Upon his departure from Peterburg Vronsky had left his large apartments on Morskaia to his friend and favorite comrade Petritsky.
Petritsky was a young lieutenant, not particularly well-connected, and not merely not wealthy, but in debt all around. Toward evening he was always drunk, and he had often found himself in the guardhouse because of sorts of ludicrous and disgraceful scrapes, but he was a favorite both of his comrades and his superior officers. At twelve o'clock, as Vronsky was driving up from the station to his quarters, he saw, near the entrance of the house, a hired carriage familiar to him. Even as he rang he heard, beyond the door, masculine laughter, the twitter of a feminine voice, and Petritsky's shout: `If that's one of the villains, don't let him in!' Vronsky told the servant not to announce him, and slipped noiselessly into the first room. Baroness Shilton, a friend of Petritsky's, with a rosy little face and flaxen-fair, resplendent in a lilac satin gown, and filling the whole room, like a canary, with her Parisian accents, sat at a round table, brewing coffee. Petritsky, in his overcoat, and the cavalry captain Kamerovsky, in full uniform, probably just come from duty, were sitting near her.
`Bravo! Vronsky!' shouted Petritsky, jumping up, scraping his chair. `Our host himself! Baroness, some coffee for him out of the new coffeepot. There, we didn't expect you! I Hope you're satisfied with the adornment of your study,' he said, indicating the Baroness. `You know each other, of course?'
`I should say so!' said Vronsky, with a bright smile, squeezing the Barones'ss little hand. `Why, we're old friends.'
`You've just returned after traveling,' said the Baroness, `so I'll run along. Oh, I'll be off this minute, if I'm in the way!'
`You're home, wherever you are, Baroness,' said Vronsky. `How do you do, Kamerovsky?' he added, coldly shaking hands with Kamerovsky.
`There, you can never say such charming things,' said the Baroness, turning to Petritsky.
`No - why not? After dinner even I can say things quite as good.'
`After dinner there's no merit in them! Well, then, I'll give you some coffee; go wash and tidy up,' said the Baroness, sitting down again, and anxiously turning a gadget in the new coffee urn. `Pierre, give me the coffee,' she said, addressing Petritsky, whom she called Pierre, playing on his surname, making no secret of her relations with him. `I want to put some more in.'
`You'll spoil it!'
`No, I won't spoil it! Well, and how is your wife?' said the Baroness suddenly, interrupting Vronsky's conversation with his comrade. `We've been marrying you off here. Have you brought your wife along?'
`No, Baroness. I was born a gypsy, and a gypsy I'll die.'
`So much the better - so much the better. Shake hands on it.'
And the Baroness, detaining Vronsky, began telling him, interspersing her story with many jokes, about her latest plans of life, and seeking his counsel.
`He persists in refusing to give me a divorce! Well, what am I to do?' (He was her husband.) `Now I want to begin a suit against him. What would you advise? Kamerovsky, look after the coffee - it's boiled out; you can see I'm taken up with business! I want a lawsuit, because I must have my property. You can understand the stupidity of his saying that I am unfaithful to him,' she said contemptuously, `yet through it he wants to get the benefit of my fortune.'
Vronsky heard with pleasure this lighthearted prattle of a pretty woman, said yes to everything, gave her half-joking counsel, and altogether dropped at once into the tone habitual to him in talking to such women. In his Peterburg world all people were divided into two utterly opposed kinds. One, the lower, consisted of vulgar, stupid and, above all, ridiculous people, who believe that one husband ought to live with the one wife whom he has lawfully wedded; that a girl should be innocent, a woman modest, and a man manly, self-controlled, and strong; that one ought to bring up one's children, earn one's bread and pay one's debts; and various similar absurdities. Those people were of an old-fashioned and ridiculous kind. But there was another kind of people - real people, to which they all belonged, and here the chief thing was to be elegant, magnanimous, daring, gay, and to abandon oneself without a blush to every passion, and to laugh at everything else.
For the first moment only, Vronsky was startled, after the impressions of a quite different world that he had brought with him from Moscow; but immediately, as though he had thrust his feet into old slippers, he stepped into his former lighthearted, pleasant world.
The coffee was really never made, but spluttered over everyone and boiled away, doing just what was required of it - that is, providing cause for much noise and laughter, and spoiling a costly rug and the Barones'ss gown.
`Well, good-by now - or else you'll never get washed, and I shall have on my conscience the worst offense any decent person can commit - uncleanliness. So you would advise a knife at his throat?'
`Absolutely - and in such a way that your little hand may not be far from his lips. He'll kiss it, and all will end well,' answered Vronsky.
`So, the Fran?ais tonight!' and, with a rustle of her skirts, she vanished.
Kamerovsky got up too, and Vronsky, without waiting for him to go, shook hands and went off to his dressing room. While he was washing, Petritsky briefly outlined to him his position, as far as it had changed since Vronsky's departure from Peterburg. No money whatsoever. His father said he wouldn't give him any, nor pay his debts. His tailor was trying to get him locked up, and another fellow, too, was threatening to do so without fail. The colonel of his regiment had announced that if these scandals did not cease a resignation would be inevitable. As for the Baroness, he was fed up with her, particularly because she was forever wanting to give him money. But there was another girl - he intended showing her to Vronsky - a marvel, exquisite, in the strict Oriental style, `genre of the slave Rebecca, you see.' He had had a row, too, with Berkoshev, and the latter intended sending seconds, but, of course, it would all come to nothing. Altogether everything was going splendidly and was most jolly. And, without letting his comrade enter into further details of his position, Petritsky proceeded to tell him all the interesting news. As he listened to Petritsky's familiar stories, in the familiar setting of the rooms he had spent the last three years in, Vronsky felt the delightful sensation of coming back to the insouciant and customary life of Peterburg.
`Impossible!' he cried, releasing the pedal of the wash basin in which he had been sousing his stalwart red neck. `Impossible!' he cried, at the news that Laura had dropped Fertinghof and had tied up with Mileev. `And is he as stupid and satisfied as ever? Well, and what's Buzulukov doing?'
`Oh, Buzulukov got into a scrape - simply lovely!' cried Petritsky. `You know his passion for balls - and he never misses a single one at court. He went to a big ball in a new casque. Have you seen the new casques? Very good, and lighter. Well, he's standing... No - do listen.'
`I am listening,' answered Vronsky, rubbing himself with a rough towel.
`The Grand Duchess passes by with some ambassador or other, and, as ill luck would have it, their talk veers to the new casques. And so the Grand Duchess wanted to show the new casque to the ambassador.... Just then they catch sight of our dear boy standing there.' (Petritsky mimicked him, standing with his casque.) `The Grand Duchess requested him to give her the casque - he doesn't do so. What's up? Well, they all wink at him, and nod and frown - give it to her, do! He still doesn't. Just stands there, stock-still. You can picture it to yourself!... Well, this... what's his name... tries to take the casque from him... He won't give it up!... This chap tore it from him, and hands it to the Grand Duchess. `This is the new casque,' says the Grand Duchess. She turned the casque over, and - just picture it! - bang went a pear and candy out of it - two pounds of candy!... He'd collected all that - our dear boy!'
Vronsky rolled with laughter. And, long afterward, even when he was talking of other things, he would go off into peals of his hearty laughter baring his strong, closely set teeth, whenever he thought of the casque.
Having learned all the news, Vronsky, with the assistance of his valet, got into his uniform, and went off to report himself. He intended, afterward, to go to his brother and to Betsy, and to pay several visits, as an entering wedge into that society where he might meet Madame Karenina. As always in Peterburg, he left home without any intention of returning before very late at night.