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part 4

vladamier

Village Elder
#1
As soon as Pahom and his family arrived at their new abode, he
applied for admission into the Commune of a large village. He stood
treat to the Elders, and obtained the necessary documents. Five
shares of Communal land were given him for his own and his sons'
use: that is to say--125 acres (not altogether, but in different
fields) besides the use of the Communal pasture. Pahom put up the
buildings he needed, and bought cattle. Of the Communal land alone
he had three times as much as at his former home, and the land was
good corn-land. He was ten times better off than he had been. He
had plenty of arable land and pasturage, and could keep as many head
of cattle as he liked.
At first, in the bustle of building and settling down, Pahom was
pleased with it all, but when he got used to it he began to think
that even here he had not enough land. The first year, he sowed
wheat on his share of the Communal land, and had a good crop. He
wanted to go on sowing wheat, but had not enough Communal land for
the purpose, and what he had already used was not available; for in
those parts wheat is only sown on virgin soil or on fallow land. It
is sown for one or two years, and then the land lies fallow till it
is again overgrown with prairie grass. There were many who wanted
such land, and there was not enough for all; so that people
quarrelled about it. Those who were better off, wanted it for
growing wheat, and those who were poor, wanted it to let to dealers,
so that they might raise money to pay their taxes. Pahom wanted to
sow more wheat; so he rented land from a dealer for a year. He
sowed much wheat and had a fine crop, but the land was too far from
the village--the wheat had to be carted more than ten miles. After
a time Pahom noticed that some peasant-dealers were living on
separate farms, and were growing wealthy; and he thought:
"If I were to buy some freehold land, and have a homestead on it, it
would be a different thing, altogether. Then it would all be nice
and compact."
The question of buying freehold land recurred to him 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, so that
he began to lay money by. He might have gone on living contentedly,
but he grew tired of having to rent other people's land every year,
and having to scramble for it. Wherever there was good land to be
had, the peasants would rush for it and it was taken up at once, so
that unless you were sharp about it you got none. It happened in
the third year that he and a dealer together rented a piece of
pasture land from some peasants; and they had already ploughed it
up, when there was some dispute, and the peasants went to law about
it, and things fell out so that the labor was all lost.
"If it were my own land," thought Pahom, "I should be independent,
and there would not be all this unpleasantness."
So Pahom began looking out for land which he could buy; and he came
across a peasant who had bought thirteen hundred acres, but having
got into difficulties was willing to sell again cheap. Pahom
bargained and haggled with him, and at last they settled the price
at 1,500 roubles, part in cash and part to be paid later. They had
all but clinched the matter, when a passing dealer happened to stop
at Pahom's one day to get a feed for his horse. He drank tea with
Pahom, and they had a talk. The dealer said that he was just
returning from the land of the Bashkirs, far away, where he had
bought thirteen thousand acres of land all for 1,000 roubles. Pahom
questioned him further, and the tradesman said:
"All one need do is to make friends with the chiefs. I gave away
about one hundred roubles' worth of dressing-gowns and carpets,
besides a case of tea, and I gave wine to those who would drink it;
and I got the land for less than two cents an acre. And he showed
Pahom the title-deeds, saying:
"The land lies near a river, and the whole prairie is virgin soil."
Pahom plied him with questions, and the tradesman said:
"There is more land there than you could cover if you walked a year,
and it all belongs to the Bashkirs. They are as simple as sheep,
and land can be got almost for nothing."
"There now," thought Pahom, "with my one thousand roubles, why
should I get only thirteen hundred acres, and saddle myself with a
debt besides. If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times
as much for the money."
 

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