“The peasant and the tradesman feed you.”
“Yes, but what of it? That’s not only to my discredit, but to theirs too. They feed me and take off their caps to me, so it seems they have not the intelligence and honesty to do otherwise. I don’t blame or praise any one: I only mean that the upper class and the lower are as bad as one another. My feelings and my intelligence are opposed to both, but my tastes lie more in the direction of the former. Well, now for the evils of marriage,” Orlov went on, glancing at his watch. “It’s high time for you to understand that there are no evils in the system itself; what is the matter is that you don’t know yourselves what you want from marriage. What is it you want? In legal and illegal cohabitation, in every sort of union and cohabitation, good or bad, the underlying reality is the same. You ladies live for that underlying reality alone: for you it’s everything; your existence would have no meaning for you without it. You want nothing but that, and you get it; but since you’ve taken to reading novels you are ashamed of it: you rush from pillar to post, you recklessly change your men, and to justify this turmoil you have begun talking of the evils of marriage. So long as you can’t and won’t renounce what underlies it all, your chief foe, your devil —so long as you serve that slavishly, what use is there in discussing the matter seriously? Everything you may say to me will be falsity and affectation. I shall not believe you.”
I went to find out from the hall porter whether the sledge was at the door, and when I came back I found it had become a quarrel. As sailors say, a squall had blown up.
“I see you want to shock me by your cynicism today,” said Zinaida Fyodorovna, walking about the drawing-room in great emotion. “It revolts me to listen to you. I am pure before God and man, and have nothing to repent of. I left my husband and came to you, and am proud of it. I swear, on my honour, I am proud of it!”
“Well, that’s all right, then!”
“If you are a decent, honest man, you, too, ought to be proud of what I did. It raises you and me above thousands of people who would like to do as we have done, but do not venture through cowardice or petty prudence. But you are not a decent man. You are afraid of freedom, and you mock the promptings of genuine feeling, from fear that some ignoramus may suspect you of being sincere. You are afraid to show me to your friends; there’s no greater infliction for you than to go about with me in the street. . . . Isn’t that true? Why haven’t you introduced me to your father or your cousin all this time? Why is it? No, I am sick of it at last,” cried Zinaida Fyodorovna, stamping. “I demand what is mine by right. You must present me to your father.”
“If you want to know him, go and present yourself. He receives visitors every morning from ten till half-past.”
“How base you are!” said Zinaida Fyodorovna, wringing her hands in despair. “Even if you are not sincere, and are not saying what you think, I might hate you for your cruelty. Oh, how base you are!”