This boy was more often than anyone else a check upon their
freedom. When he was present, both Vronsky and Anna did not
merely avoid speaking of anything that they could not have
repeated before everyone; they did not even allow themselves to
refer by hints to anything the boy did not understand. They had
made no agreement about this, it had settled itself. They would
have felt it wounding themselves to deceive the child. In his
presence they talked like acquaintances. But in spite of this
caution, Vronsky often saw the child's intent, bewildered glance
fixed upon him, and a strange shyness, uncertainty, at one time
friendliness, at another, coldness and reserve, in the boy's
manner to him; as though the child felt that between this man and
his mother there existed some important bond, the significance of
which he could not understand.
As a fact, the boy did feel that he could not understand this
relation, and he tried painfully, and was not able to make clear
to himself what feeling he ought to have for this man. With a
child's keen instinct for every manifestation of feeling, he saw
distinctly that his father, his governess, his nurse,--all did
not merely dislike Vronsky, but looked on him with horror and
aversion, though they never said anything about him, while his
mother looked on him as her greatest friend.
"What does it mean? Who is he? How ought I to love him? If I
don't know, it's my fault; either I'm stupid or a naughty boy,"
thought the child. And this was what caused his dubious,
inquiring, sometimes hostile, expression, and the shyness and
uncertainty which Vronsky found so irksome. This child's
presence always and infallibly called up in Vronsky that strange
feeling of inexplicable loathing which he had experienced of
late. This child's presence called up both in Vronsky and in
Anna a feeling akin to the feeling of a sailor who sees by the
compass that the direction in which he is swiftly moving is far
from the right one, but that to arrest his motion is not in his
power, that every instant is carrying him further and further
away, and that to admit to himself his deviation from the right
direction is the same as admitting his certain ruin.
This child, with his innocent outlook upon life, was the compass
that showed them the point to which they had departed from what
they knew, but did not want to know.