FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 17

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

Light off Small Medium Large

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 others.

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 pincenez,
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 freedom.”

“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 pincenez
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 pincenez 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 pincenez,
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 emphasis.

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 Alexandrovitch.

“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 recollection.

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 uneasy.

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 experiencing.

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.

 

Leave a Reply