How Much Land Does a Man Need – Pre-Intermediate Level
A woman went to visit her younger sister in the country. She was married to a man who had a good job in a city. The younger was married to a peasant in a village. As the sisters sat over their tea, the older one began to talk about the advantages of city life. She told her sister how well they lived, how nicely they dressed, what fine clothes her children wore. She talked about good things they ate and drank, and how she often went to the theatre, dances, and other entertainments.
The younger sister was hurt by the older sister’s words. In turn she spoke badly about city life and spoke well about that of a peasant.
“I would not change my way of life for yours,” she said. “We may be poor, but at least we are free from worry. You live a better life than we do. But though you have more than you need, you are also more likely to lose all you have. It often happens that people who are rich one day have nothing to eat the next. Our way is safer. Though a peasant’s life is not a fat one, it is a long one. We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat.”
“Enough? Yes!” said the older sister with a look on her face that said she did not agree. “If you like to share with the pigs and the cows. What do you know of fine living or how to act politely in high society! However hard your husband may work, you will die as you are living — poor — and your children the same.”
“Well, what of that?” answered the younger sister. “Of course our work is difficult. But, on the other hand, it is sure. And we are in control of our own lives. But in the city, there are many things that could lead a person to do something bad. Today all may be all right, but tomorrow the Devil may try to get your husband to play cards, drink too much wine, or go with other women. Then all will be lost. Don’t such things happen often enough?”
Pahóm, the younger sister’s husband, had been listening. “It is true,” he thought. “We peasants are busy from childhood working the earth. We have no time for such silly thoughts. Our only trouble is that we haven’t enough land. If I had a lot of land, I wouldn’t be scared of the Devil himself!”
The women finished their tea, talked a while about other things, and then cleared away the tea things and lay down to sleep.
But the Devil had been sitting behind Pahóm. He had heard what he said about not being scared of him if he had plenty of land. “All right,” thought the Devil, “we will see who is stronger. I will give you enough land. And by doing that, I will put you in my power.”
Close to the village lived a woman who owned about three hundred acres of land. She had always been friendly towards the peasants until she employed an old soldier to manage her farm. He started making people pay money when their animals came onto her land. However careful Pahóm tried to be, he was always paying. Now a cow of his found its way into her fields. Then a horse of his got among the woman’s corn.
Pahóm paid up, but was unhappy about it. He would go home angry and be unkind to his family. All through that summer, Pahóm had trouble because of this farm manager. He was even happy when the winter snows came and his cows had to be kept indoors. Though he did not like having to pay for hay, at least he was free from worry about them.
In the winter the news got about that the woman was going to sell her land. People said that the owner of the hotel on the high road was talking to her about buying it. When the peasants heard this they were very worried.
“If the hotel owner gets the land,” they thought, “he will make us pay even more money if our animals go there. Everyone’s cows and horses go onto that land sometimes.”
So the peasants went and asked the woman not to sell the land to the hotel owner, but to sell it to the Commune so that they all could use it. They offered her a better price, which she accepted. Then the peasants went to ask the Commune to buy the land. The Commune met twice to discuss it, but could not agree on the matter. The Devil caused them to argue with one another. So it was decided that that the peasants who had money should buy the land in their own name. The woman agreed to this plan as she had to the other.
Soon after this, Pahóm heard that a neighbour of his was buying fifty acres. The woman had agreed to accept one half in cash and to wait a year for the other half. Pahóm decided that he must also buy some of the woman’s land.
“Look at that,” he thought, “the land is all being sold and I shall get none of it.” So he spoke to his wife. “Other people are buying land,” he said, “and we must also buy twenty acres or so.
Pahóm and his wife had one hundred roubles in cash. They sold everything that they could and borrowed some money from the husband of one of their sisters. This gave them half of the amount needed to buy forty acres.
Having done this, Pahóm chose an area of land, some of it with trees, and went to the woman. They came to an agreement, and then went to town to sign the ownership papers. He paid half the price down, and was to pay the other half over the next two years.
So now Pahóm had land of his own to farm. He borrowed seed and sowed it on the land he had bought. The crop was a good one. Before a year had passed, he managed to pay back both the money he had borrowed and the other half of the land price. So he became a land owner. He prepared and sowed his land, made his own hay, cut his own trees, and fed his cows in his own grassy fields. When he went out to work his land, or to look at his cows or corn, his heart would fill with happiness. The grass and flowers that grew there seemed to him unlike any that grew elsewhere. When he had passed by that land before, it had appeared the same as any other land. Now it seemed quite different.
Pahóm was very pleased with his new life. Everything would have been fine if the neighbouring peasants would have kept their animals off his land. He asked them to do this very politely, but they still went on. The man who took care of the village cows did not watch them carefully, and they would get into his fields. Horses set free for the night would get among his corn. Pahóm turned them out again and again. At first he was not angry with their owners. He knew that they did not have their own land, and that they did not mean to cause him trouble. But at last he decided that it must stop.
“I cannot go on doing nothing,” he thought. “If I don’t do something to stop them, I will lose all that I have. They must be taught a lesson.”
He took the owners to court and gave them one lesson, and then another. Two or three of the peasants had to pay him money. After a time Pahóm’s neighbours began to feel angry towards him for this. Now and then they let their cows on to his land on purpose.
A peasant even got into Pahóm’s wood one night and cut down five young trees. Pahóm was passing through the wood one day and noticed a space between the trees. He came nearer, and saw what had happened. Pahóm was very angry. “If he had only cut one here and there it would have been bad enough,” thought Pahóm, “but whoever did this has cut down a whole group of trees. If I could only find out who did it, I would make him pay.”
Pahóm thought for a long time about who could have cut down his trees. Finally he decided that it must be a neighbor by the name of Simon. He went to Simon’s farmhouse to have a look around, which led to an angry argument. Pahóm could not find any sign of wood from the trees. However, he felt more certain than ever that Simon had cut them down. So Pahóm took Simon to court. But the Judges said there was nothing they could do, as Pahóm had no information to show that Simon had cut down the trees. Pahóm felt that the Judges had not been fair, and spoke angrily to them.
“You let bad people who give you money go free,” he said to them. “If you were honest men, you would not do this.”
This made the Judges angry. Pahóm had now made enemies of both his neighbours and the court. People started to talk about burning his farm buildings. Although Pahóm had more land, his place in the Commune was much worse than before.
About this time word came to the village that many people were moving to new parts of the country.
“There’s no need for me to leave my land,” Pahóm thought. “But some of the others might leave the village and then there would be more room for us. I will take over their land and have more. I would then be happier. As it is, I don’t have enough land here.”
One day as Pahóm was sitting at home, a stranger passing through the village happened to call in. He was allowed to stay the night, and was given dinner. Pahóm asked him where he came from. The stranger answered that he came from the the other side of the Volga River, where he had been working. One word led to another, and the man went on to say that many people were moving to those parts. He told how some people from his village had moved there and become members of the Commune. Each been given twenty-five acres of Commune land to farm. The soil was so good, he said, that the wheat sown on it grew thick and as tall as a horse. One man, he said, had brought nothing with him and now he had six horses and two cows of his own. Pahóm’s heart burnt with the wish to move to this place.
“Why should I put up with all the problems here if one can live so well elsewhere?” he thought. “I will sell my land and my farmhouse, and with the money I will start again over there and get everything new. There are too many people here and one is always having trouble. But I must first go and find out all about it myself.”
Towards summer he got ready and started. He went down the Volga on a boat to Samára, then walked another three hundred miles. At last reached the place. It was just as the stranger had said. The peasants had plenty of land. Every man was given twenty-five acres of land owned by the Commune for his use. And anyone who had money could buy as much more land as he wanted for less than a rouble an acre.
Having found out all he wished to know, Pahóm returned home as autumn came on. He then began selling off everything he owned. He sold his land for more than he paid for it, sold his farmhouse and all his cows, and left the Commune. He waited until the spring, and then started with his family for their new home.
As soon as Pahóm and his family got there, he applied to become a member of the Commune of a large village. He gave presents to its leaders, and was given five shares of land owned by the Commune for himself and his four sons to farm. That was a total of 125 acres. The shares were not all together, but in different fields. He could also use any Commune land that had not been given out for farming for his cows.
Pahóm bought cows and put up the buildings he needed. The land the Commune had given his family to farm was three times as much as he had before. And it was good land for farming. He was ten times better off than he had been. He had plenty of land to grow crops on, and could keep as many cows as he liked.
At first, with all the activity of building and setting up his farm, Pahóm was pleased with it all. But when he got used to it he began to think that even here he did not have enough land. The first year, he sowed wheat on his 125 acres. He had a good crop and wanted to go on sowing wheat. But in that part of the country, the land could not be farmed every year. After being farmed for one or two years, it had to be left with nothing on it until the natural grasses had grown back.
Some poor people who did not want to farm their land from the Commune would rent it out to others. Those who were better off would rent such land for growing wheat, but there was not enough for all. There were often arguments about it. Pahóm rented some land for a year. He sowed much wheat and had a fine crop. But the land was too far from the village and he had to carry the wheat more than ten miles.
After a time Pahóm noticed that some farmers were not living on their Commune land but on other land that that they had bought. These farmers seemed to be growing rich.
“If I were to buy some land,” he thought, “and live on it, it would be different. Then it would all be nice.” The question of buying land came into his mind again and again.
He went on in the same way for three years: renting land and sowing wheat. The seasons turned out well and the crops were good. He began to save money. He might have gone on living happily, but he grew tired of having to rent other people’s land every year and having to fight to get it. Wherever there was good land to be had, all the peasants wanted it. Unless you acted at once, it would be gone. In the third year he and another man rented a piece of land from some peasants. They had already prepared it ready for planting, when there was some kind of argument. The peasants took them to court, and got the land back. All the hard work they had done was lost. “If it were my own land,” Pahóm thought, “I would not need to work with other people. Then there would not be all this unpleasantness.”
So Pahóm began looking out for land which he could buy. He heard about a man who owned thirteen hundred acres. The man had got into difficulties and was willing to sell it cheaply. Pahóm went to see the man, and they agreed on a price of 1,500 roubles; 1,000 roubles in cash and the rest to be paid later.
He was about to pay for the land, when a passing stranger happened to stop at Pahóm’s farm to get some food for his horses. He drank tea with Pahóm, and they talked. The stranger told him that he was just returning from the distant land of the Bashkírs. He said that he had just bought thirteen thousand acres of land there for 1,000 roubles. Pahóm questioned him further.
“All one need do is to make friends with the chiefs,” he said. “I gave away presents that I bought for around a hundred roubles, as well as a case of tea. I also gave wine to those who would drink it. I got the land for less than eight kopecks an acre. It lies near a river, and the whole area has never been farmed.”
He showed Pahóm the ownership papers, and Pahóm asked many more questions.
“There is more land there than you could cover if you walked a year,” the man said. “And the Bashkírs own it all. They are as simple as sheep, and land can be got almost for nothing.”
“There now!” thought Pahóm. “With my one thousand roubles, why should I get only thirteen hundred acres, and have to pay more money later. If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times as much land for the money.”
Pahóm asked how to get to the place, and as soon as the stranger had left him, he prepared to go there himself. He left his wife to look after their farm and started on his journey, taking just one man with him. They stopped at a town on their way and bought a case of tea, some wine, and other presents as the stranger had suggested. On and on they went until they had gone more than three hundred miles. On the seventh day they came to the land of the Bashkírs.
It was all just as the stranger had said. The people lived in tents by a river on the steppes. They knew little of the outside world, and most of them did not even speak Russian. But they seemed friendly enough. They did not grow crops or eat bread. Their cows, sheep and horses were allowed to run free.
The young horses were tied behind the tents. When their mothers came to feed them, they were milked by the Bashkír women. From the milk the women made cheese and a special kind of beer.
All the summer long the men never thought of doing any work. They spent their days drinking milk beer and tea, eating, and playing on their pipes. They were all strong and seemed to enjoy life.
As soon as the Bashkírs saw Pahóm, they came out of their tents and stood around him. A man who could speak Russian was found. His name was Ivan. Pahóm told him that he had come about some land, and the Bashkírs seemed pleased. They led Pahóm into a large tent, and sat around him on a carpet. Then they gave him tea and milk beer. They also had a sheep killed, and gave him some of its meat to eat. Pahóm had his man take some presents out of his cart and give them to the Bashkírs. He also gave them all some tea. The Bashkírs were very happy. They talked for a long time among themselves, and then asked Ivan to explain to Pahóm what they had said.
“They wish to tell you,” said Ivan, “that they like you. It is the way of our people to do all that we can to please a visitor and to thank him for his presents. You have given us many nice things. Tell us of anything we have that pleases you, so that we may give it to you.”
“What pleases me most here,” answered Pahóm “is your land. Our land has too many people, and the soil has been farmed for too long. But you have a lot of very good land. It is the best land that I have ever seen.”
Ivan explained all this to the Bashkírs, who talked among themselves for a while. Pahóm could not understand what they were saying, but they were shouting and laughing and seemed very happy about something. Then they stopped talking and looked at Pahóm.
“They wish me to tell you,” said Ivan, “that in return for your presents they will pleased to give you as much land as you want. You have only to point it out with your hand and it is yours.”
The Bashkírs talked again for a while but this time there seemed to be some kind of disagreement among them. Pahóm asked what they were talking about, and Ivan told him that their Chief was away. Some of them thought that they should not act until he returned. Others thought there was no need to wait.
While the Bashkírs were arguing, a tall man wearing a large fur cap came into the tent. They all stopped talking and stood as he entered. “This is our Chief,” said Ivan.
Pahóm went to get his best presents and offered these to the Chief. The Chief accepted them, and the Bashkírs at once began telling him about Pahóm. The Chief listened for a while, then made a sign with his head for them to stop talking. Addressing himself to Pahóm, he said in Russian:
“Well, let it be so. Choose whatever piece of land you like; we have plenty of it.”
“How can I take as much as I like?” thought Pahóm. “I must have ownership papers to make make sure that it is mine. If I don’t, they may say, ‘It is yours,’ today and take it away again tomorrow.”
“Thank you for your kind words,” he said. “You have much land, and I only want a little. But I should like to be sure which bit is mine. Could it not be measured and ownership papers given to me? Life and death are in God’s hands. You good people give it to me, but your children might wish to take it away again.”
“You are quite right,” said the Chief. “That can be done quite easily. We have someone who can make up the papers, and we will go to town with you and sign them at the government office.”
“And what will be the price?” asked Pahóm.
“Our price is always the same: one thousand roubles a day.”
Pahóm did not understand.
“A day? What measure is that? How many acres would that be?”
“We do not know how to measure it any other way,” said the Chief. “We sell it by the day. As much as you can go round on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand roubles a day.”
Pahóm was surprised.
“But in a day you can get round a large area of land,” he said.
The Chief laughed.
“It will all be yours!” said he. “But there is something you must agree to before you begin. If you don’t return on the same day to the place from which you started, your money is lost.”
“But how am I to mark the way that I have gone?”
“Why, we shall go to anywhere you like on our land, and stay there. You must start from that place and start walking, taking a spade with you. Wherever you wish, make a mark. At every turning, dig a hole and place the pieces of earth one upon another to make it easy to see. Afterwards, we will go around with a plough from hole to hole. You may mark off as large an amount of land as you please, but before the sun sets you must return to the place you started from. All the land you cover will be yours.”
Pahóm was very happy with this. It was decided to start the next day. They talked a while, and after drinking some more milk beer and eating some more meat, they had tea again. Then the night came on. They gave Pahóm a soft bed to sleep on, and the Bashkírs went to their own tents for the night. All promised to meet early the next morning and ride out before the sun came up.
Pahóm lay on the bed, but could not sleep. He kept thinking about the land.
“What a large area I will mark off!” he thought. “I can easily walk thirty-five miles in a day. The days are long now, and if I walk thirty-five miles what a lot of land there will be! I will sell the poorer land, or rent it to peasants, but I’ll pick out the best and farm it. I will employ some men to grow crops on a hundred and fifty acres, and keep cows on the rest.”
Pahóm lay thinking of his plans most of the night, and only fell asleep an hour before it was time to wake up. Almost as soon as his eyes closed he began to dream. He thought he was lying in that same tent, and heard somebody laughing quietly outside. He wondered who it could be, and got up and went out. There he saw the Bashkír Chief sitting in front of the tent, holding his sides and rolling about with laughter. Going nearer to the Chief, Pahóm asked: “What are you laughing at?” But he saw that it was no longer the Chief, but the stranger who had stopped at his house and told him about the Bashkír land. Just as Pahóm was going to ask, “Have you been here long?” he saw that it was no longer that man, but the other stranger who had come up from the Volga to Pahóm’s old home. Then he saw that it was not him either, but the Devil himself sitting there laughing. And before him on the ground lay a man with only trousers and a shirt on, and no shoes. And Pahóm dreamt that he looked more closely to see what sort of a man it was that was lying there. He saw that the man was dead and that it was himself! He woke up in fright.
“What strange things people sometimes dream!” he thought.
Looking around he saw through the open door that the sun was about to come up.
“It’s time to wake them up,” he thought. “We should be starting.”
He got up, woke his man who was sleeping in his cart, and asked him to get the horses ready. Then he went to call the Bashkírs.
“It’s time to go to measure the land,” he said.
The Bashkírs, including the Chief, got up and came together. They began drinking milk beer again, and offered Pahóm some tea. But he would not wait. “If we are to go, let us go,” he said. “It is nearly time.”
The Bashkírs got ready and they all started. Some rode horses, and some rode in carts. Pahóm drove in his own small cart with his man, and took a spade with him. They stopped at the top of a small hill as the sky was beginning to turn red. The Chief came up to Pahóm and held out his arms towards the land in front of them.
“See,” said he, “all this, as far as your eye can reach, is ours. You may have any part of it you like.”
Pahóm’s eyes shone. The land had never been farmed and was almost completely flat. The soil was rich and black, and in some places the grass grew chest high.
The Chief took off his fur cap and placed it on the ground.
“This will be the mark,” he said. “Start from here, and return here again. All the land you go round before the sun sets shall be yours.”
Pahóm took out his money and put it on the cap. Then he took off his thick coat, remaining in his jacket. He put a little bag of bread into his jacket pocket, and tied a water bottle to his belt. Then he pulled up the tops of his boots, took the spade from his man, and stood ready to start. He thought for some moments which way he had better go — everywhere looked good.
“No matter,” he decided, “I will go towards the sun.”
He turned his face to the east and waited for the sun to appear above the horizon.
“I must lose no time,” he thought, “and it is easier walking while it is still cool.”
As soon as the sun appeared, Pahóm, carrying the spade over his shoulder, went down into the steppe.
He started walking, not too slowly or too quickly. After having walked a mile he stopped, dug a hole, and placed the pieces of earth one upon another. Then he went on. Now that his body had warmed up, he walked more quickly. After a while he dug another hole.
Pahóm looked back. The hill could be clearly seen, with the people on it and the cart wheels shining in the sunlight. Pahóm thought that he must have walked three miles. It was growing warmer. He took off his jacket, put it across his shoulder, and went on again. It had grown quite warm now. He looked at the sun. It was time to think of breakfast.
“The first part is done, but there are four parts in a day, and it is too soon yet to turn. But I will just take off my boots,” he said to himself.
He sat down, took off his boots, tied them to his belt, and went on. It was easy walking now.
“I will go on for another three miles,” he thought, “and then turn to the left. This piece of land is so good that it would be silly to lose it. The further one goes, the better the land seems.”
He went straight on for a while, and when he looked back the hill was hard to see. The people on it looked like small black insects. He could just see something there shining in the sun.
“Ah,” thought Pahóm, “I have gone far enough this way. It is time to turn. Besides, I am very hot and very thirsty.”
He stopped, dug a large hole and, as before, placed the pieces of earth one upon another. Next he untied his water bottle, had a drink, and then turned sharply to the left. He went on and on. The grass was high, and it was very hot.
Pahóm began to grow tired. He looked at the sun and saw that it was mid-day.
“Well,” he thought, “I must have a rest.”
He sat down, ate some bread and drank some water. But he did not lie down, thinking that if he did he might fall asleep. After sitting a little while, he went on again. At first he walked easily. The food had made him feel stronger, but it had become terribly hot. He felt sleepy, but still he went on, thinking: “Hard work this afternoon, the rest of my life to live.”
He went a long way, and was about to turn to the left again, when he saw an area of wet land. “It would be silly to leave that out,” he thought. So he went on and dug a hole on the other side of it before he turned the corner. Pahóm looked towards the hill. The people on the hill were hard to see, and the hot air coming up from the ground made it look as if the hill was moving.
“Ah!” thought Pahóm, “I have made the sides too long. I must make this one shorter.” And he went along the third side stepping faster. He looked at the sun. It was nearly half way to the horizon, and he had not yet done two miles of the third side of the square. He was still ten miles from the hill.
“Oh no!” he thought. “Although it will make my land an unusual shape, I must go back as fast as I can in a straight line. I don’t want to go too far, and as it is I have a lot of land.”
So Pahóm quickly dug a hole, and turned towards the hill.
Pahóm went straight towards the hill, but he now walked with difficulty. He was tired from with the heat, his feet were cut and sore, and he found it hard to walk. He wanted to rest, but it was impossible if he meant to get back before the sun went down. The sun waits for no man, and it was sinking lower and lower.
“Oh dear,” he thought, “if only I have not gone on trying for too much! What if I am too late?”
He looked towards the hill and at the sun. He was still a long way from it, and the sun was already near the top. Pahóm walked on and on. It was very hard walking, but he went quicker and quicker. He pushed on, but was still far from the place. He began running, threw away his jacket, his boots, his water bottle, and his cap. He kept only the spade, which he used to help him walk.
“What shall I do,” he thought again. “I have tried to take too much, and will lose everything. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”
But he went on running. His wet shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth was dry. He was breathing heavily, his heart was beating loudly, and his legs were giving way as if they were not part of him. He became scared that he would die of the pressure.
But though frightened of death, Pahóm could not stop. “After having run all this way they will call me a fool if I stop now,” he thought. So he ran on and on. As he drew near, he heard the Bashkírs calling and shouting to him. Their cries made him try even harder.
The sun was close to the horizon, and looked large and red as blood in the dying light. It was quite low, but he was also quite near the hill. Pahóm could see the people on the hill waving their arms to tell him to come quickly. He could even see the fur cap on the ground with the money on it, and the Chief sitting behind it holding his sides. Then Pahóm remembered his dream.
“There is plenty of land,” he thought, “but will God let me live on it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach the top of the hill on time!”
Pahóm looked at the sun, which had reached the earth. One side of it had already disappeared. With all his remaining energy he ran on, bending his body so far forward that it was hard for his tired legs to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the bottom of the hill it suddenly grew dark. He looked up. The sun had already set! He gave a cry. “All my hard work has been for nothing,” he thought, and was about to stop. But he heard the Bashkírs still shouting.
Then he remembered that though to him, from below, the sun seemed to have set, they on the top of the hill could still see it. He took a deep breath and ran up the hill. It was still light there. He reached the top and saw the cap. Before it sat the Chief laughing and holding his sides. Again Pahóm remembered his dream. He gave out a cry, and his legs gave way under him. He fell forward and reached the cap with his hands.
“Ah, that’s a fine man!” cried the Chief “He has won much land!”
Pahóm’s man came running up and tried to lift him. He saw that blood was coming from Pahóm’s mouth. Pahóm was dead!
The Bashkírs made sad noises with their tongues to show how sorry they were.
The man picked up the spade and dug a deep hole long enough for Pahóm to be buried in. Six feet from his head to his toes was all the land that Pahóm needed.