The good stallion took the sledge along at a brisk pace over
the smooth-frozen road through the village, the runners
squeaking slightly as they went.
'Look at him hanging on there! Hand me the whip, Nikita!'
shouted Vasili Andreevich, evidently enjoying the sight of his
'heir,' who standing on the runners was hanging on at the back
of the sledge. 'I'll give it you! Be off to mamma, you dog!'
The boy jumped down. The horse increased his amble and,
suddenly changing foot, broke into a fast trot.
The Crosses, the village where Vasili Andreevich lived,
consisted of six houses. As soon as they had passed the
blacksmith's hut, the last in the village, they realized that
the wind was much stronger than they had thought. The road
could hardly be seen. The tracks left by the sledge-runners
were immediately covered by snow and the road was only
distinguished by the fact that it was higher than the rest of
the ground. There was a swirl of snow over the fields and the
line where sky and earth met could not be seen. The Telyatin
forest, usually clearly visible, now only loomed up
occasionally and dimly through the driving snowy dust. The
wind came from the left, insistently blowing over to one side
the mane on Mukhorty's sleek neck and carrying aside even his
fluffy tail, which was tied in a simple knot. Nikita's wide
coat-collar, as he sat on the windy side, pressed close to his
cheek and nose.
'This road doesn't give him a chance--it's too snowy,' said
Vasili Andreevich, who prided himself on his good horse. 'I
once drove to Pashutino with him in half an hour.'
'What?' asked Nikita, who could not hear on account of his
'I say I once went to Pashutino in half an hour,' shouted
'It goes without saying that he's a good horse,' replied
They were silent for a while. But Vasili Andreevich wished to
'Well, did you tell your wife not to give the cooper any
vodka?' he began in the same loud tone, quite convinced that
Nikita must feel flattered to be talking with so clever and
important a person as himself, and he was so pleased with his
jest that it did not enter his head that the remark might be
unpleasant to Nikita.
The wind again prevented Nikita's hearing his master's words.
Vasili Andreevich repeated the jest about the cooper in his
loud, clear voice.
'That's their business, Vasili Andreevich. I don't pry into
their affairs. As long as she doesn't ill-treat our boy--God
be with them.'
'That's so,' said Vasili Andreevich. 'Well, and will you be
buying a horse in spring?' he went on, changing the subject.
'Yes, I can't avoid it,' answered Nikita, turning down his
collar and leaning back towards his master.
The conversation now became interesting to him and he did not
wish to lose a word.
'The lad's growing up. He must begin to plough for himself,
but till now we've always had to hire someone,' he said.
'Well, why not have the lean-cruppered one. I won't charge
much for it,' shouted Vasili Andreevich, feeling animated, and
consequently starting on his favourite occupation--that of
horse-dealing--which absorbed all his mental powers.
'Or you might let me have fifteen rubles and I'll buy one at
the horse-market,' said Nikita, who knew that the horse Vasili
Andreevich wanted to sell him would be dear at seven rubles,
but that if he took it from him it would be charged at
twenty-five, and then he would be unable to draw any money for
half a year.
'It's a good horse. I think of your interest as of my
own--according to conscience. Brekhunov isn't a man to wrong
anyone. Let the loss be mine. I'm not like others.
Honestly!' he shouted in the voice in which he hypnotized his
customers and dealers. 'It's a real good horse.'
'Quite so!' said Nikita with a sigh, and convinced that there
was nothing more to listen to, he again released his collar,
which immediately covered his ear and face.
They drove on in silence for about half an hour. The wind blew
sharply onto Nikita's side and arm where his sheepskin was
He huddled up and breathed into the collar which covered his
mouth, and was not wholly cold.
'What do you think--shall we go through Karamyshevo or by the
straight road?' asked Vasili Andreevich.
The road through Karamyshevo was more frequented and was well
marked with a double row of high stakes. The straight road was
nearer but little used and had no stakes, or only poor ones
covered with snow.
Nikita thought awhile.
'Though Karamyshevo is farther, it is better going,' he said.
'But by the straight road, when once we get through the hollow
by the forest, it's good going--sheltered,' said Vasili
Andreevich, who wished to go the nearest way.
'Just as you please,' said Nikita, and again let go of his
Vasili Andreevich did as he had said, and having gone about
half a verst came to a tall oak stake which had a few dry
leaves still dangling on it, and there he turned to the left.
On turning they faced directly against the wind, and snow was
beginning to fall. Vasili Andreevich, who was driving,
inflated his cheeks, blowing the breath out through his
moustache. Nikita dozed.
So they went on in silence for about ten minutes. Suddenly
Vasili Andreevich began saying something.
'Eh, what?' asked Nikita, opening his eyes.
Vasili Andreevich did not answer, but bent over, looking behind
them and then ahead of the horse. The sweat had curled
Mukhorty's coat between his legs and on his neck. He went at a
'What is it?' Nikita asked again.
'What is it? What is it?' Vasili Andreevich mimicked him
angrily. 'There are no stakes to be seen! We must have got
off the road!'
'Well, pull up then, and I'll look for it,' said Nikita, and
jumping down lightly from the sledge and taking the whip from
under the straw, he went off to the left from his own side of
The snow was not deep that year, so that it was possible to
walk anywhere, but still in places it was knee-deep and got
into Nikita's boots. He went about feeling the ground with his
feet and the whip, but could not find the road anywhere.
'Well, how is it?' asked Vasili Andreevich when Nikita came
back to the sledge.
'There is no road this side. I must go to the other side and
try there,' said Nikita.
'There's something there in front. Go and have a look.'
Nikita went to what had appeared dark, but found that it was
earth which the wind had blown from the bare fields of winter
oats and had strewn over the snow, colouring it. Having
searched to the right also, he returned to the sledge, brushed
the snow from his coat, shook it out of his boots, and seated
himself once more.
'We must go to the right,' he said decidedly. 'The wind was
blowing on our left before, but now it is straight in my face.
Drive to the right,' he repeated with decision.
Vasili Andreevich took his advice and turned to the right, but
still there was no road. They went on in that direction for
some time. The wind was as fierce as ever and it was snowing
'It seems, Vasili Andreevich, that we have gone quite astray,'
Nikita suddenly remarked, as if it were a pleasant thing.
'What is that?' he added, pointing to some potato vines that
showed up from under the snow.
Vasili Andreevich stopped the perspiring horse, whose deep
sides were heaving heavily.
'What is it?'
'Why, we are on the Zakharov lands. See where we've got to!'
'Nonsense!' retorted Vasili Andreevich.
'It's not nonsense, Vasili Andreevich. It's the truth,'
replied Nikita. 'You can feel that the sledge is going over a
potato-field, and there are the heaps of vines which have been
carted here. It's the Zakharov factory land.'
'Dear me, how we have gone astray!' said Vasili Andreevich.
'What are we to do now?'
'We must go straight on, that's all. We shall come out
somewhere--if not at Zakharova, then at the proprietor's farm,'
Vasili Andreevich agreed, and drove as Nikita had indicated.
So they went on for a considerable time. At times they came
onto bare fields and the sledge-runners rattled over frozen
lumps of earth. Sometimes they got onto a winter-rye field, or
a fallow field on which they could see stalks of wormwood, and
straws sticking up through the snow and swaying in the wind;
sometimes they came onto deep and even white snow, above which
nothing was to be seen.
The snow was falling from above and sometimes rose from below.
The horse was evidently exhausted, his hair had all curled up
from sweat and was covered with hoar-frost, and he went at a
walk. Suddenly he stumbled and sat down in a ditch or
water-course. Vasili Andreevich wanted to stop, but Nikita
cried to him:
'Why stop? We've got in and must get out. Hey, pet! Hey,
darling! Gee up, old fellow!' he shouted in a cheerful tone to
the horse, jumping out of the sledge and himself getting stuck
in the ditch.
The horse gave a start and quickly climbed out onto the frozen
bank. It was evidently a ditch that had been dug there.
'Where are we now?' asked Vasili Andreevich.
'We'll soon find out!' Nikita replied. 'Go on, we'll get
'Why, this must be the Goryachkin forest!' said Vasili
Andreevich, pointing to something dark that appeared amid the
snow in front of them.
'We'll see what forest it is when we get there,' said Nikita.
He saw that beside the black thing they had noticed, dry,
oblong willow-leaves were fluttering, and so he knew it was not
a forest but a settlement, but he did not wish to say so. And
in fact they had not gone twenty-five yards beyond the ditch
before something in front of them, evidently trees, showed up
black, and they heard a new and melancholy sound. Nikita had
guessed right: it was not a wood, but a row of tall willows
with a few leaves still fluttering on them here and there.
They had evidently been planted along the ditch round a
threshing-floor. Coming up to the willows, which moaned sadly
in the wind, the horse suddenly planted his forelegs above the
height of the sledge, drew up his hind legs also, pulling the
sledge onto higher ground, and turned to the left, no longer
sinking up to his knees in snow. They were back on a road.
'Well, here we are, but heaven only knows where!' said Nikita.
The horse kept straight along the road through the drifted
snow, and before they had gone another hundred yards the
straight line of the dark wattle wall of a barn showed up black
before them, its roof heavily covered with snow which poured
down from it. After passing the barn the road turned to the
wind and they drove into a snow-drift. But ahead of them was a
lane with houses on either side, so evidently the snow had been
blown across the road and they had to drive through the drift.
And so in fact it was. Having driven through the snow they
came out into a street. At the end house of the village some
frozen clothes hanging on a line--shirts, one red and one
white, trousers, leg-bands, and a petticoat--fluttered wildly
in the wind. The white shirt in particular struggled
desperately, waving its sleeves about.
'There now, either a lazy woman or a dead one has not taken her
clothes down before the holiday,' remarked Nikita, looking at
the fluttering shirts.