Chapter 23Vronsky's wound had been a dangerous one, though it did not touch the heart, and for several days he hovered between life and death. The first time he was able to speak, Varia, his brother's wife, was alone in the room.
`Varia,' he said, looking sternly at her, `I shot myself by accident. And please never speak of it, and tell everyone so. Or else it's too ridiculous.'
Without answering his words, Varia bent over him, and with a delighted smile gazed into his face. His eyes were clear, not feverish; but their expression was stern.
`Thank God!' she said. `You're not in pain?'
`A little here,' he pointed to his breast.
`Then let me change your bandages.'
In silence, stiffening his broad jaws, he looked at her while she bandaged him up. When she had finished he said:
`I'm not delirious. Please manage that there may be no talk of my having shot myself on purpose.'
`No one says so. Only I hope you won't shoot yourself by accident any more,' she said, with a questioning smile.
`I think I won't, but it would have been better...'
And he smiled gloomily.
In spite of these words and this smile, which so frightened Varia, when the inflammation was over and he began to recover, he felt that he was completely free from one part of his misery. By his action he had, as it were, washed away the shame and humiliation he had felt before. He could now think calmly of Alexei Alexandrovich. He recognized all his magnanimity, but he did not now feel himself humiliated by it. Besides, he got back again into the beaten track of his life. He saw the possibility of looking men in the face again without shame, and he could live in accordance with his own habits. One thing he could not pluck out of his heart, though he never ceased struggling with it - the regret, amounting to despair, at having lost her forever. That, having expiated his sin against the husband, he was now bound to renounce her, and never in future to stand between her with her repentance and her husband, he had firmly decided in his heart; but he could not tear out of his heart his regret at the loss of her love; he could not erase from his memory those moments of happiness which he had known with her and had so little prized at the time, and which haunted him with all their charm.
Serpukhovskoy had planned his appointment at Tashkend, and Vronsky agreed to the proposal without the slightest hesitation. But the nearer the time of departure came, the bitterer was the sacrifice he was making to what he thought his duty.
His wound had healed, and he was driving about making preparations for his departure for Tashkend.
`To see her once, and then to bury myself, to die,' he thought, and, as he was paying farewell visits, he uttered this thought to Betsy. Charged with this commission, Betsy had gone to Anna, and brought him back a negative reply.
`So much the better,' thought Vronsky, when he received the news. `It was a weakness which would have shattered what strength I have left.'
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