Levin had long before made the observation that when one is uncomfortable with people from their being excessively amenable and meek, one is apt very soon after to find things intolerable from their pretensions and irritability. He felt that this was how it would be with his brother. And his brother Nikolai's gentleness did not, in fact, last out for long. The very next morning he began to be irritable, and seemed doing his best to find fault with his brother, attacking him on his tenderest points.
Levin felt himself to blame, and could not set things right. He felt that if they had both not kept up appearances, but had spoken, as it is called, from the heart - that is to say, had said only just what they were thinking and feeling - they would simply have looked into each other's faces, and Konstantin could only have said: `You're dying, you're dying,' and Nikolai could only have answered: `I know I'm dying, but I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid!' And they could have said nothing more, if they had said only what was in their hearts. But life like that was impossible, and so Konstantin tried to do what he had been trying to do all his life, and never could learn to do, though, as far as he could observe, many people knew so well how to do it, and without it there was no living at all. He tried to say what he was not thinking, but he felt continually that it had a ring of falsehood, that his brother detected him in it, and was exasperated at it.
The third day Nikolai induced his brother to explain his plan to him again, and began not merely attacking it, but intentionally confounding it with communism.
`You've simply borrowed an idea that's not your own, but you've distorted it, and are trying to apply it where it's not applicable.'
`But I tell you there's nothing in common. They deny the justice of property, of capital, of inheritance, while I do not deny this chief stimulus.' (Levin felt disgusted himself at using such expressions, but ever since he had been engrossed by his work, he had unconsciously come more and more frequently to use non-Russian words.) `All I want is to regulate labor.'
`Which means, you've borrowed an idea, stripped it of all that gave it its force, and want to make believe that it's something new,' said Nikolai, angrily tugging at his necktie.
`But my idea has nothing in common...'
`The other, at any rate,' said Nikolai Levin, with an ironical smile, his eyes flashing malignantly, `has the charm of - what's one to call it? - geometrical symmetry, of clearness, of definiteness. It may be a Utopia. If one once allows the possibility of making all the past a tabula rasa - no property, no family - then labor would organize itself. But you have nothing...'
`Why do you mix things up? I've never been a communist.'
`But I have, and I consider it's premature, but rational, and it has a future, just like Christianity in its first ages.'
`All that I maintain is that the labor force ought to be investigated from the point of view of natural science; that is to say, it ought to be studied, its qualities ascertained...'
`But that's an utter waste of time. That force finds a certain form of activity of itself, according to the stage of its development. There have been slaves first, everywhere; then metayers; and we have the metayage system, rent, and day laborers. What are you trying to find?'
Levin suddenly lost his temper at these words, because at the bottom of his heart he was afraid that it was true - true that he was trying to hold the balance even between communism and the familiar forms, and that this was hardly possible.
`I am trying to find means of working productively for myself and for the laborers. I want to organize...' he answered hotly.
`You don't want to organize anything; it's simply the same as you've been all your life - you want to be original, to pose as not simply exploiting the peasants, but with some idea in view.'
`Oh, all right, that's what you think - and let me alone!' answered Levin, feeling the muscles of his left cheek twitching uncontrollably.
`You've never had, and never have, convictions; all you want is to please your vanity.'
`Oh, very well; let me alone then!'
`And I will let you alone! And it's high time I did, and go to the devil with you! And I'm very sorry I ever came!'
In spite of all Levin's efforts to soothe his brother afterward, Nikolai would listen to nothing he said, declaring that it was better to part, and Konstantin saw that it was simply a case of life being unbearable to him.
Nikolai was just getting ready to go, when Konstantin went in to him again and begged him, rather unnaturally, to forgive him if he had hurt his feelings in any way.
`Ah, generosity!' said Nikolai, and he smiled. `If you want to be right, I can give you that satisfaction. You're in the right; but I'm going all the same.'
It was only just at parting that Nikolai kissed him, and said, looking with sudden strangeness and seriousness at his brother:
`Anyway, don't remember evil against me, Kostia!' and his voice quavered.
These were the only words that had been spoken sincerely between them. Levin knew that those words meant, `You see, and you know, that I'm in a bad way, and maybe we shall never see each other again.' Levin knew this, and the tears gushed from his eyes. He kissed his brother once more, but he could not speak, and knew not what to say.
Two days after his brother's departure, Levin too set off for his foreign tour. Happening to meet Shcherbatsky, Kitty's cousin, in the railway train, Levin greatly astonished him by his depression.
`What's the matter with you?' Shcherbatsky asked him.
`Oh, nothing; there's not much happiness in life.'
`Not much? You come with me to Paris instead of to Mulhouse. You shall see how to be happy.'
`No, I've done with it all. It's time I was dead.'
`Well, that's a good one!' said Shcherbatsky, laughing, `why, I'm only just getting ready to begin.'
`Yes, I thought the same not long ago, but now I know I shall soon be dead.'
Levin said what he had genuinely been thinking of late. He saw nothing but death, or an approach to death in everything. But his cherished scheme only engrossed him the more. Life had to be got through somehow, till death did come. Darkness had fallen upon everything for him; but just because of this darkness he felt that the one guiding clue in the darkness was his work, and he clutched it, and clung to it with all his strength.