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How Much Land does a Man Need?

Leo Tolstoy

The ambitious peasant Pakhom, who, after gaining
ever greater plots of land, finally heard of a wonder-
ful deal in a far-off country. He travelled to the land
of the Bashkirs and negotiated with the village elder,
who seemed a fool. The elder told Pakhom that he
could have all the land he wanted for a thousand
rubles a day.

Pakhom did not understand. “What kind of rate
is that—a day?” he asked. “How many acres could
that be?”

“We don’t reckon your way. We sell by the day.
However much you can walk around in one day will
be yours.”

When Pakhon expressed that a man can walk
around much land in one day, the elder burst out
laughing. “And all of it will be yours!” he replied. But
there was one condition: If Pakhom didn’t return to
the starting point by sundown, the money would be
forfeited.

Ecstatic, Pakhom spent a sleepless night. Ris-
ing at dawn, he went with the villagers to the top
of a hill, where the elder put down his hat. After
placing his thousand rubles on top, Pakhom began
walking, digging holes along the way to mark his
land. The going was easy and he thought, “I’ll do
another three miles and then turn left. The land’s
so beautiful here, it would be a pity to miss any.”

Pakhom hurried throughout the morning, going
out of his way to add more land. But at noon, when
he looked back at the hill where he had began, it
was difficult to see the people. Maybe I have gone
too far, he worried, and decided he must begin to

make shorter sides. As the afternoon wore on, the
heat was exhausting. By now his bare feet were cut
and bruised, and his legs weakened. He wanted to
rest, but it was out of question.

Pakhom struggled on, walking faster, then run-
ning. He worried that he had been too greedy, and
his fear made him breathless. On he ran, his shirt
soaked and his throat parched. His lungs were work-
ing like a blacksmith’s bellows, his heart beat like a
hammer. He was terrified.

“All these strain will be the death of me.”

Although Pakhom feared death, he couldn’t
stop. They’d call me an idiot, he thought. When
he was close enough to hear the Bashkirs cheering,
he summoned his last ounce of strength and kept
running. As he finally reached the hill, everything
suddenly became dark—the sun had set. Pakhom
groaned. He wanted to stop, but heard the Bashkirs
still cheering him on. He realized that from where he
was at the bottom of the hill, the sun had set—but
not for those on top. Pakhom took a deep breath
and rushed up the hill. Reaching the top, he saw
the elder sitting by the hat, laughing his head off.
Pakhom’s legs gave way, and he fell forward grasp-
ing the cap.

“Oh well done,” exclaimed the elder.

“That’s a lot of land you’ve earned yourself!”

Pakhom’s worker ran up and tried to lift his mas-
ter, but Pakhom was dead. The worker picked up
Pakhom’s spade, dug a grave, and buried him—six
feet from head to heel, exactly the amount of land
a man needs. �

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