Levin was sitting beside his hostess at the tea table, and was
obliged to keep up a conversation with her and her sister, who
was sitting opposite him. Madame Sviazhskaya was a round-faced,
fair-haired, rather short woman, all smiles and dimples. Levin
tried through her to get a solution of the weighty enigma her
husband presented to his mind; but he had not complete freedom of
ideas, because he was in an agony of embarrassment. This agony
of embarrassment was due to the fact that the sister-in-law was
sitting opposite to him, in a dress, specially put on, as he
fancied, for his benefit, cut particularly open, in the shape of
a trapeze, on her white bosom. This quadrangular opening, in
spite of the bosom's being very white, or just because it was
very white, deprived Levin of the full use of his faculties. He
imagined, probably mistakenly, that this low-necked bodice had
been made on his account, and felt that he had no right to look
at it, and tried not to look at it; but he felt that he was to
blame for the very fact of the low-necked bodice having been
made. It seemed to Levin that he had deceived someone, that he
ought to explain something, but that to explain it was
impossible, and for that reason he was continually blushing, was
ill at ease and awkward. His awkwardness infected the pretty
sister-in-law too. But their hostess appeared not to observe
this, and kept purposely drawing her into the conversation.
"You say," she said, pursuing the subject that had been started,
"that my husband cannot be interested in what's Russian. It's
quite the contrary; he is always in cheerful spirits abroad, but
not as he is here. Here, he feels in his proper place. He has
so much to do, and he has the faculty of interesting himself in
everything. Oh, you've not been to see our school, have you?"
"I've seen it.... The little house covered with ivy, isn't it?"
"Yes; that's Nastia's work," she said, indicating her sister.
"You teach in it yourself?" asked Levin, trying to look above the
open neck, but feeling that wherever he looked in that direction
he should see it.