`You are ill and overwrought,' he said; `believe me, you're exaggerating dreadfully. There's nothing so terrible in it.'

And Stepan Arkadyevich smiled. No one else in Stepan Arkadyevich's place, having to do with such despair, would have ventured to smile (the smile would have seemed brutal); but in his smile there was so much of sweetness and almost feminine tenderness that his smile did not wound, but softened and soothed. His gentle, soothing words and smiles were as soothing and softening as almond oil. And Anna soon felt this.

`No, Stiva,' she said, `I'm lost, lost! Worse than lost! I can't say yet that all is over; on the contrary, I feel that it's not over. I'm an overstrained cord that must snap. But it's not ended yet... And it will have a fearful end.'

`No matter, we must let the cord be loosened, little by little. There's no position from which there is no way of escape.'

`I have thought, and thought. Only one...'

Again he knew from her terrified eyes that this one way of escape in her thought was death, and he would not let her say it.

`Not at all,' he said. `Listen to me. You can't see your own position as I can. Let me tell you candidly my opinion.' Again he smiled discreetly his almond-oil smile. `I'll begin from the beginning. You married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married him without love and not knowing what love was. It was a mistake, let's admit.'

`A fearful mistake!' said Anna.

`But, I repeat, it's an accomplished fact. Then you had, let us say, the misfortune to love a man not your husband. That was a misfortune; but that, too, is an accomplished fact. And your husband knew it and forgave it.' He stopped at each sentence, waiting for her to object, but she made no answer. `That's that. Now the question is: Can you go on living with your husband? Do you wish it? Does he wish it?'

`I know nothing, nothing.'

`But you said yourself that you can't endure him.'

`No, I didn't say so. I deny it. I don't know anything, I don't understand anything.'

`Yes, but let...'

`You can't understand. I feel I'm lying head downward in a sort of pit, but I ought not to save myself. And I can't...'

`Never mind, we'll slip something under you and pull you out. I understand you: I understand that you can't take it on yourself to express your wishes, your feelings.'

`There's nothing, nothing I wish... except for it to be all over.'

`But he sees this and knows it. And do you suppose it weighs on him any less than on you? You're wretched, he's wretched, and what good can come of it? While divorce would solve the whole difficulty.' With some effort Stepan Arkadyevich brought out his central idea, and looked significantly at her.

She said nothing, and shook her cropped head in dissent. But from the look in her face, that suddenly brightened into its former beauty, he saw that if she did not desire this, it was simply because it seemed to her an unattainable happiness.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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