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PART THREE : Chapter 12

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The load was tied on.  Ivan jumped
down and took the quiet, sleek horse by the bridle. 
The young wife flung the rake up on the load, and
with a bold step, swinging her arms, she went to join
the women, who were forming a ring for the haymakers’
dance.  Ivan drove off to the road and fell into
line with the other loaded carts.  The peasant
women, with their rakes on their shoulders, gay with
bright flowers, and chattering with ringing, merry
voices, walked behind the hay cart.  One wild
untrained female voice broke into a song, and sang
it alone through a verse, and then the same verse
was taken up and repeated by half a hundred strong
healthy voices, of all sorts, coarse and fine, singing
in unison.

The women, all singing, began to come
close to Levin, and he felt as though a storm were
swooping down upon him with a thunder of merriment. 
The storm swooped down, enveloped him and the haycock
on which he was lying, and the other haycocks, and
the wagon-loads, and the whole meadow and distant
fields all seemed to be shaking and singing to the
measures of this wild merry song with its shouts and
whistles and clapping.  Levin felt envious of
this health and mirthfulness; he longed to take part
in the expression of this joy of life.  But he
could do nothing, and had to lie and look on and listen. 
When the peasants, with their singing, had vanished
out of sight and hearing, a weary feeling of despondency
at his own isolation, his physical inactivity, his
alienation from this world, came over Levin.

Some of the very peasants who had
been most active in wrangling with him over the hay,
some whom he had treated with contumely, and who had
tried to cheat him, those very peasants had greeted
him goodhumoredly, and evidently had not, were incapable
of having any feeling of rancor against him, any regret,
any recollection even of having tried to deceive him. 
All that was drowned in a sea of merry common labor. 
God gave the day, God gave the strength.  And
the day and the strength were consecrated to labor,
and that labor was its own reward.  For whom the
labor?  What would be its fruits?  These
were idle considerations ­ beside the point.

Often Levin had admired this life,
often he had a sense of envy of the men who led this
life; but today for the first time, especially under
the influence of what he had seen in the attitude
of Ivan Parmenov to his young wife, the idea presented
itself definitely to his mind that it was in his power
to exchange the dreary, artificial, idle, and individualistic
life he was leading for this laborious, pure, and
socially delightful life.

The old man who had been sitting beside
him had long ago gone home; the people had all separated. 
Those who lived near had gone home, while those who
came from far were gathered into a group for supper,
and to spend the night in the meadow.  Levin,
unobserved by the peasants, still lay on the haycock,
and still looked on and listened and mused. 
The peasants who remained for the night in the meadow
scarcely slept all the short summer night.  At
first there was the sound of merry talk and laughing
all together over the supper, then singing again and
laughter.

All the long day of toil had left
no trace in them but lightness of heart.  Before
the early dawn all was hushed.  Nothing was to
be heard but the night sounds of the frogs that never
ceased in the marsh, and the horses snorting in the
mist that rose over the meadow before the morning. 
Rousing himself, Levin got up from the haycock, and
looking at the stars, he saw that the night was over.

“Well, what am I going to do? 
How am I to set about it?” he said to himself,
trying to express to himself all the thoughts and
feelings he had passed through in that brief night. 
All the thoughts and feelings he had passed through
fell into three separate trains of thought. 
One was the renunciation of his old life, of his utterly
useless education.  This renunciation gave him
satisfaction, and was easy and simple.  Another
series of thoughts and mental images related to the
life he longed to live now.  The simplicity,
the purity, the sanity of this life he felt clearly,
and he was convinced he would find in it the content,
the peace, and the dignity, of the lack of which he
was so miserably conscious.  But a third series
of ideas turned upon the question how to effect this
transition from the old life to the new.  And
there nothing took clear shape for him.  “Have
a wife?  Have work and the necessity of work? 
Leave Pokrovskoe?  Buy land?  Become a
member of a peasant community?  Marry a peasant
girl?  How am I to set about it?” he asked
himself again, and could not find an answer. 
“I haven’t slept all night, though, and
I can’t think it out clearly,” he said
to himself.  “I’ll work it out later. 
One thing’s certain, this night has decided
my fate.  All my old dreams of home life were
absurd, not the real thing,” he told himself. 
“It’s all ever so much simpler and better…”

“How beautiful!” he thought,
looking at the strange, as it were, mother-of-pearl
shell of white fleecy cloudlets resting right over
his head in the middle of the sky.  “How
exquisite it all is in this exquisite night! 
And when was there time for that cloud-shell to form? 
Just now I looked at the sky, and there was nothing
in it ­only two white streaks.  Yes,
and so imperceptibly too my views of life changed!”

He went out of the meadow and walked
along the highroad towards the village.  A slight
wind arose, and the sky looked gray and sullen. 
The gloomy moment had come that usually precedes the
dawn, the full triumph of light over darkness.

Shrinking from the cold, Levin walked
rapidly, looking at the ground.  “What’s
that?  Someone coming,” he thought, catching
the tinkle of bells, and lifting his head.  Forty
paces from him a carriage with four horses harnessed
abreast was driving towards him along the grassy road
on which he was walking.  The shaft-horses were
tilted against the shafts by the ruts, but the dexterous
driver sitting on the box held the shaft over the ruts,
so that the wheels ran on the smooth part of the road.

This was all Levin noticed, and without
wondering who it could be, he gazed absently at the
coach.

In the coach was an old lady dozing
in one corner, and at the window, evidently only just
awake, sat a young girl holding in both hands the
ribbons of a white cap.  With a face full of light
and thought, full of a subtle, complex inner life,
that was remote from Levin, she was gazing beyond
him at the glow of the sunrise.

At the very instant when this apparition
was vanishing, the truthful eyes glanced at him. 
She recognized him, and her face lighted up with
wondering delight.

He could not be mistaken.  There
were no other eyes like those in the world. 
There was only one creature in the world that could
concentrate for him all the brightness and meaning
of life.  It was she.  It was Kitty. 
He understood that she was driving to Ergushovo from
the railway station.  And everything that had
been stirring Levin during that sleepless night, all
the resolutions he had made, all vanished at once. 
He recalled with horror his dreams of marrying a
peasant girl.  There only, in the carriage that
had crossed over to the other side of the road, and
was rapidly disappearing, there only could he find
the solution of the riddle of his life, which had
weighed so agonizingly upon him of late.

She did not look out again. 
The sound of the carriage-springs was no longer audible,
the bells could scarcely be heard.  The barking
of dogs showed the carriage had reached the village,
and all that was left was the empty fields all round,
the village in front, and he himself isolated and
apart from it all, wandering lonely along the deserted
highroad.

He glanced at the sky, expecting to
find there the cloud shell he had been admiring and
taking as the symbol of the ideas and feelings of
that night.  There was nothing in the sky in the
least like a shell.  There, in the remote heights
above, a mysterious change had been accomplished. 
There was no trace of shell, and there was stretched
over fully half the sky an even cover of tiny and
ever tinier cloudlets.  The sky had grown blue
and bright; and with the same softness, but with the
same remoteness, it met his questioning gaze.

“No,” he said to himself,
“however good that life of simplicity and toil
may be, I cannot go back to it.  I love her.”

 

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