“I’ve seen it.... The little house covered with ivy, isn’t it?”
“Yes; that’s Nastia’s work,” she said, indicating her sister.
“You teach in it yourself?” asked Levin, trying to look above the open neck, but feeling that wherever he looked in that direction he should see it.
“Yes; I used to teach in it myself, and do teach still, but we have a first-rate schoolmistress now. And we’ve started gymnastic exercises.”
“No, thank you, I won’t have any more tea,” said Levin, and conscious of doing a rude thing, but incapable of continuing the conversation, he got up, blushing. “I hear a very interesting conversation,” he added, and walked to the other end of the table, where Sviazhsky was sitting with the two gentlemen of the neighborhood. Sviazhsky was sitting sideways, with one elbow on the table, and a cup in one hand, while with the other hand he gathered up his beard, held it to his nose and let it drop again, as though he were smelling it. His brilliant black eyes were looking straight at the excited country gentleman with gray whiskers, and apparently he derived amusement from his remarks. The gentleman was complaining of the peasants. It was evident to Levin that Sviazhsky knew an answer to this gentleman’s complaints, which would at once demolish his whole contention, but that in his position he could not give utterance to this answer, and listened, not without pleasure, to the landowner’s comic speeches.
The gentleman with the gray whiskers was obviously an inveterate adherent of serfdom and a devoted agriculturist, who had lived all his life in the country. Levin saw proofs of this in his dress, in the old-fashioned threadbare coat, obviously not his everyday attire, in his shrewd, deep-set eyes, in his idiomatic, fluent Russian, in the imperious tone that had become habitual from long use, and in the resolute gestures of his large, red, sunburnt hands, with an old betrothal ring on the little finger.
“If I’d only the heart to throw up what’s been set going...such a lot of trouble wasted...I’d turn my back on the whole business, sell up, go off like Nikolay Ivanovitch...to hear La Belle Helene,” said the landowner, a pleasant smile lighting up his shrewd old face.
“But you see you don’t throw it up,” said Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky; “so there must be something gained.”
“The only gain is that I live in my own house, neither bought nor hired. Besides, one keeps hoping the people will learn sense. Though, instead of that, you’d never believe it—the drunkenness, the immorality! They keep chopping and changing their bits of land. Not a sight of a horse or a cow. The peasant’s dying of hunger, but just go and take him on as a laborer, he’ll do his best to do you a mischief, and then bring you up before the justice of the peace.”
“But then you make complaints to the justice too,” said Sviazhsky.