FictionForest

PART FIVE : Chapter 24

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The levee was drawing to a close. 
People met as they were going away, and gossiped
of the latest news, of the newly bestowed honors and
the changes in the positions of the higher functionaries.

“If only Countess Marya Borissovna
were Minister of War, and Princess Vatkovskaya were
Commander-in-Chief,” said a gray-headed, little
old man in a gold-embroidered uniform, addressing
a tall, handsome maid of honor who had questioned him
about the new appointments.

“And me among the adjutants,”
said the maid of honor, smiling.

“You have an appointment already. 
You’re over the ecclesiastical department. 
And your assistant’s Karenin.”

“Good-day, prince!” said
the little old man to a man who came up to him.

“What were you saying of Karenin?” said
the prince.

“He and Putyatov have received the Alexander
Nevsky.”

“I thought he had it already.”

“No.  Just look at him,”
said the little old man, pointing with his embroidered
hat to Karenin in a court uniform with the new red
ribbon across his shoulders, standing in the doorway
of the hall with an influential member of the Imperial
Council.  “Pleased and happy as a brass
farthing,” he added, stopping to shake hands
with a handsome gentleman of the bedchamber of colossal
proportions.

“No; he’s looking older,” said the
gentleman of the bedchamber.

“From overwork.  He’s
always drawing up projects nowadays.  He won’t
let a poor devil go nowadays till he’s explained
it all to him under heads.”

“Looking older, did you say?
Il fait des passions.  I believe Countess
Lidia Ivanovna’s jealous now of his wife.”

“Oh, come now, please don’t
say any harm of Countess Lidia Ivanovna.”

“Why, is there any harm in her
being in love with Karenin?”

“But is it true Madame Karenina’s here?”

“Well, not here in the palace,
but in Petersburg.  I met her yesterday with
Alexey Vronsky, bras dessous, bras dessous,
in the Morsky.”

C’est un homme
qui n’a pas…” the gentleman of the
bedchamber was beginning, but he stopped to make room,
bowing, for a member of the Imperial family to pass.

Thus people talked incessantly of
Alexey Alexandrovitch, finding fault with him and
laughing at him, while he, blocking up the way of
the member of the Imperial Council he had captured,
was explaining to him point by point his new financial
project, never interrupting his discourse for an instant
for fear he should escape.

Almost at the same time that his wife
left Alexey Alexandrovitch there had come to him that
bitterest moment in the life of an official ­the
moment when his upward career comes to a full stop. 
This full stop had arrived and everyone perceived it,
but Alexey Alexandrovitch himself was not yet aware
that his career was over.  Whether it was due
to his feud with Stremov, or his misfortune with his
wife, or simply that Alexey Alexandrovitch had reached
his destined limits, it had become evident to everyone
in the course of that year that his career was at an
end.  He still filled a position of consequence,
he sat on many commissions and committees, but he
was a man whose day was over, and from whom nothing
was expected.  Whatever he said, whatever he
proposed, was heard as though it were something long
familiar, and the very thing that was not needed. 
But Alexey Alexandrovitch was not aware of this,
and, on the contrary, being cut off from direct participation
in governmental activity, he saw more clearly than
ever the errors and defects in the action of others,
and thought it his duty to point out means for their
correction.  Shortly after his separation from
his wife, he began writing his first note on the new
judicial procedure, the first of the endless series
of notes he was destined to write in the future.

Alexey Alexandrovitch did not merely
fail to observe his hopeless position in the official
world, he was not merely free from anxiety on this
head, he was positively more satisfied than ever with
his own activity.

“He that is unmarried careth
for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may
please the Lord:  But he that is married careth
for the things that are of the world, how he may please
his wife,” says the Apostle Paul, and Alexey
Alexandrovitch, who was now guided in every action
by Scripture, often recalled this text.  It seemed
to him that ever since he had been left without a
wife, he had in these very projects of reform been
serving the Lord more zealously than before.

The unmistakable impatience of the
member of the Council trying to get away from him
did not trouble Alexey Alexandrovitch; he gave up
his exposition only when the member of the Council,
seizing his chance when one of the Imperial family
was passing, slipped away from him.

Left alone, Alexey Alexandrovitch
looked down, collecting his thoughts, then looked
casually about him and walked towards the door, where
he hoped to meet Countess Lidia Ivanovna.

“And how strong they all are,
how sound physically,” thought Alexey Alexandrovitch,
looking at the powerfully built gentleman of the bedchamber
with his well-combed, perfumed whiskers, and at the
red neck of the prince, pinched by his tight uniform. 
He had to pass them on his way.  “Truly
is it said that all the world is evil,” he thought,
with another sidelong glance at the calves of the
gentleman of the bedchamber.

Moving forward deliberately, Alexey
Alexandrovitch bowed with his customary air of weariness
and dignity to the gentleman who had been talking
about him, and looking towards the door, his eyes
sought Countess Lidia Ivanovna.

“Ah!  Alexey Alexandrovitch!”
said the little old man, with a malicious light in
his eyes, at the moment when Karenin was on a level
with them, and was nodding with a frigid gesture, “I
haven’t congratulated you yet,” said the
old man, pointing to his newly received ribbon.

“Thank you,” answered
Alexey Alexandrovitch.  “What an exquisite
day to-day,” he added, laying emphasis in his
peculiar way on the word exquisite.

That they laughed at him he was well
aware, but he did not expect anything but hostility
from them; he was used to that by now.

Catching sight of the yellow shoulders
of Lidia Ivanovna jutting out above her corset, and
her fine pensive eyes bidding him to her, Alexey Alexandrovitch
smiled, revealing untarnished white teeth, and went
towards her.

Lidia Ivanovna’s dress had cost
her great pains, as indeed all her dresses had done
of late.  Her aim in dress was now quite the
reverse of that she had pursued thirty years before. 
Then her desire had been to adorn herself with something,
and the more adorned the better.  Now, on the
contrary, she was perforce decked out in a way so
inconsistent with her age and her figure, that her
one anxiety was to contrive that the contrast between
these adornments and her own exterior should not be
too appalling.  And as far as Alexey Alexandrovitch
was concerned she succeeded, and was in his eyes attractive. 
For him she was the one island not only of goodwill
to him, but of love in the midst of the sea of hostility
and jeering that surrounded him.

Passing through rows of ironical eyes,
he was drawn as naturally to her loving glance as
a plant to the sun.

“I congratulate you,”
she said to him, her eyes on his ribbon.

Suppressing a smile of pleasure, he
shrugged his shoulders, closing his eyes, as though
to say that that could not be a source of joy to him. 
Countess Lidia Ivanovna was very well aware that
it was one of his chief sources of satisfaction, though
he never admitted it.

“How is our angel?” said
Countess Lidia Ivanovna, meaning Seryozha.

“I can’t say I was quite
pleased with him,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch,
raising his eyebrows and opening his eyes.  “And
Sitnikov is not satisfied with him.” (Sitnikov
was the tutor to whom Seryozha’s secular education
had been intrusted.) “As I have mentioned to
you, there’s a sort of coldness in him towards
the most important questions which ought to touch the
heart of every man and every child….” 
Alexey Alexandrovitch began expounding his views
on the sole question that interested him besides the
service ­the education of his son.

When Alexey Alexandrovitch with Lidia
Ivanovna’s help had been brought back anew to
life and activity, he felt it his duty to undertake
the education of the son left on his hands.  Having
never before taken any interest in educational questions,
Alexey Alexandrovitch devoted some time to the theoretical
study of the subject.  After reading several
books on anthropology, education, and didactics, Alexey
Alexandrovitch drew up a plan of education, and engaging
the best tutor in Petersburg to superintend it, he
set to work, and the subject continually absorbed him.

“Yes, but the heart.  I
see in him his father’s heart, and with such
a heart a child cannot go far wrong,” said Lidia
Ivanovna with enthusiasm.

“Yes, perhaps….  As for
me, I do my duty.  It’s all I can do.”

“You’re coming to me,”
said Countess Lidia Ivanovna, after a pause; “we
have to speak of a subject painful for you.  I
would give anything to have spared you certain memories,
but others are not of the same mind.  I have
received a letter from her. She is here
in Petersburg.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch shuddered at
the allusion to his wife, but immediately his face
assumed the deathlike rigidity which expressed utter
helplessness in the matter.

“I was expecting it,” he said.

Countess Lidia Ivanovna looked at
him ecstatically, and tears of rapture at the greatness
of his soul came into her eyes.

 

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