FictionForest

PART FOUR : Chapter 5

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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 no 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.

 

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