Anna karenina, p.206
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       Anna Karenina, p.206

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 17

  Stepan Arkadyevitch's affairs were in a very bad way.

  The money for two-thirds of the forest had all been spent already, andhe had borrowed from the merchant in advance at ten per cent discount,almost all the remaining third. The merchant would not give more,especially as Darya Alexandrovna, for the first time that winterinsisting on her right to her own property, had refused to sign thereceipt for the payment of the last third of the forest. All his salarywent on household expenses and in payment of petty debts that could notbe put off. There was positively no money.

  This was unpleasant and awkward, and in Stepan Arkadyevitch's opinionthings could not go on like this. The explanation of the position was,in his view, to be found in the fact that his salary was too small. Thepost he filled had been unmistakably very good five years ago, but itwas so no longer.

  Petrov, the bank director, had twelve thousand; Sventitsky, a companydirector, had seventeen thousand; Mitin, who had founded a bank,received fifty thousand.

  "Clearly I've been napping, and they've overlooked me," StepanArkadyevitch thought about himself. And he began keeping his eyes andears open, and towards the end of the winter he had discovered a verygood berth and had formed a plan of attack upon it, at first from Moscowthrough aunts, uncles, and friends, and then, when the matter was welladvanced, in the spring, he went himself to Petersburg. It was one ofthose snug, lucrative berths of which there are so many more nowadaysthan there used to be, with incomes ranging from one thousand to fiftythousand roubles. It was the post of secretary of the committee of theamalgamated agency of the southern railways, and of certain bankingcompanies. This position, like all such appointments, called for suchimmense energy and such varied qualifications, that it was difficult forthem to be found united in any one man. And since a man combining allthe qualifications was not to be found, it was at least better that thepost be filled by an honest than by a dishonest man. And StepanArkadyevitch was not merely an honest man--unemphatically--in the commonacceptation of the words, he was an honest man--emphatically--in thatspecial sense which the word has in Moscow, when they talk of an"honest" politician, an "honest" writer, an "honest" newspaper, an"honest" institution, an "honest" tendency, meaning not simply that theman or the institution is not dishonest, but that they are capable onoccasion of taking a line of their own in opposition to the authorities.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch moved in those circles in Moscow in which thatexpression had come into use, was regarded there as an honest man, andso had more right to this appointment than others.

  The appointment yielded an income of from seven to ten thousand a year,and Oblonsky could fill it without giving up his government position. Itwas in the hands of two ministers, one lady, and two Jews, and all thesepeople, though the way had been paved already with them, StepanArkadyevitch had to see in Petersburg. Besides this business, StepanArkadyevitch had promised his sister Anna to obtain from Karenin adefinite answer on the question of divorce. And begging fifty roublesfrom Dolly, he set off for Petersburg.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch sat in Karenin's study listening to his report onthe causes of the unsatisfactory position of Russian finance, and onlywaiting for the moment when he would finish to speak about his ownbusiness or about Anna.

  "Yes, that's very true," he said, when Alexey Alexandrovitch took offthe pince-nez, without which he could not read now, and lookedinquiringly at his former brother-in-law, "that's very true inparticular cases, but still the principle of our day is freedom."

  "Yes, but I lay down another principle, embracing the principle offreedom," said Alexey Alexandrovitch, with emphasis on the word"embracing," and he put on his pince-nez again, so as to read thepassage in which this statement was made. And turning over thebeautifully written, wide-margined manuscript, Alexey Alexandrovitchread aloud over again the conclusive passage.

  "I don't advocate protection for the sake of private interests, but forthe public weal, and for the lower and upper classes equally," he said,looking over his pince-nez at Oblonsky. "But _they_ cannot grasp that,_they_ are taken up now with personal interests, and carried away byphrases."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch knew that when Karenin began to talk of what _they_were doing and thinking, the persons who would not accept his report andwere the cause of everything wrong in Russia, that it was coming nearthe end. And so now he eagerly abandoned the principle of free-trade,and fully agreed. Alexey Alexandrovitch paused, thoughtfully turningover the pages of his manuscript.

  "Oh, by the way," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, "I wanted to ask you, sometime when you see Pomorsky, to drop him a hint that I should be veryglad to get that new appointment of secretary of the committee of theamalgamated agency of the southern railways and banking companies."Stepan Arkadyevitch was familiar by now with the title of the post hecoveted, and he brought it out rapidly without mistake.

  Alexey Alexandrovitch questioned him as to the duties of this newcommittee, and pondered. He was considering whether the new committeewould not be acting in some way contrary to the views he had beenadvocating. But as the influence of the new committee was of a verycomplex nature, and his views were of very wide application, he couldnot decide this straight off, and taking off his pince-nez, he said:

  "Of course, I can mention it to him; but what is your reason preciselyfor wishing to obtain the appointment?"

  "It's a good salary, rising to nine thousand, and my means..."

  "Nine thousand!" repeated Alexey Alexandrovitch, and he frowned. Thehigh figure of the salary made him reflect that on that side StepanArkadyevitch's proposed position ran counter to the main tendency of hisown projects of reform, which always leaned towards economy.

  "I consider, and I have embodied my views in a note on the subject, thatin our day these immense salaries are evidence of the unsound economic_assiette_ of our finances."

  "But what's to be done?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "Suppose a bankdirector gets ten thousand--well, he's worth it; or an engineer getstwenty thousand--after all, it's a growing thing, you know!"

  "I assume that a salary is the price paid for a commodity, and it oughtto conform with the law of supply and demand. If the salary is fixedwithout any regard for that law, as, for instance, when I see twoengineers leaving college together, both equally well trained andefficient, and one getting forty thousand while the other is satisfiedwith two; or when I see lawyers and hussars, having no specialqualifications, appointed directors of banking companies with immensesalaries, I conclude that the salary is not fixed in accordance with thelaw of supply and demand, but simply through personal interest. And thisis an abuse of great gravity in itself, and one that reacts injuriouslyon the government service. I consider..."

  Stepan Arkadyevitch made haste to interrupt his brother-in-law.

  "Yes; but you must agree that it's a new institution of undoubtedutility that's being started. After all, you know, it's a growing thing!What they lay particular stress on is the thing being carried onhonestly," said Stepan Arkadyevitch with emphasis.

  But the Moscow significance of the word "honest" was lost on AlexeyAlexandrovitch.

  "Honesty is only a negative qualification," he said.

  "Well, you'll do me a great service, anyway," said Stepan Arkadyevitch,"by putting in a word to Pomorsky--just in the way of conversation...."

  "But I fancy it's more in Volgarinov's hands," said AlexeyAlexandrovitch.

  "Volgarinov has fully assented, as far as he's concerned," said StepanArkadyevitch, turning red. Stepan Arkadyevitch reddened at the mentionof that name, because he had been that morning at the Jew Volgarinov's,and the visit had left an unpleasant recollection.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch believed most positively that the committee in whichhe was trying to get an appointment was a new, genuine, and honestpublic body, but that morning when Volgarinov had--intentionally, beyonda doubt--kept him two hours waiting with other petitioners in hiswaiting room, he had suddenly felt uneasy.

  Whether he was uncomfortable that he, a descendan
t of Rurik, PrinceOblonsky, had been kept for two hours waiting to see a Jew, or that forthe first time in his life he was not following the example of hisancestors in serving the government, but was turning off into a newcareer, anyway he was very uncomfortable. During those two hours inVolgarinov's waiting room Stepan Arkadyevitch, stepping jauntily aboutthe room, pulling his whiskers, entering into conversation with theother petitioners, and inventing an epigram on his position, assiduouslyconcealed from others, and even from himself, the feeling he wasexperiencing.

  But all the time he was uncomfortable and angry, he could not have saidwhy--whether because he could not get his epigram just right, or fromsome other reason. When at last Volgarinov had received him withexaggerated politeness and unmistakable triumph at his humiliation, andhad all but refused the favor asked of him, Stepan Arkadyevitch had madehaste to forget it all as soon as possible. And now, at the mererecollection, he blushed.

 
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