Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/594

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IT was in the district of Kineshma on the Volga that I first saw that suggestively pitiful sight, thin-growing grain cut by hand. A toil worn peasant woman, her head covered with a scarlet kerchief, her body bent, grasped the stalks in one hand and cut them with the sickle held in the other. She seemed the embodiment of that patient acceptance of a hard destiny so characteristic of the Russian peasant. It was evening, and the meager results of the day's work lay heaped up in less than half a hundred bundles lying in a line down the narrow field. The ribbon of stubble, only a few yards wide and hundreds of yards long was one of many that lay parallel and stretched almost as far as the eye could see, separated from each other by shallow ditches or rudely heaped-up earth. There were other strips of light yellow rye, of darker yellow barley, of reddish-brown buckwheat, of green hemp.

Further on lay a second set of narrow strips almost at right angles to the first. Searching the landscape I discovered that except for the low-lying meadows, patches of woods, and the village on the high bank overlooking the river, the surface of the country was divided into innumerable bands all long and very narrow, grouped together evidently according to some principle as yet unknown to me. Later I learned the meaning of these minute divisions and found its roots in the past.

Previous to 1861 the Russian peasants were serfs. Except for those who did duty as household servants, they were bound to land which belonged to their masters. Those thus bound, by far the greater number, spent a part of each week in cultivating the estates to which they belonged, and the remnant in working their own fields upon which they were dependent for bread. When these serfs were liberated each village or group of villages was given a certain amount of land in communal ownership, the price to be paid in forty-nine annual installments called redemption taxes. The community was held responsible by the state for all dues. It could cultivate the fields in common, using what was necessary of the harvest for these payments and dividing the rest among its members; or it could parcel out the fields and demand from each family a part of the total sum due the state proportionate to the value of the land allotted to the family. In the latter case the amount of land given to a family was ordinarily determined by its working strength, by the number of grown sons, for instance, able to help their father till his fields. The essential thing in the eyes of the community