Anna karenina, p.5
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       Anna Karenina, p.5

           graf Leo Tolstoy

  Chapter 5

  Stepan Arkadyevitch had learned easily at school, thanks to hisexcellent abilities, but he had been idle and mischievous, and thereforewas one of the lowest in his class. But in spite of his habituallydissipated mode of life, his inferior grade in the service, and hiscomparative youth, he occupied the honorable and lucrative position ofpresident of one of the government boards at Moscow. This post he hadreceived through his sister Anna's husband, Alexey AlexandrovitchKarenin, who held one of the most important positions in the ministry towhose department the Moscow office belonged. But if Karenin had not gothis brother-in-law this berth, then through a hundred otherpersonages--brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, and aunts--StivaOblonsky would have received this post, or some other similar one,together with the salary of six thousand absolutely needful for him, ashis affairs, in spite of his wife's considerable property, were in anembarrassed condition.

  Half Moscow and Petersburg were friends and relations of StepanArkadyevitch. He was born in the midst of those who had been and are thepowerful ones of this world. One-third of the men in the government, theolder men, had been friends of his father's, and had known him inpetticoats; another third were his intimate chums, and the remainderwere friendly acquaintances. Consequently the distributors of earthlyblessings in the shape of places, rents, shares, and such, were all hisfriends, and could not overlook one of their own set; and Oblonsky hadno need to make any special exertion to get a lucrative post. He hadonly not to refuse things, not to show jealousy, not to be quarrelsomeor take offense, all of which from his characteristic good nature henever did. It would have struck him as absurd if he had been told thathe would not get a position with the salary he required, especially ashe expected nothing out of the way; he only wanted what the men of hisown age and standing did get, and he was no worse qualified forperforming duties of the kind than any other man.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch was not merely liked by all who knew him for hisgood humor, but for his bright disposition, and his unquestionablehonesty. In him, in his handsome, radiant figure, his sparkling eyes,black hair and eyebrows, and the white and red of his face, there wassomething which produced a physical effect of kindliness and good humoron the people who met him. "Aha! Stiva! Oblonsky! Here he is!" wasalmost always said with a smile of delight on meeting him. Even thoughit happened at times that after a conversation with him it seemed thatnothing particularly delightful had happened, the next day, and thenext, every one was just as delighted at meeting him again.

  After filling for three years the post of president of one of thegovernment boards at Moscow, Stepan Arkadyevitch had won the respect, aswell as the liking, of his fellow-officials, subordinates, andsuperiors, and all who had had business with him. The principalqualities in Stepan Arkadyevitch which had gained him this universalrespect in the service consisted, in the first place, of his extremeindulgence for others, founded on a consciousness of his ownshortcomings; secondly, of his perfect liberalism--not the liberalism heread of in the papers, but the liberalism that was in his blood, invirtue of which he treated all men perfectly equally and exactly thesame, whatever their fortune or calling might be; and thirdly--the mostimportant point--his complete indifference to the business in which hewas engaged, in consequence of which he was never carried away, andnever made mistakes.

  On reaching the offices of the board, Stepan Arkadyevitch, escorted by adeferential porter with a portfolio, went into his little private room,put on his uniform, and went into the boardroom. The clerks and copyistsall rose, greeting him with good-humored deference. Stepan Arkadyevitchmoved quickly, as ever, to his place, shook hands with his colleagues,and sat down. He made a joke or two, and talked just as much as wasconsistent with due decorum, and began work. No one knew better thanStepan Arkadyevitch how to hit on the exact line between freedom,simplicity, and official stiffness necessary for the agreeable conductof business. A secretary, with the good-humored deference common toevery one in Stepan Arkadyevitch's office, came up with papers, andbegan to speak in the familiar and easy tone which had been introducedby Stepan Arkadyevitch.

  "We have succeeded in getting the information from the governmentdepartment of Penza. Here, would you care?...."

  "You've got them at last?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, laying his fingeron the paper. "Now, gentlemen...."

  And the sitting of the board began.

  "If they knew," he thought, bending his head with a significant air ashe listened to the report, "what a guilty little boy their president washalf an hour ago." And his eyes were laughing during the reading of thereport. Till two o'clock the sitting would go on without a break, and attwo o'clock there would be an interval and luncheon.

  It was not yet two, when the large glass doors of the boardroom suddenlyopened and someone came in.

  All the officials sitting on the further side under the portrait of theTsar and the eagle, delighted at any distraction, looked round at thedoor; but the doorkeeper standing at the door at once drove out theintruder, and closed the glass door after him.

  When the case had been read through, Stepan Arkadyevitch got up andstretched, and by way of tribute to the liberalism of the times took outa cigarette in the boardroom and went into his private room. Two of themembers of the board, the old veteran in the service, Nikitin, and the_Kammerjunker Grinevitch_, went in with him.

  "We shall have time to finish after lunch," said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

  "To be sure we shall!" said Nikitin.

  "A pretty sharp fellow this Fomin must be," said Grinevitch of one ofthe persons taking part in the case they were examining.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch frowned at Grinevitch's words, giving him thereby tounderstand that it was improper to pass judgment prematurely, and madehim no reply.

  "Who was that came in?" he asked the doorkeeper.

  "Someone, your excellency, crept in without permission directly my backwas turned. He was asking for you. I told him: when the members comeout, then...."

  "Where is he?"

  "Maybe he's gone into the passage, but here he comes anyway. That ishe," said the doorkeeper, pointing to a strongly built, broad-shoulderedman with a curly beard, who, without taking off his sheepskin cap, wasrunning lightly and rapidly up the worn steps of the stone staircase.One of the members going down--a lean official with a portfolio--stoodout of his way and looked disapprovingly at the legs of the stranger,then glanced inquiringly at Oblonsky.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch was standing at the top of the stairs. Hisgood-naturedly beaming face above the embroidered collar of his uniformbeamed more than ever when he recognized the man coming up.

  "Why, it's actually you, Levin, at last!" he said with a friendlymocking smile, scanning Levin as he approached. "How is it you havedeigned to look me up in this den?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, and notcontent with shaking hands, he kissed his friend. "Have you been herelong?"

  "I have just come, and very much wanted to see you," said Levin, lookingshyly and at the same time angrily and uneasily around.

  "Well, let's go into my room," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, who knew hisfriend's sensitive and irritable shyness, and, taking his arm, he drewhim along, as though guiding him through dangers.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch was on familiar terms with almost all hisacquaintances, and called almost all of them by their Christian names:old men of sixty, boys of twenty, actors, ministers, merchants, andadjutant-generals, so that many of his intimate chums were to be foundat the extreme ends of the social ladder, and would have been very muchsurprised to learn that they had, through the medium of Oblonsky,something in common. He was the familiar friend of everyone with whom hetook a glass of champagne, and he took a glass of champagne witheveryone, and when in consequence he met any of his disreputable chums,as he used in joke to call many of his friends, in the presence of hissubordinates, he well knew how, with his characteristic tact, todiminish the disagreeable impression made on them. Levin was not adisreputable chum, but Oblonsky, with his ready tact, felt that Levinfancied he might not car
e to show his intimacy with him before hissubordinates, and so he made haste to take him off into his room.

  Levin was almost of the same age as Oblonsky; their intimacy did notrest merely on champagne. Levin had been the friend and companion of hisearly youth. They were fond of one another in spite of the difference oftheir characters and tastes, as friends are fond of one another who havebeen together in early youth. But in spite of this, each of them--as isoften the way with men who have selected careers of differentkinds--though in discussion he would even justify the other's career, inhis heart despised it. It seemed to each of them that the life he ledhimself was the only real life, and the life led by his friend was amere phantasm. Oblonsky could not restrain a slight mocking smile at thesight of Levin. How often he had seen him come up to Moscow from thecountry where he was doing something, but what precisely StepanArkadyevitch could never quite make out, and indeed he took no interestin the matter. Levin arrived in Moscow always excited and in a hurry,rather ill at ease and irritated by his own want of ease, and for themost part with a perfectly new, unexpected view of things. StepanArkadyevitch laughed at this, and liked it. In the same way Levin in hisheart despised the town mode of life of his friend, and his officialduties, which he laughed at, and regarded as trifling. But thedifference was that Oblonsky, as he was doing the same as every one did,laughed complacently and good-humoredly, while Levin laughed withoutcomplacency and sometimes angrily.

  "We have long been expecting you," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, going intohis room and letting Levin's hand go as though to show that here alldanger was over. "I am very, very glad to see you," he went on. "Well,how are you? Eh? When did you come?"

  Levin was silent, looking at the unknown faces of Oblonsky's twocompanions, and especially at the hand of the elegant Grinevitch, whichhad such long white fingers, such long yellow filbert-shaped nails, andsuch huge shining studs on the shirt-cuff, that apparently they absorbedall his attention, and allowed him no freedom of thought. Oblonskynoticed this at once, and smiled.

  "Ah, to be sure, let me introduce you," he said. "My colleagues: PhilipIvanitch Nikitin, Mihail Stanislavitch Grinevitch"--and turning toLevin--"a district councilor, a modern district councilman, a gymnastwho lifts thirteen stone with one hand, a cattle-breeder and sportsman,and my friend, Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin, the brother of SergeyIvanovitch Koznishev."

  "Delighted," said the veteran.

  "I have the honor of knowing your brother, Sergey Ivanovitch," saidGrinevitch, holding out his slender hand with its long nails.

  Levin frowned, shook hands coldly, and at once turned to Oblonsky.Though he had a great respect for his half-brother, an author well knownto all Russia, he could not endure it when people treated him not asKonstantin Levin, but as the brother of the celebrated Koznishev.

  "No, I am no longer a district councilor. I have quarreled with themall, and don't go to the meetings any more," he said, turning toOblonsky.

  "You've been quick about it!" said Oblonsky with a smile. "But how?why?"

  "It's a long story. I will tell you some time," said Levin, but he begantelling him at once. "Well, to put it shortly, I was convinced thatnothing was really done by the district councils, or ever could be," hebegan, as though some one had just insulted him. "On one side it's aplaything; they play at being a parliament, and I'm neither young enoughnor old enough to find amusement in playthings; and on the other side"(he stammered) "it's a means for the coterie of the district to makemoney. Formerly they had wardships, courts of justice, now they have thedistrict council--not in the form of bribes, but in the form of unearnedsalary," he said, as hotly as though someone of those present hadopposed his opinion.

  "Aha! You're in a new phase again, I see--a conservative," said StepanArkadyevitch. "However, we can go into that later."

  "Yes, later. But I wanted to see you," said Levin, looking with hatredat Grinevitch's hand.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch gave a scarcely perceptible smile.

  "How was it you used to say you would never wear European dress again?"he said, scanning his new suit, obviously cut by a French tailor. "Ah! Isee: a new phase."

  Levin suddenly blushed, not as grown men blush, slightly, without beingthemselves aware of it, but as boys blush, feeling that they areridiculous through their shyness, and consequently ashamed of it andblushing still more, almost to the point of tears. And it was so strangeto see this sensible, manly face in such a childish plight, thatOblonsky left off looking at him.

  "Oh, where shall we meet? You know I want very much to talk to you,"said Levin.

  Oblonsky seemed to ponder.

  "I'll tell you what: let's go to Gurin's to lunch, and there we cantalk. I am free till three."

  "No," answered Levin, after an instant's thought, "I have got to go onsomewhere else."

  "All right, then, let's dine together."

  "Dine together? But I have nothing very particular, only a few words tosay, and a question I want to ask you, and we can have a talkafterwards."

  "Well, say the few words, then, at once, and we'll gossip after dinner."

  "Well, it's this," said Levin; "but it's of no importance, though."

  His face all at once took an expression of anger from the effort he wasmaking to surmount his shyness.

  "What are the Shtcherbatskys doing? Everything as it used to be?" hesaid.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had long known that Levin was in love with hissister-in-law, Kitty, gave a hardly perceptible smile, and his eyessparkled merrily.

  "You said a few words, but I can't answer in a few words, because....Excuse me a minute..."

  A secretary came in, with respectful familiarity and the modestconsciousness, characteristic of every secretary, of superiority to hischief in the knowledge of their business; he went up to Oblonsky withsome papers, and began, under pretense of asking a question, to explainsome objection. Stepan Arkadyevitch, without hearing him out, laid hishand genially on the secretary's sleeve.

  "No, you do as I told you," he said, softening his words with a smile,and with a brief explanation of his view of the matter he turned awayfrom the papers, and said: "So do it that way, if you please, ZaharNikititch."

  The secretary retired in confusion. During the consultation with thesecretary Levin had completely recovered from his embarrassment. He wasstanding with his elbows on the back of a chair, and on his face was alook of ironical attention.

  "I don't understand it, I don't understand it," he said.

  "What don't you understand?" said Oblonsky, smiling as brightly as ever,and picking up a cigarette. He expected some queer outburst from Levin.

  "I don't understand what you are doing," said Levin, shrugging hisshoulders. "How can you do it seriously?"

  "Why not?"

  "Why, because there's nothing in it."

  "You think so, but we're overwhelmed with work."

  "On paper. But, there, you've a gift for it," added Levin.

  "That's to say, you think there's a lack of something in me?"

  "Perhaps so," said Levin. "But all the same I admire your grandeur, andam proud that I've a friend in such a great person. You've not answeredmy question, though," he went on, with a desperate effort lookingOblonsky straight in the face.

  "Oh, that's all very well. You wait a bit, and you'll come to thisyourself. It's very nice for you to have over six thousand acres in theKarazinsky district, and such muscles, and the freshness of a girl oftwelve; still you'll be one of us one day. Yes, as to your question,there is no change, but it's a pity you've been away so long."

  "Oh, why so?" Levin queried, panic-stricken.

  "Oh, nothing," responded Oblonsky. "We'll talk it over. But what'sbrought you up to town?"

  "Oh, we'll talk about that, too, later on," said Levin, reddening againup to his ears.

  "All right. I see," said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "I should ask you to cometo us, you know, but my wife's not quite the thing. But I tell you what;if you want to see them, they're sure now to be at the ZoologicalGa
rdens from four to five. Kitty skates. You drive along there, and I'llcome and fetch you, and we'll go and dine somewhere together."

  "Capital. So good-bye till then."

  "Now mind, you'll forget, I know you, or rush off home to the country!"Stepan Arkadyevitch called out laughing.

  "No, truly!"

  And Levin went out of the room, only when he was in the doorwayremembering that he had forgotten to take leave of Oblonsky'scolleagues.

  "That gentleman must be a man of great energy," said Grinevitch, whenLevin had gone away.

  "Yes, my dear boy," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, nodding his head, "he's alucky fellow! Over six thousand acres in the Karazinsky district;everything before him; and what youth and vigor! Not like some of us."

  "You have a great deal to complain of, haven't you, StepanArkadyevitch?"

  "Ah, yes, I'm in a poor way, a bad way," said Stepan Arkadyevitch with aheavy sigh.

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