In the slanting evening shadows cast by the baggage piled up on the platform, Vronsky in his long overcoat and slouch hat, with his hands in his pockets, strode up and down, like a wild beast in a cage, turning sharply after twenty paces. Sergey Ivanovitch fancied, as he approached him, that Vronsky saw him but was pretending not to see. This did not affect Sergey Ivanovitch in the slightest. He was above all personal considerations with Vronsky.
At that moment Sergey Ivanovitch looked upon Vronsky as a man taking an important part in a great cause, and Koznishev thought it his duty to encourage him and express his approval. He went up to him.
Vronsky stood still, looked intently at him, recognized him, and going a few steps forward to meet him, shook hands with him very warmly.
“Possibly you didn’t wish to see me,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, “but couldn’t I be of use to you?”
“There’s no one I should less dislike seeing than you,” said Vronsky. “Excuse me; and there’s nothing in life for me to like.”
“I quite understand, and I merely meant to offer you my services,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, scanning Vronsky’s face, full of unmistakable suffering. “Wouldn’t it be of use to you to have a letter to Ristitch—to Milan?”
“Oh, no!” Vronsky said, seeming to understand him with difficulty. “If you don’t mind, let’s walk on. It’s so stuffy among the carriages. A letter? No, thank you; to meet death one needs no letters of introduction. Nor for the Turks....” he said, with a smile that was merely of the lips. His eyes still kept their look of angry suffering.
“Yes; but you might find it easier to get into relations, which are after all essential, with anyone prepared to see you. But that’s as you like. I was very glad to hear of your intention. There have been so many attacks made on the volunteers, and a man like you raises them in public estimation.”
“My use as a man,” said Vronsky, “is that life’s worth nothing to me. And that I’ve enough bodily energy to cut my way into their ranks, and to trample on them or fall—I know that. I’m glad there’s something to give my life for, for it’s not simply useless but loathsome to me. Anyone’s welcome to it.” And his jaw twitched impatiently from the incessant gnawing toothache, that prevented him from even speaking with a natural expression.
“You will become another man, I predict,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, feeling touched. “To deliver one’s brother-men from bondage is an aim worth death and life. God grant you success outwardly—and inwardly peace,” he added, and he held out his hand. Vronsky warmly pressed his outstretched hand.
“Yes, as a weapon I may be of some use. But as a man, I’m a wreck,” he jerked out.
He could hardly speak for the throbbing ache in his strong teeth, that were like rows of ivory in his mouth. He was silent, and his eyes rested on the wheels of the tender, slowly and smoothly rolling along the rails.
And all at once a different pain, not an ache, but an inner trouble, that set his whole being in anguish, made him for an instant forget his toothache. As he glanced at the tender and the rails, under the influence of the conversation with a friend he had not met since his misfortune, he suddenly recalled her—that is, what was left of her when he had run like one distraught into the cloak room of the railway station—on the table, shamelessly sprawling out among strangers, the bloodstained body so lately full of life; the head unhurt dropping back with its weight of hair, and the curling tresses about the temples, and the exquisite face, with red, half-opened mouth, the strange, fixed expression, piteous on the lips and awful in the still open eyes, that seemed to utter that fearful phrase—that he would be sorry for it—that she had said when they were quarreling.
And he tried to think of her as she was when he met her the first time, at a railway station too, mysterious, exquisite, loving, seeking and giving happiness, and not cruelly revengeful as he remembered her on that last moment. He tried to recall his best moments with her, but those moments were poisoned forever. He could only think of her as triumphant, successful in her menace of a wholly useless remorse never to be effaced. He lost all consciousness of toothache, and his face worked with sobs.
Passing twice up and down beside the baggage in silence and regaining his self-possession, he addressed Sergey Ivanovitch calmly:
“You have had no telegrams since yesterday’s? Yes, driven back for a third time, but a decisive engagement expected for tomorrow.”
And after talking a little more of King Milan’s proclamation, and the immense effect it might have, they parted, going to their carriages on hearing the second bell.
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