Connected with the conversation that had sprung up on the rights of women there were certain questions as to the inequality of rights in marriage, improper to discuss before the ladies. Pestsov had several times during dinner touched upon these questions, but Sergei Ivanovich and Stepan Arkadyevich carefully drew him off them.
When they rose from the table and the ladies had gone out, Pestsov did not follow them, but, addressing Alexei Alexandrovich, began to expound the chief ground of inequality. The inequality in marriage, in his opinion, lay in the fact that the infidelity of the wife and infidelity of the husband are punished unequally, both by the law and by public opinion.
Stepan Arkadyevich went hurriedly up to Alexei Alexandrovich and offered him a cigar.
"No, I don't smoke," Alexei Alexandrovich answered calmly, and, as though purposely wishing to show that he was not afraid of the subject, he turned to Pestsov with a chilly smile.
"I imagine that such a view has a foundation in the very nature of things," he said, and would have gone on to the drawing room. But at this point Turovtsin broke suddenly and unexpectedly into the conversation, addressing Alexei Alexandrovich.
"You heard, perhaps, about Priachnikov?" said Turovtsin, warmed up by the champagne he had drunk, and long waiting for an opportunity to break the silence that had weighed on him. "Vassia Priachnikov," he said, with a good-natured smile on his moist, red lips, addressing himself principally to the most important guest, Alexei Alexandrovich, "they told me today he fought a duel with Kvitsky at Tver, and has killed him."
Just as it always seems that one bruises oneself on a sore place, so Stepan Arkadyevich felt now that the conversation would by ill luck fall at any moment on Alexei Alexandrovich's sore spot. He would again have got his brother-in-law away, but Alexei Alexandrovich himself inquired, with curiosity:
"What did Priachnikov fight about?"
"His wife. Acted like a man, he did! Called him out and shot him!"
"Ah!" said Alexei Alexandrovich indifferently, and, lifting his eyebrows, he went into the drawing room.
"How glad I am you have come," Dolly said with a frightened smile, meeting him in the outer drawing room. "I must talk to you. Let's sit here."
Alexei Alexandrovich, with the same expression of indifference, due to his lifted eyebrows, sat down beside Darya Alexandrovna, and smiled affectedly.
"It's fortunate," said he, "especially as I meant to ask you to excuse me, and to be taking leave. I have to start tomorrow."
Darya Alexandrovna was firmly convinced of Anna's innocence, and she felt herself growing pale and her lips quivering with anger at this frigid, unfeeling man, who was so calmly intending to ruin her innocent friend.
"Alexei Alexandrovich," she said, with desperate resolution looking him in the face, "I asked you about Anna; you made me no answer. How is she?"
"She is, I believe, quite well, Darya Alexandrovna," replied Alexei Alexandrovich, without looking at her.
"Alexei Alexandrovich, forgive me, I have no right... But I love Anna as a sister, and esteem her; I beg, I beseech you to tell me what is wrong between you? What fault do you find with her?"
Alexei Alexandrovich frowned, and, almost closing his eyes, dropped his head.
"I presume that your husband has told you the grounds on which I consider it necessary to change my attitude to Anna Arkadyevna?" he said, without looking her in the face, but eying with displeasure Shcherbatsky, who was walking across the drawing room.
"I don't believe it, I don't believe it- I can't believe it!" Dolly said, clasping her bony hands before her with a vigorous gesture. She rose quickly and laid her hand on Alexei Alexandrovich's sleeve. "We shall be disturbed here. Come this way, please."
Dolly's agitation had an effect on Alexei Alexandrovich. He got up and submissively followed her to the schoolroom. They sat down at a table covered with an oilcloth cut in slits by penknives.
"I don't- I don't believe it!" Dolly said, trying to catch his glance, still avoiding her.
"One cannot disbelieve facts, Darya Alexandrovna," said he, with an emphasis on the word facts.
"But what has she done?" said Darya Alexandrovna. "What, precisely, has she done?"
"She has forsaken her duty, and deceived her husband. That's what she has done," said he.
"No, no, it can't be! No, for God's sake, you are mistaken," said Dolly, putting her hands to her temples and closing her eyes.
Alexei Alexandrovich smiled coldly, with his lips alone, meaning to signify to her and himself the firmness of his conviction; but this warm defense, though it could not shake him, reopened his wound. He began to speak with greater heat.
"It is extremely difficult to be mistaken when a wife herself informs her husband of the fact- informs him that eight years of her life, and a son, are all a mistake, and that she wants to begin life anew," he said angrily, with a snort.
"Anna and sin- I cannot connect them, I cannot believe it!"
"Darya Alexandrovna," he said, now looking straight into Dolly's kindly, troubled face, and feeling that his tongue was being loosened in spite of himself, "I would give a great deal for doubt to be still possible. When I doubted, I was miserable, but it was better than now. When I doubted, I had hope; but now there is no hope, and still I doubt everything. I am in such doubt of everything that I even hate my son, and sometimes do not believe he is my son. I am very unhappy."
He had no need to say that. Darya Alexandrovna had seen that as soon as he glanced into her face; and she felt sorry for him, and her faith in the innocence of her friend began to waver.
"Oh, this is awful, awful! But can it be true that you are resolved on a divorce?"
"I am resolved on extreme measures. There is nothing else for me to do."
"Nothing else to do, nothing else to do..." she replied, with tears in her eyes. "Oh no, don't say there's nothing else to do!" she said.
"What is horrible in a misfortune of this kind is that one cannot, as in any other- in loss, in death- bear one's trouble in peace, but that one must act," said he, as though guessing her thought. "One must get out of the humiliating position in which one is placed; one can't live a trois."
"I understand, I quite understand that," said Dolly, and her head sank. She was silent for a little, thinking of herself, of her own grief in her family, and all at once, with an impulsive movement, she raised her head and clasped her hands with an imploring gesture. "But wait a little! You are a Christian. Think of her! What will become of her, if you cast her off?"
"I have thought, Darya Alexandrovna- I have thought a great deal," said Alexei Alexandrovich. His face turned red in patches, and his dim eyes looked straight before him. Darya Alexandrovna at that moment pitied him with all her heart. "That indeed was what I did when she herself made known to me my humiliation; I left everything as of old. I gave her a chance to reform, I tried to save her. And with what result? She would not regard the least request- that she should observe decorum," he said, getting heated. "One may save anyone who does not want to be ruined; but if the whole nature is so corrupt, so depraved, that ruin itself seems to her salvation, what's to be done?"
"Anything, only not divorce!" answered Darya Alexandrovna.
"But what is anything?"
"No, it is awful! She will be no one's wife; she will be lost!"
"What can I do?" said Alexei Alexandrovich, raising his shoulders and his eyebrows. The recollection of his wife's last act had so incensed him that he had become frigid, as at the beginning of the conversation. "I am very grateful for your sympathy, but I must be going," he said, getting up.
"No, wait a minute. You must not ruin her. Wait a little; I will tell you about myself. I was married, and my husband deceived me; in anger and jealousy I would have thrown up everything, I would myself... But I came to myself again; and who did it? Anna saved me. And here I am living on. The children are growing up, my husband has come back to his family, and feels his fault, is growing purer, better, and I live on... I have forgiven it, and you ought to forgive!"
Alexei Alexandrovich heard her, but her words had no effect on him now. All the hatred of that day when he had resolved on a divorce had sprung up again in his soul. He shook himself, and said in a shrill loud voice:
"Forgive I cannot, and do not wish to, and I regard it as wrong. I have done everything for this woman, and she has trodden it all in the mud to which she is kin. I am not a spiteful man, I have never hated anyone, but I hate her with my whole soul, and I cannot even forgive her, because I hate her too much for all the wrong she has done me!" he said, with tears of hatred in his voice.
"Love those that hate you..." Darya Alexandrovna whispered, timorously.
Alexei Alexandrovich smiled contemptuously. That he knew long ago, but it could not be applied to his case.
"Love those that hate you, but to love those one hates is impossible. Forgive me for having troubled you. Everyone has enough to bear in his own grief!" And, regaining his self-possession, Alexei Alexandrovich quietly took leave and went away.