FictionForest

PART SIX : Chapter 28

Leo TolstoyAug 25, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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.”

 

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