FictionForest

PART SIX : Chapter 11

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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When Levin and Stepan Arkadyevitch
reached the peasant’s hut where Levin always
used to stay, Veslovsky was already there.  He
was sitting in the middle of the hut, clinging with
both hands to the bench from which he was being pulled
by a soldier, the brother of the peasant’s wife,
who was helping him off with his miry boots. 
Veslovsky was laughing his infectious, good-humored
laugh.

“I’ve only just come.
Ils ont été charmants.  Just fancy, they
gave me drink, fed me!  Such bread, it was exquisite!
Delicieux! And the vodka, I never tasted any
better.  And they would not take a penny for
anything.  And they kept saying:  ’Excuse
our homely ways.’”

“What should they take anything
for?  They were entertaining you, to be sure. 
Do you suppose they keep vodka for sale?” said
the soldier, succeeding at last in pulling the soaked
boot off the blackened stocking.

In spite of the dirtiness of the hut,
which was all muddied by their boots and the filthy
dogs licking themselves clean, and the smell of marsh
mud and powder that filled the room, and the absence
of knives and forks, the party drank their tea and
ate their supper with a relish only known to sportsmen. 
Washed and clean, they went into a hay-barn swept
ready for them, where the coachman had been making
up beds for the gentlemen.

Though it was dusk, not one of them
wanted to go to sleep.

After wavering among reminiscences
and anecdotes of guns, of dogs, and of former shooting
parties, the conversation rested on a topic that interested
all of them.  After Vassenka had several times
over expressed his appreciation of this delightful
sleeping place among the fragrant hay, this delightful
broken cart (he supposed it to be broken because the
shafts had been taken out), of the good nature of
the peasants that had treated him to vodka, of the
dogs who lay at the feet of their respective masters,
Oblonsky began telling them of a delightful shooting
party at Malthus’s, where he had stayed the previous
summer.

Malthus was a well-known capitalist,
who had made his money by speculation in railway shares. 
Stepan Arkadyevitch described what grouse moors this
Malthus had bought in the Tver province, and how they
were preserved, and of the carriages and dogcarts in
which the shooting party had been driven, and the luncheon
pavilion that had been rigged up at the marsh.

“I don’t understand you,”
said Levin, sitting up in the hay; “how is it
such people don’t disgust you?  I can understand
a lunch with Lafitte is all very pleasant, but don’t
you dislike just that very sumptuousness?  All
these people, just like our spirit monopolists in
old days, get their money in a way that gains them
the contempt of everyone.  They don’t care
for their contempt, and then they use their dishonest
gains to buy off the contempt they have deserved.”

“Perfectly true!” chimed
in Vassenka Veslovsky.  “Perfectly! 
Oblonsky, of course, goes out of bonhomie, but
other people say:  ’Well, Oblonsky stays
with them.’…”

“Not a bit of it.” 
Levin could hear that Oblonsky was smiling as he spoke. 
“I simply don’t consider him more dishonest
than any other wealthy merchant or nobleman. 
They’ve all made their money alike ­by
their work and their intelligence.”

“Oh, by what work?  Do
you call it work to get hold of concessions and speculate
with them?”

“Of course it’s work. 
Work in this sense, that if it were not for him and
others like him, there would have been no railways.”

“But that’s not work,
like the work of a peasant or a learned profession.”

“Granted, but it’s work
in the sense that his activity produces a result ­the
railways.  But of course you think the railways
useless.”

“No, that’s another question;
I am prepared to admit that they’re useful. 
But all profit that is out of proportion to the labor
expended is dishonest.”

“But who is to define what is proportionate?”

“Making profit by dishonest
means, by trickery,” said Levin, conscious that
he could not draw a distinct line between honesty
and dishonesty.  “Such as banking, for instance,”
he went on.  “It’s an evil ­the
amassing of huge fortunes without labor, just the
same thing as with the spirit monopolies, it’s
only the form that’s changed. Le roi est
mort, vive lé roi
.  No sooner were the spirit
monopolies abolished than the railways came up, and
banking companies; that, too, is profit without work.”

“Yes, that may all be very true
and clever….  Lie down, Krak!” Stepan
Arkadyevitch called to his dog, who was scratching
and turning over all the hay.  He was obviously
convinced of the correctness of his position, and
so talked serenely and without haste.  “But
you have not drawn the line between honest and dishonest
work.  That I receive a bigger salary than my
chief clerk, though he knows more about the work than
I do ­that’s dishonest, I suppose?”

“I can’t say.”

“Well, but I can tell you: 
your receiving some five thousand, let’s say,
for your work on the land, while our host, the peasant
here, however hard he works, can never get more than
fifty roubles, is just as dishonest as my earning
more than my chief clerk, and Malthus getting more
than a station-master.  No, quite the contrary;
I see that society takes up a sort of antagonistic
attitude to these people, which is utterly baseless,
and I fancy there’s envy at the bottom of it….”

“No, that’s unfair,”
said Veslovsky; “how could envy come in? 
There is something not nice about that sort of business.”

“You say,” Levin went
on, “that it’s unjust for me to receive
five thousand, while the peasant has fifty; that’s
true.  It is unfair, and I feel it, but…”

“It really is.  Why is
it we spend our time riding, drinking, shooting, doing
nothing, while they are forever at work?” said
Vassenka Veslovsky, obviously for the first time in
his life reflecting on the question, and consequently
considering it with perfect sincerity.

“Yes, you feel it, but you don’t
give him your property,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
intentionally, as it seemed, provoking Levin.

There had arisen of late something
like a secret antagonism between the two brothers-in-law;
as though, since they had married sisters, a kind
of rivalry had sprung up between them as to which
was ordering his life best, and now this hostility
showed itself in the conversation, as it began to take
a personal note.

“I don’t give it away,
because no one demands that from me, and if I wanted
to, I could not give it away,” answered Levin,
“and have no one to give it to.”

“Give it to this peasant, he would not refuse
it.”

“Yes, but how am I to give it
up?  Am I to go to him and make a deed of conveyance?”

“I don’t know; but if
you are convinced that you have no right…”

“I’m not at all convinced. 
On the contrary, I feel I have no right to give it
up, that I have duties both to the land and to my
family.”

“No, excuse me, but if you consider
this inequality is unjust, why is it you don’t
act accordingly?…”

“Well, I do act negatively on
that idea, so far as not trying to increase the difference
of position existing between him and me.”

“No, excuse me, that’s a paradox.”

“Yes, there’s something
of a sophistry about that,” Veslovsky agreed. 
“Ah! our host; so you’re not asleep yet?”
he said to the peasant who came into the barn, opening
the creaking door.  “How is it you’re
not asleep?”

“No, how’s one to sleep! 
I thought our gentlemen would be asleep, but I heard
them chattering.  I want to get a hook from here. 
She won’t bite?” he added, stepping cautiously
with his bare feet.

“And where are you going to sleep?”

“We are going out for the night with the beasts.”

“Ah, what a night!” said
Veslovsky, looking out at the edge of the hut and
the unharnessed wagonette that could be seen in the
faint light of the evening glow in the great frame
of the open doors.  “But listen, there
are women’s voices singing, and, on my word,
not badly too.  Who’s that singing, my friend?”

“That’s the maids from hard by here.”

“Let’s go, let’s
have a walk!  We shan’t go to sleep, you
know.  Oblonsky, come along!”

“If one could only do both,
lie here and go,” answered Oblonsky, stretching. 
“It’s capital lying here.”

“Well, I shall go by myself,”
said Veslovsky, getting up eagerly, and putting on
his shoes and stockings.  “Good-bye, gentlemen. 
If it’s fun, I’ll fetch you.  You’ve
treated me to some good sport, and I won’t forget
you.”

“He really is a capital fellow,
isn’t he?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, when
Veslovsky had gone out and the peasant had closed
the door after him.

“Yes, capital,” answered
Levin, still thinking of the subject of their conversation
just before.  It seemed to him that he had clearly
expressed his thoughts and feelings to the best of
his capacity, and yet both of them, straightforward
men and not fools, had said with one voice that he
was comforting himself with sophistries.  This
disconcerted him.

“It’s just this, my dear
boy.  One must do one of two things:  either
admit that the existing order of society is just, and
then stick up for one’s rights in it; or acknowledge
that you are enjoying unjust privileges, as I do,
and then enjoy them and be satisfied.”

“No, if it were unjust, you
could not enjoy these advantages and be satisfied ­at
least I could not.  The great thing for me is
to feel that I’m not to blame.”

“What do you say, why not go
after all?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, evidently
weary of the strain of thought.  “We shan’t
go to sleep, you know.  Come, let’s go!”

Levin did not answer.  What they
had said in the conversation, that he acted justly
only in a negative sense, absorbed his thoughts. 
“Can it be that it’s only possible to
be just negatively?” he was asking himself.

“How strong the smell of the
fresh hay is, though,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
getting up.  “There’s not a chance
of sleeping.  Vassenka has been getting up some
fun there.  Do you hear the laughing and his
voice?  Hadn’t we better go?  Come
along!”

“No, I’m not coming,” answered Levin.

“Surely that’s not a matter
of principle too,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
smiling, as he felt about in the dark for his cap.

“It’s not a matter of
principle, but why should I go?”

“But do you know you are preparing
trouble for yourself,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
finding his cap and getting up.

“How so?”

“Do you suppose I don’t
see the line you’ve taken up with your wife? 
I heard how it’s a question of the greatest
consequence, whether or not you’re to be away
for a couple of days’ shooting.  That’s
all very well as an idyllic episode, but for your whole
life that won’t answer.  A man must be independent;
he has his masculine interests.  A man has to
be manly,” said Oblonsky, opening the door.

“In what way?  To go running
after servant girls?” said Levin.

“Why not, if it amuses him?
Ca ne tire pas a consequence.  It won’t
do my wife any harm, and it’ll amuse me. 
The great thing is to respect the sanctity of the
home.  There should be nothing in the home. 
But don’t tie your own hands.”

“Perhaps so,” said Levin
dryly, and he turned on his side.  “Tomorrow,
early, I want to go shooting, and I won’t wake
anyone, and shall set off at daybreak.”

Messieurs, venez vite!
they heard the voice of Veslovsky coming back. “Charmante!
I’ve made such a discovery. Charmante!
a perfect Gretchen, and I’ve already made friends
with her.  Really, exceedingly pretty,”
he declared in a tone of approval, as though she had
been made pretty entirely on his account, and he was
expressing his satisfaction with the entertainment
that had been provided for him.

Levin pretended to be asleep, while
Oblonsky, putting on his slippers, and lighting a
cigar, walked out of the barn, and soon their voices
were lost.

For a long while Levin could not get
to sleep.  He heard the horses munching hay,
then he heard the peasant and his elder boy getting
ready for the night, and going off for the night watch
with the beasts, then he heard the soldier arranging
his bed on the other side of the barn, with his nephew,
the younger son of their peasant host.  He heard
the boy in his shrill little voice telling his uncle
what he thought about the dogs, who seemed to him
huge and terrible creatures, and asking what the dogs
were going to hunt next day, and the soldier in a
husky, sleepy voice, telling him the sportsmen were
going in the morning to the marsh, and would shoot
with their guns; and then, to check the boy’s
questions, he said, “Go to sleep, Vaska; go to
sleep, or you’ll catch it,” and soon after
he began snoring himself, and everything was still. 
He could only hear the snort of the horses, and the
guttural cry of a snipe.

“Is it really only negative?”
he repeated to himself.  “Well, what of
it?  It’s not my fault.”  And
he began thinking about the next day.

“Tomorrow I’ll go out
early, and I’ll make a point of keeping cool. 
There are lots of snipe; and there are grouse too. 
When I come back there’ll be the note from
Kitty.  Yes, Stiva may be right, I’m not
manly with her, I’m tied to her apron-strings…. 
Well, it can’t be helped!  Negative again….”

Half asleep, he heard the laughter
and mirthful talk of Veslovsky and Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
For an instant he opened his eyes:  the moon
was up, and in the open doorway, brightly lighted up
by the moonlight, they were standing talking. 
Stepan Arkadyevitch was saying something of the freshness
of one girl, comparing her to a freshly peeled nut,
and Veslovsky with his infectious laugh was repeating
some words, probably said to him by a peasant: 
“Ah, you do your best to get round her!”
Levin, half asleep, said: 

“Gentlemen, tomorrow before
daylight!” and fell asleep.

 

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