FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 5

Leo TolstoyAug 21, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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 him, 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, broad-shouldered 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.  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 angrily 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 Ivanovitch 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.

 

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