A nearby lady landowner of a small estate hires an old soldier to manage her land. While the landowner had always treated the peasants well, her newly hired manager begins to impose fines on Pakhom and the other peasants for minor infractions, such as wandering livestock.
The lady landowner’s estate is already established, so her hiring of the old soldier appears quite out of the blue. She does not have a history of imposing fines, which implies that the old soldier fines the peasants out of spite, rather than out of need. The old soldier’s sudden appearance is suspicious, and his sinful behavior is a sign of evil, and by extension, the Devil.
Pakhom is repeatedly fined by the old soldier until he is nearly broke and so stressed that he beats and swears at his family. He longs for winter when he can keep his livestock in a shed, eliminating the risk of them wandering onto the lady landowner’s estate and angering the old soldier.
The old soldier is relentless in fining Pakhom, making his life as a peasant miserable. The old soldier’s behavior fuels Pakhom’s desire to have more land, just as promised by the Devil. Pakhom simply does not have enough land to keep his livestock reasonably contained.
The lady landowner suddenly decides to sell her estate and the local peasants fear the innkeeper will buy her land, imposing even more fines on them. Pakhom fears that his family will not survive if he continues to be fined.
The lady landowner’s decision to sell her land comes about as unexpectedly as her hiring of the old soldier, and this too suggests the evil influence of the Devil. Furthermore, Pakhom’s fear that the innkeeper—someone of higher social standing—will continue to fine the peasants points to widespread moral deficiency within the upper class.
The local peasants convince the lady landowner to sell her property to them in the name of a village commune. However, the Devil turns them into “loggerheads,” and they are unable to agree upon a price. As a result, the peasants are forced to buy the land individually, based on what they can afford.
Pakhom manages to buy thirty acres of the lady landowner’s estate after securing a personal loan, selling his possessions, and hiring out the labor of his children. Even then, Pakhom only has enough for a down payment, and he must make a promise to pay the remaining cost over the next two years.
Pakhom is so blinded by his greed and the efforts of the Devil that he exploits his family and goes into debt just to satisfy his desire for more land.