Anna karenina, p.106
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       Anna Karenina, p.106

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 5

  The waiting-room of the celebrated Petersburg lawyer was full whenAlexey Alexandrovitch entered it. Three ladies--an old lady, a younglady, and a merchant's wife--and three gentlemen--one a German bankerwith a ring on his finger, the second a merchant with a beard, and thethird a wrathful-looking government clerk in official uniform, with across on his neck--had obviously been waiting a long while already. Twoclerks were writing at tables with scratching pens. The appurtenances ofthe writing-tables, about which Alexey Alexandrovitch was himself veryfastidious, were exceptionally good. He could not help observing this.One of the clerks, without getting up, turned wrathfully to AlexeyAlexandrovitch, 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 hispen at the persons waiting, and went on writing.

  "Can't he spare time to see me?" said Alexey Alexandrovitch.

  "He has no time free; he is always busy. Kindly wait your turn."

  "Then I must trouble you to give him my card," Alexey Alexandrovitchsaid with dignity, seeing the impossibility of preserving his incognito.

  The clerk took the card and, obviously not approving of what he read onit, went to the door.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch was in principle in favor of the publicity oflegal proceedings, though for some higher official considerations hedisliked the application of the principle in Russia, and disapproved ofit, as far as he could disapprove of anything instituted by authority ofthe Emperor. His whole life had been spent in administrative work, andconsequently, when he did not approve of anything, his disapproval wassoftened by the recognition of the inevitability of mistakes and thepossibility of reform in every department. In the new public law courtshe disliked the restrictions laid on the lawyers conducting cases. Buttill then he had had nothing to do with the law courts, and so haddisapproved of their publicity simply in theory; now his disapprobationwas strengthened by the unpleasant impression made on him in thelawyer's waiting room.

  "Coming immediately," said the clerk; and two minutes later there didactually appear in the doorway the large figure of an old solicitor whohad 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 asthough for a wedding, from his cravat to his double watch-chain andvarnished boots. His face was clever and manly, but his dress wasdandified 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 tablecovered with papers. He sat down himself, and, rubbing his little handswith short fingers covered with white hairs, he bent his head on oneside. But as soon as he was settled in this position a moth flew overthe table. The lawyer, with a swiftness that could never have beenexpected of him, opened his hands, caught the moth, and resumed hisformer attitude.

  "Before beginning to speak of my business," said Alexey Alexandrovitch,following the lawyer's movements with wondering eyes, "I ought toobserve that the business about which I have to speak to you is to bestrictly private."

  The lawyer's overhanging reddish mustaches were parted in a scarcelyperceptible smile.

  "I should not be a lawyer if I could not keep the secrets confided tome. But if you would like proof..."

  Alexey Alexandrovitch glanced at his face, and saw that the shrewd, grayeyes 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 oncemade up his mind he went on in his shrill voice, without timidity--orhesitation, accentuating here and there a word.

  "I have the misfortune," Alexey Alexandrovitch began, "to have beendeceived in my married life, and I desire to break off all relationswith my wife by legal means--that is, to be divorced, but to do this sothat my son may not remain with his mother."

  The lawyer's gray eyes tried not to laugh, but they were dancing withirrepressible glee, and Alexey Alexandrovitch saw that it was not simplythe delight of a man who has just got a profitable job: there wastriumph and joy, there was a gleam like the malignant gleam he saw inhis 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 yourtime and attention. I have come simply to consult you as a preliminarystep. I want a divorce, but the form in which it is possible is of greatconsequence to me. It is very possible that if that form does notcorrespond with my requirements I may give up a legal divorce."

  "Oh, that's always the case," said the lawyer, "and that's always foryou to decide."

  He let his eyes rest on Alexey Alexandrovitch's feet, feeling that hemight offend his client by the sight of his irrepressible amusement. Helooked at a moth that flew before his nose, and moved his hands, but didnot catch it from regard for Alexey Alexandrovitch's position.

  "Though in their general features our laws on this subject are known tome," pursued Alexey Alexandrovitch, "I should be glad to have an idea ofthe 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 whatyou desire?"

  And on receiving an assuring nod from Alexey Alexandrovitch, he went on,stealing a glance now and then at Alexey Alexandrovitch's face, whichwas growing red in patches.

  "Divorce by our laws," he said, with a slight shade of disapprobation ofour 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 ashort finger covered with hair, "adultery" (this word he pronounced withobvious satisfaction), "subdivided as follows" (he continued to crookhis fat fingers, though the three cases and their subdivisions couldobviously not be classified together): "physical defect of the husbandor of the wife, adultery of the husband or of the wife." As by now allhis 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 honorto apply to me in order to learn its application in practice. Andtherefore, guided by precedents, I must inform you that in practicecases of divorce may all be reduced to the following--there's nophysical defect, I may assume, nor desertion?..."

  Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed his head in assent.

  "--May be reduced to the following: adultery of one of the marriedparties, and the detection in the fact of the guilty party by mutualagreement, and failing such agreement, accidental detection. It must beadmitted that the latter case is rarely met with in practice," said thelawyer, and stealing a glance at Alexey Alexandrovitch he paused, as aman selling pistols, after enlarging on the advantages of each weapon,might await his customer's choice. But Alexey Alexandrovitch saidnothing, and therefore the lawyer went on: "The most usual and simple,the sensible course, I consider, is adultery by mutual consent. I shouldnot permit myself to express it so, speaking with a man of noeducation," he said, "but I imagine that to you this is comprehensible."

  Alexey Alexandrovitch was, however, so perturbed that he did notimmediately comprehend all the good sense of adultery by mutual consent,and his eyes expressed this uncertainty; but the lawyer promptly came tohis assistance.

  "People cannot go on living together--here you have a fact. And if bothare agreed about it, the details and formalities become a matter of noimportance. And at the same time this is the simpl
est and most certainmethod."

  Alexey Alexandrovitch fully understood now. But he had religiousscruples, which hindered the execution of such a plan.

  "That is out of the question in the present case," he said. "Only onealternative is possible: undesigned detection, supported by letterswhich I have."

  At the mention of letters the lawyer pursed up his lips, and gaveutterance 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 ofgoing into the minutest details in cases of that kind," he said with asmile, which betrayed his sympathy with the reverend fathers' taste."Letters may, of course, be a partial confirmation; but detection in thefact there must be of the most direct kind, that is, by eyewitnesses. Infact, if you do me the honor to intrust your confidence to me, you willdo well to leave me the choice of the measures to be employed. If onewants 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 speakto the intruding clerk.

  "Tell her we don't haggle over fees!" he said, and returned to AlexeyAlexandrovitch.

  On his way back he caught unobserved another moth. "Nice state my repcurtains 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 AlexeyAlexandrovitch, getting up, and he clutched at the table. After standinga moment in silence, he said: "From your words I may consequentlyconclude that a divorce may be obtained? I would ask you to let me knowwhat are your terms."

  "It may be obtained if you give me complete liberty of action," said thelawyer, not answering his question. "When can I reckon on receivinginformation from you?" he asked, moving towards the door, his eyes andhis varnished boots shining.

  "In a week's time. Your answer as to whether you will undertake toconduct the case, and on what terms, you will be so good as tocommunicate to me."

  "Very good."

  The lawyer bowed respectfully, let his client out of the door, and, leftalone, gave himself up to his sense of amusement. He felt so mirthfulthat, contrary to his rules, he made a reduction in his terms to thehaggling lady, and gave up catching moths, finally deciding that nextwinter he must have the furniture covered with velvet, like Sigonin's.

 
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