Anna wants to leave Moscow the next day. Dolly finds her sister-in-law strangely nervous, always close to tears, but Anna is unable to tell her why, that she is leaving sooner than intended in order to avoid Vronsky. She confesses to Dolly that Kitty is jealous on her account and she had caused her misery at the ball. Dolly remonstrates soothingly, saying she is glad that her sister had no further hopes for Vronsky since he is so fickle. At parting the two women embrace and profess sincere affection.
Nervous and excited, Anna is relieved to be on the train journeying home to her son and husband and resume her nice comfortable way of life again. She thinks of Vronsky and wonders at her vague feeling of shame when there is nothing to be ashamed about. Still tense, she alights at the next station for a breath of cold air. Suddenly Vronsky appears at her side and she is seized by a feeling of joyful pride at his look of reverence and devotion. "You know that I have come to be where you are," he says, "I can't help it." Pausing before her answer, Anna feels this moment in the midst of a snowstorm has drawn them close together. She begs him to forget, as she had forgotten it, the statement he has just uttered.
Still in her tense mood, Anna cannot sleep for the rest of the trip. Meeting her husband at the station, she feels dissatisfied with "his imposing and frigid figure, his high pitched voice, now noticing how his ears stick out." What she suddenly recognizes for the first time, is "an intimate feeling, like a consciousness of hypocrisy, which she experienced in her relations with her husband."
As her son dashes downstairs to greet her at home she feels that even he is somewhat less delightful in reality than in the image she had of him while away. But her pleasure in his caresses, seeing his plump little shape, his curls and blue eyes soothes her. After a visit from Karenin's friend, the Countess Lydia Ivanovna, and after unpacking and dining with her son, Anna feels resolute and irreproachable as she assumes the habitual conditions of her life.
Karenin appears for dinner precisely at five o'clock, and leaves for a meeting afterwards. Every minute of his life is portioned out and occupied, for Karenin adheres to the strictest punctuality in order to accomplish what he requires himself to do. "Unhasting and unresting" is his motto.
When Alexey Alexandrovitch returns, at exactly half past nine, Anna chats with him, recounting everything about her visit to Moscow while refraining from mentioning Vronsky. Karenin flatly denounces Oblonsky's extra-marital dalliance, and Anna thinks what a truthful, good-hearted man her husband is. In her thoughts she defends him as if someone said he is someone she cannot love.
Anna's journey back to her home represents her retreat from the emotional stimulation she experienced through Vronsky. Her attempt at flight, however, is interrupted by the presence of the young officer who takes the same train. The snowstorm in which they meet corresponds to the stormy state of their emotions.
Anna's suddenly perceived dissatisfaction with her husband's appearance and manner, and her slight disappointment upon first seeing her son, shows her perceptions of the life she has been familiar with have already been changed under the influence of this passion to which she is still unawakened. But her feverish state passes when she reassumes her old habits and the "causeless shame" she felt during her journey vanishes.
The character of Karenin, with its compulsiveness and dullness, shows that he is a poor foil for Anna's vivacity and love of life. Tolstoy also shows their relationship is routine and erotically incomplete as "precisely at twelve o'clock," Karenin bids Anna to bed. She follows, "but her face had none of the eagerness which, [in Moscow] fairly flashed from her eyes and her smile; on the contrary, now the fire seemed quenched in her, hidden somewhere far away."