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The first person to meet Anna at home was her son. He dashed down the stairs to her, in spite of the governess's call, and with desperate joy shrieked: "Mother! mother!" Running up to her, he hung on her neck.
"I told you it was mother!" he shouted to the governess. "I knew!"
And her son, like her husband, aroused in Anna a feeling akin to disappointment. She had imagined him better than he was in reality. She had to let herself drop down to the reality to enjoy him as he really was. But even as he was, he was charming, with his fair curls, his blue eyes, and his plump, graceful little legs in tightly pulled-up stockings. Anna experienced almost physical pleasure in the sensation of his nearness, and his caresses, and moral soothing, when she met his simple, confiding, and loving glance, and heard his naive questions. Anna took out the presents Dolly's children had sent him, and told her son what sort of little girl was Tanya at Moscow, and how Tanya could read, and even taught the other children.
"Why, am I not so nice as she?" asked Seryozha.
To me you're nicer than anyone in the world."
"I know that," said Seryozha, smiling.
Anna had not had time to drink her coffee when the Countess Lidia Ivanovna was announced. The Countess Lidia Ivanovna was a tall, stout woman, with an unhealthily sallow face and splendid, pensive black eyes. Anna liked her, but today she seemed to be seeing her for the first time with all her defects.
"Well, my dear, so you took the olive branch?" inquired Countess Lidia Ivanovna, as soon as she came into the room.
"Yes, it's all over, but it was all much less serious than we had supposed," answered Anna. "My belle-soeur is in general too hasty."
But Countess Lidia Ivanovna, though she was interested in everything that did not concern her, had a habit of never listening to what interested her; she interrupted Anna:
"Yes, there's plenty of sorrow and evil in the world. I am so worried today."
"Oh, why?" asked Anna, trying to suppress a smile.
"I'm beginning to be weary of fruitlessly championing the truth, and sometimes I'm quite unhinged by it. The Society of the Little Sisters" (this was a religiously-patriotic, philanthropic institution) "was going splendidly, but with these gentlemen it's impossible to do anything," added Countess Lidia Ivanovna in a tone of ironical submission to destiny. "They pounce on the idea, and distort it, and then work it out so pettily and unworthily. Two or three people, your husband among them, understand all the importance of the thing, but the others simply drag it down. Yesterday Pravdin wrote to me..."
Pravdin was a well-known Panslavist abroad, and Countess Lidia Ivanovna described the purport of his letter.
Then the countess told her of more disagreements and intrigues against the work of the unification of the churches, and departed in haste, as she had that day to be at the meeting of some society and also at the Slavonic committee.
"It was all the same before, of course; but why was it I didn't notice it before?" Anna asked herself. "Or has she been very much irritated today? It's really ludicrous; her object is doing good; she a Christian, yet she's always angry; and she always has enemies, and always enemies in the name of Christianity and doing good."
After Countess Lidia Ivanovna another friend came, the wife of a chief secretary, who told her all the news of the town. At three o'clock she too went away, promising to come to dinner. Alexey Alexandrovitch was at the ministry. Anna, left alone, spent the time till dinner in assisting at her son's dinner (he dined apart from his parents) and in putting her things in order, and in reading and answering the notes and letters which had accumulated on her table.
The feeling of causeless shame, which she had felt on the journey, and her excitement, too, had completely vanished. In the habitual conditions of her life she felt again resolute and irreproachable.
She recalled with wonder her state of mind on the previous day. "What was it? Nothing. Vronsky said something silly, which it was easy to put a stop to, and I answered as I ought to have done. To speak of it to my husband would be unnecessary and out of the question. To speak of it would be to attach importance to what has no importance." She remembered how she had told her husband of what was almost a declaration made her at Petersburg by a young man, one of her husband's subordinates, and how Alexey Alexandrovitch had answered that every woman living in the world was exposed to such incidents, but that he had the fullest confidence in her tact, and could never lower her and himself by jealousy. "So then there's no reason to speak of it? And indeed, thank God, there's nothing to speak of," she told herself.
Turn to the next chapter: Chapter 33