His experience in Petersburg was exactly what had been described to him on the previous day by Prince Pyotr Oblonsky, a man of sixty, who had just come back from abroad:
“We don’t know the way to live here,” said Pyotr Oblonsky. “I spent the summer in Baden, and you wouldn’t believe it, I felt quite a young man. At a glimpse of a pretty woman, my thoughts.... One dines and drinks a glass of wine, and feels strong and ready for anything. I came home to Russia—had to see my wife, and, what’s more, go to my country place; and there, you’d hardly believe it, in a fortnight I’d got into a dressing gown and given up dressing for dinner. Needn’t say I had no thoughts left for pretty women. I became quite an old gentleman. There was nothing left for me but to think of my eternal salvation. I went off to Paris—I was as right as could be at once.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch felt exactly the difference that Pyotr Oblonsky described. In Moscow he degenerated so much that if he had had to be there for long together, he might in good earnest have come to considering his salvation; in Petersburg he felt himself a man of the world again.
Between Princess Betsy Tverskaya and Stepan Arkadyevitch there had long existed rather curious relations. Stepan Arkadyevitch always flirted with her in jest, and used to say to her, also in jest, the most unseemly things, knowing that nothing delighted her so much. The day after his conversation with Karenin, Stepan Arkadyevitch went to see her, and felt so youthful that in this jesting flirtation and nonsense he recklessly went so far that he did not know how to extricate himself, as unluckily he was so far from being attracted by her that he thought her positively disagreeable. What made it hard to change the conversation was the fact that he was very attractive to her. So that he was considerably relieved at the arrival of Princess Myakaya, which cut short their tete-a-tete.
“Ah, so you’re here!” said she when she saw him. “Well, and what news of your poor sister? You needn’t look at me like that,” she added. “Ever since they’ve all turned against her, all those who’re a thousand times worse than she, I’ve thought she did a very fine thing. I can’t forgive Vronsky for not letting me know when she was in Petersburg. I’d have gone to see her and gone about with her everywhere. Please give her my love. Come, tell me about her.”
“Yes, her position is very difficult; she...” began Stepan Arkadyevitch, in the simplicity of his heart accepting as sterling coin Princess Myakaya’s words “tell me about her.” Princess Myakaya interrupted him immediately, as she always did, and began talking herself.
“She’s done what they all do, except me—only they hide it. But she wouldn’t be deceitful, and she did a fine thing. And she did better still in throwing up that crazy brother-in-law of yours. You must excuse me. Everybody used to say he was so clever, so very clever; I was the only one that said he was a fool. Now that he’s so thick with Lidia Ivanovna and Landau, they all say he’s crazy, and I should prefer not to agree with everybody, but this time I can’t help it.”