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Title: Master and Man
Author: Tolstoy, Leo, graf
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Master and Man" ***

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MASTER AND MAN

By Leo Tolstoy


Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude



I

It happened in the ‘seventies in winter, on the day after St. Nicholas’s
Day. There was a fete in the parish and the innkeeper, Vasili Andreevich
Brekhunov, a Second Guild merchant, being a church elder had to go to
church, and had also to entertain his relatives and friends at home.

But when the last of them had gone he at once began to prepare to drive
over to see a neighbouring proprietor about a grove which he had been
bargaining over for a long time. He was now in a hurry to start,
lest buyers from the town might forestall him in making a profitable
purchase.

The youthful landowner was asking ten thousand rubles for the grove
simply because Vasili Andreevich was offering seven thousand. Seven
thousand was, however, only a third of its real value. Vasili Andreevich
might perhaps have got it down to his own price, for the woods were in
his district and he had a long-standing agreement with the other village
dealers that no one should run up the price in another’s district, but
he had now learnt that some timber-dealers from town meant to bid for
the Goryachkin grove, and he resolved to go at once and get the matter
settled. So as soon as the feast was over, he took seven hundred rubles
from his strong box, added to them two thousand three hundred rubles of
church money he had in his keeping, so as to make up the sum to three
thousand; carefully counted the notes, and having put them into his
pocket-book made haste to start.

Nikita, the only one of Vasili Andreevich’s labourers who was not drunk
that day, ran to harness the horse. Nikita, though an habitual drunkard,
was not drunk that day because since the last day before the fast, when
he had drunk his coat and leather boots, he had sworn off drink and
had kept his vow for two months, and was still keeping it despite the
temptation of the vodka that had been drunk everywhere during the first
two days of the feast.

Nikita was a peasant of about fifty from a neighbouring village, ‘not
a manager’ as the peasants said of him, meaning that he was not the
thrifty head of a household but lived most of his time away from home
as a labourer. He was valued everywhere for his industry, dexterity, and
strength at work, and still more for his kindly and pleasant temper. But
he never settled down anywhere for long because about twice a year, or
even oftener, he had a drinking bout, and then besides spending all his
clothes on drink he became turbulent and quarrelsome. Vasili Andreevich
himself had turned him away several times, but had afterwards taken him
back again--valuing his honesty, his kindness to animals, and especially
his cheapness. Vasili Andreevich did not pay Nikita the eighty rubles
a year such a man was worth, but only about forty, which he gave him
haphazard, in small sums, and even that mostly not in cash but in goods
from his own shop and at high prices.

Nikita’s wife Martha, who had once been a handsome vigorous woman,
managed the homestead with the help of her son and two daughters, and
did not urge Nikita to live at home: first because she had been living
for some twenty years already with a cooper, a peasant from another
village who lodged in their house; and secondly because though she
managed her husband as she pleased when he was sober, she feared him
like fire when he was drunk. Once when he had got drunk at home, Nikita,
probably to make up for his submissiveness when sober, broke open her
box, took out her best clothes, snatched up an axe, and chopped all her
undergarments and dresses to bits. All the wages Nikita earned went to
his wife, and he raised no objection to that. So now, two days before
the holiday, Martha had been twice to see Vasili Andreevich and had got
from him wheat flour, tea, sugar, and a quart of vodka, the lot costing
three rubles, and also five rubles in cash, for which she thanked him as
for a special favour, though he owed Nikita at least twenty rubles.

‘What agreement did we ever draw up with you?’ said Vasili Andreevich
to Nikita. ‘If you need anything, take it; you will work it off. I’m not
like others to keep you waiting, and making up accounts and reckoning
fines. We deal straight-forwardly. You serve me and I don’t neglect
you.’

And when saying this Vasili Andreevich was honestly convinced that he
was Nikita’s benefactor, and he knew how to put it so plausibly that
all those who depended on him for their money, beginning with Nikita,
confirmed him in the conviction that he was their benefactor and did not
overreach them.

‘Yes, I understand, Vasili Andreevich. You know that I serve you and
take as much pains as I would for my own father. I understand very
well!’ Nikita would reply. He was quite aware that Vasili Andreevich was
cheating him, but at the same time he felt that it was useless to try
to clear up his accounts with him or explain his side of the matter, and
that as long as he had nowhere to go he must accept what he could get.

Now, having heard his master’s order to harness, he went as usual
cheerfully and willingly to the shed, stepping briskly and easily on his
rather turned-in feet; took down from a nail the heavy tasselled leather
bridle, and jingling the rings of the bit went to the closed stable
where the horse he was to harness was standing by himself.

‘What, feeling lonely, feeling lonely, little silly?’ said Nikita in
answer to the low whinny with which he was greeted by the good-tempered,
medium-sized bay stallion, with a rather slanting crupper, who stood
alone in the shed. ‘Now then, now then, there’s time enough. Let me
water you first,’ he went on, speaking to the horse just as to someone
who understood the words he was using, and having whisked the dusty,
grooved back of the well-fed young stallion with the skirt of his
coat, he put a bridle on his handsome head, straightened his ears and
forelock, and having taken off his halter led him out to water.

Picking his way out of the dung-strewn stable, Mukhorty frisked, and
making play with his hind leg pretended that he meant to kick Nikita,
who was running at a trot beside him to the pump.

‘Now then, now then, you rascal!’ Nikita called out, well knowing how
carefully Mukhorty threw out his hind leg just to touch his greasy
sheepskin coat but not to strike him--a trick Nikita much appreciated.

After a drink of the cold water the horse sighed, moving his strong wet
lips, from the hairs of which transparent drops fell into the trough;
then standing still as if in thought, he suddenly gave a loud snort.

‘If you don’t want any more, you needn’t. But don’t go asking for any
later,’ said Nikita quite seriously and fully explaining his conduct to
Mukhorty. Then he ran back to the shed pulling the playful young horse,
who wanted to gambol all over the yard, by the rein.

There was no one else in the yard except a stranger, the cook’s husband,
who had come for the holiday.

‘Go and ask which sledge is to be harnessed--the wide one or the small
one--there’s a good fellow!’

The cook’s husband went into the house, which stood on an iron
foundation and was iron-roofed, and soon returned saying that the little
one was to be harnessed. By that time Nikita had put the collar and
brass-studded belly-band on Mukhorty and, carrying a light, painted
shaft-bow in one hand, was leading the horse with the other up to two
sledges that stood in the shed.

‘All right, let it be the little one!’ he said, backing the intelligent
horse, which all the time kept pretending to bite him, into the shafts,
and with the aid of the cook’s husband he proceeded to harness. When
everything was nearly ready and only the reins had to be adjusted,
Nikita sent the other man to the shed for some straw and to the barn for
a drugget.

‘There, that’s all right! Now, now, don’t bristle up!’ said Nikita,
pressing down into the sledge the freshly threshed oat straw the cook’s
husband had brought. ‘And now let’s spread the sacking like this, and
the drugget over it. There, like that it will be comfortable sitting,’
he went on, suiting the action to the words and tucking the drugget all
round over the straw to make a seat.

‘Thank you, dear man. Things always go quicker with two working at it!’
he added. And gathering up the leather reins fastened together by a
brass ring, Nikita took the driver’s seat and started the impatient
horse over the frozen manure which lay in the yard, towards the gate.

‘Uncle Nikita! I say, Uncle, Uncle!’ a high-pitched voice shouted, and a
seven-year-old boy in a black sheepskin coat, new white felt boots, and
a warm cap, ran hurriedly out of the house into the yard. ‘Take me with
you!’ he cried, fastening up his coat as he ran.

‘All right, come along, darling!’ said Nikita, and stopping the sledge
he picked up the master’s pale thin little son, radiant with joy, and
drove out into the road.

It was past two o’clock and the day was windy, dull, and cold, with more
than twenty degrees Fahrenheit of frost. Half the sky was hidden by a
lowering dark cloud. In the yard it was quiet, but in the street the
wind was felt more keenly. The snow swept down from a neighbouring shed
and whirled about in the corner near the bath-house.

Hardly had Nikita driven out of the yard and turned the horse’s head to
the house, before Vasili Andreevich emerged from the high porch in front
of the house with a cigarette in his mouth and wearing a cloth-covered
sheep-skin coat tightly girdled low at his waist, and stepped onto the
hard-trodden snow which squeaked under the leather soles of his felt
boots, and stopped. Taking a last whiff of his cigarette he threw it
down, stepped on it, and letting the smoke escape through his moustache
and looking askance at the horse that was coming up, began to tuck
in his sheepskin collar on both sides of his ruddy face, clean-shaven
except for the moustache, so that his breath should not moisten the
collar.

‘See now! The young scamp is there already!’ he exclaimed when he saw
his little son in the sledge. Vasili Andreevich was excited by the vodka
he had drunk with his visitors, and so he was even more pleased than
usual with everything that was his and all that he did. The sight of
his son, whom he always thought of as his heir, now gave him great
satisfaction. He looked at him, screwing up his eyes and showing his
long teeth.

His wife--pregnant, thin and pale, with her head and shoulders wrapped
in a shawl so that nothing of her face could be seen but her eyes--stood
behind him in the vestibule to see him off.

‘Now really, you ought to take Nikita with you,’ she said timidly,
stepping out from the doorway.

Vasili Andreevich did not answer. Her words evidently annoyed him and he
frowned angrily and spat.

‘You have money on you,’ she continued in the same plaintive voice.
‘What if the weather gets worse! Do take him, for goodness’ sake!’

‘Why? Don’t I know the road that I must needs take a guide?’ exclaimed
Vasili Andreevich, uttering every word very distinctly and compressing
his lips unnaturally, as he usually did when speaking to buyers and
sellers.

‘Really you ought to take him. I beg you in God’s name!’ his wife
repeated, wrapping her shawl more closely round her head.

‘There, she sticks to it like a leech!... Where am I to take him?’

‘I’m quite ready to go with you, Vasili Andreevich,’ said Nikita
cheerfully. ‘But they must feed the horses while I am away,’ he added,
turning to his master’s wife.

‘I’ll look after them, Nikita dear. I’ll tell Simon,’ replied the
mistress.

‘Well, Vasili Andreevich, am I to come with you?’ said Nikita, awaiting
a decision.

‘It seems I must humour my old woman. But if you’re coming you’d better
put on a warmer cloak,’ said Vasili Andreevich, smiling again as he
winked at Nikita’s short sheepskin coat, which was torn under the arms
and at the back, was greasy and out of shape, frayed to a fringe round
the skirt, and had endured many things in its lifetime.

‘Hey, dear man, come and hold the horse!’ shouted Nikita to the cook’s
husband, who was still in the yard.

‘No, I will myself, I will myself!’ shrieked the little boy, pulling his
hands, red with cold, out of his pockets, and seizing the cold leather
reins.

‘Only don’t be too long dressing yourself up. Look alive!’ shouted
Vasili Andreevich, grinning at Nikita.

‘Only a moment, Father, Vasili Andreevich!’ replied Nikita, and running
quickly with his inturned toes in his felt boots with their soles
patched with felt, he hurried across the yard and into the workmen’s
hut.

‘Arinushka! Get my coat down from the stove. I’m going with the master,’
he said, as he ran into the hut and took down his girdle from the nail
on which it hung.

The workmen’s cook, who had had a sleep after dinner and was now getting
the samovar ready for her husband, turned cheerfully to Nikita, and
infected by his hurry began to move as quickly as he did, got down his
miserable worn-out cloth coat from the stove where it was drying, and
began hurriedly shaking it out and smoothing it down.

‘There now, you’ll have a chance of a holiday with your good man,’ said
Nikita, who from kindhearted politeness always said something to anyone
he was alone with.

Then, drawing his worn narrow girdle round him, he drew in his breath,
pulling in his lean stomach still more, and girdled himself as tightly
as he could over his sheepskin.

‘There now,’ he said addressing himself no longer to the cook but the
girdle, as he tucked the ends in at the waist, ‘now you won’t come
undone!’ And working his shoulders up and down to free his arms, he put
the coat over his sheepskin, arched his back more strongly to ease his
arms, poked himself under the armpits, and took down his leather-covered
mittens from the shelf. ‘Now we’re all right!’

‘You ought to wrap your feet up, Nikita. Your boots are very bad.’

Nikita stopped as if he had suddenly realized this.

‘Yes, I ought to.... But they’ll do like this. It isn’t far!’ and he
ran out into the yard.

‘Won’t you be cold, Nikita?’ said the mistress as he came up to the
sledge.

‘Cold? No, I’m quite warm,’ answered Nikita as he pushed some straw
up to the forepart of the sledge so that it should cover his feet, and
stowed away the whip, which the good horse would not need, at the bottom
of the sledge.

Vasili Andreevich, who was wearing two fur-lined coats one over the
other, was already in the sledge, his broad back filling nearly its
whole rounded width, and taking the reins he immediately touched the
horse. Nikita jumped in just as the sledge started, and seated himself
in front on the left side, with one leg hanging over the edge.



II

The good stallion took the sledge along at a brisk pace over the
smooth-frozen road through the village, the runners squeaking slightly
as they went.

‘Look at him hanging on there! Hand me the whip, Nikita!’ shouted Vasili
Andreevich, evidently enjoying the sight of his ‘heir,’ who standing on
the runners was hanging on at the back of the sledge. ‘I’ll give it you!
Be off to mamma, you dog!’

The boy jumped down. The horse increased his amble and, suddenly
changing foot, broke into a fast trot.

The Crosses, the village where Vasili Andreevich lived, consisted of six
houses. As soon as they had passed the blacksmith’s hut, the last in
the village, they realized that the wind was much stronger than they
had thought. The road could hardly be seen. The tracks left by the
sledge-runners were immediately covered by snow and the road was only
distinguished by the fact that it was higher than the rest of the
ground. There was a swirl of snow over the fields and the line where sky
and earth met could not be seen. The Telyatin forest, usually clearly
visible, now only loomed up occasionally and dimly through the driving
snowy dust. The wind came from the left, insistently blowing over to
one side the mane on Mukhorty’s sleek neck and carrying aside even his
fluffy tail, which was tied in a simple knot. Nikita’s wide coat-collar,
as he sat on the windy side, pressed close to his cheek and nose.

‘This road doesn’t give him a chance--it’s too snowy,’ said Vasili
Andreevich, who prided himself on his good horse. ‘I once drove to
Pashutino with him in half an hour.’

‘What?’ asked Nikita, who could not hear on account of his collar.

‘I say I once went to Pashutino in half an hour,’ shouted Vasili
Andreevich.

‘It goes without saying that he’s a good horse,’ replied Nikita.

They were silent for a while. But Vasili Andreevich wished to talk.

‘Well, did you tell your wife not to give the cooper any vodka?’ he
began in the same loud tone, quite convinced that Nikita must feel
flattered to be talking with so clever and important a person as
himself, and he was so pleased with his jest that it did not enter his
head that the remark might be unpleasant to Nikita.

The wind again prevented Nikita’s hearing his master’s words.

Vasili Andreevich repeated the jest about the cooper in his loud, clear
voice.

‘That’s their business, Vasili Andreevich. I don’t pry into their
affairs. As long as she doesn’t ill-treat our boy--God be with them.’

‘That’s so,’ said Vasili Andreevich. ‘Well, and will you be buying a
horse in spring?’ he went on, changing the subject.

‘Yes, I can’t avoid it,’ answered Nikita, turning down his collar and
leaning back towards his master.

The conversation now became interesting to him and he did not wish to
lose a word.

‘The lad’s growing up. He must begin to plough for himself, but till now
we’ve always had to hire someone,’ he said.

‘Well, why not have the lean-cruppered one. I won’t charge much for it,’
shouted Vasili Andreevich, feeling animated, and consequently starting
on his favourite occupation--that of horse-dealing--which absorbed all
his mental powers.

‘Or you might let me have fifteen rubles and I’ll buy one at the
horse-market,’ said Nikita, who knew that the horse Vasili Andreevich
wanted to sell him would be dear at seven rubles, but that if he took it
from him it would be charged at twenty-five, and then he would be unable
to draw any money for half a year.

‘It’s a good horse. I think of your interest as of my own--according to
conscience. Brekhunov isn’t a man to wrong anyone. Let the loss be mine.
I’m not like others. Honestly!’ he shouted in the voice in which he
hypnotized his customers and dealers. ‘It’s a real good horse.’

‘Quite so!’ said Nikita with a sigh, and convinced that there was
nothing more to listen to, he again released his collar, which
immediately covered his ear and face.

They drove on in silence for about half an hour. The wind blew sharply
onto Nikita’s side and arm where his sheepskin was torn.

He huddled up and breathed into the collar which covered his mouth, and
was not wholly cold.

‘What do you think--shall we go through Karamyshevo or by the straight
road?’ asked Vasili Andreevich.

The road through Karamyshevo was more frequented and was well marked
with a double row of high stakes. The straight road was nearer but
little used and had no stakes, or only poor ones covered with snow.

Nikita thought awhile.

‘Though Karamyshevo is farther, it is better going,’ he said.

‘But by the straight road, when once we get through the hollow by the
forest, it’s good going--sheltered,’ said Vasili Andreevich, who wished
to go the nearest way.

‘Just as you please,’ said Nikita, and again let go of his collar.

Vasili Andreevich did as he had said, and having gone about half a verst
came to a tall oak stake which had a few dry leaves still dangling on
it, and there he turned to the left.

On turning they faced directly against the wind, and snow was beginning
to fall. Vasili Andreevich, who was driving, inflated his cheeks,
blowing the breath out through his moustache. Nikita dozed.

So they went on in silence for about ten minutes. Suddenly Vasili
Andreevich began saying something.

‘Eh, what?’ asked Nikita, opening his eyes.

Vasili Andreevich did not answer, but bent over, looking behind them and
then ahead of the horse. The sweat had curled Mukhorty’s coat between
his legs and on his neck. He went at a walk.

‘What is it?’ Nikita asked again.

‘What is it? What is it?’ Vasili Andreevich mimicked him angrily. ‘There
are no stakes to be seen! We must have got off the road!’

‘Well, pull up then, and I’ll look for it,’ said Nikita, and jumping
down lightly from the sledge and taking the whip from under the straw,
he went off to the left from his own side of the sledge.

The snow was not deep that year, so that it was possible to walk
anywhere, but still in places it was knee-deep and got into Nikita’s
boots. He went about feeling the ground with his feet and the whip, but
could not find the road anywhere.

‘Well, how is it?’ asked Vasili Andreevich when Nikita came back to the
sledge.

‘There is no road this side. I must go to the other side and try there,’
said Nikita.

‘There’s something there in front. Go and have a look.’

Nikita went to what had appeared dark, but found that it was earth which
the wind had blown from the bare fields of winter oats and had strewn
over the snow, colouring it. Having searched to the right also, he
returned to the sledge, brushed the snow from his coat, shook it out of
his boots, and seated himself once more.

‘We must go to the right,’ he said decidedly. ‘The wind was blowing on
our left before, but now it is straight in my face. Drive to the right,’
he repeated with decision.

Vasili Andreevich took his advice and turned to the right, but still
there was no road. They went on in that direction for some time. The
wind was as fierce as ever and it was snowing lightly.

‘It seems, Vasili Andreevich, that we have gone quite astray,’ Nikita
suddenly remarked, as if it were a pleasant thing. ‘What is that?’ he
added, pointing to some potato vines that showed up from under the snow.

Vasili Andreevich stopped the perspiring horse, whose deep sides were
heaving heavily.

‘What is it?’

‘Why, we are on the Zakharov lands. See where we’ve got to!’

‘Nonsense!’ retorted Vasili Andreevich.

‘It’s not nonsense, Vasili Andreevich. It’s the truth,’ replied Nikita.
‘You can feel that the sledge is going over a potato-field, and there
are the heaps of vines which have been carted here. It’s the Zakharov
factory land.’

‘Dear me, how we have gone astray!’ said Vasili Andreevich. ‘What are we
to do now?’

‘We must go straight on, that’s all. We shall come out somewhere--if not
at Zakharova, then at the proprietor’s farm,’ said Nikita.

Vasili Andreevich agreed, and drove as Nikita had indicated. So they
went on for a considerable time. At times they came onto bare fields and
the sledge-runners rattled over frozen lumps of earth. Sometimes they
got onto a winter-rye field, or a fallow field on which they could see
stalks of wormwood, and straws sticking up through the snow and swaying
in the wind; sometimes they came onto deep and even white snow, above
which nothing was to be seen.

The snow was falling from above and sometimes rose from below. The horse
was evidently exhausted, his hair had all curled up from sweat and was
covered with hoar-frost, and he went at a walk. Suddenly he stumbled and
sat down in a ditch or water-course. Vasili Andreevich wanted to stop,
but Nikita cried to him:

‘Why stop? We’ve got in and must get out. Hey, pet! Hey, darling! Gee
up, old fellow!’ he shouted in a cheerful tone to the horse, jumping out
of the sledge and himself getting stuck in the ditch.

The horse gave a start and quickly climbed out onto the frozen bank. It
was evidently a ditch that had been dug there.

‘Where are we now?’ asked Vasili Andreevich.

‘We’ll soon find out!’ Nikita replied. ‘Go on, we’ll get somewhere.’

‘Why, this must be the Goryachkin forest!’ said Vasili Andreevich,
pointing to something dark that appeared amid the snow in front of them.

‘We’ll see what forest it is when we get there,’ said Nikita.

He saw that beside the black thing they had noticed, dry, oblong
willow-leaves were fluttering, and so he knew it was not a forest but a
settlement, but he did not wish to say so. And in fact they had not gone
twenty-five yards beyond the ditch before something in front of them,
evidently trees, showed up black, and they heard a new and melancholy
sound. Nikita had guessed right: it was not a wood, but a row of tall
willows with a few leaves still fluttering on them here and there. They
had evidently been planted along the ditch round a threshing-floor.
Coming up to the willows, which moaned sadly in the wind, the horse
suddenly planted his forelegs above the height of the sledge, drew up
his hind legs also, pulling the sledge onto higher ground, and turned to
the left, no longer sinking up to his knees in snow. They were back on a
road.

‘Well, here we are, but heaven only knows where!’ said Nikita.

The horse kept straight along the road through the drifted snow, and
before they had gone another hundred yards the straight line of the
dark wattle wall of a barn showed up black before them, its roof heavily
covered with snow which poured down from it. After passing the barn the
road turned to the wind and they drove into a snow-drift. But ahead of
them was a lane with houses on either side, so evidently the snow had
been blown across the road and they had to drive through the drift. And
so in fact it was. Having driven through the snow they came out into a
street. At the end house of the village some frozen clothes hanging on
a line--shirts, one red and one white, trousers, leg-bands, and a
petticoat--fluttered wildly in the wind. The white shirt in particular
struggled desperately, waving its sleeves about.

‘There now, either a lazy woman or a dead one has not taken her clothes
down before the holiday,’ remarked Nikita, looking at the fluttering
shirts.



III

At the entrance to the street the wind still raged and the road was
thickly covered with snow, but well within the village it was calm,
warm, and cheerful. At one house a dog was barking, at another a woman,
covering her head with her coat, came running from somewhere and entered
the door of a hut, stopping on the threshold to have a look at the
passing sledge. In the middle of the village girls could be heard
singing.

Here in the village there seemed to be less wind and snow, and the frost
was less keen.

‘Why, this is Grishkino,’ said Vasili Andreevich.

‘So it is,’ responded Nikita.

It really was Grishkino, which meant that they had gone too far to the
left and had travelled some six miles, not quite in the direction they
aimed at, but towards their destination for all that.

From Grishkino to Goryachkin was about another four miles.

In the middle of the village they almost ran into a tall man walking
down the middle of the street.

‘Who are you?’ shouted the man, stopping the horse, and recognizing
Vasili Anereevich he immediately took hold of the shaft, went along it
hand over hand till he reached the sledge, and placed himself on the
driver’s seat.

He was Isay, a peasant of Vasili Andreevich’s acquaintance, and well
known as the principal horse-thief in the district.

‘Ah, Vasili Andreevich! Where are you off to?’ said Isay, enveloping
Nikita in the odour of the vodka he had drunk.

‘We were going to Goryachkin.’

‘And look where you’ve got to! You should have gone through
Molchanovka.’

‘Should have, but didn’t manage it,’ said Vasili Andreevich, holding in
the horse.

‘That’s a good horse,’ said Isay, with a shrewd glance at Mukhorty, and
with a practised hand he tightened the loosened knot high in the horse’s
bushy tail.

‘Are you going to stay the night?’

‘No, friend. I must get on.’

‘Your business must be pressing. And who is this? Ah, Nikita Stepanych!’

‘Who else?’ replied Nikita. ‘But I say, good friend, how are we to avoid
going astray again?’

‘Where can you go astray here? Turn back straight down the street and
then when you come out keep straight on. Don’t take to the left. You
will come out onto the high road, and then turn to the right.’

‘And where do we turn off the high road? As in summer, or the winter
way?’ asked Nikita.

‘The winter way. As soon as you turn off you’ll see some bushes, and
opposite them there is a way-mark--a large oak, one with branches--and
that’s the way.’

Vasili Andreevich turned the horse back and drove through the outskirts
of the village.

‘Why not stay the night?’ Isay shouted after them.

But Vasili Andreevich did not answer and touched up the horse. Four
miles of good road, two of which lay through the forest, seemed easy to
manage, especially as the wind was apparently quieter and the snow had
stopped.

Having driven along the trodden village street, darkened here and there
by fresh manure, past the yard where the clothes hung out and where the
white shirt had broken loose and was now attached only by one frozen
sleeve, they again came within sound of the weird moan of the willows,
and again emerged on the open fields. The storm, far from ceasing,
seemed to have grown yet stronger. The road was completely covered with
drifting snow, and only the stakes showed that they had not lost their
way. But even the stakes ahead of them were not easy to see, since the
wind blew in their faces.

Vasili Andreevich screwed up his eyes, bent down his head, and looked
out for the way-marks, but trusted mainly to the horse’s sagacity,
letting it take its own way. And the horse really did not lose the road
but followed its windings, turning now to the right and now to the left
and sensing it under his feet, so that though the snow fell thicker and
the wind strengthened they still continued to see way-marks now to the
left and now to the right of them.

So they travelled on for about ten minutes, when suddenly, through the
slanting screen of wind-driven snow, something black showed up which
moved in front of the horse.

This was another sledge with fellow-travellers. Mukhorty overtook them,
and struck his hoofs against the back of the sledge in front of them.

‘Pass on... hey there... get in front!’ cried voices from the
sledge.

Vasili Andreevich swerved aside to pass the other sledge.

In it sat three men and a woman, evidently visitors returning from a
feast. One peasant was whacking the snow-covered croup of their little
horse with a long switch, and the other two sitting in front waved their
arms and shouted something. The woman, completely wrapped up and covered
with snow, sat drowsing and bumping at the back.

‘Who are you?’ shouted Vasili Andreevich.

‘From A-a-a...’ was all that could be heard.

‘I say, where are you from?’

‘From A-a-a-a!’ one of the peasants shouted with all his might, but
still it was impossible to make out who they were.

‘Get along! Keep up!’ shouted another, ceaselessly beating his horse
with the switch.

‘So you’re from a feast, it seems?’

‘Go on, go on! Faster, Simon! Get in front! Faster!’

The wings of the sledges bumped against one another, almost got jammed
but managed to separate, and the peasants’ sledge began to fall behind.

Their shaggy, big-bellied horse, all covered with snow, breathed heavily
under the low shaft-bow and, evidently using the last of its strength,
vainly endeavoured to escape from the switch, hobbling with its short
legs through the deep snow which it threw up under itself.

Its muzzle, young-looking, with the nether lip drawn up like that of a
fish, nostrils distended and ears pressed back from fear, kept up for a
few seconds near Nikita’s shoulder and then began to fall behind.

‘Just see what liquor does!’ said Nikita. ‘They’ve tired that little
horse to death. What pagans!’

For a few minutes they heard the panting of the tired little horse and
the drunken shouting of the peasants. Then the panting and the shouts
died away, and around them nothing could be heard but the whistling
of the wind in their ears and now and then the squeak of their
sledge-runners over a windswept part of the road.

This encounter cheered and enlivened Vasili Andreevich, and he drove
on more boldly without examining the way-marks, urging on the horse and
trusting to him.

Nikita had nothing to do, and as usual in such circumstances he drowsed,
making up for much sleepless time. Suddenly the horse stopped and Nikita
nearly fell forward onto his nose.

‘You know we’re off the track again!’ said Vasili Andreevich.

‘How’s that?’

‘Why, there are no way-marks to be seen. We must have got off the road
again.’

‘Well, if we’ve lost the road we must find it,’ said Nikita curtly, and
getting out and stepping lightly on his pigeon-toed feet he started once
more going about on the snow.

He walked about for a long time, now disappearing and now reappearing,
and finally he came back.

‘There is no road here. There may be farther on,’ he said, getting into
the sledge.

It was already growing dark. The snow-storm had not increased but had
also not subsided.

‘If we could only hear those peasants!’ said Vasili Andreevich.

‘Well they haven’t caught us up. We must have gone far astray. Or maybe
they have lost their way too.’

‘Where are we to go then?’ asked Vasili Andreevich.

‘Why, we must let the horse take its own way,’ said Nikita. ‘He will
take us right. Let me have the reins.’

Vasili Andreevich gave him the reins, the more willingly because his
hands were beginning to feel frozen in his thick gloves.

Nikita took the reins, but only held them, trying not to shake them
and rejoicing at his favourite’s sagacity. And indeed the clever horse,
turning first one ear and then the other now to one side and then to the
other, began to wheel round.

‘The one thing he can’t do is to talk,’ Nikita kept saying. ‘See what he
is doing! Go on, go on! You know best. That’s it, that’s it!’

The wind was now blowing from behind and it felt warmer.

‘Yes, he’s clever,’ Nikita continued, admiring the horse. ‘A Kirgiz
horse is strong but stupid. But this one--just see what he’s doing with
his ears! He doesn’t need any telegraph. He can scent a mile off.’

Before another half-hour had passed they saw something dark ahead of
them--a wood or a village--and stakes again appeared to the right. They
had evidently come out onto the road.

‘Why, that’s Grishkino again!’ Nikita suddenly exclaimed.

And indeed, there on their left was that same barn with the snow flying
from it, and farther on the same line with the frozen washing, shirts
and trousers, which still fluttered desperately in the wind.

Again they drove into the street and again it grew quiet, warm, and
cheerful, and again they could see the manure-stained street and hear
voices and songs and the barking of a dog. It was already so dark that
there were lights in some of the windows.

Half-way through the village Vasili Andreevich turned the horse towards
a large double-fronted brick house and stopped at the porch.

Nikita went to the lighted snow-covered window, in the rays of which
flying snow-flakes glittered, and knocked at it with his whip.

‘Who is there?’ a voice replied to his knock.

‘From Kresty, the Brekhunovs, dear fellow,’ answered Nikita. ‘Just come
out for a minute.’

Someone moved from the window, and a minute or two later there was the
sound of the passage door as it came unstuck, then the latch of the
outside door clicked and a tall white-bearded peasant, with a sheepskin
coat thrown over his white holiday shirt, pushed his way out holding the
door firmly against the wind, followed by a lad in a red shirt and high
leather boots.

‘Is that you, Andreevich?’ asked the old man.

‘Yes, friend, we’ve gone astray,’ said Vasili Andreevich. ‘We wanted to
get to Goryachkin but found ourselves here. We went a second time but
lost our way again.’

‘Just see how you have gone astray!’ said the old man. ‘Petrushka, go
and open the gate!’ he added, turning to the lad in the red shirt.

‘All right,’ said the lad in a cheerful voice, and ran back into the
passage.

‘But we’re not staying the night,’ said Vasili Andreevich.

‘Where will you go in the night? You’d better stay!’

‘I’d be glad to, but I must go on. It’s business, and it can’t be
helped.’

‘Well, warm yourself at least. The samovar is just ready.’

‘Warm myself? Yes, I’ll do that,’ said Vasili Andreevich. ‘It won’t get
darker. The moon will rise and it will be lighter. Let’s go in and warm
ourselves, Nikita.’

‘Well, why not? Let us warm ourselves,’ replied Nikita, who was stiff
with cold and anxious to warm his frozen limbs.

Vasili Andreevich went into the room with the old man, and Nikita drove
through the gate opened for him by Petrushka, by whose advice he backed
the horse under the penthouse. The ground was covered with manure and
the tall bow over the horse’s head caught against the beam. The hens
and the cock had already settled to roost there, and clucked peevishly,
clinging to the beam with their claws. The disturbed sheep shied and
rushed aside trampling the frozen manure with their hooves. The dog
yelped desperately with fright and anger and then burst out barking like
a puppy at the stranger.

Nikita talked to them all, excused himself to the fowls and assured
them that he would not disturb them again, rebuked the sheep for being
frightened without knowing why, and kept soothing the dog, while he tied
up the horse.

‘Now that will be all right,’ he said, knocking the snow off his
clothes. ‘Just hear how he barks!’ he added, turning to the dog. ‘Be
quiet, stupid! Be quiet. You are only troubling yourself for nothing.
We’re not thieves, we’re friends....’

‘And these are, it’s said, the three domestic counsellors,’ remarked the
lad, and with his strong arms he pushed under the pent-roof the sledge
that had remained outside.

‘Why counsellors?’ asked Nikita.

‘That’s what is printed in Paulson. A thief creeps to a house--the dog
barks, that means “Be on your guard!” The cock crows, that means, “Get
up!” The cat licks herself--that means, “A welcome guest is coming. Get
ready to receive him!”’ said the lad with a smile.

Petrushka could read and write and knew Paulson’s primer, his only book,
almost by heart, and he was fond of quoting sayings from it that he
thought suited the occasion, especially when he had had something to
drink, as to-day.

‘That’s so,’ said Nikita.

‘You must be chilled through and through,’ said Petrushka.

‘Yes, I am rather,’ said Nikita, and they went across the yard and the
passage into the house.



IV

The household to which Vasili Andreevich had come was one of the richest
in the village. The family had five allotments, besides renting other
land. They had six horses, three cows, two calves, and some twenty
sheep. There were twenty-two members belonging to the homestead: four
married sons, six grandchildren (one of whom, Petrushka, was married),
two great-grandchildren, three orphans, and four daughters-in-law with
their babies. It was one of the few homesteads that remained still
undivided, but even here the dull internal work of disintegration which
would inevitably lead to separation had already begun, starting as usual
among the women. Two sons were living in Moscow as water-carriers, and
one was in the army. At home now were the old man and his wife, their
second son who managed the homestead, the eldest who had come from
Moscow for the holiday, and all the women and children. Besides these
members of the family there was a visitor, a neighbour who was godfather
to one of the children.

Over the table in the room hung a lamp with a shade, which brightly lit
up the tea-things, a bottle of vodka, and some refreshments, besides
illuminating the brick walls, which in the far corner were hung with
icons on both sides of which were pictures. At the head of the table
sat Vasili Andreevich in a black sheepskin coat, sucking his frozen
moustache and observing the room and the people around him with his
prominent hawk-like eyes. With him sat the old, bald, white-bearded
master of the house in a white homespun shirt, and next him the son
home from Moscow for the holiday--a man with a sturdy back and powerful
shoulders and clad in a thin print shirt--then the second son, also
broad-shouldered, who acted as head of the house, and then a lean
red-haired peasant--the neighbour.

Having had a drink of vodka and something to eat, they were about to
take tea, and the samovar standing on the floor beside the brick oven
was already humming. The children could be seen in the top bunks and on
the top of the oven. A woman sat on a lower bunk with a cradle beside
her. The old housewife, her face covered with wrinkles which wrinkled
even her lips, was waiting on Vasili Andreevich.

As Nikita entered the house she was offering her guest a small tumbler
of thick glass which she had just filled with vodka.

‘Don’t refuse, Vasili Andreevich, you mustn’t! Wish us a merry feast.
Drink it, dear!’ she said.

The sight and smell of vodka, especially now when he was chilled through
and tired out, much disturbed Nikita’s mind. He frowned, and having
shaken the snow off his cap and coat, stopped in front of the icons
as if not seeing anyone, crossed himself three times, and bowed to the
icons. Then, turning to the old master of the house and bowing first
to him, then to all those at table, then to the women who stood by the
oven, and muttering: ‘A merry holiday!’ he began taking off his outer
things without looking at the table.

‘Why, you’re all covered with hoar-frost, old fellow!’ said the eldest
brother, looking at Nikita’s snow-covered face, eyes, and beard.

Nikita took off his coat, shook it again, hung it up beside the oven,
and came up to the table. He too was offered vodka. He went through a
moment of painful hesitation and nearly took up the glass and emptied
the clear fragrant liquid down his throat, but he glanced at Vasili
Andreevich, remembered his oath and the boots that he had sold for
drink, recalled the cooper, remembered his son for whom he had promised
to buy a horse by spring, sighed, and declined it.

‘I don’t drink, thank you kindly,’ he said frowning, and sat down on a
bench near the second window.

‘How’s that?’ asked the eldest brother.

‘I just don’t drink,’ replied Nikita without lifting his eyes but
looking askance at his scanty beard and moustache and getting the
icicles out of them.

‘It’s not good for him,’ said Vasili Andreevich, munching a cracknel
after emptying his glass.

‘Well, then, have some tea,’ said the kindly old hostess. ‘You must
be chilled through, good soul. Why are you women dawdling so with the
samovar?’

‘It is ready,’ said one of the young women, and after flicking with her
apron the top of the samovar which was now boiling over, she carried it
with an effort to the table, raised it, and set it down with a thud.

Meanwhile Vasili Andreevich was telling how he had lost his way, how
they had come back twice to this same village, and how they had gone
astray and had met some drunken peasants. Their hosts were surprised,
explained where and why they had missed their way, said who the tipsy
people they had met were, and told them how they ought to go.

‘A little child could find the way to Molchanovka from here. All you
have to do is to take the right turning from the high road. There’s a
bush you can see just there. But you didn’t even get that far!’ said the
neighbour.

‘You’d better stay the night. The women will make up beds for you,’ said
the old woman persuasively.

‘You could go on in the morning and it would be pleasanter,’ said the
old man, confirming what his wife had said.

‘I can’t, friend. Business!’ said Vasili Andreevich. ‘Lose an hour and
you can’t catch it up in a year,’ he added, remembering the grove and
the dealers who might snatch that deal from him. ‘We shall get there,
shan’t we?’ he said, turning to Nikita.

Nikita did not answer for some time, apparently still intent on thawing
out his beard and moustache.

‘If only we don’t go astray again,’ he replied gloomily. He was gloomy
because he passionately longed for some vodka, and the only thing that
could assuage that longing was tea and he had not yet been offered any.

‘But we have only to reach the turning and then we shan’t go wrong. The
road will be through the forest the whole way,’ said Vasili Andreevich.

‘It’s just as you please, Vasili Andreevich. If we’re to go, let us go,’
said Nikita, taking the glass of tea he was offered.

‘We’ll drink our tea and be off.’

Nikita said nothing but only shook his head, and carefully pouring some
tea into his saucer began warming his hands, the fingers of which were
always swollen with hard work, over the steam. Then, biting off a tiny
bit of sugar, he bowed to his hosts, said, ‘Your health!’ and drew in
the steaming liquid.

‘If somebody would see us as far as the turning,’ said Vasili
Andreevich.

‘Well, we can do that,’ said the eldest son. ‘Petrushka will harness and
go that far with you.’

‘Well, then, put in the horse, lad, and I shall be thankful to you for
it.’

‘Oh, what for, dear man?’ said the kindly old woman. ‘We are heartily
glad to do it.’

‘Petrushka, go and put in the mare,’ said the eldest brother.

‘All right,’ replied Petrushka with a smile, and promptly snatching his
cap down from a nail he ran away to harness.

While the horse was being harnessed the talk returned to the point at
which it had stopped when Vasili Andreevich drove up to the window. The
old man had been complaining to his neighbour, the village elder, about
his third son who had not sent him anything for the holiday though he
had sent a French shawl to his wife.

‘The young people are getting out of hand,’ said the old man.

‘And how they do!’ said the neighbour. ‘There’s no managing them! They
know too much. There’s Demochkin now, who broke his father’s arm. It’s
all from being too clever, it seems.’

Nikita listened, watched their faces, and evidently would have liked to
share in the conversation, but he was too busy drinking his tea and only
nodded his head approvingly. He emptied one tumbler after another and
grew warmer and warmer and more and more comfortable. The talk continued
on the same subject for a long time--the harmfulness of a household
dividing up--and it was clearly not an abstract discussion but concerned
the question of a separation in that house; a separation demanded by the
second son who sat there morosely silent.

It was evidently a sore subject and absorbed them all, but out of
propriety they did not discuss their private affairs before strangers.
At last, however, the old man could not restrain himself, and with tears
in his eyes declared that he would not consent to a break-up of the
family during his lifetime, that his house was prospering, thank God,
but that if they separated they would all have to go begging.

‘Just like the Matveevs,’ said the neighbour. ‘They used to have a
proper house, but now they’ve split up none of them has anything.’

‘And that is what you want to happen to us,’ said the old man, turning
to his son.

The son made no reply and there was an awkward pause. The silence was
broken by Petrushka, who having harnessed the horse had returned to the
hut a few minutes before this and had been listening all the time with a
smile.

‘There’s a fable about that in Paulson,’ he said. ‘A father gave his
sons a broom to break. At first they could not break it, but when they
took it twig by twig they broke it easily. And it’s the same here,’ and
he gave a broad smile. ‘I’m ready!’ he added.

‘If you’re ready, let’s go,’ said Vasili Andreevich. ‘And as to
separating, don’t you allow it, Grandfather. You got everything together
and you’re the master. Go to the Justice of the Peace. He’ll say how
things should be done.’

‘He carries on so, carries on so,’ the old man continued in a whining
tone. ‘There’s no doing anything with him. It’s as if the devil
possessed him.’

Nikita having meanwhile finished his fifth tumbler of tea laid it on
its side instead of turning it upside down, hoping to be offered a sixth
glass. But there was no more water in the samovar, so the hostess did
not fill it up for him. Besides, Vasili Andreevich was putting his
things on, so there was nothing for it but for Nikita to get up too, put
back into the sugar-basin the lump of sugar he had nibbled all round,
wipe his perspiring face with the skirt of his sheepskin, and go to put
on his overcoat.

Having put it on he sighed deeply, thanked his hosts, said good-bye,
and went out of the warm bright room into the cold dark passage, through
which the wind was howling and where snow was blowing through the cracks
of the shaking door, and from there into the yard.

Petrushka stood in his sheepskin in the middle of the yard by his horse,
repeating some lines from Paulson’s primer. He said with a smile:

     ‘Storms with mist the sky conceal,
     Snowy circles wheeling wild.
     Now like savage beast ‘twill howl,
     And now ‘tis wailing like a child.’

Nikita nodded approvingly as he arranged the reins.

The old man, seeing Vasili Andreevich off, brought a lantern into the
passage to show him a light, but it was blown out at once. And even in
the yard it was evident that the snowstorm had become more violent.

‘Well, this is weather!’ thought Vasili Andreevich. ‘Perhaps we may not
get there after all. But there is nothing to be done. Business! Besides,
we have got ready, our host’s horse has been harnessed, and we’ll get
there with God’s help!’

Their aged host also thought they ought not to go, but he had already
tried to persuade them to stay and had not been listened to.

‘It’s no use asking them again. Maybe my age makes me timid. They’ll
get there all right, and at least we shall get to bed in good time and
without any fuss,’ he thought.

Petrushka did not think of danger. He knew the road and the whole
district so well, and the lines about ‘snowy circles wheeling wild’
described what was happening outside so aptly that it cheered him up.
Nikita did not wish to go at all, but he had been accustomed not to have
his own way and to serve others for so long that there was no one to
hinder the departing travellers.



V

Vasili Andreevich went over to his sledge, found it with difficulty in
the darkness, climbed in and took the reins.

‘Go on in front!’ he cried.

Petrushka kneeling in his low sledge started his horse. Mukhorty, who
had been neighing for some time past, now scenting a mare ahead of him
started after her, and they drove out into the street. They drove again
through the outskirts of the village and along the same road, past the
yard where the frozen linen had hung (which, however, was no longer to
be seen), past the same barn, which was now snowed up almost to the
roof and from which the snow was still endlessly pouring past the same
dismally moaning, whistling, and swaying willows, and again entered into
the sea of blustering snow raging from above and below. The wind was
so strong that when it blew from the side and the travellers steered
against it, it tilted the sledges and turned the horses to one side.
Petrushka drove his good mare in front at a brisk trot and kept shouting
lustily. Mukhorty pressed after her.

After travelling so for about ten minutes, Petrushka turned round and
shouted something. Neither Vasili Andreevich nor Nikita could hear
anything because of the wind, but they guessed that they had arrived at
the turning. In fact Petrushka had turned to the right, and now the wind
that had blown from the side blew straight in their faces, and through
the snow they saw something dark on their right. It was the bush at the
turning.

‘Well now, God speed you!’

‘Thank you, Petrushka!’

‘Storms with mist the sky conceal!’ shouted Petrushka as he disappeared.

‘There’s a poet for you!’ muttered Vasili Andreevich, pulling at the
reins.

‘Yes, a fine lad--a true peasant,’ said Nikita.

They drove on.

Nikita, wrapping his coat closely about him and pressing his head down
so close to his shoulders that his short beard covered his throat, sat
silently, trying not to lose the warmth he had obtained while drinking
tea in the house. Before him he saw the straight lines of the
shafts which constantly deceived him into thinking they were on a
well-travelled road, and the horse’s swaying crupper with his knotted
tail blown to one side, and farther ahead the high shaft-bow and the
swaying head and neck of the horse with its waving mane. Now and then
he caught sight of a way-sign, so that he knew they were still on a road
and that there was nothing for him to be concerned about.

Vasili Andreevich drove on, leaving it to the horse to keep to the road.
But Mukhorty, though he had had a breathing-space in the village, ran
reluctantly, and seemed now and then to get off the road, so that Vasili
Andreevich had repeatedly to correct him.

‘Here’s a stake to the right, and another, and here’s a third,’ Vasili
Andreevich counted, ‘and here in front is the forest,’ thought he, as he
looked at something dark in front of him. But what had seemed to him a
forest was only a bush. They passed the bush and drove on for another
hundred yards but there was no fourth way-mark nor any forest.

‘We must reach the forest soon,’ thought Vasili Andreevich, and animated
by the vodka and the tea he did not stop but shook the reins, and the
good obedient horse responded, now ambling, now slowly trotting in the
direction in which he was sent, though he knew that he was not going the
right way. Ten minutes went by, but there was still no forest.

‘There now, we must be astray again,’ said Vasili Andreevich, pulling
up.

Nikita silently got out of the sledge and holding his coat, which the
wind now wrapped closely about him and now almost tore off, started to
feel about in the snow, going first to one side and then to the other.
Three or four times he was completely lost to sight. At last he returned
and took the reins from Vasili Andreevich’s hand.

‘We must go to the right,’ he said sternly and peremptorily, as he
turned the horse.

‘Well, if it’s to the right, go to the right,’ said Vasili Andreevich,
yielding up the reins to Nikita and thrusting his freezing hands into
his sleeves.

Nikita did not reply.

‘Now then, friend, stir yourself!’ he shouted to the horse, but in spite
of the shake of the reins Mukhorty moved only at a walk.

The snow in places was up to his knees, and the sledge moved by fits and
starts with his every movement.

Nikita took the whip that hung over the front of the sledge and struck
him once. The good horse, unused to the whip, sprang forward and moved
at a trot, but immediately fell back into an amble and then to a walk.
So they went on for five minutes. It was dark and the snow whirled from
above and rose from below, so that sometimes the shaft-bow could not
be seen. At times the sledge seemed to stand still and the field to
run backwards. Suddenly the horse stopped abruptly, evidently aware
of something close in front of him. Nikita again sprang lightly out,
throwing down the reins, and went ahead to see what had brought him to
a standstill, but hardly had he made a step in front of the horse before
his feet slipped and he went rolling down an incline.

‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’ he said to himself as he fell, and he tried to stop
his fall but could not, and only stopped when his feet plunged into a
thick layer of snow that had drifted to the bottom of the hollow.

The fringe of a drift of snow that hung on the edge of the hollow,
disturbed by Nikita’s fall, showered down on him and got inside his
collar.

‘What a thing to do!’ said Nikita reproachfully, addressing the drift
and the hollow and shaking the snow from under his collar.

‘Nikita! Hey, Nikita!’ shouted Vasili Andreevich from above.

But Nikita did not reply. He was too occupied in shaking out the snow
and searching for the whip he had dropped when rolling down the incline.
Having found the whip he tried to climb straight up the bank where he
had rolled down, but it was impossible to do so: he kept rolling down
again, and so he had to go along at the foot of the hollow to find a way
up. About seven yards farther on he managed with difficulty to crawl up
the incline on all fours, then he followed the edge of the hollow back
to the place where the horse should have been. He could not see either
horse or sledge, but as he walked against the wind he heard Vasili
Andreevich’s shouts and Mukhorty’s neighing, calling him.

‘I’m coming! I’m coming! What are you cackling for?’ he muttered.

Only when he had come up to the sledge could he make out the horse, and
Vasili Andreevich standing beside it and looking gigantic.

‘Where the devil did you vanish to? We must go back, if only to
Grishkino,’ he began reproaching Nikita.

‘I’d be glad to get back, Vasili Andreevich, but which way are we to go?
There is such a ravine here that if we once get in it we shan’t get out
again. I got stuck so fast there myself that I could hardly get out.’

‘What shall we do, then? We can’t stay here! We must go somewhere!’ said
Vasili Andreevich.

Nikita said nothing. He seated himself in the sledge with his back to
the wind, took off his boots, shook out the snow that had got into them,
and taking some straw from the bottom of the sledge, carefully plugged
with it a hole in his left boot.

Vasili Andreevich remained silent, as though now leaving everything to
Nikita. Having put his boots on again, Nikita drew his feet into the
sledge, put on his mittens and took up the reins, and directed the horse
along the side of the ravine. But they had not gone a hundred yards
before the horse again stopped short. The ravine was in front of him
again.

Nikita again climbed out and again trudged about in the snow. He did
this for a considerable time and at last appeared from the opposite side
to that from which he had started.

‘Vasili Andreevich, are you alive?’ he called out.

‘Here!’ replied Vasili Andreevich. ‘Well, what now?’

‘I can’t make anything out. It’s too dark. There’s nothing but ravines.
We must drive against the wind again.’

They set off once more. Again Nikita went stumbling through the snow,
again he fell in, again climbed out and trudged about, and at last quite
out of breath he sat down beside the sledge.

‘Well, how now?’ asked Vasili Andreevich.

‘Why, I am quite worn out and the horse won’t go.’

‘Then what’s to be done?’

‘Why, wait a minute.’

Nikita went away again but soon returned.

‘Follow me!’ he said, going in front of the horse.

Vasili Andreevich no longer gave orders but implicitly did what Nikita
told him.

‘Here, follow me!’ Nikita shouted, stepping quickly to the right, and
seizing the rein he led Mukhorty down towards a snow-drift.

At first the horse held back, then he jerked forward, hoping to leap the
drift, but he had not the strength and sank into it up to his collar.

‘Get out!’ Nikita called to Vasili Andreevich who still sat in the
sledge, and taking hold of one shaft he moved the sledge closer to
the horse. ‘It’s hard, brother!’ he said to Mukhorty, ‘but it can’t be
helped. Make an effort! Now, now, just a little one!’ he shouted.

The horse gave a tug, then another, but failed to clear himself and
settled down again as if considering something.

‘Now, brother, this won’t do!’ Nikita admonished him. ‘Now once more!’

Again Nikita tugged at the shaft on his side, and Vasili Andreevich did
the same on the other.

Mukhorty lifted his head and then gave a sudden jerk.

‘That’s it! That’s it!’ cried Nikita. ‘Don’t be afraid--you won’t sink!’

One plunge, another, and a third, and at last Mukhorty was out of the
snow-drift, and stood still, breathing heavily and shaking the snow off
himself. Nikita wished to lead him farther, but Vasili Andreevich, in
his two fur coats, was so out of breath that he could not walk farther
and dropped into the sledge.

‘Let me get my breath!’ he said, unfastening the kerchief with which he
had tied the collar of his fur coat at the village.

‘It’s all right here. You lie there,’ said Nikita. ‘I will lead him
along.’ And with Vasili Andreevich in the sledge he led the horse by the
bridle about ten paces down and then up a slight rise, and stopped.

The place where Nikita had stopped was not completely in the hollow
where the snow sweeping down from the hillocks might have buried them
altogether, but still it was partly sheltered from the wind by the
side of the ravine. There were moments when the wind seemed to abate a
little, but that did not last long and as if to make up for that respite
the storm swept down with tenfold vigour and tore and whirled the more
fiercely. Such a gust struck them at the moment when Vasili Andreevich,
having recovered his breath, got out of the sledge and went up to
Nikita to consult him as to what they should do. They both bent down
involuntarily and waited till the violence of the squall should
have passed. Mukhorty too laid back his ears and shook his head
discontentedly. As soon as the violence of the blast had abated a
little, Nikita took off his mittens, stuck them into his belt, breathed
onto his hands, and began to undo the straps of the shaft-bow.

‘What’s that you are doing there?’ asked Vasili Andreevich.

‘Unharnessing. What else is there to do? I have no strength left,’ said
Nikita as though excusing himself.

‘Can’t we drive somewhere?’

‘No, we can’t. We shall only kill the horse. Why, the poor beast is not
himself now,’ said Nikita, pointing to the horse, which was standing
submissively waiting for what might come, with his steep wet sides
heaving heavily. ‘We shall have to stay the night here,’ he said, as if
preparing to spend the night at an inn, and he proceeded to unfasten the
collar-straps. The buckles came undone.

‘But shan’t we be frozen?’ remarked Vasili Andreevich.

‘Well, if we are we can’t help it,’ said Nikita.



VI


Although Vasili Andreevich felt quite warm in his two fur coats,
especially after struggling in the snow-drift, a cold shiver ran down
his back on realizing that he must really spend the night where
they were. To calm himself he sat down in the sledge and got out his
cigarettes and matches.

Nikita meanwhile unharnessed Mukhorty. He unstrapped the belly-band
and the back-band, took away the reins, loosened the collar-strap, and
removed the shaft-bow, talking to him all the time to encourage him.

‘Now come out! come out!’ he said, leading him clear of the shafts. ‘Now
we’ll tie you up here and I’ll put down some straw and take off your
bridle. When you’ve had a bite you’ll feel more cheerful.’

But Mukhorty was restless and evidently not comforted by Nikita’s
remarks. He stepped now on one foot and now on another, and pressed
close against the sledge, turning his back to the wind and rubbing his
head on Nikita’s sleeve. Then, as if not to pain Nikita by refusing his
offer of the straw he put before him, he hurriedly snatched a wisp out
of the sledge, but immediately decided that it was now no time to think
of straw and threw it down, and the wind instantly scattered it, carried
it away, and covered it with snow.

‘Now we will set up a signal,’ said Nikita, and turning the front of the
sledge to the wind he tied the shafts together with a strap and set them
up on end in front of the sledge. ‘There now, when the snow covers us
up, good folk will see the shafts and dig us out,’ he said, slapping his
mittens together and putting them on. ‘That’s what the old folk taught
us!’

Vasili Andreevich meanwhile had unfastened his coat, and holding its
skirts up for shelter, struck one sulphur match after another on the
steel box. But his hands trembled, and one match after another either
did not kindle or was blown out by the wind just as he was lifting it to
the cigarette. At last a match did burn up, and its flame lit up for
a moment the fur of his coat, his hand with the gold ring on the bent
forefinger, and the snow-sprinkled oat-straw that stuck out from under
the drugget. The cigarette lighted, he eagerly took a whiff or two,
inhaled the smoke, let it out through his moustache, and would have
inhaled again, but the wind tore off the burning tobacco and whirled it
away as it had done the straw.

But even these few puffs had cheered him.

‘If we must spend the night here, we must!’ he said with decision. ‘Wait
a bit, I’ll arrange a flag as well,’ he added, picking up the kerchief
which he had thrown down in the sledge after taking it from round his
collar, and drawing off his gloves and standing up on the front of
the sledge and stretching himself to reach the strap, he tied the
handkerchief to it with a tight knot.

The kerchief immediately began to flutter wildly, now clinging round the
shaft, now suddenly streaming out, stretching and flapping.

‘Just see what a fine flag!’ said Vasili Andreevich, admiring his
handiwork and letting himself down into the sledge. ‘We should be warmer
together, but there’s not room enough for two,’ he added.

‘I’ll find a place,’ said Nikita. ‘But I must cover up the horse
first--he sweated so, poor thing. Let go!’ he added, drawing the drugget
from under Vasili Andreevich.

Having got the drugget he folded it in two, and after taking off the
breechband and pad, covered Mukhorty with it.

‘Anyhow it will be warmer, silly!’ he said, putting back the breechband
and the pad on the horse over the drugget. Then having finished that
business he returned to the sledge, and addressing Vasili Andreevich,
said: ‘You won’t need the sackcloth, will you? And let me have some
straw.’

And having taken these things from under Vasili Andreevich, Nikita went
behind the sledge, dug out a hole for himself in the snow, put straw
into it, wrapped his coat well round him, covered himself with the
sackcloth, and pulling his cap well down seated himself on the straw he
had spread, and leant against the wooden back of the sledge to shelter
himself from the wind and the snow.

Vasili Andreevich shook his head disapprovingly at what Nikita was
doing, as in general he disapproved of the peasant’s stupidity and lack
of education, and he began to settle himself down for the night.

He smoothed the remaining straw over the bottom of the sledge, putting
more of it under his side. Then he thrust his hands into his sleeves and
settled down, sheltering his head in the corner of the sledge from the
wind in front.

He did not wish to sleep. He lay and thought: thought ever of the one
thing that constituted the sole aim, meaning, pleasure, and pride of his
life--of how much money he had made and might still make, of how much
other people he knew had made and possessed, and of how those others had
made and were making it, and how he, like them, might still make much
more. The purchase of the Goryachkin grove was a matter of immense
importance to him. By that one deal he hoped to make perhaps ten
thousand rubles. He began mentally to reckon the value of the wood he
had inspected in autumn, and on five acres of which he had counted all
the trees.

‘The oaks will go for sledge-runners. The undergrowth will take care of
itself, and there’ll still be some thirty sazheens of fire-wood left on
each desyatin,’ said he to himself. ‘That means there will be at
least two hundred and twenty-five rubles’ worth left on each desyatin.
Fifty-six desyatiins means fifty-six hundreds, and fifty-six hundreds,
and fifty-six tens, and another fifty-six tens, and then fifty-six
fives....’ He saw that it came out to more than twelve thousand
rubles, but could not reckon it up exactly without a counting-frame.
‘But I won’t give ten thousand, anyhow. I’ll give about eight thousand
with a deduction on account of the glades. I’ll grease the surveyor’s
palm--give him a hundred rubles, or a hundred and fifty, and he’ll
reckon that there are some five desyatins of glade to be deducted. And
he’ll let it go for eight thousand. Three thousand cash down. That’ll
move him, no fear!’ he thought, and he pressed his pocket-book with his
forearm.

‘God only knows how we missed the turning. The forest ought to be there,
and a watchman’s hut, and dogs barking. But the damned things don’t
bark when they’re wanted.’ He turned his collar down from his ear and
listened, but as before only the whistling of the wind could be heard,
the flapping and fluttering of the kerchief tied to the shafts, and the
pelting of the snow against the woodwork of the sledge. He again covered
up his ear.

‘If I had known I would have stayed the night. Well, no matter, we’ll
get there to-morrow. It’s only one day lost. And the others won’t travel
in such weather.’ Then he remembered that on the 9th he had to receive
payment from the butcher for his oxen. ‘He meant to come himself, but
he won’t find me, and my wife won’t know how to receive the money. She
doesn’t know the right way of doing things,’ he thought, recalling
how at their party the day before she had not known how to treat the
police-officer who was their guest. ‘Of course she’s only a woman! Where
could she have seen anything? In my father’s time what was our house
like? Just a rich peasant’s house: just an oatmill and an inn--that was
the whole property. But what have I done in these fifteen years? A shop,
two taverns, a flour-mill, a grain-store, two farms leased out, and a
house with an iron-roofed barn,’ he thought proudly. ‘Not as it was in
Father’s time! Who is talked of in the whole district now? Brekhunov!
And why? Because I stick to business. I take trouble, not like others
who lie abed or waste their time on foolishness while I don’t sleep of
nights. Blizzard or no blizzard I start out. So business gets done. They
think money-making is a joke. No, take pains and rack your brains! You
get overtaken out of doors at night, like this, or keep awake night
after night till the thoughts whirling in your head make the pillow
turn,’ he meditated with pride. ‘They think people get on through luck.
After all, the Mironovs are now millionaires. And why? Take pains and
God gives. If only He grants me health!’

The thought that he might himself be a millionaire like Mironov, who
began with nothing, so excited Vasili Andreevich that he felt the need
of talking to somebody. But there was no one to talk to.... If only
he could have reached Goryachkin he would have talked to the landlord
and shown him a thing or two.

‘Just see how it blows! It will snow us up so deep that we shan’t be
able to get out in the morning!’ he thought, listening to a gust of wind
that blew against the front of the sledge, bending it and lashing the
snow against it. He raised himself and looked round. All he could see
through the whirling darkness was Mukhorty’s dark head, his back covered
by the fluttering drugget, and his thick knotted tail; while all round,
in front and behind, was the same fluctuating whity darkness, sometimes
seeming to get a little lighter and sometimes growing denser still.

‘A pity I listened to Nikita,’ he thought. ‘We ought to have driven on.
We should have come out somewhere, if only back to Grishkino and stayed
the night at Taras’s. As it is we must sit here all night. But what was
I thinking about? Yes, that God gives to those who take trouble, but not
to loafers, lie-abeds, or fools. I must have a smoke!’

He sat down again, got out his cigarette-case, and stretched himself
flat on his stomach, screening the matches with the skirt of his coat.
But the wind found its way in and put out match after match. At last
he got one to burn and lit a cigarette. He was very glad that he had
managed to do what he wanted, and though the wind smoked more of the
cigarette than he did, he still got two or three puffs and felt more
cheerful. He again leant back, wrapped himself up, started reflecting
and remembering, and suddenly and quite unexpectedly lost consciousness
and fell asleep.

Suddenly something seemed to give him a push and awoke him. Whether
it was Mukhorty who had pulled some straw from under him, or whether
something within him had startled him, at all events it woke him, and
his heart began to beat faster and faster so that the sledge seemed to
tremble under him. He opened his eyes. Everything around him was just
as before. ‘It looks lighter,’ he thought. ‘I expect it won’t be long
before dawn.’ But he at once remembered that it was lighter because the
moon had risen. He sat up and looked first at the horse. Mukhorty still
stood with his back to the wind, shivering all over. One side of the
drugget, which was completely covered with snow, had been blown back,
the breeching had slipped down and the snow-covered head with its waving
forelock and mane were now more visible. Vasili Andreevich leant over
the back of the sledge and looked behind. Nikita still sat in the same
position in which he had settled himself. The sacking with which he was
covered, and his legs, were thickly covered with snow.

‘If only that peasant doesn’t freeze to death! His clothes are so
wretched. I may be held responsible for him. What shiftless people they
are--such a want of education,’ thought Vasili Andreevich, and he felt
like taking the drugget off the horse and putting it over Nikita, but
it would be very cold to get out and move about and, moreover, the horse
might freeze to death. ‘Why did I bring him with me? It was all her
stupidity!’ he thought, recalling his unloved wife, and he rolled over
into his old place at the front part of the sledge. ‘My uncle once spent
a whole night like this,’ he reflected, ‘and was all right.’ But another
case came at once to his mind. ‘But when they dug Sebastian out he was
dead--stiff like a frozen carcass. If I’d only stopped the night in
Grishkino all this would not have happened!’

And wrapping his coat carefully round him so that none of the warmth of
the fur should be wasted but should warm him all over, neck, knees, and
feet, he shut his eyes and tried to sleep again. But try as he would he
could not get drowsy, on the contrary he felt wide awake and animated.
Again he began counting his gains and the debts due to him, again he
began bragging to himself and feeling pleased with himself and his
position, but all this was continually disturbed by a stealthily
approaching fear and by the unpleasant regret that he had not remained
in Grishkino.

‘How different it would be to be lying warm on a bench!’

He turned over several times in his attempts to get into a more
comfortable position more sheltered from the wind, he wrapped up his
legs closer, shut his eyes, and lay still. But either his legs in their
strong felt boots began to ache from being bent in one position, or the
wind blew in somewhere, and after lying still for a short time he again
began to recall the disturbing fact that he might now have been lying
quietly in the warm hut at Grishkino. He again sat up, turned about,
muffled himself up, and settled down once more.

Once he fancied that he heard a distant cock-crow. He felt glad, turned
down his coat-collar and listened with strained attention, but in spite
of all his efforts nothing could be heard but the wind whistling between
the shafts, the flapping of the kerchief, and the snow pelting against
the frame of the sledge.

Nikita sat just as he had done all the time, not moving and not even
answering Vasili Andreevich who had addressed him a couple of times.
‘He doesn’t care a bit--he’s probably asleep!’ thought Vasili Andreevich
with vexation, looking behind the sledge at Nikita who was covered with
a thick layer of snow.

Vasili Andreevich got up and lay down again some twenty times. It
seemed to him that the night would never end. ‘It must be getting near
morning,’ he thought, getting up and looking around. ‘Let’s have a look
at my watch. It will be cold to unbutton, but if I only know that it’s
getting near morning I shall at any rate feel more cheerful. We could
begin harnessing.’

In the depth of his heart Vasili Andreevich knew that it could not yet
be near morning, but he was growing more and more afraid, and wished
both to get to know and yet to deceive himself. He carefully undid the
fastening of his sheepskin, pushed in his hand, and felt about for
a long time before he got to his waistcoat. With great difficulty he
managed to draw out his silver watch with its enamelled flower design,
and tried to make out the time. He could not see anything without a
light. Again he went down on his knees and elbows as he had done when he
lighted a cigarette, got out his matches, and proceeded to strike one.
This time he went to work more carefully, and feeling with his fingers
for a match with the largest head and the greatest amount of phosphorus,
lit it at the first try. Bringing the face of the watch under the light
he could hardly believe his eyes.... It was only ten minutes past
twelve. Almost the whole night was still before him.

‘Oh, how long the night is!’ he thought, feeling a cold shudder run down
his back, and having fastened his fur coats again and wrapped himself
up, he snuggled into a corner of the sledge intending to wait
patiently. Suddenly, above the monotonous roar of the wind, he clearly
distinguished another new and living sound. It steadily strengthened,
and having become quite clear diminished just as gradually. Beyond all
doubt it was a wolf, and he was so near that the movement of his jaws as
he changed his cry was brought down the wind. Vasili Andreevich turned
back the collar of his coat and listened attentively. Mukhorty too
strained to listen, moving his ears, and when the wolf had ceased its
howling he shifted from foot to foot and gave a warning snort. After
this Vasili Andreevich could not fall asleep again or even calm
himself. The more he tried to think of his accounts, his business, his
reputation, his worth and his wealth, the more and more was he mastered
by fear, and regrets that he had not stayed the night at Grishkino
dominated and mingled in all his thoughts.

‘Devil take the forest! Things were all right without it, thank God. Ah,
if we had only put up for the night!’ he said to himself. ‘They say it’s
drunkards that freeze,’ he thought, ‘and I have had some drink.’ And
observing his sensations he noticed that he was beginning to shiver,
without knowing whether it was from cold or from fear. He tried to wrap
himself up and lie down as before, but could no longer do so. He could
not stay in one position. He wanted to get up, to do something to master
the gathering fear that was rising in him and against which he felt
himself powerless. He again got out his cigarettes and matches, but only
three matches were left and they were bad ones. The phosphorus rubbed
off them all without lighting.

‘The devil take you! Damned thing! Curse you!’ he muttered, not knowing
whom or what he was cursing, and he flung away the crushed cigarette.
He was about to throw away the matchbox too, but checked the movement of
his hand and put the box in his pocket instead. He was seized with such
unrest that he could no longer remain in one spot. He climbed out of the
sledge and standing with his back to the wind began to shift his belt
again, fastening it lower down in the waist and tightening it.

‘What’s the use of lying and waiting for death? Better mount the horse
and get away!’ The thought suddenly occurred to him. ‘The horse will
move when he has someone on his back. As for him,’ he thought of
Nikita--‘it’s all the same to him whether he lives or dies. What is his
life worth? He won’t grudge his life, but I have something to live for,
thank God.’

He untied the horse, threw the reins over his neck and tried to mount,
but his coats and boots were so heavy that he failed. Then he clambered
up in the sledge and tried to mount from there, but the sledge tilted
under his weight, and he failed again. At last he drew Mukhorty nearer
to the sledge, cautiously balanced on one side of it, and managed to
lie on his stomach across the horse’s back. After lying like that for a
while he shifted forward once and again, threw a leg over, and finally
seated himself, supporting his feet on the loose breeching-straps. The
shaking of the sledge awoke Nikita. He raised himself, and it seemed to
Vasili Andreevich that he said something.

‘Listen to such fools as you! Am I to die like this for nothing?’
exclaimed Vasili Andreevich. And tucking the loose skirts of his fur
coat in under his knees, he turned the horse and rode away from
the sledge in the direction in which he thought the forest and the
forester’s hut must be.



VII

From the time he had covered himself with the sackcloth and seated
himself behind the sledge, Nikita had not stirred. Like all those who
live in touch with nature and have known want, he was patient and could
wait for hours, even days, without growing restless or irritable. He
heard his master call him, but did not answer because he did not want to
move or talk. Though he still felt some warmth from the tea he had drunk
and from his energetic struggle when clambering about in the snowdrift,
he knew that this warmth would not last long and that he had no strength
left to warm himself again by moving about, for he felt as tired as a
horse when it stops and refuses to go further in spite of the whip, and
its master sees that it must be fed before it can work again. The foot
in the boot with a hole in it had already grown numb, and he could no
longer feel his big toe. Besides that, his whole body began to feel
colder and colder.

The thought that he might, and very probably would, die that night
occurred to him, but did not seem particularly unpleasant or dreadful.
It did not seem particularly unpleasant, because his whole life had been
not a continual holiday, but on the contrary an unceasing round of
toil of which he was beginning to feel weary. And it did not seem
particularly dreadful, because besides the masters he had served here,
like Vasili Andreevich, he always felt himself dependent on the Chief
Master, who had sent him into this life, and he knew that when dying he
would still be in that Master’s power and would not be ill-used by Him.
‘It seems a pity to give up what one is used to and accustomed to. But
there’s nothing to be done, I shall get used to the new things.’

‘Sins?’ he thought, and remembered his drunkenness, the money that had
gone on drink, how he had offended his wife, his cursing, his neglect of
church and of the fasts, and all the things the priest blamed him for
at confession. ‘Of course they are sins. But then, did I take them on of
myself? That’s evidently how God made me. Well, and the sins? Where am I
to escape to?’

So at first he thought of what might happen to him that night, and
then did not return to such thoughts but gave himself up to whatever
recollections came into his head of themselves. Now he thought of
Martha’s arrival, of the drunkenness among the workers and his own
renunciation of drink, then of their present journey and of Taras’s
house and the talk about the breaking-up of the family, then of his own
lad, and of Mukhorty now sheltered under the drugget, and then of his
master who made the sledge creak as he tossed about in it. ‘I expect
you’re sorry yourself that you started out, dear man,’ he thought. ‘It
would seem hard to leave a life such as his! It’s not like the likes of
us.’

Then all these recollections began to grow confused and got mixed in his
head, and he fell asleep.

But when Vasili Andreevich, getting on the horse, jerked the sledge,
against the back of which Nikita was leaning, and it shifted away and
hit him in the back with one of its runners, he awoke and had to change
his position whether he liked it or not. Straightening his legs with
difficulty and shaking the snow off them he got up, and an agonizing
cold immediately penetrated his whole body. On making out what was
happening he called to Vasili Andreevich to leave him the drugget which
the horse no longer needed, so that he might wrap himself in it.

But Vasili Andreevich did not stop, but disappeared amid the powdery
snow.

Left alone Nikita considered for a moment what he should do. He felt
that he had not the strength to go off in search of a house. It was no
longer possible to sit down in his old place--it was by now all filled
with snow. He felt that he could not get warmer in the sledge either,
for there was nothing to cover himself with, and his coat and sheepskin
no longer warmed him at all. He felt as cold as though he had nothing on
but a shirt. He became frightened. ‘Lord, heavenly Father!’ he muttered,
and was comforted by the consciousness that he was not alone but that
there was One who heard him and would not abandon him. He gave a deep
sigh, and keeping the sackcloth over his head he got inside the sledge
and lay down in the place where his master had been.

But he could not get warm in the sledge either. At first he shivered all
over, then the shivering ceased and little by little he began to lose
consciousness. He did not know whether he was dying or falling asleep,
but felt equally prepared for the one as for the other.



VIII

Meanwhile Vasili Andreevich, with his feet and the ends of the reins,
urged the horse on in the direction in which for some reason he expected
the forest and forester’s hut to be. The snow covered his eyes and the
wind seemed intent on stopping him, but bending forward and constantly
lapping his coat over and pushing it between himself and the cold
harness pad which prevented him from sitting properly, he kept urging
the horse on. Mukhorty ambled on obediently though with difficulty, in
the direction in which he was driven.

Vasili Andreevich rode for about five minutes straight ahead, as he
thought, seeing nothing but the horse’s head and the white waste, and
hearing only the whistle of the wind about the horse’s ears and his coat
collar.

Suddenly a dark patch showed up in front of him. His heart beat with
joy, and he rode towards the object, already seeing in imagination the
walls of village houses. But the dark patch was not stationary, it
kept moving; and it was not a village but some tall stalks of wormwood
sticking up through the snow on the boundary between two fields, and
desperately tossing about under the pressure of the wind which beat
it all to one side and whistled through it. The sight of that wormwood
tormented by the pitiless wind made Vasili Andreevich shudder, he knew
not why, and he hurriedly began urging the horse on, not noticing that
when riding up to the wormwood he had quite changed his direction and
was now heading the opposite way, though still imagining that he was
riding towards where the hut should be. But the horse kept making
towards the right, and Vasili Andreevich kept guiding it to the left.

Again something dark appeared in front of him. Again he rejoiced,
convinced that now it was certainly a village. But once more it was the
same boundary line overgrown with wormwood, once more the same wormwood
desperately tossed by the wind and carrying unreasoning terror to his
heart. But its being the same wormwood was not all, for beside it
there was a horse’s track partly snowed over. Vasili Andreevich stopped,
stooped down and looked carefully. It was a horse-track only partially
covered with snow, and could be none but his own horse’s hoofprints. He
had evidently gone round in a small circle. ‘I shall perish like that!’
he thought, and not to give way to his terror he urged on the horse
still more, peering into the snowy darkness in which he saw only
flitting and fitful points of light. Once he thought he heard the
barking of dogs or the howling of wolves, but the sounds were so faint
and indistinct that he did not know whether he heard them or merely
imagined them, and he stopped and began to listen intently.

Suddenly some terrible, deafening cry resounded near his ears, and
everything shivered and shook under him. He seized Mukhorty’s neck,
but that too was shaking all over and the terrible cry grew still more
frightful. For some seconds Vasili Andreevich could not collect himself
or understand what was happening. It was only that Mukhorty, whether
to encourage himself or to call for help, had neighed loudly and
resonantly. ‘Ugh, you wretch! How you frightened me, damn you!’ thought
Vasili Andreevich. But even when he understood the cause of his terror
he could not shake it off.

‘I must calm myself and think things over,’ he said to himself, but yet
he could not stop, and continued to urge the horse on, without noticing
that he was now going with the wind instead of against it. His body,
especially between his legs where it touched the pad of the harness and
was not covered by his overcoats, was getting painfully cold, especially
when the horse walked slowly. His legs and arms trembled and his
breathing came fast. He saw himself perishing amid this dreadful snowy
waste, and could see no means of escape.

Suddenly the horse under him tumbled into something and, sinking into
a snow-drift, began to plunge and fell on his side. Vasili Andreevich
jumped off, and in so doing dragged to one side the breechband on which
his foot was resting, and twisted round the pad to which he held as he
dismounted. As soon as he had jumped off, the horse struggled to his
feet, plunged forward, gave one leap and another, neighed again, and
dragging the drugget and the breechband after him, disappeared, leaving
Vasili Andreevich alone on the snow-drift.

The latter pressed on after the horse, but the snow lay so deep and
his coats were so heavy that, sinking above his knees at each step, he
stopped breathless after taking not more than twenty steps. ‘The copse,
the oxen, the lease-hold, the shop, the tavern, the house with the
iron-roofed barn, and my heir,’ thought he. ‘How can I leave all that?
What does this mean? It cannot be!’ These thoughts flashed through his
mind. Then he thought of the wormwood tossed by the wind, which he had
twice ridden past, and he was seized with such terror that he did not
believe in the reality of what was happening to him. ‘Can this be a
dream?’ he thought, and tried to wake up but could not. It was real snow
that lashed his face and covered him and chilled his right hand from
which he had lost the glove, and this was a real desert in which he was
now left alone like that wormwood, awaiting an inevitable, speedy, and
meaningless death.

‘Queen of Heaven! Holy Father Nicholas, teacher of temperance!’ he
thought, recalling the service of the day before and the holy icon with
its black face and gilt frame, and the tapers which he sold to be set
before that icon and which were almost immediately brought back to him
scarcely burnt at all, and which he put away in the store-chest. He
began to pray to that same Nicholas the Wonder-Worker to save him,
promising him a thanksgiving service and some candles. But he clearly
and indubitably realized that the icon, its frame, the candles,
the priest, and the thanksgiving service, though very important and
necessary in church, could do nothing for him here, and that there was
and could be no connexion between those candles and services and his
present disastrous plight. ‘I must not despair,’ he thought. ‘I must
follow the horse’s track before it is snowed under. He will lead me out,
or I may even catch him. Only I must not hurry, or I shall stick fast
and be more lost than ever.’

But in spite of his resolution to go quietly, he rushed forward and
even ran, continually falling, getting up and falling again. The horse’s
track was already hardly visible in places where the snow did not lie
deep. ‘I am lost!’ thought Vasili Andreevich. ‘I shall lose the track
and not catch the horse.’ But at that moment he saw something black. It
was Mukhorty, and not only Mukhorty, but the sledge with the shafts
and the kerchief. Mukhorty, with the sacking and the breechband twisted
round to one side, was standing not in his former place but nearer to
the shafts, shaking his head which the reins he was stepping on drew
downwards. It turned out that Vasili Andreevich had sunk in the same
ravine Nikita had previously fallen into, and that Mukhorty had been
bringing him back to the sledge and he had got off his back no more than
fifty paces from where the sledge was.



IX

Having stumbled back to the sledge Vasili Andreevich caught hold of it
and for a long time stood motionless, trying to calm himself and recover
his breath. Nikita was not in his former place, but something, already
covered with snow, was lying in the sledge and Vasili Andreevich
concluded that this was Nikita. His terror had now quite left him, and
if he felt any fear it was lest the dreadful terror should return that
he had experienced when on the horse and especially when he was left
alone in the snow-drift. At any cost he had to avoid that terror, and
to keep it away he must do something--occupy himself with something. And
the first thing he did was to turn his back to the wind and open his fur
coat. Then, as soon as he recovered his breath a little, he shook the
snow out of his boots and out of his left-hand glove (the right-hand
glove was hopelessly lost and by this time probably lying somewhere
under a dozen inches of snow); then as was his custom when going out of
his shop to buy grain from the peasants, he pulled his girdle low down
and tightened it and prepared for action. The first thing that occurred
to him was to free Mukhorty’s leg from the rein. Having done that, and
tethered him to the iron cramp at the front of the sledge where he
had been before, he was going round the horse’s quarters to put the
breechband and pad straight and cover him with the cloth, but at that
moment he noticed that something was moving in the sledge and Nikita’s
head rose up out of the snow that covered it. Nikita, who was half
frozen, rose with great difficulty and sat up, moving his hand before
his nose in a strange manner just as if he were driving away flies. He
waved his hand and said something, and seemed to Vasili Andreevich to be
calling him. Vasili Andreevich left the cloth unadjusted and went up to
the sledge.

‘What is it?’ he asked. ‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m dy... ing, that’s what,’ said Nikita brokenly and with
difficulty. ‘Give what is owing to me to my lad, or to my wife, no
matter.’

‘Why, are you really frozen?’ asked Vasili Andreevich.

‘I feel it’s my death. Forgive me for Christ’s sake...’ said Nikita
in a tearful voice, continuing to wave his hand before his face as if
driving away flies.

Vasili Andreevich stood silent and motionless for half a minute. Then
suddenly, with the same resolution with which he used to strike hands
when making a good purchase, he took a step back and turning up his
sleeves began raking the snow off Nikita and out of the sledge. Having
done this he hurriedly undid his girdle, opened out his fur coat, and
having pushed Nikita down, lay down on top of him, covering him not
only with his fur coat but with the whole of his body, which glowed
with warmth. After pushing the skirts of his coat between Nikita and
the sides of the sledge, and holding down its hem with his knees, Vasili
Andreevich lay like that face down, with his head pressed against the
front of the sledge. Here he no longer heard the horse’s movements or
the whistling of the wind, but only Nikita’s breathing. At first and for
a long time Nikita lay motionless, then he sighed deeply and moved.

‘There, and you say you are dying! Lie still and get warm, that’s our
way...’ began Vasili Andreevich.

But to his great surprise he could say no more, for tears came to his
eyes and his lower jaw began to quiver rapidly. He stopped speaking
and only gulped down the risings in his throat. ‘Seems I was badly
frightened and have gone quite weak,’ he thought. But this weakness was
not only unpleasant, but gave him a peculiar joy such as he had never
felt before.

‘That’s our way!’ he said to himself, experiencing a strange and solemn
tenderness. He lay like that for a long time, wiping his eyes on the fur
of his coat and tucking under his knee the right skirt, which the wind
kept turning up.

But he longed so passionately to tell somebody of his joyful condition
that he said: ‘Nikita!’

‘It’s comfortable, warm!’ came a voice from beneath.

‘There, you see, friend, I was going to perish. And you would have been
frozen, and I should have...’

But again his jaws began to quiver and his eyes to fill with tears, and
he could say no more.

‘Well, never mind,’ he thought. ‘I know about myself what I know.’

He remained silent and lay like that for a long time.

Nikita kept him warm from below and his fur coats from above. Only his
hands, with which he kept his coat-skirts down round Nikita’s sides, and
his legs which the wind kept uncovering, began to freeze, especially his
right hand which had no glove. But he did not think of his legs or of
his hands but only of how to warm the peasant who was lying under him.
He looked out several times at Mukhorty and could see that his back was
uncovered and the drugget and breeching lying on the snow, and that he
ought to get up and cover him, but he could not bring himself to leave
Nikita and disturb even for a moment the joyous condition he was in. He
no longer felt any kind of terror.

‘No fear, we shan’t lose him this time!’ he said to himself, referring
to his getting the peasant warm with the same boastfulness with which he
spoke of his buying and selling.

Vasili Andreevich lay in that way for one hour, another, and a third,
but he was unconscious of the passage of time. At first impressions
of the snow-storm, the sledge-shafts, and the horse with the shaft-bow
shaking before his eyes, kept passing through his mind, then he
remembered Nikita lying under him, then recollections of the festival,
his wife, the police-officer, and the box of candles, began to mingle
with these; then again Nikita, this time lying under that box, then the
peasants, customers and traders, and the white walls of his house with
its iron roof with Nikita lying underneath, presented themselves to
his imagination. Afterwards all these impressions blended into one
nothingness. As the colours of the rainbow unite into one white light,
so all these different impressions mingled into one, and he fell asleep.

For a long time he slept without dreaming, but just before dawn the
visions recommenced. It seemed to him that he was standing by the box of
tapers and that Tikhon’s wife was asking for a five kopek taper for the
Church fete. He wished to take one out and give it to her, but his hands
would not life, being held tight in his pockets. He wanted to walk round
the box but his feet would not move and his new clean goloshes had grown
to the stone floor, and he could neither lift them nor get his feet out
of the goloshes. Then the taper-box was no longer a box but a bed, and
suddenly Vasili Andreevich saw himself lying in his bed at home. He was
lying in his bed and could not get up. Yet it was necessary for him to
get up because Ivan Matveich, the police-officer, would soon call for
him and he had to go with him--either to bargain for the forest or to
put Mukhorty’s breeching straight.

He asked his wife: ‘Nikolaevna, hasn’t he come yet?’ ‘No, he hasn’t,’
she replied. He heard someone drive up to the front steps. ‘It must be
him.’ ‘No, he’s gone past.’ ‘Nikolaevna! I say, Nikolaevna, isn’t he
here yet?’ ‘No.’ He was still lying on his bed and could not get up, but
was always waiting. And this waiting was uncanny and yet joyful. Then
suddenly his joy was completed. He whom he was expecting came; not Ivan
Matveich the police-officer, but someone else--yet it was he whom he had
been waiting for. He came and called him; and it was he who had called
him and told him to lie down on Nikita. And Vasili Andreevich was glad
that that one had come for him.

‘I’m coming!’ he cried joyfully, and that cry awoke him, but woke him up
not at all the same person he had been when he fell asleep. He tried to
get up but could not, tried to move his arm and could not, to move his
leg and also could not, to turn his head and could not. He was surprised
but not at all disturbed by this. He understood that this was death, and
was not at all disturbed by that either.

He remembered that Nikita was lying under him and that he had got warm
and was alive, and it seemed to him that he was Nikita and Nikita was
he, and that his life was not in himself but in Nikita. He strained his
ears and heard Nikita breathing and even slightly snoring. ‘Nikita is
alive, so I too am alive!’ he said to himself triumphantly.

And he remembered his money, his shop, his house, the buying and
selling, and Mironov’s millions, and it was hard for him to understand
why that man, called Vasili Brekhunov, had troubled himself with all
those things with which he had been troubled.

‘Well, it was because he did not know what the real thing was,’ he
thought, concerning that Vasili Brekhunov. ‘He did not know, but now I
know and know for sure. Now I know!’ And again he heard the voice of
the one who had called him before. ‘I’m coming! Coming!’ he responded
gladly, and his whole being was filled with joyful emotion. He felt
himself free and that nothing could hold him back any longer.

After that Vasili Andreevich neither saw, heard, nor felt anything more
in this world.

All around the snow still eddied. The same whirlwinds of snow circled
about, covering the dead Vasili Andreevich’s fur coat, the shivering
Mukhorty, the sledge, now scarcely to be seen, and Nikita lying at the
bottom of it, kept warm beneath his dead master.



X

Nikita awoke before daybreak. He was aroused by the cold that had begun
to creep down his back. He had dreamt that he was coming from the mill
with a load of his master’s flour and when crossing the stream had
missed the bridge and let the cart get stuck. And he saw that he had
crawled under the cart and was trying to lift it by arching his back.
But strange to say the cart did not move, it stuck to his back and he
could neither lift it nor get out from under it. It was crushing the
whole of his loins. And how cold it felt! Evidently he must crawl out.
‘Have done!’ he exclaimed to whoever was pressing the cart down on him.
‘Take out the sacks!’ But the cart pressed down colder and colder,
and then he heard a strange knocking, awoke completely, and remembered
everything. The cold cart was his dead and frozen master lying upon him.
And the knock was produced by Mukhorty, who had twice struck the sledge
with his hoof.

‘Andreevich! Eh, Andreevich!’ Nikita called cautiously, beginning to
realize the truth, and straightening his back. But Vasili Andreevich did
not answer and his stomach and legs were stiff and cold and heavy like
iron weights.

‘He must have died! May the Kingdom of Heaven be his!’ thought Nikita.

He turned his head, dug with his hand through the snow about him and
opened his eyes. It was daylight; the wind was whistling as before
between the shafts, and the snow was falling in the same way, except
that it was no longer driving against the frame of the sledge but
silently covered both sledge and horse deeper and deeper, and neither
the horse’s movements nor his breathing were any longer to be heard.

‘He must have frozen too,’ thought Nikita of Mukhorty, and indeed those
hoof knocks against the sledge, which had awakened Nikita, were the last
efforts the already numbed Mukhorty had made to keep on his feet before
dying.

‘O Lord God, it seems Thou art calling me too!’ said Nikita. ‘Thy Holy
Will be done. But it’s uncanny.... Still, a man can’t die twice and
must die once. If only it would come soon!’

And he again drew in his head, closed his eyes, and became unconscious,
fully convinced that now he was certainly and finally dying.


It was not till noon that day that peasants dug Vasili Andreevich and
Nikita out of the snow with their shovels, not more than seventy yards
from the road and less than half a mile from the village.

The snow had hidden the sledge, but the shafts and the kerchief tied to
them were still visible. Mukhorty, buried up to his belly in snow, with
the breeching and drugget hanging down, stood all white, his dead head
pressed against his frozen throat: icicles hung from his nostrils, his
eyes were covered with hoar-frost as though filled with tears, and he
had grown so thin in that one night that he was nothing but skin and
bone.

Vasili Andreevich was stiff as a frozen carcass, and when they rolled
him off Nikita his legs remained apart and his arms stretched out as
they had been. His bulging hawk eyes were frozen, and his open mouth
under his clipped moustache was full of snow. But Nikita though chilled
through was still alive. When he had been brought to, he felt sure
that he was already dead and that what was taking place with him was
no longer happening in this world but in the next. When he heard the
peasants shouting as they dug him out and rolled the frozen body of
Vasili Andreevich from off him, he was at first surprised that in the
other world peasants should be shouting in the same old way and had the
same kind of body, and then when he realized that he was still in this
world he was sorry rather than glad, especially when he found that the
toes on both his feet were frozen.

Nikita lay in hospital for two months. They cut off three of his toes,
but the others recovered so that he was still able to work and went on
living for another twenty years, first as a farm-labourer, then in his
old age as a watchman. He died at home as he had wished, only this year,
under the icons with a lighted taper in his hands. Before he died he
asked his wife’s forgiveness and forgave her for the cooper. He also
took leave of his son and grandchildren, and died sincerely glad that
he was relieving his son and daughter-in-law of the burden of having to
feed him, and that he was now really passing from this life of which
he was weary into that other life which every year and every hour grew
clearer and more desirable to him. Whether he is better or worse off
there where he awoke after his death, whether he was disappointed or
found there what he expected, we shall all soon learn.





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