Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

Chapter 14 (continued)

Alexey Alexandrovitch ordered tea to be brought to the study, and playing with the massive paper-knife, he moved to his easy chair, near which there had been placed ready for him a lamp and the French work on Egyptian hieroglyphics that he had begun. Over the easy chair there hung in a gold frame an oval portrait of Anna, a fine painting by a celebrated artist. Alexey Alexandrovitch glanced at it. The unfathomable eyes gazed ironically and insolently at him. Insufferably insolent and challenging was the effect in Alexey Alexandrovitch's eyes of the black lace about the head, admirably touched in by the painter, the black hair and handsome white hand with one finger lifted, covered with rings. After looking at the portrait for a minute, Alexey Alexandrovitch shuddered so that his lips quivered and he uttered the sound "brrr," and turned away. He made haste to sit down in his easy chair and opened the book. He tried to read, but he could not revive the very vivid interest he had felt before in Egyptian hieroglyphics. He looked at the book and thought of something else. He thought not of his wife, but of a complication that had arisen in his official life, which at the time constituted the chief interest of it. He felt that he had penetrated more deeply than ever before into this intricate affair, and that he had originated a leading idea--he could say it without self-flattery--calculated to clear up the whole business, to strengthen him in his official career, to discomfit his enemies, and thereby to be of the greatest benefit to the government. Directly the servant had set the tea and left the room, Alexey Alexandrovitch got up and went to the writing-table. Moving into the middle of the table a portfolio of papers, with a scarcely perceptible smile of self-satisfaction, he took a pencil from a rack and plunged into the perusal of a complex report relating to the present complication. The complication was of this nature: Alexey Alexandrovitch's characteristic quality as a politician, that special individual qualification that every rising functionary possesses, the qualification that with his unflagging ambition, his reserve, his honesty, and with his self-confidence had made his career, was his contempt for red tape, his cutting down of correspondence, his direct contact, wherever possible, with the living fact, and his economy. It happened that the famous Commission of the 2nd of June had set on foot an inquiry into the irrigation of lands in the Zaraisky province, which fell under Alexey Alexandrovitch's department, and was a glaring example of fruitless expenditure and paper reforms. Alexey Alexandrovitch was aware of the truth of this. The irrigation of these lands in the Zaraisky province had been initiated by the predecessor of Alexey Alexandrovitch's predecessor. And vast sums of money had actually been spent and were still being spent on this business, and utterly unproductively, and the whole business could obviously lead to nothing whatever. Alexey Alexandrovitch had perceived this at once on entering office, and would have liked to lay hands on the Board of Irrigation. But at first, when he did not yet feel secure in his position, he knew it would affect too many interests, and would be injudicious. Later on he had been engrossed in other questions, and had simply forgotten the Board of Irrigation. It went of itself, like all such boards, by the mere force of inertia. (Many people gained their livelihood by the Board of Irrigation, especially one highly conscientious and musical family: all the daughters played on stringed instruments, and Alexey Alexandrovitch knew the family and had stood godfather to one of the elder daughters.) The raising of this question by a hostile department was in Alexey Alexandrovitch's opinion a dishonorable proceeding, seeing that in every department there were things similar and worse, which no one inquired into, for well-known reasons of official etiquette. However, now that the glove had been thrown down to him, he had boldly picked it up and demanded the appointment of a special commission to investigate and verify the working of the Board of Irrigation of the lands in the Zaraisky province. But in compensation he gave no quarter to the enemy either. He demanded the appointment of another special commission to inquire into the question of the Native Tribes Organization Committee. The question of the Native Tribes had been brought up incidentally in the Commission of the 2nd of June, and had been pressed forward actively by Alexey Alexandrovitch as one admitting of no delay on account of the deplorable condition bf the native tribes. In the commission this question had been a ground of contention between several departments. The department hostile to Alexey Alexandrovitch proved that the condition of the native tribes was exceedingly flourishing, that the proposed reconstruction might be the ruin of their prosperity, and that if there were anything wrong, it arose mainly from the failure on the part of Alexey Alexandrovitch's department to carry out the measures prescribed by law. Now Alexey Alexandrovitch intended to demand: First, that a new commission should be formed which should be empowered to investigate the condition of the native tribes on the spot; secondly, if it should appear that the condition of the native tribes actually was such as it appeared to be from the official documents in the hands of the committee, that another new scientific commission should be appointed to investigate the deplorable condition of the native tribes from the--(1) political, (2) administrative, (3) economic, (4) ethnographical, (5) material, and (6) religious points of view; thirdly, that evidence should be required from the rival department of the measures that had been taken during the last ten years by that department for averting the disastrous conditions in which the native tribes were now placed; and fourthly and finally, that that department explain why it had, as appeared from the evidence before the committee, from No. 17,015 and 18,038, from December 5, 1863, and June 7, 1864, acted in direct contravention of the intent of the law T...Act 18, and the note to Act 36. A flash of eagerness suffused the face of Alexey Alexandrovitch as he rapidly wrote out a synopsis of these ideas for his own benefit. Having filled a sheet of paper, he got up, rang, and sent a note to the chief secretary of his department to look up certain necessary facts for him. Getting up and walking about the room, he glanced again at the portrait, frowned, and smiled contemptuously. After reading a little more of the book on Egyptian hieroglyphics, and renewing his interest in it, Alexey Alexandrovitch went to bed at eleven o'clock, and recollecting as he lay in bed the incident with his wife, he saw it now in by no means such a gloomy light.

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