“No. Do you want anything?” Alexey Alexandrovitch asked without eagerness.
“Yes, I wished...I wanted...yes, I wanted to talk to you,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, with surprise aware of an unaccustomed timidity.
This feeling was so unexpected and so strange that he did not believe it was the voice of conscience telling him that what he was meaning to do was wrong.
Stepan Arkadyevitch made an effort and struggled with the timidity that had come over him.
“I hope you believe in my love for my sister and my sincere affection and respect for you,” he said, reddening.
Alexey Alexandrovitch stood still and said nothing, but his face struck Stepan Arkadyevitch by its expression of an unresisting sacrifice.
“I intended...I wanted to have a little talk with you about my sister and your mutual position,” he said, still struggling with an unaccustomed constraint.
Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled mournfully, looked at his brother-in-law, and without answering went up to the table, took from it an unfinished letter, and handed it to his brother-in-law.
“I think unceasingly of the same thing. And here is what I had begun writing, thinking I could say it better by letter, and that my presence irritates her,” he said, as he gave him the letter.
Stepan Arkadyevitch took the letter, looked with incredulous surprise at the lusterless eyes fixed so immovably on him, and began to read.
“I see that my presence is irksome to you. Painful as it is to me to believe it, I see that it is so, and cannot be otherwise. I don’t blame you, and God is my witness that on seeing you at the time of your illness I resolved with my whole heart to forget all that had passed between us and to begin a new life. I do not regret, and shall never regret, what I have done; but I have desired one thing—your good, the good of your soul—and now I see I have not attained that. Tell me yourself what will give you true happiness and peace to your soul. I put myself entirely in your hands, and trust to your feeling of what’s right.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch handed back the letter, and with the same surprise continued looking at his brother-in-law, not knowing what to say. This silence was so awkward for both of them that Stepan Arkadyevitch’s lips began twitching nervously, while he still gazed without speaking at Karenin’s face.
“That’s what I wanted to say to her,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, turning away.
“Yes, yes...” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, not able to answer for the tears that were choking him.
“Yes, yes, I understand you,” he brought out at last.
“I want to know what she would like,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“I am afraid she does not understand her own position. She is not a judge,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, recovering himself. “She is crushed, simply crushed by your generosity. If she were to read this letter, she would be incapable of saying anything, she would only hang her head lower than ever.”