THE CROQUET party to which the Princess Tverskoy had invited Anna was to consist of two ladies and their adorers. These two ladies were the chief representatives of a select new Petersburg circle, nicknamed, in imitation of some imitation, les sept merveilles du monde. These ladies belonged to a circle which, though of the highest society, was utterly hostile to that in which Anna moved. Moreover, Stremov, one of the most influential people in Petersburg, and the elderly admirer of Liza Merkalov, was Alexey Alexandrovitchs enemy in the political world. From all these considerations Anna had not meant to go, and the hints in Princess Tverskoys note referred to her refusal. But now Anna was eager to go, in the hope of seeing Vronsky.
At the same moment as she entered, Vronskys footman, with side-whiskers combed out like a kammer-yunker, went in too. He stopped at the door, and, taking off his cap, let her pass. Anna recognised him, and only then recalled that Vronsky had told her the day before that he would not come. Most likely he was sending a note to say so.
She longed to question him as to where his master was. She longed to turn back and send him a letter to come and see her, or to go herself to see him. But neither the first nor the second nor the third course was possible. Already she heard bells ringing to announce her arrival ahead of her, and Princess Tverskoys footman was standing at the open door waiting for her to go forward into the inner rooms.
The position of uncertainty, of indecision, was still the same as at homeworse, in fact, since it was impossible to take any step, impossible to see Vronsky, and she had to remain here among outsiders, in company so uncongenial to her present mood. But she was wearing a dress that she knew suited her. She was not alone; all around was that luxurious setting of idleness that she was used to, and she felt less wretched than at home. She was not forced to think what she was to do. Everything would be done of itself. On meeting Betsy coming towards her in a white gown that struck her by its elegance, Anna smiled to her just as she always did.
How glad I am youve come! said Betsy. Im tired, and was just longing to have some tea before they come. You might goshe turned to Tushkevitchwith Masha, and try the croquet-ground over there where theyve been cutting it. We shall have time to talk a little over tea; well have a cozy chat, eh? she said in English to Anna, with a smile, pressing the hand with which she held a parasol.
Yes, especially as I cant stay very long with you. Im forced to go on to old Madame Vrede. Ive been promising to go for a century, said Anna, to whom lying, alien as it was to her nature, had become not merely simple and natural in society, but a positive source of satisfaction. Why she said this, which she had not thought of a second before, she could not have explained. She had said it simply from the reflection that as Vronsky would not be here, she had better secure her own freedom, and try to see him somehow. But why she had spoken of old Madame Vrede, whom she had to go and see, as she had to see many other people, she could not have explained; and yet, as it afterwards turned out, had she contrived the most cunning devices to meet Vronsky, she could have thought of nothing better.
No, Im not going to let you go for anything, answered Betsy, looking intently into Annas face. Really, if I were not fond of you, I should feel offended. One would think you were afraid my society would compromise you. Tea in the little dining-room, please, she said, half closing her eyes, as she always did when addressing the footman.
Alexeys playing us false, she said in French; he writes that he cant come, she added in a tone as simple and natural as though it could never enter her head that Vronsky could mean anything more to Anna than a game of croquet. Anna knew that Betsy knew everything, but, hearing how she spoke of Vronsky before her, she almost felt persuaded for a minute that she knew nothing.
This playing with words, this hiding of a secret, had a great fascination for Anna, as, indeed, it has for all women. And it was not the necessity of concealment, not the aim with which the concealment was contrived, but the process of concealment itself attracted her.
I cant be more Catholic than the Pope, she said. Stremov and Liza Merkalov, why, theyre the cream of the cream of society. Besides, theyre received everywhere, and Ishe laid special stress on the Ihave never been strict and intolerant. Its simply that I havent the time.
No; you dont care, perhaps, to meet Stremov? Let him and Alexey Alexandrovitch tilt at each other in the committeethats no affair of ours. But in the world, hes the most amiable man I know, and a devoted croquet-player. You shall see. And, in spite of his absurd position as Lizas lovesick swain at his age, you ought to see how he carries off the absurd position. Hes very nice. Sappho Shtoltz you dont know? Oh, thats a new type, quite new.
Betsy said all this, and, at the same time, from her good- humoured, shrewd glance, Anna felt that she partly guessed her plight, and was hatching something for her benefit. They were in the little boudoir.
Im telling him to come to dinner. Ive one lady extra to dinner with me, and no man to take her in. Look what Ive said, will that persuade him? Excuse me, I must leave you for a minute. Would you seal it up, please, and send it off? she said from the door; I have to give some directions.
Without a moments thought, Anna sat down to the table with Betsys letter, and, without reading it, wrote below: Its essential for me to see you. Come to the Vrede garden. I shall be there at six oclock. She sealed it up, and, Betsy coming back, in her presence handed the note to be taken.
At tea, which was brought them on a little tea-table in the cool little drawing-room, the cosy chat promised by Princess Tverskoy before the arrival of her visitors really did come off between the two women. They criticised the people they were expecting, and the conversation fell upon Liza Merkalov.
You ought to like her. She raves about you. Yesterday she came up to me after the races and was in despair at not finding you. She says youre a real heroine of romance, and that if she were a man she would do all sorts of mad things for your sake. Stremov says she does that as it is.
But do tell me, please, I never could make it out, said Anna, after being silent for some time, speaking in a tone that showed she was not asking an idle question, but what she was asking was of more importance to her than it should have been; do tell me, please, what are her relations with Prince Kaluzhsky, Mishka, as hes called? Ive met them so little. What does it mean?
Youre encroaching on Princess Myakys special domain now. Thats the question of an enfant terrible, and Betsy obviously tried to restrain herself, but could not, and went off into peals of that infectious laughter that people laugh who do not laugh often. Youd better ask them, she brought out, between tears of laughter.
The husband? Liza Merkalovs husband carries her shawl, and is always ready to be of use. But anything more than that in reality, no one cares to inquire. You know in decent society one doesnt talk or think even of certain details of the toilet. Thats how it is with this.
I dont think so, answered Betsy, and, without looking at her friend, she began filling the little transparent cups with fragrant tea. Putting a cup before Anna, she took out a cigarette, and, fitting it into a silver holder, she lighted it.
Its like this, you see: Im in a fortunate position, she began, quite serious now, as she took up her cup, I understand you, and I understand Liza. Liza now is one of those naïve natures that, like children, dont know whats good and whats bad. Anyway, she didnt comprehend it when she was very young. And now shes aware that the lack of comprehension suits her. Now, perhaps, she doesnt know on purpose, said Betsy, with a subtle smile. But, anyway, it suits her. The very same thing, dont you see, may be looked at tragically, and turned into a misery, or it may be looked at simply and even humorously. Possibly you are inclined to look at things too tragically.