As I read the second half of this story my thoughts lead me to think about how we toil and labor sometimes to great lengths to meet our aims. In doing so we miss some of the most important things in life. We will often spend sleepless nights worrying about about things that are simply beyond our control, or elaborating over great plans that in the end only bring more pain and sorrow into our lives. What is it that compels us to such ends? Why do we strive for more than what truly takes care of us and our families? Do we not believe that God will supply our needs? So in the end doesn’t our aberrant need for obtaining excessive wealth lead us to a short and untimely demise? We each have to assess what are the driving factors in our desire for accumulating wealth. I would speculate that the underlying cause is a lack of trusting God. When we trust God, he provides. When we come to the ends of our lives will we look back and regret having pursued such selfish endeavors. Will we have those who are willing to sit with us and drink tea, or will we have missed it? Ending with that here’s the second part of the story.
While the Bashkirs were disputing, a man in a large fox-fur cap
appeared on the scene. They all became silent and rose to their
feet. The interpreter said, “This is our Chief himself.”
Pahom immediately fetched the best dressing-gown and five pounds of
tea, and offered these to the Chief. The Chief accepted them, and
seated himself in the place of honor. The Bashkirs at once began
telling him something. The Chief listened for a while, then made a
sign with his head for them to be silent, and addressing himself to
Pahom, 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 Pahom. “I must get a
deed 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 aloud. “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 made over 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. “We will make it over to you.”
“I heard that a dealer had been here,” continued Pahom, “and that
you gave him a little land, too, and signed title-deeds to that
effect. I should like to have it done in the same way.”
The Chief understood.
“Yes,” replied he, “that can be done quite easily. We have a scribe,
and we will go to town with you and have the deed properly sealed.”
“And what will be the price?” asked Pahom.
“Our price is always the same: one thousand rubles a day.”
Pahom 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 rubles a day.”
Pahom was surprised.
“But in a day you can get round a large tract 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 whence 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 make your round, taking a spade with you.
Wherever you think necessary, make a mark. At every turning, dig a
hole and pile up the turf; then afterwards we will go round with a
plough from hole to hole. You may make as large a circuit 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.”
Pahom was delighted. It-was decided to start early next morning.
They talked a while, and after drinking some more kumiss and eating
some more mutton, they had tea again, and then the night came on.
They gave Pahom a feather-bed to sleep on, and the Bashkirs
dispersed for the night, promising to assemble the next morning at
daybreak and ride out before sunrise to the appointed spot.
Pahom lay on the feather-bed, but could not sleep. He kept thinking
about the land.
“What a large tract I will mark off!” thought he. “I can easily go
thirty-five miles in a day. The days are long now, and within a
circuit of thirty-five miles what a lot of land there will be! I
will sell the poorer land, or let it to peasants, but I’ll pick out
the best and farm it. I will buy two ox-teams, and hire two more
laborers. About a hundred and fifty acres shall be plough-land, and
I will pasture cattle on the rest.”
Pahom lay awake all night, and dozed off only just before dawn.
Hardly were his eyes closed when he had a dream. He thought he was
lying in that same tent, and heard somebody chuckling outside. He
wondered who it could be, and rose and went out, and he saw the
Bashkir Chief sitting in front of the tent holding his side and
rolling about with laughter. Going nearer to the Chief, Pahom
asked: “What are you laughing at?” But he saw that it was no longer
the Chief, but the dealer who had recently stopped at his house and
had told him about the land. Just as Pahom was going to ask, “Have
you been here long?” he saw that it was not the dealer, but the
peasant who had come up from the Volga, long ago, to Pahom’s old
home. Then he saw that it was not the peasant either, but the Devil
himself with hoofs and horns, sitting there and chuckling, and
before him lay a man barefoot, prostrate on the ground, with only
trousers and a shirt on. And Pahom dreamt that he looked more
attentively to see what sort of a man it was lying there, and he saw
that the man was dead, and that it was himself! He awoke horror-struck.
“What things one does dream,” thought he.
Looking round he saw through the open door that the dawn was breaking.
“It’s time to wake them up,” thought he. “We ought to be starting.”
He got up, roused his man (who was sleeping in his cart), bade him
harness; and went to call the Bashkirs.
“It’s time to go to the steppe to measure the land,” he said.
The Bashkirs rose and assembled, and the Chief came, too. Then they
began drinking kumiss again, and offered Pahom some tea, but he
would not wait.
“If we are to go, let us go. It is high time,” said he.
The Bashkirs got ready and they all started: some mounted on horses,
and some in carts. Pahom drove in his own small cart with his
servant, and took a spade with him. When they reached the steppe,
the morning red was beginning to kindle. They ascended a hillock
(called by the Bashkirs a shikhan) and dismounting from their carts
and their horses, gathered in one spot. The Chief came up to Pahom
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.”
Pahom’s eyes glistened: it was all virgin soil, as flat as the palm
of your hand, as black as the seed of a poppy, and in the hollows
different kinds of grasses grew breast high.
The Chief took off his fox-fur cap, placed it on the ground and said:
“This will be the mark. Start from here, and return here again.
All the land you go round shall be yours.”
Pahom took out his money and put it on the cap. Then he took off
his outer coat, remaining in his sleeveless under coat. He
unfastened his girdle and tied it tight below his stomach, put a
little bag of bread into the breast of his coat, and tying a flask
of water to his girdle, he drew up the tops of his boots, took the
spade from his man, and stood ready to start. He considered for
some moments which way he had better go–it was tempting everywhere.
“No matter,” he concluded, “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 rim.
“I must lose no time,” he thought, “and it is easier walking while
it is still cool.”
The sun’s rays had hardly flashed above the horizon, before Pahom,
carrying the spade over his shoulder, went down into the steppe.
Pahom started walking neither slowly nor quickly. After having gone
a thousand yards he stopped, dug a hole and placed pieces of turf
one on another to make it more visible. Then he went on; and now
that he had walked off his stiffness he quickened his pace. After a
while he dug another hole.
Pahom looked back. The hillock could be distinctly seen in the
sunlight, with the people on it, and the glittering tires of the
cartwheels. At a rough guess Pahom concluded that he had walked
three miles. It was growing warmer; he took off his under-coat,
flung 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 shift is done, but there are four 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, stuck them into his girdle, and went on.
It was easy walking now.
“I will go on for another three miles,” thought he, “and then turn
to the left. The spot is so fine, that it would be a pity to lose
it. The further one goes, the better the land seems.”
He went straight on a for a while, and when he looked round, the
hillock was scarcely visible and the people on it looked like black
ants, and he could just see something glistening there in the sun.
“Ah,” thought Pahom, “I have gone far enough in this direction, it
is time to turn. Besides I am in a regular sweat, and very thirsty.”
He stopped, dug a large hole, and heaped up pieces of turf. Next he
untied his flask, had a drink, and then turned sharply to the left.
He went on and on; the grass was high, and it was very hot.
Pahom began to grow tired: he looked at the sun and saw that it was noon.
“Well,” he thought, “I must have a rest.”
He sat down, and 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, and he felt sleepy; still he went on, thinking: “An hour to
suffer, a life-time to live.”
He went a long way in this direction also, and was about to turn to
the left again, when he perceived a damp hollow: “It would be a pity
to leave that out,” he thought. “Flax would do well there.” So he
went on past the hollow, and dug a hole on the other side of it
before he turned the corner. Pahom looked towards the hillock. The
heat made the air hazy: it seemed to be quivering, and through the
haze the people on the hillock could scarcely be seen.
“Ah!” thought Pahom, “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, “though it will make my land lopsided, I must
hurry back in a straight line now. I might go too far, and as it is
I have a great deal of land.”
So Pahom hurriedly dug a hole, and turned straight towards the hillock.
Pahom went straight towards the hillock, but he now walked with
difficulty. He was done up with the heat, his bare feet were cut
and bruised, and his legs began to fail. He longed to rest, but it
was impossible if he meant to get back before sunset. The sun waits
for no man, and it was sinking lower and lower.
“Oh dear,” he thought, “if only I have not blundered trying for too
much! What if I am too late?”
He looked towards the hillock and at the sun. He was still far from
his goal, and the sun was already near the rim. Pahom 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 coat, his boots, his flask, and his cap, and kept
only the spade which he used as a support.
“What shall I do,” he thought again, “I have grasped too much, and
ruined the whole affair. I can’t get there before the sun sets.”
And this fear made him still more breathless. Pahom went on
running, his soaking shirt and trousers stuck to him, and his mouth
was parched. His breast was working like a blacksmith’s bellows,
his heart was beating like a hammer, and his legs were giving way as
if they did not belong to him. Pahom was seized with terror lest he
should die of the strain.
Though afraid of death, he could not stop. “After having run all
that way they will call me a fool if I stop now,” thought he. And
he ran on and on, and drew near and heard the Bashkirs yelling and
shouting to him, and their cries inflamed his heart still more. He
gathered his last strength and ran on.
The sun was close to the rim, and cloaked in mist looked large, and
red as blood. Now, yes now, it was about to set! The sun was quite
low, but he was also quite near his aim. Pahom could already see
the people on the hillock waving their arms to hurry him up. He
could see the fox-fur cap on the ground, and the money on it, and
the Chief sitting on the ground holding his sides. And Pahom
remembered his dream.
“There is plenty of land,” thought he, “but will God let me live on
it? I have lost my life, I have lost my life! I shall never reach
Pahom looked at the sun, which had reached the earth: one side of it
had already disappeared. With all his remaining strength he rushed
on, bending his body forward so that his legs could hardly follow
fast enough to keep him from falling. Just as he reached the
hillock it suddenly grew dark. He looked up–the sun had already
set. He gave a cry: “All my labor has been in vain,” thought he,
and was about to stop, but he heard the Bashkirs still shouting, and
remembered that though to him, from below, the sun seemed to have
set, they on the hillock could still see it. He took a long breath
and ran up the hillock. It was still light there. He reached the
top and saw the cap. Before it sat the Chief laughing and holding
his sides. Again Pahom remembered his dream, and he uttered a cry:
his legs gave way beneath him, he fell forward and reached the cap
with his hands.
“Ah, what a fine fellow!” exclaimed the Chief. “He has gained
Pahom’s servant came running up and tried to raise him, but he saw
that blood was flowing from his mouth. Pahom was dead!
The Bashkirs clicked their tongues to show their pity.
His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for
Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to
his heels was all he needed.