Alexey Alexandrovitch had forgotten
the Countess Lidia Ivanovna, but she had not forgotten
him. At the bitterest moment of his lonely despair
she came to him, and without waiting to be announced,
walked straight into his study. She found him
as he was sitting with his head in both hands.
“J’ai force la consigne,”
she said, walking in with rapid steps and breathing
hard with excitement and rapid exercise. “I
have heard all! Alexey Alexandrovitch!
Dear friend!” she went on, warmly squeezing
his hand in both of hers and gazing with her fine
pensive eyes into his.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, frowning, got
up, and disengaging his hand, moved her a chair.
“Won’t you sit down, countess?
I’m seeing no one because I’m unwell,
countess,” he said, and his lips twitched.
“Dear friend!” repeated
Countess Lidia Ivanovna, never taking her eyes off
his, and suddenly her eyebrows rose at the inner corners,
describing a triangle on her forehead, her ugly yellow
face became still uglier, but Alexey Alexandrovitch
felt that she was sorry for him and was preparing
to cry. And he too was softened; he snatched
her plump hand and proceeded to kiss it.
“Dear friend!” she said
in a voice breaking with emotion. “You
ought not to give way to grief. Your sorrow is
a great one, but you ought to find consolation.”
“I am crushed, I am annihilated,
I am no longer a man!” said Alexey Alexandrovitch,
letting go her hand, but still gazing into her brimming
eyes. “My position is so awful because
I can find nowhere, I cannot find within me strength
to support me.”
“You will find support; seek
it not in me, though I beseech you to believe
in my friendship,” she said, with a sigh.
“Our support is love, that love that He has
vouchsafed us. His burden is light,” she
said, with the look of ecstasy Alexey Alexandrovitch
knew so well. “He will be your support
and your succor.”
Although there was in these words
a flavor of that sentimental emotion at her own lofty
feelings, and that new mystical fervor which had lately
gained ground in Petersburg, and which seemed to Alexey
Alexandrovitch disproportionate, still it was pleasant
to him to hear this now.
“I am weak. I am crushed.
I foresaw nothing, and now I understand nothing.”
“Dear friend,” repeated Lidia Ivanovna.
“It’s not the loss of
what I have not now, it’s not that!” pursued
Alexey Alexandrovitch. “I do not grieve
for that. But I cannot help feeling humiliated
before other people for the position I am placed in.
It is wrong, but I can’t help it, I can’t
“Not you it was performed that
noble act of forgiveness, at which I was moved to
ecstasy, and everyone else too, but He, working within
your heart,” said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, raising
her eyes rapturously, “and so you cannot be
ashamed of your act.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch knitted his
brows, and crooking his hands, he cracked his fingers.
“One must know all the facts,”
he said in his thin voice. “A man’s
strength has its limits, countess, and I have reached
my limits. The whole day I have had to be making
arrangements, arrangements about household matters
arising” (he emphasized the word arising)
“from my new, solitary position. The servants,
the governess, the accounts…. These pinpricks
have stabbed me to the heart, and I have not the strength
to bear it. At dinner… yesterday, I was almost
getting up from the dinner table. I could not
bear the way my son looked at me. He did not
ask me the meaning of it all, but he wanted to ask,
and I could not bear the look in his eyes. He
was afraid to look at me, but that is not all….”
Alexey Alexandrovitch would have referred to the
bill that had been brought him, but his voice shook,
and he stopped. That bill on blue paper, for
a hat and ribbons, he could not recall without a rush
“I understand, dear friend,”
said Lidia Ivanovna. “I understand it
all. Succor and comfort you will find not in
me, though I have come only to aid you if I can.
If I could take from off you all these petty, humiliating
cares…I understand that a woman’s word, a
woman’s superintendence is needed. You
will intrust it to me?”
Silently and gratefully Alexey Alexandrovitch
pressed her hand.
“Together we will take care
of Seryozha. Practical affairs are not my strong
point. But I will set to work. I will be
your housekeeper. Don’t thank me.
I do it not from myself…”
“I cannot help thanking you.”
“But, dear friend, do not give
way to the feeling of which you spoke being
ashamed of what is the Christian’s highest glory:
he who humbles himself shall be exalted.
And you cannot thank me. You must thank Him,
and pray to Him for succor. In Him alone we
find peace, consolation, salvation, and love,”
she said, and turning her eyes heavenwards, she began
praying, as Alexey Alexandrovitch gathered from her
Alexey Alexandrovitch listened to
her now, and those expressions which had seemed to
him, if not distasteful, at least exaggerated, now
seemed to him natural and consolatory. Alexey
Alexandrovitch had disliked this new enthusiastic fervor.
He was a believer, who was interested in religion
primarily in its political aspect, and the new doctrine
which ventured upon several new interpretations, just
because it paved the way to discussion and analysis,
was in principle disagreeable to him. He had
hitherto taken up a cold and even antagonistic attitude
to this new doctrine, and with Countess Lidia Ivanovna,
who had been carried away by it, he had never argued,
but by silence had assiduously parried her attempts
to provoke him into argument. Now for the first
time he heard her words with pleasure, and did not
inwardly oppose them.
“I am very, very grateful to
you, both for your deeds and for your words,”
he said, when she had finished praying.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna once more
pressed both her friend’s hands.
“Now I will enter upon my duties,”
she said with a smile after a pause, as she wiped
away the traces of tears. “I am going to
Seryozha. Only in the last extremity shall I
apply to you.” And she got up and went
Countess Lidia Ivanovna went into
Seryozha’s part of the house, and dropping tears
on the scared child’s cheeks, she told him that
his father was a saint and his mother was dead.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna kept her promise.
She did actually take upon herself the care of the
organization and management of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
household. But she had not overstated the case
when saying that practical affairs were not her strong
point. All her arrangements had to be modified
because they could not be carried out, and they were
modified by Korney, Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
valet, who, though no one was aware of the fact, now
managed Karenin’s household, and quietly and
discreetly reported to his master while he was dressing
all it was necessary for him to know. But Lidia
Ivanovna’s help was none the less real; she
gave Alexey Alexandrovitch moral support in the consciousness
of her love and respect for him, and still more, as
it was soothing to her to believe, in that she almost
turned him to Christianity that is, from
an indifferent and apathetic believer she turned him
into an ardent and steadfast adherent of the new interpretation
of Christian doctrine, which had been gaining ground
of late in Petersburg. It was easy for Alexey
Alexandrovitch to believe in this teaching. Alexey
Alexandrovitch, like Lidia Ivanovna indeed, and others
who shared their views, was completely devoid of vividness
of imagination, that spiritual faculty in virtue of
which the conceptions evoked by the imagination become
so vivid that they must needs be in harmony with other
conceptions, and with actual fact. He saw nothing
impossible and inconceivable in the idea that death,
though existing for unbelievers, did not exist for
him, and that, as he was possessed of the most perfect
faith, of the measure of which he was himself the
judge, therefore there was no sin in his soul, and
he was experiencing complete salvation here on earth.
It is true that the erroneousness
and shallowness of this conception of his faith was
dimly perceptible to Alexey Alexandrovitch, and he
knew that when, without the slightest idea that his
forgiveness was the action of a higher power, he had
surrendered directly to the feeling of forgiveness,
he had felt more happiness than now when he was thinking
every instant that Christ was in his heart, and that
in signing official papers he was doing His will.
But for Alexey Alexandrovitch it was a necessity
to think in that way; it was such a necessity for him
in his humiliation to have some elevated standpoint,
however imaginary, from which, looked down upon by
all, he could look down on others, that he clung,
as to his one salvation, to his delusion of salvation.