Anna Karenina (Part Three – Chapter 1-5)
Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev wanted a rest from mental work, and instead of going abroad as he usually did, he came towards the end of May to stay in the country with his brother. In his judgment the best sort of life was a country life. He had come now to enjoy such a life at his brother’s. Konstantin Levin was very glad to have him, especially as he did not expect his brother Nikolay that summer. But in spite of his affection and respect for Sergey Ivanovitch, Konstantin Levin was uncomfortable with his brother in the country. It made him uncomfortable, and it positively annoyed him to see his brother’s attitude to the country. To Konstantin Levin the country was the background of life, that is of pleasures, endeavors, labor. To Sergey Ivanovitch the country meant on one hand rest from work, on the other a valuable antidote to the corrupt influences of town, which he took with satisfaction and a sense of its utility. To Konstantin Levin the country was good first because it afforded a field for labor, of the usefulness of which there could be no doubt. To Sergey Ivanovitch the country was particularly good, because there it was possible and fitting to do nothing. Moreover, Sergey Ivanovitch’s attitude to the peasants rather piqued Konstantin. Sergey Ivanovitch used to say that he knew and liked the peasantry, and he often talked to the peasants, which he knew how to do without affectation or condescension, and from every such conversation he would deduce general conclusions in favor of the peasantry and in confirmation of his knowing them. Konstantin Levin did not like such an attitude to the peasants. To Konstantin the peasant was simply the chief partner in their common labor, and in spite of all the respect and the love, almost like that of kinship, he had for the peasant– sucked in probably, as he said himself, with the milk of his peasant nurse–still as a fellow-worker with him, while sometimes enthusiastic over the vigor, gentleness, and justice of these men, he was very often, when their common labors called for other qualities, exasperated with the peasant for his carelessness, lack of method, drunkenness, and lying. If he had been asked whether he liked or didn’t like the peasants, Konstantin Levin would have been absolutely at a loss what to reply. He liked and did not like the peasants, just as he liked and did not like men in general. Of course, being a good-hearted man, he liked men rather than he disliked them, and so too with the peasants. But like or dislike “the people” as something apart he could not, not only because he lived with “the people,” and all his interests were bound up with theirs, but also because he regarded himself as a part of “the people,” did not see any special qualities or failings distinguishing himself and “the people,” and could not contrast himself with them. Moreover, although he had lived so long in the closest relations with the peasants, as farmer and arbitrator, and what was more, as adviser (the peasants trusted him, and for thirty miles round they would come to ask his advice), he had no definite views of “the people,” and would have been as much at a loss to answer the question whether he knew “the people” as the question whether he liked them. For him to say he knew the peasantry would have been the same as to say he knew men. He was continually watching and getting to know people of all sorts, and among them peasants, whom he regarded as good and interesting people, and he was continually observing new points in them, altering his former views of them and forming new ones. With Sergey Ivanovitch it was quite the contrary. Just as he liked and praised a country life in comparison with the life he did not like, so too he liked the peasantry in contradistinction to the class of men he did not like, and so too he knew the peasantry as something distinct from and opposed to men generally. In his methodical brain there were distinctly formulated certain aspects of peasant life, deduced partly from that life itself, but chiefly from contrast with other modes of life. He never changed his opinion of the peasantry and his sympathetic attitude towards them.
In the discussions that arose between the brothers on their views of the peasantry, Sergey Ivanovitch always got the better of his brother, precisely because Sergey Ivanovitch had definite ideas about the peasant–his character, his qualities, and his tastes. Konstantin Levin had no definite and unalterable idea on the subject, and so in their arguments Konstantin was readily convicted of contradicting himself.
I Sergey Ivanovitch’s eyes his younger brother was a capital fellow, with his heart in the right place (as he expressed it in French), but with a mind which, though fairly quick, was too much influenced by the impressions of the moment, and consequently filled with contradictions. With all the condescension of an elder brother he sometimes explained to him the true import of things, but he derived little satisfaction from arguing with him because he got the better of him too easily.
Konstantin Levin regarded his brother as a man of immense intellect and culture, as generous in the highest sense of the word, and possessed of a special faculty for working for the public good. But in the depths of his heart, the older he became, and the more intimately he knew his brother, the more and more frequently the thought struck him that this faculty of working for the public good, of which he felt himself utterly devoid, was possibly not so much a quality as a lack of something –not a lack of good, honest, noble desires and tastes, but a lack of vital force, of what is called heart, of that impulse which drives a man to choose someone out of the innumerable paths of life, and to care only for that one. The better he knew his brother, the more he noticed that Sergey Ivanovitch, and many other people who worked for the public welfare, were not led by an impulse of the heart to care for the public good, but reasoned from intellectual considerations that it was a right thing to take interest in public affairs, and consequently took interest in them. Levin was confirmed in this generalization by observing that his brother did not take questions affecting the public welfare or the question of the immortality of the soul a bit more to heart than he did chess problems, or the ingenious construction of a new machine.
Besides this, Konstantin Levin was not at his ease with his brother, because in summer in the country Levin was continually busy with work on the land, and the long summer day was not long enough for him to get through all he had to do, while Sergey Ivanovitch was taking a holiday. But though he was taking a holiday now, that is to say, he was doing no writing, he was so used to intellectual activity that he liked to put into concise and eloquent shape the ideas that occurred to him, and liked to have someone to listen to him. His most usual and natural listener was his brother. And so in spite of the friendliness and directness of their relations, Konstantin felt an awkwardness in leaving him alone. Sergey Ivanovitch liked to stretch himself on the grass in the sun, and to lie so, basking and chatting lazily.
“You wouldn’t believe,” he would say to his brother, “what a pleasure this rural laziness is to me. Not an idea in one’s brain, as empty as a drum!”
But Konstantin Levin found it dull sitting and listening to him, especially when he knew that while he was away they would be carting dung onto the fields not ploughed ready for it, and heaping it all up anyhow; and would not screw the shares in the ploughs, but would let them come off and then say that the new ploughs were a silly invention, and there was nothing like the old Andreevna plough, and so on.
“Come, you’ve done enough trudging about in the heat,” Sergey Ivanovitch would say to him.
“No, I must just run round to the counting-house for a minute,” Levin would answer, and he would run off to the fields.
Early in June it happened that Agafea Mihalovna, the old nurse and housekeeper, in carrying to the cellar a jar of mushrooms she had just pickled, slipped, fell, and sprained her wrist. The district doctor, a talkative young medical student, who had just finished his studies, came to see her. He examined the wrist, said it was not broken, was delighted at a chance of talking to the celebrated Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev, and to show his advanced views of things told him all the scandal of the district, complaining of the poor state into which the district council had fallen. Sergey Ivanovitch listened attentively, asked him questions, and, roused by a new listener, he talked fluently, uttered a few keen and weighty observations, respectfully appreciated by the young doctor, and was soon in that eager frame of mind his brother knew so well, which always, with him, followed a brilliant and eager conversation. After the departure of the doctor, he wanted to go with a fishing rod to the river. Sergey Ivanovitch was fond of angling, and was, it seemed, proud of being able to care for such a stupid occupation.
Konstantin Levin, whose presence was needed in the plough land and meadows, had come to take his brother in the trap.
It was that time of the year, the turning-point of summer, when the crops of the present year are a certainty, when one begins to think of the sowing for next year, and the mowing is at hand; when the rye is all in ear, though its ears are still light, not yet full, and it waves in gray-green billows in the wind; when the green oats, with tufts of yellow grass scattered here and there among it, droop irregularly over the late-sown fields; when the early buckwheat is already out and hiding the ground; when the fallow lands, trodden hard as stone by the cattle, are half ploughed over, with paths left untouched by the plough; when from the dry dung-heaps carted onto the fields there comes at sunset a smell of manure mixed with meadow-sweet, and on the low-lying lands the riverside meadows are a thick sea of grass waiting for the mowing, with blackened heaps of the stalks of sorrel among it.
It was the time when there comes a brief pause in the toil of the fields before the beginning of the labors of harvest–every year recurring, every year straining every nerve of the peasants. The crop was a splendid one, and bright, hot summer days had set in with short, dewy nights.
The brothers had to drive through the woods to reach the meadows. Sergey Ivanovitch was all the while admiring the beauty of the woods, which were a tangled mass of leaves, pointing out to his brother now an old lime tree on the point of flowering, dark on the shady side, and brightly spotted with yellow stipules, now the young shoots of this year’s saplings brilliant with emerald. Konstantin Levin did not like talking and hearing about the beauty of nature. Words for him took away the beauty of what he saw. He assented to what his brother said, but he could not help beginning to think of other things. When they came out of the woods, all his attention was engrossed by the view of the fallow land on the upland, in parts yellow with grass, in parts trampled and checkered with furrows, in parts dotted with ridges of dung, and in parts even ploughed. A string of carts was moving across it. Levin counted the carts, and was pleased that all that were wanted had been brought, and at the sight of the meadows his thoughts passed to the mowing. He always felt something special moving him to the quick at the hay-making. On reaching the meadow Levin stopped the horse.
The morning dew was still lying on the thick undergrowth of the grass, and that he might not get his feet wet, Sergey Ivanovitch asked his brother to drive him in the trap up to the willow tree from which the carp was caught. Sorry as Konstantin Levin was to crush down his mowing grass, he drove him into the meadow. The high grass softly turned about the wheels and the horse’s legs, leaving its seeds clinging to the wet axles and spokes of the wheels. His brother seated himself under a bush, arranging his tackle, while Levin led the horse away, fastened him up, and walked into the vast gray-green sea of grass unstirred by the wind. The silky grass with its ripe seeds came almost to his waist in the dampest spots.
Crossing the meadow, Konstantin Levin came out onto the road, and met an old man with a swollen eye, carrying a skep on his shoulder.
“What? taken a stray swarm, Fomitch?” he asked.
“No, indeed, Konstantin Mitritch! All we can do to keep our own! This is the second swarm that has flown away…. Luckily the lads caught them. They were ploughing your field. They unyoked the horses and galloped after them.”
“Well, what do you say, Fomitch–start mowing or wait a bit?”
“Eh, well. Our way’s to wait till St. Peter’s Day. But you always mow sooner. Well, to be sure, please God, the hay’s good. There’ll be plenty for the beasts.”
“What do you think about the weather?”
“That’s in God’s hands. Maybe it will be fine.”
Levin went up to his brother.
Sergey Ivanovitch had caught nothing, but he was not bored, and seemed in the most cheerful frame of mind. Levin saw that, stimulated by his conversation with the doctor, he wanted to talk. Levin, on the other hand, would have liked to get home as soon as possible to give orders about getting together the mowers for next day, and to set at rest his doubts about the mowing, which greatly absorbed him.
“Well, let’s be going,” he said.
“Why be in such a hurry? Let’s stay a little. But how wet you are! Even though one catches nothing, it’s nice. That’s the best thing about every part of sport, that one has to do with nature. How exquisite this steely water is!” said Sergey Ivanovitch. “These riverside banks always remind me of the riddle–do you know it? ‘The grass says to the water: we quiver and we quiver.'”
“I don’t know the riddle,” answered Levin wearily.
“Do you know I’ve been thinking about you,” said Sergey Ivanovitch. “It’s beyond everything what’s being done in the district, according to what this doctor tells me. He’s a very intelligent fellow. And as I’ve told you before, I tell you again: it’s not right for you not to go to the meetings, and altogether to keep out of the district business. If decent people won’t go into it, of course it’s bound to go all wrong. We pay the money, and it all goes in salaries, and there are no schools, nor district nurses, nor midwives, nor drugstores– nothing.”
“Well, I did try, you know,” Levin said slowly and unwillingly. “I can’t! and so there’s no help for it.”
“But why can’t you? I must own I can’t make it out. Idifference, incapacity–I won’t admit; surely it’s not simply laziness?”
“None of those things. I’ve tried, and I see I can do nothing,” said Levin.
He had hardly grasped what his brother was saying. Looking towards the plough land across the river, he made out something black, but he could not distinguish whether it was a horse or the bailiff on horseback.
“Why is it you can do nothing? You made an attempt and didn’t succeed, as you think, and you give in. How can you have so little self-respect?”
“Self-respect!” said Levin, stung to the quick by his brother’s words; “I don’t understand. If they’d told me at college that other people understood the integral calculus, and I didn’t, then pride would have come in. But in this case one wants first to be convinced that one has certain qualifications for this sort of business, and especially that all this business is of great importance.”
“What! do you mean to say it’s not of importance?” said Sergey Ivanovitch, stung to the quick too at his brother’s considering anything of no importance that interested him, and still more at his obviously paying little attention to what he was saying.
“I don’t think it important; it does not take hold of me, I can’t help it,” answered Levin, making out that what he saw was the bailiff, and that the bailiff seemed to be letting the peasants go off the ploughed land. They were turning the plough over. “Can they have finished ploughing?” he wondered.
“Come, really though,” said the elder brother, with a frown on his handsome, clever face, “there’s a limit to everything. It’s very well to be original and genuine, and to dislike everything conventional–I know all about that; but really, what you’re saying either has no meaning, or it has a very wrong meaning. How can you think it a matter of no importance whether the peasant, whom you love as you assert…”
“I never did assert it,” thought Konstantin Levin.
“…dies without help? The ignorant peasant-women starve the children, and the people stagnate in darkness, and are helpless in the hands of every village clerk, while you have at your disposal a means of helping them, and don’t help them because to your mind it’s of no importance.”
And Sergey Ivanovitch put before him the alternative: either you are so undeveloped that you can’t see all that you can do, or you won’t sacrifice your ease, your vanity, or whatever it is, to do it.
Konstantin Levin felt that there was no course open to him but to submit, or to confess to a lack of zeal for the public good. And this mortified him and hurt his feelings.
“It’s both,” he said resolutely: “I don’t see that it was possible…”
“What! was it impossible, if the money were properly laid out, to provide medical aid?”
“Impossible, as it seems to me…. For the three thousand square miles of our district, what with our thaws, and the storms, and the work in the fields, I don’t see how it is possible to provide medical aid all over. And besides, I don’t believe in medicine.”
“Oh, well, that’s unfair…I can quote to you thousands of instances…. But the schools, anyway.”
“Why have schools?”
“What do you mean? Can there be two opinions of the advantage of education? If it’s a good thing for you, it’s a good thing for everyone.”
Konstantin Levin felt himself morally pinned against a wall, and so he got hot, and unconsciously blurted out the chief cause of his indifference to public business.
“Perhaps it may all be very good; but why should I worry myself about establishing dispensaries which I shall never make use of, and schools to which I shall never send my children, to which even the peasants don’t want to send their children, and to which I’ve no very firm faith that they ought to send them?” said he.
Sergey Ivanovitch was for a minute surprised at this unexpected view of the subject; but he promptly made a new plan of attack. He was silent for a little, drew out a hook, threw it in again, and turned to his brother smiling.
“Come, now…. In the first place, the dispensary is needed. We ourselves sent for the district doctor for Agafea Mihalovna.”
“Oh, well, but I fancy her wrist will never be straight again.”
“That remains to be proved…. Next, the peasant who can read and write is as a workman of more use and value to you.”
“No, you can ask anyone you like,” Konstantin Levin answered with decision, “the man that can read and write is much inferior as a workman. And mending the highroads is an impossibility; and as soon as they put up bridges they’re stolen.”
“Still, that’s not the point,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, frowning. He disliked contradiction, and still more, arguments that were continually skipping from one thing to another, introducing new and disconnected points, so that there was no knowing to which to reply. “Do you admit that education is a benefit for the people?”
“Yes, I admit it,” said Levin without thinking, and he was conscious immediately that he had said what he did not think. He felt that if he admitted that, it would be proved that he had been talking meaningless rubbish. How it would be proved he could not tell, but he knew that this would inevitably be logically proved to him, and he awaited the proofs.
The argument turned out to be far simpler than he had expected.
“If you admit that it is a benefit,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, “then, as an honest man, you cannot help caring about it and sympathizing with the movement, and so wishing to work for it.”
“But I still do not admit this movement to be just,” said Konstantin Levin, reddening a little.
“What! But you said just now…”
“That’s to say, I don’t admit it’s being either good or possible.”
“That you can’t tell without making the trial.”
“Well, supposing that’s so,” said Levin, though he did not suppose so at all, “supposing that is so, still I don’t see, all the same, what I’m to worry myself about it for.”
“No; since we are talking, explain it to me from the philosophical point of view,” said Levin.
“I can’t see where philosophy comes in,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, in a tone, Levin fancied, as though he did not admit his brother’s right to talk about philosophy. And that irritated Levin.
“I’ll tell you, then,” he said with heat, “I imagine the mainspring of all our actions is, after all, self-interest. Now in the local institutions I, as a nobleman, see nothing that could conduce to my prosperity, and the roads are not better and could not be better; my horses carry me well enough over bad ones. Doctors and dispensaries are no use to me. An arbitrator of disputes is no use to me. I never appeal to him, and never shall appeal to him. The schools are no good to me, but positively harmful, as I told you. For me the district institutions simply mean the liability to pay fourpence halfpenny for every three acres, to drive into the town, sleep with bugs, and listen to all sorts of idiocy and loathsomeness, and self-interest offers me no inducement.”
“Excuse me,” Sergey Ivanovitch interposed with a smile, “self-interest did not induce us to work for the emancipation of the serfs, but we did work for it.”
“No!” Konstantin Levin broke in with still greater heat; “the emancipation of the serfs was a different matter. There self-interest did come in. One longed to throw off that yoke that crushed us, all decent people among us. But to be a town councilor and discuss how many dustmen are needed, and how chimneys shall be constructed in the town in which I don’t live–to serve on a jury and try a peasant who’s stolen a flitch of bacon, and listen for six hours at a stretch to all sorts of jabber from the counsel for the defense and the prosecution, and the president cross-examining my old half-witted Alioshka, ‘Do you admit, prisoner in the dock, the fact of the removal of the
Konstantin Levin had warmed to his subject, and began mimicking the president and the half-witted Alioshka: it seemed to him that it was all to the point.
But Sergey Ivanovitch shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, what do you mean to say, then?”
“I simply mean to say that those rights that touch me…my interest, I shall always defend to the best of my ability; that when they made raids on us students, and the police read our letters, I was ready to defend those rights to the utmost, to defend my rights to education and freedom. I can understand compulsory military service, which affects my children, my brothers, and myself, I am ready to deliberate on what concerns me; but deliberating on how to spend forty thousand roubles of district council money, or judging the half-witted Alioshka–I don’t understand, and I can’t do it.”
Konstantin Levin spoke as though the floodgates of his speech had burst open. Sergey Ivanovitch smiled.
“But tomorrow it’ll be your turn to be tried; would it have suited your tastes better to be tried in the old criminal tribunal?”
“I’m not going to be tried. I shan’t murder anybody, and I’ve no need of it. Well, I tell you what,” he went on, flying off again to a subject quite beside the point, “our district self-government and all the rest of it–it’s just like the birch branches we stick in the ground on Trinity Day, for instance, to look like a copse which has grown up of itself in Europe, and I can’t gush over these birch branches and believe in them.”
Sergey Ivanovitch merely shrugged his shoulders, as though to express his wonder how the birch branches had come into their argument at that point, though he did really understand at once what his brother meant.
“Excuse me, but you know one really can’t argue in that way,” he observed.
But Konstantin Levin wanted to justify himself for the failing, of which he was conscious, of lack of zeal for the public welfare, and he went on.
“I imagine,” he said, “that no sort of activity is likely to be lasting if it is not founded on self-interest, that’s a universal principle, a philosophical principle,” he said, repeating the word “philosophical” with determination, as though wishing to show that he had as much right as any one else to talk of philosophy.
Sergey Ivanovitch smiled. “He too has a philosophy of his own at the service of his natural tendencies,” he thought.
“Come, you’d better let philosophy alone,” he said. “The chief problem of the philosophy of all ages consists just in finding the indispensable connection which exists between individual and social interests. But that’s not to the point; what is to the point is a correction I must make in your comparison. The birches are not simply stuck in, but some are sown and some are planted, and one must deal carefully with them. It’s only those peoples that have an intuitive sense of what’s of importance and significance in their institutions, and know how to value them, that have a future before them–it’s only those peoples that one can truly call historical.”
And Sergey Ivanovitch carried the subject into the regions of philosophical history where Konstantin Levin could not follow him, and showed him all the incorrectness of his view.
“As for your dislike of it, excuse my saying so, that’s simply our Russian sloth and old serf-owner’s ways, and I’m convinced that in you it’s a temporary error and will pass.”
Konstantin was silent. He felt himself vanquished on all sides, but he felt at the same time that what he wanted to say was unintelligible to his brother. Only he could not make up his mind whether it was unintelligible because he was not capable of expressing his meaning clearly, or because his brother would not or could not understand him. But he did not pursue the speculation, and without replying, he fell to musing on a quite different and personal matter.
Sergey Ivanovitch wound up the last line, untied the horse, and they drove off.
The personal matter that absorbed Levin during his conversation with his brother was this. Once in a previous year he had gone to look at the mowing, and being made very angry by the bailiff he had recourse to his favorite means for regaining his temper,– he took a scythe from a peasant and began mowing.
He liked the work so much that he had several times tried his hand at mowing since. He had cut the whole of the meadow in front of his house, and this year ever since the early spring he had cherished a plan for mowing for whole days together with the peasants. Ever since his brother’s arrival, he had been in doubt whether to mow or not. He was loath to leave his brother alone all day long, and he was afraid his brother would laugh at him about it. But as he drove into the meadow, and recalled the sensations of mowing, he came near deciding that he would go mowing. After the irritating discussion with his brother, he pondered over this intention again.
“I must have physical exercise, or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,” he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.
Towards evening Konstantin Levin went to his counting house, gave directions as to the work to be done, and sent about the village to summon the mowers for the morrow, to cut the hay in Kalinov meadow, the largest and best of his grass lands.
“And send my scythe, please, to Tit, for him to set it, and bring it round tomorrow. I shall maybe do some mowing myself too,” he said trying not to be embarrassed.
The bailiff smiled and said: “Yes, sir.”
At tea the same evening Levin said to his brother:
“I fancy the fine weather will last. Tomorrow I shall start mowing.”
“I’m so fond of that form of field labor,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.
“I’m awfully fond of it. I sometimes mow myself with the peasants, and tomorrow I want to try mowing the whole day.”
Sergey Ivanovitch lifted his head, and looked with interest at his brother.
“How do you mean? Just like one of the peasants, all day long?”
“Yes, it’s very pleasant,” said Levin.
“It’s splendid as exercise, only you’ll hardly be able to stand it,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, without a shade of irony.
“I’ve tried it. It’s hard work at first, but you get into it. I dare say I shall manage to keep it up…”
“Really! what an idea! But tell me, how do the peasants look at it? I suppose they laugh in their sleeves at their master’s being such a queer fish?”
“No, I don’t think so; but it’s so delightful, and at the same time such hard work, that one has no time to think about it.”
“But how will you do about dining with them? To send you a bottle of Lafitte and roast turkey out there would be a little awkward.”
“No, I’ll simply come home at the time of their noonday rest.”
Next morning Konstantin Levin got up earlier than usual, but he was detained giving directions on the farm, and when he reached the mowing grass the mowers were already at their second row.
From the uplands he could get a view of the shaded cut part of the meadow below, with its grayish ridges of cut grass, and the black heaps of coats, taken off by the mowers at the place from which they had started cutting.
Gradually, as he rode towards the meadow, the peasants came into sight, some in coats, some in their shirts mowing, one behind another in a long string, swinging their scythes differently. He counted forty-two of them.
They were mowing slowly over the uneven, low-lying parts of the meadow, where there had been an old dam. Levin recognized some of his own men. Here was old Yermil in a very long white smock, bending forward to swing a scythe; there was a young fellow, Vaska, who had been a coachman of Levin’s, taking every row with a wide sweep. Here, too, was Tit, Levin’s preceptor in the art of mowing, a thin little peasant. He was in front of all, and cut his wide row without bending, as though playing with the scythe.
Levin got off his mare, and fastening her up by the roadside went to meet Tit, who took a second scythe out of a bush and gave it to him.
“It’s ready, sir; it’s like a razor, cuts of itself,” said Tit, taking off his cap with a smile and giving him the scythe.
Levin took the scythe, and began trying it. As they finished their rows, the mowers, hot and good-humored, came out into the road one after another, and, laughing a little, greeted the master. They all stared at him, but no one made any remark, till a tall old man, with a wrinkled, beardless face, wearing a short sheepskin jacket, came out into the road and accosted him.
“Look’ee now, master, once take hold of the rope there’s no letting it go!” he said, and Levin heard smothered laughter among the mowers.
“I’ll try not to let it go,” he said, taking his stand behind Tit, and waiting for the time to begin.
“Mind’ee,” repeated the old man.
Tit made room, and Levin started behind him. The grass was short close to the road, and Levin, who had not done any mowing for a long while, and was disconcerted by the eyes fastened upon him, cut badly for the first moments, though he swung his scythe vigorously. Behind him he heard voices:
“It’s not set right; handle’s too high; see how he has to stoop to it,” said one.
“Press more on the heel,” said another.
“Never mind, he’ll get on all right,” the old man resumed.
“He’s made a start…. You swing it too wide, you’ll tire yourself out…. The master, sure, does his best for himself! But see the grass missed out! For such work us fellows would catch it!”
The grass became softer, and Levin, listening without answering, followed Tit, trying to do the best he could. They moved a hundred paces. Tit kept moving on, without stopping, not showing the slightest weariness, but Levin was already beginning to be afraid he would not be able to keep it up: he was so tired.
He felt as he swung his scythe that he was at the very end of his strength, and was making up his mind to ask Tit to stop. But at that very moment Tit stopped of his own accord, and stooping down picked up some grass, rubbed his scythe, and began whetting it. Levin straightened himself, and drawing a deep breath looked round. Behind him came a peasant, and he too was evidently tired, for he stopped at once without waiting to mow up to Levin, and began whetting his scythe. Tit sharpened his scythe and Levin’s, and they went on. The next time it was just the same. Tit moved on with sweep after sweep of his scythe, not stopping or showing signs of weariness. Levin followed him, trying not to get left behind, and he found it harder and harder: the moment came when he felt he had no strength left, but at that very moment Tit stopped and whetted the scythes.
So they mowed the first row. And this long row seemed particularly hard work to Levin; but when the end was reached and Tit, shouldering his scythe, began with deliberate stride returning on the tracks left by his heels in the cut grass, and Levin walked back in the same way over the space he had cut, in spite of the sweat that ran in streams over his face and fell in drops down his nose, and drenched his back as though he had been soaked in water, he felt very happy. What delighted him particularly was that now he knew he would be able to hold out.
His pleasure was only disturbed by his row not being well cut. “I will swing less with my arm and more with my whole body,” he thought, comparing Tit’s row, which looked as if it had been cut with a line, with his own unevenly and irregularly lying grass.
The first row, as Levin noticed, Tit had mowed specially quickly, probably wishing to put his master to the test, and the row happened to be a long one. The next rows were easier, but still Levin had to strain every nerve not to drop behind the peasants.
He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent-shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.
Suddenly, in the midst of his toil, without understanding what it was or whence it came, he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his hot, moist shoulders. He glanced at the sky in the interval for whetting the scythes. A heavy, lowering storm cloud had blown up, and big raindrops were falling. Some of the peasants went to their coats and put them on; others–just like Levin himself–merely shrugged their shoulders, enjoying the pleasant coolness of it.
Another row, and yet another row, followed–long rows and short rows, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it came all easy to him, and at those same moments his row was almost as smooth and well cut as Tit’s. But so soon as he recollected what he was doing, and began trying to do better, he was at once conscious of all the difficulty of his task, and the row was badly mown.
On finishing yet another row he would have gone back to the top of the meadow again to begin the next, but Tit stopped, and going up to the old man said something in a low voice to him. They both looked at the sun. “What are they talking about, and why doesn’t he go back?” thought Levin, not guessing that the peasants had been mowing no less than four hours without stopping, and it was time for their lunch.
“Lunch, sir,” said the old man.
“Is it really time? That’s right; lunch, then.”
Levin gave his scythe to Tit, and together with the peasants, who were crossing the long stretch of mown grass, slightly sprinkled with rain, to get their bread from the heap of coats, he went towards his house. Only then he suddenly awoke to the fact that he had been wrong about the weather and the rain was drenching his hay.
“The hay will be spoiled,” he said.
“Not a bit of it, sir; mow in the rain, and you’ll rake in fine weather!” said the old man.
Levin untied his horse and rode home to his coffee. Sergey Ivanovitch was only just getting up. When he had drunk his coffee, Levin rode back again to the mowing before Sergey Ivanovitch had had time to dress and come down to the dining room.
After lunch Levin was not in the same place in the string of mowers as before, but stood between the old man who had accosted him jocosely, and now invited him to be his neighbor, and a young peasant, who had only been married in the autumn, and who was mowing this summer for the first time.
The old man, holding himself erect, moved in front, with his feet turned out, taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.
Behind Levin came the lad Mishka. His pretty, boyish face, with a twist of fresh grass bound round his hair, was all working with effort; but whenever anyone looked at him he smiled. He would clearly have died sooner than own it was hard work for him.
Levin kept between them. In the very heat of the day the mowing did not seem such hard work to him. The perspiration with which he was drenched cooled him, while the sun, that burned his back, his head, and his arms, bare to the elbow, gave a vigor and dogged energy to his labor; and more and more often now came those moments of unconsciousness, when it was possible not to think what one was doing. The scythe cut of itself. These were happy moments. Still more delightful were the moments when they reached the stream where the rows ended, and the old man rubbed his scythe with the wet, thick grass, rinsed its blade in the fresh water of the stream, ladled out a little in a tin dipper, and offered Levin a drink.
“What do you say to my home-brew, eh? Good, eh?” said he, winking.
And truly Levin had never drunk any liquor so good as this warm water with green bits floating in it, and a taste of rust from the tin dipper. And immediately after this came the delicious, slow saunter, with his hand on the scythe, during which he could wipe away the streaming sweat, take deep breaths of air, and look about at the long string of mowers and at what was happening around in the forest and the country.
The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.
It was only hard work when he had to break off the motion, which had become unconscious, and to think; when he had to mow round a hillock or a tuft of sorrel. The old man did this easily. When a hillock came he changed his action, and at one time with the heel, and at another with the tip of his scythe, clipped the hillock round both sides with short strokes. And while he did this he kept looking about and watching what came into his view: at one moment he picked a wild berry and ate it or offered it to Levin, then he flung away a twig with the blade of the scythe, then he looked at a quail’s nest, from which the bird flew just under the scythe, or caught a snake that crossed his path, and lifting it on the scythe as though on a fork showed it to Levin and threw it away.
For both Levin and the young peasant behind him, such changes of position were difficult. Both of them, repeating over and over again the same strained movement, were in a perfect frenzy of toil, and were incapable of shifting their position and at the same time watching what was before them.
Levin did not notice how time was passing. If he had been asked how long he had been working he would have said half an hour– and it was getting on for dinner time. As they were walking back over the cut grass, the old man called Levin’s attention to the little girls and boys who were coming from different directions, hardly visible through the long grass, and along the road towards the mowers, carrying sacks of bread dragging at their little hands and pitchers of the sour rye-beer, with cloths wrapped round them.
“Look’ee, the little emmets crawling!” he said, pointing to them, and he shaded his eyes with his hand to look at the sun. They mowed two more rows; the old man stopped.
“Come, master, dinner time!” he said briskly. And on reaching the stream the mowers moved off across the lines of cut grass towards their pile of coats, where the children who had brought their dinners were sitting waiting for them. The peasants gathered into groups–those further away under a cart, those nearer under a willow bush.
Levin sat down by them; he felt disinclined to go away.
All constraint with the master had disappeared long ago. The peasants got ready for dinner. Some washed, the young lads bathed in the stream, others made a place comfortable for a rest, untied their sacks of bread, and uncovered the pitchers of rye-beer. The old man crumbled up some bread in a cup, stirred it with the handle of a spoon, poured water on it from the dipper, broke up some more bread, and having seasoned it with salt, he turned to the east to say his prayer.
“Come, master, taste my sop,” said he, kneeling down before the cup.
The sop was so good that Levin gave up the idea of going home. He dined with the old man, and talked to him about his family affairs, taking the keenest interest in them, and told him about his own affairs and all the circumstances that could be of interest to the old man. He felt much nearer to him than to his brother, and could not help smiling at the affection he felt for this man. When the old man got up again, said his prayer, and lay down under a bush, putting some grass under his head for a pillow, Levin did the same, and in spite of the clinging flies that were so persistent in the sunshine, and the midges that tickled his hot face and body, he fell asleep at once and only waked when the sun had passed to the other side of the bush and reached him. The old man had been awake a long while, and was sitting up whetting the scythes of the younger lads.
Levin looked about him and hardly recognized the place, everything was so changed. The immense stretch of meadow had been mown and was sparkling with a peculiar fresh brilliance, with its lines of already sweet-smelling grass in the slanting rays of the evening sun. And the bushes about the river had been cut down, and the river itself, not visible before, now gleaming like steel in its bends, and the moving, ascending peasants, and the sharp wall of grass of the unmown part of the meadow, and the hawks hovering over the stripped meadow–all was perfectly new. Raising himself, Levin began considering how much had been cut and how much more could still be done that day.
The work done was exceptionally much for forty-two men. They had cut the whole of the big meadow, which had, in the years of serf labor, taken thirty scythes two days to mow. Only the corners remained to do, where the rows were short. But Levin felt a longing to get as much mowing done that day as possible, and was vexed with the sun sinking so quickly in the sky. He felt no weariness; all he wanted was to get his work done more and more quickly and as much done as possible.
“Could you cut Mashkin Upland too?–what do you think?” he said to the old man.
“As God wills, the sun’s not high. A little vodka for the lads?”
At the afternoon rest, when they were sitting down again, and those who smoked had lighted their pipes, the old man told the men that “Mashkin Upland’s to be cut–there’ll be some vodka.”
“Why not cut it? Come on, Tit! We’ll look sharp! We can eat at night. Come on!” cried voices, and eating up their bread, the mowers went back to work.
“Come, lads, keep it up!” said Tit, and ran on ahead almost at a trot.
“Get along, get along!” said the old man, hurrying after him and easily overtaking him, “I’ll mow you down, look out!”
And young and old mowed away, as though they were racing with one another. But however fast they worked, they did not spoil the grass, and the rows were laid just as neatly and exactly. The little piece left uncut in the corner was mown in five minutes. The last of the mowers were just ending their rows while the foremost snatched up their coats onto their shoulders, and crossed the road towards Mashkin Upland.
The sun was already sinking into the trees when they went with their jingling dippers into the wooded ravine of Mashkin Upland. The grass was up to their waists in the middle of the hollow, soft, tender, and feathery, spotted here and there among the trees with wild heart’s-ease.
After a brief consultation–whether to take the rows lengthwise or diagonally–Prohor Yermilin, also a renowned mower, a huge, black-haired peasant, went on ahead. He went up to the top, turned back again and started mowing, and they all proceeded to form in line behind him, going downhill through the hollow and uphill right up to the edge of the forest. The sun sank behind the forest. The dew was falling by now; the mowers were in the sun only on the hillside, but below, where a mist was rising, and on the opposite side, they mowed into the fresh, dewy shade. The work went rapidly. The grass cut with a juicy sound, and was at once laid in high, fragrant rows. The mowers from all sides, brought closer together in the short row, kept urging one another on to the sound of jingling dipper and clanging scythes, and the hiss of the whetstones sharpening them, and good-humored shouts.
Levin still kept between the young peasant and the old man. The old man, who had put on his short sheepskin jacket, was just as good-humored, jocose, and free in his movements. Among the trees they were continually cutting with their scythes the so-called “birch mushrooms,” swollen fat in the succulent grass. But the old man bent down every time he came across a mushroom, picked it up and put it in his bosom. “Another present for my old woman,” he said as he did so.
Easy as it was to mow the wet, soft grass, it was hard work going up and down the steep sides of the ravine. But this did not trouble the old man. Swinging his scythe just as ever, and moving his feet in their big, plaited shoes with firm, little steps, he climbed slowly up the steep place, and though his breeches hanging out below his smock, and his whole frame trembled with effort, he did not miss one blade of grass or one mushroom on his way, and kept making jokes with the peasants and Levin. Levin walked after him and often thought he must fall, as he climbed with a scythe up a steep cliff where it would have been hard work to clamber without anything. But he climbed up and did what he had to do. He felt as though some external force were moving him.