MASTER AND MAN
By Leo Tolstoy
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
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
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
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
'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
'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
'Well, Vasili Andreevich, am I to come with you?' said Nikita, awaiting a
'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
'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
'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
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.
The good stallion took the sledge along at a brisk pace over the
smooth-frozen road through the village, the runners squeaking slightly as
'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
'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
'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
'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
'There is no road this side. I must go to the other side and try there,'
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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?'
'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
'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
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
'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.
'Why, there are no way-marks to be seen. We must have got off the road
'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
It was already growing dark. The snow-storm had not increased but had also
'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
'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
'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
'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
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,
'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.
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
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
'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
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.
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
'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
'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.