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Chapter 28


Levin was standing rather far off. A nobleman breathing heavily
and hoarsely at his side, and another whose thick boots were
creaking, prevented him from hearing distinctly. He could only
hear the soft voice of the marshal faintly, then the shrill voice
of the malignant gentleman, and then the voice of Sviazhsky.
They were disputing, as far as he could make out, as to the
interpretation to be put on the act and the exact meaning of the
words: "liable to be called up for trial."

The crowd parted to make way for Sergey Ivanovitch approaching
the table. Sergey Ivanovitch, waiting till the malignant
gentleman had finished speaking, said that he thought the best
solution would be to refer to the act itself, and asked the
secretary to find the act. The act said that in case of
difference of opinion, there must be a ballot.

Sergey Ivanovitch read the act and began to explain its meaning,
but at that point a tall, stout, round-shouldered landowner, with
dyed whiskers, in a tight uniform that cut the back of his neck,
interrupted him. He went up to the table, and striking it with
his finger ring, he shouted loudly: "A ballot! Put it to the
vote! No need for more talking!" Then several voices began to
talk all at once, and the tall nobleman with the ring, getting
more and more exasperated, shouted more and more loudly. But it
was impossible to make out what he said.

He was shouting for the very course Sergey Ivanovitch had
proposed; but it was evident that he hated him and all his party,
and this feeling of hatred spread through the whole party and
roused in opposition to it the same vindictiveness, though in a
more seemly form, on the other side. Shouts were raised, and for
a moment all was confusion, so that the marshal of the province
had to call for order.

"A ballot! A ballot! Every nobleman sees it! We shed our blood
for our country!... The confidence of the monarch.... No
checking the accounts of the marshal; he's not a cashier.... But
that's not the point.... Votes, please! Beastly!..." shouted
furious and violent voices on all sides. Looks and faces were
even more violent and furious than their words. They expressed
the most implacable hatred. Levin did not in the least
understand what was the matter, and he marveled at the passion
with which it was disputed whether or not the decision about
Flerov should be put to the vote. He forgot, as Sergey
Ivanovitch explained to him afterwards, this syllogism: that it
was necessary for the public good to get rid of the marshal of
the province; that to get rid of the marshal it was necessary to
have a majority of votes; that to get a majority of votes it was
necessary to secure Flerov's right to vote; that to secure the
recognition of Flerov's right to vote they must decide on the
interpretation to be put on the act.

"And one vote may decide the whole question and one must be
serious and consecutive, if one wants to be of use in public
life," concluded Sergey Ivanovitch. But Levin forgot all that,
and it was painful to him to see all these excellent persons, for
whom he had a respect, in such an unpleasant and vicious state of
excitement. To escape from this painful feeling he went away
into the other room where there was nobody except the waiters at
the refreshment bar. Seeing the waiters busy over washing up the
crockery and setting in order their plates and wine glasses,
seeing their calm and cheerful faces, Levin felt an unexpected
sense of relief as though he had come out of a stuffy room into
the fresh air. He began walking up and down, looking with
pleasure at the waiters. He particularly liked the way one
gray-whiskered waiter, who showed his scorn for the other younger
ones and was jeered at by them, was teaching them how to fold up
napkins properly. Levin was just about to enter into
conversation with the old waiter, when the secretary of the court
of wardship, a little old man whose specialty it was to know all
the noblemen of the province by name and patronymic, drew him
away.

"Please come, Konstantin Dmitrievitch," he said, "your brother's
looking for you. They are voting on the legal point."

Levin walked into the room, received a white ball, and followed
his brother, Sergey Ivanovitch, to the table where Sviazhsky was
standing with a significant and ironical face, holding his beard
in his fist and sniffing at it. Sergey Ivanovitch put his hand
into the box, put the ball somewhere, and making room for Levin,
stopped. Levin advanced, but utterly forgetting what he was to
do, and much embarrassed, he turned to Sergey Ivanovitch with the
question, "Where am I to put it?" He asked this softly, at a
moment when there was talking going on near, so that he had hoped
his question would not be overheard. But the persons speaking
paused, and his improper question was overheard. Sergey
Ivanovitch frowned.

"That is a matter for each man's own decision," he said severely.

Several people smiled. Levin crimsoned, hurriedly thrust his
hand under the cloth, and put the ball to the right as it was in
his right hand. Having put it in, he recollected that he ought
to have thrust his left hand too, and so he thrust it in though
too late, and, still more overcome with confusion, he beat a
hasty retreat into the background.

"A hundred and twenty-six for admission! Ninety-eight against!"
sang out the voice of the secretary, who could not pronounce the
letter r. Then there was a laugh; a button and two nuts were
found in the box. The nobleman was allowed the right to vote,
and the new party had conquered.

But the old party did not consider themselves conquered. Levin
heard that they were asking Snetkov to stand, and he saw that a
crowd of noblemen was surrounding the marshal, who was saying
something. Levin went nearer. In reply Snetkov spoke of the
trust the noblemen of the province had placed in him, the
affection they had shown him, which he did not deserve, as his
only merit had been his attachment to the nobility, to whom he
had devoted twelve years of service. Several times he repeated
the words: "I have served to the best of my powers with truth and
good faith, I value your goodness and thank you," and suddenly he
stopped short from the tears that choked him, and went out of the
room. Whether these tears came from a sense of the injustice
being done him, from his love for the nobility, or from the
strain of the position he was placed in, feeling himself
surrounded by enemies, his emotion infected the assembly, the
majority were touched, and Levin felt a tenderness for Snetkov.

In the doorway the marshal of the province jostled against Levin.

"Beg pardon, excuse me, please," he said as to a stranger, but
recognizing Levin, he smiled timidly. It seemed to Levin that he
would have liked to say something, but could not speak for
emotion. His face and his whole figure in his uniform with the
crosses, and white trousers striped with braid, as he moved
hurriedly along, reminded Levin of some hunted beast who sees
that he is in evil case. This expression in the marshal's face
was particularly touching to Levin, because, only the day before,
he had been at his house about his trustee business and had seen
him in all his grandeur, a kind-hearted, fatherly man. The big
house with the old family furniture; the rather dirty, far from
stylish, but respectful footmen, unmistakably old house serfs who
had stuck to their master; the stout, good-natured wife in a cap
with lace and a Turkish shawl, petting her pretty grandchild, her
daughter's daughter; the young son, a sixth form high school boy,
coming home from school, and greeting his father, kissing his big
hand; the genuine, cordial words and gestures of the old man--all
this had the day before roused an instinctive feeling of respect
and sympathy in Levin. This old man was a touching and pathetic
figure to Levin now, and he longed to say something pleasant to
him.

"So you're sure to be our marshal again," he said.

"It's not likely," said the marshal, looking round with a scared
expression. "I'm worn out, I'm old. If there are men younger
and more deserving than I, let them serve."

And the marshal disappeared through a side door.

The most solemn moment was at hand. They were to proceed
immediately to the election. The leaders of both parties were
reckoning white and black on their fingers.

The discussion upon Flerov had given the new party not only
Flerov's vote, but had also gained time for them, so that they
could send to fetch three noblemen who had been rendered unable
to take part in the elections by the wiles of the other party.
Two noble gentlemen, who had a weakness for strong drink, had
been made drunk by the partisans of Snetkov, and a third had been
robbed of his uniform.

On learning this, the new party had made haste, during the
dispute about Flerov, to send some of their men in a sledge to
clothe the stripped gentleman, and to bring along one of the
intoxicated to the meeting.

"I've brought one, drenched him with water," said the landowner,
who had gone on this errand, to Sviazhsky. "He's all right?
he'll do."

"Not too drunk, he won't fall down?" said Sviazhsky, shaking his
head.

"No, he's first-rate. If only they don't give him any more
here.... I've told the waiter not to give him anything on any
account."



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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