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CHAPTER XVI. AN UP-TO-DATE SENATOR.
When Nekhludoff remembered the smiles that had passed between him and Mariette, he shook his head.
"You have hardly time to turn round before you are again drawn into this life," he thought, feeling that discord and those doubts which the necessity to curry favour from people he did not esteem caused.
After considering where to go first, so as not to have to retrace his steps, Nekhludoff set off for the Senate. There he was shown into the office where he found a great many very polite and very clean officials in the midst of a magnificent apartment. Maslova's petition was received and handed on to that Wolf, to whom Nekhludoff had a letter from his uncle, to be examined and reported on.
"There will be a meeting of the Senate this week," the official said to Nekhludoff, "but Maslova's case will hardly come before that meeting."
"It might come before the meeting on Wednesday, by special request," one of the officials remarked.
During the time Nekhludoff waited in the office, while some information was being taken, he heard that the conversation in the Senate was all about the duel, and he heard a detailed account of how a young man, Kaminski, had been killed. It was here he first heard all the facts of the case which was exciting the interest of all Petersburg. The story was this: Some officers were eating oysters and, as usual, drinking very much, when one of them said something ill-natured about the regiment to which Kaminski belonged, and Kaminski called him a liar. The other hit Kaminski. The next day they fought. Kaminski was wounded in the stomach and died two hours later. The murderer and the seconds were arrested, but it was said that though they were arrested and in the guardhouse they would be set free in a fortnight.
From the Senate Nekhludoff drove to see an influential member of the petition Committee, Baron Vorobioff, who lived in a splendid house belonging to the Crown. The doorkeeper told Nekhludoff in a severe tone that the Baron could not be seen except on his reception days; that he was with His Majesty the Emperor to-day, and the next day he would again have to deliver a report. Nekhludoff left his uncle's letter with the doorkeeper and went on to see the Senator Wolf. Wolf had just had his lunch, and was as usual helping digestion by smoking a cigar and pacing up and down the room, when Nekhludoff came in. Vladimir Vasilievitch Wolf was certainly un homme tres comme il faut, and prized this quality very highly, and from that elevation he looked down at everybody else. He could not but esteem this quality of his very highly, because it was thanks to it alone that he had made a brilliant career, the very career he desired, i.e., by marriage he obtained a fortune which brought him in 18,000 roubles a year, and by his own exertions the post of a senator. He considered himself not only un homme tres comme il faut, but also a man of knightly honour. By honour he understood not accepting secret bribes from private persons. But he did not consider it dishonest to beg money for payment of fares and all sorts of travelling expenses from the Crown, and to do anything the Government might require of him in return. To ruin hundreds of innocent people, to cause them to be imprisoned, to be exiled because of their love for their people and the religion of their fathers, as he had done in one of the governments of Poland when he was governor there. He did not consider it dishonourable, but even thought it a noble, manly and patriotic action. Nor did he consider it dishonest to rob his wife and sister-in-law, as he had done, but thought it a wise way of arranging his family life. His family consisted of his commonplace wife, his sister-in-law, whose fortune he had appropriated by selling her estate and putting the money to his account, and his meek, frightened, plain daughter, who lived a lonely, weary life, from which she had lately begun to look for relaxation in evangelicism, attending meetings at Aline's, and the Countess Katerina Ivanovna. Wolf's son, who had grown a beard at the age of 15, and had at that age begun to drink and lead a depraved life, which he continued to do till the age of 20, when he was turned out by his father because he never finished his studies, moved in a low set and made debts which committed the father. The father had once paid a debt of 250 roubles for his son, then another of 600 roubles, but warned the son that he did it for the last time, and that if the son did not reform he would be turned out of the house and all further intercourse between him and his family would he put a stop to. The son did not reform, but made a debt of a thousand roubles, and took the liberty of telling his father that life at home was a torment anyhow. Then Wolf declared to his son that he might go where he pleased - that he was no son of his any longer. Since then Wolf pretended he had no son, and no one at home dared speak to him about his son, and Vladimir Vasilievitch Wolf was firmly convinced that he had arranged his family life in the best way. Wolf stopped pacing up and down his study, and greeted Nekhludoff with a friendly though slightly ironical smile. This was his way of showing how comme il faut he was, and how superior to the majority of men. He read the note which Nekhludoff handed to him.
"Please take a seat, and excuse me if I continue to walk up and down, with your permission," he said, putting his hands into his coat pockets, and began again to walk with light, soft steps across his large, quietly and stylishly furnished study. "Very pleased to make your acquaintance and of course very glad to do anything that Count Ivan Michaelovitch wishes," he said, blowing the fragrant blue smoke out of his mouth and removing his cigar carefully so as not to drop the ash.
"I should only like to ask that the case might come on soon, so that if the prisoner has to go to Siberia she might set off early," said Nekhludoff.
"Yes, yes, with one of the first steamers from Nijni. I know," said Wolf, with his patronising smile, always knowing in advance whatever one wanted to tell him.
"What is the prisoner's name?"
Wolf went up to the table and looked at a paper that lay on a piece of cardboard among other business papers.
"Yes, yes. Maslova. All right, I will ask the others. We shall hear the case on Wednesday."
"Then may I telegraph to the advocate?"
"The advocate! What's that for? But if you like, why not?"
"The causes for appeal may be insufficient," said Nekhludoff, "but I think the case will show that the sentence was passed owing to a misunderstanding."
"Yes, yes; it may be so, but the Senate cannot decide the case on its merits," said Wolf, looking seriously at the ash of his cigar. "The Senate only considers the exactness of the application of the laws and their right interpretation."
"But this seems to me to be an exceptional case."
"I know, I know! All cases are exceptional. We shall do our duty. That's all." The ash was still holding on, but had began breaking, and was in danger of falling.
"Do you often come to Petersburg?" said Wolf, holding his cigar so that the ash should not fall. But the ash began to shake, and Wolf carefully carried it to the ashpan, into which it fell.
"What a terrible thing this is with regard to Kaminski," he said. "A splendid young man. The only son. Especially the mother's position," he went on, repeating almost word for word what every one in Petersburg was at that time saying about Kaminski. Wolf spoke a little about the Countess Katerina Ivanovna and her enthusiasm for the new religious teaching, which he neither approved nor disapproved of, but which was evidently needless to him who was so comme il faut, and then rang the bell.
"If it is convenient, come and dine on Wednesday, and I will give you a decisive answer," said Wolf, extending his hand.
It was late, and Nekhludoff returned to his aunt's.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XVII. COUNTESS KATERINA IVANOVNA'S DINNER PARTY.