The sixth day was fixed for the election of the marshal of the province. The rooms, large and small, were full of nobleman in all sorts of uniforms. Many had come only for that day. Men who had not seen each other for years, some from the Crimea, some from Peterburg, some from abroad, met in the rooms of the Hall of Nobility. There was much discussion around the province table under the portrait of the Czar.
The nobles, both in the larger and in the smaller rooms, grouped themselves in camps, and from their hostile and suspicious glances, from the silence that fell upon them when outsiders approached a group, and from the way that some, whispering together, retreated to the farther corridor, it was evident that each side had secrets from the other. In appearance the noblemen were sharply divided into two classes: the old and the new. The old were for the most part either in the old uniform of the nobility, buttoned up closely, with spurs and hats, or in their own special naval, cavalry, infantry uniforms, earned by their former service. The uniforms of the older men were embroidered in the old-fashioned way with small puffs on their shoulders; they were unmistakably tight and short in the waists, as though their wearers had grown out of them. The younger men wore the uniform of the nobility with long waists and broad shoulders, unbuttoned over white waistcoats, or uniforms with black collars and with the embroidered laurel leaves of justices of the peace. To the younger men belonged the Court uniforms that here and there brightened up the crowd.
But the division into young and old did not correspond with the division of parties. Some of the young men, as Levin observed, belonged to the old party; and some of the very oldest noblemen, on the contrary, were whispering with Sviiazhsky, and were evidently ardent partisans of the new party.
Levin stood in the smaller room, where they were smoking and taking light refreshments, close to his own friends, and, listening to what they were saying, he vainly exerted all his intelligence trying to understand what was said. Sergei Ivanovich was the center round which the others grouped themselves. He was listening at that moment to Sviiazhsky and Khliustov, the marshal of another district, who belonged to their party. Khliustov would not agree to go with his district to ask Snetkov to be a candidate, while Sviiazhsky was persuading him to do so, and Sergei Ivanovich was approving of the plan. Levin could not make out why the opposition had to ask the marshal to be a candidate when they wanted to supersede him.
Stepan Arkadyevich, who had just been drinking and taking some snack lunch, came up to them in his uniform of a gentleman of the bedchamber, wiping his lips with a perfumed handkerchief of bordered batiste.
"We are placing our forces," he said, pulling out his side whiskers, "Sergei Ivanovich!"
And listening to the conversation, he supported Sviiazhsky's contention.
"One district's enough, and Sviiazhsky's obviously of the opposition," he said, words evidently intelligible to all except Levin.
"Why, Kostia, you, it seems, get the taste for these affairs too!" he added, turning to Levin and drawing his arm through his. Levin would have been glad indeed to get the taste for these affairs, but could not make out what the point was, and retreating a few steps from the speakers, he explained to Stepan Arkadyevich his inability to understand why the marshal of the province should be asked to be a candidate.
"O sancta simplicitas!" said Stepan Arkadyevich, and briefly and clearly he explained it to Levin.
If, as at previous elections, all the districts asked the marshal of the province to be a candidate, then he would be elected without a ballot. That must not be. Now eight districts had agreed to call upon him: if two refused to do so, Snetkov might decline the candidacy entirely; and then the old party might choose another of their party, which would throw them completely out in their reckoning. But if only one district, Sviiazhsky's, did not call upon him to be a candidate, Snetkov would let himself be balloted for. They were even, some of them, going to vote for him, and purposely to let him get a good many votes, so that the enemy might be thrown off the scent, and when a candidate of the other side was put up, they too might give him some votes. Levin understood to some extent, but not fully, and would have put a few more questions, when suddenly everyone began talking and making a noise, and they moved toward the big room.
"What is it? Eh? Whom?... Proxy? Whose? What?... They won't pass him?... No proxy?... They won't let Fliorov in?... Eh, because of the charge against him?... Why, at this rate, they won't admit anyone. It's a swindle!... The law!" Levin heard exclamations on all sides, and he moved into the big room together with the others, all hurrying somewhere and afraid of missing something. Squeezed by the crowding noblemen, he drew near the high table where the marshal of the province, Sviiazhsky, and the other leaders, were hotly disputing about something.