FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 5

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

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After lunch Levin was not in the same
place in the string of mowers as before, but stood
between the old man who had accosted him jocosely,
and now invited him to be his neighbor, and a young
peasant, who had only been married in the autumn, and
who was mowing this summer for the first time.

The old man, holding himself erect,
moved in front, with his feet turned out, taking long,
regular strides, and with a precise and regular action
which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging
one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play,
he laid down the high, even row of grass.  It
was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe
of itself swishing through the juicy grass.

Behind Levin came the lad Mishka. 
His pretty, boyish face, with a twist of fresh grass
bound round his hair, was all working with effort;
but whenever anyone looked at him he smiled. 
He would clearly have died sooner than own it was
hard work for him.

Levin kept between them.  In
the very heat of the day the mowing did not seem such
hard work to him.  The perspiration with which
he was drenched cooled him, while the sun, that burned
his back, his head, and his arms, bare to the elbow,
gave a vigor and dogged energy to his labor; and more
and more often now came those moments of unconsciousness,
when it was possible not to think what one was doing. 
The scythe cut of itself.  These were happy
moments.  Still more delightful were the moments
when they reached the stream where the rows ended,
and the old man rubbed his scythe with the wet, thick
grass, rinsed its blade in the fresh water of the
stream, ladled out a little in a tin dipper, and offered
Levin a drink.

“What do you say to my home-brew,
eh?  Good, eh?” said he, winking.

And truly Levin had never drunk any
liquor so good as this warm water with green bits
floating in it, and a taste of rust from the tin dipper. 
And immediately after this came the delicious, slow
saunter, with his hand on the scythe, during which
he could wipe away the streaming sweat, take deep
breaths of air, and look about at the long string
of mowers and at what was happening around in the
forest and the country.

The longer Levin mowed, the oftener
he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it
seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the
scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness
of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking
of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished
of itself.  These were the most blissful moments.

It was only hard work when he had
to break off the motion, which had become unconscious,
and to think; when he had to mow round a hillock or
a tuft of sorrel.  The old man did this easily. 
When a hillock came he changed his action, and at
one time with the heel, and at another with the tip
of his scythe, clipped the hillock round both sides
with short strokes.  And while he did this he
kept looking about and watching what came into his
view:  at one moment he picked a wild berry and
ate it or offered it to Levin, then he flung away
a twig with the blade of the scythe, then he looked
at a quail’s nest, from which the bird flew just
under the scythe, or caught a snake that crossed his
path, and lifting it on the scythe as though on a
fork showed it to Levin and threw it away.

For both Levin and the young peasant
behind him, such changes of position were difficult. 
Both of them, repeating over and over again the same
strained movement, were in a perfect frenzy of toil,
and were incapable of shifting their position and at
the same time watching what was before them.

Levin did not notice how time was
passing.  If he had been asked how long he had
been working he would have said half an hour ­
and it was getting on for dinner time.  As they
were walking back over the cut grass, the old man
called Levin’s attention to the little girls
and boys who were coming from different directions,
hardly visible through the long grass, and along the
road towards the mowers, carrying sacks of bread dragging
at their little hands and pitchers of the sour rye-beer,
with cloths wrapped round them.

“Look’ee, the little emmets
crawling!” he said, pointing to them, and he
shaded his eyes with his hand to look at the sun. 
They mowed two more rows; the old man stopped.

“Come, master, dinner time!”
he said briskly.  And on reaching the stream
the mowers moved off across the lines of cut grass
towards their pile of coats, where the children who
had brought their dinners were sitting waiting for
them.  The peasants gathered into groups ­those
further away under a cart, those nearer under a willow
bush.

Levin sat down by them; he felt disinclined
to go away.

All constraint with the master had
disappeared long ago.  The peasants got ready
for dinner.  Some washed, the young lads bathed
in the stream, others made a place comfortable for
a rest, untied their sacks of bread, and uncovered
the pitchers of rye-beer.  The old man crumbled
up some bread in a cup, stirred it with the handle
of a spoon, poured water on it from the dipper, broke
up some more bread, and having seasoned it with salt,
he turned to the east to say his prayer.

“Come, master, taste my sop,”
said he, kneeling down before the cup.

The sop was so good that Levin gave
up the idea of going home.  He dined with the
old man, and talked to him about his family affairs,
taking the keenest interest in them, and told him about
his own affairs and all the circumstances that could
be of interest to the old man.  He felt much
nearer to him than to his brother, and could not help
smiling at the affection he felt for this man. 
When the old man got up again, said his prayer, and
lay down under a bush, putting some grass under his
head for a pillow, Levin did the same, and in spite
of the clinging flies that were so persistent in the
sunshine, and the midges that tickled his hot face
and body, he fell asleep at once and only waked when
the sun had passed to the other side of the bush and
reached him.  The old man had been awake a long
while, and was sitting up whetting the scythes of
the younger lads.

Levin looked about him and hardly
recognized the place, everything was so changed. 
The immense stretch of meadow had been mown and was
sparkling with a peculiar fresh brilliance, with its
lines of already sweet-smelling grass in the slanting
rays of the evening sun.  And the bushes about
the river had been cut down, and the river itself,
not visible before, now gleaming like steel in its
bends, and the moving, ascending, peasants, and the
sharp wall of grass of the unmown part of the meadow,
and the hawks hovering over the stripped meadow ­all
was perfectly new.  Raising himself, Levin began
considering how much had been cut and how much more
could still be done that day.

The work done was exceptionally much
for forty-two men.  They had cut the whole of
the big meadow, which had, in the years of serf labor,
taken thirty scythes two days to mow.  Only the
corners remained to do, where the rows were short. 
But Levin felt a longing to get as much mowing done
that day as possible, and was vexed with the sun sinking
so quickly in the sky.  He felt no weariness;
all he wanted was to get his work done more and more
quickly and as much done as possible.

“Could you cut Mashkin Upland
too? ­what do you think?” he said
to the old man.

“As God wills, the sun’s
not high.  A little vodka for the lads?”

At the afternoon rest, when they were
sitting down again, and those who smoked had lighted
their pipes, the old man told the men that “Mashkin
Upland’s to be cut ­there’ll
be some vodka.”

“Why not cut it?  Come
on, Tit!  We’ll look sharp!  We can
eat at night.  Come on!” cried voices,
and eating up their bread, the mowers went back to
work.

“Come, lads, keep it up!”
said Tit, and ran on ahead almost at a trot.

“Get along, get along!”
said the old man, hurrying after him and easily overtaking
him, “I’ll mow you down, look out!”

And young and old mowed away, as though
they were racing with one another.  But however
fast they worked, they did not spoil the grass, and
the rows were laid just as neatly and exactly. 
The little piece left uncut in the corner was mown
in five minutes.  The last of the mowers were
just ending their rows while the foremost snatched
up their coats onto their shoulders, and crossed the
road towards Mashkin Upland.

The sun was already sinking into the
trees when they went with their jingling dippers into
the wooded ravine of Mashkin Upland.  The grass
was up to their waists in the middle of the hollow,
soft, tender, and feathery, spotted here and there
among the trees with wild heart’s-ease.

After a brief consultation ­whether
to take the rows lengthwise or diagonally ­Prohor
Yermilin, also a renowned mower, a huge, black-haired
peasant, went on ahead.  He went up to the top,
turned back again and started mowing, and they all
proceeded to form in line behind him, going downhill
through the hollow and uphill right up to the edge
of the forest.  The sun sank behind the forest. 
The dew was falling by now; the mowers were in the
sun only on the hillside, but below, where a mist was
rising, and on the opposite side, they mowed into
the fresh, dewy shade.  The work went rapidly. 
The grass cut with a juicy sound, and was at once
laid in high, fragrant rows.  The mowers from
all sides, brought closer together in the short row,
kept urging one another on to the sound of jingling
dippers and clanging scythes, and the hiss of the
whetstones sharpening them, and good-humored shouts.

Levin still kept between the young
peasant and the old man.  The old man, who had
put on his short sheepskin jacket, was just as good-humored,
jocose, and free in his movements.  Among the
trees they were continually cutting with their scythes
the so-called “birch mushrooms,” swollen
fat in the succulent grass.  But the old man
bent down every time he came across a mushroom, picked
it up and put it in his bosom.  “Another
present for my old woman,” he said as he did
so.

Easy as it was to mow the wet, soft
grass, it was hard work going up and down the steep
sides of the ravine.  But this did not trouble
the old man.  Swinging his scythe just as ever,
and moving his feet in their big, plaited shoes with
firm, little steps, he climbed slowly up the steep
place, and though his breeches hanging out below his
smock, and his whole frame trembled with effort, he
did not miss one blade of grass or one mushroom on
his way, and kept making jokes with the peasants and
Levin.  Levin walked after him and often thought
he must fall, as he climbed with a scythe up a steep
cliff where it would have been hard work to clamber
without anything.  But he climbed up and did
what he had to do.  He felt as though some external
force were moving him.

 

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