A secretary came in, with respectful familiarity and the modest consciousness, characteristic of every secretary, of superiority to his chief in the knowledge of their business; he went up to Oblonsky with some papers, and began, under pretense of asking a question, to explain some objection. Stepan Arkadyevitch, without hearing him out, laid his hand genially on the secretary’s sleeve.
“No, you do as I told you,” he said, softening his words with a smile, and with a brief explanation of his view of the matter he turned away from the papers, and said: “So do it that way, if you please, Zahar Nikititch.”
The secretary retired in confusion. During the consultation with the secretary Levin had completely recovered from his embarrassment. He was standing with his elbows on the back of a chair, and on his face was a look of ironical attention.
“I don’t understand it, I don’t understand it,” he said.
“What don’t you understand?” said Oblonsky, smiling as brightly as ever, and picking up a cigarette. He expected some queer outburst from Levin.
“I don’t understand what you are doing,” said Levin, shrugging his shoulders. “How can you do it seriously?”
“Why, because there’s nothing in it.”
“You think so, but we’re overwhelmed with work.”
“On paper. But, there, you’ve a gift for it,” added Levin.
“That’s to say, you think there’s a lack of something in me?”
“Perhaps so,” said Levin. “But all the same I admire your grandeur, and am proud that I’ve a friend in such a great person. You’ve not answered my question, though,” he went on, with a desperate effort looking Oblonsky straight in the face.
“Oh, that’s all very well. You wait a bit, and you’ll come to this yourself. It’s very nice for you to have over six thousand acres in the Karazinsky district, and such muscles, and the freshness of a girl of twelve; still you’ll be one of us one day. Yes, as to your question, there is no change, but it’s a pity you’ve been away so long.”
“Oh, why so?” Levin queried, panic-stricken.
“Oh, nothing,” responded Oblonsky. “We’ll talk it over. But what’s brought you up to town?”
“Oh, we’ll talk about that, too, later on,” said Levin, reddening again up to his ears.
“All right. I see,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch. “I should ask you to come to us, you know, but my wife’s not quite the thing. But I tell you what; if you want to see them, they’re sure now to be at the Zoological Gardens from four to five. Kitty skates. You drive along there, and I’ll come and fetch you, and we’ll go and dine somewhere together.”
“Capital. So good-bye till then.”
“Now mind, you’ll forget, I know you, or rush off home to the country!” Stepan Arkadyevitch called out laughing.
And Levin went out of the room, only when he was in the doorway remembering that he had forgotten to take leave of Oblonsky’s colleagues.