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Leo Tolstoy
Master and Man 08
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VIII

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 collar.

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 is* 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.


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