HOW MUCH LAND DOES A MAN NEED?
Analytical summary of the story
An elder sister coming from the town speaks to her younger sister in the country about the advantages of town life. The elder sister is married to a tradesman in the town and the husband of the younger sister is a peasant. The elder sister speaks of the fine and comfortable things of the town. The younger sister claims peasants are poor but free from anxiety. Rich people of the town often become beggars. Peasants live a safe life. They may not be rich, but they will never be poor. They may be rough and coarse but they do not have any temptations. Town people are surrounded by the temptations of cards, wine and woman and go to ruin.
Pahom, the husband of the younger sister hears the talk and admits his contention. No evil thoughts enter their minds. The only thought of the peasants is that they have no enough land. The Devil now heard the boastings of Pahom that if he has enough land, he would not fear theDevil himself. The Devil says to himself that he will give Pahom land enough and bring him into his power.
A lady in the village has an estate of three hundred acres. Her steward burdens the people with fines. Pahom is often fined for his horse or caw or calves straying into her garden. In winter cattle are kept in the stable and he is free from anxiety. It is rumoured that the lady would sell her land and the keeper of the inn on the high road in bargaining for it. The peasants offered better price for the land to the lady. However, the commune cannot decide to buy the whole estate as the peasants quarrel
. They decide to buy the land individually according to their means. Pahom consults his wife and decides to buy some acres of land with their one hundred rubles and by selling their colt, hiring out one of their sons as a labourer and borrowing from the brother-in-law. Pahom chooses a farm of forty acres and buys it by paying half the price and promising to pay the rest in two years. Thus he becomes the owner of land. He sows seeds in his land and has a good harvest . Pahom pays off the debts. He is filled with pride and joy when he sees his growing and grassy meadows.
The neighbouring peasants encroach on Pahom’s land. Horses and cows stray into his meadows. His polite appeals have no effect. He complains to the District Court. Thus the peasants are fined. They bear a grudge against Pahom and often tease him. One neighbour cut down five young lime trees for their bark . Pahom is furious. He tries to find out the culprit. Simon is tried in the court but acquitted . Pahom abuses the judges and neighbours who become his enemies. His position in the commune becomes very low.
But he wants to own more lands when his neighbours decide to move to new parts. One day a peasant from beyond the Volga informs him that people there are settling and have joined the commune there. The land is very good there and the rye grows there high and plentiful. One peasant is so rich that he owns six horses and two cows. Pahom becomes ambitious. He wants to sell his land and homestead and start afresh there.
Pahom starts down the Volga by a steamer and walks another three hundred miles to reach the place. He comes to know that every nian has twenty-five acres of communal land and can buy as much freehold land as he wants. Pahom sells off all his belongings and his land and settles with his family in the new place.
Pahom gets 125 acres besides the use of communal pastures . He has many times greater land and cattle and home and is ten times better. After settling here and living for sometime, he is not yet goes satisfied. He wants to grow wheat but has not enough communal land for it. People quarrel about the land that grows wheat. Pahom rents land from a dealer. He has a fine crop of wheat but the land is far off and the wheat has to be carried in a cart. He then wants to buy some more freehold land and have a homestead on it.
However for three years he on well by renting land and growing wheat. But he grows tired of renting other people’s land. There is sometimes dispute over the rented land. So Pahom decides to have his own land. He buys thirteen hundred acres from a peasant for 1,500 rubles. Then, he hears from a someone that in Bashkirs land, he has purchased thirteen thousand acres of land for 1,000 rubles. One can get it if the Chiefs are satisfied.
He has given the chiefs one hundred rubles worth of silk robes , carpets, tea, wine and has got the land for less than a penny an acre. He also informs Pahom that there is more land there than one could cover by walking a year. The land belongs to the Bashkirs. Pahom is ambitious to get more lands there than what he gets now.
Pahom prepared to go there with his man at first to make enquiries about the matter. They have walked more than three hundred miles, and on the seventh day, they come to the place where the Bashkirs have put their tents in the steppes . The Bashkirs do not cultivate the lands. Their cattle and horses graze ; they have colts and mares. They get milk and women prepare the kumiss and cheese. Men drink and eat, play on their pipes. They do not work and they are ignorant.
Pahom is received well by the Bashkirs. He is offered tea and Kumiss, and Pahom gives them some presents. They talk through an interpreter. Pahom then tells them that he wants land. There is extensive land here and he thinks that the land is good. The Bashkirs tell him through the interpreter that he has to point out with his hand the land that he likes to have. The Bashkirs talk among themselves and say that they will wait for their Chief.
The Chief of the Bashkirs comes. Pahom presents him five pounds of tea and the best dressing gown. The Bashkirs tell him something and the chief then addresses Pahom. He asks him to choose any piece of land. Pahom wants that the land should be made over to him by a deed. The chief agrees. He asks the price of the land. Pahom then asks for the measure of the land and the price. The Chief says that they cannot reckon the measure.
They sell the land by the day, as much as he can go round on his feet in a day will belong to him and the price is one thousand rubles a day. Pahon cannot understand it. In a day one can go round a large tract of land. But the Chief gives the condition that he will return to the spot from where he starts before the sun-set. If he fails, his money is lost. Pahom decides to start early next morning.
On the feather-bed Pahom cannot sleep. He thinks that he will complete the circuit of thirty-five miles, and within that circuit he will have a lot of land. He will buy two ox-teams, hire two more labourers. Pahom will have a hundred and fifty acres of the plough land and pasture cattle on the rest. Before dawn his eyes close and he dreams that somebody is laughing outside.
Coming out he sees at first the Chief, next time the Chief becomes the dealer, next time the peasant who came from the Volga. But it is the Devil himself sitting and laughing and before him is a man lying at full length. He sees that the man is dead and he is the man. Pahom wakes up in horror and sees that it is dawn. He rouses the man and meets the Chief and his men. After taking tea and kumiss, he is ready to start.
They start. They reach the steppe in the red morning. The Bashkirs go up a hillock and come to a spot. The Chief shows to Pahom the long stretch of land and tell him that he can take any part of the land. It is virgin soil full of grasses in the hollows. The Chief places his cap at one place and says that Pahom will be at the spot within the sun-set. All the land he will go round shall belong to him. Pahom gets ready for start and cannot understand from where he will start.
It is tempting everywhere. He decides to go towards the east. Pahom begins to move at a medium pace. He digs a hole after going a thousand yards ; he digs another hole after sometime. When he has walked about three miles he feels warm. He takes off his boots and walks easily. Pahom wants to go far because the land will be better. Gradually, the hillock becomes invisible, and the people there look like ants. He drinks, digs a hole and begins his journey forward.
It becomes very hot. He stops, eats bread and drinks water. Pahom feels tired and sleepy, but still he goes on. He thinks of suffering for hours to live a happy lifetime. Pahom turns again and sees a damp hollow. He digs a hole there. The hillock and the people become invisible. Pahom goes along the third side. The sun is half way to the horizon but he is still ten miles from the destination. He decides to hurry back straight to the hillock.
Pahom is now tired. The sun was beating down too much. His feet are cut and wounded. His legs fail. The sun is sinking lower and lower. Pahom feels that he has blundered by trying for too much. He will be late. The sun is almost setting and he is far from the hillock. He tries to walk fast, but he cannot. Pahom begins running. He throws away his coat, boots, cap flask. With the support of the spade , he walks. His breast and heart are beating fast ; his mouth is parched , his shirt and
trousers is soaked in sweat.
He can’t go any further. But still he does not stop lest they call him a fool. The sun is low; he is also near his goal. He can see the cap of the Chief in the spot and the Chief sitting and laughing. The sun is setting ; Pahom rushes on with his remaining strength. He reaches the spot and runs up the hillock. The sun is still visible there. He utters a cry; he falls forward and reaches the cap with his hands. The Chief exclaims that he has gained much land. Pahom’s servant runs towards the master, but sees the blood flowing from his mouth. Pahom is dead. The Bashkirs expresses pity by clicking their tongues. He is buried in the grave. He needs only six feet from his head to his heels.