He was very well aware that he ran no risk of being ridiculous in the eyes of Betsy or any other fashionable people. He was very well aware that in their eyes the position of an unsuccessful lover of a girl, or of any woman free to marry, might be ridiculous. But the position of a man pursuing a married woman, and, regardless of everything, staking his life on drawing her into adultery, has something fine and grand about it, and can never be ridiculous; and so it was with a proud and gay smile under his mustaches that he lowered the opera glass and looked at his cousin.
“But why was it you didn’t come to dinner?” she said, admiring him.
“I must tell you about that. I was busily employed, and doing what, do you suppose? I’ll give you a hundred guesses, a thousand...you’d never guess. I’ve been reconciling a husband with a man who’d insulted his wife. Yes, really!”
“Well, did you succeed?”
“You really must tell me about it,” she said, getting up. “Come to me in the next entr’acte.”
“I can’t; I’m going to the French theater.”
“From Nilsson?” Betsy queried in horror, though she could not herself have distinguished Nilsson’s voice from any chorus girl’s.
“Can’t help it. I’ve an appointment there, all to do with my mission of peace.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers; theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’” said Betsy, vaguely recollecting she had heard some similar saying from someone. “Very well, then, sit down, and tell me what it’s all about.”
And she sat down again.
“This is rather indiscreet, but it’s so good it’s an awful temptation to tell the story,” said Vronsky, looking at her with his laughing eyes. “I’m not going to mention any names.”
“But I shall guess, so much the better.”
“Well, listen: two festive young men were driving—”
“Officers of your regiment, of course?”
“I didn’t say they were officers,—two young men who had been lunching.”
“In other words, drinking.”
“Possibly. They were driving on their way to dinner with a friend in the most festive state of mind. And they beheld a pretty woman in a hired sledge; she overtakes them, looks round at them, and, so they fancy anyway, nods to them and laughs. They, of course, follow her. They gallop at full speed. To their amazement, the fair one alights at the entrance of the very house to which they were going. The fair one darts upstairs to the top story. They get a glimpse of red lips under a short veil, and exquisite little feet.”
“You describe it with such feeling that I fancy you must be one of the two.”