FictionForest

PART EIGHT : Chapter 11

Leo TolstoyAug 26, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The day on which Sergey Ivanovitch
came to Pokrovskoe was one of Levin’s most painful
days.  It was the very busiest working time,
when all the peasantry show an extraordinary intensity
of self-sacrifice in labor, such as is never shown
in any other conditions of life, and would be highly
esteemed if the men who showed these qualities themselves
thought highly of them, and if it were not repeated
every year, and if the results of this intense labor
were not so simple.

To reap and bind the rye and oats
and to carry it, to mow the meadows, turn over the
fallows, thrash the seed and sow the winter corn ­all
this seems so simple and ordinary; but to succeed
in getting through it all everyone in the village,
from the old man to the young child, must toil incessantly
for three or four weeks, three times as hard as usual,
living on rye-beer, onions, and black bread, thrashing
and carrying the sheaves at night, and not giving
more than two or three hours in the twenty-four to
sleep.  And every year this is done all over
Russia.

Having lived the greater part of his
life in the country and in the closest relations with
the peasants, Levin always felt in this busy time
that he was infected by this general quickening of
energy in the people.

In the early morning he rode over
to the first sowing of the rye, and to the oats, which
were being carried to the stacks, and returning home
at the time his wife and sister-in-law were getting
up, he drank coffee with them and walked to the farm,
where a new thrashing machine was to be set working
to get ready the seed-corn.

He was standing in the cool granary,
still fragrant with the leaves of the hazel branches
interlaced on the freshly peeled aspen beams of the
new thatch roof.  He gazed through the open door
in which the dry bitter dust of the thrashing whirled
and played, at the grass of the thrashing floor in
the sunlight and the fresh straw that had been brought
in from the barn, then at the speckly-headed, white-breasted
swallows that flew chirping in under the roof and,
fluttering their wings, settled in the crevices of
the doorway, then at the peasants bustling in the
dark, dusty barn, and he thought strange thoughts.

“Why is it all being done?”
he thought.  “Why am I standing here, making
them work?  What are they all so busy for, trying
to show their zeal before me?  What is that old
Matrona, my old friend, toiling for? (I doctored
her, when the beam fell on her in the fire)”
he thought, looking at a thin old woman who was raking
up the grain, moving painfully with her bare, sun-blackened
feet over the uneven, rough floor.  “Then
she recovered, but today or tomorrow or in ten years
she won’t; they’ll bury her, and nothing
will be left either of her or of that smart girl in
the red jacket, who with that skillful, soft action
shakes the ears out of their husks.  They’ll
bury her and this piebald horse, and very soon too,”
he thought, gazing at the heavily moving, panting
horse that kept walking up the wheel that turned under
him.  “And they will bury her and Fyodor
the thrasher with his curly beard full of chaff and
his shirt torn on his white shoulders ­they
will bury him.  He’s untying the sheaves,
and giving orders, and shouting to the women, and
quickly setting straight the strap on the moving wheel. 
And what’s more, it’s not them alone ­me
they’ll bury too, and nothing will be left. 
What for?”

He thought this, and at the same time
looked at his watch to reckon how much they thrashed
in an hour.  He wanted to know this so as to
judge by it the task to set for the day.

“It’ll soon be one, and
they’re only beginning the third sheaf,”
thought Levin.  He went up to the man that was
feeding the machine, and shouting over the roar of
the machine he told him to put it in more slowly. 
“You put in too much at a time, Fyodor. 
Do you see ­it gets choked, that’s
why it isn’t getting on.  Do it evenly.”

Fyodor, black with the dust that clung
to his moist face, shouted something in response,
but still went on doing it as Levin did not want him
to.

Levin, going up to the machine, moved
Fyodor aside, and began feeding the corn in himself. 
Working on till the peasants’ dinner hour,
which was not long in coming, he went out of the barn
with Fyodor and fell into talk with him, stopping beside
a neat yellow sheaf of rye laid on the thrashing floor
for seed.

Fyodor came from a village at some
distance from the one in which Levin had once allotted
land to his cooperative association.  Now it
had been let to a former house porter.

Levin talked to Fyodor about this
land and asked whether Platon, a well-to-do peasant
of good character belonging to the same village, would
not take the land for the coming year.

“It’s a high rent; it
wouldn’t pay Platon, Konstantin Dmitrievitch,”
answered the peasant, picking the ears off his sweat-drenched
shirt.

“But how does Kirillov make it pay?”

“Mituh!” (so the peasant
called the house porter, in a tone of contempt), “you
may be sure he’ll make it pay, Konstantin Dmitrievitch! 
He’ll get his share, however he has to squeeze
to get it!  He’s no mercy on a Christian. 
But Uncle Fokanitch” (so he called the old
peasant Platon), “do you suppose he’d
flay the skin off a man?  Where there’s
debt, he’ll let anyone off.  And he’ll
not wring the last penny out.  He’s a man
too.”

“But why will he let anyone off?”

“Oh, well, of course, folks
are different.  One man lives for his own wants
and nothing else, like Mituh, he only thinks of filling
his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. 
He lives for his soul.  He does not forget God.”

“How thinks of God?  How
does he live for his soul?” Levin almost shouted.

“Why, to be sure, in truth,
in God’s way.  Folks are different. 
Take you now, you wouldn’t wrong a man….”

“Yes, yes, good-bye!”
said Levin, breathless with excitement, and turning
round he took his stick and walked quickly away towards
home.  At the peasant’s words that Fokanitch
lived for his soul, in truth, in God’s way,
undefined but significant ideas seemed to burst out
as though they had been locked up, and all striving
towards one goal, they thronged whirling through his
head, blinding him with their light.

 

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