Chapter 7

IN THE AUTUMN of 1813, Nikolay married Princess Marya, and with his wife, and mother, and Sonya, took up his abode at Bleak Hills.

Within four years he had paid off the remainder of his debts without selling his wife’s estates, and coming into a small legacy on the death of a cousin, he repaid the loan he had borrowed from Pierre also.

In another three years, by 1820, Nikolay had so well managed his pecuniary affairs that he was able to buy a small estate adjoining Bleak Hills, and was opening negotiations for the repurchase of his ancestral estate of Otradnoe, which was his cherished dream.

Though he took up the management of the land at first from necessity, he soon acquired such a passion for agriculture, that it became his favourite and almost his exclusive interest. Nikolay was a plain farmer, who did not like innovations, especially English ones, just then coming into vogue, laughed at all theoretical treatises on agriculture, did not care for factories, for raising expensive produce, or for expensive imported seed. He did not, in fact, make a hobby of any one part of the work, but kept the welfare of the estate as a whole always before his eyes. The object most prominent to his mind in the estate was not the azote nor the oxygen in the soil or the atmosphere, not a particular plough nor manure, but the principal agent by means of which the azote and the oxygen and the plough and the manure were all made effectual—that is, the labourer, the peasant. When Nikolay took up the management of the land, and began to go into its different branches, the peasant attracted his chief attention. He looked on the peasant, not merely as a tool, but also as an end in himself, and as his critic. At first he studied the peasant attentively, trying to understand what he wanted, what he thought good and bad; and he only made a pretence of making arrangements and giving orders, while he was in reality learning from the peasants their methods and their language and their views of what was good and bad. And it was only when he understood the tastes and impulses of the peasant, when he had learned to speak his speech and to grasp the hidden meaning behind his words, when he felt himself in alliance with him, that he began boldly to direct him—to perform, that is, towards him the office expected of him. And Nikolay’s management produced the most brilliant results.

On taking over the control of the property, Nikolay had at once by some unerring gift of insight appointed as bailiff, as village elder, and as delegate the very men whom the peasants would have elected themselves had the choice been in their hands, and the authority once given them was never withdrawn. Before investigating the chemical constituents of manure, or going into ‘‘debit and credit’’ (as he liked sarcastically to call book-keeping), he found out the number of cattle the peasants possessed, and did his utmost to increase the number. He kept the peasants’ families together on a large scale, and would not allow them to split up into separate households. The indolent, the dissolute, and the feeble he was equally hard upon and tried to expel them from the community. At the sowing and the carrying of the hay and corn, he watched over his own and the peasants’ fields with absolutely equal care. And few landowners had fields so early and so well sown and cut, and few had such crops as Nikolay.

He did not like to have anything to do with the house-serfs, he called them parasites, and everybody said that he demoralised and spoiled them. When any order had to be given in regard to a house-serf, especially when one had to be punished, he was always in a state of indecision and asked advice of every one in the house. But whenever it was possible to send a house-serf for a soldier in place of a peasant, he did so without the smallest compunction. In all his dealings with the peasants, he never experienced the slightest hesitation. Every order he gave would, he knew, be approved by the greater majority of them.

He never allowed himself either to punish a man by adding to his burdens, or to reward him by lightening his tasks simply at the prompting of his own wishes. He could not have said what his standard was of what he ought and ought not to do; but there was a standard firm and rigid in his soul.

Often talking of some failure or irregularity, he would complain of ‘‘our Russian peasantry,’’ and he imagined that he could not bear the peasants.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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