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CHAPTER I. PROPERTY IN LAND.
It was possible for Maslova's case to come before the Senate in a fortnight, at which time Nekhludoff meant to go to Petersburg, and, if need be, to appeal to the Emperor (as the advocate who had drawn up the petition advised) should the appeal be disregarded (and, according to the advocate, it was best to be prepared for that, since the causes for appeal were so slight). The party of convicts, among whom was Maslova, would very likely leave in the beginning of June. In order to be able to follow her to Siberia, as Nekhludoff was firmly resolved to do, he was now obliged to visit his estates, and settle matters there. Nekhludoff first went to the nearest, Kousminski, a large estate that lay in the black earth district, and from which he derived the greatest part of his income.
He had lived on that estate in his childhood and youth, and had been there twice since, and once, at his mother's request, he had taken a German steward there, and had with him verified the accounts. The state of things there and the peasants' relations to the management, i.e., the landlord, had therefore been long known to him. The relations of the peasants to the administration were those of utter dependence on that management. Nekhludoff knew all this when still a university student, he had confessed and preached Henry Georgeism, and, on the basis of that teaching, had given the land inherited from his father to the peasants. It is true that after entering the army, when he got into the habit of spending 20,000 roubles a year, those former occupations ceased to be regarded as a duty, and were forgotten, and he not only left off asking himself where the money his mother allowed him came from, but even avoided thinking about it. But his mother's death, the coming into the property, and the necessity of managing it, again raised the question as to what his position in reference to private property in land was. A month before Nekhludoff would have answered that he had not the strength to alter the existing order of things; that it was not he who was administering the estate; and would one way or another have eased his conscience, continuing to live far from his estates, and having the money sent him. But now he decided that he could not leave things to go on as they were, but would have to alter them in a way unprofitable to himself, even though he had all these complicated and difficult relations with the prison world which made money necessary, as well as a probable journey to Siberia before him. Therefore he decided not to farm the land, but to let it to the peasants at a low rent, to enable them to cultivate it without depending on a landlord. More than once, when comparing the position of a landowner with that of an owner of serfs, Nekhludoff had compared the renting of land to the peasants instead of cultivating it with hired labour, to the old system by which serf proprietors used to exact a money payment from their serfs in place of labour. It was not a solution of the problem, and yet a step towards the solution; it was a movement towards a less rude form of slavery. And it was in this way he meant to act.
Nekhludoff reached Kousminski about noon. Trying to simplify his life in every way, he did not telegraph, but hired a cart and pair at the station. The driver was a young fellow in a nankeen coat, with a belt below his long waist. He was glad to talk to the gentleman, especially because while they were talking his broken-winded white horse and the emaciated spavined one could go at a foot-pace, which they always liked to do.
The driver spoke about the steward at Kousminski without knowing that he was driving "the master." Nekhludoff had purposely not told him who he was.
"That ostentatious German," said the driver (who had been to town and read novels) as he sat sideways on the box, passing his hand from the top to the bottom of his long whip, and trying to show off his accomplishments - "that ostentatious German has procured three light bays, and when he drives out with his lady - -oh, my! At Christmas he had a Christmas-tree in the big house. I drove some of the visitors there. It had 'lectric lights; you could not see the like of it in the whole of the government. What's it to him, he has cribbed a heap of money. I heard say he has bought an estate."
Nekhludoff had imagined that he was quite indifferent to the way the steward managed his estate, and what advantages the steward derived from it. The words of the long-waisted driver, however, were not pleasant to hear.
A dark cloud now and then covered the sun; the larks were soaring above the fields of winter corn; the forests were already covered with fresh young green; the meadows speckled with grazing cattle and horses. The fields were being ploughed, and Nekhludoff enjoyed the lovely day. But every now and then he had an unpleasant feeling, and, when he asked himself what it was caused by, he remembered what the driver had told him about the way the German was managing Kousminski. When he got to his estate and set to work this unpleasant feeling vanished.
Looking over the books in the office, and a talk with the foreman, who naively pointed out the advantages to be derived from the facts that the peasants had very little land of their own and that it lay in the midst of the landlord's fields, made Nekhludoff more than ever determined to leave off farming and to let his land to the peasants.
From the office books and his talk with the foreman, Nekhludoff found that two-thirds of the best of the cultivated land was still being tilled with improved machinery by labourers receiving fixed wages, while the other third was tilled by the peasants at the rate of five roubles per desiatin [about two and three-quarter acres]. So that the peasants had to plough each desiatin three times, harrow it three times, sow and mow the corn, make it into sheaves, and deliver it on the threshing ground for five roubles, while the same amount of work done by wage labour came to at least 10 roubles. Everything the peasants got from the office they paid for in labour at a very high price. They paid in labour for the use of the meadows, for wood, for potato-stalks, and were nearly all of them in debt to the office. Thus, for the land that lay beyond the cultivated fields, which the peasants hired, four times the price that its value would bring in if invested at five per cent was taken from the peasants.
Nekhludoff had known all this before, but he now saw it in a new light, and wondered how he and others in his position could help seeing how abnormal such conditions are. The steward's arguments that if the land were let to the peasants the agricultural implements would fetch next to nothing, as it would be impossible to get even a quarter of their value for them, and that the peasants would spoil the land, and how great a loser Nekhludoff would be, only strengthened Nekhludoff in the opinion that he was doing a good action in letting the land to the peasants and thus depriving himself of a large part of his income. He decided to settle this business now, at once, while he was there. The reaping and selling of the corn he left for the steward to manage in due season, and also the selling of the agricultural implements and useless buildings. But he asked his steward to call the peasants of the three neighbouring villages that lay in the midst of his estate (Kousminski) to a meeting, at which he would tell them of his intentions and arrange about the price at which they were to rent the land.
With the pleasant sense of the firmness he had shown in the face of the steward's arguments, and his readiness to make a sacrifice, Nekhludoff left the office, thinking over the business before him, and strolled round the house, through the neglected flower-garden - this year the flowers were planted in front of the steward's house - over the tennis ground, now overgrown with dandelions, and along the lime-tree walk, where he used to smoke his cigar, and where he had flirted with the pretty Kirimova, his mother's visitor. Having briefly prepared in his mind the speech he was going to make to the peasants, he again went in to the steward, and, after tea, having once more arranged his thoughts, he went into the room prepared for him in the big house, which used to be a spare bedroom.
In this clean little room, with pictures of Venice on the walls, and a mirror between the two windows, there stood a clean bed with a spring mattress, and by the side of it a small table, with a decanter of water, matches, and an extinguisher. On a table by the looking-glass lay his open portmanteau, with his dressing-case and some books in it; a Russian book, The Investigation of the Laws of Criminality, and a German and an English book on the same subject, which he meant to read while travelling in the country. But it was too late to begin to-day, and he began preparing to go to bed.
An old-fashioned inlaid mahogany arm-chair stood in the corner of the room, and this chair, which Nekhludoff remembered standing in his mother's bedroom, suddenly raised a perfectly unexpected sensation in his soul. He was suddenly filled with regret at the thought of the house that would tumble to ruin, and the garden that would run wild, and the forest that would be cut down, and all these farmyards, stables, sheds, machines, horses, cows which he knew had cost so much effort, though not to himself, to acquire and to keep. It had seemed easy to give up all this, but now it was hard, not only to give this, but even to let the land and lose half his income. And at once a consideration, which proved that it was unreasonable to let the land to the peasants, and thus to destroy his property, came to his service. "I must not hold property in land. If I possess no property in land, I cannot keep up the house and farm. And, besides, I am going to Siberia, and shall not need either the house or the estate," said one voice. "All this is so," said another voice, "but you are not going to spend all your life in Siberia. You may marry, and have children, and must hand the estate on to them in as good a condition as you received it. There is a duty to the land, too. To give up, to destroy everything is very easy; to acquire it very difficult. Above all, you must consider your future life, and what you will do with yourself, and you must dispose of your property accordingly. And are you really firm in your resolve? And then, are you really acting according to your conscience, or are you acting in order to be admired of men?" Nekhludoff asked himself all this, and had to acknowledge that he was influenced by the thought of what people would say about him. And the more he thought about it the more questions arose, and the more unsolvable they seemed.
In hopes of ridding himself of these thoughts by failing asleep, and solving them in the morning when his head would be fresh, he lay down on his clean bed. But it was long before he could sleep. Together with the fresh air and the moonlight, the croaking of the frogs entered the room, mingling with the trills of a couple of nightingales in the park and one close to the window in a bush of lilacs in bloom. Listening to the nightingales and the frogs, Nekhludoff remembered the inspector's daughter, and her music, and the inspector; that reminded him of Maslova, and how her lips trembled, like the croaking of the frogs, when she said, "You must just leave it." Then the German steward began going down to the frogs, and had to be held back, but he not only went down but turned into Maslova, who began reproaching Nekhludoff, saying, "You are a prince, and I am a convict." "No, I must not give in," thought Nekhludoff, waking up, and again asking himself, "Is what I am doing right? I do not know, and no matter, no matter, I must only fall asleep now." And he began himself to descend where he had seen the inspector and Maslova climbing down to, and there it all ended.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER II. EFFORTS AT LAND RESTORATION.