THE DAY on which Sergey Ivanovitch came to Pokrovskoe was one of Levins most painful days. It was the very busiest working-time, when all the peasantry show an extraordinary intensity of self-sacrifice in labour, such as is never shown in any other conditions of life, and would be highly esteemed if the men who showed these qualities themselves thought highly of them, and if it were not repeated every year, and if the results of this intense labour were not so simple.
To reap and bind the rye and oats and to carry it, to mow the meadows, turn over the fallows, thrash the seed and sow the winter cornall this seems so simple and ordinary; but to succeed in getting through it all every one in the village, from the old man to the young child, must toil incessantly for three or four weeks, three times as hard as usual, living on rye-beer, onions, and black bread, thrashing and carrying the sheaves at night, and not giving more than two or three hours in the twenty-four to sleep. And every year this is done all over Russia.
Having lived the greater part of his life in the country and in the closest relations with the peasants, Levin always felt in this busy time that he was infected by this general quickening of energy in the people.
In the early morning he rode over to the first sowing of the rye, and to the oats, which were being carried to the stacks, and returning home at the time his wife and sister-in-law were getting up, he drank coffee with them and walked to the farm, where a new threshing-machine was to be set working to get ready the seed-corn.
He was standing in the cool granary, still fragrant with the leaves of the hazel branches interlaced on the freshly peeled aspen beams of the new thatch roof. He gazed through the open door in which the dry bitter dust of the threshing whirled and played, at the grass of the threshing-floor in the sunlight and the fresh straw that had been brought in from the barn, then at the speckly-headed, white-breasted swallows that flew chirping in under the roof and, fluttering their wings, settled in the crevices of the door-way, then at the peasants bustling in the dark, dusty barn, and he thought strange thoughts
Why is it all being done? he thought. Why am I standing here, making them work? What are they all so busy for, trying to show their zeal before me? What is that old Matrona, my old friend, toiling for? (I doctored her, when the beam fell on her in the fire) he thought, looking at a thin old woman who was raking up the grain, moving painfully with her bare, sun-blackened feet over the uneven, rough floor. Then she recovered, but to-day or to-morrow or in ten years she wont; theyll bury her, and nothing will be left either of her or of that smart girl in the red jacket, who with that skilful, soft action shakes the ears out of their husks. Theyll bury her and this piebald horse, and very soon too, he thought, gazing at the heavily moving, panting horse that kept walking up the wheel that turned under him. And they will bury her and Fyodor the thresher with his curly beard full of chaff and his shirt torn on his white shouldersthey will bury him. Hes untying the sheaves, and giving orders, and shouting to the women, and quickly setting straight the strap on the moving wheel. And whats more, its not them aloneme theyll bury too, and nothing will be left. What for?
Itll soon be one, and theyre only beginning the third sheaf, thought Levin. He went up to the man that was feeding the machine, and shouting over the roar of the machine he told him to put it in more slowly. You put in too much at a time, Fyodor. Do you seeit gets choked, thats why it isnt getting on. Do it evenly.
Levin, going up to the machine, moved Fyodor aside, and began feeding the corn in himself. Working on till the peasants dinner-hour, which was not long in coming, he went out of the barn with Fyodor and fell into talk with him, stopping beside a neat yellow sheaf of rye laid on the threshing-floor for seed.
Mituh! (so the peasant called the house-porter, in a tone of contempt), you may be sure hell make it pay, Konstantin Dmitrievitch! Hell get his share, however he has to squeeze to get it! Hes no mercy on a Christian. But Uncle Fokanitch (so he called the old peasant Platon), do you suppose hed flay the skin off a man? Where theres debt, hell let any one off. And hell not wring the last penny out. Hes a man too.
Oh, well, of course, folks are different. One man lives for his own wants and nothing else, like Mituh; he only thinks of filling his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. He lives for his soul. He does not forget God.
Yes, yes, good-bye! said Levin, breathless with excitement, and turning round he took his stick and walked quickly away towards home. At the peasants words that Fokanitch lived for his soul, in truth, in Gods way, undefined but significant ideas seemed to burst out as though they had been locked up, and all striving towards one goal, they thronged whirling through his head, blinding him with their light.