Anna karenina, p.186
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       Anna Karenina, p.186

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 29

  The narrow room, in which they were smoking and taking refreshments, wasfull of noblemen. The excitement grew more intense, and every facebetrayed some uneasiness. The excitement was specially keen for theleaders of each party, who knew every detail, and had reckoned up everyvote. They were the generals organizing the approaching battle. Therest, like the rank and file before an engagement, though they weregetting ready for the fight, sought for other distractions in theinterval. Some were lunching, standing at the bar, or sitting at thetable; others were walking up and down the long room, smokingcigarettes, and talking with friends whom they had not seen for a longwhile.

  Levin did not care to eat, and he was not smoking; he did not want tojoin his own friends, that is Sergey Ivanovitch, Stepan Arkadyevitch,Sviazhsky and the rest, because Vronsky in his equerry's uniform wasstanding with them in eager conversation. Levin had seen him already atthe meeting on the previous day, and he had studiously avoided him, notcaring to greet him. He went to the window and sat down, scanning thegroups, and listening to what was being said around him. He feltdepressed, especially because everyone else was, as he saw, eager,anxious, and interested, and he alone, with an old, toothless little manwith mumbling lips wearing a naval uniform, sitting beside him, had nointerest in it and nothing to do.

  "He's such a blackguard! I have told him so, but it makes no difference.Only think of it! He couldn't collect it in three years!" he heardvigorously uttered by a round-shouldered, short, country gentleman, whohad pomaded hair hanging on his embroidered collar, and new bootsobviously put on for the occasion, with heels that tapped energeticallyas he spoke. Casting a displeased glance at Levin, this gentlemansharply turned his back.

  "Yes, it's a dirty business, there's no denying," a small gentlemanassented in a high voice.

  Next, a whole crowd of country gentlemen, surrounding a stout general,hurriedly came near Levin. These persons were unmistakably seeking aplace where they could talk without being overheard.

  "How dare he say I had his breeches stolen! Pawned them for drink, Iexpect. Damn the fellow, prince indeed! He'd better not say it, thebeast!"

  "But excuse me! They take their stand on the act," was being said inanother group; "the wife must be registered as noble."

  "Oh, damn your acts! I speak from my heart. We're all gentlemen, aren'twe? Above suspicion."

  "Shall we go on, your excellency, _fine champagne?_"

  Another group was following a nobleman, who was shouting something in aloud voice; it was one of the three intoxicated gentlemen.

  "I always advised Marya Semyonovna to let for a fair rent, for she cannever save a profit," he heard a pleasant voice say. The speaker was acountry gentleman with gray whiskers, wearing the regimental uniform ofan old general staff-officer. It was the very landowner Levin had met atSviazhsky's. He knew him at once. The landowner too stared at Levin, andthey exchanged greetings.

  "Very glad to see you! To be sure! I remember you very well. Last yearat our district marshal, Nikolay Ivanovitch's."

  "Well, and how is your land doing?" asked Levin.

  "Oh, still just the same, always at a loss," the landowner answered witha resigned smile, but with an expression of serenity and conviction thatso it must be. "And how do you come to be in our province?" he asked."Come to take part in our _coup d'etat?_" he said, confidentlypronouncing the French words with a bad accent. "All Russia'shere--gentlemen of the bedchamber, and everything short of theministry." He pointed to the imposing figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch inwhite trousers and his court uniform, walking by with a general.

  "I ought to own that I don't very well understand the drift of theprovincial elections," said Levin.

  The landowner looked at him.

  "Why, what is there to understand? There's no meaning in it at all. It'sa decaying institution that goes on running only by the force ofinertia. Just look, the very uniforms tell you that it's an assembly ofjustices of the peace, permanent members of the court, and so on, butnot of noblemen."

  "Then why do you come?" asked Levin.

  "From habit, nothing else. Then, too, one must keep up connections. It'sa moral obligation of a sort. And then, to tell the truth, there's one'sown interests. My son-in-law wants to stand as a permanent member;they're not rich people, and he must be brought forward. Thesegentlemen, now, what do they come for?" he said, pointing to themalignant gentleman, who was talking at the high table.

  "That's the new generation of nobility."

  "New it may be, but nobility it isn't. They're proprietors of a sort,but we're the landowners. As noblemen, they're cutting their ownthroats."

  "But you say it's an institution that's served its time."

  "That it may be, but still it ought to be treated a little morerespectfully. Snetkov, now.... We may be of use, or we may not, butwe're the growth of a thousand years. If we're laying out a garden,planning one before the house, you know, and there you've a tree that'sstood for centuries in the very spot.... Old and gnarled it may be, andyet you don't cut down the old fellow to make room for the flowerbeds,but lay out your beds so as to take advantage of the tree. You won'tgrow him again in a year," he said cautiously, and he immediatelychanged the conversation. "Well, and how is your land doing?"

  "Oh, not very well. I make five per cent."

  "Yes, but you don't reckon your own work. Aren't you worth somethingtoo? I'll tell you my own case. Before I took to seeing after the land,I had a salary of three hundred pounds from the service. Now I do morework than I did in the service, and like you I get five per cent. on theland, and thank God for that. But one's work is thrown in for nothing."

  "Then why do you do it, if it's a clear loss?"

  "Oh, well, one does it! What would you have? It's habit, and one knowsit's how it should be. And what's more," the landowner went on, leaninghis elbows on the window and chatting on, "my son, I must tell you, hasno taste for it. There's no doubt he'll be a scientific man. So there'llbe no one to keep it up. And yet one does it. Here this year I'veplanted an orchard."

  "Yes, yes," said Levin, "that's perfectly true. I always feel there's noreal balance of gain in my work on the land, and yet one does it....It's a sort of duty one feels to the land."

  "But I tell you what," the landowner pursued; "a neighbor of mine, amerchant, was at my place. We walked about the fields and the garden.'No,' said he, 'Stepan Vassilievitch, everything's well looked after,but your garden's neglected.' But, as a fact, it's well kept up. 'To mythinking, I'd cut down that lime-tree. Here you've thousands of limes,and each would make two good bundles of bark. And nowadays that bark'sworth something. I'd cut down the lot.'"

  "And with what he made he'd increase his stock, or buy some land for atrifle, and let it out in lots to the peasants," Levin added, smiling.He had evidently more than once come across those commercialcalculations. "And he'd make his fortune. But you and I must thank Godif we keep what we've got and leave it to our children."

  "You're married, I've heard?" said the landowner.

  "Yes," Levin answered, with proud satisfaction. "Yes, it's ratherstrange," he went on. "So we live without making anything, as though wewere ancient vestals set to keep in a fire."

  The landowner chuckled under his white mustaches.

  "There are some among us, too, like our friend Nikolay Ivanovitch, orCount Vronsky, that's settled here lately, who try to carry on theirhusbandry as though it were a factory; but so far it leads to nothingbut making away with capital on it."

  "But why is it we don't do like the merchants? Why don't we cut down ourparks for timber?" said Levin, returning to a thought that had struckhim.

  "Why, as you said, to keep the fire in. Besides that's not work for anobleman. And our work as noblemen isn't done here at the elections, butyonder, each in our corner. There's a class instinct, too, of what oneought and oughtn't to do. There's the peasants, too, I wonder at themsometimes; any good peasant tries to take all the land he can. Howeverbad the land is, he'll work it. Withou
t a return too. At a simple loss."

  "Just as we do," said Levin. "Very, very glad to have met you," headded, seeing Sviazhsky approaching him.

  "And here we've met for the first time since we met at your place," saidthe landowner to Sviazhsky, "and we've had a good talk too."

  "Well, have you been attacking the new order of things?" said Sviazhskywith a smile.

  "That we're bound to do."

  "You've relieved your feelings?"

 
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