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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 819 pages of information about Russia.
obliged to contract debts.  This is a very serious matter.  Even if the peasants could obtain money at five or six per cent., the position of the debtors would be bad enough, but it is in reality much worse, for the village usurers consider twenty or twenty-five per cent. a by no means exorbitant rate of interest.  A laudable attempt has been made to remedy this state of things by village banks, but these have proved successful only in certain exceptional localities.  As a rule the peasant who contracts debts has a hard struggle to pay the interest in ordinary times, and when some misfortune overtakes him—­when, for instance, the harvest is bad or his horse is stolen—­he probably falls hopelessly into pecuniary embarrassments.  I have seen peasants not specially addicted to drunkenness or other ruinous habits sink to a helpless state of insolvency.  Fortunately for such insolvent debtors, they are treated by the law with extreme leniency.  Their house, their share of the common land, their agricultural implements, their horse—­in a word, all that is necessary for their subsistence, is exempt from sequestration.  The Commune, however, may bring strong pressure to bear on those who do not pay their taxes.  When I lived among the peasantry in the seventies, corporal punishment inflicted by order of the Commune was among the means usually employed; and though the custom was recently prohibited by an Imperial decree of Nicholas II, I am not at all sure that it has entirely disappeared.

CHAPTER VII

THE PEASANTRY OF THE NORTH

Communal Land—­System of Agriculture—­Parish Fetes—­Fasting—­Winter Occupations—­Yearly Migrations—­Domestic Industries—­Influence of Capital and Wholesale Enterprise—­The State Peasants—­Serf-dues—­Buckle’s “History of Civilisation”—­A precocious Yamstchik—­“People Who Play Pranks”—­A Midnight Alarm—­The Far North.

Ivanofka may be taken as a fair specimen of the villages in the northern half of the country, and a brief description of its inhabitants will convey a tolerably correct notion of the northern peasantry in general.

Nearly the whole of the female population, and about one-half of the male inhabitants, are habitually engaged in cultivating the Communal land, which comprises about two thousand acres of a light sandy soil.  The arable part of this land is divided into three large fields, each of which is cut up into long narrow strips.  The first field is reserved for the winter grain—­that is to say, rye, which forms, in the shape of black bread, the principal food of the rural population.  In the second are raised oats for the horses, and buckwheat, which is largely used for food.  The third lies fallow, and is used in the summer as pasturage for the cattle.

All the villagers in this part of the country divide the arable land in this way, in order to suit the triennial rotation of crops.  This triennial system is extremely simple.  The field which is used this year for raising winter grain will be used next year for raising summer grain, and in the following year will lie fallow.  Before being sown with winter grain it ought to receive a certain amount of manure.  Every family possesses in each of the two fields under cultivation one or more of the long narrow strips or belts into which they are divided.

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