Levin was standing rather far off. A nobleman breathing heavily and hoarsely at his side, and another whose thick boots were creaking, prevented him from hearing distinctly. He could only hear the soft voice of the marshal faintly, then the shrill voice of the venomous gentleman, and then the voice of Sviiazhsky. They were disputing, as far as he could make out, as to the interpretation to be put on the act and the exact meaning of the words: "liable to be called up for trial."
The crowd parted to make way for Sergei Ivanovich approaching the table. Sergei Ivanovich, waiting till the venomous gentleman had finished speaking, said that he thought the best solution would be to refer to the act itself, and asked the secretary to find the act. The act said that in case of difference of opinion, there must be a ballot.
Sergei Ivanovich read the act and began to explain its meaning, but at that point a tall, stout, stoop-shouldered landowner, with dyed mustache, in a tight uniform that made the back of his neck bulge up, interrupted him. He went up to the table, and striking it with his finger ring, he shouted loudly:
"A ballot! Put it to the vote! No need for more talking!"
Then several voices began to talk all at once, and the tall nobleman with the ring, getting more and more exasperated, shouted more and more loudly. But it was impossible to make out what he said.
He was shouting for the very course Sergei Ivanovich had proposed; but it was evident that he hated him and all his party, and this feeling of hatred spread through the whole party and roused in opposition to it the same vindictiveness, though in a more seemly form, on the other side. Shouts were raised, and for a moment all was confusion, so that the marshal of the province had to call for order.
"A ballot! A ballot! Whoever is a nobleman understands! We shed our blood for our country!... The confidence of the Monarch.... No checking of the accounts of the marshal- he's not a cashier!... But that's not the point.... Votes, please! What vileness!..." shouted furious and violent voices on all sides. Looks and faces were even more violent and furious than their words. They expressed the most implacable hatred. Levin did not in the least understand what it was all about, and he marveled at the passion with which it was disputed whether or not the decision about Fliorov should be put to the vote. He forgot, as Sergei Ivanovich explained to him afterward, this syllogism: that it was necessary for the public good to get rid of the marshal of the province; that to get rid of the marshal it was necessary to have a majority of votes; that to get a majority of votes it was necessary to secure Fliorov's right to vote; that to secure the recognition of Fliorov's right to vote they must decide on the interpretation to be put on the act.
"And one vote may decide the whole question, and one must be serious and consecutive, if one wants to be of use in public life," concluded Sergei Ivanovich. But Levin forgot all that, and it was painful to him to see all these excellent persons, for whom he had respect, in such an unpleasant and vicious state of excitement. To escape from this painful feeling he went away into the other room where there was nobody except the waiters at the refreshment bar. Seeing the waiters busy washing up the crockery and setting in order their plates and wineglasses, seeing their alert and vivacious faces, Levin felt an unexpected sense of relief, as though he had come out of a stuffy room into the fresh air. He began walking up and down, looking with pleasure at the waiters. He particularly liked the way one gray-whiskered waiter, who showed his scorn for the other younger ones, and was jeered at by them, was teaching them how to fold napkins properly. Levin was just about to enter into conversation with the old waiter, when the secretary of the court of wardship, a little old man whose speciality it was to know all the noblemen of the province by name and patronymic, drew him away.
"Please come, Konstantin Dmitrievich," he said, "your brother's looking for you. They are voting on the legal point."
Levin walked into the room, received a white ball, and followed his brother, Sergei Ivanovich, to the table where Sviiazhsky was standing with a significant and ironical face, holding his beard in his fist and sniffing at it. Sergei Ivanovich put his hand into the box, put the ball somewhere, and, making room for Levin, stopped. Levin advanced, but utterly forgetting what he was to do, and much embarrassed, he turned to Sergei Ivanovich with the question, "Where am I to put it?" He asked this softly, at a moment when there was talking going on near, so that he had hoped his question would not be overheard. But the persons speaking paused, and his improper question was overheard. Sergei Ivanovich frowned.
"That is a matter for each man's own decision," he said severely.
Several people smiled. Levin crimsoned, hurriedly thrust his hand under the cloth, and put the ball to the right as it was in his right hand. Having put it in, he recollected that he ought to have thrust his left hand in too, and so he thrust it in though too late, and, still more overcome with confusion, he beat a hasty retreat into the background.
"A hund'ed and twenty-six fo' admission! Ninety-eight against!" sang out the voice of the secretary, who could not pronounce the letter r. Then there was a laugh; a button and two hazelnuts were found in the box. The nobleman was allowed the right to vote, and the new party had conquered.
But the old party did not consider themselves conquered. Levin heard that they were asking Snetkov to be candidate, and he saw that a crowd of noblemen was surrounding the marshal, who was saying something. Levin went nearer. In reply Snetkov spoke of the trust the noblemen of the province had placed in him, the affection they had shown him, which he did not deserve, as his only merit had been his attachment to the nobility, to whom he had devoted twelve years of service. Several times he repeated the words: "I have served to the best of my powers with truth and good faith; I value your goodness and thank you," and suddenly he stopped short from the tears that choked him, and went out of the room. Whether these tears came from a sense of the injustice being done him, from his love for the nobility, or from the strain of the position he was placed in, feeling himself surrounded by enemies, his emotion infected the assembly, the majority were touched, and Levin felt a tenderness for Snetkov.
In the doorway the marshal of the province jostled against Levin.
"Beg pardon- excuse me, please," he said as to a stranger, but, recognizing Levin, he smiled timidly. It seemed to Levin that he would have liked to say something, but could not speak for emotion. His face and his whole figure in his uniform with the crosses, and white trousers striped with galloons, as he moved hurriedly along, reminded Levin of some hunted beast who sees that he is in evil plight. This expression on the marshal's face was particularly touching to Levin, because, only the day before, he had been at his house about his guardianship business and had seen him in all his grandeur, a kindhearted, fatherly man. The big house with the old family furniture; the rather slovenly, far from stylish, but respectful footmen- unmistakably old house serfs who had stuck to their master; the stout, good-natured wife in a cap with lace and a Turkish shawl, petting her pretty grandchild, her daughter's daughter; the young son, a sixth-form high school boy, coming home from school, and greeting his father by kissing his big hand; the genuine, cordial words and gestures of the old man- all this had the day before roused an instinctive feeling of respect and sympathy in Levin. This old man was a touching and pathetic figure to Levin now, and he longed to say something pleasant to him.
"So you're our marshal again," he said.
"It's not likely," said the marshal, looking round with a scared expression. "I'm worn-out, I'm old. If there are men younger and more deserving than I, let them serve."
And the marshal disappeared through a side door.
The most solemn moment was at hand. They were to proceed immediately to the election. The leaders of both parties were reckoning white and black on their fingers.
The discussion upon Fliorov had given the new party not only Fliorov's vote, but had also gained time for them, so that they could send to fetch three noblemen who had been rendered unable to take part in the elections by the wiles of the other party. Two noble gentlemen, who had a weakness for strong drink, had been made drunk by the partisans of Snetkov, and a third had been relieved of his uniform.
On learning this, the new party had made haste, during the dispute about Fliorov, to send some of their men in a cab to clothe the stripped gentleman, and to bring along one of the intoxicated to the meeting.
"I've brought one after bringing him to by throwing water- over him," said the landowner who had gone on this errand, to Sviiazhsky. "Never mind- he'll do."
"Not too drunk- he won't fall down?" said Sviiazhsky, shaking his head.
"No, he's first-rate. If only they don't give him any more here.... I've told the barman not to give him anything, on any account."