FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 4

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The personal matter that absorbed
Levin during his conversation with his brother was
this.  Once in a previous year he had gone to
look at the mowing, and being made very angry by the
bailiff he had recourse to his favorite means for
regaining his temper, ­ he took a scythe
from a peasant and began mowing.

He liked the work so much that he
had several times tried his hand at mowing since. 
He had cut the whole of the meadow in front of his
house, and this year ever since the early spring he
had cherished a plan for mowing for whole days together
with the peasants.  Ever since his brother’s
arrival, he had been in doubt whether to mow or not. 
He was loath to leave his brother alone all day long,
and he was afraid his brother would laugh at him about
it.  But as he drove into the meadow, and recalled
the sensations of mowing, he came near deciding that
he would go mowing.  After the irritating discussion
with his brother, he pondered over this intention
again.

“I must have physical exercise,
or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,”
he thought, and he determined he would go mowing,
however awkward he might feel about it with his brother
or the peasants.

Towards evening Konstantin Levin went
to his counting house, gave directions as to the work
to be done, and sent about the village to summon the
mowers for the morrow, to cut the hay in Kalinov meadow,
the largest and best of his grass lands.

“And send my scythe, please,
to Tit, for him to set it, and bring it round tomorrow. 
I shall maybe do some mowing myself too,” he
said, trying not to be embarrassed.

The bailiff smiled and said:  “Yes, sir.”

At tea the same evening Levin said to his brother: 

“I fancy the fine weather will
last.  Tomorrow I shall start mowing.”

“I’m so fond of that form
of field labor,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.

“I’m awfully fond of it. 
I sometimes mow myself with the peasants, and tomorrow
I want to try mowing the whole day.”

Sergey Ivanovitch lifted his head,
and looked with interest at his brother.

“How do you mean?  Just
like one of the peasants, all day long?”

“Yes, it’s very pleasant,” said
Levin.

“It’s splendid as exercise,
only you’ll hardly be able to stand it,”
said Sergey Ivanovitch, without a shade of irony.

“I’ve tried it. 
It’s hard work at first, but you get into it. 
I dare say I shall manage to keep it up…”

“Really! what an idea! 
But tell me, how do the peasants look at it? 
I suppose they laugh in their sleeves at their master’s
being such a queer fish?”

“No, I don’t think so;
but it’s so delightful, and at the same time
such hard work, that one has no time to think about
it.”

“But how will you do about dining
with them?  To send you a bottle of Lafitte and
roast turkey out there would be a little awkward.”

“No, I’ll simply come
home at the time of their noonday rest.”

Next morning Konstantin Levin got
up earlier than usual, but he was detained giving
directions on the farm, and when he reached the mowing
grass the mowers were already at their second row.

From the uplands he could get a view
of the shaded cut part of the meadow below, with its
grayish ridges of cut grass, and the black heaps of
coats, taken off by the mowers at the place from which
they had started cutting.

Gradually, as he rode towards the
meadow, the peasants came into sight, some in coats,
some in their shirts mowing, one behind another in
a long string, swinging their scythes differently. 
He counted forty-two of them.

They were mowing slowly over the uneven,
low-lying parts of the meadow, where there had been
an old dam.  Levin recognized some of his own
men.  Here was old Yermil in a very long white
smock, bending forward to swing a scythe; there was
a young fellow, Vaska, who had been a coachman of
Levin’s, taking every row with a wide sweep. 
Here, too, was Tit, Levin’s preceptor in the
art of mowing, a thin little peasant.  He was
in front of all, and cut his wide row without bending,
as though playing with the scythe.

Levin got off his mare, and fastening
her up by the roadside went to meet Tit, who took
a second scythe out of a bush and gave it to him.

“It’s ready, sir; it’s
like a razor, cuts of itself,” said Tit, taking
off his cap with a smile and giving him the scythe.

Levin took the scythe, and began trying
it.  As they finished their rows, the mowers,
hot and good-humored, came out into the road one after
another, and, laughing a little, greeted the master. 
They all stared at him, but no one made any remark,
till a tall old man, with a wrinkled, beardless face,
wearing a short sheepskin jacket, came out into the
road and accosted him.

“Look’ee now, master,
once take hold of the rope there’s no letting
it go!” he said, and Levin heard smothered laughter
among the mowers.

“I’ll try not to let it
go,” he said, taking his stand behind Tit, and
waiting for the time to begin.

“Mind’ee,” repeated the old man.

Tit made room, and Levin started behind
him.  The grass was short close to the road,
and Levin, who had not done any mowing for a long
while, and was disconcerted by the eyes fastened upon
him, cut badly for the first moments, though he swung
his scythe vigorously.  Behind him he heard voices: 

“It’s not set right; handle’s
too high; see how he has to stoop to it,” said
one.

“Press more on the heel,” said another.

“Never mind, he’ll get on all right,”
the old man resumed.

“He’s made a start…. 
You swing it too wide, you’ll tire yourself
out….  The master, sure, does his best for himself! 
But see the grass missed out!  For such work us
fellows would catch it!”

The grass became softer, and Levin,
listening without answering, followed Tit, trying
to do the best he could.  They moved a hundred
paces.  Tit kept moving on, without stopping,
not showing the slightest weariness, but Levin was
already beginning to be afraid he would not be able
to keep it up:  he was so tired.

He felt as he swung his scythe that
he was at the very end of his strength, and was making
up his mind to ask Tit to stop.  But at that
very moment Tit stopped of his own accord, and stooping
down picked up some grass, rubbed his scythe, and
began whetting it.  Levin straightened himself,
and drawing a deep breath looked round.  Behind
him came a peasant, and he too was evidently tired,
for he stopped at once without waiting to mow up to
Levin, and began whetting his scythe.  Tit sharpened
his scythe and Levin’s, and they went on. 
The next time it was just the same.  Tit moved
on with sweep after sweep of his scythe, not stopping
nor showing signs of weariness.  Levin followed
him, trying not to get left behind, and he found it
harder and harder:  the moment came when he felt
he had no strength left, but at that very moment Tit
stopped and whetted the scythes.

So they mowed the first row. 
And this long row seemed particularly hard work to
Levin; but when the end was reached and Tit, shouldering
his scythe, began with deliberate stride returning
on the tracks left by his heels in the cut grass, and
Levin walked back in the same way over the space he
had cut, in spite of the sweat that ran in streams
over his face and fell in drops down his nose, and
drenched his back as though he had been soaked in
water, he felt very happy.  What delighted him
particularly was that now he knew he would be able
to hold out.

His pleasure was only disturbed by
his row not being well cut.  “I will swing
less with my arm and more with my whole body,”
he thought, comparing Tit’s row, which looked
as if it had been cut with a line, with his own unevenly
and irregularly lying grass.

The first row, as Levin noticed, Tit
had mowed specially quickly, probably wishing to put
his master to the test, and the row happened to be
a long one.  The next rows were easier, but still
Levin had to strain every nerve not to drop behind
the peasants.

He thought of nothing, wished for
nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and
to do his work as well as possible.  He heard
nothing but the swish of scythes, and saw before him
Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent-shaped
curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads
slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of
his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where
would come the rest.

Suddenly, in the midst of his toil,
without understanding what it was or whence it came,
he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his hot,
moist shoulders.  He glanced at the sky in the
interval for whetting the scythes.  A heavy,
lowering storm cloud had blown up, and big raindrops
were falling.  Some of the peasants went to their
coats and put them on; others ­just like
Levin himself ­merely shrugged their shoulders,
enjoying the pleasant coolness of it.

Another row, and yet another row,
followed ­long rows and short rows, with
good grass and with poor grass.  Levin lost all
sense of time, and could not have told whether it
was late or early now.  A change began to come
over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. 
In the midst of his toil there were moments during
which he forgot what he was doing, and it came all
easy to him, and at those same moments his row was
almost as smooth and well cut as Tit’s. 
But so soon as he recollected what he was doing,
and began trying to do better, he was at once conscious
of all the difficulty of his task, and the row was
badly mown.

On finishing yet another row he would
have gone back to the top of the meadow again to begin
the next, but Tit stopped, and going up to the old
man said something in a low voice to him.  They
both looked at the sun.  “What are they
talking about, and why doesn’t he go back?”
thought Levin, not guessing that the peasants had
been mowing no less than four hours without stopping,
and it was time for their lunch.

“Lunch, sir,” said the old man.

“Is it really time?  That’s right;
lunch, then.”

Levin gave his scythe to Tit, and
together with the peasants, who were crossing the
long stretch of mown grass, slightly sprinkled with
rain, to get their bread from the heap of coats, he
went towards his house.  Only then he suddenly
awoke to the fact that he had been wrong about the
weather and the rain was drenching his hay.

“The hay will be spoiled,” he said.

“Not a bit of it, sir; mow in
the rain, and you’ll rake in fine weather!”
said the old man.

Levin untied his horse and rode home
to his coffee.  Sergey Ivanovitch was only just
getting up.  When he had drunk his coffee, Levin
rode back again to the mowing before Sergey Ivanovitch
had had time to dress and come down to the dining
room.

 

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