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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 the changes in the positions of the higher
functionaries.

"If only Countess Marya Borissovna were Minister of War, and
Princess Vatkovskaya were Commander-in-Chief," said a
gray-headed, little old man in a gold-embroidered uniform,
addressing a tall, handsome maid of honor who 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 ecclesiastical
department. 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
his embroidered hat to Karenin in a court uniform with the new
red ribbon across his shoulders, standing in the doorway of the
hall with an influential member of the Imperial Council.
"Pleased and happy as a brass farthing," he added, stopping to
shake hands with a handsome gentleman 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 a poor devil go nowadays till he's explained it all to
him under heads."

"Looking older, did you say? Il fait des passions. I believe
Countess Lidia 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
yesterday with Alexey Vronsky, bras dessous, bras dessous, in the
Morsky."

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

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

Almost at the same time that his wife left Alexey Alexandrovitch
there had come to him that bitterest moment in the life of an
official--the moment when his upward career comes to a full stop.
This full stop had arrived and everyone perceived it, but Alexey
Alexandrovitch himself was not yet aware that his career was
over. Whether it was due to his feud with Stremov, or his
misfortune with his wife, or simply that Alexey Alexandrovitch
had reached his destined limits, it had become evident to
everyone in the course of that year that his career was at an
end. He still filled a position of consequence, he sat on many
commissions and committees, but he was a man whose day was over,
and from whom nothing was expected. Whatever he said, whatever
he proposed, was heard as though it were something long familiar,
and the very thing that was not needed. But Alexey
Alexandrovitch was not aware of this, and, on the contrary, being
cut off from direct participation in governmental activity, he
saw more clearly than ever the errors and defects in the action
of others, and thought it his duty to point out means for their
correction. Shortly after his separation from his wife, he began
writing his first note on the new judicial procedure, the first
of the endless series of notes he was destined to write in the
future.

Alexey Alexandrovitch did not merely fail to observe his hopeless
position in the official world, he was not merely free from
anxiety on this head, he was positively more satisfied than ever
with his own activity.

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

The unmistakable impatience of the member of the Council trying
to get away from him did not trouble Alexey Alexandrovitch; he
gave up his exposition only when the member of the Council,
seizing his chance when one 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 he hoped to meet Countess Lidia Ivanovna.

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

Moving forward deliberately, Alexey Alexandrovitch bowed with his
customary air of weariness and dignity to the gentleman who had
been talking about him, and looking towards the door, his eyes
sought Countess Lidia Ivanovna.

"Ah! Alexey Alexandrovitch!" said the little old man, with a
malicious light 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 you yet," said the old man, pointing to his
newly received ribbon.

"Thank you," answered Alexey Alexandrovitch. "What an EXQUISITE
day to-day," 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 expect
anything but hostility from them; he was used to that by now.

Catching sight of the yellow shoulders of Lidia Ivanovna jutting
out above her corset, and her fine pensive eyes bidding him to
her, Alexey Alexandrovitch smiled, revealing untarnished white
teeth, and went towards her.

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

Passing through rows of ironical eyes, he was drawn as naturally
to her loving 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 his eyes, 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 chief sources 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 not satisfied with him." (Sitnikov was the tutor to
whom Seryozha's secular education had been intrusted.) "As I
have mentioned to you, there's a sort of coldness in him towards
the most important questions which ought to touch the heart of
every man and every child...." Alexey Alexandrovitch began
expounding his views on the sole question that interested him
besides the service--the education of his son.

When Alexey Alexandrovitch with Lidia Ivanovna's help had been
brought back anew to life and activity, he felt it his duty to
undertake the education of the son left on his hands. Having
never before taken any interest in educational questions, Alexey
Alexandrovitch devoted some time to the theoretical study of the
subject. After reading several books on anthropology, education,
and didactics, Alexey Alexandrovitch drew up a plan of education,
and engaging the best tutor in Petersburg to superintend it, he
set to work, and the subject continually absorbed him.

"Yes, but the heart. I see in him his father's heart, and with
such a heart 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; "we have to speak of a subject painful for you. I would
give anything to have spared you certain memories, but others are
not of the same mind. I have received a letter from HER. SHE
is here in Petersburg."

Alexey Alexandrovitch shuddered at the allusion to his wife, but
immediately his face assumed the deathlike rigidity which
expressed utter helplessness in the matter.

"I was expecting it," he said.

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



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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