Never had the impossibility of his position in the world’s eyes, and his wife’s hatred of him, and altogether the might of that mysterious brutal force that guided his life against his spiritual inclinations, and exacted conformity with its decrees and change in his attitude to his wife, been presented to him with such distinctness as that day. He saw clearly that all the world and his wife expected of him something, but what exactly, he could not make out. He felt that this was rousing in his soul a feeling of anger destructive of his peace of mind and of all the good of his achievement. He believed that for Anna herself it would be better to break off all relations with Vronsky; but if they all thought this out of the question, he was even ready to allow these relations to be renewed, so long as the children were not disgraced, and he was not deprived of them nor forced to change his position. Bad as this might be, it was anyway better than a rupture, which would put her in a hopeless and shameful position, and deprive him of everything he cared for. But he felt helpless; he knew beforehand that every one was against him, and that he would not be allowed to do what seemed to him now so natural and right, but would be forced to do what was wrong, though it seemed the proper thing to them.
Before Betsy had time to walk out of the drawing-room, she was met in the doorway by Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had just come from Yeliseev’s, where a consignment of fresh oysters had been received.
“Ah! princess! what a delightful meeting!” he began. “I’ve been to see you.”
“A meeting for one minute, for I’m going,” said Betsy, smiling and putting on her glove.
“Don’t put on your glove yet, princess; let me kiss your hand. There’s nothing I’m so thankful to the revival of the old fashions for as the kissing the hand.” He kissed Betsy’s hand. “When shall we see each other?”
“You don’t deserve it,” answered Betsy, smiling.
“Oh, yes, I deserve a great deal, for I’ve become a most serious person. I don’t only manage my own affairs, but other people’s too,” he said, with a significant expression.
“Oh, I’m so glad!” answered Betsy, at once understanding that he was speaking of Anna. And going back into the drawing room, they stood in a corner. “He’s killing her,” said Betsy in a whisper full of meaning. “It’s impossible, impossible...”
“I’m so glad you think so,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, shaking his head with a serious and sympathetically distressed expression, “that’s what I’ve come to Petersburg for.”
“The whole town’s talking of it,” she said. “It’s an impossible position. She pines and pines away. He doesn’t understand that she’s one of those women who can’t trifle with their feelings. One of two things: either let him take her away, act with energy, or give her a divorce. This is stifling her.”