In the Surovsky district there was no railway nor service of post horses, and Levin drove there with his own horses in his big, old-fashioned carriage.
He stopped halfway at a well-to-do peasant's to feed his horses. A bald, well-preserved old man, with a broad, red beard, gray on his cheeks, opened the gate, squeezing against the gatepost to let the three horses pass. Directing the coachman to a place under the shed in the big, clean, tidy yard, with charred, old-fashioned ploughs in it, the old man asked Levin to come into the parlor. A cleanly dressed young woman, with clogs on her bare feet, was scrubbing the floor in the new outer room. She was frightened of the dog, that ran in after Levin, and uttered a shriek, but began laughing at her own fright at once when she was told the dog would not hurt her. Pointing Levin with her bare arm to the door into the parlor, she bent down again, hiding her handsome face, and went on scrubbing.
"Would you like the samovar?" she asked.
The parlor was a big room, with a Dutch stove, and a screen dividing it into two. Under the holy pictures stood a table painted in patterns, a bench, and two chairs. Near the entrance was a dresser full of crockery. The shutters were closed, there were few flies, and it was so clean that Levin was anxious that Laska, who had been running along the road and bathing in puddles, should not muddy the floor, and ordered her to a place in the corner by the door. After looking round the parlor, Levin went out in the back yard. The good-looking young woman in clogs, swinging the empty pails on the yoke, ran on before him to the well for water.
"Look sharp, my girl!" the old man shouted after her, good-humoredly, and he went up to Levin. "Well, sir, are you going to Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky? His honor comes to us too," he began, chatting, leaning his elbows on the railing of the steps. In the middle of the old man's account of his acquaintance with Sviazhsky, the gates creaked again, and laborers came into the yard from the fields, with wooden ploughs and harrows. The horses harnessed to the ploughs and harrows were sleek and fat. The laborers were obviously of the household: two were young men in cotton shirts and caps, the two others were hired laborers in homespun shirts, one an old man, the other a young fellow. Moving off from the steps, the old man went up to the horses and began unharnessing them.
"What have they been ploughing?" asked Levin.
"Ploughing up the potatoes. We rent a bit of land too. Fedot, don't let out the gelding, but take it to the trough, and we'll put the other in harness."
"Oh, father, the ploughshares I ordered, has he brought them along?" asked the big, healthy-looking fellow, obviously the old man's son.
"There...in the outer room," answered the old man, bundling together the harness he had taken off, and flinging it on the ground. "You can put them on, while they have dinner."
The good-looking young woman came into the outer room with the full pails dragging at her shoulders. More women came on the scene from somewhere, young and handsome, middle-aged, old and ugly, with children and without children.
The samovar was beginning to sing; the laborers and the family, having disposed of the horses, came in to dinner. Levin, getting his provisions out of his carriage, invited the old man to take tea with him.
"Well, I have had some today already," said the old man, obviously accepting the invitation with pleasure. "But just a glass for company."
Over their tea Levin heard all about the old man's farming. Ten years before, the old man had rented three hundred acres from the lady who owned them, and a year ago he had bought them and rented another three hundred from a neighboring landowner. A small part of the land--the worst part--he let out for rent, while a hundred acres of arable land he cultivated himself with his family and two hired laborers. The old man complained that things were doing badly. But Levin saw that he simply did so from a feeling of propriety, and that his farm was in a flourishing condition. If it had been unsuccessful he would not have bought land at thirty-five roubles the acre, he would not have married his three sons and a nephew, he would not have rebuilt twice after fires, and each time on a larger scale. In spite of the old man's complaints, it was evident that he was proud, and justly proud, of his prosperity, proud of his sons, his nephew, his sons' wives, his horses and his cows, and especially of the fact that he was keeping all this farming going. From his conversation with the old man, Levin thought he was not averse to new methods either. He had planted a great many potatoes, and his potatoes, as Levin had seen driving past, were already past flowering and beginning to die down, while Levin's were only just coming into flower. He earthed up his potatoes with a modern plough borrowed from a neighboring landowner. He sowed wheat. The trifling fact that, thinning out his rye, the old man used the rye he thinned out for his horses, specially struck Levin. How many times had Levin seen this splendid fodder wasted, and tried to get it saved; but always it had turned out to be impossible. The peasant got this done, and he could not say enough in praise of it as food for the beasts.
"What have the wenches to do? They carry it out in bundles to the roadside, and the cart brings it away."
"Well, we landowners can't manage well with our laborers," said Levin, handing him a glass of tea.
"Thank you," said the old man, and he took the glass, but refused sugar, pointing to a lump he had left. "They're simple destruction," said he. "Look at Sviazhsky's, for instance. We know what the land's like--first-rate, yet there's not much of a crop to boast of. It's not looked after enough--that's all it is!"
"But you work your land with hired laborers?"
"We're all peasants together. We go into everything ourselves. If a man's no use, he can go, and we can manage by ourselves."
"Father, Finogen wants some tar," said the young woman in the clogs, coming in.
"Yes, yes, that's how it is, sir!" said the old man, getting up, and crossing himself deliberately, he thanked Levin and went out.
When Levin went into the kitchen to call his coachman he saw the whole family at dinner. The women were standing up waiting on them. The young, sturdy-looking son was telling something funny with his mouth full of pudding, and they were all laughing, the woman in the clogs, who was pouring cabbage soup into a bowl, laughing most merrily of all.
Very probably the good-looking face of the young woman in the clogs had a good deal to do with the impression of well-being this peasant household made upon Levin, but the impression was so strong that Levin could never get rid of it. And all the way from the old peasant's to Sviazhsky's he kept recalling this peasant farm as though there were something in this impression that demanded his special attention.
Sviazhsky was the marshal of his district. He was five years older than Levin, and had long been married. His sister-in-law, a young girl Levin liked very much, lived in his house; and Levin knew that Sviazhsky and his wife would have greatly liked to marry the girl to him. He knew this with certainty, as so-called eligible young men always know it, though he could never have brought himself to speak of it to anyone; and he knew too that, although he wanted to get married, and although by every token this very attractive girl would make an excellent wife, he could no more have married her, even if he had not been in love with Kitty Shtcherbatskaya, than he could have flown up to the sky. And this knowledge poisoned the pleasure he had hoped to find in the visit to Sviazhsky.
On getting Sviazhsky's letter with the invitation for shooting, Levin had immediately thought of this; but in spite of it he had made up his mind that Sviazhsky's having such views for him was simply his own groundless supposition, and so he would go, all the same. Besides, at the bottom of his heart he had a desire to try himself, put himself to the test in regard to this girl. The Sviazhskys' home-life was exceedingly pleasant, and Sviazhsky himself, the best type of man taking part in local affairs that Levin knew, was very interesting to him.
Sviazhsky was one of those people, always a source of wonder to Levin, whose convictions, very logical though never original, go one way by themselves, while their life, exceedingly definite and firm in its direction, goes its way quite apart and almost always in direct contradiction to their convictions. Sviazhsky was an extremely advanced man. He despised the nobility, and believed the mass of the nobility to be secretly in favor of serfdom, and only concealing their views from cowardice. He regarded Russia as a ruined country, rather after the style of Turkey, and the government of Russia as so bad that he never permitted himself to criticize its doings seriously, and yet he was a functionary of that government and a model marshal of nobility, and when he drove about he always wore the cockade of office and the cap with the red band. He considered human life only tolerable abroad, and went abroad to stay at every opportunity, and at the same time he carried on a complex and improved system of agriculture in Russia, and with extreme interest followed everything and knew everything that was being done in Russia. He considered the Russian peasant as occupying a stage of development intermediate between the ape and the man, and at the same time in the local assemblies no one was readier to shake hands with the peasants and listen to their opinion. He believed neither in God nor the devil, but was much concerned about the question of the improvement of the clergy and the maintenance of their revenues, and took special trouble to keep up the church in his village.
On the woman question he was on the side of the extreme advocates of complete liberty for women, and especially their right to labor. But he lived with his wife on such terms that their affectionate childless home life was the admiration of everyone, and arranged his wife's life so that she did nothing and could do nothing but share her husband's efforts that her time should pass as happily and as agreeably as possible.
If it had not been a characteristic of Levin's to put the most favorable interpretation on people, Sviazhsky's character would have presented no doubt or difficulty to him: he would have said to himself, "a fool or a knave," and everything would have seemed clear. But he could not say "a fool," because Sviazhsky was unmistakably clever, and moreover, a highly cultivated man, who was exceptionally modest over his culture. There was not a subject he knew nothing of. But he did not display his knowledge except when he was compelled to do so. Still less could Levin say that he was a knave, as Sviazhsky was unmistakably an honest, good-hearted, sensible man, who worked good-humoredly, keenly, and perseveringly at his work; he was held in high honor by everyone about him, and certainly he had never consciously done, and was indeed incapable of doing, anything base.
Levin tried to understand him, and could not understand him, and looked at him and his life as at a living enigma.
Levin and he were very friendly, and so Levin used to venture to sound Sviazhsky, to try to get at the very foundation of his view of life; but it was always in vain. Every time Levin tried to penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhsky's mind, which were hospitably open to all, he noticed that Sviazhsky was slightly disconcerted; faint signs of alarm were visible in his eyes, as though he were afraid Levin would understand him, and he would give him a kindly, good-humored repulse.
Just now, since his disenchantment with farming, Levin was particularly glad to stay with Sviazhsky. Apart from the fact that the sight of this happy and affectionate couple, so pleased with themselves and everyone else, and their well-ordered home had always a cheering effect on Levin, he felt a longing, now that he was so dissatisfied with his own life, to get at that secret in Sviazhsky that gave him such clearness, definiteness, and good courage in life. Moreover, Levin knew that at Sviazhsky's he should meet the landowners of the neighborhood, and it was particularly interesting for him just now to hear and take part in those rural conversations concerning crops, laborers' wages, and so on, which, he was aware, are conventionally regarded as something very low, but which seemed to him just now to constitute the one subject of importance. "It was not, perhaps, of importance in the days of serfdom, and it may not be of importance in England. In both cases the conditions of agriculture are firmly established; but among us now, when everything has been turned upside down and is only just taking shape, the question what form these conditions will take is the one question of importance in Russia," thought Levin.
The shooting turned out to be worse than Levin had expected. The marsh was dry and there were no grouse at all. He walked about the whole day and only brought back three birds, but to make up for that--he brought back, as he always did from shooting, an excellent appetite, excellent spirits, and that keen, intellectual mood which with him always accompanied violent physical exertion. And while out shooting, when he seemed to be thinking of nothing at all, suddenly the old man and his family kept coming back to his mind, and the impression of them seemed to claim not merely his attention, but the solution of some question connected with them.
In the evening at tea, two landowners who had come about some business connected with a wardship were of the party, and the interesting conversation Levin had been looking forward to sprang up.
Levin was sitting beside his hostess at the tea table, and was obliged to keep up a conversation with her and her sister, who was sitting opposite him. Madame Sviazhskaya was a round-faced, fair-haired, rather short woman, all smiles and dimples. Levin tried through her to get a solution of the weighty enigma her husband presented to his mind; but he had not complete freedom of ideas, because he was in an agony of embarrassment. This agony of embarrassment was due to the fact that the sister-in-law was sitting opposite to him, in a dress, specially put on, as he fancied, for his benefit, cut particularly open, in the shape of a trapeze, on her white bosom. This quadrangular opening, in spite of the bosom's being very white, or just because it was very white, deprived Levin of the full use of his faculties. He imagined, probably mistakenly, that this low-necked bodice had been made on his account, and felt that he had no right to look at it, and tried not to look at it; but he felt that he was to blame for the very fact of the low-necked bodice having been made. It seemed to Levin that he had deceived someone, that he ought to explain something, but that to explain it was impossible, and for that reason he was continually blushing, was ill at ease and awkward. His awkwardness infected the pretty sister-in-law too. But their hostess appeared not to observe this, and kept purposely drawing her into the conversation.
"You say," she said, pursuing the subject that had been started, "that my husband cannot be interested in what's Russian. It's quite the contrary; he is always in cheerful spirits abroad, but not as he is here. Here, he feels in his proper place. He has so much to do, and he has the faculty of interesting himself in everything. Oh, you've not been to see our school, have you?"
"I've seen it.... The little house covered with ivy, isn't it?"
"Yes; that's Nastia's work," she said, indicating her sister.
"You teach in it yourself?" asked Levin, trying to look above the open neck, but feeling that wherever he looked in that direction he should see it.
"Yes; I used to teach in it myself, and do teach still, but we have a first-rate schoolmistress now. And we've started gymnastic exercises."
"No, thank you, I won't have any more tea," said Levin, and conscious of doing a rude thing, but incapable of continuing the conversation, he got up, blushing. "I hear a very interesting conversation," he added, and walked to the other end of the table, where Sviazhsky was sitting with the two gentlemen of the neighborhood. Sviazhsky was sitting sideways, with one elbow on the table, and a cup in one hand, while with the other hand he gathered up his beard, held it to his nose and let it drop again, as though he were smelling it. His brilliant black eyes were looking straight at the excited country gentleman with gray whiskers, and apparently he derived amusement from his remarks. The gentleman was complaining of the peasants. It was evident to Levin that Sviazhsky knew an answer to this gentleman's complaints, which would at once demolish his whole contention, but that in his position he could not give utterance to this answer, and listened, not without pleasure, to the landowner's comic speeches.
The gentleman with the gray whiskers was obviously an inveterate adherent of serfdom and a devoted agriculturist, who had lived all his life in the country. Levin saw proofs of this in his dress, in the old-fashioned threadbare coat, obviously not his everyday attire, in his shrewd, deep-set eyes, in his idiomatic, fluent Russian, in the imperious tone that had become habitual from long use, and in the resolute gestures of his large, red, sunburnt hands, with an old betrothal ring on the little finger.
"If I'd only the heart to throw up what's been set going...such a lot of trouble wasted...I'd turn my back on the whole business, sell up, go off like Nikolay Ivanovitch...to hear _La Belle Hélène_," said the landowner, a pleasant smile lighting up his shrewd old face.
"But you see you don't throw it up," said Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky; "so there must be something gained."
"The only gain is that I live in my own house, neither bought nor hired. Besides, one keeps hoping the people will learn sense. Though, instead of that, you'd never believe it--the drunkenness, the immorality! They keep chopping and changing their bits of land. Not a sight of a horse or a cow. The peasant's dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as a laborer, he'll do his best to do you a mischief, and then bring you up before the justice of the peace."
"But then you make complaints to the justice too," said Sviazhsky.
"I lodge complaints? Not for anything in the world! Such a talking, and such a to-do, that one would have cause to regret it. At the works, for instance, they pocketed the advance-money and made off. What did the justice do? Why, acquitted them. Nothing keeps them in order but their own communal court and their village elder. He'll flog them in the good old style! But for that there'd be nothing for it but to give it all up and run away."
Obviously the landowner was chaffing Sviazhsky, who, far from resenting it, was apparently amused by it.
"But you see we manage our land without such extreme measures," said he, smiling: "Levin and I and this gentleman."
He indicated the other landowner.
"Yes, the thing's done at Mihail Petrovitch's, but ask him how it's done. Do you call that a rational system?" said the landowner, obviously rather proud of the word "rational."
"My system's very simple," said Mihail Petrovitch, "thank God. All my management rests on getting the money ready for the autumn taxes, and the peasants come to me, 'Father, master, help us!' Well, the peasants are all one's neighbors; one feels for them. So one advances them a third, but one says: 'Remember, lads, I have helped you, and you must help me when I need it--whether it's the sowing of the oats, or the haycutting, or the harvest'; and well, one agrees, so much for each taxpayer--though there are dishonest ones among them too, it's true."
Levin, who had long been familiar with these patriarchal methods, exchanged glances with Sviazhsky and interrupted Mihail Petrovitch, turning again to the gentleman with the gray whiskers.
"Then what do you think?" he asked; "what system is one to adopt nowadays?"
"Why, manage like Mihail Petrovitch, or let the land for half the crop or for rent to the peasants; that one can do--only that's just how the general prosperity of the country is being ruined. Where the land with serf-labor and good management gave a yield of nine to one, on the half-crop system it yields three to one. Russia has been ruined by the emancipation!"
Sviazhsky looked with smiling eyes at Levin, and even made a faint gesture of irony to him; but Levin did not think the landowner's words absurd, he understood them better than he did Sviazhsky. A great deal more of what the gentleman with the gray whiskers said to show in what way Russia was ruined by the emancipation struck him indeed as very true, new to him, and quite incontestable. The landowner unmistakably spoke his own individual thought--a thing that very rarely happens--and a thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding some exercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up out of the conditions of his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude of his village, and had considered in every aspect.
"The point is, don't you see, that progress of every sort is only made by the use of authority," he said, evidently wishing to show he was not without culture. "Take the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander. Take European history. And progress in agriculture more than anything else--the potato, for instance, that was introduced among us by force. The wooden plough too wasn't always used. It was introduced maybe in the days before the Empire, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, in our own day, we landowners in the serf times used various improvements in our husbandry: drying machines and thrashing machines, and carting manure and all the modern implements--all that we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. Now, by the abolition of serfdom we have been deprived of our authority; and so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a high level, is bound to sink to the most savage primitive condition. That's how I see it."
"But why so? If it's rational, you'll be able to keep up the same system with hired labor," said Sviazhsky.
"We've no power over them. With whom am I going to work the system, allow me to ask?"
"There it is--the labor force--the chief element in agriculture," thought Levin.
"The laborers won't work well, and won't work with good implements. Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk like a pig, and when he's drunk he ruins everything you give him. He makes the horses ill with too much water, cuts good harness, barters the tires of the wheels for drink, drops bits of iron into the thrashing machine, so as to break it. He loathes the sight of anything that's not after his fashion. And that's how it is the whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out of cultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants, and where millions of bushels were raised you get a hundred thousand; the wealth of the country has decreased. If the same thing had been done, but with care that..."
And he proceeded to unfold his own scheme of emancipation by means of which these drawbacks might have been avoided.
This did not interest Levin, but when he had finished, Levin went back to his first position, and, addressing Sviazhsky, and trying to draw him into expressing his serious opinion:--
"That the standard of culture is falling, and that with our present relations to the peasants there is no possibility of farming on a rational system to yield a profit--that's perfectly true," said he.
"I don't believe it," Sviazhsky replied quite seriously; "all I see is that we don't know how to cultivate the land, and that our system of agriculture in the serf days was by no means too high, but too low. We have no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision; we don't even know how to keep accounts. Ask any landowner; he won't be able to tell you what crop's profitable, and what's not."
"Italian bookkeeping," said the gentleman of the gray whiskers ironically. "You may keep your books as you like, but if they spoil everything for you, there won't be any profit."
"Why do they spoil things? A poor thrashing machine, or your Russian presser, they will break, but my steam press they don't break. A wretched Russian nag they'll ruin, but keep good dray-horses--they won't ruin them. And so it is all round. We must raise our farming to a higher level."
"Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolay Ivanovitch! It's all very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the university, lads to be educated at the high school--how am I going to buy these dray-horses?"
"Well, that's what the land banks are for."
"To get what's left me sold by auction? No, thank you."
"I don't agree that it's necessary or possible to raise the level of agriculture still higher," said Levin. "I devote myself to it, and I have means, but I can do nothing. As to the banks, I don't know to whom they're any good. For my part, anyway, whatever I've spent money on in the way of husbandry, it has been a loss: stock--a loss, machinery--a loss."
"That's true enough," the gentleman with the gray whiskers chimed in, positively laughing with satisfaction.
"And I'm not the only one," pursued Levin. "I mix with all the neighboring landowners, who are cultivating their land on a rational system; they all, with rare exceptions, are doing so at a loss. Come, tell us how does your land do--does it pay?" said Levin, and at once in Sviazhsky's eyes he detected that fleeting expression of alarm which he had noticed whenever he had tried to penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhsky's mind.
Moreover, this question on Levin's part was not quite in good faith. Madame Sviazhskaya had just told him at tea that they had that summer invited a German expert in bookkeeping from Moscow, who for a consideration of five hundred roubles had investigated the management of their property, and found that it was costing them a loss of three thousand odd roubles. She did not remember the precise sum, but it appeared that the German had worked it out to the fraction of a farthing.
The gray-whiskered landowner smiled at the mention of the profits of Sviazhsky's famling, obviously aware how much gain his neighbor and marshal was likely to be making.
"Possibly it does not pay," answered Sviazhsky. "That merely proves either that I'm a bad manager, or that I've sunk my capital for the increase of my rents."
"Oh, rent!" Levin cried with horror. "Rent there may be in Europe, where land has been improved by the labor put into it, but with us all the land is deteriorating from the labor put into it--in other words they're working it out; so there's no question of rent."
"How no rent? It's a law."
"Then we're outside the law; rent explains nothing for us, but simply muddles us. No, tell me how there can be a theory of rent?..."
"Will you have some junket? Masha, pass us some junket or raspberries." He turned to his wife. "Extraordinarily late the raspberries are lasting this year."
And in the happiest frame of mind Sviazhsky got up and walked off, apparently supposing the conversation to have ended at the very point when to Levin it seemed that it was only just beginning.
Having lost his antagonist, Levin continued the conversation with the gray-whiskered landowner, trying to prove to him that all the difficulty arises from the fact that we don't find out the peculiarities and habits of our laborer; but the landowner, like all men who think independently and in isolation, was slow in taking in any other person's idea, and particularly partial to his own. He stuck to it that the Russian peasant is a swine and likes swinishness, and that to get him out of his swinishness one must have authority, and there is none; one must have the stick, and we have become so liberal that we have all of a sudden replaced the stick that served us for a thousand years by lawyers and model prisons, where the worthless, stinking peasant is fed on good soup and has a fixed allowance of cubic feet of air.
"What makes you think," said Levin, trying to get back to the question, "that it's impossible to find some relation to the laborer in which the labor would become productive?"
"That never could be so with the Russian peasantry; we've no power over them," answered the landowner.
"How can new conditions be found?" said Sviazhsky. Having eaten some junket and lighted a cigarette, he came back to the discussion. "All possible relations to the labor force have been defined and studied," he said. "The relic of barbarism, the primitive commune with each guarantee for all, will disappear of itself; serfdom has been abolished--there remains nothing but free labor, and its forms are fixed and ready made, and must be adopted. Permanent hands, day-laborers, rammers--you can't get out of those forms."
"But Europe is dissatisfied with these forms."
"Dissatisfied, and seeking new ones. And will find them, in all probability."
"That's just what I was meaning," answered Levin. "Why shouldn't we seek them for ourselves?"
"Because it would be just like inventing afresh the means for constructing railways. They are ready, invented."
"But if they don't do for us, if they're stupid?" said Levin.
And again he detected the expression of alarm in the eyes of Sviazhsky.
"Oh, yes; we'll bury the world under our caps! We've found the secret Europe was seeking for! I've heard all that; but, excuse me, do you know all that's been done in Europe on the question of the organization of labor?"
"No, very little."
"That question is now absorbing the best minds in Europe. The Schulze-Delitsch movement.... And then all this enormous literature of the labor question, the most liberal Lassalle movement...the Mulhausen experiment? That's a fact by now, as you're probably aware."
"I have some idea of it, but very vague."
"No, you only say that; no doubt you know all about it as well as I do. I'm not a professor of sociology, of course, but it interested me, and really, if it interests you, you ought to study it."
"But what conclusion have they come to?"
The two neighbors had risen, and Sviazhsky, once more checking Levin in his inconvenient habit of peeping into what was beyond the outer chambers of his mind, went to see his guests out.
Levin was insufferably bored that evening with the ladies; he was stirred as he had never been before by the idea that the dissatisfaction he was feeling with his system of managing his land was not an exceptional case, but the general condition of things in Russia; that the organization of some relation of the laborers to the soil in which they would work, as with the peasant he had met half-way to the Sviazhskys', was not a dream, but a problem which must be solved. And it seemed to him that the problem could be solved, and that he ought to try and solve it.
After saying good-night to the ladies, and promising to stay the whole of the next day, so as to make an expedition on horseback with them to see an interesting ruin in the crown forest, Levin went, before going to bed, into his host's study to get the books on the labor question that Sviazhsky had offered him. Sviazhsky's study was a huge room, surrounded by bookcases and with two tables in it--one a massive writing table, standing in the middle of the room, and the other a round table, covered with recent numbers of reviews and journals in different languages, ranged like the rays of a star round the lamp. On the writing table was a stand of drawers marked with gold lettering, and full of papers of various sorts.
Sviazhsky took out the books, and sat down in a rocking-chair.
"What are you looking at there?" he said to Levin, who was standing at the round table looking through the reviews.
"Oh, yes, there's a very interesting article here," said Sviazhsky of the review Levin was holding in his hand. "It appears," he went on, with eager interest, "that Friedrich was not, after all, the person chiefly responsible for the partition of Poland. It is proved..."
And with his characteristic clearness, he summed up those new, very important, and interesting revelations. Although Levin was engrossed at the moment by his ideas about the problem of the land, he wondered, as he heard Sviazhsky: "What is there inside of him? And why, why is he interested in the partition of Poland?" When Sviazhsky had finished, Levin could not help asking: "Well, and what then?" But there was nothing to follow. It was simply interesting that it had been proved to be so and so. But Sviazhsky did not explain, and saw no need to explain why it was interesting to him.
"Yes, but I was very much interested by your irritable neighbor," said Levin, sighing. "He's a clever fellow, and said a lot that was true."
"Oh, get along with you! An inveterate supporter of serfdom at heart, like all of them!" said Sviazhsky.
"Whose marshal you are."
"Yes, only I marshal them in the other direction," said Sviazhsky, laughing.
"I'll tell you what interests me very much," said Levin. "He's right that our system, that's to say of rational farming, doesn't answer, that the only thing that answers is the money-lender system, like that meek-looking gentleman's, or else the very simplest.... Whose fault is it?"
"Our own, of course. Besides, it's not true that it doesn't answer. It answers with Vassiltchikov."
"But I really don't know what it is you are surprised at. The people are at such a low stage of rational and moral development, that it's obvious they're bound to oppose everything that's strange to them. In Europe, a rational system answers because the people are educated; it follows that we must educate the people--that's all."
"But how are we to educate the people?"
"To educate the people three things are needed: schools, and schools, and schools.
"But you said yourself the people are at such a low stage of material development: what help are schools for that?"
"Do you know, you remind me of the story of the advice given to the sick man--You should try purgative medicine. Taken: worse. Try leeches. Tried them: worse. Well, then, there's nothing left but to pray to God. Tried it: worse. That's just how it is with us. I say political economy; you say--worse. I say socialism: worse. Education: worse."
"But how do schools help matters?"
"They give the peasant fresh wants."
"Well, that's a thing I've never understood," Levin replied with heat. "In what way are schools going to help the people to improve their material position? You say schools, education, will give them fresh wants. So much the worse, since they won't be capable of satisfying them. And in what way a knowledge of addition and subtraction and the catechism is going to improve their material condition, I never could make out. The day before yesterday, I met a peasant woman in the evening with a little baby, and asked her where she was going. She said she was going to the wise woman; her boy had screaming fits, so she was taking him to be doctored. I asked, 'Why, how does the wise woman cure screaming fits?' 'She puts the child on the hen-roost and repeats some charm....' "
"Well, you're saying it yourself! What's wanted to prevent her taking her child to the hen-roost to cure it of screaming fits is just..." Sviazhsky said, smiling good-humoredly.
"Oh, no!" said Levin with annoyance; "that method of doctoring I merely meant as a simile for doctoring the people with schools. The people are poor and ignorant--that we see as surely as the peasant woman sees the baby is ill because it screams. But in what way this trouble of poverty and ignorance is to be cured by schools is as incomprehensible as how the hen-roost affects the screaming. What has to be cured is what makes him poor."
"Well, in that, at least, you're in agreement with Spencer, whom you dislike so much. He says, too, that education may be the consequence of greater prosperity and comfort, of more frequent washing, as he says, but not of being able to read and write..."
"Well, then, I'm very glad--or the contrary, very sorry, that I'm in agreement with Spencer; only I've known it a long while. Schools can do no good; what will do good is an economic organization in which the people will become richer, will have more leisure--and then there will be schools."
"Still, all over Europe now schools are obligatory."
"And how far do you agree with Spencer yourself about it?" asked Levin.
But there was a gleam of alarm in Sviazhsky's eyes, and he said smiling:
"No; that screaming story is positively capital! Did you really hear it yourself?"
Levin saw that he was not to discover the connection between this man's life and his thoughts. Obviously he did not care in the least what his reasoning led him to; all he wanted was the process of reasoning. And he did not like it when the process of reasoning brought him into a blind alley. That was the only thing he disliked, and avoided by changing the conversation to something agreeable and amusing.
All the impressions of the day, beginning with the impression made by the old peasant, which served, as it were, as the fundamental basis of all the conceptions and ideas of the day, threw Levin into violent excitement. This dear good Sviazhsky, keeping a stock of ideas simply for social purposes, and obviously having some other principles hidden from Levin, while with the crowd, whose name is legion, he guided public opinion by ideas he did not share; that irascible country gentleman, perfectly correct in the conclusions that he had been worried into by life, but wrong in his exasperation against a whole class, and that the best class in Russia; his own dissatisfaction with the work he had been doing, and the vague hope of finding a remedy for all this--all was blended in a sense of inward turmoil, and anticipation of some solution near at hand.
Left alone in the room assigned him, lying on a spring mattress that yielded unexpectedly at every movement of his arm or his leg, Levin did not fall asleep for a long while. Not one conversation with Sviazhsky, though he had said a great deal that was clever, had interested Levin; but the conclusions of the irascible landowner required consideration. Levin could not help recalling every word he had said, and in imagination amending his own replies.
"Yes, I ought to have said to him: You say that our husbandry does not answer because the peasant hates improvements, and that they must be forced on him by authority. If no system of husbandry answered at all without these improvements, you would be quite right. But the only system that does answer is where laborer is working in accordance with his habits, just as on the old peasant's land half-way here. Your and our general dissatisfaction with the system shows that either we are to blame or the laborers. We have gone our way--the European way--a long while, without asking ourselves about the qualities of our labor force. Let us try to look upon the labor force not as an abstract force, but as the _Russian peasant_ with his instincts, and we shall arrange our system of culture in accordance with that. Imagine, I ought to have said to him, that you have the same system as the old peasant has, that you have found means of making your laborers take an interest in the success of the work, and have found the happy mean in the way of improvements which they will admit, and you will, without exhausting the soil, get twice or three times the yield you got before. Divide it in halves, give half as the share of labor, the surplus left you will be greater, and the share of labor will be greater too. And to do this one must lower the standard of husbandry and interest the laborers in its success. How to do this?--that's a matter of detail; but undoubtedly it can be done."
This idea threw Levin into a great excitement. He did not sleep half the night, thinking over in detail the putting of his idea into practice. He had not intended to go away next day, but he now determined to go home early in the morning. Besides, the sister-in-law with her low-necked bodice aroused in him a feeling akin to shame and remorse for some utterly base action. Most important of all--he must get back without delay: he would have to make haste to put his new project to the peasants before the sowing of the winter wheat, so that the sowing might be undertaken on a new basis. He had made up his mind to revolutionize his whole system.
The carrying out of Levin's plan presented many difficulties; but he struggled on, doing his utmost, and attained a result which, though not what he desired, was enough to enable him, without self-deception, to believe that the attempt was worth the trouble. One of the chief difficulties was that the process of cultivating the land was in full swing, that it was impossible to stop everything and begin it all again from the beginning, and the machine had to be mended while in motion.
When on the evening that he arrived home he informed the bailiff of his plans, the latter with visible pleasure agreed with what he said so long as he was pointing out that all that had been done up to that time was stupid and useless. The bailiff said that he had said so a long while ago, but no heed had been paid him. But as for the proposal made by Levin--to take a part as shareholder with his laborers in each agricultural undertaking-- at this the bailiff simply expressed a profound despondency, and offered no definite opinion, but began immediately talking of the urgent necessity of carrying the remaining sheaves of rye the next day, and of sending the men out for the second ploughing, so that Levin felt that this was not the time for discussing it.
On beginning to talk to the peasants about it, and making a proposition to cede them the land on new terms, he came into collision with the same great difficulty that they were so much absorbed by the current work of the day, that they had not time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed scheme.
The simple-hearted Ivan, the cowherd, seemed completely to grasp Levin's proposal--that he should with his family take a share of the profits of the cattle-yard--and he was in complete sympathy with the plan. But when Levin hinted at the future advantages, Ivan's face expressed alarm and regret that he could not hear all he had to say, and he made haste to find himself some task that would admit of no delay: he either snatched up the fork to pitch the hay out of the pens, or ran to get water or to clear out the dung.
Another difficulty lay in the invincible disbelief of the peasant that a landowner's object could be anything else than a desire to squeeze all he could out of them. They were firmly convinced that his real aim (whatever he might say to them) would always be in what he did not say to them. And they themselves, in giving their opinion, said a great deal but never said what was their real object. Moreover (Levin felt that the irascible landowner had been right) the peasants made their first and unalterable condition of any agreement whatever that they should not be forced to any new methods of tillage of any kind, nor to use new implements. They agreed that the modern plough ploughed better, that the scarifier did the work more quickly, but they found thousands of reasons that made it out of the question for them to use either of them; and though he had accepted the conviction that he would have to lower the standard of cultivation, he felt sorry to give up improved methods, the advantages of which were so obvious. But in spite of all these difficulties he got his way, and by autumn the system was working, or at least so it seemed to him.
At first Levin had thought of giving up the whole farming of the land just as it was to the peasants, the laborers, and the bailiff on new conditions of partnership; but he was very soon convinced that this was impossible, and determined to divide it up. The cattle-yard, the garden, hay fields, and arable land, divided into several parts, had to be made into separate lots. The simple-hearted cowherd, Ivan, who, Levin fancied, understood the matter better than any of them, collecting together a gang of workers to help him, principally of his own family, became a partner in the cattle-yard. A distant part of the estate, a tract of waste land that had lain fallow for eight years, was with the help of the clever carpenter, Fyodor Ryezunov, taken by six families of peasants on new conditions of partnership, and the peasant Shuraev took the management of all the vegetable gardens on the same terms. The remainder of the land was still worked on the old system, but these three associated partnerships were the first step to a new organization of the whole, and they completely took up Levin's time.
It is true that in the cattle-yard things went no better than before, and Ivan strenuously opposed warm housing for the cows and butter made of fresh cream, affirming that cows require less food if kept cold, and that butter is more profitable made from sour cream, and he asked for wages just as under the old system, and took not the slightest interest in the fact that the money he received was not wages but an advance out of his future share in the profits.
It is true that Fyodor Ryezunov's company did not plough over the ground twice before sowing, as had been agreed, justifying themselves on the plea that the time was too short. It is true that the peasants of the same company, though they had agreed to work the land on new conditions, always spoke of the land, not as held in partnership, but as rented for half the crop, and more than once the peasants and Ryezunov himself said to Levin, "If you would take a rent for the land, it would save you trouble, and we should be more free." Moreover the same peasants kept putting off, on various excuses, the building of a cattleyard and barn on the land as agreed upon, and delayed doing it till the winter.
It is true that Shuraev would have liked to let out the kitchen gardens he had undertaken in small lots to the peasants. He evidently quite misunderstood, and apparently intentionally misunderstood, the conditions upon which the land had been given to him.
Often, too, talking to the peasants and explaining to them all the advantages of the plan, Levin felt that the peasants heard nothing but the sound of his voice, and were firmly resolved, whatever he might say, not to let themselves be taken in. He felt this especially when he talked to the cleverest of the peasants, Ryezunov, and detected the gleam in Ryezunov's eyes which showed so plainly both ironical amusement at Levin, and the firm conviction that, if any one were to be taken in, it would not be he, Ryezunov. But in spite of all this Levin thought the system worked, and that by keeping accounts strictly and insisting on his own way, he would prove to them in the future the advantages of the arrangement, and then the system would go of itself.
These matters, together with the management of the land still left on his hands, and the indoor work over his book, so engrossed Levin the whole summer that he scarcely ever went out shooting. At the end of August he heard that the Oblonskys had gone away to Moscow, from their servant who brought back the side-saddle. He felt that in not answering Darya Alexandrovna's letter he had by his rudeness, of which he could not think without a flush of shame, burned his ships, and that he would never go and see them again. He had been just as rude with the Sviazhskys, leaving them without saying good-bye. But he would never go to see them again either. He did not care about that now. The business of reorganizing the farming of his land absorbed him as completely as though there would never be anything else in his life. He read the books lent him by Sviazhsky, and copying out what he had not got, he read both the economic and socialistic books on the subject, but, as he had anticipated, found nothing bearing on the scheme he had undertaken. In the books on political economy--in Mill, for instance, whom he studied first with great ardor, hoping every minute to find an answer to the questions that were engrossing him--he found laws deduced from the condition of land culture in Europe; but he did not see why these laws, which did not apply in Russia, must be general. He saw just the same thing in the socialistic books: either they were the beautiful but impracticable fantasies which had fascinated him when he was a student, or they were attempts at improving, rectifying the economic position in which Europe was placed, with which the system of land tenure in Russia had nothing in common. Political economy told him that the laws by which the wealth of Europe had been developed, and was developing, were universal and unvarying. Socialism told him that development along these lines leads to ruin. And neither of them gave an answer, or even a hint, in reply to the question what he, Levin, and all the Russian peasants and landowners, were to do with their millions of hands and millions of acres, to make them as productive as possible for the common weal.
Having once taken the subject up, he read conscientiously everything bearing on it, and intended in the autumn to go abroad to study land systems on the spot, in order that he might not on this question be confronted with what so often met him on various subjects. Often, just as he was beginning to understand the idea in the mind of anyone he was talking to, and was beginning to explain his own, he would suddenly be told: "But Kauffmann, but Jones, but Dubois, but Michelli? You haven't read them: they've thrashed that question out thoroughly."
He saw now distinctly that Kauffmann and Michelli had nothing to tell him. He knew what he wanted. He saw that Russia has splendid land, splendid laborers, and that in certain cases, as at the peasant's on the way to Sviazhsky's, the produce raised by the laborers and the land is great--in the majority of cases when capital is applied in the European way the produce is small, and that this simply arises from the fact that the laborers want to work and work well only in their own peculiar way, and that this antagonism is not incidental but invariable, and has its roots in the national spirit. He thought that the Russian people whose task it was to colonize and cultivate vast tracts of unoccupied land, consciously adhered, till all their land was occupied, to the methods suitable to their purpose, and that their methods were by no means so bad as was generally supposed. And he wanted to prove this theoretically in his book and practically on his land.
At the end of September the timber had been carted for building the cattleyard on the land that had been allotted to the association of peasants, and the butter from the cows was sold and the profits divided. In practice the system worked capitally, or, at least, so it seemed to Levin. In order to work out the whole subject theoretically and to complete his book, which, in Levin's daydreams, was not merely to effect a revolution in political economy, but to annihilate that science entirely and to lay the foundation of a new science of the relation of the people to the soil, all that was left to do was to make a tour abroad, and to study on the spot all that had been done in the same direction, and to collect conclusive evidence that all that had been done there was not what was wanted. Levin was only waiting for the delivery of his wheat to receive the money for it and go abroad. But the rains began, preventing the harvesting of the corn and potatoes left in the fields, and putting a stop to all work, even to the delivery of the wheat.
The mud was impassable along the roads; two mills were carried away, and the weather got worse and worse.
On the 30th of September the sun came out in the morning, and hoping for fine weather, Levin began making final preparations for his journey. He gave orders for the wheat to be delivered, sent the bailiff to the merchant to get the money owing him, and went out himself to give some final directions on the estate before setting off.
Having finished all his business, soaked through with the streams of water which kept running down the leather behind his neck and his gaiters, but in the keenest and most confident temper, Levin returned homewards in the evening. The weather had become worse than ever towards evening; the hail lashed the drenched mare so cruelly that she went along sideways, shaking her head and ears; but Levin was all right under his hood, and he looked cheerfully about him at the muddy streams running under the wheels, at the drops hanging on every bare twig, at the whiteness of the patch of unmelted hailstones on the planks of the bridge, at the thick layer of still juicy, fleshy leaves that lay heaped up about the stripped elm-tree. In spite of the gloominess of nature around him, he felt peculiarly eager. The talks he had been having with the peasants in the further village had shown that they were beginning to get used to their new position. The old servant to whose hut he had gone to get dry evidently approved of Levin's plan, and of his own accord proposed to enter the partnership by the purchase of cattle.
"I have only to go stubbornly on towards my aim, and I shall attain my end," thought Levin; "and it's something to work and take trouble for. This is not a matter of myself individually; the question of the public welfare comes into it. The whole system of culture, the chief element in the condition of the people, must be completely transformed. Instead of poverty, general prosperity and content; instead of hostility, harmony and unity of interests. In short, a bloodless revolution, but a revolution of the greatest magnitude, beginning in the little circle of our district, then the province, then Russia, the whole world. Because a just idea cannot but be fruitful. Yes, it's an aim worth working for. And its being me, Kostya Levin, who went to a ball in a black tie, and was refused by the Shtcherbatskaya girl, and who was intrinsically such a pitiful, worthless creature--that proves nothing; I feel sure Franklin felt just as worthless, and he too had no faith in himself, thinking of himself as a whole. That means nothing. And he too, most likely, had an Agafea Mihalovna to whom he confided his secrets."
Musing on such thoughts Levin reached home in the darkness.
The bailiff, who had been to the merchant, had come back and brought part of the money for the wheat. An agreement had been made with the old servant, and on the road the bailiff had learned that everywhere the corn was still standing in the fields, so that his one hundred and sixty shocks that had not been carried were nothing in comparison with the losses of others.
After dinner Levin was sitting, as he usually did, in an easy chair with a book, and as he read he went on thinking of the journey before him in connection with his book. Today all the significance of his book rose before him with special distinctness, and whole periods ranged themselves in his mind in illustration of his theories. "I must write that down," he thought. "That ought to form a brief introduction, which I thought unnecessary before." He got up to go to his writing table, and Laska, lying at his feet, got up too, stretching and looking at him as though to inquire where to go. But he had not time to write it down, for the head peasants had come round, and Levin went out into the hall to them.
After his levee, that is to say, giving directions about the labors of the next day, and seeing all the peasants who had business with him, Levin went back to his study and sat down to work.
Laska lay under the table; Agafea Mihalovna settled herself in her place with her stocking.
After writing for a little while, Levin suddenly thought with exceptional vividness of Kitty, her refusal, and their last meeting. He got up and began walking about the room.
"What's the use of being dreary?" said Agafea Mihalovna. "Come, why do you stay on at home? You ought to go to some warm springs, especially now you're ready for the journey."
"Well, I am going away the day after tomorrow, Agafea Mihalovna; I must finish my work."
"There, there, your work, you say! As if you hadn't done enough for the peasants! Why, as 'tis, they're saying, 'Your master will be getting some honor from the Tsar for it.' Indeed and it is a strange thing; why need you worry about the peasants?"
"I'm not worrying about them; I'm doing it for my own good."
Agafea Mihalovna knew every detail of Levin's plans for his land. Levin often put his views before her in all their complexity, and not uncommonly he argued with her and did not agree with her comments. But on this occasion she entirely misinterpreted what he had said.
"Of one's soul's salvation we all know and must think before all else," she said with a sigh. "Parfen Denisitch now, for all he was no scholar, he died a death that God grant every one of us the like," she said, referring to a servant who had died recently. "Took the sacrament and all."
"That's not what I mean," said he. "I mean that I'm acting for my own advantage. It's all the better for me if the peasants do their work better."
"Well, whatever you do, if he's a lazy good-for-nought, everything'll be at sixes and sevens. If he has a conscience, he'll work, and if not, there's no doing anything."
"Oh, come, you say yourself Ivan has begun looking after the cattle better."
"All I say is," answered Agafea Mihalovna, evidently not speaking at random, but in strict sequence of idea, "that you ought to get married, that's what I say."
Agafea Mihalovna's allusion to the very subject he had only just been thinking about, hurt and stung him. Levin scowled, and without answering her, he sat down again to his work, repeating to himself all that he had been thinking of the real significance of that work. Only at intervals he listened in the stillness to the click of Agafea Mihalovna's needles, and recollecting what he did not want to remember, he frowned again.
At nine o'clock they heard the bell and the faint vibration of a carriage over the mud.
"Well, here's visitors come to us, and you won't be dull," said Agafea Mihalovna, getting up and going to the door. But Levin overtook her. His work was not going well now, and he was glad of a visitor, whoever it might be.
Running halfway down the staircase, Levin caught a sound he knew, a familiar cough in the hall. But he heard it indistinctly through the sound of his own footsteps, and hoped he was mistaken. Then he caught sight of a long, bony, familiar figure, and now it seemed there was no possibility of mistake; and yet he still went on hoping that this tall man taking off his fur cloak and coughing was not his brother Nikolay.
Levin loved his brother, but being with him was always a torture. Just now, when Levin, under the influence of the thoughts that had come to him, and Agafea Mihalovna's hint, was in a troubled and uncertain humor, the meeting with his brother that he had to face seemed particularly difficult. Instead of a lively, healthy visitor, some outsider who would, he hoped, cheer him up in his uncertain humor, he had to see his brother, who knew him through and through, who would call forth all the thoughts nearest his heart, would force him to show himself fully. And that he was not disposed to do.
Angry with himself for so base a feeling, Levin ran into the hall; as soon as he had seen his brother close, this feeling of selfish disappointment vanished instantly and was replaced by pity. Terrible as his brother Nikolay had been before in his emaciation and sickliness, now he looked still more emaciated, still more wasted. He was a skeleton covered with skin.
He stood in the hall, jerking his long thin neck, and pulling the scarf off it, and smiled a strange and pitiful smile. When he saw that smile, submissive and humble, Levin felt something clutching at his throat.
"You see, I've come to you," said Nikolay in a thick voice, never for one second taking his eyes off his brother's face. "I've been meaning to a long while, but I've been unwell all the time. Now I'm ever so much better," he said, rubbing his beard with his big thin hands.
"Yes, yes!" answered Levin. And he felt still more frightened when, kissing him, he felt with his lips the dryness of his brother's skin and saw close to him his big eyes, full of a strange light.
A few weeks before, Konstantin Levin had written to his brother that through the sale of the small part of the property, that had remained undivided, there was a sum of about two thousand roubles to come to him as his share.
Nikolay said that he had come now to take this money and, what was more important, to stay a while in the old nest, to get in touch with the earth, so as to renew his strength like the heroes of old for the work that lay before him. In spite of his exaggerated stoop, and the emaciation that was so striking from his height, his movements were as rapid and abrupt as ever. Levin led him into his study.
His brother dressed with particular care--a thing he never used to do--combed his scanty, lank hair, and, smiling, went upstairs.
He was in the most affectionate and good-humored mood, just as Levin often remembered him in childhood. He even referred to Sergey Ivanovitch without rancor. When he saw Agafea Mihalovna, he made jokes with her and asked after the old servants. The news of the death of Parfen Denisitch made a painful impression on him. A look of fear crossed his face, but he regained his serenity immediately.
"Of course he was quite old," he said, and changed the subject. "Well, I'll spend a month or two with you, and then I'm off to Moscow. Do you know, Myakov has promised me a place there, and I'm going into the service. Now I'm going to arrange my life quite differently," he went on. "You know I got rid of that woman."
"Marya Nikolaevna? Why, what for?"
"Oh, she was a horrid woman! She caused me all sorts of worries." But he did not say what the annoyances were. He could not say that he had cast off Marya Nikolaevna because the tea was weak, and, above all, because she would look after him, as though he were an invalid.
"Besides, I want to turn over a new leaf completely now. I've done silly things, of course, like everyone else, but money's the last consideration; I don't regret it. So long as there's health, and my health, thank God, is quite restored."
Levin listened and racked his brains, but could think of nothing to say. Nikolay probably felt the same; he began questioning his brother about his affairs; and Levin was glad to talk about himself, because then he could speak without hypocrisy. He told his brother of his plans and his doings.
His brother listened, but evidently he was not interested by it.
These two men were so akin, so near each other, that the slightest gesture, the tone of voice, told both more than could be said in words.
Both of them now had only one thought--the illness of Nikolay and the nearness of his death--which stifled all else. But neither of them dared to speak of it, and so whatever they said-- not uttering the one thought that filled their minds--was all falsehood. Never had Levin been so glad when the evening was over and it was time to go to bed. Never with any outside person, never on any official visit had he been so unnatural and false as he was that evening. And the consciousness of this unnaturalness, and the remorse he felt at it, made him even more unnatural. He wanted to weep over his dying, dearly loved brother, and he had to listen and keep on talking of how he meant to live.
As the house was damp, and only one bedroom had been kept heated, Levin put his brother to sleep in his own bedroom behind a screen.
His brother got into bed, and whether he slept or did not sleep, tossed about like a sick man, coughed, and when he could not get his throat clear, mumbled something. Sometimes when his breathing was painful, he said, "Oh, my God!" Sometimes when he was choking he muttered angrily, "Ah, the devil!" Levin could not sleep for a long while, hearing him. His thoughts were of the most various, but the end of all his thoughts was the same-- death. Death, the inevitable end of all, for the first time presented itself to him with irresistible force. And death, which was here in this loved brother, groaning half asleep and from habit calling without distinction on God and the devil, was not so remote as it had hitherto seemed to him. It was in himself too, he felt that. If not today, tomorrow, if not tomorrow, in thirty years, wasn't it all the same! And what was this inevitable death--he did not know, had never thought about it, and what was more, had not the power, had not the courage to think about it.
"I work, I want to do something, but I had forgotten it must all end; I had forgotten--death."
He sat on his bed in the darkness, crouched up, hugging his knees, and holding his breath from the strain of thought, he pondered. But the more intensely he thought, the clearer it became to him that it was indubitably so, that in reality, looking upon life, he had forgotten one little fact--that death will come, and all ends; that nothing was even worth beginning, and that there was no helping it anyway. Yes, it was awful, but it was so.
"But I am alive still. Now what's to be done? what's to be done?" he said in despair. He lighted a candle, got up cautiously and went to the looking-glass, and began looking at his face and hair. Yes, there were gray hairs about his temples. He opened his mouth. His back teeth were beginning to decay. He bared his muscular arms. Yes, there was strength in them. But Nikolay, who lay there breathing with what was left of lungs, had had a strong, healthy body too. And suddenly he recalled how they used to go to bed together as children, and how they only waited till Fyodor Bogdanitch was out of the room to fling pillows at each other and laugh, laugh irrepressibly, so that even their awe of Fyodor Bogdanitch could not check the effervescing, overbrimming sense of life and happiness. "And now that bent, hollow chest...and I, not knowing what will become of me, or wherefore..."
"K...ha! K...ha! Damnation! Why do you keep fidgeting, why don't you go to sleep?" his brother's voice called to him.
"Oh, I don't know, I'm not sleepy."
"I have had a good sleep, I'm not in a sweat now. Just see, feel my shirt; it's not wet, is it?"
Levin felt, withdrew behind the screen, and put out the candle, but for a long while he could not sleep. The question how to live had hardly begun to grow a little clearer to him, when a new, insoluble question presented itself--death.
"Why, he's dying--yes, he'll die in the spring, and how help him? What can I say to him? What do I know about it? I'd even forgotten that it was at all."
Levin had long before made the observation that when one is uncomfortable with people from their being excessively amenable and meek, one is apt very soon after to find things intolerable from their touchiness and irritability. He felt that this was how it would be with his brother. And his brother Nikolay's gentleness did in fact not last out for long. The very next morning he began to be irritable, and seemed doing his best to find fault with his brother, attacking him on his tenderest points.
Levin felt himself to blame, and could not set things right. He felt that if they had both not kept up appearances, but had spoken, as it is called, from the heart--that is to say, had said only just what they were thinking and feeling--they would simply have looked into each other's faces, and Konstantin could only have said, "You're dying, you're dying!" and Nikolay could only have answered, "I know I'm dying, but I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid!" And they could have said nothing more, if they had said only what was in their hearts. But life like that was impossible, and so Konstantin tried to do what he had been trying to do all his life, and never could learn to do, though, as far as he could observe, many people knew so well how to do it, and without it there was no living at all. He tried to say what he was not thinking, but he felt continually that it had a ring of falsehood, that his brother detected him in it, and was exasperated at it.
The third day Nikolay induced his brother to explain his plan to him again, and began not merely attacking it, but intentionally confounding it with communism.
"You've simply borrowed an idea that's not your own, but you've distorted it, and are trying to apply it where it's not applicable."
"But I tell you it's nothing to do with it. They deny the justice of property, of capital, of inheritance, while I do not deny this chief stimulus." (Levin felt disgusted himself at using such expressions, but ever since he had been engrossed by his work, he had unconsciously come more and more frequently to use words not Russian.) "All I want is to regulate labor."
"Which means, you've borrowed an idea, stripped it of all that gave it its force, and want to make believe that it's something new," said Nikolay, angrily tugging at his necktie.
"But my idea has nothing in common..."
"That, anyway," said Nikolay Levin, with an ironical smile, his eyes flashing malignantly, "has the charm of--what's one to call it?--geometrical symmetry, of clearness, of definiteness. It may be a Utopia. But if once one allows the possibility of making of all the past a _tabula rasa_--no property, no family-- then labor would organize itself. But you gain nothing..."
"Why do you mix things up? I've never been a communist."
"But I have, and I consider it's premature, but rational, and it has a future, just like Christianity in its first ages."
"All that I maintain is that the labor force ought to be investigated from the point of view of natural science; that is to say, it ought to be studied, its qualities ascertained..."
"But that's utter waste of time. That force finds a certain form of activity of itself, according to the stage of its development. There have been slaves first everywhere, then metayers; and we have the half-crop system, rent, and day laborers. What are you trying to find?"
Levin suddenly lost his temper at these words, because at the bottom of his heart he was afraid that it was true--true that he was trying to hold the balance even between communism and the familiar forms, and that this was hardly possible.
"I am trying to find means of working productively for myself and for the laborers. I want to organize..." he answered hotly.
"You don't want to organize anything; it's simply just as you've been all your life, that you want to be original to pose as not exploiting the peasants simply, but with some idea in view."
"Oh, all right, that's what you think--and let me alone!" answered Levin, feeling the muscles of his left cheek twitching uncontrollably.
"You've never had, and never have, convictions; all you want is to please your vanity."
"Oh, very well; then let me alone!"
"And I will let you alone! and it's high time I did, and go to the devil with you! and I'm very sorry I ever came!"
In spite of all Levin's efforts to soothe his brother afterwards, Nikolay would listen to nothing he said, declaring that it was better to part, and Konstantin saw that it simply was that life was unbearable to him.
Nikolay was just getting ready to go, when Konstantin went in to him again and begged him, rather unnaturally, to forgive him if he had hurt his feelings in any way.
"Ah, generosity!" said Nikolay, and he smiled. "If you want to be right, I can give you that satisfaction. You're in the right; but I'm going all the same."
It was only just at parting that Nikolay kissed him, and said, looking with sudden strangeness and seriousness at his brother:
"Anyway, don't remember evil against me, Kostya!" and his voice quivered. These were the only words that had been spoken sincerely between them. Levin knew that those words meant, "You see, and you know, that I'm in a bad way, and maybe we shall not see each other again." Levin knew this, and the tears gushed from his eyes. He kissed his brother once more, but he could not speak, and knew not what to say.
Three days after his brother's departure, Levin too set off for his foreign tour. Happening to meet Shtcherbatsky, Kitty's cousin, in the railway train, Levin greatly astonished him by his depression.
"What's the matter with you?" Shtcherbatsky asked him.
"Oh, nothing; there's not much happiness in life."
"Not much? You come with me to Paris instead of to Mulhausen. You shall see how to be happy."
"No, I've done with it all. It's time I was dead."
"Well, that's a good one!" said Shtcherbatsky, laughing; "why, I'm only just getting ready to begin."
"Yes, I thought the same not long ago, but now I know I shall soon be dead."
Levin said what he had genuinely been thinking of late. He saw nothing but death or the advance towards death in everything. But his cherished scheme only engrossed him the more. Life had to be got through somehow till death did come. Darkness had fallen upon everything for him; but just because of this darkness he felt that the one guiding clue in the darkness was his work, and he clutched it and clung to it with all his strength.