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Leo Tolstoy
Master and Man 10
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Nikita awoke before daybreak. He was aroused by the cold that
had begun to creep down his back. He had dreamt that he was
coming from the mill with a load of his master's flour and when
crossing the stream had missed the bridge and let the cart get
stuck. And he saw that he had crawled under the cart and was
trying to lift it by arching his back. But strange to say the
cart did not move, it stuck to his back and he could neither
lift it nor get out from under it. It was crushing the whole
of his loins. And how cold it felt! Evidently he must crawl
out. 'Have done!' he exclaimed to whoever was pressing the
cart down on him. 'Take out the sacks!' But the cart pressed
down colder and colder, and then he heard a strange knocking,
awoke completely, and remembered everything. The cold cart was
his dead and frozen master lying upon him. And the knock was
produced by Mukhorty, who had twice struck the sledge with his
hoof.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



*********************THE END**********************
 

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