Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy

Chapter XLII.

Le Vrai Grand Monde.

Before Nekhludoff got out he had noticed in the station yard several elegant equipages, some with three, some with four, well-fed horses, with tinkling bells on their harness. When he stepped out on the wet, dark-coloured boards of the platform, he saw a group of people in front of the first-class carriage, among whom were conspicuous a stout lady with costly feathers on her hat, and a waterproof, and a tall, thin-legged young man in a cycling suit. The young man had by his side an enormous, well-fed dog, with a valuable collar. Behind them stood footmen, holding wraps and umbrellas, and a coachman, who had also come to meet the train.

On the whole of the group, from the fat lady down to the coachman who stood holding up his long coat, there lay the stamp of wealth and quiet self-assurance. A curious and servile crowd rapidly gathered round this group — the station-master, in his red cap, a gendarme, a thin young lady in a Russian costume, with beads round her neck, who made a point of seeing the trains come in all through the summer, a telegraph clerk, and passengers, men and women.

In the young man with the dog Nekhludoff recognised young Korchagin, a gymnasium student. The fat lady was the Princess’s sister, to whose estate the Korchagins were now moving. The guard, with his gold cord and shiny top-boots, opened the carriage door and stood holding it as a sign of deference, while Philip and a porter with a white apron carefully carried out the long-faced Princess in her folding chair. The sisters greeted each other, and French sentences began flying about. Would the Princess go in a closed or an open carriage? At last the procession started towards the exit, the lady’s maid, with her curly fringe, parasol and leather case in the rear.

Nekhludoff not wishing to meet them and to have to take leave over again, stopped before he got to the door, waiting for the procession to pass.

The Princess, her son, Missy, the doctor, and the maid went out first, the old Prince and his sister-in-law remained behind. Nekhludoff was too far to catch anything but a few disconnected French sentences of their conversation One of the sentences uttered by the Prince, as it often happens, for some unaccountable reason remained in his memory with all its intonations and the sound of the voice.

Oh, il est du vrai grand monde, du vrai grand monde,” said the Prince in his loud, self-assured tone as he went out of the station with his sister-in-law, accompanied by the respectful guards and porters.

At this moment from behind the corner of the station suddenly appeared a crowd of workmen in bark shoes, wearing sheepskin coats and carrying bags on their backs. The workmen went up to the nearest carriage with soft yet determined steps, and were about to get in, but were at once driven away by a guard. Without stopping, the workmen passed on, hurrying and jostling one another, to the next carriage and began getting in, catching their bags against the corners and door of the carriage, but another guard caught sight of them from the door of the station, and shouted at them severely. The workmen, who had already got in, hurried out again and went on, with the same soft and firm steps, still further towards Nekhludoff’s carriage. A guard was again going to stop them, but Nekhludoff said there was plenty of room inside, and that they had better get in. They obeyed and got in, followed by Nekhludoff.

The workmen were about to take their seats, when the gentleman with the cockade and the two ladies, looking at this attempt to settle in their carriage as a personal insult to themselves, indignantly protested and wanted to turn them out. The workmen — there were 20 of them, old men and quite young ones, all of them wearied, sunburnt, with haggard faces — began at once to move on through the carriage, catching the seats, the walls, and the doors with their bags. They evidently felt they had offended in some way, and seemed ready to go on indefinitely wherever they were ordered to go.

“Where are you pushing to, you fiends? Sit down here,” shouted another guard they met.

“Voild encore des nouvelles,” exclaimed the younger of the two ladies, quite convinced that she would attract Nekhludoff’s notice by her good French.

The other lady with the bracelets kept sniffing and making faces, and remarked something about how pleasant it was to sit with smelly peasants.

The workmen, who felt the joy and calm experienced by people who have escaped some kind of danger, threw off their heavy bags with a movement of their shoulders and stowed them away under the seats.

The gardener had left his own seat to talk with Taras, and now went back, so that there were two unoccupied seats opposite and one next to Taras. Three of the workmen took these seats, but when Nekhludoff came up to them, in his gentleman’s clothing, they got so confused that they rose to go away, but Nekhludoff asked them to stay, and himself sat down on the arm of the seat, by the passage down the middle of the carriage.

One of the workmen, a man of about 50, exchanged a surprised and even frightened look with a young man. That Nekhludoff, instead of scolding and driving them away, as was natural to a gentleman, should give up his seat to them, astonished and perplexed them. They even feared that this might have some evil result for them.

However, they soon noticed that there was no underlying plot when they heard Nekhludoff talking quite simply with Taras, and they grew quiet and told one of the lads to sit down on his bag and give his seat to Nekhludoff. At first the elderly workman who sat opposite Nekhludoff shrank and drew back his legs for fear of touching the gentleman, but after a while he grew quite friendly, and in talking to him and Taras even slapped Nekhludoff on the knee when he wanted to draw special attention to what he was saying.

He told them all about his position and his work in the peat bogs, whence he was now returning home. He had been working there for two and a half months, and was bringing home his wages, which only came to 10 roubles, since part had been paid beforehand when he was hired. They worked, as he explained, up to their knees in water from sunrise to sunset, with two hours’ interval for dinner.

“Those who are not used to it find it hard, of course,” he said; “but when one’s hardened it doesn’t matter, if only the food is right. At first the food was bad. Later the people complained, and they got good food, and it was easy to work.”

Then he told them how, during 28 years he went out to work, and sent all his earnings home. First to his father, then to his eldest brother, and now to his nephew, who was at the head of the household. On himself he spent only two or three roubles of the 50 or 60 he earned a year, just for luxuries — tobacco and matches.

“I’m a sinner, when tired I even drink a little vodka sometimes,” he added, with a guilty smile.

Then he told them how the women did the work at home, and how the contractor had treated them to half a pail of vodka before they started to-day, how one of them had died, and another was returning home ill. The sick workman he was talking about was in a corner of the same carriage. He was a young lad, with a pale, sallow face and bluish lips. He was evidently tormented by intermittent fever. Nekhludoff went up to him, but the lad looked up with such a severe and suffering expression that Nekhludoff did not care to bother him with questions, but advised the elder man to give him quinine, and wrote down the name of the medicine. He wished to give him some money, but the old workman said he would pay for it himself.

“Well, much as I have travelled, I have never met such a gentleman before. Instead of punching your head, he actually gives up his place to you,” said the old man to Taras. “It seems there are all sorts of gentlefolk, too.”

“Yes, this is quite a new and different world,” thought Nekhludoff, looking at these spare, sinewy, limbs, coarse, home-made garments, and sunburnt, kindly, though weary-looking faces, and feeling himself surrounded on all sides with new people and the serious interests, joys, and sufferings of a life of labour.

“Here is le vrai grand monde,” thought Nekhludoff, remembering the words of Prince Korchagin and all that idle, luxurious world to which the Korchagins belonged, with their petty, mean interests. And he felt the joy of a traveller on discovering a new, unknown, and beautiful world.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04