Chapter 12

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?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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