Vronsky could not understand exactly what had passed between the Kartasovs and Anna, but he saw that something humiliating for Anna had happened. He knew this both from what he had seen, and most of all from the face of Anna, who, he could see, was taxing every nerve to carry through the part she had taken up. And in maintaining this attitude of external composure she was completely successful. Anyone who did not know her and her circle, who had not heard all the utterances of the women expressive of commiseration, indignation, and amazement, that she should show herself in society, and show herself so conspicuously with her lace and her beauty, would have admired the serenity and loveliness of this woman without a suspicion that she was undergoing the sensations of a man in the stocks.
Knowing that something had happened, but not knowing precisely what, Vronsky felt a thrill of agonizing anxiety, and hoping to find out something, he went towards his brother’s box. Purposely choosing the way round furthest from Anna’s box, he jostled as he came out against the colonel of his old regiment talking to two acquaintances. Vronsky heard the name of Madame Karenina, and noticed how the colonel hastened to address Vronsky loudly by name, with a meaning glance at his companions.
“Ah, Vronsky! When are you coming to the regiment? We can’t let you off without a supper. You’re one of the old set,” said the colonel of his regiment.
“I can’t stop, awfully sorry, another time,” said Vronsky, and he ran upstairs towards his brother’s box.
The old countess, Vronsky’s mother, with her steel-gray curls, was in his brother’s box. Varya with the young Princess Sorokina met him in the corridor.
Leaving the Princess Sorokina with her mother, Varya held out her hand to her brother-in-law, and began immediately to speak of what interested him. She was more excited than he had ever seen her.
“I think it’s mean and hateful, and Madame Kartasova had no right to do it. Madame Karenina...” she began.
“But what is it? I don’t know.”
“What? you’ve not heard?”
“You know I should be the last person to hear of it.”
“There isn’t a more spiteful creature than that Madame Kartasova!”
“But what did she do?”
“My husband told me.... She has insulted Madame Karenina. Her husband began talking to her across the box, and Madame Kartasova made a scene. She said something aloud, he says, something insulting, and went away.”
“Count, your maman is asking for you,” said the young Princess Sorokina, peeping out of the door of the box.
“I’ve been expecting you all the while,” said his mother, smiling sarcastically. “You were nowhere to be seen.”
Her son saw that she could not suppress a smile of delight.
“Good evening, maman. I have come to you,” he said coldly.
“Why aren’t you going to faire la cour a Madame Karenina?” she went on, when Princess Sorokina had moved away. “Elle fait sensation. On oublie la Patti pour elle.”