Though it was dusk, not one of them wanted to go to sleep.
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 Malthus’s, 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 don’t understand you,” said Levin, sitting up in the hay; “how is it such people don’t disgust you? I can understand a lunch with Lafitte is all very pleasant, but don’t 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 everyone. They don’t care for their contempt, and then they use their dishonest gains to buy off the contempt they have deserved.”
“Perfectly true!” chimed in Vassenka Veslovsky. “Perfectly! Oblonsky, of course, goes out of bonhomie, but other people say: ’Well, Oblonsky stays with them.’...”
“Not a bit of it.” Levin could hear that Oblonsky was smiling as he spoke. “I simply don’t consider him more dishonest than any other wealthy merchant or nobleman. They’ve all made their money alike—by their work and their intelligence.”
“Oh, by what work? Do you call it work to get hold of concessions and speculate with them?”
“Of course it’s work. Work in this sense, that if it were not for him and others like him, there would have been no railways.”
“But that’s not work, like the work of a peasant or a learned profession.”
“Granted, but it’s work in the sense that his activity produces a result—the railways. But of course you think the railways useless.”
“No, that’s another question; I am prepared to admit that they’re useful. But all profit that is out of proportion to the labor expended is dishonest.”
“But who is to define what is proportionate?”
“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. “It’s an evil—the amassing of huge fortunes without labor, just the same thing as with the spirit monopolies, it’s only the form that’s 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.”