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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
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
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
'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?' asked Nikita.
'The winter way. As soon as you turn off you'll see some bushes, and
opposite them there is a way-mark--a large oak, one with branches--and
that's the way.'
Vasili Andreevich turned the horse back and drove through the outskirts
of the village.
'Why not stay the night?' Isay shouted after them.
But Vasili Andreevich did not answer and touched up the horse. Four
miles of good road, two of which lay through the forest, seemed easy to
manage, especially as the wind was apparently quieter and the snow had
Having driven along the trodden village street, darkened here and there
by fresh manure, past the yard where the clothes hung out and where the
white shirt had broken loose and was now attached only by one frozen
sleeve, they again came within sound of the weird moan of the willows,
and again emerged on the open fields. The storm, far from ceasing,
seemed to have grown yet stronger. The road was completely covered with
drifting snow, and only the stakes showed that they had not lost their
way. But even the stakes ahead of them were not easy to see, since the
wind blew in their faces.
Vasili Andreevich screwed up his eyes, bent down his head, and looked
out for the way-marks, but trusted mainly to the horse's sagacity,
letting it take its own way. And the horse really did not lose the road
but followed its windings, turning now to the right and now to the left
and sensing it under his feet, so that though the snow fell thicker and
the wind strengthened they still continued to see way-marks now to the
left and now to the right of them.
So they travelled on for about ten minutes, when suddenly, through the
slanting screen of wind-driven snow, something black showed up which
moved in front of the horse.
This was another sledge with fellow-travellers. Mukhorty overtook them,
and struck his hoofs against the back of the sledge in front of them.
'Pass on . . . hey there . . . get in front!' cried voices from the
Vasili Andreevich swerved aside to pass the other sledge.
In it sat three men and a woman, evidently visitors returning from a
feast. One peasant was whacking the snow-covered croup of their little
horse with a long switch, and the other two sitting in front waved their
arms and shouted something. The woman, completely wrapped up and covered
with snow, sat drowsing and bumping at the back.
'Who are you?' shouted Vasili Andreevich.
'From A-a-a . . .' was all that could be heard.
'I say, where are you from?'
'From A-a-a-a!' one of the peasants shouted with all his might, but
still it was impossible to make out who they were.
'Get along! Keep up!' shouted another, ceaselessly beating his horse
with the switch.
'So you're from a feast, it seems?'
'Go on, go on! Faster, Simon! Get in front! Faster!'
The wings of the sledges bumped against one another, almost got jammed
but managed to separate, and the peasants' sledge began to fall behind.
Their shaggy, big-bellied horse, all covered with snow, breathed heavily
under the low shaft-bow and, evidently using the last of its strength,
vainly endeavoured to escape from the switch, hobbling with its short
legs through the deep snow which it threw up under itself.
Its muzzle, young-looking, with the nether lip drawn up like that of a
fish, nostrils distended and ears pressed back from fear, kept up for a
few seconds near Nikita's shoulder and then began to fall behind.
'Just see what liquor does!' said Nikita. 'They've tired that little
horse to death. What pagans!'
For a few minutes they heard the panting of the tired little horse and
the drunken shouting of the peasants. Then the panting and the shouts
died away, and around them nothing could be heard but the whistling
of the wind in their ears and now and then the squeak of their
sledge-runners over a windswept part of the road.
This encounter cheered and enlivened Vasili Andreevich, and he drove
on more boldly without examining the way-marks, urging on the horse and
trusting to him.
Nikita had nothing to do, and as usual in such circumstances he drowsed,
making up for much sleepless time. Suddenly the horse stopped and Nikita
nearly fell forward onto his nose.
'You know we're off the track again!' said Vasili Andreevich.
'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 not subsided.
'If we could only hear those peasants!' said Vasili Andreevich.
'Well they haven't caught us up. We must have gone far astray. Or maybe
they have lost their way too.'
'Where are we to go then?' asked Vasili Andreevich.
'Why, we must let the horse take its own way,' said Nikita. 'He will
take us right. Let me have the reins.'
Vasili Andreevich gave him the reins, the more willingly because his
hands were beginning to feel frozen in his thick gloves.
Nikita took the reins, but only held them, trying not to shake them
and rejoicing at his favourite's sagacity. And indeed the clever horse,
turning first one ear and then the other now to one side and then to the
other, began to wheel round.
'The one thing he can't do is to talk,' Nikita kept saying. 'See what he
is doing! Go on, go on! You know best. That's it, that's it!'
The wind was now blowing from behind and it felt warmer.
'Yes, he's clever,' Nikita continued, admiring the horse. 'A Kirgiz
horse is strong but stupid. But this one--just see what he's doing with
his ears! He doesn't need any telegraph. He can scent a mile off.'
Before another half-hour had passed they saw something dark ahead of
them--a wood or a village--and stakes again appeared to the right. They
had evidently come out onto the road.
'Why, that's Grishkino again!' Nikita suddenly exclaimed.
And indeed, there on their left was that same barn with the snow flying
from it, and farther on the same line with the frozen washing, shirts
and trousers, which still fluttered desperately in the wind.
Again they drove into the street and again it grew quiet, warm, and
cheerful, and again they could see the manure-stained street and hear
voices and songs and the barking of a dog. It was already so dark that
there were lights in some of the windows.
Half-way through the village Vasili Andreevich turned the horse towards
a large double-fronted brick house and stopped at the porch.
Nikita went to the lighted snow-covered window, in the rays of which
flying snow-flakes glittered, and knocked at it with his whip.
'Who is there?' a voice replied to his knock.
'From Kresty, the Brekhunovs, dear fellow,' answered Nikita. 'Just come
out for a minute.'
Someone moved from the window, and a minute or two later there was the
sound of the passage door as it came unstuck, then the latch of the
outside door clicked and a tall white-bearded peasant, with a sheepskin
coat thrown over his white holiday shirt, pushed his way out holding the
door firmly against the wind, followed by a lad in a red shirt and high
'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
'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 stranger.
Nikita talked to them all, excused himself to the fowls and assured
them that he would not disturb them again, rebuked the sheep for being
frightened without knowing why, and kept soothing the dog, while he tied
up the horse.
'Now that will be all right,' he said, knocking the snow off his
clothes. 'Just hear how he barks!' he added, turning to the dog. 'Be
quiet, stupid! Be quiet. You are only troubling yourself for nothing.
We're not thieves, we're friends. . . .'
'And these are, it's said, the three domestic counsellors,' remarked the
lad, and with his strong arms he pushed under the pent-roof the sledge
that had remained outside.
'Why counsellors?' asked Nikita.
'That's what is printed in Paulson. A thief creeps to a house--the dog
barks, that means "Be on your guard!" The cock crows, that means, "Get
up!" The cat licks herself--that means, "A welcome guest is coming. Get
ready to receive him!"' said the lad with a smile.
Petrushka could read and write and knew Paulson's primer, his only book,
almost by heart, and he was fond of quoting sayings from it that he
thought suited the occasion, especially when he had had something to
drink, as to-day.
'That's so,' said Nikita.
'You must be chilled through and through,' said Petrushka.
'Yes, I am rather,' said Nikita, and they went across the yard and the
passage into the house.
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