In the 1880s Tolstoi rejected his great novels as meaningless and elitist, and devoted himself to improving the lot of the common folk. He wrote a series of Tales for the People with stark prose and clear morals to raise their consciousness and spirit. They were published by Posrednik, a firm established by his disciple Vladimir Chertkov in collaboration with Ivan Sytin. Tolstoi supplied the talent, Sytin the knowledge of the business, and their enterprise enjoyed some response from the intended audience. However, the heavy-handed moralizing of the stories, particularly the hatred for capitalism and the kulak class (wealthy peasants) it spawned in the countryside, eventually alienated the intended readers.
The story was originally translated in Leo Tolstoy, The Complete Works of Count Tolstoy, trans. from the original Russian and edited by Leo Wiener (Boston: D. Estes, 1904-1905).
An elder sister came from the town to visit a younger one. Theelder one was married to a tradesman, and the younger to a peasant.As the two drank tea and talked the elder sister began to boast andmake much of her life in town&emdash;how she lived and went about inease and comfort, dressed her children well, had nice things to eatand drink, and went skating, strolling, and to the theater.
The younger sister was vexed at this, and retorted by running downthe life of a tradesman's wife and exalting her own country life.
"For my part, I should not care to exchange my life for yours,"she said. "I grant you ours is an uneventful existence and that weknow no excitement; yet you, on the other hand, with all your fineliving, must either do a very large trade indeed or be ruined. Youknow the proverb: 'Loss is Gain's elder brother.' Well, you may berich today, but tomorrow you may find yourself in the street. We havea better way than that, here in the country. The peasant's stomachmay be thin, but it is long. That is to say, he may never be rich,yet he will always have enough." The elder sister took her upquickly.
"'Enough' indeed?" she retorted. "'Enough'&emdash;with nothing butyour wretched pigs and calves? 'Enough,' with no fine dresses orcompany? Why, however hard your man may work, you have to live inmud, and will die there&emdash;yes, and your children after you."
"Oh, no," replied the younger. "'It's like this with us. Thoughlife may be hard, the land is at least our own, and we do not need tobow and scrape to anyone. But you in town&emdash;you live in anatmosphere of scandal. Today all may be well with you, but tomorrowthe evil eye may look upon you, and your husband find himself temptedaway by cards or wine or some light-of-love, and you and yours findyourselves ruined. Is it not so?"
Pakhom, the younger sister's husband, had been listening near thestove.
"That is true," he said. "I have been turning over our motherearth since my childhood, so have had no time to get any foolishnessinto my head. Yet I have one grievance&emdash;too little land. Onlygive me land, and I fear no man&emdash;no, not even the Devilhimself."
The two women finished their tea, chattered a little longer aboutdress, washed up the crockery, and went to bed.
All this time the Devil had been sitting behind the stove and hadheard everything. He was delighted when the peasant's wife led herhusband on to brag&emdash; led him on to boast that, once given land,not even the Devil himself should take it from him
"Splendid!" thought the Devil. "I will try a fall with you. I willgive you much land&emdash;and then take it away again."
Near these peasants there lived a lady landowner, with a smallproperty of 120 desiatins. Formally she had got on well with thepeasants and did not abuse her rights, but now she took as overseer aretired soldier, who began to persecute the peasants with fines. Nomatter how careful Pakhom might be, one of his horses would get intothe lady's oats or a cow stray into her garden, or the calves breakinto her meadows. Fines would be levied for all these trespasses.
Pakhom paid up, and then beat and abused his household. He hadgotten into so much trouble with the overseer for the doings of thesummer, that he felt devoutly thankful to have got his cattlestanding in the straw-yard again. He regretted the cost of their keepthere, yet it cost him less anxiety in other ways.
That winter a rumor went abroad that the lady was going to sellher land, and that the overseer was arranging to buy both it and thehighway rights attached. This rumor reached the peasants, and theywere dismayed. "If," they thought, "the overseer gets the land hewill badger us with fines even worse than he did under the barina. Wemust get hold of the property somehow, as we all live round it in acircle."
So a deputation from the village mir went to see the mistress, andbesought her not to sell the land to the overseer, but to give themthe refusal of it, and they would outbid their rival. The mistressagreed to this, and the peasants set about arranging for the mir topurchase her entire estate. They held a meeting about it, and yetanother one, but the matter did not go through. The fact was that theUnclean One1 always defeated their object by making them unable toagree. Then the peasants decided to try and buy the land in separatelots, each man as much as he could; the mistress said she wasagreeable to this also. Pakhom heard one day that a neighbor hadbought twenty desiatins, and that the mistress had agreed to let halfthe purchase money stand over for a year. Pakhom grew envious. "If,"he thought, "the others buy up all the land, I shall be left out inthe cold." So he took counsel of his wife. "Everybody is buyingsome," he said, "so we too had better get hold of ten desiatins. Wecan't make a living as things are now, for the overseer takes it allout of us in fines." So they took thought how to effect thepurchase.
They had 100 rubles laid aside; so that by selling a foal and halftheir bees, in addition to putting out their son to service, theymanaged to raise half the money.
Pakhom collected it all together, selected fifteen desiatins and asmall piece of timber land, and went to the mistress to makearrangements. The bargain was struck and they shook hands upon it,and Pakhom paid a deposit. Then he went to town, completed theconveyance (half the purchase money to be paid now, and half withintwo years' time)&emdash;and lo! Pakhom was a landowner! He alsoborrowed a small sum of his brother-in-law, which he needed topurchase seed. This he duly sowed in his newly acquired property, anda fine crop came up, so that within a year he had repaid both themistress and his brother-in-law. He was now a consummate proprietor.It was his own land that he sowed, his own hay that he reaped, hisown firewood that he cut, and his own cattle that he grazed. He feltoverjoyed whenever he rode out to his estate, either to plow or toinspect the crops and meadows. The very grass seemed to him differentfrom other grasses, the flowers to bloom differently. Once, when hehad ridden over this land, it was just that&emdash;land. Now,although still land, it was land with a difference.
Thus did Pakhom live happily for a time. Indeed, all would havebeen well if only the other peasants had left Pakhom's corn andpasture alone. In vain did he protest repeatedly. Shepherds wouldturn their flocks out into his meadows, and horses would somehow getinto the corn at night. Again and again Pakhom drove them out andoverlooked the matter, but at last he lost his temper and filed acomplaint before the district court. He knew that the peasants onlydid it from lack of land, not maliciously; yet it could not beallowed, since they were eating the place up. He must teach them alesson.
So he taught first one of them a lesson in court, and thenanother; he had one fined, and then a second. This aroused angeragainst him, and his neighbors now began to steal his crops onpurpose. One man got into the plantation at night and stripped thebark off no less than ten linden-trees. When Pakhom next rode thatway and saw what had been done he turned pale. He drew nearer, andrealized that bark had been stripped off and thrown about, and thetrunks uprooted. The miscreant had left only one tree, after loppingall its branches, but the rest he had cleared entirely in his evilprogress. Pakhom was furious. "Ah!" he thought, "if only I knew whohad done this, I would soon take revenge on him!" He wondered andwondered who it could be. If anyone in particular, it must be Semka.So he went to see Semka, but got nothing out of him except foullanguage: yet he felt more certain than ever now that it was Semkawho had done it. He filed a complaint against him, and they were bothsummoned to attend the court. The magistrates sat and sat, and thendismissed the case for want of evidence. This enraged Pakhom stillmore. He abused both the village elder and the magistrates. "Youmagistrates," he said, "are in league with thieves. If you werehonest men you would never have acquitted Semka." Yes, there was nodoubt that Pakhom was ill pleased both with the magistrates and withhis neighbors. He began to live more and more apart on his land, andto have less and less to do with the mir.
At this time there a rumor started that some of the localpeasantry were thinking of emigrating. This made Pakhom think tohimself: "But there is no reason why I should leave my land. If someof the others go, why, it will make all the more room for me. I canbuy up their land, and so hedge myself in all round. I should livemuch more comfortably then. At present I am too cramped."
It happened soon afterwards that Pakhom was sitting at home oneday when a traveling peasant dropped in. Pakhom gave him a night'slodging and a meal, and then questioned him, in the course ofconversation, as to whence in the name of God he had come. To thisthe peasant replied that he had come from lower down theriver&emdash;from a spot beyond the Volga, where he had been inservice. Then he went on to relate how a settlement was being formedthere, every settler being enrolled in the mir and allotted tendesiatins of land. It was such land, too, he said, and grew such rye!Why, the straw of the rye was tall enough to hide a horse, and thickenough together to make a sheaf per five handfuls! One peasant, hewent on, who had arrived there a poor man and had nothing but his twohands to work with now grew his fifty desiatins of wheat. Indeed,during the past year that man had made 5000 rubles by his wheatalone!
Pakhom's soul was fired by this, and he thought to himself: "Whyshould I stay here, poor and cramped up, when I might be making sucha fine living as that? I will sell out here&emdash;both land andhomestead &emdash;and go build myself a new house and farm there withthe money. Here, in this cramped-up spot, life is one long worry. Atany rate, I might take a trip there and make inquiries."
So when the summer came he packed up and set out. He took asteamer down the Volga to Samara, and thence tramped 400 versts tillhe came to the place. It was just as the peasant had described it.The peasants lived splendidly, with ten desiatins of free land toeach soul, and he was assured of a welcome by the mir. Moreover, hewas told that anyone who came there with money could buy additionalland&emdash; as much as he wanted&emdash;and hold deed to it forever.For three rubles a desiatin a man could have the very finest landpossible.
All this Pakhom learnt, and then returned home in the autumn. Hebegan straightway to sell out, and succeeded in disposing of land,buildings, and stock at a profit. Then he took his name off the mir'sbooks, waited for the spring, and departed for the new place with hisfamily.
They arrived at their destination, and Pakhom was forthwithenrolled in the mir of the great settlement (after moistening theelders' throats, of course, and executing the necessary documents).Then they took him and assigned him fifty desiatins of land&emdash;ten for each soul of his family&emdash;in different parts of theestate, in addition to common pasturage. Pakhom built himself ahomestead and stocked it, his allotted land alone being twice what hehad formerly possessed in the old place. It was corn-bearing land,too. Altogether life was ten times better here than where he had comefrom, for he had at his disposal both arable and pastureland&emdash;enough of the latter to keep as many cattle as he caredto have.
At first, while building and stocking, he thought everythingsplendid. Later, when he had settled down a bit, he began to feelcramped again. He wanted to grow white Turkish wheat as severalothers did, but there was hardly any wheat-bearing land among hisfive allotments. Wheat needed to be grown on grass, new, or fallowland, and such land had to be sown one year and left fallow for two,in order that the grass might grow again. True, he had as much softland as he wanted, but it would only bear rye. Wheat required hardland, and because many applied for it, there was not enough for all.Moreover, such land gave rise to disputes. The richer peasants sowedtheir own, but the poorer had to mortgage theirs to merchants. Thefirst year, Pakhom sowed his allotments with wheat and got splendidcrops. Then he wanted to sow them with wheat again, but they were notlarge enough to allow him to both sow new land and of leave lastyear's land to lie fallow. He must get hold of some more. So he wentto a merchant, and took a year's lease of some wheat land. He sowedas much on it as he could, and reaped a magnificent crop.Unfortunately, however, the land was a long way from thesettlement&emdash;in fact, the crop had to be carted fifteen versts;so, as Pakhom had seen merchant farmers living in fine homesteads andgrowing rich in the district where the land lay, he thought tohimself: "How would it be if I took a longer lease of it and built ahomestead there the same as they have done? Then I should be right onthe land." So he set about arranging this.
Thus did Pakhom live for five years, continually leasing more landand sowing it with wheat. All the years were good ones, the wheatthrived, and the money poured in. Yet just to live and work so faraway was rather tedious, and Pakhom began to tire of leasing landevery year in a strange district and removing his stock there.Wherever there was a particularly good plot of land the peasantswould all rush for it, and it would be divided up before he was readyto lease and sow it as a whole. Once he went in with a merchant to aplot of pasturage from a group of peasants. But then the peasantslost it in a law suit, and his labor went for nothing. If only he hadheld this land in title, he would not have had to go in with themerchant and end up with nothing but trouble.
So he began to cast about to find an estate he could buy outright.In this endeavor he fell in with a certain peasant who had ruinedhimself and was ready to let him have his property of 500 desiatinscheap. Pakhom entered into negotiations with him and, after muchdiscussion, closed at 1000 rubles&emdash; half down, and half payablelater. One day after they had thus clinched the deal, a merchantdrove up to Pakhom's homestead to rest his horses. They drank ateapot empty as they talked. The merchant said he had come a long,long way&emdash;from the country of the Bashkirs, in fact, where (sohe said) he had just purchased 5000 desiatins for only 1000 rubles!Pakhom questioned him further, and the merchant answered. "All Idid," said the latter, "was to make the elders there a few presents(robes, carpets, and a chest of tea), to distribute about a hundredrubles, and to stand vodka to anyone who felt inclined for it. In theresult I got the land for twenty kopecks a desiatin," and he showedPakhom the deed. "The property," he concluded, "fronts upon a river,and is all open, grass, steppe land." Pakhom questioned him stillfurther. "You would not," went on the merchant, "find such land asthat in a year. The same with all the Bashkir land. Moreover, thepeople there are as simple as sheep. You can get things out of themabsolutely for nothing." "Well," thought Pakhom, "what is the good ofmy giving 1000 rubles for only 500 desiatins, and still leaving adebt round my neck, when there I might become a proprietor indeed forthe same money?"
Pakhom inquired of the merchant how to reach the country of theBashkirs, and as soon as his informant had departed, got ready forthe journey. Leaving his wife at home, and taking with him only hisworkman, he set out first for the town, where he bought a chest oftea, vodka, and other gifts, as the merchant had advised. Then thetwo drove on and on until they had covered 500 versts, and on theseventh day arrived at the Bashkir camp. Everything turned out to beas the merchant had said. The people there lived in hide-coveredwagons, which were drawn up by the side of a river running throughthe open steppe. They neither plowed the land nor ate corn, whiledroves of cattle and Cossack horses wandered over the steppe, thefoals being tied to the backs of the wagons and their dams driven upto them twice a day to give them suck. The chief sustenance of thepeople was mare's milk, which the women made into a drink calledkumiss, and then churned the kumiss into cheese. In fact, the onlydrink the Bashkirs knew was either kumiss or tea, their only solidfood mutton, and their only amusement pipe-playing. Nevertheless,they all of them looked sleek and cheerful, and kept holiday thewhole year round. In education they were sadly deficient, and knew noRussian, but were kindly and attractive folk for all that.
As soon as they caught sight of Pakhom they came out of theirwagons and surrounded the guest. An interpreter was found, and Pakhomtold him that he had come to buy land. At once the people weredelighted, and, embracing Pakhom fervently, escorted him to a richlyappointed wagon, where they made him sit down on a pile of rugstopped with soft cushions, and set about getting some tea and kumissready. A sheep was killed, and a meal served of the mutton, afterwhich Pakhom produced the gifts from his tarantas, distributed themround, and shared out also the tea. Then the Bashkirs fell to talkingamong themselves for a while, and finally bid the interpreterspeak.
"I am to tell you," said the interpreter, "that they are greatlytaken with you, and that it is our custom to meet the wishes of aguest in every possible way, in return for the presents given us.Since, therefore, you have given us presents, say now what there isof ours which you may desire, so that we may grant it you."
"What I particularly desire," replied Pakhom, "is some of yourland. Where I come from," he continued, "there is not enough land,and what there is is plowed out, whereas you have much land, and goodland, such as I have never before beheld."
The interpreter translated, and the Bashkirs talked again amongthemselves. Although Pakhom could not understand what they weresaying, he could see that they kept crying out something in merrytones and then bursting into laughter. At last they stopped andlooked at Pakhom, while the interpreter spoke.
"I am to tell you," he said, "that in return for your kindness weare ready to sell you as much land as you may wish. Merely make agesture with your hand to signify how much, and it shall beyours."
At this point, however, the people began to talk among themselvesagain, and to argue about something. When Pakhom asked what was thematter, the interpreter answered: "Some of them say that thestarshina ought to be asked first about the land, and that nothingshould be done without him, while others say that that is notnecessary."
Suddenly, while the Bashkirs were thus disputing, there enteredthe wagon a man in a foxskin cap, at whose entry everyone rose, whilethe interpreter said to Pakhom: "This is the starshina himself." Atonce Pakhom caught up the best robe and offered it to the newcomer,as well as five pounds of tea. The starshina duly accepted them, andthen sat down in the place of honor, while the Bashkirs began toexpound to him some matter or another. He listened and listened, thengave a smile, and spoke to Pakhom in Russian.
"Very well," he said, "pray choose your land wheresoever itpleases you. We have much land." "So I am to take as much as I want!"thought Pakhom to himself. "Still, I must strengthen that bargainsomehow. They might say, 'The land is yours,' and then take it awayagain." "I thank you," he said aloud, "for your kind speech. As yousay, you have much land, whereas I am in need of some. I only desireto know precisely which of it is to be mine; wherefore it might bewell to measure it off by some method and then given me a legl title.God alone is lord of life and death, and, although you are goodpeople who now give it to me, it might befall that your childrenwould take it away again."
The starshina smiled.
"The conveyance," he said, "is already executed. This presentmeeting is our mode of confirming it&emdash;and it could not be morebinding."
"But," said Pakhom, "I have been told that a merchant visited yourecently, and that you sold him land and gave him a proper deed ofconveyance. Pray, therefore, do the same with me."
The starshina understood now.
"Very well," he replied. "We have a writer here, and will go to atown and procure the necessary seals.
"But what is your price for the land? "asked Pakhom.
"Our price," answered the starshina, "is only 1000 rubles perday."
Pakhom did not understand this day-rate at all.
"How many desiatins would that include? "he inquiredpresently.
"We do not reckon in that way," said the starshina. "We sell onlyby the day. That is to say, as much land as you can walk round in aday, that much land is yours. That is our measure, and the price is1000 rubles."
Pakhom was astounded.
"Why, a man might walk round a great deal in a day," he said.
The starshina smiled again.
"Well, at all events," he said, "it will be yours. Only, there isone condition&emdash;namely, that if on that same day you do notreturn to the spot whence you started, your money is forfeited."
"But how do you decide upon that spot? "asked Pakhom.
"We take our stand," replied the starshina, "upon whatsoever spotyou may select. I and my people remain there, while you start off anddescribe a circle. Behind you will ride some of our young men, toplant stakes wherever you may desire that to be done. Thereafter, aplow will be driven round those stakes. Describe what circle youwish; only, by the time of the setting of the sun you must havereturned to the place from which you started. As much land as you maycircle, that much land will be yours."
So Pakhom accepted these terms, and it was agreed to make an earlystart on the morrow. Then the company talked again, drank morekumiss, and ate more mutton, passing on to tea, and the ceremoniescontinued until nightfall. At length Pakhom was led to a bed of downand the Bashkirs dispersed, after first promising to gather on themorrow beyond the river and ride out to the appointed spot beforesunrise.
Pakhom lay on his down bed, but could not get a wink of sleep forthinking of the land which, as he said, "I am going to farmhere."
"For I mean to mark out a very large 'Promised Land' tomorrow," hecontinued to himself. "I can cover at least fifty versts in the day,and fifty versts should enclose somewhere about 10,000 desiatins.Then I shall be under nobody's thumb, and be able to afford a pair-oxplow and two laborers. I shall plow up the best land, and feed stockon the rest."
All that night Pakhom never closed his eyes, but dozed off for ashort while just before dawn. The instant he did so he had a dream.He seemed to be lying in an indentical wagon and listening tosomebody laughing and talking outside. Wishing to see who it was thatwas laughing so much, he went outside, and saw the starshina sittingon the ground and holding his sides as he rolled about in ecstasiesof mirth. Then in his dream Pakhom walked up to him and asked himwhat the joke was&emdash;and immediately saw that it was not thestarshina at all, but the merchant who had so lately visited him totell him about this land. Then again, he had scarcely so much as saidto the merchant, "Did I not see you at my home a little while ago?"When the merchant suddenly changed into the peasant from away downthe Volga who had called at his farm in the old country. FinallyPakhom perceived that this peasant was not a peasant at all, but theDevil himself, with horns and hoofs, and that he was gazing fixedlyat something as he sat there and laughed. Then Pakhom thought tohimself: "What is he looking at, and why does he laugh so much?" Andin his dream he stepped a little aside to look, and saw aman&emdash;barefooted, and clad only in a shirt andbreeches&emdash;lying flat on his back, with his face as white as asheet. And presently, looking even more closely at the man, Pakhomsaw that the man was himself!
He gasped and awoke feeling as if the dream had been real. Then helooked to see if it was getting light yet, and saw that the dawn wasnear.
"It is time to start," he thought. "I must arouse these goodpeople."
Pakhom arose, awakened his workman in the tarantas and told him toput the horse in and go round to call the Bashkirs, since it was timeto go out onto the steppe and measure off the land. So the Bashkirsarose and got themselves ready, and the starshina also arrived. Theybreakfasted off kumiss, and wanted to give Pakhom some tea, but hecould not wait.
"If we are to go, let us go," he said. "It is already time." Sothe Bashkirs harnessed up and set out, some on horseback, and some incarts, while Pakhom drove in his tarantas with his workman. They cameout onto the steppe just as the dawn was breaking, and proceededtowards a little knoll&emdash;called in the Bashkir dialect ashichan. There the people in cart alighted, and everyone gatheredtogether. The starshina approached Pakhom and pointed all round withhis hand. "Whatsoever land you see from here," he said, "is ours.Choose whichsoever direction you like." Pakhom's eyes glowed, for allthe land was grass, level as the palm of his hand, and black beneaththe turf as a poppy-head. Only where there was a ravine was there abreak in the grass&emdash;grass which was everywhere breast-high. Thestarshina took off his foxskin cap, and laid it in the exact centerof the knoll. "This," he said, "will be the mark. Lay you your moneyin it, and your servant shall remain beside it while you are gone.From this mark you will start, and to this mark you will return. Asmuch land as you circle, all of it will be yours."
Pakhom took out his money, and laid it in the cap. Then hedivested himself of his cloak, stripped himself to his waistcoat,tightened his belt round his stomach, thrust a wallet with some breadinto his bosom, tied a flask of water to his shoulder-strap, pulledup his long boots, and prepared to start. He kept debating withinhimself which direction it would be best to take, for the land was sogood everywhere. "Oh well, as it is all the same, I will walk towardsthe rising sun," he decided at length. So he turned his face thatway, and kept trying his limbs while waiting for the sun to appear."I must lose no time," he thought, "for I shall do my best walkingwhile the air is yet cool."
Then the mounted Bashkirs also ascended the knoll, and stationedthemselves behind Pakhom. No sooner had the sun shot his first raysabove the horizon than Pakhom started forward and walked out into thesteppe, the mounted men riding behind him.
He walked neither slowly nor hurriedly. After he had gone about averst he stopped, and had a stake put in. Then he went on again. Hewas losing his first stiffness and beginning to lengthen his stride.Presently he stopped again, and had another stake put in. He lookedup at the sun&emdash;which was now lighting the knoll clearly, withthe people standing there&emdash;and calculated that he had goneabout five versts. He was beginning to grow warm now, so he took offhis waistcoat, and then fastened up his belt again. Then he went onanother five versts, and stopped. It was growing really hot now. Helooked at the sun again, and saw that it was breakfast time. "Onestage done!" he thought. "But there are four of them in the day, andit is early yet to change my direction. Nevertheless, I must take myboots off." So he sat down, took them off, and went on again. Walkingwas easier now. "As soon as I have covered another five versts," hereflected, "I will begin to bend round to the left. That spot wasexceedingly well chosen. The further I go, the better the land is."So he kept straight on, although, when he looked round, the knoll wasalmost out of sight, and the people on it looked like little blackants.
"Now," he said to himself at length, "I have made the circle largeenough, and must wind round." He had sweated a good deal and wasthirsty, so he raised the flask and took a drink. Then he had a stakeput in at that point, and turned sharply to the left. On he went andon, through the high grass and the burning heat. He was beginning totire now, and, glancing at the sun, saw that it was dinner-time."Now," he thought to himself, "I might venture to take a rest." So hestopped and ate some bread, though without sitting down, since hesaid to himself: "If I once sat down I should go on to lying down,and so end by going off to sleep." He waited a little, therefore,till he felt rested, and then went on again. At first he foundwalking easy, for the meal had revived his strength, but presentlythe sun seemed to grow all the hotter as it began to slant towardsevening. Pakhom was nearly worn out now, yet he merely thought tohimself: "An hour's pain may a century gain."
He had traversed about ten versts of this lap of the circle, andwas about to bend inwards again to the left, when he caught sight ofan excellent bit of land round a dry ravine. It would be a pity toleave that out. "Flax would grow so splendidly there!" he thought. Sohe kept straight on until he had taken in the ravine, and, having hada stake planted at the spot, again wheeled inwards. Looking towardsthe knoll he could see that the people there had almost disappeared.They could not be less than fifteen versts away. "Well," he thought,"I have covered the two long laps of the circuit, and must take thislast one by the shortest cut possible." So he started upon the lastlap, and quickened his pace. Once again he looked at the sun. It wasnow drawing near to the time of the evening meal, and he had onlycovered two versts of the distance. The starting point was stillthirteen versts away. "I must hurry straight along now," he said tohimself, "however rough the country be. I must not take in a singleextra piece on the way. I have enclosed enough as it is." And Pakhomheaded straight for the knoll.
He pressed on straight in this direction, yet found walking verydifficult now. His feet were aching badly, for he had chafed andbruised them, and his legs were beginning to totter under him. Hewould have given anything to have rested for a while, yet knew thathe must not if he was ever to regain the knoll before sunset. The sunwould not wait. Nay it was like a driver ever lashing him on. Fromtime to time he staggered. "Surely I have not miscalculated?" hethought to himself. "Surely I have not taken in too much land ever toget back, however much I hurry? There is such a long way to go yet,and I am dead tired. It cannot be that all my money and toil havegone in vain? Ah, well, I must do my best."
Pakhom pulled himself together, and broke into a run. He had tornhis feet till they were bleeding, yet he still ran on, ran on, ranfurther and further. Waistcoat, boots, flask, cap&emdash;he flungthem all away. "Ah!" was his thought, "I was too pleased with what Isaw. Now everything is lost, and I shall never reach the mark beforesunset." His fears made him only more breathless, but he still ranon, his shirt and breeches clinging to his limbs with sweat, and hismouth parched. In his breast there were a pair of blacksmith'sbellows working, and in his heart a steam hammer, while his legsseemed to be breaking under him and to be no longer his own. He hadlost all thought of the land now. All that he thought of was toescape death from exertion. Yet, although he was so afraid of dying,he could not stop. "To have gone so far," he thought, "and then tostop! Why, they would think me a fool!" By this time he could hearthe Bashkirs cheering and shouting to him, and their cries stirredhis heart with fresh spirit. On, on he ran with his last remainingstrength, while the sun was just touching the horizon. Ah, but he wasclose to the spot now! He could see the people on the knoll wavingtheir hands to him and urging him on. He could see the foxskin caplying on the ground, the money in it, the starshina sitting beside itwith his hands pressed to his sides. Suddenly Pakhom remembered hisdream. "Yet I have much land now," he thought, "if only God shouldbring me safe to live upon it. But my heart misgives me that I havekilled myself." Still he ran on. For the last time he looked at thesun. Large and red, it had touched the earth, and was beginning tosink below the horizon. Pakhom reached the knoll just as it set."Ah!" he cried in his despair, for he thought that everything waslost. Suddenly, however, he remembered that he could not see frombelow so well as could the people on the knoll above him, and that tothem the sun would still seem not to have set. He rushed at theslope, and could see as he scrambled up it that the cap was stillthere. Then he stumbled and fell&emdash;yet in the very act offalling stretched out his hands towards the cap&emdash;and touchedit!
"Ah, young man," cried the starshina, "you have earned much landindeed! "Pakhom's servant ran to his master and tried to raise him,but blood was running from his mouth. Pakhom lay there dead. Theservant cried out in consternation, but the starshina remainedsitting on his haunches&emdash;laughing, and holding his hands to hissides.
At length he got up, took a spade from the ground, and threw it tothe servant.
"Bury him," was all he said.
The Bashkirs arose and departed. Only the servant remained. He duga grave of the same length as Pakhom's form from head toheels&emdash;three arshins&emdash;and buried him.