After a capital dinner and a great deal of cognac drunk at Bartnyansky's, Stepan Arkadyevitch, only a little later than the appointed time, went in to Countess Lidia Ivanovna's.
"Who else is with the countess? — a Frenchman?" Stepan Arkadyevitch asked the hall porter, as he glanced at the familiar overcoat of Alexey Alexandrovitch and a queer, rather artless-looking overcoat with clasps.
"Alexey Alexandrovitch Karenin and Count Bezzubov," the porter answered severely.
"Princess Myakaya guessed right," thought Stepan Arkadyevitch, as he went upstairs. "Curious! It would be quite as well, though, to get on friendly terms with her. She has immense influence. If she would say a word to Pomorsky, the thing would be a certainty."
It was still quite light out-of-doors, but in Countess Lidia Ivanovna's little drawing room the blinds were drawn and the lamps lighted. At a round table under a lamp sat the countess and Alexey Alexandrovitch, talking softly. A short, thinnish man, very pale and handsome, with feminine hips and knock-kneed legs, with fine brilliant eyes and long hair lying on the collar of his coat, was standing at the end of the room gazing at the portraits on the wall. After greeting the lady of the house and Alexey Alexandrovitch, Stepan Arkadyevitch could not resist glancing once more at the unknown man.
"Monsieur Landau!" the countess addressed him with a softness and caution that impressed Oblonsky. And she introduced them.
Landau looked round hurriedly, came up, and smiling, laid his moist, lifeless hand in Stepan Arkadyevitch's outstretched hand and immediately walked away and fell to gazing at the portraits again. The countess and Alexey Alexandrovitch looked at each other significantly.
"I am very glad to see you, particularly today," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, pointing Stepan Arkadyevitch to a seat beside Karenin.
"I introduced you to him as Landau," she said in a soft voice, glancing at the Frenchman and again immediately after at Alexey Alexandrovitch, "but he is really Count Bezzubov, as you're probably aware. Only he does not like the title."
"Yes, I heard so," answered Stepan Arkadyevitch; "they say he completely cured Countess Bezzubova."
"She was here today, poor thing!" the countess said, turning to Alexey Alexandrovitch. "This separation is awful for her. It's such a blow to her!"
"And he positively is going?" queried Alexey Alexandrovitch.
"Yes, he's going to Paris. He heard a voice yesterday," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, looking at Stepan Arkadyevitch.
"Ah, a voice!" repeated Oblonsky, feeling that he must be as circumspect as he possibly could in this society, where something peculiar was going on, or was to go on, to which he had not the key.
A moment's silence followed, after which Countess Lidia Ivanovna, as though approaching the main topic of conversation, said with a fine smile to Oblonsky:
"I've known you for a long while, and am very glad to make a closer acquaintance with you. Les amis de nos amis sont nos amis. But to be a true friend, one must enter into the spiritual state of one's friend, and I fear that you are not doing so in the case of Alexey Alexandrovitch. You understand what I mean?" she said, lifting her fine pensive eyes.
"In part, countess, I understand the position of Alexey Alexandrovitch . . . " said Oblonsky. Having no clear idea what they were talking about, he wanted to confine himself to generalities.
"The change is not in his external position," Countess Lidia Ivanovna said sternly, following with eyes of love the figure of Alexey Alexandrovitch as he got up and crossed over to Landau; "his heart is changed, a new heart has been vouchsafed him, and I fear you don't fully apprehend the change that has taken place in him."
"Oh, well, in general outlines I can conceive the change. We have always been friendly, and now . . . " said Stepan Arkadyevitch, responding with a sympathetic glance to the expression of the countess, and mentally balancing the question with which of the two ministers she was most intimate, so as to know about which to ask her to speak for him.
"The change that has taken place in him cannot lessen his love for his neighbors; on the contrary, that change can only intensify love in his heart. But I am afraid you do not understand me. Won't you have some tea?" she said, with her eyes indicating the footman, who was handing round tea on a tray.
"Not quite, countess. Of course, his misfortune . . . "
"Yes, a misfortune which has proved the highest happiness, when his heart was made new, was filled full of it," she said, gazing with eyes full of love at Stepan Arkadyevitch.
"I do believe I might ask her to speak to both of them," thought Stepan Arkadyevitch.
"Oh, of course, countess," he said; "but I imagine such changes are a matter so private that no one, even the most intimate friend, would care to speak of them."
"On the contrary! We ought to speak freely and help one another."
"Yes, undoubtedly so, but there is such a difference of convictions, and besides . . . " said Oblonsky with a soft smile.
"There can be no difference where it is a question of holy truth."
"Oh, no, of course; but . . . " and Stepan Arkadyevitch paused in confusion. He understood at last that they were talking of religion.
"I fancy he will fall asleep immediately," said Alexey Alexandrovitch in a whisper full of meaning, going up to Lidia Ivanovna.
Stepan Arkadyevitch looked round. Landau was sitting at the window, leaning on his elbow and the back of his chair, his head drooping. Noticing that all eyes were turned on him he raised his head and smiled a smile of childlike artlessness.
"Don't take any notice," said Lidia Ivanovna, and she lightly moved a chair up for Alexey Alexandrovitch. "I have observed . . . " she was beginning, when a footman came into the room with a letter. Lidia Ivanovna rapidly ran her eyes over the note, and excusing herself, wrote an answer with extraordinary rapidity, handed it to the man, and came back to the table. "I have observed," she went on, "that Moscow people, especially the men, are more indifferent to religion than anyone."
"Oh, no, countess, I thought Moscow people had the reputation of being the firmest in the faith," answered Stepan Arkadyevitch.
"But as far as I can make out, you are unfortunately one of the indifferent ones," said Alexey Alexandrovitch, turning to him with a weary smile.
"How anyone can be indifferent!" said Lidia Ivanovna.
"I am not so much indifferent on that subject as I am waiting in suspense," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, with his most deprecating smile. "I hardly think that the time for such questions has come yet for me."
Alexey Alexandrovitch and Lidia Ivanovna looked at each other.
"We can never tell whether the time has come for us or not," said Alexey Alexandrovitch severely. "We ought not to think whether we are ready or not ready. God's grace is not guided by human considerations: sometimes it comes not to those that strive for it, and comes to those that are unprepared, like Saul."
"No, I believe it won't be just yet," said Lidia Ivanovna, who had been meanwhile watching the movements of the Frenchman. Landau got up and came to them.
"Do you allow me to listen?" he asked.
"Oh, yes; I did not want to disturb you," said Lidia Ivanovna, gazing tenderly at him; "sit here with us."
"One has only not to close one's eyes to shut out the light," Alexey Alexandrovitch went on.
"Ah, if you knew the happiness we know, feeling His presence ever in our hearts!" said Countess Lidia Ivanovna with a rapturous smile.
"But a man may feel himself unworthy sometimes to rise to that height," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, conscious of hypocrisy in admitting this religious height, but at the same time unable to bring himself to acknowledge his free-thinking views before a person who, by a single word to Pomorsky, might procure him the coveted appointment.
"That is, you mean that sin keeps him back?" said Lidia Ivanovna. "But that is a false idea. There is no sin for believers, their sin has been atoned for. Pardon," she added, looking at the footman, who came in again with another letter. She read it and gave a verbal answer: "Tomorrow at the Grand Duchess's, say." "For the believer sin is not," she went on.
"Yes, but faith without works is dead," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recalling the phrase from the catechism, and only by his smile clinging to his independence.
"There you have it — from the epistle of St. James," said Alexey Alexandrovitch, addressing Lidia Ivanovna, with a certain reproachfulness in his tone. It was unmistakably a subject they had discussed more than once before. "What harm has been done by the false interpretation of that passage! Nothing holds men back from belief like that misinterpretation. 'I have not works, so I cannot believe,' though all the while that is not said. But the very opposite is said."
"Striving for God, saving the soul by fasting," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, with disgusted contempt, "those are the crude ideas of our monks . . . . Yet that is nowhere said. It is far simpler and easier," she added, looking at Oblonsky with the same encouraging smile with which at court she encouraged youthful maids of honor, disconcerted by the new surroundings of the court.
"We are saved by Christ who suffered for us. We are saved by faith," Alexey Alexandrovitch chimed in, with a glance of approval at her words.
"Vous comprenez l'anglais?" asked Lidia Ivanovna, and receiving a reply in the affirmative, she got up and began looking through a shelf of books.
"I want to read him 'Safe and Happy,' or 'Under the Wing,'" she said, looking inquiringly at Karenin. And finding the book, and sitting down again in her place, she opened it. "It's very short. In it is described the way by which faith can be reached, and the happiness, above all earthly bliss, with which it fills the soul. The believer cannot be unhappy because he is not alone. But you will see." She was just settling herself to read when the footman came in again. "Madame Borozdina? Tell her, tomorrow at two o'clock. Yes," she said, putting her finger in the place in the book, and gazing before her with her fine pensive eyes, "that is how true faith acts. You know Marie Sanina? You know about her trouble? She lost her only child. She was in despair. And what happened? She found this comforter, and she thanks God now for the death of her child. Such is the happiness faith brings!"
"Oh, yes, that is most . . . " said Stepan Arkadyevitch, glad they were going to read, and let him have a chance to collect his faculties. "No, I see I'd better not ask her about anything today," he thought. "If only I can get out of this without putting my foot in it!"
"It will be dull for you," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, addressing Landau; "you don't know English, but it's short."
"Oh, I shall understand," said Landau, with the same smile, and he closed his eyes. Alexey Alexandrovitch and Lidia Ivanovna exchanged meaningful glances, and the reading began.
Stepan Arkadyevitch felt completely nonplussed by the strange talk which he was hearing for the first time. The complexity of Petersburg, as a rule, had a stimulating effect on him, rousing him out of his Moscow stagnation. But he liked these complications, and understood them only in the circles he knew and was at home in. In these unfamiliar surroundings he was puzzled and disconcerted, and could not get his bearings. As he listened to Countess Lidia Ivanovna, aware of the beautiful, artless — or perhaps artful, he could not decide which — eyes of Landau fixed upon him, Stepan Arkadyevitch began to be conscious of a peculiar heaviness in his head.
The most incongruous ideas were in confusion in his head. "Marie Sanina is glad her child's dead . . . . How good a smoke would be now! . . . To be saved, one need only believe, and the monks don't know how the thing's to be done, but Countess Lidia Ivanovna does know . . . . And why is my head so heavy? Is it the cognac, or all this being so queer? Anyway, I fancy I've done nothing unsuitable so far. But anyway, it won't do to ask her now. They say they make one say one's prayers. I only hope they won't make me! That'll be too imbecile. And what stuff it is she's reading! but she has a good accent. Landau — Bezzubov — what's he Bezzubov for?" All at once Stepan Arkadyevitch became aware that his lower jaw was uncontrollably forming a yawn. He pulled his whiskers to cover the yawn, and shook himself together. But soon after he became aware that he was dropping asleep and on the very point of snoring. He recovered himself at the very moment when the voice of Countess Lidia Ivanovna was saying "he's asleep." Stepan Arkadyevitch started with dismay, feeling guilty and caught. But he was reassured at once by seeing that the words "he's asleep" referred not to him, but to Landau. The Frenchman was asleep as well as Stepan Arkadyevitch. But Stepan Arkadyevitch's being asleep would have offended them, as he thought (though even this, he thought, might not be so, as everything seemed so queer), while Landau's being asleep delighted them extremely, especially Countess Lidia Ivanovna.
"Mon ami," said Lidia Ivanovna, carefully holding the folds of her silk gown so as not to rustle, and in her excitement calling Karenin not Alexey Alexandrovitch, but "mon ami," "donnez-lui la main. Vous voyez? Sh!" she hissed at the footman as he came in again. "Not at home."
The Frenchman was asleep, or pretending to be asleep, with his head on the back of his chair, and his moist hand, as it lay on his knee, made faint movements, as though trying to catch something. Alexey Alexandrovitch got up, tried to move carefully, but stumbled against the table, went up and laid his hand in the Frenchman's hand. Stepan Arkadyevitch got up too, and opening his eyes wide, trying to wake himself up if he were asleep, he looked first at one and then at the other. It was all real. Stepan Arkadyevitch felt that his head was getting worse and worse.
"Que la personne qui est arrivee la derniere, celle qui demande, qu'elle sorte! Qu'elle sorte!" articulated the Frenchman, without opening his eyes.
"Vous m'excuserez, mais vous voyez . . . . Revenez vers dix heures, encore mieux demain."
"Qu'elle sorte!" repeated the Frenchman impatiently.
"C'est moi, n'est-ce pas?" And receiving an answer in the affirmative, Stepan Arkadyevitch, forgetting the favor he had meant to ask of Lidia Ivanovna, and forgetting his sister's affairs, caring for nothing, but filled with the sole desire to get away as soon as possible, went out on tiptoe and ran out into the street as though from a plague-stricken house. For a long while he chatted and joked with his cab-driver, trying to recover his spirits.
At the French theater where he arrived for the last act, and afterwards at the Tatar restaurant after his champagne, Stepan Arkadyevitch felt a little refreshed in the atmosphere he was used to. But still he felt quite unlike himself all that evening.
On getting home to Pyotr Oblonsky's, where he was staying, Stepan Arkadyevitch found a note from Betsy. She wrote to him that she was very anxious to finish their interrupted conversation, and begged him to come next day. He had scarcely read this note, and frowned at its contents, when he heard below the ponderous tramp of the servants, carrying something heavy.
Stepan Arkadyevitch went out to look. It was the rejuvenated Pyotr Oblonsky. He was so drunk that he could not walk upstairs; but he told them to set him on his legs when he saw Stepan Arkadyevitch, and clinging to him, walked with him into his room and there began telling him how he had spent the evening, and fell asleep doing so.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was in very low spirits, which happened rarely with him, and for a long while he could not go to sleep. Everything he could recall to his mind, everything was disgusting; but most disgusting of all, as if it were something shameful, was the memory of the evening he had spent at Countess Lidia Ivanovna's.
Next day he received from Alexey Alexandrovitch a final answer, refusing to grant Anna's divorce, and he understood that this decision was based on what the Frenchman had said in his real or pretended trance.