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 VI > > >

Chapter V

“There’s one other thing I wished to speak to you about,” said Nekhliudof. “Why don’t you haul out your manure?”

“What manure, sir,[14] your excellency? There isn’t any to haul out. What cattle have I got? One mare and colt; and last autumn I sold my heifer to the porter,—that’s all the cattle I’ve got.”

“I know you haven’t much, but why did you sell your heifer?” asked the bárin in amazement.

“What have I got to feed her on?”

“Didn’t you have some straw for feeding the cow? The others did.”

“The others have their fields manured, but my land’s all clay. I can’t do any thing with it.”

“Why don’t you dress it, then, so it won’t be clay? Then the land would give you grain, and you’d have something to feed to your stock.”

“But I haven’t any stock, so how am I going to get dressing?”

“That’s an odd cercle vicieux,” said Nekhliudof to himself; and he actually was at his wits’ ends to find an answer for the peasant.

“And I tell you this, your excellency, it ain’t the manure that makes the corn grow, but God,” continued the peasant. “Now, one summer I had six sheaves on one little unmanured piece of land, and [25]only a twelfth as much on that which was manured well. No one like God,” he added with a sigh. “Yes, and my stock are always dying off. Five years past I haven’t had any luck with ’em. Last summer one heifer died; had to sell another, hadn’t any thing to feed her on; and last year my best cow perished. They were driving her home from pasture; nothing the matter, but suddenly she staggered and staggered. And so now it’s all empty here. Just my bad luck!”

“Well, brother, since you say that you have no cattle to help you make fodder, and no fodder for your cattle, here’s something towards a cow,” said Nekhliudof, reddening, and fetching forth from his pocket a packet of crumpled bank-notes and untying it. “Buy you a cow at my expense, and get some fodder from the granary: I will give orders. See to it that you have a cow by next Sunday. I shall come to see.”

Churis hesitated long; and when he did not offer to take the money, Nekhliudof laid it down on the end of the table, and a still deeper flush spread over his face.

“Many thanks for your kindness,” said Churis, with his ordinary smile, which was somewhat sarcastic.

The old woman sighed heavily several times as she stood under the loft, and seemed to be repeating a prayer.

The situation was embarrassing for the young prince: he hastily got up from the bench, went out into the entry, and called to Churis to follow him. The sight of the man whom he had been befriending was so pleasant that he found it hard to tear himself away.

“I am glad to help you,” said he, halting by the well. “It’s in my power to help you, because I know[26] that you are not lazy. You will work, and I will assist you; and, with God’s aid, you will come out all right.”

“There’s no hope of coming out all right, your excellency,” said Churis, suddenly assuming a serious and even stern expression of countenance, as though the young man’s assurance that he would come out all right had awakened all his opposition. “In my father’s time my brothers and I did not see any lack; but when he died, we broke all up. It kept going from bad to worse. Perfect wretchedness!”

“Why did you break up?”

“All on account of the women, your excellency. It was just after your grandfather died; when he was alive, we should not have ventured to do it: then the present order of things came in. He was just like you, he took an interest in every thing; and we should not have dared to separate. The late master did not like to look after the peasants; but after your grandfather’s time, Andréï Ilyitch took charge. God forgive him! he was a drunken, careless man. We came to him once and again with complaints,—no living on account of the women,—begged him to let us separate. Well, he put it off, and put it off; but at last things came to such a pass, the women kept each to their own part; we began to live apart; and, of course, what could a single peasant do? Well, there wasn’t no law or order. Andréï Ilyitch managed simply to suit himself. ‘Take all you can get.’ And whatever he could extort from a peasant, he took without asking. Then the poll-tax was raised, and they began to exact more provisions, and we had less and less land, and the grain stopped growing. Well, when the new allotment was made, then he took away from us our manured land, and added it to the master’s, the villain, and ruined us[27] entirely. He ought to have been hung. Your father[15]—the kingdom of heaven be his!—was a good bárin, but it was rarely enough that we ever had sight of him: he always lived in Moscow. Well, of course they used to drive the carts in pretty often. Sometimes it would be the season of bad roads,[16] and no fodder; but no matter! The bárin couldn’t get along without it. We did not dare to complain at this, but there wasn’t system. But now your grace lets any of us peasants see your face, and so a change has come over us; and the overseer is a different kind of man. Now we know for sure that we have a bárin. And it is impossible to say how grateful your peasants are for your kindness. But before you came, there wasn’t any real bárin: every one was bárin. Ilyitch was bárin, and his wife put on the airs of a lady,[17] and the scribe from the police-station was bárin. Too many of em! ukh! the peasants had to put up with many trials.”

Again Nekhliudof experienced a feeling akin to shame or remorse. He put on his hat, and went on his way.


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Chapter VI > > >

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

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