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Anna was upstairs, standing before the looking glass, and, with Annushka's assistance, pinning the last ribbon on her gown when she heard carriage wheels crunching the gravel at the entrance.
"It's too early for Betsy," she thought, and glancing out of the window she caught sight of the carriage and the black hat of Alexey Alexandrovitch, and the ears that she knew so well sticking up each side of it. "How unlucky! Can he be going to stay the night?" she wondered, and the thought of all that might come of such a chance struck her as so awful and terrible that, without dwelling on it for a moment, she went down to meet him with a bright and radiant face; and conscious of the presence of that spirit of falsehood and deceit in herself that she had come to know of late, she abandoned herself to that spirit and began talking, hardly knowing what she was saying.
"Ah, how nice of you!" she said, giving her husband her hand, and greeting Sludin, who was like one of the family, with a smile. "You're staying the night, I hope?" was the first word the spirit of falsehood prompted her to utter; "and now we'll go together. Only it's a pity I've promised Betsy. She's coming for me."
Alexey Alexandrovitch knit his brows at Betsy's name.
"Oh, I'm not going to separate the inseparables," he said in his usual bantering tone. "I'm going with Mihail Vassilievitch. I'm ordered exercise by the doctors too. I'll walk, and fancy myself at the springs again."
"There's no hurry," said Anna. "Would you like tea?"
"Bring in tea, and tell Seryozha that Alexey Alexandrovitch is here. Well, tell me, how have you been? Mihail Vassilievitch, you've not been to see me before. Look how lovely it is out on the terrace," she said, turning first to one and then to the other.
She spoke very simply and naturally, but too much and too fast. She was the more aware of this from noticing in the inquisitive look Mihail Vassilievitch turned on her that he was, as it were, keeping watch on her.
Mihail Vassilievitch promptly went out on the terrace.
She sat down beside her husband.
"You don't look quite well," she said.
"Yes," he said; "the doctor's been with me today and wasted an hour of my time. I feel that some one of our friends must have sent him: my health's so precious, it seems."
"No; what did he say?"
she questioned him about his health and what he had been doing, and tried to persuade him to take a rest and come out to her.
All this she said brightly, rapidly, and with a peculiar brilliance in her eyes. But Alexey Alexandrovitch did not now attach any special significance to this tone of hers. He heard only her words and gave them only the direct sense they bore. And he answered simply, though jestingly. There was nothing remarkable in all this conversation, but never after could Anna recall this brief scene without an agonizing pang of shame.
Seryozha came in preceded by his governess. If Alexey Alexandrovitch had allowed himself to observe he would have noticed the timid and bewildered eyes with which Seryozha glanced first at his father and then at his mother. But he would not see anything, and he did not see it.
"Ah, the young man! He's grown. Really, he's getting quite a man. How are you, young man?"
And he gave his hand to the scared child. Seryozha had been shy of his father before, and now, ever since Alexey Alexandrovitch had taken to calling him young man, and since that insoluble question had occurred to him whether Vronsky were a friend or a foe, he avoided his father. He looked round towards his mother as though seeking shelter. It was only with his mother that he was at ease. Meanwhile, Alexey Alexandrovitch was holding his son by the shoulder while he was speaking to the governess, and Seryozha was so miserably uncomfortable that Anna saw he was on the point of tears.
Anna, who had flushed a little the instant her son came in, noticing that Seryozha was uncomfortable, got up hurriedly, took Alexey Alexandrovitch's hand from her son's shoulder, and kissing the boy, led him out onto the terrace, and quickly came back.
"It's time to start, though," said she, glancing at her watch. "How is it Betsy doesn't come?..."
"Yes," said Alexey Alexandrovitch, and getting up, he folded his hands and cracked his fingers. "I've come to bring you some money, too, for nightingales, we know, can't live on fairy tales," he said. "You want it, I expect?"
"No, I don't...yes, I do," she said, not looking at him, and crimsoning to the roots of her hair. "But you'll come back here after the races, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes!" answered Alexey Alexandrovitch. "And here's the glory of Peterhof, Princess Tverskaya," he added, looking out of the window at the elegant English carriage with the tiny seats placed extremely high. "What elegance! Charming! Well, let us be starting too, then."
Princess Tverskaya did not get out of her carriage, but her groom, in high boots, a cape, and block hat, darted out at the entrance.
"I'm going; good-bye!" said Anna, and kissing her son, she went up to Alexey Alexandrovitch and held out her hand to him. "It was ever so nice of you to come."
Alexey Alexandrovitch kissed her hand.
"Well, au revoir, then! You'll come back for some tea; that's delightful!" she said, and went out, gay and radiant. But as soon as she no longer saw him, she was aware of the spot on her hand that his lips had touched, and she shuddered with repulsion.
Turn to the next chapter: Chapter 28