WHEN Levin and Stepan Arkadyevitch reached the peasants 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 peasants wife, who was helping him off with his miry boots. Veslovsky was laughing his infectious, good-humoured laugh.
Ive only just come. Ils ont été charmants. Just fancy, they gave me drink, fed me! Such bread, it was exquisite! Délicieux! 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.
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 Malthuss 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 dont understand you, said Levin, sitting up in the hay; how is it such people dont disgust you? I can understand a lunch with Lafitte is all very pleasant, but dont 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 every one. They dont care for their contempt, and then they use their dishonest gains to buy off the contempt they have deserved.
Not a bit of it. Levin could hear that Oblonsky was smiling as he spoke. I simply dont consider him more dishonest than any other wealthy merchant or nobleman. Theyve all made their money alikeby their work and their intelligence.
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. Its an evilthe amassing of huge fortunes without labour, just the same thing as with the spirit of monopolies, its only the form thats changed. Le roi est mort, vive le 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 dothats dishonest, I suppose?
Well, but I can tell you: your receiving some five thousand, lets 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 theres envy at the bottom of it.
It really is. Why is it we spend our time riding, drinking, shooting, doing nothing, while they are for ever at work? said Vassenka Veslovsky, obviously for the first time in his life reflecting on the question, and consequently considering it with perfect sincerity.
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.
Yes, theres something of a sophistry about that, Veslovsky agreed. Ah! our host; so youre not asleep yet? he said to the peasant who came into the barn, opening the creaking door. How is it youre not asleep?
Ah, what a night! said Veslovsky, looking out at the edge of the hut and 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 womens voices singing, and, on my word, not badly too. Whos that singing, my friend?
Well, I shall go by myself, said Veslovsky, getting up eagerly, and putting on his shoes and stockings. Good-bye, gentlemen. If its fun, Ill fetch you. Youve treated me to some good sport, and I wont forget you.
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.
Its 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 ones rights in it; or acknowledge that you are enjoying unjust privileges, as I do, and then enjoy them and be satisfied.
How strong the smell of the fresh hay is, though, said Stepan Arkadyevitch, getting up. Theres not a chance of sleeping. Vassenka has been getting up some fun there. Do you hear the laughing and his voice? Hadnt we better go? Come along!
Do you suppose I dont see the line youve taken up with your wife? I heard how its a question of the greatest consequence, whether or not youre to be away for a couple of days shooting. Thats all very well as an idyllic episode, but for your whole life that wont answer. A man must be independent; he has his masculine interests. A man has to be manly, said Oblonsky, opening the door.
Why not, if it amuses him? Ça ne tire pas à conséquence. It wont do my wife any harm, and itll amuse me. The great thing is to respect the sanctity of the home. There should be nothing in the home. But dont tie your own hands.
Messieurs, venez vite! they heard the voice of Veslovsky coming back. Charmante! Ive made such a discovery. Charmante! a perfect Gretchen, and Ive 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 were expressing his satisfaction with the entertainment that had been provided for him.
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 boys questions, he said, Go to sleep, Vaska; go to sleep, or youll 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.
To-morrow Ill go out early, and Ill make a point of keeping cool. There are lots of snipe; and there are grouse too. When I come back therell be the note from Kitty. Yes, Stiva may be right, Im not manly with her, Im tied to her apron-strings. Well, it cant 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