FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 13

Leo TolstoyAug 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Levin put on his big boots, and, for
the first time, a cloth jacket, instead of his fur
cloak, and went out to look after his farm, stepping
over streams of water that flashed in the sunshine
and dazzled his eyes, and treading one minute on ice
and the next into sticky mud.

Spring is the time of plans and projects. 
And, as he came out into the farmyard, Levin, like
a tree in spring that knows not what form will be
taken by the young shoots and twigs imprisoned in
its swelling buds, hardly knew what undertakings he
was going to begin upon now in the farm work that
was so dear to him.  But he felt that he was
full of the most splendid plans and projects. 
First of all he went to the cattle.  The cows
had been let out into their paddock, and their smooth
sides were already shining with their new, sleek,
spring coats; they basked in the sunshine and lowed
to go to the meadow.  Levin gazed admiringly at
the cows he knew so intimately to the minutest detail
of their condition, and gave orders for them to be
driven out into the meadow, and the calves to be let
into the paddock.  The herdsman ran gaily to
get ready for the meadow.  The cowherd girls,
picking up their petticoats, ran splashing through
the mud with bare legs, still white, not yet brown
from the sun, waving brush wood in their hands, chasing
the calves that frolicked in the mirth of spring.

After admiring the young ones of that
year, who were particularly fine ­the early
calves were the size of a peasant’s cow, and
Pava’s daughter, at three months old, was as
big as a yearling ­ Levin gave orders for
a trough to be brought out and for them to be fed
in the paddock.  But it appeared that as the paddock
had not been used during the winter, the hurdles made
in the autumn for it were broken.  He sent for
the carpenter, who, according to his orders, ought
to have been at work at the thrashing machine. 
But it appeared that the carpenter was repairing the
harrows, which ought to have been repaired before
Lent.  This was very annoying to Levin. 
It was annoying to come upon that everlasting slovenliness
in the farm work against which he had been striving
with all his might for so many years.  The hurdles,
as he ascertained, being not wanted in winter, had
been carried to the cart-horses’ stable; and
there broken, as they were of light construction,
only meant for feeding calves.  Moreover, it was
apparent also that the harrows and all the agricultural
implements, which he had directed to be looked over
and repaired in the winter, for which very purpose
he had hired three carpenters, had not been put into
repair, and the harrows were being repaired when they
ought to have been harrowing the field.  Levin
sent for his bailiff, but immediately went off himself
to look for him.  The bailiff, beaming all over,
like everyone that day, in a sheepskin bordered with
astrachan, came out of the barn, twisting a bit of
straw in his hands.

“Why isn’t the carpenter at the thrashing
machine?”

“Oh, I meant to tell you yesterday,
the harrows want repairing.  Here it’s time
they got to work in the fields.”

“But what were they doing in the winter, then?”

“But what did you want the carpenter for?”

“Where are the hurdles for the calves’
paddock?”

“I ordered them to be got ready. 
What would you have with those peasants!” said
the bailiff, with a wave of his hand.

“It’s not those peasants
but this bailiff!” said Levin, getting angry. 
“Why, what do I keep you for?” he cried. 
But, bethinking himself that this would not help
matters, he stopped short in the middle of a sentence,
and merely sighed.  “Well, what do you say? 
Can sowing begin?” he asked, after a pause.

“Behind Turkin tomorrow or the
next day they might begin.”

“And the clover?”

“I’ve sent Vassily and
Mishka; they’re sowing.  Only I don’t
know if they’ll manage to get through; it’s
so slushy.”

“How many acres?”

“About fifteen.”

“Why not sow all?” cried Levin.

That they were only sowing the clover
on fifteen acres, not on all the forty-five, was still
more annoying to him.  Clover, as he knew, both
from books and from his own experience, never did
well except when it was sown as early as possible,
almost in the snow.  And yet Levin could never
get this done.

“There’s no one to send. 
What would you have with such a set of peasants? 
Three haven’t turned up.  And there’s
Semyon…”

“Well, you should have taken
some men from the thatching.”

“And so I have, as it is.”

“Where are the peasants, then?”

“Five are making compote”
(which meant compost), “four are shifting the
oats for fear of a touch of mildew, Konstantin Dmitrievitch.”

Levin knew very well that “a
touch of mildew” meant that his English seed
oats were already ruined.  Again they had not
done as he had ordered.

“Why, but I told you during
Lent to put in pipes,” he cried.

“Don’t put yourself out;
we shall get it all done in time.”

Levin waved his hand angrily, went
into the granary to glance at the oats, and then to
the stable.  The oats were not yet spoiled. 
But the peasants were carrying the oats in spades when
they might simply let them slide down into the lower
granary; and arranging for this to be done, and taking
two workmen from there for sowing clover, Levin got
over his vexation with the bailiff.  Indeed, it
was such a lovely day that one could not be angry.

“Ignat!” he called to
the coachman, who, with his sleeves tucked up, was
washing the carriage wheels, “saddle me…”

“Which, sir?”

“Well, let it be Kolpik.”

“Yes, sir.”

While they were saddling his horse,
Levin again called up the bailiff, who was hanging
about in sight, to make it up with him, and began
talking to him about the spring operations before them,
and his plans for the farm.

The wagons were to begin carting manure
earlier, so as to get all done before the early mowing. 
And the ploughing of the further land to go on without
a break so as to let it ripen lying fallow.  And
the mowing to be all done by hired labor, not on half-profits. 
The bailiff listened attentively, and obviously made
an effort to approve of his employer’s projects. 
But still he had that look Levin knew so well that
always irritated him, a look of hopelessness and despondency. 
That look said:  “That’s all very
well, but as God wills.”

Nothing mortified Levin so much as
that tone.  But it was the tone common to all
the bailiffs he had ever had.  They had all taken
up that attitude to his plans, and so now he was not
angered by it, but mortified, and felt all the more
roused to struggle against this, as it seemed, elemental
force continually ranged against him, for which he
could find no other expression than “as God
wills.”

“If we can manage it, Konstantin
Dmitrievitch,” said the bailiff.

“Why ever shouldn’t you manage it?”

“We positively must have another
fifteen laborers.  And they don’t turn
up.  There were some here today asking seventy
roubles for the summer.”

Levin was silent.  Again he was
brought face to face with that opposing force. 
He knew that however much they tried, they could
not hire more than forty ­thirty-seven perhaps
or thirty-eight ­ laborers for a reasonable
sum.  Some forty had been taken on, and there
were no more.  But still he could not help struggling
against it.

“Send to Sury, to Tchefirovka;
if they don’t come we must look for them.”

“Oh, I’ll send, to be
sure,” said Vassily Fedorovitch despondently. 
“But there are the horses, too, they’re
not good for much.”

“We’ll get some more. 
I know, of course,” Levin added laughing, “you
always want to do with as little and as poor quality
as possible; but this year I’m not going to
let you have things your own way.  I’ll
see to everything myself.”

“Why, I don’t think you
take much rest as it is.  It cheers us up to
work under the master’s eye…”

“So they’re sowing clover
behind the Birch Dale?  I’ll go and have
a look at them,” he said, getting on to the little
bay cob, Kolpik, who was led up by the coachman.

“You can’t get across
the streams, Konstantin Dmitrievitch,” the coachman
shouted.

“All right, I’ll go by the forest.”

And Levin rode through the slush of
the farmyard to the gate and out into the open country,
his good little horse, after his long inactivity,
stepping out gallantly, snorting over the pools, and
asking, as it were, for guidance.  If Levin had
felt happy before in the cattle pens and farmyard,
he felt happier yet in the open country.  Swaying
rhythmically with the ambling paces of his good little
cob, drinking in the warm yet fresh scent of the snow
and the air, as he rode through his forest over the
crumbling, wasted snow, still left in parts, and covered
with dissolving tracks, he rejoiced over every tree,
with the moss reviving on its bark and the buds swelling
on its shoots.  When he came out of the forest,
in the immense plain before him, his grass fields stretched
in an unbroken carpet of green, without one bare place
or swamp, only spotted here and there in the hollows
with patches of melting snow.  He was not put
out of temper even by the sight of the peasants’
horses and colts trampling down his young grass (he
told a peasant he met to drive them out), nor by the
sarcastic and stupid reply of the peasant Ipat, whom
he met on the way, and asked, “Well, Ipat, shall
we soon be sowing?” “We must get the
ploughing done first, Konstantin Dmitrievitch,”
answered Ipat.  The further he rode, the happier
he became, and plans for the land rose to his mind
each better than the last; to plant all his fields
with hedges along the southern borders, so that the
snow should not lie under them; to divide them up
into six fields of arable and three of pasture and
hay; to build a cattle yard at the further end of
the estate, and to dig a pond and to construct movable
pens for the cattle as a means of manuring the land. 
And then eight hundred acres of wheat, three hundred
of potatoes, and four hundred of clover, and not one
acre exhausted.

Absorbed in such dreams, carefully
keeping his horse by the hedges, so as not to trample
his young crops, he rode up to the laborers who had
been sent to sow clover.  A cart with the seed
in it was standing, not at the edge, but in the middle
of the crop, and the winter corn had been torn up
by the wheels and trampled by the horse.  Both
the laborers were sitting in the hedge, probably smoking
a pipe together.  The earth in the cart, with
which the seed was mixed, was not crushed to powder,
but crusted together or adhering in clods.  Seeing
the master, the laborer, Vassily, went towards the
cart, while Mishka set to work sowing.  This
was not as it should be, but with the laborers Levin
seldom lost his temper.  When Vassily came up,
Levin told him to lead the horse to the hedge.

“It’s all right, sir,
it’ll spring up again,” responded Vassily.

“Please don’t argue,”
said Levin, “but do as you’re told.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Vassily,
and he took the horse’s head.  “What
a sowing, Konstantin Dmitrievitch,” he said,
hesitating; “first rate.  Only it’s
a work to get about!  You drag a ton of earth
on your shoes.”

“Why is it you have earth that’s
not sifted?” said Levin.

“Well, we crumble it up,”
answered Vassily, taking up some seed and rolling
the earth in his palms.

Vassily was not to blame for their
having filled up his cart with unsifted earth, but
still it was annoying.

Levin had more than once already tried
a way he knew for stifling his anger, and turning
all that seemed dark right again, and he tried that
way now.  He watched how Mishka strode along,
swinging the huge clods of earth that clung to each
foot; and getting off his horse, he took the sieve
from Vassily and started sowing himself.

“Where did you stop?”

Vassily pointed to the mark with his
foot, and Levin went forward as best he could, scattering
the seed on the land.  Walking was as difficult
as on a bog, and by the time Levin had ended the row
he was in a great heat, and he stopped and gave up
the sieve to Vassily.

“Well, master, when summer’s
here, mind you don’t scold me for these rows,”
said Vassily.

“Eh?” said Levin cheerily,
already feeling the effect of his method.

“Why, you’ll see in the
summer time.  It’ll look different. 
Look you where I sowed last spring.  How I did
work at it!  I do my best, Konstantin Dmitrievitch,
d’ye see, as I would for my own father. 
I don’t like bad work myself, nor would I let
another man do it.  What’s good for the
master’s good for us too.  To look out
yonder now,” said Vassily, pointing, “it
does one’s heart good.”

“It’s a lovely spring, Vassily.”

“Why, it’s a spring such
as the old men don’t remember the like of. 
I was up home; an old man up there has sown wheat
too, about an acre of it.  He was saying you
wouldn’t know it from rye.”

“Have you been sowing wheat long?”

“Why, sir, it was you taught
us the year before last.  You gave me two measures. 
We sold about eight bushels and sowed a rood.”

“Well, mind you crumble up the
clods,” said Levin, going towards his horse,
“and keep an eye on Mishka.  And if there’s
a good crop you shall have half a rouble for every
acre.”

“Humbly thankful.  We are
very well content, sir, as it is.”

Levin got on his horse and rode towards
the field where was last year’s clover, and
the one which was ploughed ready for the spring corn.

The crop of clover coming up in the
stubble was magnificent.  It had survived everything,
and stood up vividly green through the broken stalks
of last year’s wheat.  The horse sank in
up to the pasterns, and he drew each hoof with a sucking
sound out of the half-thawed ground.  Over the
ploughland riding was utterly impossible; the horse
could only keep a foothold where there was ice, and
in the thawing furrows he sank deep in at each step. 
The ploughland was in splendid condition; in a couple
of days it would be fit for harrowing and sowing. 
Everything was capital, everything was cheering. 
Levin rode back across the streams, hoping the water
would have gone down.  And he did in fact get
across, and startled two ducks.  “There
must be snipe too,” he thought, and just as
he reached the turning homewards he met the forest
keeper, who confirmed his theory about the snipe.

Levin went home at a trot, so as to
have time to eat his dinner and get his gun ready
for the evening.

 

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