Chapter 25When Alexei Alexandrovich came into the Countess Lidia Ivanovna's snug little boudoir, decorated with old china and hung with portraits, the lady herself had not yet made her appearance.
She was changing her dress.
A cloth was laid on a round table, and on it stood a china tea service and a silver teakettle and spirit lamp. Alexei Alexandrovich looked idly about at the endless familiar portraits which adorned the room, and, sitting down to the table, he opened a New Testament lying upon it. The rustle of the Countess's silk skirt drew his attention off.
`Well, now, we can sit quietly,' said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, slipping hurriedly with an agitated smile between the table and the sofa, `and talk over our tea.'
After some words of preparation, Countess Lidia Ivanovna, breathing hard and flushing crimson, gave into Alexei Alexandrovich's hands the letter she had received.
After reading the letter, he sat a long while in silence.
`I don't think I have the right to refuse her,' he said, timidly lifting his eyes.
`Dear friend, you never see evil in anyone!'
`On the contrary, I see that all is evil. But whether it is just...'
His face showed irresolution, and a seeking for counsel, support, and guidance, in a matter he did not understand.
`No,' Countess Lidia Ivanovna interrupted him; `there are limits to everything. I can understand immorality,' she said, not quite truthfully, since she never could understand that which leads women to immorality; `but I don't understand cruelty - to whom? To you! How can she stay in the town where you are? No, the longer one lives the more one learns. And I'm learning to understand your loftiness and her baseness.'
`Who is to cast a stone?' said Alexei Alexandrovich, unmistakably pleased with the part he had to play. `I have forgiven all, and so I cannot deprive her of what is exacted by love in her - by her love for her son....'
`But is that love, my friend? Is it sincere? Admitting that you have forgiven - that you forgive... have we the right to work on the soul of that angel? He looks on her as dead. He prays for her, and beseeches God to have mercy on her sins. And it is better so. But now what will he think?'
`I had not thought of that,' said Alexei Alexandrovich, evidently agreeing.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna hid her face in her hands and was silent. She was praying.
`If you ask my advice,' she said, having finished her prayer and uncovered her face, `I do not advise you to do this. Do you suppose I don't see how you are suffering, how this has torn open your wounds? But supposing that, as always, you don't think of yourself - what can it lead to? - To fresh suffering for you, to torture for the child. If there were a trace of humanity left in her, she ought not to wish it herself. No, I have no hesitation in saying I advise against it, and if you will intrust it to me, I will write to her.'
And Alexei Alexandrovich consented, and Countess Lidia Ivanovna sent the following letter in French:
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