The waiting room of the celebrated Peterburg lawyer was full when Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Alexei Alexandrovich was himself very fastidious, were exceptionally good. He could not help observing this. One of the clerks, without getting up, turned fretfully to Alexei Alexandrovich, half-closing his eyes.
"What is it you wish?"
"My business has to do with the lawyer."
"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 Alexei Alexandrovich.
"He has no time free; he is always busy. Kindly wait your turn."
"Then I must trouble you to give him my card," Alexei Alexandrovich 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.
Alexei Alexandrovich 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.
"He will be out right away," said the clerk; and two minutes later there did actually appear in the doorway the large figure of an old student of jurisprudence who had been consulting with the lawyer, and the lawyer himself.
The lawyer was a little, squat, bald man, with a dark, reddish beard, light-colored long eyebrows, and beetling brow. He was attired as though for a wedding, from his cravat to his double watch chain and patent-leather shoes. His face was clever and rustic, but his dress was dandified and in bad taste.
"Pray walk in," said the lawyer, addressing Alexei Alexandrovich; 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 Alexei Alexandrovich, following the lawyer's movements with wondering eyes, "I ought to observe that the matter about which I have to speak to you is to be a secret."
The lawyer's drooping reddish mustaches were stirred by 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..."
Alexei Alexandrovich 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?" Alexei Alexandrovich resumed.
"I know you and the good"- again he caught a moth- "work you are doing, like every Russian," said the lawyer, bowing.
Alexei Alexandrovich sighed, plucking up his courage. But, having once made up his mind, he went on in his shrill voice, without timidity or hesitation, accentuating a word here and there.
"I have the misfortune," Alexei Alexandrovich began, "to be a deceived husband, and I desire to break off all relations with my wife by legal means- that is, to be divorced; but 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 Alexei Alexandrovich 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 had seen in his wife's eyes.
"You desire my assistance in securing a divorce?"
"Yes, precisely; 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 which it may take 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 action."
"Oh, that's always the case," said the lawyer, "and that's always for you to decide."
He let his eyes rest on Alexei Alexandrovich'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 hand, but did not catch it from regard for Alexei Alexandrovich's situation.
"Though in their general features our laws on this subject are known to me," pursued Alexei Alexandrovich, "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 assenting nod from Alexei Alexandrovich, he went on, stealing a glance now and then at Alexei Alexandrovich'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... To wait!" 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 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 straightened them 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?..."
Alexei Alexandrovich bowed his head in assent.
"They 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 Alexei Alexandrovich he paused, as a man selling pistols, after enlarging on the advantages of each weapon, might await his customer's choice. But Alexei Alexandrovich 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."
Alexei Alexandrovich was, however, so perturbed that he did not immediately comprehend all the reasonableness 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."
Alexei Alexandrovich understood fully 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: involuntary 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 taste of the reverend fathers. "Letters may, of course, be a partial confirmation; but detection in the act there must be of the most direct kind- that is, by eyewitnesses. In fact, if you do me the honor to trust me with your confidence, you will do well to leave me the choice of the measures to be employed. If one wants the result, one must allow the means."
"If it is so..." Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Alexei Alexandrovich.
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 Alexei Alexandrovich, 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 your terms are."
"It may be obtained if you give me complete liberty of action," said the lawyer, without answering his question. "When can I count on receiving word from you?" he asked moving toward the door, his eyes and his patent-leather shoes shining.
"In a week's time. You will be kind enough to communicate to me your answer as to whether you will undertake to conduct the case, and on what terms."
"Very good, sir."
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 rule, 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.