THE NARROW room, in which they were smoking and taking refreshments, was full of noblemen. The excitement grew more intense, and every face betrayed some uneasiness. The excitement was specially keen for the leaders of each party, who knew every detail, and had reckoned up every vote. They were the generals organising the approaching battle. The rest, like the rank and file before an engagement, though they were getting ready for the fight, sought for other distractions in the interval. Some were lunching, standing at the bar, or sitting at the table; others were walking up and down the long room, smoking cigarettes, and talking with friends whom they had not seen for a long while.
Levin did not care to eat, and he was not smoking; he did not want to join his own friends, that is Sergey Ivanovitch, Stepan Arkadyevitch, Sviazhsky and the rest, because Vronsky in his equerrys uniform was standing with them in eager conversation. Levin had seen him already at the meeting on the previous day, and he had studiously avoided him, not caring to greet him. He went to the window and sat down, scanning the groups, and listening to what was being said around him. He felt depressed, especially because every one else was, as he saw, eager, anxious, and interested, and he alone, with an old toothless little man with mumbling lips wearing a naval uniform, sitting beside him, had no interest in it and nothing to do.
Hes such a blackguard! I have told him so, but it makes no difference. Only think of it! He couldnt collect it in three years! he heard vigorously uttered by a round-shouldered short country gentleman, who had pomaded hair hanging on his embroidered collar, and new boots, obviously put on for the occasion, with heels that tapped energetically as he spoke. Casting a displeased glance at Levin, this gentleman sharply turned his back.
I always advised Marya Semyonovna to let for a fair rent, for she can never save a profit, he heard a pleasant voice say. The speaker was a country gentleman with grey whiskers, wearing the regimental uniform of an old general staff-officer. It was the very landowner Levin had met at Sviazhskys. He knew him at once. The landowner too stared at Levin, and they exchanged greetings.
Oh, still just the same, always at a loss, the landowner answered with a resigned smile, but with an expression of serenity and conviction that so it must be. And how do you come to be in our province? he asked. Come to take part in our coup détat? he said, confidently pronouncing the French words with a bad accent. All Russias heregentlemen of the bedchamber, and everything short of the ministry. He pointed to the imposing figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch in white trousers and his court uniform, walking by with a general.
Why, what is there to understand? Theres no meaning in it at all. Its a decaying institution that goes on running only by the force of inertia. Just look, the very uniforms tell you that its an assembly of justices of the peace, permanent members of the court, and so on, but not of noblemen.
From habit, nothing else. Then, too, one must keep up connections. Its a moral obligation of a sort. And then, to tell the truth, theres ones own interests. My son-in-law wants to stand as a permanent member; theyre not rich people, and he must be brought forward. These gentlemen, now, what do they come for? he said, pointing to the malignant gentleman, who was talking at the high table.
That it may be, but still it ought to be treated a little more respectfully. Snetkov, now We may be of use, or we may not, but were the growth of a thousand years. If were laying out a garden, planning one before the house, you know, and there youve a tree thats stood for centuries in the very spot. Old and gnarled it may be, and yet you dont cut down the old fellow to make room for flower-beds, but lay out your bed so as to take advantage of the tree. You wont grow him again in a year, he said cautiously, and he immediately changed the conversation. Well, and how is your land doing?
Yes, but you dont reckon your own work. Arent you worth something too? Ill 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 more work than I did in the service, and like you I get five per cent. On the land, and thank God for that. But ones work is thrown in for nothing.
Oh, well, one does it! What would you have? Its habit, and one knows its how it should be. And whats more, the landowner went on, leaning his elbows on the window and chatting on, my son, I must tell you, has no taste for it. Theres no doubt hell be a scientific man. So therell be no one to keep it up. And yet one does it. Here this year Ive planted an orchard.
But I tell you what, the landowner pursued; a neighbour of mine, a merchant, was at my place. We walked about the fields and the garden. No, said he, Stepan Vassilievitch, everythings well looked after, but your gardens neglected. But, as a fact, its well kept up. To my thinking, Id cut down that lime-tree. Here youve thousands of limes, and each would make two good bundles of bark. And nowadays that barks worth something. Id cut down the lot.
And with what he made hed increase his stock, or buy some land for a trifle, and let it out in lots to the peasants, Levin added, smiling. He had evidently more than once come across those commercial calculations. And hed make his fortune. But you and I must thank God if we keep what weve got and leave it to our children.
There are some among us, too, like our friend Nikolay Ivanovitch or Count Vronsky, thats settled here lately, who try to carry on their husbandry as though it were a factory; but so far it leads to nothing but making away with capital on it.
Why, as you said, to keep the fire in. Besides, thats not work for a nobleman. And our work as noblemen isnt done here at the elections, but yonder, each in our corner. Theres a class instinct, too, of what one ought and oughtnt to do. Theres the peasants, too, I wonder at them sometimes; any good peasant tries to take all the land he can. However bad the land is, hell work it. Without a return too. At a simple loss.