Anna karenina, p.74
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       Anna Karenina, p.74

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 5

  After lunch Levin was not in the same place in the string of mowers asbefore, but stood between the old man who had accosted him jocosely, andnow invited him to be his neighbor, and a young peasant, who had onlybeen married in the autumn, and who was mowing this summer for the firsttime.

  The old man, holding himself erect, moved in front, with his feet turnedout, taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular actionwhich seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one's arms inwalking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row ofgrass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itselfswishing through the juicy grass.

  Behind Levin came the lad Mishka. His pretty, boyish face, with a twistof fresh grass bound round his hair, was all working with effort; butwhenever anyone looked at him he smiled. He would clearly have diedsooner than own it was hard work for him.

  Levin kept between them. In the very heat of the day the mowing did notseem such hard work to him. The perspiration with which he was drenchedcooled 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 moreand more often now came those moments of unconsciousness, when it waspossible not to think what one was doing. The scythe cut of itself.These were happy moments. Still more delightful were the moments whenthey reached the stream where the rows ended, and the old man rubbed hisscythe with the wet, thick grass, rinsed its blade in the fresh water ofthe stream, ladled out a little in a tin dipper, and offered Levin adrink.

  "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 waterwith green bits floating in it, and a taste of rust from the tin dipper.And immediately after this came the delicious, slow saunter, with hishand 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 mowersand at what was happening around in the forest and the country.

  The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments ofunconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe,but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousnessof its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the workturned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the mostblissful moments.

  It was only hard work when he had to break off the motion, which hadbecome unconscious, and to think; when he had to mow round a hillock ora tuft of sorrel. The old man did this easily. When a hillock came hechanged his action, and at one time with the heel, and at another withthe tip of his scythe, clipped the hillock round both sides with shortstrokes. And while he did this he kept looking about and watching whatcame into his view: at one moment he picked a wild berry and ate it oroffered it to Levin, then he flung away a twig with the blade of thescythe, then he looked at a quail's nest, from which the bird flew justunder the scythe, or caught a snake that crossed his path, and liftingit on the scythe as though on a fork showed it to Levin and threw itaway.

  For both Levin and the young peasant behind him, such changes ofposition were difficult. Both of them, repeating over and over again thesame strained movement, were in a perfect frenzy of toil, and wereincapable of shifting their position and at the same time watching whatwas before them.

  Levin did not notice how time was passing. If he had been asked how longhe had been working he would have said half an hour--and it was gettingon for dinner time. As they were walking back over the cut grass, theold man called Levin's attention to the little girls and boys who werecoming from different directions, hardly visible through the long grass,and along the road towards the mowers, carrying sacks of bread draggingat their little hands and pitchers of the sour rye-beer, with clothswrapped round them.

  "Look'ee, the little emmets crawling!" he said, pointing to them, and heshaded his eyes with his hand to look at the sun. They mowed two morerows; the old man stopped.

  "Come, master, dinner time!" he said briskly. And on reaching the streamthe mowers moved off across the lines of cut grass towards their pile ofcoats, where the children who had brought their dinners were sittingwaiting for them. The peasants gathered into groups--those further awayunder 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 peasantsgot 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 somebread in a cup, stirred it with the handle of a spoon, poured water onit from the dipper, broke up some more bread, and having seasoned itwith 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 dinedwith the old man, and talked to him about his family affairs, taking thekeenest interest in them, and told him about his own affairs and all thecircumstances that could be of interest to the old man. He felt muchnearer to him than to his brother, and could not help smiling at theaffection he felt for this man. When the old man got up again, said hisprayer, and lay down under a bush, putting some grass under his head fora pillow, Levin did the same, and in spite of the clinging flies thatwere so persistent in the sunshine, and the midges that tickled his hotface and body, he fell asleep at once and only waked when the sun hadpassed to the other side of the bush and reached him. The old man hadbeen awake a long while, and was sitting up whetting the scythes of theyounger lads.

  Levin looked about him and hardly recognized the place, everything wasso changed. The immense stretch of meadow had been mown and wassparkling with a peculiar fresh brilliance, with its lines of alreadysweet-smelling grass in the slanting rays of the evening sun. And thebushes about the river had been cut down, and the river itself, notvisible before, now gleaming like steel in its bends, and the moving,ascending, peasants, and the sharp wall of grass of the unmown part ofthe meadow, and the hawks hovering over the stripped meadow--all wasperfectly new. Raising himself, Levin began considering how much hadbeen cut and how much more could still be done that day.

  The work done was exceptionally much for forty-two men. They had cut thewhole of the big meadow, which had, in the years of serf labor, takenthirty scythes two days to mow. Only the corners remained to do, wherethe rows were short. But Levin felt a longing to get as much mowing donethat day as possible, and was vexed with the sun sinking so quickly inthe sky. He felt no weariness; all he wanted was to get his work donemore and more quickly and as much done as possible.

  "Could you cut Mashkin Upland too?--what do you think?" he said to theold 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 whosmoked had lighted their pipes, the old man told the men that "MashkinUpland'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 backto 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 easilyovertaking him, "I'll mow you down, look out!"

  And young and old mowed away, as though they were racing with oneanother. But however fast they worked, they did not spoil the grass, andthe rows were laid just as neatly and exactly. The little piece leftuncut in the corner was mown in five minutes. The last of the mowerswere just ending their rows while the foremost snatched up their coatsonto their shoulders, and crossed the road towards Mashkin Upland.

  The sun was already sinking into the trees when they went with theirjingling dippers into the wooded ravine of Mashkin Upland. The grass wasup to their waists in the middle of the hollow, soft, tender, andfeathery, spotted here and there among the trees with wild
heart's-ease.

  After a brief consultation--whether to take the rows lengthwise ordiagonally--Prohor Yermilin, also a renowned mower, a huge, black-hairedpeasant, went on ahead. He went up to the top, turned back again andstarted mowing, and they all proceeded to form in line behind him, goingdownhill through the hollow and uphill right up to the edge of theforest. The sun sank behind the forest. The dew was falling by now; themowers were in the sun only on the hillside, but below, where a mist wasrising, 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 oncelaid in high, fragrant rows. The mowers from all sides, brought closertogether in the short row, kept urging one another on to the sound ofjingling dippers and clanging scythes, and the hiss of the whetstonessharpening 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 continuallycutting with their scythes the so-called "birch mushrooms," swollen fatin the succulent grass. But the old man bent down every time he cameacross a mushroom, picked it up and put it in his bosom. "Anotherpresent 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 anddown the steep sides of the ravine. But this did not trouble the oldman. Swinging his scythe just as ever, and moving his feet in their big,plaited shoes with firm, little steps, he climbed slowly up the steepplace, and though his breeches hanging out below his smock, and hiswhole frame trembled with effort, he did not miss one blade of grass orone mushroom on his way, and kept making jokes with the peasants andLevin. Levin walked after him and often thought he must fall, as heclimbed with a scythe up a steep cliff where it would have been hardwork to clamber without anything. But he climbed up and did what he hadto do. He felt as though some external force were moving him.

 
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