FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 25

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

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In the Surovsky district there was
no railway nor service of post horses, and Levin drove
there with his own horses in his big, old-fashioned
carriage.

He stopped halfway at a well-to-do
peasant’s to feed his horses.  A bald, well-preserved
old man, with a broad, red beard, gray on his cheeks,
opened the gate, squeezing against the gatepost to
let the three horses pass.  Directing the coachman
to a place under the shed in the big, clean, tidy
yard, with charred, old-fashioned ploughs in it, the
old man asked Levin to come into the parlor. 
A cleanly dressed young woman, with clogs on her
bare feet, was scrubbing the floor in the new outer
room.  She was frightened of the dog, that ran
in after Levin, and uttered a shriek, but began laughing
at her own fright at once when she was told the dog
would not hurt her.  Pointing Levin with her bare
arm to the door into the parlor, she bent down again,
hiding her handsome face, and went on scrubbing.

“Would you like the samovar?” she asked.

“Yes, please.”

The parlor was a big room, with a
Dutch stove, and a screen dividing it into two. 
Under the holy pictures stood a table painted in
patterns, a bench, and two chairs.  Near the entrance
was a dresser full of crockery.  The shutters
were closed, there were few flies, and it was so clean
that Levin was anxious that Laska, who had been running
along the road and bathing in puddles, should not
muddy the floor, and ordered her to a place in the
corner by the door.  After looking round the parlor,
Levin went out in the back yard.  The good-looking
young woman in clogs, swinging the empty pails on
the yoke, ran on before him to the well for water.

“Look sharp, my girl!”
the old man shouted after her, good-humoredly, and
he went up to Levin.  “Well, sir, are you
going to Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky?  His honor
comes to us too,” he began, chatting, leaning
his elbows on the railing of the steps.  In the
middle of the old man’s account of his acquaintance
with Sviazhsky, the gates creaked again, and laborers
came into the yard from the fields, with wooden ploughs
and harrows.  The horses harnessed to the ploughs
and harrows were sleek and fat.  The laborers
were obviously of the household:  two were young
men in cotton shirts and caps, the two others were
hired laborers in homespun shirts, one an old man,
the other a young fellow.  Moving off from the
steps, the old man went up to the horses and began
unharnessing them.

“What have they been ploughing?” asked
Levin.

“Ploughing up the potatoes. 
We rent a bit of land too.  Fedot, don’t
let out the gelding, but take it to the trough, and
we’ll put the other in harness.”

“Oh, father, the ploughshares
I ordered, has he brought them along?” asked
the big, healthy-looking fellow, obviously the old
man’s son.

“There…in the outer room,”
answered the old man, bundling together the harness
he had taken off, and flinging it on the ground. 
“You can put them on, while they have dinner.”

The good-looking young woman came
into the outer room with the full pails dragging at
her shoulders.  More women came on the scene
from somewhere, young and handsome, middle-aged, old
and ugly, with children and without children.

The samovar was beginning to sing;
the laborers and the family, having disposed of the
horses, came in to dinner.  Levin, getting his
provisions out of his carriage, invited the old man
to take tea with him.

“Well, I have had some today
already,” said the old man, obviously accepting
the invitation with pleasure.  “But just
a glass for company.”

Over their tea Levin heard all about
the old man’s farming.  Ten years before,
the old man had rented three hundred acres from the
lady who owned them, and a year ago he had bought them
and rented another three hundred from a neighboring
landowner.  A small part of the land ­the
worst part ­he let out for rent, while a
hundred acres of arable land he cultivated himself
with his family and two hired laborers.  The
old man complained that things were doing badly. 
But Levin saw that he simply did so from a feeling
of propriety, and that his farm was in a flourishing
condition.  If it had been unsuccessful he would
not have bought land at thirty-five roubles the acre,
he would not have married his three sons and a nephew,
he would not have rebuilt twice after fires, and each
time on a larger scale.  In spite of the old
man’s complaints, it was evident that he was
proud, and justly proud, of his prosperity, proud of
his sons, his nephew, his sons’ wives, his horses
and his cows, and especially of the fact that he was
keeping all this farming going.  From his conversation
with the old man, Levin thought he was not averse
to new methods either.  He had planted a great
many potatoes, and his potatoes, as Levin had seen
driving past, were already past flowering and beginning
to die down, while Levin’s were only just coming
into flower.  He earthed up his potatoes with
a modern plough borrowed from a neighboring landowner. 
He sowed wheat.  The trifling fact that, thinning
out his rye, the old man used the rye he thinned out
for his horses, specially struck Levin.  How
many times had Levin seen this splendid fodder wasted,
and tried to get it saved; but always it had turned
out to be impossible.  The peasant got this done,
and he could not say enough in praise of it as food
for the beasts.

“What have the wenches to do? 
They carry it out in bundles to the roadside, and
the cart brings it away.”

“Well, we landowners can’t
manage well with our laborers,” said Levin,
handing him a glass of tea.

“Thank you,” said the
old man, and he took the glass, but refused sugar,
pointing to a lump he had left.  “They’re
simple destruction,” said he.  “Look
at Sviazhsky’s, for instance.  We know
what the land’s like ­first-rate, yet
there’s not much of a crop to boast of. 
It’s not looked after enough ­that’s
all it is!”

“But you work your land with hired laborers?”

“We’re all peasants together. 
We go into everything ourselves.  If a man’s
no use, he can go, and we can manage by ourselves.”

“Father, Finogen wants some
tar,” said the young woman in the clogs, coming
in.

“Yes, yes, that’s how
it is, sir!” said the old man, getting up, and
crossing himself deliberately, he thanked Levin and
went out.

When Levin went into the kitchen to
call his coachman he saw the whole family at dinner. 
The women were standing up waiting on them. 
The young, sturdy-looking son was telling something
funny with his mouth full of pudding, and they were
all laughing, the woman in the clogs, who was pouring
cabbage soup into a bowl, laughing most merrily of
all.

Very probably the good-looking face
of the young woman in the clogs had a good deal to
do with the impression of well-being this peasant
household made upon Levin, but the impression was so
strong that Levin could never get rid of it. 
And all the way from the old peasant’s to Sviazhsky’s
he kept recalling this peasant farm as though there
were something in this impression that demanded his
special attention.

 

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