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Leo Tolstoy
Master and Man 05
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V

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

'Go on in front!' he cried.

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

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

'Well now, God speed you!'

'Thank you, Petrushka!'

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

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

'Yes, a fine lad--a true peasant,' said Nikita.

They drove on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikita did not reply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Nikita! Hey, Nikita!' shouted Vasili Andreevich from above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Vasili Andreevich, are you alive?' he called out.

'Here!' replied Vasili Andreevich. 'Well, what now?'

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

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

'Well, how now?' asked Vasili Andreevich.

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

'Then what's to be done?'

'Why, wait a minute.'

Nikita went away again but soon returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mukhorty lifted his head and then gave a sudden jerk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Can't we drive somewhere?'

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

'But shan't we be frozen?' remarked Vasili Andreevich.

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


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