“Italian bookkeeping,” said the gentleman of the gray whiskers ironically. “You may keep your books as you like, but if they spoil everything for you, there won’t be any profit.”
“Why do they spoil things? A poor thrashing machine, or your Russian presser, they will break, but my steam press they don’t break. A wretched Russian nag they’ll ruin, but keep good dray-horses—they won’t ruin them. And so it is all round. We must raise our farming to a higher level.”
“Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolay Ivanovitch! It’s all very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the university, lads to be educated at the high school—how am I going to buy these dray-horses?”
“Well, that’s what the land banks are for.”
“To get what’s left me sold by auction? No, thank you.”
“I don’t agree that it’s necessary or possible to raise the level of agriculture still higher,” said Levin. “I devote myself to it, and I have means, but I can do nothing. As to the banks, I don’t know to whom they’re any good. For my part, anyway, whatever I’ve spent money on in the way of husbandry, it has been a loss: stock—a loss, machinery—a loss.”
“That’s true enough,” the gentleman with the gray whiskers chimed in, positively laughing with satisfaction.
“And I’m not the only one,” pursued Levin. “I mix with all the neighboring landowners, who are cultivating their land on a rational system; they all, with rare exceptions, are doing so at a loss. Come, tell us how does your land do—does it pay?” said Levin, and at once in Sviazhsky’s eyes he detected that fleeting expression of alarm which he had noticed whenever he had tried to penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhsky’s mind.
Moreover, this question on Levin’s part was not quite in good faith. Madame Sviazhskaya had just told him at tea that they had that summer invited a German expert in bookkeeping from Moscow, who for a consideration of five hundred roubles had investigated the management of their property, and found that it was costing them a loss of three thousand odd roubles. She did not remember the precise sum, but it appeared that the German had worked it out to the fraction of a farthing.
The gray-whiskered landowner smiled at the mention of the profits of Sviazhsky’s famling, obviously aware how much gain his neighbor and marshal was likely to be making.
“Possibly it does not pay,” answered Sviazhsky. “That merely proves either that I’m a bad manager, or that I’ve sunk my capital for the increase of my rents.”
“Oh, rent!” Levin cried with horror. “Rent there may be in Europe, where land has been improved by the labor put into it, but with us all the land is deteriorating from the labor put into it—in other words they’re working it out; so there’s no question of rent.”
“How no rent? It’s a law.”
“Then we’re outside the law; rent explains nothing for us, but simply muddles us. No, tell me how there can be a theory of rent?...”