In the Surovsky district there was no railway nor service of post horses, and Levin drove there with his own horses in his big, old-fashioned carriage.
He stopped halfway at a well-to-do peasant’s to feed his horses. A bald, well-preserved old man, with a broad, red beard, gray on his cheeks, opened the gate, squeezing against the gatepost to let the three horses pass. Directing the coachman to a place under the shed in the big, clean, tidy yard, with charred, old-fashioned ploughs in it, the old man asked Levin to come into the parlor. A cleanly dressed young woman, with clogs on her bare feet, was scrubbing the floor in the new outer room. She was frightened of the dog, that ran in after Levin, and uttered a shriek, but began laughing at her own fright at once when she was told the dog would not hurt her. Pointing Levin with her bare arm to the door into the parlor, she bent down again, hiding her handsome face, and went on scrubbing.
“Would you like the samovar?” she asked.
The parlor was a big room, with a Dutch stove, and a screen dividing it into two. Under the holy pictures stood a table painted in patterns, a bench, and two chairs. Near the entrance was a dresser full of crockery. The shutters were closed, there were few flies, and it was so clean that Levin was anxious that Laska, who had been running along the road and bathing in puddles, should not muddy the floor, and ordered her to a place in the corner by the door. After looking round the parlor, Levin went out in the back yard. The good-looking young woman in clogs, swinging the empty pails on the yoke, ran on before him to the well for water.
“Look sharp, my girl!” the old man shouted after her, good-humoredly, and he went up to Levin. “Well, sir, are you going to Nikolay Ivanovitch Sviazhsky? His honor comes to us too,” he began, chatting, leaning his elbows on the railing of the steps. In the middle of the old man’s account of his acquaintance with Sviazhsky, the gates creaked again, and laborers came into the yard from the fields, with wooden ploughs and harrows. The horses harnessed to the ploughs and harrows were sleek and fat. The laborers were obviously of the household: two were young men in cotton shirts and caps, the two others were hired laborers in homespun shirts, one an old man, the other a young fellow. Moving off from the steps, the old man went up to the horses and began unharnessing them.
“What have they been ploughing?” asked Levin.
“Ploughing up the potatoes. We rent a bit of land too. Fedot, don’t let out the gelding, but take it to the trough, and we’ll put the other in harness.”
“Oh, father, the ploughshares I ordered, has he brought them along?” asked the big, healthy-looking fellow, obviously the old man’s son.
“There … in the outer room,” answered the old man, bundling together the harness he had taken off, and flinging it on the ground. “You can put them on, while they have dinner.”
The good-looking young woman came into the outer room with the full pails dragging at her shoulders. More women came on the scene from somewhere, young and handsome, middle-aged, old and ugly, with children and without children.
The samovar was beginning to sing; the laborers and the family, having disposed of the horses, came in to dinner. Levin, getting his provisions out of his carriage, invited the old man to take tea with him.
“Well, I have had some today already,” said the old man, obviously accepting the invitation with pleasure. “But just a glass for company.”
Over their tea Levin heard all about the old man’s farming. Ten years before, the old man had rented three hundred acres from the lady who owned them, and a year ago he had bought them and rented another three hundred from a neighboring landowner. A small part of the land—the worst part—he let out for rent, while a hundred acres of arable land he cultivated himself with his family and two hired laborers. The old man complained that things were doing badly. But Levin saw that he simply did so from a feeling of propriety, and that his farm was in a flourishing condition. If it had been unsuccessful he would not have bought land at thirty-five roubles the acre, he would not have married his three sons and a nephew, he would not have rebuilt twice after fires, and each time on a larger scale. In spite of the old man’s complaints, it was evident that he was proud, and justly proud, of his prosperity, proud of his sons, his nephew, his sons’ wives, his horses and his cows, and especially of the fact that he was keeping all this farming going. From his conversation with the old man, Levin thought he was not averse to new methods either. He had planted a great many potatoes, and his potatoes, as Levin had seen driving past, were already past flowering and beginning to die down, while Levin’s were only just coming into flower. He earthed up his potatoes with a modern plough borrowed from a neighboring landowner. He sowed wheat. The trifling fact that, thinning out his rye, the old man used the rye he thinned out for his horses, specially struck Levin. How many times had Levin seen this splendid fodder wasted, and tried to get it saved; but always it had turned out to be impossible. The peasant got this done, and he could not say enough in praise of it as food for the beasts.
“What have the wenches to do? They carry it out in bundles to the roadside, and the cart brings it away.”
“Well, we landowners can’t manage well with our laborers,” said Levin, handing him a glass of tea.
“Thank you,” said the old man, and he took the glass, but refused sugar, pointing to a lump he had left. “They’re simple destruction,” said he. “Look at Sviazhsky’s, for instance. We know what the land’s like—first-rate, yet there’s not much of a crop to boast of. It’s not looked after enough—that’s all it is!”
“But you work your land with hired laborers?”
“We’re all peasants together. We go into everything ourselves. If a man’s no use, he can go, and we can manage by ourselves.”
“Father, Finogen wants some tar,” said the young woman in the clogs, coming in.
“Yes, yes, that’s how it is, sir!” said the old man, getting up, and crossing himself deliberately, he thanked Levin and went out.
When Levin went into the kitchen to call his coachman he saw the whole family at dinner. The women were standing up waiting on them. The young, sturdy-looking son was telling something funny with his mouth full of pudding, and they were all laughing, the woman in the clogs, who was pouring cabbage soup into a bowl, laughing most merrily of all.
Very probably the good-looking face of the young woman in the clogs had a good deal to do with the impression of well-being this peasant household made upon Levin, but the impression was so strong that Levin could never get rid of it. And all the way from the old peasant’s to Sviazhsky’s he kept recalling this peasant farm as though there were something in this impression that demanded his special attention.