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 singing.
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
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 driver's seat.
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 the horse.
'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 bushy tail.
'Are you going to stay the night?'
'No, friend. I must get on.'
'Your business must be pressing. And who is this? Ah, Nikita
'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 stopped.
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
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 again.'
'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 the sledge.
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
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
Half-way through the village Vasili Andreevich turned the horse
towards a large double-fronted brick house and stopped at the
Nikita went to the lighted snow-covered window, in the rays of
which flying snow-flakes glittered, and knocked at it with his
'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 leather boots.
'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 passage.
'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
'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 ourselves, Nikita.'
'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.