It was morning before Nekhludoff could fall asleep, and therefore he woke up late. At noon seven men, chosen from among the peasants at the foreman’s invitation, came into the orchard, where the foreman had arranged a table and benches by digging posts into the ground, and fixing boards on the top, under the apple trees. It took some time before the peasants could be persuaded to put on their caps and to sit down on the benches. Especially firm was the ex-soldier, who to-day had bark shoes on. He stood erect, holding his cap as they do at funerals, according to military regulation. When one of them, a respectable-looking, broad-shouldered old man, with a curly, grizzly beard like that of Michael Angelo’s “Moses,” and grey hair that curled round the brown, bald forehead, put on his big cap, and, wrapping his coat round him, got in behind the table and sat down, the rest followed his example. When all had taken their places Nekhludoff sat down opposite them, and leaning on the table over the paper on which he had drawn up his project, he began explaining it.
Whether it was that there were fewer present, or that he was occupied with the business in hand and not with himself, anyhow, this time Nekhludoff felt no confusion. He involuntarily addressed the broad-shouldered old man with white ringlets in his grizzly beard, expecting approbation or objections from him. But Nekhludoff’s conjecture was wrong. The respectable-looking old patriarch, though he nodded his handsome head approvingly or shook it, and frowned when the others raised an objection, evidently understood with great difficulty, and only when the others repeated what Nekhludoff had said in their own words. A little, almost beardless old fellow, blind in one eye, who sat by the side of the patriarch, and had a patched nankeen coat and old boots on, and, as Nekhludoff found out later, was an oven-builder, understood much better. This man moved his brows quickly, attending to Nekhludoff’s words with an effort, and at once repeated them in his own way. An old, thick-set man with a white beard and intelligent eyes understood as quickly, and took every opportunity to put in an ironical joke, clearly wishing to show off. The ex-soldier seemed also to understand matters, but got mixed, being used to senseless soldiers’ talk. A tall man with a small beard, a long nose, and a bass voice, who wore clean, home-made clothes and new bark-plaited shoes, seemed to be the one most seriously interested. This man spoke only when there was need of it. The two other old men, the same toothless one who had shouted a distinct refusal at the meeting the day before to every proposal of Nekhludoff’s, and a tall, white lame old man with a kind face, his thin legs tightly wrapped round with strips of linen, said little, though they listened attentively. First of all Nekhludoff explained his views in regard to personal property in land. “The land, according to my idea, can neither he bought nor sold, because if it could be, he who has got the money could buy it all, and exact anything he liked for the use of the land from those who have none.”
“That’s true,” said the long-nosed man, in a deep bass.
“Just so,” said the ex-soldier.
“A woman gathers a little grass for her cow; she’s caught and imprisoned,” said the white-bearded old man.
“Our own land is five versts away, and as to renting any it’s impossible; the price is raised so high that it won’t pay,” added the cross, toothless old man. “They twist us into ropes, worse than during serfdom.”
“I think as you do, and I count it a sin to possess land, so I wish to give it away,” said Nekhludoff.
“Well, that’s a good thing,” said the old man, with curls like Angelo’s “Moses,” evidently thinking that Nekhludoff meant to let the land.
“I have come here because I no longer wish to possess any land, and now we must consider the best way of dividing it.”
“Just give it to the peasants, that’s all,” said the cross, toothless old man.
Nekhludoff was abashed for a moment, feeling a suspicion of his not being honest in these words, but he instantly recovered, and made use of the remark, in order to express what was in his mind, in reply.
“I should be glad to give it them,” he said, “but to whom, and how? To which of the peasants? Why, to your commune, and not to that of Deminsk.” (That was the name of a neighbouring village with very little land.) All were silent. Then the ex-soldier said, “Just so.”
“Now, then, tell me how would you divide the land among the peasants if you had to do it?” said Nekhludoff.
“We should divide it up equally, so much for every man,” said the oven-builder, quickly raising and lowering his brows.
“How else? Of course, so much per man,” said the good natured lame man with the white strips of linen round his legs.
Every one confirmed this statement, considering it satisfactory.
“So much per man? Then are the servants attached to the house also to have a share?” Nekhludoff asked.
“Oh, no,” said the ex-soldier, trying to appear bold and merry. But the tall, reasonable man would not agree with him.
“If one is to divide, all must share alike,” he said, in his deep bass, after a little consideration.
“It can’t be done,” said Nekhludoff, who had already prepared his reply. “If all are to share alike, then those who do not work themselves — do not plough — will sell their shares to the rich. The rich will again get at the land. Those who live by working the land will multiply, and land will again be scarce. Then the rich will again get those who need land into their power.”
“Just so,” quickly said the ex-soldier.
“Forbid to sell the land; let only him who ploughs it have it,” angrily interrupted the oven-builder.
To this Nekhludoff replied that it was impossible to know who was ploughing for himself and who for another.
The tall, reasonable man proposed that an arrangement be made so that they should all plough communally, and those who ploughed should get the produce and those who did not should get nothing.
To this communistic project Nekhludoff had also an answer ready. He said that for such an arrangement it would be necessary that all should have ploughs, and that all the horses should be alike, so that none should be left behind, and that ploughs and horses and all the implements would have to be communal property, and that in order to get that, all the people would have to agree.
“Our people could not be made to agree in a lifetime,” said the cross old man.
“We should have regular fights,” said the white-bearded old man with the laughing eyes. “So that the thing is not as simple as it looks,” said Nekhludoff, “and this is a thing not only we but many have been considering. There is an American, Henry George. This is what he has thought out, and I agree with him.”
“Why, you are the master, and you give it as you like. What’s it to you? The power is yours,” said the cross old man.
This confused Nekhludoff, but he was pleased to see that not he alone was dissatisfied with this interruption.
“You wait a bit, Uncle Simon; let him tell us about it,” said the reasonable man, in his imposing bass.
This emboldened Nekhludoff, and he began to explain Henry George’s single-tax system “The earth is no man’s; it is God’s,” he began.
“Just so; that it is,” several voices replied.
“The land is common to all. All have the same right to it, but there is good land and bad land, and every one would like to take the good land. How is one to do in order to get it justly divided? In this way: he that will use the good land must pay those who have got no land the value of the land he uses,” Nekhludoff went on, answering his own question. “As it would be difficult to say who should pay whom, and money is needed for communal use, it should be arranged that he who uses the good land should pay the amount of the value of his land to the commune for its needs. Then every one would share equally. If you want to use land pay for it — more for the good, less for the bad land. If you do not wish to use land, don’t pay anything, and those who use the land will pay the taxes and the communal expenses for you.”
“Well, he had a head, this George,” said the oven-builder, moving his brows. “He who has good land must pay more.”
“If only the payment is according to our strength,” said the tall man with the bass voice, evidently foreseeing how the matter would end.
“The payment should be not too high and not too low. If it is too high it will not get paid, and there will be a loss; and if it is too low it will be bought and sold. There would be a trading in land. This is what I wished to arrange among you here.”
“That is just, that is right; yes, that would do,” said the peasants.
“He has a head, this George,” said the broad-shouldered old man with the curls. “See what he has invented.”
“Well, then, how would it be if I wished to take some land?” asked the smiling foreman.
“If there is an allotment to spare, take it and work it,” said Nekhludoff.
“What do you want it for? You have sufficient as it is,” said the old man with the laughing eyes.
With this the conference ended.
Nekhludoff repeated his offer, and advised the men to talk it over with the rest of the commune and to return with the answer.
The peasants said they would talk it over and bring an answer, and left in a state of excitement. Their loud talk was audible as they went along the road, and up to late in the night the sound of voices came along the river from the village.
The next day the peasants did not go to work, but spent it in considering the landlord’s offer. The commune was divided into two parties — one which regarded the offer as a profitable one to themselves and saw no danger in agreeing with it, and another which suspected and feared the offer it did not understand. On the third day, however, all agreed, and some were sent to Nekhludoff to accept his offer. They were influenced in their decision by the explanation some of the old men gave of the landlord’s conduct, which did away with all fear of deceit. They thought the gentleman had begun to consider his soul, and was acting as he did for its salvation. The alms which Nekhludoff had given away while in Panovo made his explanation seem likely. The fact that Nekhludoff had never before been face to face with such great poverty and so bare a life as the peasants had come to in this place, and was so appalled by it, made him give away money in charity, though he knew that this was not reasonable. He could not help giving the money, of which he now had a great deal, having received a large sum for the forest he had sold the year before, and also the hand money for the implements and stock in Kousminski. As soon as it was known that the master was giving money in charity, crowds of people, chiefly women, began to come to ask him for help. He did not in the least know how to deal with them, how to decide, how much, and whom to give to. He felt that to refuse to give money, of which he had a great deal, to poor people was impossible, yet to give casually to those who asked was not wise. The last day he spent in Panovo, Nekhludoff looked over the things left in his aunts’ house, and in the bottom drawer of the mahogany wardrobe, with the brass lions’ heads with rings through them, he found many letters, and amongst them a photograph of a group, consisting of his aunts, Sophia Ivanovna and Mary Ivanovna, a student, and Katusha. Of all the things in the house he took only the letters and the photograph. The rest he left to the miller who, at the smiling foreman’s recommendation, had bought the house and all it contained, to be taken down and carried away, at one-tenth of the real value.
Recalling the feeling of regret at the loss of his property which he had felt in Kousminski, Nekhludoff was surprised how he could have felt this regret. Now he felt nothing but unceasing joy at the deliverance, and a sensation of newness something like that which a traveller must experience when discovering new countries.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00