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CHAPTER XV. AN AVERAGE STATESMAN.
Count Ivan Michaelovitch had been a minister, and was a man of strong convictions. The convictions of Count Ivan Michaelovitch consisted in the belief that, just as it was natural for a bird to feed on worms, to be clothed in feathers and down, and to fly in the air, so it was natural for him to feed on the choicest and most expensive food, prepared by highly-paid cooks, to wear the most comfortable and most expensive clothing, to drive with the best and fastest horses, and that, therefore, all these things should be ready found for him. Besides this, Count Ivan Michaelovitch considered that the more money he could get out of the treasury by all sorts of means, the more orders he had, including different diamond insignia of something or other, and the oftener he spoke to highly-placed individuals of both sexes, so much the better it was.
All the rest Count Ivan Michaelovitch considered insignificant and uninteresting beside these dogmas. All the rest might be as it was, or just the reverse. Count Ivan Michaelovitch lived and acted according to these lights for 40 years, and at the end of 40 years reached the position of a Minister of State. The chief qualities that enabled Count Ivan Michaelovitch to reach this position were his capacity of understanding the meaning of documents and laws and of drawing up, though clumsily, intelligible State papers, and of spelling them correctly; secondly, his very stately appearance, which enabled him, when necessary, to seem not only extremely proud, but unapproachable and majestic, while at other times he could be abjectly and almost passionately servile; thirdly, the absence of any general principles or rules, either of personal or administrative morality, which made it possible for him either to agree or disagree with anybody according to what was wanted at the time. When acting thus his only endeavour was to sustain the appearance of good breeding and not to seem too plainly inconsistent. As for his actions being moral or not, in themselves, or whether they were going to result in the highest welfare or greatest evil for the whole of the Russian Empire, or even the entire world, that was quite indifferent to him. When he became minister, not only those dependent on him (and there were great many of them) and people connected with him, but many strangers and even he himself were convinced that he was a very clever statesman. But after some time had elapsed and he had done nothing and had nothing to show, and when in accordance with the law of the struggle for existence others, like himself, who had learnt to write and understand documents, stately and unprincipled officials, had displaced him, he turned out to be not only far from clever but very limited and badly educated. Though self-assured, his views hardly reaching the level of those in the leading articles of the Conservative papers, it became apparent that there was nothing in him to distinguish him from those other badly-educated and self-assured officials who had pushed him out, and he himself saw it. But this did not shake his conviction that he had to receive a great deal of money out of the Treasury every year, and new decorations for his dress clothes. This conviction was so firm that no one had the pluck to refuse these things to him, and he received yearly, partly in form of a pension, partly as a salary for being a member in a Government institution and chairman of all sorts of committees and councils, several tens of thousands of roubles, besides the right - highly prized by him - of sewing all sorts of new cords to his shoulders and trousers, and ribbons to wear under and enamel stars to fix on to his dress coat. In consequence of this Count Ivan Michaelovitch had very high connections.
Count Ivan Michaelovitch listened to Nekhludoff as he was wont to listen to the reports of the permanent secretary of his department, and, having heard him, said he would give him two notes, one to the Senator Wolff, of the Appeal Department. "All sorts of things are reported of him, but dans tous les cas c'est un homme tres comme ii faut," he said. "He is indebted to me, and will do all that is possible." The other note Count Ivan Michaelovitch gave Nekhludoff was to an influential member of the Petition Committee. The story of Theodosia Birukoff as told by Nekhludoff interested him very much. When Nekhludoff said that he thought of writing to the Empress, the Count replied that it certainly was a very touching story, and might, if occasion presented itself, be told her, but he could not promise. Let the petition be handed in in due form.
Should there be an opportunity, and if a petit comite were called on Thursday, he thought he would tell her the story. As soon as Nekhludoff had received these two notes, and a note to Mariette from his aunt, he at once set off to these different places.
First he went to Mariette's. He had known her as a half-grown girl, the daughter of an aristocratic but not wealthy family, and had heard how she had married a man who was making a career, whom Nekhludoff had heard badly spoken of; and, as usual, he felt it hard to ask a favour of a man he did not esteem. In these cases he always felt an inner dissension and dissatisfaction, and wavered whether to ask the favour or not, and always resolved to ask. Besides feeling himself in a false position among those to whose set he no longer regarded himself as belonging, who yet regarded him as belonging to them, he felt himself getting into the old accustomed rut, and in spite of himself fell into the thoughtless and immoral tone that reigned in that circle. He felt that from the first, with his aunt, he involuntarily fell into a bantering tone while talking about serious matters.
Petersburg in general affected him with its usual physically invigorating and mentally dulling effect.
Everything so clean, so comfortably well-arranged and the people so lenient in moral matters, that life seemed very easy.
A fine, clean, and polite isvostchik drove him past fine, clean, polite policemen, along the fine, clean, watered streets, past fine, clean houses to the house in which Mariette lived. At the front door stood a pair of English horses, with English harness, and an English-looking coachman on the box, with the lower part of his face shaved, proudly holding a whip. The doorkeeper, dressed in a wonderfully clean livery, opened the door into the hall, where in still cleaner livery with gold cords stood the footman with his splendid whiskers well combed out, and the orderly on duty in a brand-new uniform. "The general does not receive, and the generaless does not receive either. She is just going to drive out."
Nekhludoff took out Katerina Ivanovna's letter, and going up to a table on which lay a visitors' book, began to write that he was sorry not to have been able to see any one; when the footman went up the staircase the doorkeeper went out and shouted to the coachman, and the orderly stood up rigid with his arms at his sides following with his eyes a little, slight lady, who was coming down the stairs with rapid steps not in keeping with all the grandeur.
Mariette had a large hat on, with feathers, a black dress and cape, and new black gloves. Her face was covered by a veil.
When she saw Nekhludoff she lifted the veil off a very pretty face with bright eyes that looked inquiringly at him.
"Ah, Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhludoff," she said, with a soft, pleasant voice. "I should have known - "
"What! you even remember my name?"
"I should think so. Why, I and my sisters have even been in love with you," she said, in French. "But, dear me, how you have altered. Oh, what a pity I have to go out. But let us go up again," she said and stopped hesitatingly. Then she looked at the clock. "No, I can't. I am going to Kamenskaya's to attend a mass for the dead. She is terribly afflicted."
"Who is this Kamenskaya?"
"Have you not heard? Her son was killed in a duel. He fought Posen. He was the only son. Terrible I The mother is very much afflicted."
"Yes. I have heard of it."
"No, I had better go, and you must come again, to-night or to-morrow," she said, and went to the door with quick, light steps.
"I cannot come to-night," he said, going out after her; "but I have a request to make you," and he looked at the pair of bays that were drawing up to the front door.
"What is this?"
"This is a letter from aunt to you," said Nekhludoff, handing her a narrow envelope, with a large crest. "You'll find all about it in there."
"I know Countess Katerina Ivanovna thinks I have some influence with my husband in business matters. She is mistaken. I can do nothing and do not like to interfere. But, of course, for you I am willing to be false to my principle. What is this business about?" she said, searching in vain for her pocket with her little black gloved hand.
"There is a girl imprisoned in the fortress, and she is ill and innocent."
"What is her name?"
"Lydia Shoustova. It's in the note."
"All right; I'll see what I can do," she said, and lightly jumped into her little, softly upholstered, open carriage, its brightly-varnished splash-guards glistening in the sunshine, and opened her parasol. The footman got on the box and gave the coachman a sign. The carriage moved, but at that moment she touched the coachman with her parasol and the slim-legged beauties, the bay mares, stopped, bending their beautiful necks and stepping from foot to foot.
"But you must come, only, please, without interested motives," and she looked at him with a smile, the force of which she well knew, and, as if the performance over and she were drawing the curtain, she dropped the veil over her face again. "All right," and she again touched the coachman.
Nekhludoff raised his hat, and the well-bred bays, slightly snorting, set off, their shoes clattering on the pavement, and the carriage rolled quickly and smoothly on its new rubber tyres, giving a jump only now and then over some unevenness of the road.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XVI. AN UP-TO-DATE SENATOR.