Alexei Alexandrovich had gained a brilliant victory at the sitting of the Commission of the 17th of August, but in the sequel this victory cut the ground from under his feet. The new commission for the inquiry into the condition of the native tribes on every aspect had been formed and despatched to its destination with an unusual speed and energy, inspired by Alexei Alexandrovich. Within three months a report was presented. The condition of the native tribes was investigated in its political, administrative, economic, ethnographic, material, and religious aspects. To all these questions there were answers admirably stated, and answers admitting no shade of doubt, since they were not a product of human thought, always liable to error, but were all the product of official activity. The answers were all based on official data furnished by governors and bishops, and founded on the reports of district magistrates and ecclesiastical superintendents, founded in their turn on the reports of local authorities and parish priests; and so all of these answers were unhesitating and certain. All such questions as, for instance, the cause of crop failures, why certain tribes adhered to their ancient beliefs, and so on- questions which, but for the convenient intervention of the official machine, are not, and cannot be solved for ages- received full, unhesitating solution. And this solution was in favor of Alexei Alexandrovich's contention. But Stremov, who had felt stung to the quick at the last sitting, had, on the reception of the commission's report, resorted to tactics which Alexei Alexandrovich had not anticipated. Stremov, carrying with him several other members, went over to Alexei Alexandrovich's side, and, not contenting himself with warmly defending the measure proposed by Karenin, proposed other measures, still more extreme, in the same direction. These measures, still stronger than Alexei Alexandrovich's fundamental idea, were passed by the commission, and then the aim of Stremov's tactics became apparent. Carried to an extreme, the measures seemed at once to be so absurd that the highest authorities, and public opinion, and intellectual ladies, and the newspapers, all at the same time fell foul of them, expressing their indignation both with the measures and their nominal father, Alexei Alexandrovich. Stremov drew back, affecting to have blindly followed Karenin, and to be astounded and distressed at what had been done. This meant the defeat of Alexei Alexandrovich. But in spite of failing health, in spite of his domestic griefs, he did not give in. There was a split in the Commission. Some members, with Stremov at their head, justified their mistake on the ground that they had put faith in the commission of revision, instituted by Alexei Alexandrovich, and maintained that the report of the commission was rubbish, and simply so much wastepaper. Alexei Alexandrovich, with a following of those who saw the danger of so revolutionary an attitude to official documents, persisted in upholding the statements obtained by the revising commission. In consequence of this, in the higher spheres, and even in society, all was chaos, and although everyone was interested, no one could tell whether the native tribes really were becoming impoverished and ruined, or whether they were in a flourishing condition. The position of Alexei Alexandrovich, owing to this, and partly owing to the contempt lavished on him for his wife's infidelity, became very precarious. And in this position he took an important resolution. To the astonishment of the Commission, he announced that he should ask permission to go himself to investigate the question on the spot. And having obtained permission, Alexei Alexandrovich prepared to set off to these remote provinces.
Alexei Alexandrovich's departure created a great stir, the more so as just before he started he officially returned the posting fares allowed him for twelve horses to drive to his destination.
"I think it very noble," Betsy said about this to the Princess Miaghkaia. "Why take money for posting horses when everyone knows that there are railways everywhere now?"
But Princess Miaghkaia did not agree, and the Princess Tverskaia's opinion annoyed her indeed.
"It's all very well for you to talk," said she, "when you have I don't know how many millions; but I am very glad when my husband goes on a revising tour in the summer. It's very good for him and pleasant traveling about, and it's a settled arrangement for me to keep a carriage and hired coach on the money."
On his way to the remote provinces Alexei Alexandrovich stopped for three days at Moscow.
The day after his arrival he went to call on the governor general. At the crossroads by Gazetny Lane, where there are always crowds of carriages and hired sleighs, Alexei Alexandrovich suddenly heard his name called out in such a loud and cheerful voice that he could not help looking round. At the corner of the pavement, in a short, stylish overcoat and a low-crowned fashionable hat, jauntily askew, with a smile that showed a gleam of white teeth and red lips, stood Stepan Arkadyevich, radiant, young, and beaming. He called him vigorously and urgently, and insisted on his stopping. He had one arm on the window of a carriage that was stopping at the corner, and out of the window were thrust the heads of a lady in a velvet hat, and two children. Stepan Arkadyevich was smiling and beckoning to his brother-in-law. The lady smiled a kindly smile too, and she too waved her hand to Alexei Alexandrovich. It was Dolly with her children.
Alexei Alexandrovich did not want to see anyone in Moscow, and least of all his wife's brother. He raised his hat and would have driven on, but Stepan Arkadyevich told his coachman to stop, and ran across the snow to him.
"Well, what a shame not to have let us know! Been here long? I was at Dussot's yesterday and saw 'Karenin' on the visitors' list, but it never entered my head that it was you," said Stepan Arkadyevich, sticking his head in at the window of the carriage, "or I should have looked you up. I am glad to see you!" he said, knocking one foot against the other to shake the snow off. "What a shame you did not let us know!" he repeated.
"I had no time; I am very busy," Alexei Alexandrovich responded dryly.
"Come to my wife- she does so want to see you."
Alexei Alexandrovich unfolded the rug in which his frozen feet were wrapped, and getting out of his carriage made his way over the snow to Darya Alexandrovna.
"Why, Alexei Alexandrovich, what are you cutting us like this for?" said Dolly smiling.
"I was very busy. Delighted to see you!" he said in a tone clearly indicating that he was annoyed by it. "How are you?"
"Tell me, how is my darling Anna?"
Alexei Alexandrovich mumbled something and would have gone on. But Stepan Arkadyevich stopped him.
"I tell you what we'll do tomorrow. Dolly, ask him to dinner. We'll ask Koznishev and Pestsov, so as to entertain him with our Moscow intellectuals."
"Yes, please, do come," said Dolly; "we will expect you at five- or six o'clock, if you like. How is my darling Anna? How long..."
"She is quite well," Alexei Alexandrovich mumbled, frowning. "Delighted!" and he moved away toward his carriage.
"You will come?" Dolly called after him.
Alexei Alexandrovich said something which Dolly could not catch in the noise of the moving carriages.
"I shall come round tomorrow!" Stepan Arkadyevich shouted to him.
Alexei Alexandrovich got into his carriage, and buried himself in it so as neither to see nor to be seen.
"Queer fish!" said Stepan Arkadyevich to his wife, and, glancing at his watch, he made a motion of his hand before his face, indicating a caress to his wife and children, and walked jauntily along the pavement.
"Stiva! Stiva!" Dolly called, reddening.
He turned round.
"I must get coats, you know, for Grisha and Tania. Give me the money."
"Never mind; you tell them I'll pay the bill!" and he vanished, nodding genially to an acquaintance who drove by.