The personal matter that absorbed Levin during his conversation with
his brother was this. Once, the year previous, he had gone to look
at the mowing, and being made very angry by the bailiff he had had
recourse to his favorite means for regaining his temper- he had
taken a scythe from a peasant and begun mowing.
He liked the work so much that he had several times tried his hand
at mowing since. He had cut the whole of the meadow in front of his
house, and this year, ever since the early spring, he had cherished
a plan for mowing for whole days together with the peasants. Ever
since his brother's arrival he had been in doubt as to whether to
mow or not. He was loath to leave his brother alone all day long,
and he was afraid his brother would laugh at him about it. But as he
drove into the meadow, and recalled the sensations of mowing, he
came near deciding that he would go mowing. After the irritating
discussion with his brother, he pondered over this intention again.
"I must have physical exercise, or my temper'll certainly be
ruined," he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however
awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.
Toward evening Konstantin Levin went to his countinghouse, gave
directions as to the work to be done, and sent about the village to
summon the mowers for the morrow, to cut the hay in Kalinov meadow,
the largest and best of his grasslands.
"And send my scythe, please, to Tit, for him to set it, and bring it
round tomorrow. I may do some mowing myself, too," he said, trying not
to be embarrassed.
The bailiff smiled and said:
At tea the same evening Levin said to his brother too.
"I fancy the fine weather will last," said he. "Tomorrow I shall
"I'm so fond of that form of field labor," said Sergei Ivanovich.
"I'm awfully fond of it. I sometimes mow myself with the peasants,
and tomorrow I want to try mowing the whole day."
Sergei Ivanovich lifted his head, and looked with curiosity at his
"How do you mean? Just like one of the peasants, all day long?"
"Yes, it's very pleasant," said Levin.
"It's splendid as exercise, only you'll hardly be able to stand it,"
said Sergei Ivanovich, without a shade of irony.
"I've tried it. It's hard work at first, but you get into it. I dare
say I shall manage to keep it up...."
"Oh, so that's it! But tell me, how do the peasants look at it? I
suppose they laugh in their sleeves at their master's being such a
"No, I don't think so; but it's so delightful, and at the same
time such hard work, that one has no time to think about it."
"But how will you do about dining with them? To send you a bottle of
Lafitte and roast turkey out there would be a little awkward."
"No, I'll simply come home at the time of their noonday rest."
Next morning Konstantin Levin got up earlier than usual, but he
was detained giving directions on the farm, and when he reached the
mowing grass the mowers were already at their second swath.
From the uplands he could get a view of the shaded cut part of the
meadow below, with the grayish swaths and the black heaps of coats,
taken off by the mowers at the place from which they had started
Gradually, as he rode toward the meadow, the peasants came into
sight, some in coats, some in their shirts, mowing, one behind another
in a long string, each swinging his scythe in his own way. He
counted forty-two of them.
They were mowing slowly over the uneven, low-lying parts of the
meadow, where there had been an old dam. Levin recognized some of
his own men. Here was old Iermil in a very long white smock, bending
forward to swing a scythe; there was a young fellow, Vaska, who had
been a coachman of Levin's, taking every swath with a wide sweep.
Here, too, was Tit, Levin's preceptor in the art of mowing, a thin
little peasant. He went on ahead, and cut his wide swath without
bending, as though playing with his scythe.
Levin got off his mare, and fastening her up by the roadside went to
meet Tit, who took a second scythe out of a bush and gave it him.
"It's ready, sir; it's like a razor- it cuts of itself," said Tit,
taking off his cap with a smile and giving him the scythe.
Levin took the scythe, and began trying it. As they finished their
swaths, the mowers, hot and good-humored, came out into the road one
after another, and smirking, greeted the master. They all stared at
him, but no one made any remark, till a tall old man, with a wrinkled,
beardless face, wearing a short sheepskin jacket, came out into the
road and accosted him.
"Look'ee now, master, once take hold of the rope, there's no letting
go!" he said, and Levin heard smothered laughter among the mowers.
"I'll try not to let it go," he said, taking his stand behind Tit,
and waiting for the time to begin.
"Mind'ee," repeated the old man.
Tit made room, and Levin started behind him. The grass was short
close to the road, and Levin, who had not done any mowing for a long
while, and was disconcerted by the eyes fastened upon him, cut badly
for the first moments, though he swung his scythe vigorously. Behind
him he heard voices:
"It's not set right; handle's too high; see how he has to stoop to
it," said one.
"Press more on the heel of the scythe," said another.
"Never mind, he'll get on all right," the old man resumed. "See,
he's made a start.... You swing it too wide, you'll tire yourself
out.... The master, sure, does his best for himself! But see the grass
missed out! For such work us fellows would catch it!"
The grass became lusher, and Levin, listening without answering,
followed Tit, trying to do the best he could. They moved a hundred
paces. Tit kept moving on, without stopping, nor showing the slightest
weariness, but Levin was already beginning to fear he would not be
able to keep it up- so tired was he.
He felt as he swung his scythe that he was at the very end of his
strength, and was making up his mind to ask Tit to stop. But at that
very moment Tit stopped of his own accord, and, stooping down,
picked up some grass, rubbed his scythe, and began whetting it.
Levin straightened himself, and drawing a deep breath looked round.
Behind him came a peasant, and he too was evidently tired, for he
stopped at once without waiting to mow up to Levin, and began whetting
his scythe. Tit sharpened his scythe and Levin's, and they went on.
The next time it was just the same. Tit moved on with sweep after
sweep of his scythe, without stopping or showing signs of weariness.
Levin followed him, trying not to get left behind, and he found it
harder and harder: the moment came when he felt he had no strength
left, but at that very moment Tit stopped and whetted the scythes.
So they mowed the first row. And this long row seemed particularly
hard work to Levin; but when the end was reached, and Tit, shouldering
his scythe, began with deliberate stride returning on the tracks
left by his heels in the cut grass, and Levin walked back in the
same way over the space he had cut, in spite of the sweat that ran
in streams over his face and fell in drops down his nose, and drenched
his back as though he had been soaked in water, he felt very happy.
What delighted him particularly was that now he knew he would be
able to hold out.
His pleasure was only disturbed by his swath not being well cut.
"I will swing less with my arm and more with my whole body," he
thought, comparing Tit's swath, which looked as if it had been cut
along a surveyor's cord, with his own scattered and irregularly
The first swath, as Levin noticed, Tit had mowed especially quickly,
probably wishing to put his master to the test, and the swath happened
to be a long one. The next swaths were easier, but still Levin had
to strain every nerve not to drop behind the peasants.
He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, save not to be left
behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He
heard nothing save the swish of scythes, and saw before him Tit's
upright figure mowing away, the crescent-shaped curve of the cut
grass, the grass and flowers slowly and rhythmically falling before
the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the swath,
where would come the rest.
Suddenly, in the midst of his toil, without understanding what it
was or whence it came, he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his
hot, moist shoulders. He glanced at the sky in the interval for
whetting the scythes. A heavy, lowering storm cloud had blown up,
and big raindrops were falling. Some of the peasants went to their
coats and put them on; others- just like Levin himself- merely
shrugged their shoulders, enjoying the pleasant coolness of it.
Another swath, and yet another swath followed- long swaths and short
swaths, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of
time, and could not have told whether it were late or early now. A
change began to come over his work, which gave him immense
satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which
he forgot what he was doing, and it all came easy to him, and at those
same moments his swath was almost as smooth and well cut as Tit's. But
as soon as he recollected what he was doing, and began trying to do
better, he was at once conscious of all the difficulty of his task,
and the swath was badly mown.
On finishing yet another swath he would have gone back to the top of
the meadow again to begin the next, but Tit stopped, and going up to
the old man said something in a low voice to him. They both looked
at the sun. "What are they talking about, and why doesn't he go back?"
thought Levin, without guessing that the peasants had been mowing no
less than four hours without stopping, and that it was time for
"Lunch, sir," said the old man.
"Is it really time? Lunch it is, then."
Levin gave his scythe to Tit, and, together with the peasants, who
were crossing the long stretch of mown grass, slightly sprinkled
with rain, to get their bread from the heap of coats, he went toward
his horse. Only then did he suddenly awake to the fact that he had
been wrong about the weather and that the rain was drenching his hay.
"The hay will be spoiled," he said.
"Not a bit of it, sir; mow in the rain, and you'll rake in fine
weather!" said the old man.
Levin untied his horse and rode home to his coffee.
Sergei Ivanovich was just getting up. When he had drunk his
coffee, Levin rode back again to the mowing before Sergei Ivanovich
had had time to dress and come down to the dining room.
After lunch Levin was not in the same place in the string of
mowers as before, but stood between the old man who had accosted him
jocosely, and now invited him to be his neighbor, and a young peasant,
who had only been married in the autumn, and who was mowing this
summer for the first time.
The old man, holding himself erect, moved in front, with his feet
turned out, taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and
regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging
one's arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the
high, even swath of grass. It was as though it were not he but the
sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.
Behind Levin came the lad Mishka. His comely, youthful face, with
a twist of fresh grass bound round his hair, was all working with
effort; but whenever anyone looked at him he smiled. He would
clearly have died sooner than own it was hard work for him.
Levin kept between them. In the very heat of the day the mowing
did not seem such hard work to him. The perspiration with which he was
drenched cooled 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 more and more often now came those moments of
unconsciousness, when it was possible not to think of what one was
doing. The scythe cut of itself. These were happy moments. Still
more delightful were the moments when they reached the stream where
the swaths ended, and the old man rubbed his scythe with the wet,
thick grass, rinsed its blade in the fresh water of the stream, ladled
out a little in a whetstone case, and offered Levin a drink.
"What do you say to my kvass, eh? Good, eh?" he would say, winking.
And truly Levin had never drunk any liquor as good as this warm
water with green bits floating in it, and a taste of rust from the tin
whetstone case. And immediately after this came the delicious, slow
saunter, with his hand 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 mowers, and at what was happening around in
the forest and the field.
The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of
unconsciousness in which it seemed that it was not his hands which
swung the scythe, but that the scythe was moving together with
itself a body full of life and consciousness of its own; and as though
by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and
well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.
It was only hard work when he had to break off the motion, which had
become unconscious, and to think; when he had to mow round a hummock
or an unweeded tuft of sorrel. The old man did this easily. When a
hummock came he changed his action, and at one time with the heel, and
at another with the tip of his scythe, clipped the hummock round
both sides with short strokes. And while he did this he kept looking
about and watching what came into his view: at one moment he picked
a wild berry and ate it or offered it to Levin, then he flung away a
twig with the blade of the scythe, then he looked at a quail's nest,
from which the bird flew just under the scythe, or caught a snake that
crossed his path, and lifting it on the scythe as though on a fork
showed it to Levin and threw it away.
For both Levin and the young peasant behind him, such changes of
position were difficult. Both of them, repeating over and over again
the same strained movement, were in a perfect frenzy of toil, and were
incapable of shifting their position and at the same time watching
what was before them.
Levin did not notice how time was passing. If he had been asked
how long he had been working he would have said half an hour- yet it
was getting on to dinnertime. As they were walking back over the cut
grass, the old man called Levin's attention to the little girls and
boys who were coming from different directions, hardly visible through
the long grass, and along the road toward the mowers, carrying sacks
of bread that stretched their little arms, and lugging small
pitchers of kvass, stopped up with rags.
"Look'ee at the little doodlebugs crawling!" he said, pointing to
them, and he shaded his eyes with his hand to look at the sun.
They mowed two more swaths; the old man stopped.
"Come, master, dinnertime!" he said decidedly. And on reaching the
stream the mowers moved off across the swaths toward their pile of
coats, where the children who had brought their dinners were sitting
waiting for them. The peasants gathered- those who came from afar
under their telegas, those who lived near under a willow bush, covered
Levin sat down by them; he felt disinclined to go away.
All constraint with the master had disappeared long ago. The
peasants got 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 kvass. The old man
crumbled up some bread in a cup, stirred it with the handle of a
spoon, poured water on it from his whetstone case, broke up some
more bread, and having seasoned it with 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 for
dinner. He ate with the old man, and talked to him about his family
affairs, taking the keenest interest in them, and told him about his
own affairs and all the circumstances that could be of interest to the
old man. He felt much nearer to him than to his brother, and could not
help smiling at the affection he felt for this man. When the old man
got up again, said his prayer, and lay down under a bush, putting some
grass under his head for a pillow, Levin did the same, and, in spite
of the clinging flies that were so persistent in the sunshine, and the
midges that tickled his hot face and body, he fell asleep at once
and only waked when the sun had passed to the other side of the bush
and reached him. The old man had been awake a long while, and was
sitting up whetting the scythes of the younger lads.
Levin looked about him and hardly recognized the place, everything
was so changed. The immense stretch of meadow had been mown and was
sparkling with a peculiar fresh brilliance, with its lines of
already sweet-smelling grass in the slanting rays of the evening
sun. And the bushes about the river, mowed around, and the river
itself, not visible before, now gleaming, like steel in its bends, and
the moving, ascending peasants, and the sharp wall of grass of the
unmown part of the meadow, and the hawks hovering over the stripped
meadow- all was perfectly new. Raising himself, Levin began
considering how much had been cut and how much more could still be
done that day.
The work done was exceptionally great for forty-two men. They had
cut the whole of the big meadow, which had, in the years of corvee,
taken thirty scythes two days to mow. Only the corners remained to do,
where the swaths were short. But Levin felt a longing to get as much
mowing done that day as possible, and was vexed with the sun sinking
so quickly in the sky. He felt no weariness; all he wanted was to
get his work done more and more quickly, and as much of it as
"Could we cut the Mashkin Upland too?- what do you think?" he said
to the old 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 who smoked had lighted their pipes, the old man told the men
that "the Mashkin Upland's to be cut- there'll be vodka."
"Why not cut it? Come on, Tit! We'll look sharp! We can eat at
night. Come on!" voices cried out, and eating up their bread, the
mowers went back to work.
"Come, lads, keep it up!" said Tit, and ran on ahead almost at a
"Get along, get along!" said the old man, hurrying after him and
easily overtaking him, "I'll mow thee down, look out!"
And young and old mowed away, as though they were racing with one
another. But however fast they worked, they did not spoil the grass,
and the swaths were laid just as neatly and exactly. The little
piece left uncut in the corner was mown in five minutes. The last of
the mowers were just ending their swaths while the foremost snatched
up their coats onto their shoulders, and crossed the road toward the
The sun was already sinking among the trees when they went with
their jingling whetstone cases into the wooded ravine of the Mashkin
Upland. The grass was up to their waists in the middle of the
hollow, lush, tender, and feathery, spotted here and there among the
trees with wild heartsease.
After a brief consultation- whether to take the swaths lengthwise or
diagonally- Prokhor Iermilin, also a doughty mower, a huge,
black-haired peasant, went on ahead. He went up to the top, turned
back again and started mowing, and they all proceeded to form in
line behind him, going downhill through the hollow and uphill right up
to the edge of the forest. The sun sank behind the forest. The dew was
falling by now; the mowers were in the sun only on the hillside, but
below, where a mist was rising, and on the opposite side, they mowed
into the fresh, dewy shade. The work went rapidly.
The spicily fragrant grass cut with a succulent sound, was at once
laid in high swaths. The mowers from all sides, brought closer
together in the short swath, kept urging one another on to the sound
of jingling whetstone cases, and clanging scythes, and the hiss of the
whetstones sharpening 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 continually cutting with their scythes the so-called
"birch mushrooms," swollen fat in the succulent grass. But the old man
bent down every time he came across a mushroom, picked it up and put
it in his bosom. "Another present for my old woman," he would say as
he did so.
Easy as it was to mow the wet, lush grass, it was hard work going up
and down the steep sides of the ravine. But this did not trouble the
old man. Swinging his scythe just as ever, and moving his feet in
their big, plaited bast sandals, with firm short steps, he climbed
slowly up the steep place, and though his breeches hanging out below
his smock, and his whole frame, trembled with effort, he did not
miss one blade of grass or one mushroom on his way, and kept making
jokes with the peasants and Levin. Levin walked after him and often
thought he must fall, as he climbed with a scythe up a steep
hillock, where it would have been hard work to clamber even without
the scythe. But he climbed up and did what he had to do. He felt as
though some external force were moving him.
The Mashkin Upland was mown, the last swaths finished, the
peasants had put on their coats and were gaily trudging home. Levin
got on his horse, and, parting regretfully from the peasants, rode
homeward. On the hillside he looked back; he could not see them in the
mist that had risen from the valley; he could only hear their rough,
good-humored voices, their laughter, and the sound of clanking
Sergei Ivanovich had long ago finished dinner, and was drinking iced
lemonade in his own room, looking through the reviews and papers which
he had just received by post, when Levin rushed into the room, talking
merrily, with his wet and matted hair sticking to his forehead, and
his back and chest grimed and moist.
"We mowed the whole meadow! Oh, it is fine, wonderful! And how
have you been getting on?" said Levin, completely forgetting the
disagreeable conversation of the previous day.
"Dear me! What you look like!" said Sergei Ivanovich, for the
first moment looking round with some dissatisfaction. "And the door-
do shut the door!" he cried. "You must have let in a dozen at least."
Sergei Ivanovich could not endure flies, and in his own room he
never opened the window except at night, and carefully kept the door
"Not one, on my honor. But if I have, I'll catch them. You
wouldn't believe what a pleasure mowing is! How have you spent the
"Very well. But have you really been mowing the whole day? I
expect you're as hungry as a wolf. Kouzma has got everything ready for
"No, I don't feel hungry even. I had something to eat there. But
I'll go and wash."
"Yes, go along, go along, and I'll come to you directly," said
Sergei Ivanovich, shaking his head as he looked at his brother. "Go
along, make haste," he added smiling, and, gathering up his books,
he prepared to go too. He, too, felt suddenly good-humored and
disinclined to leave his brother's side. "But what did you do while it
"Rain? Why, there was scarcely a drop. I'll come directly. So you
had a good day too? That's first-rate." And Levin went off to change
Five minutes later the brothers met in the dining room. Although
it seemed to Levin that he was not hungry, and he sat down to dinner
simply so as not to hurt Kouzma's feelings, yet when he began to eat
the dinner struck him as extraordinarily good. Sergei Ivanovich
watched him with a smile.
"Oh, by the way, there's a letter for you," said he. "Kouzma,
bring it from below, please. And mind you shut the doors."
The letter was from Oblonsky. Levin read it aloud. Oblonsky wrote to
him from Peterburg: "I have had a letter from Dolly; she's at
Ergushovo, and everything seems going wrong there. Do ride over and
see her, please; help her with advice; you know all about it. She will
be so glad to see you. She's quite alone, poor thing. My mother-in-law
and all of them are still abroad."
"That's capital! I will certainly ride over to her," said Levin. "Or
we'll go together. She's such a good woman, isn't she?"
"They're not far from here, then?"
"Thirty verstas. Or perhaps forty. But a capital road. It will be
a capital drive."
"I shall be delighted," said Sergei Ivanovich, still smiling.
The sight of his younger brother's appearance had immediately put
him in a good humor.
"Well, you have an appetite!" he said, looking at his dark-red,
sunburned face and neck bent over the plate.
"Splendid! You can't imagine what an effective remedy it is for
every sort of foolishness. I want to enrich medicine with a new
"Well, but you don't need it, I should fancy."
"No- but for all sorts of nervous invalids."
"Yes, it ought to be tried. I had meant to come to the mowing to
look at you, but it was so unbearably hot that I got no further than
the forest. I sat there a little, and went on by the forest to the
village, met your old nurse, and sounded her as to the peasant's
view of you. As far as I can make out, they don't approve of this. She
said: 'It's not a gentleman's work.' Altogether, I fancy that in the
people's ideas there are very clear and definite notions of certain,
as they call it, 'gentlemanly' lines of action. And they don't
sanction the gentlefolk's moving outside bounds clearly laid down in
"Maybe so; but anyway, it's a pleasure such as I have never known in
my life. And there's no harm in it, you know. Is there?" answered
Levin. "I can't help it if they don't like it. Though I do believe
it's all right. Eh?"
"Altogether," pursued Sergei Ivanovich, "you're satisfied with
"Quite satisfied. We cut the whole meadow. And I made friends with
such a splendid old man there! You can't fancy how delightful he was!"