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The good stallion took the sledge along at a brisk pace over the
smooth-frozen road through the village, the runners squeaking slightly
as they went.
'Look at him hanging on there! Hand me the whip, Nikita!' shouted Vasili
Andreevich, evidently enjoying the sight of his 'heir,' who standing on
the runners was hanging on at the back of the sledge. 'I'll give it you!
Be off to mamma, you dog!'
The boy jumped down. The horse increased his amble and, suddenly
changing foot, broke into a fast trot.
The Crosses, the village where Vasili Andreevich lived, consisted of six
houses. As soon as they had passed the blacksmith's hut, the last in
the village, they realized that the wind was much stronger than they
had thought. The road could hardly be seen. The tracks left by the
sledge-runners were immediately covered by snow and the road was only
distinguished by the fact that it was higher than the rest of the
ground. There was a swirl of snow over the fields and the line where sky
and earth met could not be seen. The Telyatin forest, usually clearly
visible, now only loomed up occasionally and dimly through the driving
snowy dust. The wind came from the left, insistently blowing over to
one side the mane on Mukhorty's sleek neck and carrying aside even his
fluffy tail, which was tied in a simple knot. Nikita's wide coat-collar,
as he sat on the windy side, pressed close to his cheek and nose.
'This road doesn't give him a chance--it's too snowy,' said Vasili
Andreevich, who prided himself on his good horse. 'I once drove to
Pashutino with him in half an hour.'
'What?' asked Nikita, who could not hear on account of his collar.
'I say I once went to Pashutino in half an hour,' shouted Vasili
'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 a word.
'The lad's growing up. He must begin to plough for himself, but till now
we've always had to hire someone,' he said.
'Well, why not have the lean-cruppered one. I won't charge much for it,'
shouted Vasili Andreevich, feeling animated, and consequently starting
on his favourite occupation--that of horse-dealing--which absorbed all
his mental powers.
'Or you might let me have fifteen rubles and I'll buy one at the
horse-market,' said Nikita, who knew that the horse Vasili Andreevich
wanted to sell him would be dear at seven rubles, but that if he took it
from him it would be charged at twenty-five, and then he would be unable
to draw any money for half a year.
'It's a good horse. I think of your interest as of my own--according to
conscience. Brekhunov isn't a man to wrong anyone. Let the loss be mine.
I'm not like others. Honestly!' he shouted in the voice in which he
hypnotized his customers and dealers. 'It's a real good horse.'
'Quite so!' said Nikita with a sigh, and convinced that there was
nothing more to listen to, he again released his collar, which
immediately covered his ear and face.
They drove on in silence for about half an hour. The wind blew sharply
onto Nikita's side and arm where his sheepskin was torn.
He huddled up and breathed into the collar which covered his mouth, and
was not wholly cold.
'What do you think--shall we go through Karamyshevo or by the straight
road?' asked Vasili Andreevich.
The road through Karamyshevo was more frequented and was well marked
with a double row of high stakes. The straight road was nearer but
little used and had no stakes, or only poor ones covered with snow.
Nikita thought awhile.
'Though Karamyshevo is farther, it is better going,' he said.
'But by the straight road, when once we get through the hollow by the
forest, it's good going--sheltered,' said Vasili Andreevich, who wished
to go the nearest way.
'Just as you please,' said Nikita, and again let go of his collar.
Vasili Andreevich did as he had said, and having gone about half a verst
came to a tall oak stake which had a few dry leaves still dangling on
it, and there he turned to the left.
On turning they faced directly against the wind, and snow was beginning
to fall. Vasili Andreevich, who was driving, inflated his cheeks,
blowing the breath out through his moustache. Nikita dozed.
So they went on in silence for about ten minutes. Suddenly Vasili
Andreevich began saying something.
'Eh, what?' asked Nikita, opening his eyes.
Vasili Andreevich did not answer, but bent over, looking behind them and
then ahead of the horse. The sweat had curled Mukhorty's coat between
his legs and on his neck. He went at a walk.
'What is it?' Nikita asked again.
'What is it? What is it?' Vasili Andreevich mimicked him angrily. 'There
are no stakes to be seen! We must have got off the road!'
'Well, pull up then, and I'll look for it,' said Nikita, and jumping
down lightly from the sledge and taking the whip from under the straw,
he went off to the left from his own side of the sledge.
The snow was not deep that year, so that it was possible to walk
anywhere, but still in places it was knee-deep and got into Nikita's
boots. He went about feeling the ground with his feet and the whip, but
could not find the road anywhere.
'Well, how is it?' asked Vasili Andreevich when Nikita came back to the
'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
'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
'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
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