A Russian Proprietor By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents
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Chapter XV

Nekhliudof, stooping low, passed through the low gate, under the gloomy shed, to the apiary, which was situated behind the yard.

A small space, surrounded by straw and a wattled hedge, through the chinks of which the light streamed, was filled with bee-hives symmetrically arranged, and covered with shavings, while the golden bees were humming around them. Every thing was bathed in the warm and brilliant rays of the July sun.

From the gate a well-trodden footway led through the middle to a wooden side-building, with a tin-foil image on it gleaming brightly in the sun.

A few orderly young lindens lifting, above the thatched roof of the neighboring court-yard, their bushy tops, almost audibly rustled their dark-green, fresh foliage, in unison with the sound of the buzzing bees. All the shadows from the covered hedge, from the lindens, and from the hives, fell dark and short on the delicate curling grass springing up between the planks.

The bent, small figure of the old man, with his gray hair and bald spot shining in the sun, was visible near the door of a straw-thatched structure situated among the lindens. When he heard the creaking of the gate, the old man looked up, and wiping his heated, sweaty face with the flap of his shirt, and smiling with pleasure, came to meet the prince.[65]

In the apiary it was so comfortable, so pleasant, so warm, so free! The figure of the gray-haired old man, with thick wrinkles radiating from his eyes, and wearing wide shoes on his bare feet, as he came waddling along, good-naturedly and contentedly smiling, to welcome the prince to his own private possessions, was so ingenuously soothing that Nekhliudof for a moment forgot the trying impressions of the morning, and his cherished dream came vividly up before him. He already saw all his peasants just as prosperous and contented as the old man Dutlof, and all smiling soothingly and pleasantly upon him, because to him alone they were indebted for their prosperity and happiness.

“Would you like a net, your excellency? The bees are angry now,” said the old man, taking down from the fence a dirty gingham bag fragrant of honey, and handing it to the prince. “The bees know me, and don’t sting,” he added, with the pleasant smile that rarely left his handsome sunburned face.

“I don’t need it either. Well, are they swarming yet?” asked Nekhliudof, also smiling, though without knowing why.

“Yes, they are swarming, father, Mitri Mikolayévitch,”[45] replied the old man, throwing an expression of peculiar endearment into this form of addressing his bárin by his name and patronymic. “They have only just begun to swarm; it has been a cold spring, you know.”

“I have just been reading in a book,” began Nekhliudof, defending himself from a bee which had got entangled in his hair, and was buzzing under his ear, “that if the wax stands straight on the bars, then the [66]bees swarm earlier. Therefore such hives as are made of boards … with cross-b—”

“You don’t want to gesticulate; that makes it worse,” said the little old man. “Now don’t you think you had better put on the net?”

Nekhliudof felt a sharp pain, but by some sort of childish egotism he did not wish to give in to it; and so, once more refusing the bag, continued to talk with the old man about the construction of hives, about which he had read in “Maison Rustique,” and which, according to his idea, ought to be made twice as large. But another bee stung him in the neck, and he lost the thread of his discourse and stopped short in the midst of it.

“That’s well enough, father, Mitri Mikolayévitch,” said the old man, looking at the prince with paternal protection; “that’s well enough in books, as you say. Yes; maybe the advice is given with some deceit, with some hidden meaning; but only just let him do as he advises, and we shall be the first to have a good laugh at his expense. And this happens! How are you going to teach the bees where to deposit their wax? They themselves put it on the cross-bar, sometimes straight and sometimes aslant. Just look here!” he continued, opening one of the nearest hives, and gazing at the entrance-hole blocked by a bee buzzing and crawling on the crooked comb. “Here’s a young one. It sees; at its head sits the queen, but it lays the wax straight and sideways, both according to the position of the block,” said the old man, evidently carried away by his interest in his occupation, and not heeding the prince’s situation. “Now, to-day, it will fly with the pollen. To-day is warm; it’s on the watch,” he continued, again covering up the hive and pinning down[67] with a cloth the crawling bee; and then brushing off into his rough palm a few of the insects from his wrinkled neck.

The bees did not sting him; but as for Nekhliudof, he could scarcely refrain from the desire to beat a retreat from the apiary. The bees had already stung him in three places, and were buzzing angrily on all sides around his head and neck.

“You have many hives?” he asked as he retreated toward the gate.

“What God has given,” replied Dutlof sarcastically. “It is not necessary to count them, father; the bees don’t like it. Now, your excellency, I wanted to ask a favor of you,” he went on to say, pointing to the small posts standing by the fence. “It was about Osip, the nurse’s husband. If you would only speak to him. In our village it’s so hard to act in a neighborly way; it’s not good.”

“How so?… Ah, how they sting!” exclaimed the prince, already seizing the latch of the gate.

“Every year now, he lets his bees out among my young ones. We could stand it, but strange bees get away their comb and kill them,” said the old man, not heeding the prince’s grimaces.

“Very well, by and by; right away,” said Nekhliudof. And having no longer strength of will to endure, he hastily beat a retreat through the gate, fighting his tormentors with both hands.

“Rub it with dirt. It’s nothing,” said the old man, coming to the door after the prince. The prince took some earth, and rubbed the spot where he had been stung, and reddened as he cast a quick glance at Karp and Ignát, who did not deign to look at him. Then he frowned angrily.[68]

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Chapter XVI > > >

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents

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