“I lodge complaints? Not for anything in the world! Such a talking, and such a to-do, that one would have cause to regret it. At the works, for instance, they pocketed the advance-money and made off. What did the justice do? Why, acquitted them. Nothing keeps them in order but their own communal court and their village elder. He’ll flog them in the good old style! But for that there’d be nothing for it but to give it all up and run away.”
Obviously the landowner was chaffing Sviazhsky, who, far from resenting it, was apparently amused by it.
“But you see we manage our land without such extreme measures,” said he, smiling: “Levin and I and this gentleman.”
He indicated the other landowner.
“Yes, the thing’s done at Mihail Petrovitch’s, but ask him how it’s done. Do you call that a rational system?” said the landowner, obviously rather proud of the word “rational.”
“My system’s very simple,” said Mihail Petrovitch, “thank God. All my management rests on getting the money ready for the autumn taxes, and the peasants come to me, ‘Father, master, help us!’ Well, the peasants are all one’s neighbors; one feels for them. So one advances them a third, but one says: ’Remember, lads, I have helped you, and you must help me when I need it—whether it’s the sowing of the oats, or the haycutting, or the harvest’; and well, one agrees, so much for each taxpayer—though there are dishonest ones among them too, it’s true.”
Levin, who had long been familiar with these patriarchal methods, exchanged glances with Sviazhsky and interrupted Mihail Petrovitch, turning again to the gentleman with the gray whiskers.
“Then what do you think?” he asked; “what system is one to adopt nowadays?”
“Why, manage like Mihail Petrovitch, or let the land for half the crop or for rent to the peasants; that one can do—only that’s just how the general prosperity of the country is being ruined. Where the land with serf-labor and good management gave a yield of nine to one, on the half-crop system it yields three to one. Russia has been ruined by the emancipation!”
Sviazhsky looked with smiling eyes at Levin, and even made a faint gesture of irony to him; but Levin did not think the landowner’s words absurd, he understood them better than he did Sviazhsky. A great deal more of what the gentleman with the gray whiskers said to show in what way Russia was ruined by the emancipation struck him indeed as very true, new to him, and quite incontestable. The landowner unmistakably spoke his own individual thought—a thing that very rarely happens—and a thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding some exercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up out of the conditions of his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude of his village, and had considered in every aspect.