Chapter 24

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 Vatkovsky 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 if I were one of 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 Putiatov have received the order of Alexandre 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 brass,' 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 Peterburg. I met her yesterday with Alexei Vronsky, bras dessus, bras dessous, on the Morskaia.'

`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 Alexei Alexandrovich, 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 Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Alexei Alexandrovich 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 Alexei Alexandrovich had reached his predestined 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

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