As he neared Petersburg, Alexey Alexandrovitch
not only adhered entirely to his decision, but was
even composing in his head the letter he would write
to his wife. Going into the porter’s room,
Alexey Alexandrovitch glanced at the letters and papers
brought from his office, and directed that they should
be brought to him in his study.
“The horses can be taken out
and I will see no one,” he said in answer to
the porter, with a certain pleasure, indicative of
his agreeable frame of mind, emphasizing the words,
“see no one.”
In his study Alexey Alexandrovitch
walked up and down twice, and stopped at an immense
writing-table, on which six candles had already been
lighted by the valet who had preceded him. He
cracked his knuckles and sat down, sorting out his
writing appurtenances. Putting his elbows on
the table, he bent his head on one side, thought a
minute, and began to write, without pausing for a
second. He wrote without using any form of address
to her, and wrote in French, making use of the plural
“vous,” which has not the same
note of coldness as the corresponding Russian form.
“At our last conversation, I
notified you of my intention to communicate to you
my decision in regard to the subject of that conversation.
Having carefully considered everything, I am writing
now with the object of fulfilling that promise.
My decision is as follows. Whatever your conduct
may have been, I do not consider myself justified
in breaking the ties in which we are bound by a Higher
Power. The family cannot be broken up by a whim,
a caprice, or even by the sin of one of the partners
in the marriage, and our life must go on as it has
done in the past. This is essential for me, for
you, and for our son. I am fully persuaded that
you have repented and do repent of what has called
forth the present letter, and that you will cooperate
with me in eradicating the cause of our estrangement,
and forgetting the past. In the contrary event,
you can conjecture what awaits you and your son.
All this I hope to discuss more in detail in a personal
interview. As the season is drawing to a close,
I would beg you to return to Petersburg as quickly
as possible, not later than Tuesday. All necessary
preparations shall be made for your arrival here.
I beg you to note that I attach particular significance
to compliance with this request.
“P.S. I enclose the
money which may be needed for your expenses.”
He read the letter through and felt
pleased with it, and especially that he had remembered
to enclose money: there was not a harsh word,
not a reproach in it, nor was there undue indulgence.
Most of all, it was a golden bridge for return.
Folding the letter and smoothing it with a massive
ivory knife, and putting it in an envelope with the
money, he rang the bell with the gratification it
always afforded him to use the well arranged appointments
of his writing-table.
“Give this to the courier to
be delivered to Anna Arkadyevna tomorrow at the summer
villa,” he said, getting up.
“Certainly, your excellency;
tea to be served in the study?”
Alexey Alexandrovitch ordered tea
to be brought to the study, and playing with the massive
paper-knife, he moved to his easy chair, near which
there had been placed ready for him a lamp and the
French work on Egyptian hieroglyphics that he had begun.
Over the easy chair there hung in a gold frame an
oval portrait of Anna, a fine painting by a celebrated
artist. Alexey Alexandrovitch glanced at it.
The unfathomable eyes gazed ironically and insolently
at him. Insufferably insolent and challenging
was the effect in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s eyes
of the black lace about the head, admirably touched
in by the painter, the black hair and handsome white
hand with one finger lifted, covered with rings.
After looking at the portrait for a minute, Alexey
Alexandrovitch shuddered so that his lips quivered
and he uttered the sound “brrr,”
and turned away. He made haste to sit down in
his easy chair and opened the book. He tried
to read, but he could not revive the very vivid interest
he had felt before in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
He looked at the book and thought of something else.
He thought not of his wife, but of a complication
that had arisen in his official life, which at the
time constituted the chief interest of it. He
felt that he had penetrated more deeply than ever
before into this intricate affair, and that he had
originated a leading idea he could say
it without self-flattery calculated to clear
up the whole business, to strengthen him in his official
career, to discomfit his enemies, and thereby to be
of the greatest benefit to the government. Directly
the servant had set the tea and left the room, Alexey
Alexandrovitch got up and went to the writing-table.
Moving into the middle of the table a portfolio of
papers, with a scarcely perceptible smile of self-satisfaction,
he took a pencil from a rack and plunged into the
perusal of a complex report relating to the present
complication. The complication was of this nature:
Alexey Alexandrovitch’s characteristic quality
as a politician, that special individual qualification
that every rising functionary possesses, the qualification
that with his unflagging ambition, his reserve, his
honesty, and with his self-confidence had made his
career, was his contempt for red tape, his cutting
down of correspondence, his direct contact, wherever
possible, with the living fact, and his economy.
It happened that the famous Commission of the 2nd
of June had set on foot an inquiry into the irrigation
of lands in the Zaraisky province, which fell under
Alexey Alexandrovitch’s department, and was
a glaring example of fruitless expenditure and paper
reforms. Alexey Alexandrovitch was aware of the
truth of this. The irrigation of these lands
in the Zaraisky province had been initiated by the
predecessor of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s predecessor.
And vast sums of money had actually been spent and
were still being spent on this business, and utterly
unproductively, and the whole business could obviously
lead to nothing whatever. Alexey Alexandrovitch
had perceived this at once on entering office, and
would have liked to lay hands on the Board of Irrigation.
But at first, when he did not yet feel secure in
his position, he knew it would affect too many interests,
and would be injudicious. Later on he had been
engrossed in other questions, and had simply forgotten
the Board of Irrigation. It went of itself,
like all such boards, by the mere force of inertia.
(Many people gained their livelihood by the Board
of Irrigation, especially one highly conscientious
and musical family: all the daughters played
on stringed instruments, and Alexey Alexandrovitch
knew the family and had stood godfather to one of
the elder daughters.) The raising of this question
by a hostile department was in Alexey Alexandrovitch’s
opinion a dishonorable proceeding, seeing that in
every department there were things similar and worse,
which no one inquired into, for well-known reasons
of official etiquette. However, now that the
glove had been thrown down to him, he had boldly picked
it up and demanded the appointment of a special commission
to investigate and verify the working of the Board
of Irrigation of the lands in the Zaraisky province.
But in compensation he gave no quarter to the enemy
either. He demanded the appointment of another
special commission to inquire into the question of
the Native Tribes Organization Committee. The
question of the Native Tribes had been brought up
incidentally in the Commission of the 2nd of June,
and had been pressed forward actively by Alexey Alexandrovitch
as one admitting of no delay on account of the deplorable
condition of the native tribes. In the commission
this question had been a ground of contention between
several departments. The department hostile
to Alexey Alexandrovitch proved that the condition
of the native tribes was exceedingly flourishing,
that the proposed reconstruction might be the ruin
of their prosperity, and that if there were anything
wrong, it arose mainly from the failure on the part
of Alexey Alexandrovitch’s department to carry
out the measures prescribed by law. Now Alexey
Alexandrovitch intended to demand: First, that
a new commission should be formed which should be empowered
to investigate the condition of the native tribes on
the spot; secondly, if it should appear that the condition
of the native tribes actually was such as it appeared
to be from the official documents in the hands of
the committee, that another new scientific commission
should be appointed to investigate the deplorable
condition of the native tribes from the (1)
political, (2) administrative, (3) economic, (4) ethnographical,
(5) material, and (6) religious points of view; thirdly,
that evidence should be required from the rival department
of the measures that had been taken during the last
ten years by that department for averting the disastrous
conditions in which the native tribes were now placed;
and fourthly and finally, that that department explain
why it had, as appeared from the evidence before the
committee, from N,015 and 18,038, from December
5, 1863, and June 7, 1864, acted in direct contravention
of the intent of the law T…Act 18, and the note
to Act 36. A flash of eagerness suffused the
face of Alexey Alexandrovitch as he rapidly wrote
out a synopsis of these ideas for his own benefit.
Having filled a sheet of paper, he got up, rang, and
sent a note to the chief secretary of his department
to look up certain necessary facts for him.
Getting up and walking about the room, he glanced
again at the portrait, frowned, and smiled contemptuously.
After reading a little more of the book on Egyptian
hieroglyphics, and renewing his interest in it, Alexey
Alexandrovitch went to bed at eleven o’clock,
and recollecting as he lay in bed the incident with
his wife, he saw it now in by no means such a gloomy