eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 5


Stepan Arkadyevitch had learned easily at school, thanks to his
excellent abilities, but he had been idle and mischievous, and
therefore was one of the lowest in his class. But in spite of
his habitually dissipated mode of life, his inferior grade in the
service, and his comparative youth, he occupied the honorable and
lucrative position of president of one of the government boards
at Moscow. This post he had received through his sister Anna's
husband, Alexey Alexandrovitch Karenin, who held one of the most
important positions in the ministry to whose department the
Moscow office belonged. But if Karenin had not got his brother-
in-law this berth, then through a hundred other personages--
brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, and aunts--Stiva Oblonsky
would have received this post, or some other similar one,
together with the salary of six thousand absolutely needful for
them, as his affairs, in spite of his wife's considerable
property, were in an embarrassed condition.

Half Moscow and Petersburg were friends and relations of Stepan
Arkadyevitch. He was born in the midst of those who had been and
are the powerful ones of this world. One-third of the men in the
government, the older men, had been friends of his father's, and
had known him in petticoats; another third were his intimate
chums, and the remainder were friendly acquaintances.
Consequently the distributors of earthly blessings in the shape
of places, rents, shares, and such, were all his friends, and
could not overlook one of their own set; and Oblonsky had no need
to make any special exertion to get a lucrative post. He had
only not to refuse things, not to show jealousy, not to be
quarrelsome or take offense, all of which from his
characteristic good nature he never did. It would have struck
him as absurd if he had been told that he would not get a
position with the salary he required, especially as he expected
nothing out of the way; he only wanted what the men of his own
age and standing did get, and he was no worse qualified for
performing duties of the kind than any other man.

Stepan Arkadyevitch was not merely liked by all who knew him for
his good humor, but for his bright disposition, and his
unquestionable honesty. In him, in his handsome, radiant figure,
his sparkling eyes, black hair and eyebrows, and the white and
red of his face, there was something which produced a physical
effect of kindliness and good humor on the people who met him.
"Aha! Stiva! Oblonsky! Here he is!" was almost always said
with a smile of delight on meeting him. Even though it happened
at times that after a conversation with him it seemed that
nothing particularly delightful had happened, the next day, and
the next, every one was just as delighted at meeting him again.

After filling for three years the post of president of one of the
government boards at Moscow, Stepan Arkadyevitch had won the
respect, as well as the liking, of his fellow officials,
subordinates, and superiors, and all who had had business with
him. The principal qualities in Stepan Arkadyevitch which had
gained him this universal respect in the service consisted, in
the first place, of his extreme indulgence for others, founded on
a consciousness of his own shortcomings; secondly, of his perfect
liberalism--not the liberalism he read of in the papers, but the
liberalism that was in his blood, in virtue of which he treated
all men perfectly equally and exactly the same, whatever their
fortune or calling might be; and thirdly--the most important
point--his complete indifference to the business in which he was
engaged, in consequence of which he was never carried away, and
never made mistakes.

On reaching the offices of the board, Stepan Arkadyevitch,
escorted by a deferential porter with a portfolio, went into his
little private room, put on his uniform, and went into the
boardroom. The clerks and copyists all rose, greeting him with
good-humored deference. Stepan Arkadyevitch moved 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 was
consistent with due decorum, and began work. No one knew better
than Stepan Arkadyevitch how to hit on the exact line between
freedom, simplicity, and official stiffness necessary for the
agreeable conduct of business. A secretary, with the
good-humored deference common to every one in Stepan
Arkadyevitch's office, came up with papers, and began to speak in
the familiar and easy tone which had been introduced by Stepan
Arkadyevitch.

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

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

And the sitting of the board began.

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

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

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

When the case had been read through, Stepan Arkadyevitch got up
and stretched, and by way of tribute to the liberalism of the
times took out a cigarette in the boardroom and went into his
private room. Two of the members 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 of the persons taking part in the case they were examining.

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

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

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

"Where is he?"

"Maybe he's gone into the passage, but here he comes anyway.
That is he," said the doorkeeper, pointing to a strongly built,
broadshouldered man with a curly beard, who, without taking off
his sheepskin cap, was running lightly and rapidly up the worn
steps of the stone staircase.b One of the members going down--a
lean official with a portfolio--stood out 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. His
good-naturedly beaming face above the embroidered collar of his
uniform beamed more than ever when he recognized the man coming
up.

"Why, it's actually you, Levin, at last!" he said with a friendly
mocking smile, scanning Levin as he approached. "How is it you
have deigned to look me up in this den?" said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, and not content with shaking hands, he kissed his
friend. "Have you been here long?"

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

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

Stepan Arkadyevitch was on familiar terms with almost all his
acquaintances, and called almost all of them by their Christian
names: old men of sixty, boys of twenty, actors, ministers,
merchants, and adjutant-generals, so that many of his intimate
chums were to be found at the extreme ends of the social ladder,
and would have been very much surprised to learn that they had,
through the medium of Oblonsky, something in common. He was the
familiar friend of everyone with whom he took a glass of
champagne, and he took a glass of champagne with everyone, 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 his
subordinates, he well knew how, with his characteristic tact, to
diminish the disagreeable impression made on them. Levin was
not a disreputable chum, but Oblonsky, with his ready tact, felt
that Levin fancied he might not care to show his intimacy with
him before his subordinates, and so he made haste to take him off
into his room.

Levin was almost of the same age as Oblonsky; their intimacy did
not rest merely on champagne. Levin had been the friend and
companion of his early youth. They were fond of one another in
spite of the difference of their characters and tastes, as
friends are fond of one another who have been together in early
youth. But in spite of this, each of them--as is often the way
with men who have selected careers of different kinds--though in
discussion he would even justify the other's career, in his heart
despised it. It seemed to each of them that the life he led
himself was the only real life, and the life led by his friend
was a mere phantasm. Oblonsky could not restrain a slight
mocking smile at the sight of Levin. How often he had seen him
come up to Moscow from the country where he was doing something,
but what precisely Stepan Arkadyevitch could never quite make
out, and indeed he took no interest in 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 the most part with a
perfectly new, unexpected view of things. Stepan Arkadyevitch
laughed at this, and liked it. In the same way Levin in his
heart despised the town mode of life of his friend, and his
official duties, which he laughed at, and regarded as trifling.
But the difference was that Oblonsky, as he was doing the same as
every one did, laughed complacently and good-humoredly, while
Levin laughed without complacency and sometimes angrily.

"We have long been expecting you," said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
going into his room and letting Levin's hand go as though to show
that here all danger 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 two
companions, and especially at the hand of the elegant Grinevitch,
which had such long white fingers, such long yellow
filbert-shaped nails, and such huge shining studs on the
shirt-cuff, that apparently they absorbed all his attention, and
allowed him no freedom of thought. Oblonsky noticed this at
once, and smiled.

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

"Delighted," said the veteran.

"I have the honor of knowing your brother, Sergey Ivanovitch,"
said Grinevitch, 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 known to all Russia, he could not endure it when
people treated him not as Konstantin Levin, but as the brother of
the celebrated Koznishev.

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

"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 began telling him at once. "Well, to put it shortly, I was
convinced that nothing was really done by the district councils,
or ever could be," he began, as though some one had just insulted
him. "On one side it's a plaything; they play at being a
parliament, and I'm neither young enough nor 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 make money.
Formerly they had wardships, courts of justice, now they have the
district council--not in the form of bribes, but in the form of
unearned salary," he said, as hotly as though someone of those
present had opposed his opinion.

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

"Yes, later. But I wanted to see you," said Levin, looking with
hatred at 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! I see: a new phase."

Levin suddenly blushed, not as grown men blush, slightly, without
being themselves aware of it, but as boys blush, feeling that
they are ridiculous through their shyness, and consequently
ashamed of it and blushing still more, almost to the point of
tears. And it was so strange to see this sensible, manly face in
such a childish plight, that Oblonsky 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
can talk. I am free till three."

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

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

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

"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 was making to surmount his shyness.

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

Stepan Arkadyevitch, who had long known that Levin was in love
with his sister-in-law, Kitty, gave a hardly perceptible smile,
and his eyes sparkled 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 modest
consciousness, characteristic of every secretary, of superiority
to his chief in the knowledge of their business; he went up to
Oblonsky with some papers, and began, under pretense of asking a
question, to explain some objection. Stepan Arkadyevitch,
without hearing him out, laid his hand 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 away from the papers, and said: "So do it that way, if you
please, Zahar Nikititch."

The secretary retired in confusion. During the consultation with
the secretary Levin had completely recovered from his
embarrassment. He was standing with his elbows on the back of a
chair, and on his face was a look 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
his shoulders. "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, and am proud that I've a friend in such a great person.
You've not answered my question, though," he went on, with a
desperate effort looking Oblonsky straight in the face.

"Oh, that's all very well. You wait a bit, and you'll come to
this yourself. It's very nice for you to have over six thousand
acres in the Karazinsky district, and such muscles, and the
freshness of a girl of twelve; 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's brought you up to town?"

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

"All right. I see," said Stepan Arkadyevitch. "I should ask you
to come to 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 Zoological Gardens from four to five. Kitty skates. You
drive along there, and I'll come 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 doorway
remembering that he had forgotten to take leave of Oblonsky's
colleagues.

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

"Yes, my dear boy," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, nodding his head,
"he's a lucky 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, Stepan
Arkadyevitch?"

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



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
Nabou.com: the big site