“One must know all the facts,” he said in his thin voice. “A man’s strength has its limits, countess, and I have reached my limits. The whole day I have had to be making arrangements, arrangements about household matters arising” (he emphasized the word arising) “from my new, solitary position. The servants, the governess, the accounts.... These pinpricks have stabbed me to the heart, and I have not the strength to bear it. At dinner... yesterday, I was almost getting up from the dinner table. I could not bear the way my son looked at me. He did not ask me the meaning of it all, but he wanted to ask, and I could not bear the look in his eyes. He was afraid to look at me, but that is not all....” Alexey Alexandrovitch would have referred to the bill that had been brought him, but his voice shook, and he stopped. That bill on blue paper, for a hat and ribbons, he could not recall without a rush of self-pity.
“I understand, dear friend,” said Lidia Ivanovna. “I understand it all. Succor and comfort you will find not in me, though I have come only to aid you if I can. If I could take from off you all these petty, humiliating cares...I understand that a woman’s word, a woman’s superintendence is needed. You will intrust it to me?”
Silently and gratefully Alexey Alexandrovitch pressed her hand.
“Together we will take care of Seryozha. Practical affairs are not my strong point. But I will set to work. I will be your housekeeper. Don’t thank me. I do it not from myself...”
“I cannot help thanking you.”
“But, dear friend, do not give way to the feeling of which you spoke—being ashamed of what is the Christian’s highest glory: he who humbles himself shall be exalted. And you cannot thank me. You must thank Him, and pray to Him for succor. In Him alone we find peace, consolation, salvation, and love,” she said, and turning her eyes heavenwards, she began praying, as Alexey Alexandrovitch gathered from her silence.
Alexey Alexandrovitch listened to her now, and those expressions which had seemed to him, if not distasteful, at least exaggerated, now seemed to him natural and consolatory. Alexey Alexandrovitch had disliked this new enthusiastic fervor. He was a believer, who was interested in religion primarily in its political aspect, and the new doctrine which ventured upon several new interpretations, just because it paved the way to discussion and analysis, was in principle disagreeable to him. He had hitherto taken up a cold and even antagonistic attitude to this new doctrine, and with Countess Lidia Ivanovna, who had been carried away by it, he had never argued, but by silence had assiduously parried her attempts to provoke him into argument. Now for the first time he heard her words with pleasure, and did not inwardly oppose them.
“I am very, very grateful to you, both for your deeds and for your words,” he said, when she had finished praying.