A Russian Proprietor By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents
< < < Chapter VII
Chapter IX > > >

Chapter VIII

“Come, show me your horses. Are they in the yard?”[23]

“Indeed they are, ‘slency. I have done as I was told, ‘slency. Could we fail to heed you, ‘slency? Yakof Ilyitch told me not to send the horses out to pasture. ‘The prince,’ says he, ‘is coming to look at them,’ and so we didn’t send them. For, of course, we shouldn’t dare to disobey you, ‘slency.”

While Nekhliudof was on his way to the door, Yukhvanka snatched down his pipe from the loft, and flung it into the stove. His lips were still drawn in with the same expression of constraint as when the prince was looking at him.

A wretched little gray mare, with thin tail, all stuck up with burrs, was sniffing at the filthy straw under the pent roof. A long-legged colt two months old, of some nondescript color, with bluish hoofs and nose, followed close behind her.

In the middle of the yard stood a pot-bellied brown gelding with closed eyes and thoughtfully pendent head. It was apparently an excellent little horse for a peasant.

“So these are all your horses?”

“No, indeed, ‘slency. Here’s still another mare, and here’s the little colt,” replied Yukhvanka, pointing to the horses, which the prince could not help seeing.


“I see. Which one do you propose to sell?”

“This here one, ‘slency,” he replied, waving his jacket in the direction of the somnolent gelding, and constantly winking and sucking in his lips.

The gelding opened his eyes, and lazily switched his tail.

“He does not seem to be old, and he’s fairly plump,” said Nekhliudof. “Bring him up, and show me his teeth. I can tell if he’s old.”

“You can’t tell by one indication, ‘slency. The beast isn’t worth a farthing. He’s peculiar. You have to judge both by tooth and limb, ‘slency,” replied Yukhvanka, smiling very gayly, and letting his eyes rove in all directions.

“What nonsense! Bring him here, I tell you.”

Yukhvanka stood still smiling, and made a deprecatory gesture; and it was only when Nekhliudof cried angrily, “Well, what are you up to?” that he moved toward the shed, seized the halter, and began to pull at the horse, scaring him, and getting farther and farther away as the horse resisted.

The young prince was evidently vexed to see this, and perhaps, also, he wished to show his own shrewdness.

“Give me the halter,” he cried.

“Excuse me. It’s impossible for you, ‘slency,—don’t”….

But Nekhliudof went straight up to the horse’s head, and, suddenly seizing him by the ears, threw him to the ground with such force, that the gelding, who, as it seems, was a very peaceful peasant steed, began to kick and strangle in his endeavors to get away.

When Nekhliudof perceived that it was perfectly useless to exert his strength so, and looked at Yukhvanka,[35] who was still smiling, the thought most maddening at his time of life occurred to him,—that Yukhvanka was laughing at him, and regarding him as a mere child.

He reddened, let go of the horse’s ears, and, without making use of the halter, opened the creature’s mouth, and looked at his teeth: they were sound, the crowns full, so far as the young man had time to make his observations. No doubt the horse was in his prime.

Meantime Yukhvanka came to the shed, and, seeing that the harrow was lying out of its place, seized it, and stood it up against the wattled hedge.

“Come here,” shouted the prince, with an expression of childish annoyance in his face, and almost with tears of vexation and wrath in his voice. “What! call this horse old?”

“Excuse me, ‘slency, very old, twenty years old at least. A horse that”….

“Silence! You are a liar and a good-for-nothing. No decent peasant will lie, there’s no need for him to,” said Nekhliudof, choking with the angry tears that filled his throat.

He stopped speaking, lest he should be detected in weeping before the peasant. Yukhvanka also said nothing, and had the appearance of a man who was almost on the verge of tears, blew his nose, and slowly shook his head.

“Well, how are you going to plough when you have disposed of this horse?” continued Nekhliudof, calming himself with an effort, so as to speak in his ordinary voice. “You are sent out into the field on purpose to drive the horses for ploughing, and you wish to dispose of your last horse? And I should like to know why you need to lie about it.”[36]

In proportion as the prince calmed down, Yukhvanka also calmed down. He straightened himself up, and, while he sucked in his lips constantly, he let his eyes rove about from one object to another.

“Lie to you, ‘slency? We are no worse off than others in going to work.”

“But what will you go on?”

“Don’t worry. We will do your work, ‘slency,” he replied, starting up the gelding, and driving him away. “Even if we didn’t need money, I should want to get rid of him.”

“Why do you need money?”

“Haven’t no grain, ‘slency; and besides, we peasants have to pay our debts, ‘slency.”

“How is it you have no grain? Others who have families have corn enough; but you have no family, and you are in want. Where is it all gone?”

“Ate it up, ‘slency, and now we haven’t a bit. I will buy a horse in the autumn, ‘slency.”

“Don’t for a moment think of selling your horse.”

“But if we don’t then what’ll become of us, ‘slency? No grain, and forbidden to sell any thing,” he replied, turning his head to one side, sucking in his lips, and suddenly glancing boldly into the prince’s face. “Of course we shall die of starvation.”

“Look here, brother,” cried Nekhliudof, paling, and experiencing a feeling of righteous indignation against the peasant. “I can’t endure such peasants as you are. It will go hard with you.”

“Just as you will, ‘slency,” he replied, shutting his eyes with an expression of feigned submission: “I should not think of disobeying you. But it comes not from any fault of mine. Of course, I may not please[37] you, ‘slency; at all events, I can do as you wish; only I don’t see why I deserve to be punished.”

“This is why: because your yard is exposed, your manure is not ploughed in, your hedges are broken down, and yet you sit at home smoking your pipe, and don’t work; because you don’t give a crust of bread to your mother, who gave you your whole place,[24] and you let your wife beat her, and she has to come to me with her complaints.”

“Excuse me, ‘slency, I don’t know what you mean by smoking your pipe,” replied Yukhvanka in a constrained tone, showing beyond peradventure that the complaint about his smoking touched him to the quick. “It is possible to say any thing about a man.”

“Now you’re lying again! I myself saw”….

“How could I venture to lie to you, ‘slency?”

Nekhliudof made no answer, but bit his lip, and began to walk back and forth in the yard. Yukhvanka, standing in one place, and not lifting his eyes, followed the prince’s legs.

“See here, Yepifán,” said Nekhliudof in a childishly gentle voice, coming to a pause before the peasant, and endeavoring to hide his vexation, “it is impossible to live so, and you are working your own destruction. Just think. If you want to be a good peasant, then turn over a new leaf, cease your evil courses, stop lying, don’t get drunk any more, honor your mother. You see, I know all about you. Take hold of your work; don’t steal from the crown woods, for the sake of going to the tavern. Think how well off you might be. If you really need any thing, then come to me; tell me honestly, what you need and why you need it; and don’t tell lies, but tell the whole truth, and then [38]I won’t refuse you any thing that I can possibly grant.”

“Excuse me, ‘slency, I think I understand you, ‘slency,” replied Yukhvanka smiling as though he comprehended the entire significance of the prince’s words.

That smile and answer completely disenchanted Nekhliudof so far as he had any hope of reforming the man and of turning him into the path of virtue by means of moral suasion. It seemed to him hard that it should be wasted energy when he had the power to warn the peasant, and that all that he had said was exactly what he should not have said.

He shook his head gravely, and went into the house. The old woman was sitting on the threshold and groaning heavily, as it seemed to the young proprietor as a sign of approbation of his words which she had overheard.

“Here’s something for you to get bread with,” said Nekhliudof in her ear, pressing a bank-note into her hand. “But keep it for yourself, and don’t give it to Yepifán, else he’ll drink it up.”

The old woman with her distorted hand laid hold of the door-post, and tried to get up. She began to pour out her thanks to the prince; her head began to wag, but Nekhliudof was already on the other side of the street when she got to her feet.[39]

< < < Chapter VII
Chapter IX > > >

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

© 2022 Akirill.com

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book