A cloth was laid on a round table, and on it stood a china tea-service and a silver spirit-lamp and tea-kettle. Alexey Alexandrovitch looked idly about at the endless familiar portraits which adorned the room, and sitting down to the table, he opened a New Testament lying upon it.
No, Countess Lidia Ivanovna interrupted him; there are limits to everything. I can understand immorality, she said, not quite truthfully, since she never could understand that which leads women to immorality; but I dont understand cruelty: to whom? to you! How can she stay in the town where you are? No, the longer one lives the more one learns. And Im learning to understand your loftiness and her baseness.
Who is to throw a stone? said Alexey Alexandrovitch, unmistakably pleased with the part he had to play. I have forgiven all, and so I cannot deprive her of what is exacted by love in herby her love for her son
But is that love, my friend? Is it sincere? Admitting that you have forgiventhat you forgivehave we the right to work on the feelings of that angel? He looks on her as dead. He prays for her, and beseeches God to have mercy on her sins. And it is better so. But now what will he think?
If you ask my advice, she said, having finished her prayer and uncovered her face, I do not advise you to do this. Do you suppose I dont see how you are suffering, how this has torn open your wounds? But supposing that, as always, you dont think of yourself, what can it lead to?to fresh suffering for you, to torture for the child. If there were a trace of humanity left in her, she ought not to wish for it herself. No, I have no hesitation in saying I advise not, and if you will intrust it to me, I will write to her.
And Alexey Alexandrovitch consented, and Countess Lidia Ivanovna sent the following letter in French:
DEAR MADAME,To be reminded of you might have results for your son in leading to questions on his part which could not be answered without implanting in the childs soul a spirit of censure towards what should be for him sacred, and therefore I beg you to interpret you husbands refusal in the spirit of Christian love. I pray to Almighty God to have mercy on you. COUNTESS LIDIA.
For his part, Alexey Alexandrovitch, on returning home from Lidia Ivanovnas, could not all that day concentrate himself on his usual pursuits, and find that spiritual peace of one saved and believing which he had felt of late.
The thought of his wife, who had so greatly sinned against him, and towards whom he had been so saintly, as Countess Lidia Ivanovna had so justly told him, ought not to have troubled him; but he was not easy; he could not understand the book he was reading; he could not drive away harassing recollections of his relations with her, of the mistake which, as it now seemed, he had made in regard to her. The memory of how he had received her confession of infidelity on their way home from the races (especially that he had insisted only on the observance of external decorum, and had not sent a challenge) tortured him like a remorse. He was tortured too by the thought of the letter he had written her; and most of all, his forgiveness, which nobody wanted, and his care of the other mans child made his heart burn with shame and remorse.
But how have I been to blame? he said to himself. And this question always excited another question in himwhether they felt differently, did their loving and marrying differently, these Vronskys and Oblonskys these gentlemen of the bedchamber, with their fine calves. And there passed before his mind a whole series of these mettlesome, vigorous, self-confident men, who always and everywhere drew his inquisitive attention in spite of himself. He tried to dispel these thoughts, he tried to persuade himself that he was not living for this transient life, but for the life of eternity, and that there was peace and love in his heart. But the fact that he had in this transient, trivial life made, as it seemed to him, a few trivial mistakes tortured him as though the eternal salvation in which he believed had no existence. But this temptation did not last long, and soon there was re-established once more in Alexey Alexandrovitchs soul the peace and the elevation by virtue of which he could forget what he did not want to remember.