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How Much Land Does A Man Need?

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.
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How Much Land Does A Man Need?

Leo Tolstoy



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 comfortably they lived, how well 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 live roughly, but at least we are free from worry. You live in better style than we do but though you often earn more than you need, you are very likely to lose all you have. It often happens that people who are wealthy 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 good manners! 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. “Of course our work is rough and hard. But, on the other hand, it is sure. And we are in charge of our own lives. But in the city, there 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 perfectly true,” he thought. “We peasants are busy from childhood working the earth. We have no time to let any silly thoughts settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t enough land. If I had a lot of land, I shouldn’t fear 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 fearing the Devil himself 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 lady who owned about three hundred acres of land. She had always been on good terms with the peasants until she employed an old soldier to manage her farm. He took to charging fines to people whose animals came onto her land. However careful Pahóm tried to be, he was always paying fines. Now a cow of his found its way into her fields. Then a horse of his got among the lady’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 glad when the winter snows came and the cattle 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 lady was going to sell her land, and that the keeper of the inn on the high road was talking to her about buying it. When the peasants heard this they were very worried.

“If the inn-keeper gets the land,” they thought, “he will charge larger fines than the lady’s farm manager. We all have to use that land sometimes.”

So the peasants went and asked the lady not to sell the land to the inn-keeper, 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 tried to arrange for 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 should buy the land individually, each according to how much money they had. The lady 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 lady had agreed to accept one half in cash and to wait a year for the other half. Pahóm felt jealous.

“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. Life is becoming impossible. That farm manager is destroying us with his fines.”

So they put their heads together and considered how they could get enough money. They already had one hundred roubles in cash. They sold everything that they could sell. They got one of their sons to take a job working on another farm, and borrowed against his wages. Then they borrowed some money from a brother-in-law. They were able to put together half of the amount needed to buy forty acres.

Having done this, Pahóm selected an area of land, some of it with trees, and went to the lady. They came to an agreement, and then went to town to sign the ownership documents. He paid half the price down, and was to pay the other half within 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, and within a year he had managed to pay off the money he owed to both the lady and to his brother-in-law. So he became a land owner. He ploughed and sowed his land, made his own hay, cut his own trees, and fed his cattle in his own grassy fields. When he went out to work his land, or to look at his cattle or corn, his heart would fill with joy. 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 happy, and 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, and forgave their owners. He knew that the owners did not have their own land, and that they did not mean to cause him harm. But at last he lost patience.

“I cannot go on doing nothing,” he thought. “Otherwise they will destroy all I have. They must be taught a lesson.”

He complained to the District Court and gave them one lesson, and then another. Two or three of the peasants received fines. After a time Pahóm’s neighbours began to feel angry towards him for this. Now and then they let their cattle on to his land on purpose.

One peasant even got into Pahóm’s wood one night and cut down five young trees for their bark. Pahóm was passing through the wood one day noticed something white. He came nearer, and saw their trunks lying on the ground where the trees had stood. 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.”

He thought for a long time about who it could be. 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. He found nothing, but caused an angry scene. He then felt more certain than ever that Simon had done it. He took Simon to the District Court, but the Judges found Simon not guilty. There was no evidence against him. Pahóm felt that he had been cheated, and let his anger loose upon the Judges.

“You let thieves who give you money go free,” he said to them. “If you were honest men, you would not do this.”

So Pahóm now argued with the Judges as well as with his neighbours. People started to talk about burning his farm buildings. Though 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 to be comfortable.”

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 settling in those parts. He told how some people from his village had moved there. They had joined the Commune, and been given twenty-five acres per man. The land 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 desire. “Why should I suffer in this small place if one can live so well elsewhere?” he thought. “I will sell my land and my farmhouse here, and with the money I will start again over there and get everything new. In this crowded place 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 Communal land for his use. And any one who had money could buy, for around one rouble an acre, as much more land as he wanted.

Having found out all he wished to know, Pahóm returned home as autumn came on.

He then began selling off his belongings. He sold his land at a profit, sold his farmhouse and all his cattle, and left the Commune. He waited until the spring, and then started with his family for the new settlement.

As soon as Pahóm and his family arrived at the settlement, he applied for admission into the Commune of a large village. He gave presents to its leaders, and was given the necessary documents to five shares of Communal land for himself and his sons. That was a total of 125 acres. The shares were not all together, but in different fields. He could also use the Communal pasture.

Pahóm bought cattle and put up the buildings he needed. Of the Communal land alone he now had three times as much as at his former home. And it was good land for farming. He was ten times better off than he had been. He had plenty of farm land and pasture, and could keep as many cattle as he liked.

At first, with all the activity of building and settling down, 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 living on separate land that that they had bought and were 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 ploughed it up ready for planting, when there was some kind of argument. The peasants went to the law about it, and took the land back. All the hard work they had done was lost. “If it were my own land,” Pahóm thought, “I should be independent. There would not be all this unpleasantness.”

So Pahóm began looking out for land which he could buy. He came across a man who owned thirteen hundred acres. The man had got into difficulties and was willing to sell it cheaply. Pahóm bargained with the man, and at last they settled the price at 1,500 roubles; 1,000 roubles in cash and the rest to be paid later.

They had all but completed the sale, 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 about one hundred roubles worth of presents, 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 it all belongs to the Bashkírs. 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 advised. On and on they went until they had gone more than three hundred miles. On the seventh day they came to a place where the Bashkírs lived.

It was all just as the stranger had said. The people lived in tents by a river on the steppes. They did not grow crops or eat bread. Their cattle and horses were allowed to run free. The young horses were tied behind the tents, and their mothers came to them twice a day and were milked. From the milk the women made cheese and a drink like beer called kumiss. As far as the men were concerned, drinking kumiss and tea, eating, and playing on their pipes, was all they cared about. They were all strong and happy, and all the summer long they never thought of doing any work. They knew little of the outside world, and most of them did not even speak Russian. But they seemed friendly enough.


As soon as they saw Pahóm, they came out of their tents and gathered around their visitor. A man by the name of Ivan who could speak Russian was found. Pahóm told him that he had come about some land, and the Bashkírs seemed very glad. They took Pahóm and led him into one of the best tents, where they sat round him on a carpet. They gave him tea and kumiss, and 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 divided the tea amongst them. The Bashkírs were very happy. They talked a great deal among themselves, and then told Ivan to translate.

“They wish to tell you,” said Ivan, “that they like you, and that it is our custom to do all we can to please a guest and to thank him for his gifts. You have given us presents, now tell us which of the things we possess please you best, so that we may give them to you.”

“What pleases me best here,” answered Pahóm “is your land. Our land has too many people, and the soil has been farmed for too long. But you have plenty of land and it is good land. I never saw the like of it.”

Ivan translated. The Bashkírs talked among themselves for a while. Pahóm could not understand what they were saying, but saw that they were seemed very happy, and that they shouted and laughed. Then they were silent and looked at Pahóm.

“They wish me to tell you,” said Ivan, “that in return for your presents they will gladly 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 and there seemed to be some kind of disagreement among them. Pahóm asked what they were talking about, Ivan told him that their Chief was away. Some of them thought that they not act while he was away. Others thought there was no need to wait for his return.






While the Bashkírs were arguing, a man in a large fur cap appeared on the scene. They all became silent and stood as he entered. “This is our Chief,” said Ivan.

Pahóm immediately went and got his best presents and offered these to the Chief. The Chief accepted them, and seated himself in the place of honour. The Bashkírs at once began telling him something. The Chief listened for a while, then made a sign with his head for them to be silent. 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 get ownership papers to make it secure, or else they may say, ‘It is yours,’ and afterwards may take it away again.”

“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 reckon it out,” 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 one condition. If you don’t return on the same day to the spot 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 any spot you like, and stay there. You must start from that spot and start walking, taking a spade with you. Wherever you think necessary, make a mark. At every turning, dig a hole and pile up the earth. Then 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 kumiss and eating some more, 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 to the appointed spot 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 buy two ox teams, and employ two men to work them. I will grow crops on a hundred and fifty acres, and pasture cattle 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. Hardly were his eyes closed when he had a 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 horror.

“What things people sometimes dream,” he thought.

Looking round he saw through the open door that the sun was about to come up.

“It’s time to wake them up,” thought he. “We ought to 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 kumiss again, and offered Pahóm some tea. But he would not wait. “If we are to go, let us go. It is nearly time,” said he.






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 servant, and took a spade with him. When they reached the steppe, the sky was beginning to turn red. They stopped at the top of a small hill and gathered in one spot. The Chief came up to Pahóm and stretched out his arm towards the plain.

“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 breast 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 woolen vest. He put a little bag of bread into his vest 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 rising sun.”

He turned his face to the east, stretched himself 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 neither slowly nor quickly. After having walked a mile he stopped, dug a hole, and placed the pieces of earth one upon another to make it easy to see. 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. At a rough guess Pahóm thought that he must have walked three miles. It was growing warmer. He took off his vest, 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,” said he 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 spot is so fine, 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 in this direction. 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 to make it easy to see. 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 strengthened him, but it had become terribly hot. He felt sleepy, but still he went on, thinking: “An hour to suffer, the rest of my life to live.”

He went a long way in this direction also, 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 rising air caused by the heat made it look as if the hill was moving, and the people on the hill could hardly be seen.

“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 goal.

“No,” he thought, “although it will make my land an unusual shape, I must hurry back in a straight line. I might go too far, and as it is I have a great deal of land.”

So Pahóm hurriedly 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 far from his goal, 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 pressed on, but was still far from the place. He began running, threw away his vest, 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 loose everything. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”

And this fear made him still more breathless. Pahóm 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 did not belong to him. Pahóm became scared that he would die of the pressure.

Though afraid of death, he 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. He gathered his last strength and ran on.

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 hurry him up. He could even see the fur cap on the ground with the money on it, and the Chief sitting on the ground holding his sides. And 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 that spot!”

Pahóm looked at the sun, which had reached the earth. One side of it had already disappeared. With all his remaining strength he ran on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow fast enough 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 labour 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 long 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 earned much land!”

Pahóm’s servant came running up and tried to raise him. He saw that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahóm was dead!

The Bashkírs made sad noises and shook their heads to show how sorry they were.

His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahóm to he in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.

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