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Chapter 5


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."

"Very good."

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.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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