Chapter 21

From the moment when Alexei Alexandrovich understood from his interviews with Betsy and with Stepan Arkadyevich that all that was expected of him was to leave his wife in peace, without burdening her with his presence, and that his wife herself desired this, he felt so distraught that he could come to no decision by himself; he did not know himself what he wanted now, and, putting himself in the hands of those who were so pleased to interest themselves in his affairs, he met everything with unqualified assent. It was only when Anna had left his house, and the English governess sent to ask him whether she should dine with him or separately, that for the first time he clearly comprehended his position, and was appalled by it.

Most difficult of all in this position was the fact that he could not in any way connect and reconcile his past with the present. It was not the past when he had lived happily with his wife that troubled him. The transition from that past to a knowledge of his wife's unfaithfulness he had already lived through miserably; that state had been painful, but he could understand it. If his wife had then, on declaring to him her unfaithfulness, left him, he would have been wounded, unhappy, but he would not have been in the hopeless position - incomprehensible to himself - in which he felt himself now. He could not now reconcile his immediate past, his tenderness, his love for his sick wife, and for the other man's child with what was now the case - with the fact that, seemingly in return for all this, he now found himself alone, put to shame, a laughingstock, needed by no one, and despised by everyone.

For the first two days after his wife's departure Alexei Alexandrovich received petitioners and his head clerk, drove to the committee, and went down to dinner in the dining room as usual. Without giving himself a reason for what he was doing, he strained every nerve of his being for those two days, simply to preserve an appearance of composure, and even of indifference. Answering inquiries about the disposition of Anna Arkadyevna's rooms and belongings, he had exercised immense self-control to appear like a man in whose eyes what had occurred was not unforeseen nor out of the ordinary course of events, and he attained his aim: no one could have detected in him any signs of despair. But on the second day after her departure, when Kornei gave him a bill from a fashionable draper's shop, which Anna had forgotten to pay, and announced that the shopman was waiting, Alexei Alexandrovich told him to show the man up.

`Excuse me, Your Excellency, for venturing to trouble you. But if you direct us to apply to Her Excellency, would you graciously oblige us with her address?'

Alexei Alexandrovich pondered, as it seemed to the shopman, and all at once, turning round, he sat down to the table. Burying his head in his hands, he sat for a long while in that position, made several attempts to speak, and stopped short.

Kornei, perceiving his master's emotion, asked the shopman to call another time. Left alone, Alexei Alexandrovich realized that he had not the strength to keep up the role of firmness and composure any longer. He gave orders for the carriage that was awaiting him to be taken back, and for no one to be admitted, and he did not go down to dinner.

He felt that he could not endure the weight of universal contempt and exasperation, which he had distinctly seen in the faces of the shopman and of Kornei and of everyone, without exception, whom he had met during these two days. He felt that he could not turn aside from himself the hatred of men, because that hatred did not come from his being bad (in that case he could have tried to be better), but from his being shamefully and repulsively unhappy. He knew that for this, for the very fact that his heart was torn with grief, they would be merciless to him. He felt that men would crush him as dogs strangle a mangled dog, yelping with pain. He knew that his sole means of security against people was to hide his wounds from them, and instinctively he tried to do this for two days, but now he felt incapable of keeping up the unequal struggle.

His despair was even intensified by the consciousness that he was utterly alone in his sorrow. In all Peterburg there was not a human being to whom he could express what he was feeling, who would feel

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