But with his whole soul he did really love ‘‘our Russian peasantry,’’ and their ways; and it was through that he had perceived and adopted the only method of managing the land which could be productive of good results.

Countess Marya was jealous of this passion of her husband’s for agriculture, and regretted she could not share it. But she was unable to comprehend the joys and disappointments he met with in that world apart that was so alien to her. She could not understand why he used to be so particularly eager and happy when after getting up at dawn and spending the whole morning in the fields or the threshing-floor he came back to tea with her from the sowing, the mowing, or the harvest. She could not understand why he was so delighted when he told her with enthusiasm of the well-to-do, thrifty peasant Matvey Ermishin, who had been up all night with his family, carting his sheaves, and had all harvested when no one else had begun carrying. She could not understand why, stepping out of the window on to the balcony, he smiled under his moustaches and winked so gleefully when a warm, fine rain began to fall on his young oats that were suffering from the drought, or why, when a menacing cloud blew over in mowing or harvest time, he would come in from the barn red, sunburnt, and perspiring, with the smell of wormwood in his hair, and rubbing his hands joyfully would say: ‘‘Come, another day of this and my lot, and the peasants’ too, will all be in the barn.’’

Still less could she understand how it was that with his good heart and everlasting readiness to anticipate her wishes, he would be thrown almost into despair when she brought him petitions from peasants or their wives who had appealed to her to be let off tasks, why it was that he, her good-natured Nikolay, obstinately refused her, angrily begging her not to meddle in his business. She felt that he had a world apart, that was intensely dear to him, governed by laws of its own which she did not understand.

Sometimes trying to understand him she would talk to him of the good work he was doing in striving for the good of his serfs; but at this he was angry and answered: ‘‘Not in the least; it never even entered my head; and for their good I would not lift my little finger. That’s all romantic nonsense and old wives’ cackle—all that doing good to one’s neighbour. I don’t want our children to be beggars; I want to build up our fortunes in my lifetime; that is all. And to do that one must have discipline, one must have strictness … So there!’’ he would declare, clenching his sanguine fist. ‘‘And justice too—of course,’’ he would add, ‘‘because if the peasant is naked and hungry, and has but one poor horse, he can do no good for himself or me.’’

And doubtless because Nikolay did not allow himself to entertain the idea that he was doing anything for the sake of others, or for the sake of virtue, everything he did was fruitful. His fortune rapidly increased; the neighbouring serfs came to beg him to purchase them, and long after his death the peasantry preserved a reverent memory of his rule. ‘‘He was a master … The peasants’ welfare first and then his own. And to be sure he would make no abatements. A real good master—that’s what he was!’’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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