Anna karenina, p.168
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       Anna Karenina, p.168

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 11

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

  "I've only just come. _Ils ont ete charmants_. Just fancy, they gave medrink, 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 besure. Do you suppose they keep vodka for sale?" said the soldier,succeeding at last in pulling the soaked boot off the blackenedstocking.

  In spite of the dirtiness of the hut, which was all muddied by theirboots and the filthy dogs licking themselves clean, and the smell ofmarsh mud and powder that filled the room, and the absence of knives andforks, the party drank their tea and ate their supper with a relish onlyknown to sportsmen. Washed and clean, they went into a hay-barn sweptready for them, where the coachman had been making up beds for thegentlemen.

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

  After wavering among reminiscences and anecdotes of guns, of dogs, andof former shooting parties, the conversation rested on a topic thatinterested all of them. After Vassenka had several times over expressedhis appreciation of this delightful sleeping place among the fragranthay, this delightful broken cart (he supposed it to be broken becausethe shafts had been taken out), of the good nature of the peasants thathad treated him to vodka, of the dogs who lay at the feet of theirrespective masters, Oblonsky began telling them of a delightful shootingparty at Malthus's, where he had stayed the previous summer.

  Malthus was a well-known capitalist, who had made his money byspeculation in railway shares. Stepan Arkadyevitch described what grousemoors this Malthus had bought in the Tver province, and how they werepreserved, and of the carriages and dogcarts in which the shooting partyhad been driven, and the luncheon pavilion that had been rigged up atthe marsh.

  "I don't understand you," said Levin, sitting up in the hay; "how is itsuch people don't disgust you? I can understand a lunch with Lafitte isall very pleasant, but don't you dislike just that very sumptuousness?All these people, just like our spirit monopolists in old days, gettheir money in a way that gains them the contempt of everyone. Theydon't care for their contempt, and then they use their dishonest gainsto buy off the contempt they have deserved."

  "Perfectly true!" chimed in Vassenka Veslovsky. "Perfectly! Oblonsky, ofcourse, goes out of _bonhomie_, but other people say: 'Well, Oblonskystays with them.'..."

  "Not a bit of it." Levin could hear that Oblonsky was smiling as hespoke. "I simply don't consider him more dishonest than any otherwealthy merchant or nobleman. They've all made their money alike--bytheir work and their intelligence."

  "Oh, by what work? Do you call it work to get hold of concessions andspeculate with them?"

  "Of course it's work. Work in this sense, that if it were not for himand others like him, there would have been no railways."

  "But that's not work, like the work of a peasant or a learnedprofession."

  "Granted, but it's work in the sense that his activity produces aresult--the railways. But of course you think the railways useless."

  "No, that's another question; I am prepared to admit that they'reuseful. But all profit that is out of proportion to the labor expendedis dishonest."

  "But who is to define what is proportionate?"

  "Making profit by dishonest means, by trickery," said Levin, consciousthat he could not draw a distinct line between honesty and dishonesty."Such as banking, for instance," he went on. "It's an evil--the amassingof huge fortunes without labor, just the same thing as with the spiritmonopolies, it's only the form that's changed. _Le roi est mort, vive leroi_. No sooner were the spirit monopolies abolished than the railwayscame up, and banking companies; that, too, is profit without work."

  "Yes, that may all be very true and clever.... Lie down, Krak!" StepanArkadyevitch called to his dog, who was scratching and turning over allthe hay. He was obviously convinced of the correctness of his position,and so talked serenely and without haste. "But you have not drawn theline between honest and dishonest work. That I receive a bigger salarythan my chief clerk, though he knows more about the work than Ido--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, howeverhard he works, can never get more than fifty roubles, is just asdishonest as my earning more than my chief clerk, and Malthus gettingmore than a station-master. No, quite the contrary; I see that societytakes up a sort of antagonistic attitude to these people, which isutterly baseless, and I fancy there's envy at the bottom of it...."

  "No, that's unfair," said Veslovsky; "how could envy come in? There issomething not nice about that sort of business."

  "You say," Levin went on, "that it's unjust for me to receive fivethousand, while the peasant has fifty; that's true. It is unfair, and Ifeel 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, andconsequently considering it with perfect sincerity.

  "Yes, you feel it, but you don't give him your property," said StepanArkadyevitch, intentionally, as it seemed, provoking Levin.

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

  "I don't give it away, because no one demands that from me, and if Iwanted to, I could not give it away," answered Levin, "and have no oneto 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 ofconveyance?"

  "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 togive 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 ityou don't act accordingly?..."

  "Well, I do act negatively on that idea, so far as not trying toincrease 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 whocame into the barn, opening the creaking door. "How is it you're notasleep?"

  "No, how's one to sleep! I thought our gentlemen would be asleep, but Iheard 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 hutand the unharnessed wagonette that could be seen in the faint light ofthe 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'sthat 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, andputting on his shoes and stockings. "Good-bye, gentlemen. If it's fun,I'll fetch you. You've treated me to some good sp
ort, and I won't forgetyou."

  "He really is a capital fellow, isn't he?" said Stepan Arkadyevitch,when Veslovsky had gone out and the peasant had closed the door afterhim.

  "Yes, capital," answered Levin, still thinking of the subject of theirconversation just before. It seemed to him that he had clearly expressedhis thoughts and feelings to the best of his capacity, and yet both ofthem, straightforward men and not fools, had said with one voice that hewas comforting himself with sophistries. This disconcerted him.

  "It's just this, my dear boy. One must do one of two things: eitheradmit that the existing order of society is just, and then stick up forone's rights in it; or acknowledge that you are enjoying unjustprivileges, as I do, and then enjoy them and be satisfied."

  "No, if it were unjust, you could not enjoy these advantages and besatisfied--at least I could not. The great thing for me is to feel thatI'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, youknow. Come, let's go!"

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

  "How strong the smell of the fresh hay is, though," said StepanArkadyevitch, getting up. "There's not a chance of sleeping. Vassenkahas been getting up some fun there. Do you hear the laughing and hisvoice? 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 StepanArkadyevitch, finding his cap and getting up.

  "How so?"

  "Do you suppose I don't see the line you've taken up with your wife? Iheard how it's a question of the greatest consequence, whether or notyou're to be away for a couple of days' shooting. That's all very wellas an idyllic episode, but for your whole life that won't answer. A manmust be independent; he has his masculine interests. A man has to bemanly," 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 domy wife any harm, and it'll amuse me. The great thing is to respect thesanctity of the home. There should be nothing in the home. But don't tieyour 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 offat daybreak."

  "_Messieurs, venez vite!_" they heard the voice of Veslovsky comingback. "_Charmante!_ I've made such a discovery. _Charmante!_ a perfectGretchen, and I've already made friends with her. Really, exceedinglypretty," he declared in a tone of approval, as though she had been madepretty entirely on his account, and he was expressing his satisfactionwith 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 werelost.

  For a long while Levin could not get to sleep. He heard the horsesmunching hay, then he heard the peasant and his elder boy getting readyfor the night, and going off for the night watch with the beasts, thenhe 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 boyin his shrill little voice telling his uncle what he thought about thedogs, who seemed to him huge and terrible creatures, and asking what thedogs were going to hunt next day, and the soldier in a husky, sleepyvoice, 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 soonafter he began snoring himself, and everything was still. He could onlyhear 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 backthere'll be the note from Kitty. Yes, Stiva may be right, I'm not manlywith 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 andStepan Arkadyevitch. For an instant he opened his eyes: the moon was up,and in the open doorway, brightly lighted up by the moonlight, they werestanding talking. Stepan Arkadyevitch was saying something of thefreshness of one girl, comparing her to a freshly peeled nut, andVeslovsky with his infectious laugh was repeating some words, probablysaid 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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