FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 11

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

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In the middle of July the elder of
the village on Levin’s sister’s estate,
about fifteen miles from Pokrovskoe, came to Levin
to report on how things were going there and on the
hay.  The chief source of income on his sister’s
estate was from the riverside meadows.  In former
years the hay had been bought by the peasants for
twenty roubles the three acres.  When Levin took
over the management of the estate, he thought on examining
the grasslands that they were worth more, and he fixed
the price at twenty-five roubles the three acres. 
The peasants would not give that price, and, as Levin
suspected, kept off other purchasers.  Then Levin
had driven over himself, and arranged to have the
grass cut, partly by hired labor, partly at a payment
of a certain proportion of the crop.  His own
peasants put every hindrance they could in the way
of this new arrangement, but it was carried out, and
the first year the meadows had yielded a profit almost
double.  The previous year ­which was
the third year ­the peasants had maintained
the same opposition to the arrangement, and the hay
had been cut on the same system.  This year the
peasants were doing all the mowing for a third of the
hay crop, and the village elder had come now to announce
that the hay had been cut, and that, fearing rain,
they had invited the counting-house clerk over, had
divided the crop in his presence, and had raked together
eleven stacks as the owner’s share.  From
the vague answers to his question how much hay had
been cut on the principal meadow, from the hurry of
the village elder who had made the division, not asking
leave, from the whole tone of the peasant, Levin perceived
that there was something wrong in the division of
the hay, and made up his mind to drive over himself
to look into the matter.

Arriving for dinner at the village,
and leaving his horse at the cottage of an old friend
of his, the husband of his brother’s wet-nurse,
Levin went to see the old man in his bee-house, wanting
to find out from him the truth about the hay. 
Parmenitch, a talkative, comely old man, gave Levin
a very warm welcome, showed him all he was doing,
told him everything about his bees and the swarms
of that year; but gave vague and unwilling answers
to Levin’s inquiries about the mowing. 
This confirmed Levin still more in his suspicions. 
He went to the hay fields and examined the stacks. 
The haystacks could not possibly contain fifty wagon-loads
each, and to convict the peasants Levin ordered the
wagons that had carried the hay to be brought up directly,
to lift one stack, and carry it into the barn. 
There turned out to be only thirty-two loads in the
stack.  In spite of the village elder’s
assertions about the compressibility of hay, and its
having settled down in the stacks, and his swearing
that everything had been done in the fear of God,
Levin stuck to his point that the hay had been divided
without his orders, and that, therefore, he would not
accept that hay as fifty loads to a stack.  After
a prolonged dispute the matter was decided by the
peasants taking these eleven stacks, reckoning them
as fifty loads each.  The arguments and the division
of the haycocks lasted the whole afternoon.  When
the last of the hay had been divided, Levin, intrusting
the superintendence of the rest to the counting-house
clerk, sat down on a haycock marked off by a stake
of willow, and looked admiringly at the meadow swarming
with peasants.

In front of him, in the bend of the
river beyond the marsh, moved a bright-colored line
of peasant women, and the scattered hay was being
rapidly formed into gray winding rows over the pale
green stubble.  After the women came the men
with pitchforks, and from the gray rows there were
growing up broad, high, soft haycocks.  To the
left, carts were rumbling over the meadow that had
been already cleared, and one after another the haycocks
vanished, flung up in huge forkfuls, and in their
place there were rising heavy cartloads of fragrant
hay hanging over the horses’ hind-quarters.

“What weather for haying! 
What hay it’ll be!” said an old man,
squatting down beside Levin.  “It’s
tea, not hay!  It’s like scattering grain
to the ducks, the way they pick it up!” he added,
pointing to the growing haycocks.  “Since
dinnertime they’ve carried a good half of it.”

“The last load, eh?” he
shouted to a young peasant, who drove by, standing
in the front of an empty cart, shaking the cord reins.

“The last, dad!” the lad
shouted back, pulling in the horse, and, smiling,
he looked round at a bright, rosy-checked peasant girl
who sat in the cart smiling too, and drove on.

“Who’s that?  Your son?” asked
Levin.

“My baby,” said the old man with a tender
smile.

“What a fine fellow!”

“The lad’s all right.”

“Married already?”

“Yes, it’s two years last St. Philip’s
day.”

“Any children?”

“Children indeed!  Why,
for over a year he was innocent as a babe himself,
and bashful too,” answered the old man. 
“Well, the hay!  It’s as fragrant
as tea!” he repeated, wishing to change the
subject.

Levin looked more attentively at Ivan
Parmenov and his wife.  They were loading a haycock
onto the cart not far from him.  Ivan Parmenov
was standing on the cart, taking, laying in place,
and stamping down the huge bundles of hay, which his
pretty young wife deftly handed up to him, at first
in armfuls, and then on the pitchfork.  The young
wife worked easily, merrily, and dexterously. 
The close-packed hay did not once break away off
her fork.  First she gathered it together, stuck
the fork into it, then with a rapid, supple movement
leaned the whole weight of her body on it, and at
once with a bend of her back under the red belt she
drew herself up, and arching her full bosom under the
white smock, with a smart turn swung the fork in her
arms, and flung the bundle of hay high onto the cart. 
Ivan, obviously doing his best to save her every
minute of unnecessary labor, made haste, opening his
arms to clutch the bundle and lay it in the cart. 
As she raked together what was left of the hay, the
young wife shook off the bits of hay that had fallen
on her neck, and straightening the red kerchief that
had dropped forward over her white brow, not browned
like her face by the sun, she crept under the cart
to tie up the load.  Ivan directed her how to
fasten the cord to the cross-piece, and at something
she said he laughed aloud.  In the expressions
of both faces was to be seen vigorous, young, freshly
awakened love.

 

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