believe I'm not jealous. I'm not jealous: I believe you when you're here, near me; but when you're away somewhere leading your life alone, so incomprehensible to me...'

She turned away from him, pulled the hook at last out of the crochet work, and rapidly with the help of her forefinger, began working loop after loop of the wool that was dazzlingly white in the lamplight, while the slender wrist moved swiftly, nervously in its embroidered cuff.

`How was it, then? Where did you meet Alexei Alexandrovich?' Her voice sounded in an unnatural and jarring tone.

`We ran against each other in the doorway.'

`And he bowed to you like this?'

She drew a long face, and half-closing her eyes, quickly transformed her expression, folded her hands, and Vronsky suddenly saw in her beautiful face the very expression with which Alexei Alexandrovich had bowed to him. He smiled, while she laughed gaily, with that sweet, deep laugh, which was one of her greatest charms.

`I don't understand him in the least,' said Vronsky. `If after your avowal to him at your summer villa he had broken with you, if he had challenged me... But this I can't understand. How can he put up with such a position? He feels it, that's evident.'

`He?' she said sneeringly. `He's perfectly satisfied.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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