Anna karenina, p.148
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       Anna Karenina, p.148

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 24

  The levee was drawing to a close. People met as they were going away,and gossiped of the latest news, of the newly bestowed honors and thechanges in the positions of the higher functionaries.

  "If only Countess Marya Borissovna were Minister of War, and PrincessVatkovskaya were Commander-in-Chief," said a gray-headed, little old manin a gold-embroidered uniform, addressing a tall, handsome maid of honorwho had questioned him about the new appointments.

  "And me among the adjutants," said the maid of honor, smiling.

  "You have an appointment already. You're over the ecclesiasticaldepartment. And your assistant's Karenin."

  "Good-day, prince!" said the little old man to a man who came up to him.

  "What were you saying of Karenin?" said the prince.

  "He and Putyatov have received the Alexander Nevsky."

  "I thought he had it already."

  "No. Just look at him," said the little old man, pointing with hisembroidered hat to Karenin in a court uniform with the new red ribbonacross his shoulders, standing in the doorway of the hall with aninfluential member of the Imperial Council. "Pleased and happy as abrass farthing," he added, stopping to shake hands with a handsomegentleman of the bedchamber of colossal proportions.

  "No; he's looking older," said the gentleman of the bedchamber.

  "From overwork. He's always drawing up projects nowadays. He won't let apoor devil go nowadays till he's explained it all to him under heads."

  "Looking older, did you say? _Il fait des passions_. I believe CountessLidia Ivanovna's jealous now of his wife."

  "Oh, come now, please don't say any harm of Countess Lidia Ivanovna."

  "Why, is there any harm in her being in love with Karenin?"

  "But is it true Madame Karenina's here?"

  "Well, not here in the palace, but in Petersburg. I met her yesterdaywith Alexey Vronsky, _bras dessous, bras dessous_, in the Morsky."

  "C'est un homme qui n'a pas..." the gentleman of the bedchamber wasbeginning, but he stopped to make room, bowing, for a member of theImperial family to pass.

  Thus people talked incessantly of Alexey Alexandrovitch, finding faultwith him and laughing at him, while he, blocking up the way of themember of the Imperial Council he had captured, was explaining to himpoint by point his new financial project, never interrupting hisdiscourse for an instant for fear he should escape.

  Almost at the same time that his wife left Alexey Alexandrovitch therehad come to him that bitterest moment in the life of an official--themoment when his upward career comes to a full stop. This full stop hadarrived and everyone perceived it, but Alexey Alexandrovitch himself wasnot yet aware that his career was over. Whether it was due to his feudwith Stremov, or his misfortune with his wife, or simply that AlexeyAlexandrovitch had reached his destined limits, it had become evident toeveryone in the course of that year that his career was at an end. Hestill filled a position of consequence, he sat on many commissions andcommittees, but he was a man whose day was over, and from whom nothingwas expected. Whatever he said, whatever he proposed, was heard asthough it were something long familiar, and the very thing that was notneeded. But Alexey Alexandrovitch was not aware of this, and, on thecontrary, being cut off from direct participation in governmentalactivity, he saw more clearly than ever the errors and defects in theaction of others, and thought it his duty to point out means for theircorrection. Shortly after his separation from his wife, he began writinghis first note on the new judicial procedure, the first of the endlessseries of notes he was destined to write in the future.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch did not merely fail to observe his hopelessposition in the official world, he was not merely free from anxiety onthis head, he was positively more satisfied than ever with his ownactivity.

  "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, howhe may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the thingsthat are of the world, how he may please his wife," says the ApostlePaul, and Alexey Alexandrovitch, who was now guided in every action byScripture, often recalled this text. It seemed to him that ever since hehad been left without a wife, he had in these very projects of reformbeen serving the Lord more zealously than before.

  The unmistakable impatience of the member of the Council trying to getaway from him did not trouble Alexey Alexandrovitch; he gave up hisexposition only when the member of the Council, seizing his chance whenone of the Imperial family was passing, slipped away from him.

  Left alone, Alexey Alexandrovitch looked down, collecting his thoughts,then looked casually about him and walked towards the door, where hehoped to meet Countess Lidia Ivanovna.

  "And how strong they all are, how sound physically," thought AlexeyAlexandrovitch, looking at the powerfully built gentleman of thebedchamber with his well-combed, perfumed whiskers, and at the red neckof the prince, pinched by his tight uniform. He had to pass them on hisway. "Truly is it said that all the world is evil," he thought, withanother sidelong glance at the calves of the gentleman of thebedchamber.

  Moving forward deliberately, Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed with hiscustomary air of weariness and dignity to the gentleman who had beentalking about him, and looking towards the door, his eyes soughtCountess Lidia Ivanovna.

  "Ah! Alexey Alexandrovitch!" said the little old man, with a maliciouslight in his eyes, at the moment when Karenin was on a level with them,and was nodding with a frigid gesture, "I haven't congratulated youyet," said the old man, pointing to his newly received ribbon.

  "Thank you," answered Alexey Alexandrovitch. "What an _exquisite_ daytoday," he added, laying emphasis in his peculiar way on the word_exquisite_.

  That they laughed at him he was well aware, but he did not expectanything but hostility from them; he was used to that by now.

  Catching sight of the yellow shoulders of Lidia Ivanovna jutting outabove her corset, and her fine pensive eyes bidding him to her, AlexeyAlexandrovitch smiled, revealing untarnished white teeth, and wenttowards her.

  Lidia Ivanovna's dress had cost her great pains, as indeed all herdresses had done of late. Her aim in dress was now quite the reverse ofthat she had pursued thirty years before. Then her desire had been toadorn herself with something, and the more adorned the better. Now, onthe contrary, she was perforce decked out in a way so inconsistent withher age and her figure, that her one anxiety was to contrive that thecontrast between these adornments and her own exterior should not be tooappalling. And as far as Alexey Alexandrovitch was concerned shesucceeded, and was in his eyes attractive. For him she was the oneisland not only of goodwill to him, but of love in the midst of the seaof hostility and jeering that surrounded him.

  Passing through rows of ironical eyes, he was drawn as naturally to herloving glance as a plant to the sun.

  "I congratulate you," she said to him, her eyes on his ribbon.

  Suppressing a smile of pleasure, he shrugged his shoulders, closing hiseyes, as though to say that that could not be a source of joy to him.Countess Lidia Ivanovna was very well aware that it was one of his chiefsources of satisfaction, though he never admitted it.

  "How is our angel?" said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, meaning Seryozha.

  "I can't say I was quite pleased with him," said Alexey Alexandrovitch,raising his eyebrows and opening his eyes. "And Sitnikov is notsatisfied with him." (Sitnikov was the tutor to whom Seryozha's seculareducation had been intrusted.) "As I have mentioned to you, there's asort of coldness in him towards the most important questions which oughtto touch the heart of every man and every child...." AlexeyAlexandrovitch began expounding his views on the sole question thatinterested him besides the service--the education of his son.

  When Alexey Alexandrovitch with Lidia Ivanovna's help had been broughtback anew to life and activity, he felt it his duty to undertake theeducation of the son left on his hands. Having never before taken anyinterest in educational questions, Alexey Alexandrovitch devoted sometime to the theoretical study of the subject. After reading severalbook
s on anthropology, education, and didactics, Alexey Alexandrovitchdrew up a plan of education, and engaging the best tutor in Petersburgto superintend it, he set to work, and the subject continually absorbedhim.

  "Yes, but the heart. I see in him his father's heart, and with such aheart a child cannot go far wrong," said Lidia Ivanovna with enthusiasm.

  "Yes, perhaps.... As for me, I do my duty. It's all I can do."

  "You're coming to me," said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, after a pause; "wehave to speak of a subject painful for you. I would give anything tohave spared you certain memories, but others are not of the same mind. Ihave received a letter from _her_. _She_ is here in Petersburg."

  Alexey Alexandrovitch shuddered at the allusion to his wife, butimmediately his face assumed the deathlike rigidity which expressedutter helplessness in the matter.

  "I was expecting it," he said.

  Countess Lidia Ivanovna looked at him ecstatically, and tears of raptureat the greatness of his soul came into her eyes.

 
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