Leo Tolstoy by Mikhail Nesterov, 1906. Tolstoy was born on this day in 1828
How Much Land Does a Man Need?
An elder sister came to visit her younger sister in the country.
The elder was married to a tradesman in town, the younger to a
peasant in the village. As the sisters sat over their tea talking,
the elder began to boast of the advantages of town life: saying how
comfortably they lived there, how well they dressed, what fine
clothes her children wore, what good things they ate and drank, and
how she went to the theatre, promenades, and entertainments.
The younger sister was piqued, and in turn disparaged the life of a
tradesman, and stood up for that of a peasant.
«I would not change my way of life for yours,» said she. «We may
live roughly, but at least we are free from anxiety. You live in
better style than we do, but though you often earn more than you
need, you are very likely to lose all you have. You know the proverb,
‘Loss and gain are brothers twain.’ It often happens that people who
are wealthy one day are begging their bread the next. Our way is
safer. Though a peasant’s life is not a fat one, it is a long one.
We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat.»
The elder sister said sneeringly:
«Enough? Yes, if you like to share with the pigs and the calves!
What do you know of elegance or manners! However much your good man
may slave, you will die as you are living-on a dung heap-and your
children the same.»
«Well, what of that?» replied the younger. «Of course our work is
rough and coarse. But, on the other hand, it is sure; and we need
not bow to any one. But you, in your towns, are surrounded by
temptations; today all may be right, but tomorrow the Evil One may
tempt your husband with cards, wine, or women, and all will go to
ruin. Don’t such things happen often enough?»
Pahom, the master of the house, was lying on the top of the oven,
and he listened to the women’s chatter.
«It is perfectly true,» thought he. «Busy as we are from childhood
tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense
settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land
enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!»
The women finished their tea, chatted a while about dress, and then
cleared away the tea-things and lay down to sleep.
But the Devil had been sitting behind the oven, and had heard all
that was said. He was pleased that the peasant’s wife had led her
husband into boasting, and that he had said that if he had plenty of
land he would not fear the Devil himself.
«All right,» thought the Devil. «We will have a tussle. I’ll give you
land enough; and by means of that land I will get you into my power.»