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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, and he 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 winter insisting on her right to her own
property, had refused to sign the receipt for the payment of the
last third of the forest. All his salary went on household
expenses and in payment of petty debts that could not be put off.
There was positively no money.

This was unpleasant and awkward, and in Stepan Arkadyevitch's
opinion things 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. The post he filled had been unmistakably
very good five years ago, but it was so no longer.

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

"Clearly I've been napping, and they've overlooked me," Stepan
Arkadyevitch thought about himself. And he began keeping his
eyes and ears open, and towards the end of the winter he had
discovered a very good berth and had formed a plan of attack upon
it, at first from Moscow through aunts, uncles, and friends, and
then, when the matter was well advanced, in the spring, he went
himself to Petersburg. It was one of those snug, lucrative
berths of which there are so many more nowadays than there used
to be, with incomes ranging from one thousand to fifty thousand
roubles. It was the post of secretary of the committee of the
amalgamated agency of the southern railways, and of certain
banking companies. This position, like all such appointments,
called for such immense energy and such varied qualifications,
that it was difficult for them to be found united in any one man.
And since a man combining all the qualifications was not to be
found, it was at least better that the post be filled by an
honest than by a dishonest man. And Stepan Arkadyevitch was not
merely an honest man--unemphatically--in the common acceptation
of the words, he was an honest man--emphatically--in that special
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 the man or the institution is not dishonest, but that they
are capable on occasion of taking a line of their own in
opposition to the authorities.

Stepan Arkadyevitch moved in those circles in Moscow in which
that expression had come into use, was regarded there as an
honest man, and so had more right to this appointment than

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

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

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

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

"I don't advocate protection for the sake of private interests,
but for the 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 by phrases."

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

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

Alexey Alexandrovitch questioned him as to the duties of this new
committee, and pondered. He was considering whether the new
committee would not be acting in some way contrary to the views
he had been advocating. But as the influence of the new
committee was of a very complex nature, and his views were of
very wide application, he could not 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
precisely for 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.
The high figure of the salary made him reflect that on that side
Stepan Arkadyevitch's proposed position ran counter to the main
tendency of his own projects of reform, which always leaned
towards economy.

"I consider, and I have embodied my views in a note on the
subject, that in 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
bank director gets ten thousand--well, he's worth it; or an
engineer gets twenty thousand--after all, it's a growing thing,
you know!"

"I assume that a salary is the price paid for a commodity, and it
ought to conform with the law of supply and demand. If the
salary is fixed without any regard for that law, as, for
instance, when I see two engineers leaving college together, both
equally well trained and efficient, and one getting forty
thousand while the other is satisfied with two; or when I see
lawyers and hussars, having no special qualifications, appointed
directors of banking companies with immense salaries, I conclude
that the salary is not fixed in accordance with the law of supply
and demand, but simply through personal interest. And this is an
abuse of great gravity in itself, and one that reacts injuriously
on 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 undoubted
utility that's being started. After all, you know, it's a
growing thing! What they lay particular stress on is the thing
being carried on honestly," said Stepan Arkadyevitch with

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

"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 Alexey

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

Stepan Arkadyevitch believed most positively that the committee
in which he was trying to get an appointment was a new, genuine,
and honest public body, but that morning when Volgarinov had--
intentionally, beyond a doubt--kept him two hours waiting with
other petitioners in his waiting room, he had suddenly felt

Whether he was uncomfortable that he, a descendant of Rurik,
Prince Oblonsky, had been kept for two hours waiting to see a
Jew, or that for the first time in his life he was not following
the example of his ancestors in serving the government, but was
turning off into a new career, anyway he was very uncomfortable.
During those two hours in Volgarinov's waiting room Stepan
Arkadyevitch, stepping jauntily about the room, pulling his
whiskers, entering into conversation with the other petitioners,
and inventing an epigram on his position, assiduously concealed
from others, and even from himself, the feeling he was

But all the time he was uncomfortable and angry, he could not
have said why--whether because he could not get his epigram just
right, or from some other reason. When at last Volgarinov had
received him with exaggerated politeness and unmistakable triumph
at his humiliation, and had all but refused the favor asked of
him, Stepan Arkadyevitch had made haste to forget it all as soon
as possible. And now, at the mere recollection, he blushed.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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