As soon as Nekhludoff returned that evening and saw his sister’s note on the table he started to go and see her. He found Nathalie alone, her husband having gone to take a rest in the next room. She wore a tightly-fitting black silk dress, with a red bow in front. Her black hair was crimped and arranged according to the latest fashion.
The pains she took to appear young, for the sake of her husband, whose equal she was in years, were very obvious.
When she saw her brother she jumped up and hurried towards him, with her silk dress rustling. They kissed, and looked smilingly at each other. There passed between them that mysterious exchange of looks, full of meaning, in which all was true, and which cannot be expressed in words. Then came words which were not true. They had not met since their mother’s death.
“You have grown stouter and younger,” he said, and her lips puckered up with pleasure.
“And you have grown thinner.”
“Well, and how is your husband?” Nekhludoff asked.
“He is taking a rest; he did not sleep all night.” There was much to say, but it was not said in words; only their looks expressed what their words failed to say.
“I went to see you.”
“Yes, I know. I moved because the house is too big for me. I was lonely there, and dull. I want nothing of all that is there, so that you had better take it all — the furniture, I mean, and things.”
“Yes, Agraphena Petrovna told me. I went there. Thanks, very much. But —”
At this moment the hotel waiter brought in a silver tea-set. While he set the table they were silent. Then Nathalie sat down at the table and made the tea, still in silence. Nekhludoff also said nothing.
At last Nathalie began resolutely. “Well, Dmitri, I know all about it.” And she looked at him.
“What of that? l am glad you know.”
“How can you hope to reform her after the life she has led?” she asked.
He sat quite straight on a small chair, and listened attentively, trying to understand her and to answer rightly. The state of mind called forth in him by his last interview with Maslova still filled his soul with quiet joy and good will to all men.
“It is not her but myself I wish to reform,” he replied.
“There are other means besides marriage to do that.”
“But I think it is the best. Besides, it leads me into that world in which I can be of use.”
“I cannot believe you will be happy,” said Nathalie.
“It’s not my happiness that is the point.”
“Of course, but if she has a heart she cannot be happy — cannot even wish it.”
“She does not wish it.”
“I understand; but life —”
“Yes — life?”
“Demands something different.”
“It demands nothing but that we should do what is right,” said Nekhludoff, looking into her face, still handsome, though slightly wrinkled round eyes and mouth.
“I do not understand,” she said, and sighed.
“Poor darling; how could she change so?” he thought, calling back to his mind Nathalie as she had been before her marriage, and feeling towards her a tenderness woven out of innumerable memories of childhood. At that moment Rogozhinsky entered the room, with head thrown back and expanded chest, and stepping lightly and softly in his usual manner, his spectacles, his bald patch, and his black beard all glistening.
“How do you do? How do you do?” he said, laying an unnatural and intentional stress on his words. (Though, soon after the marriage, they had tried to be more familiar with each other, they had never succeeded.)
They shook hands, and Rogozhinsky sank softly into an easy-chair.
“Am I not interrupting your conversation?”
“No, I do not wish to hide what I am saying or doing from any one.”
As soon as Nekhludoff saw the hairy hands, and heard the patronising, self-assured tones, his meekness left him in a moment.
“Yes, we were talking about his intentions,” said Nathalie. “Shall I give you a cup of tea?” she added, taking the teapot.
“Yes, please. What particular intentions do you mean?”
“That of going to Siberia with the gang of prisoners, among whom is the woman I consider myself to have wronged,” uttered Nekhludoff.
“I hear not only to accompany her, but more than that.”
“Yes, and to marry her if she wishes it.”
“Dear me! But if you do not object I should like to ask you to explain your motives. I do not understand them.”
“My motives are that this woman — that this woman’s first step on her way to degradation —” Nekhludoff got angry with himself, and was unable to find the right expression. “My motives are that I am the guilty one, and she gets the punishment.”
“If she is being punished she cannot be innocent, either.”
“She is quite innocent.” And Nekhludoff related the whole incident with unnecessary warmth.
“Yes, that was a case of carelessness on the part of the president, the result of which was a thoughtless answer on the part of the jury; but there is the Senate for cases like that.”
“The Senate has rejected the appeal.”
“Well, if the Senate has rejected it, there cannot have been sufficient reasons for an appeal,” said Rogozhinsky, evidently sharing the prevailing opinion that truth is the product of judicial decrees. “The Senate cannot enter into the question on its merits. If there is a real mistake, the Emperor should be petitioned.”
“That has been done, but there is no probability of success. They will apply to the Department of the Ministry, the Department will consult the Senate, the Senate will repeat its decision, and, as usual, the innocent will get punished.”
“In the first place, the Department of the Ministry won’t consult the Senate,” said Rogozhinsky, with a condescending smile; “it will give orders for the original deeds to be sent from the Law Court, and if it discovers a mistake it will decide accordingly. And, secondly, the innocent are never punished, or at least in very rare, exceptional cases. It is the guilty who are punished,” Rogozhinsky said deliberately, and smiled self-complacently.
“And I have become fully convinced that most of those condemned by law are innocent.”
“Innocent in the literal sense. Just as this woman is innocent of poisoning any one; as innocent as a peasant I have just come to know, of the murder he never committed; as a mother and son who were on the point of being condemned for incendiarism, which was committed by the owner of the house that was set on fire.”
“Well, of course there always have been and always will be judicial errors. Human institutions cannot be perfect.”
“And, besides, there are a great many people convicted who are innocent of doing anything considered wrong by the society they have grown up in.”
“Excuse me, this is not so; every thief knows that stealing is wrong, and that we should not steal; that it is immoral,” said Rogozhinsky, with his quiet, self-assured, slightly contemptuous smile, which specially irritated Nekhludoff.
“No, he does not know it; they say to him ‘don’t steal,’ and he knows that the master of the factory steals his labour by keeping back his wages; that the Government, with its officials, robs him continually by taxation.”
“Why, this is anarchism,” Rogozhinsky said, quietly defining his brother-in-law’s words.
“I don’t know what it is; I am only telling you the truth,” Nekhludoff continued. “He knows that the Government is robbing him, knows that we landed proprietors have robbed him long since, robbed him of the land which should be the common property of all, and then, if he picks up dry wood to light his fire on that land stolen from him, we put him in jail, and try to persuade him that he is a thief. Of course he knows that not he but those who robbed him of the land are thieves, and that to get any restitution of what has been robbed is his duty towards his family.”
“I don’t understand, or if I do I cannot agree with it. The land must be somebody’s property,” began Rogozhinsky quietly, and, convinced that Nekhludoff was a Socialist, and that Socialism demands that all the land should be divided equally, that such a division would be very foolish, and that he could easily prove it to be so, he said. “If you divided it equally to-day, it would to-morrow be again in the hands of the most industrious and clever.”
“Nobody is thinking of dividing the land equally. The land must not be anybody’s property; must not be a thing to be bought and sold or rented.”
“The rights of property are inborn in man; without them the cultivation of land would present no interest. Destroy the rights of property and we lapse into barbarism.” Rogozhinsky uttered this authoritatively, repeating the usual argument in favour of private ownership of land which is supposed to be irrefutable, based on the assumption that people’s desire to possess land proves that they need it.
“On the contrary, only when the land is nobody’s property will it cease to lie idle, as it does now, while the landlords, like dogs in the manger, unable themselves to put it to use, will not let those use it who are able.”
“But, Dmitri Ivanovitch, what you are saying is sheer madness. Is it possible to abolish property in land in our age? I know it is your old hobby. But allow me to tell you straight,” and Rogozhinsky grew pale, and his voice trembled. It was evident that this question touched him very nearly. “I should advise you to consider this question well before attempting to solve it practically.”
“Are you speaking of my personal affairs?”
“Yes, I hold that we who are placed in special circumstances should bear the responsibilities which spring from those circumstances, should uphold the conditions in which we were born, and which we have inherited from our predecessors, and which we ought to pass on to our descendants.”
“I consider it my duty —”
“Wait a bit,” said Rogozhinsky, not permitting the interruption. “I am not speaking for myself or my children. The position of my children is assured, and I earn enough for us to live comfortably, and I expect my children will live so too, so that my interest in your action — which, if you will allow me to say so, is not well considered — is not based on personal motives; it is on principle that I cannot agree with you. I should advise you to think it well over, to read —-?”
“Please allow me to settle my affairs, and to choose what to read and what not to read, myself,” said Nekhludoff, turning pale. Feeling his hands grow cold, and that he was no longer master of himself, he stopped, and began drinking his tea.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00