Anna Karenina ( Part 4 – Chapter 1-5)
The Karenins, husband and wife, continued living in the same house, met every day, but were complete strangers to one another. Alexey Alexandrovitch made it a rule to see his wife every day, so that the servants might have no grounds for suppositions, but avoided dining at home. Vronsky was never at Alexey Alexandrovitch’s house, but Anna saw him away from home, and her husband was aware of it.
The position was one of misery for all three; and not one of them would have been equal to enduring this position for a single day, if it had not been for the expectation that it would change, that it was merely a temporary painful ordeal which would pass over. Alexey Alexandrovitch hoped that this passion would pass, as everything does pass, that everyone would forget about it, and his name would remain unsullied. Anna, on whom the position depended, and for whom it was more miserable than for anyone, endured it because she not merely hoped, but firmly believed, that it would all very soon be settled and come right. She had not the least idea what would settle the position, but she firmly believed that something would very soon turn up now. Vronsky, against his own will or wishes, followed her lead, hoped too that something, apart from his own action, would be sure to solve all difficulties.
In the middle of the winter Vronsky spent a very tiresome week. A foreign prince, who had come on a visit to Petersburg, was put under his charge, and he had to show him the sights worth seeing. Vronsky was of distinguished appearance; he possessed, moreover, the art of behaving with respectful dignity, and was used to having to do with such grand personages–that was how he came to be put in charge of the prince. But he felt his duties very irksome. The prince was anxious to miss nothing of which he would be asked at home, had he seen that in Russia? And on his own account he was anxious to enjoy to the utmost all Russian forms of amusement. Vronsky was obliged to be his guide in satisfying both these inclinations. The mornings they spent driving to look at places of interest; the evenings they passed enjoying the national entertainments. The prince rejoiced in health exceptional even among princes. By gymnastics and careful attention to his health he had brought himself to such a point that in spite of his excess in pleasure he looked as fresh as a big glossy green Dutch cucumber. The prince had traveled a great deal, and considered one of the chief advantages of modern facilities of communication was the accessibility of the pleasures of all nations.
He had been in Spain, and there had indulged in serenades and had made friends with a Spanish girl who played the mandolin. In Switzerland he had killed chamois. In England he had galloped in a red coat over hedges and killed two hundred pheasants for a bet. In Turkey he had got into a harem; in India he had hunted on an elephant, and now in Russia he wished to taste all the specially Russian forms of pleasure.
Vronsky, who was, as it were, chief master of the ceremonies to him, was at great pains to arrange all the Russian amusements suggested by various persons to the prince. They had race horses, and Russian pancakes and bear hunts and three-horse sledges, and gypsies and drinking feasts, with the Russian accompaniment of broken crockery. And the prince with surprising ease fell in with the Russian spirit, smashed trays full of crockery, sat with a gypsy girl on his knee, and seemed to be asking–what more, and does the whole Russian spirit consist in just this?
In reality, of all the Russian entertainments the prince liked best French actresses and ballet dancers and white-seal champagne. Vronsky was used to princes, but, either because he had himself changed of late, or that he was in too close proximity to the prince, that week seemed fearfully wearisome to him. The whole of that week he experienced a sensation such as a man might have set in charge of a dangerous madman, afraid of the madman, and at the same time, from being with him, fearing for his own reason. Vronsky was continually conscious of the necessity of never for a second relaxing the tone of stern official respectfulness, that he might not himself be insulted. The prince’s manner of treating the very people who, to Vronsky’s surprise, were ready to descend to any depths to provide him with Russian amusements, was contemptuous. His criticisms of Russian women, whom he wished to study, more than once made Vronsky crimson with indignation. The chief reason why the prince was so particularly disagreeable to Vronsky was that he could not help seeing himself in him. And what he saw in this mirror did not gratify his self-esteem. He was a very stupid and very self-satisfied and very healthy and very well-washed man, and nothing else. He was a gentleman–that was true, and Vronsky could not deny it. He was equable and not cringing with his superiors, was free and ingratiating in his behavior with his equals, and was contemptuously indulgent with his inferiors. Vronsky was himself the same, and regarded it as a great merit to be so. But for this prince he was an inferior, and his contemptuous and indulgent attitude to him revolted him.
“Brainless beef! can I be like that?” he thought.
Be that as it might, when, on the seventh day, he parted from the
prince, who was starting for Moscow, and received his thanks, he was happy to be rid of his uncomfortable position and the unpleasant reflection of himself. He said good-bye to him at the station on their return from a bear hunt, at which they had had a display of Russian prowess kept up all night.
When he got home, Vronsky found there a note from Anna. She wrote, “I am ill and unhappy. I cannot come out, but I cannot go on longer without seeing you. Come in this evening. Alexey Alexandrovitch goes to the council at seven and will be there till ten.” Thinking for an instant of the strangeness of her bidding him come straight to her, in spite of her husband’s insisting on her not receiving him, he decided to go.
Vronsky had that winter got his promotion, was now a colonel, had left the regimental quarters, and was living alone. After having some lunch, he lay down on the sofa immediately, and in five minutes memories of the hideous scenes he had witnessed during the last few days were confused together and joined on to a mental image of Anna and of the peasant who had played an important part in the bear hunt, and Vronsky fell asleep. He waked up in the dark, trembling with horror, and made haste to light a candle. “What was it? What? What was the dreadful thing I dreamed? Yes, yes; I think a little dirty man with a disheveled beard was stooping down doing something, and all of a sudden he began saying some strange words in French. Yes, there was nothing else in the dream,” he said to himself. “But why was it so awful?” He vividly recalled the peasant again and those incomprehensible French words the peasant had uttered, and a chill of horror ran down his spine.
“What nonsense!” thought Vronsky, and glanced at his watch.
It was half-past eight already. He rang up his servant, dressed in haste, and went out onto the steps, completely forgetting the dream and only worried at being late. As he drove up to the Karenins’ entrance he looked at his watch and saw it was ten minutes to nine. A high, narrow carriage with a pair of grays was standing at the entrance. He recognized Anna’s carriage. “She is coming to me,” thought Vronsky, “and better she should. I don’t like going into that house. But no matter; I can’t hide myself,” he thought, and with that manner peculiar to him from childhood, as of a man who has nothing to be ashamed of, Vronsky got out of his sledge and went to the door. The door opened, and the hall porter with a rug on his arm called the carriage. Vronsky, though he did not usually notice details, noticed at this moment the amazed expression with which the porter glanced at him. In the very doorway Vronsky almost ran up against Alexey Alexandrovitch. The gas jet threw its full light on the bloodless, sunken face under the black hat and on the white cravat, brilliant against the beaver of the coat. Karenin’s fixed, dull eyes were fastened upon Vronsky’s face. Vronsky bowed, and Alexey Alexandrovitch, chewing his lips, lifted his hand to his hat and went on. Vronsky saw him without looking round get into the carriage, pick up the rug and the opera-glass at the window and disappear. Vronsky went into the hall. His brows were scowling, and his eyes gleamed with a proud and angry light in them.
“What a position!” he thought. “If he would fight, would stand up for his honor, I could act, could express my feelings; but this weakness or baseness…. He puts me in the position of playing false, which I never meant and never mean to do.”
Vronsky’s ideas had changed since the day of his conversation with Anna in the Vrede garden. Unconsciously yielding to the weakness of Anna–who had surrendered herself up to him utterly, and simply looked to him to decide her fate, ready to submit to anything–he had long ceased to think that their tie might end as he had thought then. His ambitious plans had retreated into the background again, and feeling that he had got out of that circle of activity in which everything was definite, he had given himself entirely to his passion, and that passion was binding him more and more closely to her.
He was still in the hall when he caught the sound of her retreating footsteps. He knew she had been expecting him, had listened for him, and was now going back to the drawing room.
“No,” she cried, on seeing him, and at the first sound of her voice the tears came into her eyes. “No; if things are to go on like this, the end will come much, much too soon.”
“What is it, dear one?”
“What? I’ve been waiting in agony for an hour, two hours…No, I won’t…I can’t quarrel with you. Of course you couldn’t come. No, I won’t.” She laid her two hands on his shoulders, and looked a long while at him with a profound, passionate, and at the same time searching look. She was studying his face to make up for the time she had not seen him. She was, every time she saw him, making the picture of him in her imagination (incomparably superior, impossible in reality) fit with him as he really was.
“You met him?” she asked, when they had sat down at the table in the lamplight. “You’re punished, you see, for being late.”
“Yes; but how was it? Wasn’t he to be at the council?”
“He had been and come back, and was going out somewhere again. But that’s no matter. Don’t talk about it. Where have you been? With the prince still?”
She knew every detail of his existence. He was going to say that he had been up all night and had dropped asleep, but looking at her thrilled and rapturous face, he was ashamed. And he said he had had to go to report on the prince’s departure.
“But it’s over now? He is gone!”
“Thank God it’s over! You wouldn’t believe how insufferable it’s been for me.”
“Why so? Isn’t it the life all of you, all young men, always lead?” she said, knitting her brows; and taking up the crochet work that was lying on the table, she began drawing the hook out of it, without looking at Vronsky.
“I gave that life up long ago,” said he, wondering at the change in her face, and trying to divine its meaning. “And I confess,” he said, with a smile, showing his thick, white teeth, “this week I’ve been, as it were, looking at myself in a glass, seeing that life, and I didn’t like it.”
She held the work in her hands, but did not crochet, and looked at him with strange, shining, and hostile eyes.
“This morning Liza came to see me–they’re not afraid to call on me, in spite of the Countess Lidia Ivanovna,” she put in–“and she told me about your Athenian evening. How loathsome!”
“I was just going to say…”
She interrupted him. “It was that Therese you used to know?”
“I was just saying…”
“How disgusting you are, you men! How is it you can’t understand that a woman can never forget that,” she said, getting more and more angry, and so letting him see the cause of her irritation, “especially a woman who cannot know your life? What do I know? What have I ever known?” she said; “what you tell me. And how do I know whether you tell me the truth?…”
“Anna, you hurt me. Don’t you trust me? Haven’t I told you that I haven’t a thought I wouldn’t lay bare to you?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, evidently trying to suppress her jealous thoughts. “But if only you knew how wretched I am! I believe you, I believe you…. What were you saying?”
But he could not at once recall what he had been going to say. These fits of jealousy, which of late had been more and more frequent with her, horrified him, and however much he tried to disguise the fact, made him feel cold to her, although he knew the cause of her jealousy was her love for him. How often he had told himself that her love was happiness; and now she loved him as a woman can love when love has outweighed for her all the good things of life–and he was much further from happiness than when he had followed her from Moscow. Then he had thought himself unhappy, but happiness was before him; now he felt that the best happiness was already left behind. She was utterly unlike what she had been when he first saw her. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worse. She had broadened out all over, and in her face at the time when she was speaking of the actress there was an evil expression of hatred that distorted it. He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken.
“Well, well, what was it you were going to say about the prince? I have driven away the fiend,” she added. The fiend was the name they had given her jealousy. “What did you begin to tell me about the prince? Why did you find it so tiresome?”
“Oh, it was intolerable!” he said, trying to pick up the thread of his interrupted thought. “He does not improve on closer acquaintance. If you want him defined, here he is: a prime, well-fed beast such as takes medals at the cattle shows, and nothing more,” he said, with a tone of vexation that interested her.
“No; how so?” she replied. “He’s seen a great deal, anyway; he’s cultured?”
“It’s an utterly different culture–their culture. He’s cultivated, one sees, simply to be able to despise culture, as they despise everything but animal pleasures.”
“But don’t you all care for these animal pleasures?” she said, and again he noticed a dark look in her eyes that avoided him.
“How is it you’re defending him?” he said, smiling.
“I’m not defending him, it’s nothing to me; but I imagine, if you had not cared for those pleasures yourself, you might have got out of them. But if it affords you satisfaction to gaze at Therese in the attire of Eve…”
“Again, the devil again,” Vronsky said, taking the hand she had laid on the table and kissing it.
“Yes; but I can’t help it. You don’t know what I have suffered waiting for you. I believe I’m not jealous. I’m not jealous: I believe you when you’re here; but when you’re away somewhere leading your life, so incomprehensible to me…”
She turned away from him, pulled the hook at last out of the crochet work, and rapidly, with the help of her forefinger, began working loop after loop of the wool that was dazzling white in the lamplight, while the slender wrist moved swiftly, nervously in the embroidered cuff.
“How was it, then? Where did you meet Alexey Alexandrovitch?” Her voice sounded in an unnatural and jarring tone.
“We ran up against each other in the doorway.”
“And he bowed to you like this?”
She drew a long face, and half-closing her eyes, quickly transformed her expression, folded her hands, and Vronsky suddenly saw in her beautiful face the very expression with which Alexey Alexandrovitch had bowed to him. He smiled, while she laughed gaily, with that sweet, deep laugh, which was one of her greatest charms.
“I don’t understand him in the least,” said Vronsky. “If after your avowal to him at your country house he had broken with you, if he had called me out–but this I can’t understand. How can he put up with such a position? He feels it, that’s evident.”
“He?” she said sneeringly. “He’s perfectly satisfied.”
“What are we all miserable for, when everything might be so happy?”
“Only not he. Don’t I know him, the falsity in which he’s utterly steeped?… Could one, with any feeling, live as he is living with me? He understands nothing, and feels nothing. Could a man of any feeling live in the same house with his unfaithful wife? Could he talk to her, call her ‘my dear’?”
And again she could not help mimicking him: “‘Anna, ma chere; Anna, dear’!”
“He’s not a man, not a human being–he’s a doll! No one knows him; but I know him. Oh, if I’d been in his place, I’d long ago have killed, have torn to pieces a wife like me. I wouldn’t have said, ‘Anna, ma chere’! He’s not a man, he’s an official machine. He doesn’t understand that I’m your wife, that he’s outside, that he’s superfluous…. Don’t let’s talk of him!…”
“You’re unfair, very unfair, dearest,” said Vronsky, trying to soothe her. “But never mind, don’t let’s talk of him. Tell me what you’ve been doing? What is the matter? What has been wrong with you, and what did the doctor say?”
She looked at him with mocking amusement. Evidently she had hit on other absurd and grotesque aspects in her husband and was awaiting the moment to give expression to them.
But he went on:
“I imagine that it’s not illness, but your condition. When will it be?”
The ironical light died away in her eyes, but a different smile, a consciousness of something, he did not know what, and of quiet melancholy, came over her face.
“Soon, soon. You say that our position is miserable, that we must put an end to it. If you knew how terrible it is to me, what I would give to be able to love you freely and boldly! I should not torture myself and torture you with my jealousy…. And it will come soon but not as we expect.”
And at the thought of how it would come, she seemed so pitiable to herself that tears came into her eyes, and she could not go on. She laid her hand on his sleeve, dazzling and white with its rings in the lamplight
“It won’t come as we suppose. I didn’t mean to say this to you, but you’ve made me. Soon, soon, all will be over, and we shall all, all be at peace, and suffer no more.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, understanding her.
“You asked when? Soon. And I shan’t live through it. Don’t interrupt me!” and she made haste to speak. “I know it; I know for certain. I shall die; and I’m very glad I shall die, and release myself and you.”
Tears dropped from her eyes; he bent down over her hand and began kissing it, trying to hide his emotion, which, he knew, had no sort of grounds, though he could not control it.
“Yes, it’s better so,” she said, tightly gripping his hand. “That’s the only way, the only way left us.”
He had recovered himself, and lifted his head.
“How absurd! What absurd nonsense you are talking!”
“No, it’s the truth.”
“What, what’s the truth?”
“That I shall die. I have had a dream.”
“A dream?” repeated Vronsky, and instantly he recalled the peasant of his dream.
“Yes, a dream,” she said. “It’s a long while since I dreamed it. I dreamed that I ran into my bedroom, that I had to get something there, to find out something; you know how it is in dreams,” she said, her eyes wide with horror; “and in the bedroom, in the corner, stood something.”
“Oh, what nonsense! How can you believe…”
But she would not let him interrupt her. What she was saying was too important to her.
“And the something turned round, and I saw it was a peasant with a disheveled beard, little, and dreadful looking. I wanted to run away, but he bent down over a sack, and was fumbling there with his hands…”
She showed how he had moved his hands. There was terror in her face. And Vronsky, remembering his dream, felt the same terror filling his soul.
“He was fumbling and kept talking quickly, quickly in French, you know: Il faut le battre, le fer, le brayer, le petrir…. And in my horror I tried to wake up, and woke up…but woke up in the dream. And I began asking myself what it meant. And Korney said to me: ‘In childbirth you’ll die, ma’am, you’ll die….’ And I woke up.”
“What nonsense, what nonsense!” said Vronsky; but he felt himself that there was no conviction in his voice.
“But don’t let’s talk of it. Ring the bell, I’ll have tea. And stay a little now; it’s not long I shall…”
But all at once she stopped. The expression of her face instantaneously changed. Horror and excitement were suddenly replaced by a look of soft, solemn, blissful attention. He could not comprehend the meaning of the change. She was listening to the stirring of the new life within her.
Alexey Alexandrovitch, after meeting Vronsky on his own steps, drove, as he had intended, to the Italian opera. He sat through two acts there, and saw everyone he had wanted to see. On returning home, he carefully scrutinized the hat stand, and noticing that there was not a military overcoat there, he went, as usual, to his own room. But, contrary to his usual habits, he did not go to bed, he walked up and down his study till three o’clock in the morning. The feeling of furious anger with his wife, who would not observe the proprieties and keep to the one stipulation he had laid on her, not to receive her lover in her own home, gave him no peace. She had not complied with his request, and he was bound to punish her and carry out his threat–obtain a divorce and take away his son. He knew all the difficulties connected with this course, but he had said he would do it, and now he must carry out his threat. Countess Lidia Ivanovna had hinted that this was the best way out of his position, and of late the obtaining of divorces had been brought to such perfection that Alexey Alexandrovitch saw a possibility of overcoming the formal difficulties. Misfortunes never come singly, and the affairs of the reorganization of the native tribes, and of the irrigation of the lands of the Zaraisky province, had brought such official worries upon Alexey Alexandrovitch that he had been of late in a continual condition of extreme irritability.
He did not sleep the whole night, and his fury, growing in a sort of vast, arithmetical progression, reached its highest limits in the morning. He dressed in haste, and as though carrying his cup full of wrath, and fearing to spill any over, fearing to lose with his wrath the energy necessary for the interview with his wife, he went into her room directly he heard she was up.
Anna, who had thought she knew her husband so well, was amazed at his appearance when he went in to her. His brow was lowering, and his eyes stared darkly before him, avoiding her eyes; his mouth was tightly and contemptuously shut. In his walk, in his gestures, in the sound of his voice there was a determination and firmness such as his wife had never seen in him. He went into her room, and without greeting her, walked straight up to her writing-table, and taking her keys, opened a drawer.
“What do you want?” she cried.
“Your lover’s letters,” he said.
“They’re not here,” she said, shutting the drawer; but from that action he saw he had guessed right, and roughly pushing away her hand, he quickly snatched a portfolio in which he knew she used to put her most important papers. She tried to pull the portfolio away, but he pushed her back.
“Sit down! I have to speak to you,” he said, putting the portfolio under his arm, and squeezing it so tightly with his elbow that his shoulder stood up. Amazed and intimidated, she gazed at him in silence.
“I told you that I would not allow you to receive your lover in this house.”
“I had to see him to…”
She stopped, not finding a reason.
“I do not enter into the details of why a woman wants to see her lover.”
“I meant, I only…” she said, flushing hotly. This coarseness of his angered her, and gave her courage. “Surely you must feel how easy it is for you to insult me?” she said.
“An honest man and an honest woman may be insulted, but to tell a thief he’s a thief is simply la constatation d’un fait.”
“This cruelty is something new I did not know in you.”
“You call it cruelty for a husband to give his wife liberty, giving her the honorable protection of his name, simply on the condition of observing the proprieties: is that cruelty?”
“It’s worse than cruel–it’s base, if you want to know!” Anna cried, in a rush of hatred, and getting up, she was going away.
“No!” he shrieked in his shrill voice, which pitched a note higher than usual even, and his big hands clutching her by the arm so violently that red marks were left from the bracelet he was squeezing, he forcibly sat her down in her place.
“Base! If you care to use that word, what is base is to forsake husband and child for a lover, while you eat your husband’s bread!”
She bowed her head. She did not say what she had said the evening before to her lover, that HE was her husband, and her husband was superfluous; she did not even think that. She felt all the justice of his words, and only said softly:
“You cannot describe my position as worse than I feel it to be myself; but what are you saying all this for?”
“What am I saying it for? what for?” he went on, as angrily. “That you may know that since you have not carried out my wishes in regard to observing outward decorum, I will take measures to put an end to this state of things.”
“Soon, very soon, it will end, anyway,” she said; and again, at the thought of death near at hand and now desired, tears came into her eyes.
“It will end sooner than you and your lover have planned! If you must have the satisfaction of animal passion…”
“Alexey Alexandrovitch! I won’t say it’s not generous, but it’s not like a gentleman to strike anyone who’s down.”
“Yes, you only think of yourself! But the sufferings of a man who was your husband have no interest for you. You don’t care that his whole life is ruined, that he is thuff…thuff…”
Alexey Alexandrovitch was speaking so quickly that he stammered, and was utterly unable to articulate the word “suffering.” In the end he pronounced it “thuffering.” She wanted to laugh, and was immediately ashamed that anything could amuse her at such a moment. And for the first time, for an instant, she felt for him, put herself in his place, and was sorry for him. But what could she say or do? Her head sank, and she sat silent. He too was silent for some time, and then began speaking in a frigid, less shrill voice, emphasizing random words that had no significance.
“I came to tell you…” he said.
She glanced at him. “No, it was my fancy,” she thought, recalling the expression of his face when he stumbled over the word “suffering.” “No; can a man with those dull eyes, with that self-satisfied complacency, feel anything?”
“I cannot change anything,” she whispered.
“I have come to tell you that I am going tomorrow to Moscow, and shall not return again to this house, and you will receive notice of what I decide through the lawyer into whose hands I shall intrust the task of getting a divorce. My son is going to my sister’s,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, with an effort recalling what he had meant to say about his son.
“You take Seryozha to hurt me,” she said, looking at him from under her brows. “You do not love him…. Leave me Seryozha!”
“Yes, I have lost even my affection for my son, because he is associated with the repulsion I feel for you. But still I shall take him. Goodbye!”
And he was going away, but now she detained him.
“Alexey Alexandrovitch, leave me Seryozha!” she whispered once more. “I have nothing else to say. Leave Seryozha till my…I shall soon be confined; leave him!”
Alexey Alexandrovitch flew into a rage, and, snatching his hand from her, he went out of the room without a word.
The waiting-room of the celebrated Petersburg lawyer was full when Alexey Alexandrovitch entered it. Three ladies–an old lady, a young lady, and a merchant’s wife–and three gentlemen– one a German banker with a ring on his finger, the second a merchant with a beard, and the third a wrathful-looking government clerk in official uniform, with a cross on his neck– had obviously been waiting a long while already. Two clerks were writing at tables with scratching pens. The appurtenances of the writing-tables, about which Alexey Alexandrovitch was himself very fastidious, were exceptionally good. He could not help observing this. One of the clerks, without getting up, turned wrathfully to Alexey Alexandrovitch, half closing his eyes. “What are you wanting?”
He replied that he had to see the lawyer on some business.
“He is engaged,” the clerk responded severely, and he pointed with his pen at the persons waiting, and went on writing.
“Can’t he spare time to see me?” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“He has not time free; he is always busy. Kindly wait your turn.”
“Then I must trouble you to give him my card,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said with dignity, seeing the impossibility of preserving his incognito.
The clerk took the card and, obviously not approving of what he read on it, went to the door.
Alexey Alexandrovitch was in principle in favor of the publicity of legal proceedings, though for some higher official considerations he disliked the application of the principle in Russia, and disapproved of it, as far as he could disapprove of anything instituted by authority of the Emperor. His whole life had been spent in administrative work, and consequently, when he did not approve of anything, his disapproval was softened by the recognition of the inevitability of mistakes and the possibility of reform in every department. In the new public law courts he disliked the restrictions laid on the lawyers conducting cases. But till then he had had nothing to do with the law courts, and so had disapproved of their publicity simply in theory; now his disapprobation was strengthened by the unpleasant impression made on him in the lawyer’s waiting room.
“Coming immediately,” said the clerk; and two minutes later there did actually appear in the doorway the large figure of an old solicitor who had been consulting with the lawyer himself.
The lawyer was a little, squat, bald man, with a dark, reddish beard, light-colored long eyebrows, and an overhanging brow. He was attired as though for a wedding, from his cravat to his double watch-chain and varnished boots. His face was clever and manly, but his dress was dandified and in bad taste.
“Pray walk in,” said the lawyer, addressing Alexey Alexandrovitch; and, gloomily ushering Karenin in before him, he closed the door.
“Won’t you sit down?” He indicated an armchair at a writing table covered with papers. He sat down himself, and, rubbing his little hands with short fingers covered with white hairs, he bent his head on one side. But as soon as he was settled in this position a moth flew over the table. The lawyer, with a swiftness that could never have been expected of him, opened his hands, caught the moth, and resumed his former attitude.
“Before beginning to speak of my business,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, following the lawyer’s movements with wondering eyes, “I ought to observe that the business about which I have to speak to you is to be strictly private.”
The lawyer’s overhanging reddish mustaches were parted in a scarcely perceptible smile.
“I should not be a lawyer if I could not keep the secrets confided to me. But if you would like proof…”
Alexey Alexandrovitch glanced at his face, and saw that the shrewd, gray eyes were laughing, and seemed to know all about it already.
“You know my name?” Alexey Alexandrovitch resumed.
“I know you and the good”–again he caught a moth–“work you are doing, like every Russian,” said the lawyer, bowing.
Alexey Alexandrovitch sighed, plucking up his courage. But having once made up his mind he went on in his shrill voice, without timidity–or hesitation, accentuating here and there a word.
“I have the misfortune,” Alexey Alexandrovitch began, “to have been deceived in my married life, and I desire to break off all relations with my wife by legal means–that is, to be divorced, but to do this so that my son may not remain with his mother.”
The lawyer’s gray eyes tried not to laugh, but they were dancing with irrepressible glee, and Alexey Alexandrovitch saw that it was not simply the delight of a man who has just got a profitable job: there was triumph and joy, there was a gleam like the malignant gleam he saw in his wife’s eyes.
“You desire my assistance in securing a divorce?”
“Yes, precisely so; but I ought to warn you that I may be wasting your time and attention. I have come simply to consult you as a preliminary step. I want a divorce, but the form in which it is possible is of great consequence to me. It is very possible that if that form does not correspond with my requirements I may give up a legal divorce.”
“Oh, that’s always the case,” said the lawyer, “and that’s always for you to decide.”
He let his eyes rest on Alexey Alexandrovitch’s feet, feeling that he might offend his client by the sight of his irrepressible amusement. He looked at a moth that flew before his nose, and moved his hands, but did not catch it from regard for Alexey Alexandrovitch’s position.
“Though in their general features our laws on this subject are known to me,” pursued Alexey Alexandrovitch, “I should be glad to have an idea of the forms in which such things are done in practice.”
“You would be glad,” the lawyer, without lifting his eyes, responded, adopting, with a certain satisfaction, the tone of his client’s remarks, “for me to lay before you all the methods by which you could secure what you desire?”
And on receiving an assuring nod from Alexey Alexandrovitch, he went on, stealing a glance now and then at Alexey Alexandrovitch’s face, which was growing red in patches.
“Divorce by our laws,” he said, with a slight shade of disapprobation of our laws, “is possible, as you are aware, in the following cases…. Wait a little!” he called to a clerk who put his head in at the door, but he got up all the same, said a few words to him, and sat down again. “…In the following cases: physical defect in the married parties, desertion without communication for five years,” he said, crooking a short finger covered with hair, “adultery” (this word he pronounced with obvious satisfaction), “subdivided as follows” (he continued to crook his fat fingers, though the three cases and their subdivisions could obviously not be classified together): “physical defect of the husband or of the wife, adultery of the husband or of the wife.” As by now all his fingers were used up, he uncrooked all his fingers and went on: “This is the theoretical view; but I imagine you have done me the honor to apply to me in order to learn its application in practice. And therefore, guided by precedents, I must inform you that in practice cases of divorce may all be reduced to the following– there’s no physical defect, I may assume, nor desertion?…”
Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed his head in assent.
“–May be reduced to the following: adultery of one of the married parties, and the detection in the fact of the guilty party by mutual agreement, and failing such agreement, accidental detection. It must be admitted that the latter case is rarely met with in practice,” said the lawyer, and stealing a glance at Alexey Alexandrovitch he paused, as a man selling pistols, after enlarging on the advantages of each weapon, might await his customer’s choice. But Alexey Alexandrovitch said nothing, and therefore the lawyer went on: “The most usual and simple, the sensible course, I consider, is adultery by mutual consent. I should not permit myself to express it so, speaking with a man of no education,” he said, “but I imagine that to you this is comprehensible.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch was, however, so perturbed that he did not immediately comprehend all the good sense of adultery by mutual consent, and his eyes expressed this uncertainty; but the lawyer promptly came to his assistance.
“People cannot go on living together–here you have a fact. And if both are agreed about it, the details and formalities become a matter of no importance. And at the same time this is the simplest and most certain method.”
Alexey Alexandrovitch fully understood now. But he had religious scruples, which hindered the execution of such a plan.
“That is out of the question in the present case,” he said. “Only one alternative is possible: undesigned detection, supported by letters which I have.”
At the mention of letters the lawyer pursed up his lips, and gave utterance to a thin little compassionate and contemptuous sound.
“Kindly consider,” he began, “cases of that kind are, as you are aware, under ecclesiastical jurisdiction; the reverend fathers are fond of going into the minutest details in cases of that kind,” he said with a smile, which betrayed his sympathy with the reverend fathers’ taste. “Letters may, of course, be a partial confirmation; but detection in the fact there must be of the most direct kind, that is, by eyewitnesses. In fact, if you do me the honor to intrust your confidence to me, you will do well to leave me the choice of the measures to be employed. If one wants the result, one must admit the means.”
“If it is so…” Alexey Alexandrovitch began, suddenly turning white; but at that moment the lawyer rose and again went to the door to speak to the intruding clerk.
“Tell her we don’t haggle over fees!” he said, and returned to Alexey Alexandrovitch.
On his way back he caught unobserved another moth. “Nice state my rep curtains will be in by the summer!” he thought, frowning.
“And so you were saying?…” he said.
“I will communicate my decision to you by letter,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, getting up, and he clutched at the table. After standing a moment in silence, he said: “From your words I may consequently conclude that a divorce may be obtained? I would ask you to let me know what are your terms.”
“It may be obtained if you give me complete liberty of action,” said the lawyer, not answering his question. “When can I reckon on receiving information from you?” he asked, moving towards the door, his eyes and his varnished boots shining.
“In a week’s time. Your answer as to whether you will undertake to conduct the case, and on what terms, you will be so good as to communicate to me.”
The lawyer bowed respectfully, let his client out of the door, and, left alone, gave himself up to his sense of amusement. He felt so mirthful that, contrary to his rules, he made a reduction in his terms to the haggling lady, and gave up catching moths, finally deciding that next winter he must have the furniture covered with velvet, like Sigonin’s.