Although Vasili Andreevich felt quite warm in his two fur
coats, especially after struggling in the snow-drift, a cold
shiver ran down his back on realizing that he must really spend
the night where they were. To calm himself he sat down in the
sledge and got out his cigarettes and matches.
Nikita meanwhile unharnessed Mukhorty. He unstrapped the
belly-band and the back-band, took away the reins, loosened the
collar-strap, and removed the shaft-bow, talking to him all the
time to encourage him.
'Now come out! come out!' he said, leading him clear of the
shafts. 'Now we'll tie you up here and I'll put down some
straw and take off your bridle. When you've had a bite you'll
feel more cheerful.'
But Mukhorty was restless and evidently not comforted by
Nikita's remarks. He stepped now on one foot and now on
another, and pressed close against the sledge, turning his back
to the wind and rubbing his head on Nikita's sleeve. Then, as
if not to pain Nikita by refusing his offer of the straw he put
before him, he hurriedly snatched a wisp out of the sledge, but
immediately decided that it was now no time to think of straw
and threw it down, and the wind instantly scattered it, carried
it away, and covered it with snow.
'Now we will set up a signal,' said Nikita, and turning the
front of the sledge to the wind he tied the shafts together
with a strap and set them up on end in front of the sledge.
'There now, when the snow covers us up, good folk will see the
shafts and dig us out,' he said, slapping his mittens together
and putting them on. 'That's what the old folk taught us!'
Vasili Andreevich meanwhile had unfastened his coat, and
holding its skirts up for shelter, struck one sulphur match
after another on the steel box. But his hands trembled, and
one match after another either did not kindle or was blown out
by the wind just as he was lifting it to the cigarette. At
last a match did burn up, and its flame lit up for a moment the
fur of his coat, his hand with the gold ring on the bent
forefinger, and the snow-sprinkled oat-straw that stuck out
from under the drugget. The cigarette lighted, he eagerly took
a whiff or two, inhaled the smoke, let it out through his
moustache, and would have inhaled again, but the wind tore off
the burning tobacco and whirled it away as it had done the
But even these few puffs had cheered him.
'If we must spend the night here, we must!' he said with
decision. 'Wait a bit, I'll arrange a flag as well,' he added,
picking up the kerchief which he had thrown down in the sledge
after taking it from round his collar, and drawing off his
gloves and standing up on the front of the sledge and
stretching himself to reach the strap, he tied the handkerchief
to it with a tight knot.
The kerchief immediately began to flutter wildly, now clinging
round the shaft, now suddenly streaming out, stretching and
'Just see what a fine flag!' said Vasili Andreevich, admiring
his handiwork and letting himself down into the sledge. 'We
should be warmer together, but there's not room enough for
two,' he added.
'I'll find a place,' said Nikita. 'But I must cover up the
horse first--he sweated so, poor thing. Let go!' he added,
drawing the drugget from under Vasili Andreevich.
Having got the drugget he folded it in two, and after taking
off the breechband and pad, covered Mukhorty with it.
'Anyhow it will be warmer, silly!' he said, putting back the
breechband and the pad on the horse over the drugget. Then
having finished that business he returned to the sledge, and
addressing Vasili Andreevich, said: 'You won't need the
sackcloth, will you? And let me have some straw.'
And having taken these things from under Vasili Andreevich,
Nikita went behind the sledge, dug out a hole for himself in
the snow, put straw into it, wrapped his coat well round him,
covered himself with the sackcloth, and pulling his cap well
down seated himself on the straw he had spread, and leant
against the wooden back of the sledge to shelter himself from
the wind and the snow.
Vasili Andreevich shook his head disapprovingly at what Nikita
was doing, as in general he disapproved of the peasant's
stupidity and lack of education, and he began to settle himself
down for the night.
He smoothed the remaining straw over the bottom of the sledge,
putting more of it under his side. Then he thrust his hands
into his sleeves and settled down, sheltering his head in the
corner of the sledge from the wind in front.
He did not wish to sleep. He lay and thought: thought ever of
the one thing that constituted the sole aim, meaning, pleasure,
and pride of his life--of how much money he had made and might
still make, of how much other people he knew had made and
possessed, and of how those others had made and were making it,
and how he, like them, might still make much more. The
purchase of the Goryachkin grove was a matter of immense
importance to him. By that one deal he hoped to make perhaps
ten thousand rubles. He began mentally to reckon the value of
the wood he had inspected in autumn, and on five acres of which
he had counted all the trees.
'The oaks will go for sledge-runners. The undergrowth will
take care of itself, and there'll still be some thirty sazheens
of fire-wood left on each desyatin,' said he to himself. 'That
means there will be at least two hundred and twenty-five
rubles' worth left on each desyatin. Fifty-six desyatiins
means fifty-six hundreds, and fifty-six hundreds, and
fifty-six tens, and another fifty-six tens, and then fifty-six
fives. . . .' He saw that it came out to more than twelve
thousand rubles, but could not reckon it up exactly without a
counting-frame. 'But I won't give ten thousand, anyhow. I'll
give about eight thousand with a deduction on account of the
glades. I'll grease the surveyor's palm--give him a hundred
rubles, or a hundred and fifty, and he'll reckon that there are
some five desyatins of glade to be deducted. And he'll let it
go for eight thousand. Three thousand cash down. That'll move
him, no fear!' he thought, and he pressed his pocket-book with
'God only knows how we missed the turning. The forest ought to
be there, and a watchman's hut, and dogs barking. But the
damned things don't bark when they're wanted.' He turned his
collar down from his ear and listened, but as before only the
whistling of the wind could be heard, the flapping and
fluttering of the kerchief tied to the shafts, and the pelting
of the snow against the woodwork of the sledge. He again
covered up his ear.
'If I had known I would have stayed the night. Well, no
matter, we'll get there to-morrow. It's only one day lost. And
the others won't travel in such weather.' Then he remembered
that on the 9th he had to receive payment from the butcher for
his oxen. 'He meant to come himself, but he won't find me, and
my wife won't know how to receive the money. She doesn't know
the right way of doing things,' he thought, recalling how at
their party the day before she had not known how to treat the
police-officer who was their guest. 'Of course she's only a
woman! Where could she have seen anything? In my father's time
what was our house like? Just a rich peasant's house: just an
oatmill and an inn--that was the whole property. But what have
I done in these fifteen years? A shop, two taverns, a
flour-mill, a grain-store, two farms leased out, and a house
with an iron-roofed barn,' he thought proudly. 'Not as it was
in Father's time! Who is talked of in the whole district now?
Brekhunov! And why? Because I stick to business. I take
trouble, not like others who lie abed or waste their time on
foolishness while I don't sleep of nights. Blizzard or no
blizzard I start out. So business gets done. They think
money-making is a joke. No, take pains and rack your brains!
You get overtaken out of doors at night, like this, or keep
awake night after night till the thoughts whirling in your head
make the pillow turn,' he meditated with pride. 'They think
people get on through luck. After all, the Mironovs are now
millionaires. And why? Take pains and God gives. If only He
grants me health!'
The thought that he might himself be a millionaire like
Mironov, who began with nothing, so excited Vasili Andreevich
that he felt the need of talking to somebody. But there was no
one to talk to. . . . If only he could have reached Goryachkin
he would have talked to the landlord and shown him a thing or
'Just see how it blows! It will snow us up so deep that we
shan't be able to get out in the morning!' he thought,
listening to a gust of wind that blew against the front of the
sledge, bending it and lashing the snow against it. He raised
himself and looked round. All he could see through the
whirling darkness was Mukhorty's dark head, his back covered by
the fluttering drugget, and his thick knotted tail; while all
round, in front and behind, was the same fluctuating whity
darkness, sometimes seeming to get a little lighter and
sometimes growing denser still.
'A pity I listened to Nikita,' he thought. 'We ought to have
driven on. We should have come out somewhere, if only back to
Grishkino and stayed the night at Taras's. As it is we must
sit here all night. But what was I thinking about? Yes, that
God gives to those who take trouble, but not to loafers,
lie-abeds, or fools. I must have a smoke!'
He sat down again, got out his cigarette-case, and stretched
himself flat on his stomach, screening the matches with the
skirt of his coat. But the wind found its way in and put out
match after match. At last he got one to burn and lit a
cigarette. He was very glad that he had managed to do what he
wanted, and though the wind smoked more of the cigarette than
he did, he still got two or three puffs and felt more cheerful.
He again leant back, wrapped himself up, started reflecting
and remembering, and suddenly and quite unexpectedly lost
consciousness and fell asleep.
Suddenly something seemed to give him a push and awoke him.
Whether it was Mukhorty who had pulled some straw from under
him, or whether something within him had startled him, at all
events it woke him, and his heart began to beat faster and
faster so that the sledge seemed to tremble under him. He
opened his eyes. Everything around him was just as before.
'It looks lighter,' he thought. 'I expect it won't be long
before dawn.' But he at once remembered that it was lighter
because the moon had risen. He sat up and looked first at the
horse. Mukhorty still stood with his back to the wind,
shivering all over. One side of the drugget, which was
completely covered with snow, had been blown back, the
breeching had slipped down and the snow-covered head with its
waving forelock and mane were now more visible. Vasili
Andreevich leant over the back of the sledge and looked behind.
Nikita still sat in the same position in which he had settled
himself. The sacking with which he was covered, and his legs,
were thickly covered with snow.
'If only that peasant doesn't freeze to death! His clothes are
so wretched. I may be held responsible for him. What
shiftless people they are--such a want of education,' thought
Vasili Andreevich, and he felt like taking the drugget off the
horse and putting it over Nikita, but it would be very cold to
get out and move about and, moreover, the horse might freeze to
death. 'Why did I bring him with me? It was all her
stupidity!' he thought, recalling his unloved wife, and he
rolled over into his old place at the front part of the sledge.
'My uncle once spent a whole night like this,' he reflected,
'and was all right.' But another case came at once to his
mind. 'But when they dug Sebastian out he was dead--stiff like
a frozen carcass. If I'd only stopped the night in Grishkino
all this would not have happened!'
And wrapping his coat carefully round him so that none of the
warmth of the fur should be wasted but should warm him all
over, neck, knees, and feet, he shut his eyes and tried to
sleep again. But try as he would he could not get drowsy, on
the contrary he felt wide awake and animated. Again he began
counting his gains and the debts due to him, again he began
bragging to himself and feeling pleased with himself and his
position, but all this was continually disturbed by a
stealthily approaching fear and by the unpleasant regret that
he had not remained in Grishkino.
'How different it would be to be lying warm on a bench!'
He turned over several times in his attempts to get into a more
comfortable position more sheltered from the wind, he wrapped
up his legs closer, shut his eyes, and lay still. But either
his legs in their strong felt boots began to ache from being
bent in one position, or the wind blew in somewhere, and after
lying still for a short time he again began to recall the
disturbing fact that he might now have been lying quietly in
the warm hut at Grishkino. He again sat up, turned about,
muffled himself up, and settled down once more.
Once he fancied that he heard a distant cock-crow. He felt
glad, turned down his coat-collar and listened with strained
attention, but in spite of all his efforts nothing could be
heard but the wind whistling between the shafts, the flapping
of the kerchief, and the snow pelting against the frame of the
Nikita sat just as he had done all the time, not moving and not
even answering Vasili Andreevich who had addressed him a
couple of times. 'He doesn't care a bit--he's probably
asleep!' thought Vasili Andreevich with vexation, looking
behind the sledge at Nikita who was covered with a thick layer
Vasili Andreevich got up and lay down again some twenty times.
It seemed to him that the night would never end. 'It must be
getting near morning,' he thought, getting up and looking
around. 'Let's have a look at my watch. It will be cold to
unbutton, but if I only know that it's getting near morning I
shall at any rate feel more cheerful. We could begin
In the depth of his heart Vasili Andreevich knew that it could
not yet be near morning, but he was growing more and more
afraid, and wished both to get to know and yet to deceive
himself. He carefully undid the fastening of his sheepskin,
pushed in his hand, and felt about for a long time before he
got to his waistcoat. With great difficulty he managed to draw
out his silver watch with its enamelled flower design, and
tried to make out the time. He could not see anything without
a light. Again he went down on his knees and elbows as he had
done when he lighted a cigarette, got out his matches, and
proceeded to strike one. This time he went to work more
carefully, and feeling with his fingers for a match with the
largest head and the greatest amount of phosphorus, lit it at
the first try. Bringing the face of the watch under the light
he could hardly believe his eyes. . . . It was only ten
minutes past twelve. Almost the whole night was still before
'Oh, how long the night is!' he thought, feeling a cold shudder
run down his back, and having fastened his fur coats again and
wrapped himself up, he snuggled into a corner of the sledge
intending to wait patiently. Suddenly, above the monotonous
roar of the wind, he clearly distinguished another new and
living sound. It steadily strengthened, and having become
quite clear diminished just as gradually. Beyond all doubt it
was a wolf, and he was so near that the movement of his jaws as
he changed his cry was brought down the wind. Vasili
Andreevich turned back the collar of his coat and listened
attentively. Mukhorty too strained to listen, moving his ears,
and when the wolf had ceased its howling he shifted from foot
to foot and gave a warning snort. After this Vasili Andreevich
could not fall asleep again or even calm himself. The more he
tried to think of his accounts, his business, his reputation,
his worth and his wealth, the more and more was he mastered by
fear, and regrets that he had not stayed the night at Grishkino
dominated and mingled in all his thoughts.
'Devil take the forest! Things were all right without it,
thank God. Ah, if we had only put up for the night!' he said
to himself. 'They say it's drunkards that freeze,' he thought,
'and I have had some drink.' And observing his sensations he
noticed that he was beginning to shiver, without knowing
whether it was from cold or from fear. He tried to wrap
himself up and lie down as before, but could no longer do so.
He could not stay in one position. He wanted to get up, to do
something to master the gathering fear that was rising in him
and against which he felt himself powerless. He again got out
his cigarettes and matches, but only three matches were left
and they were bad ones. The phosphorus rubbed off them all
'The devil take you! Damned thing! Curse you!' he muttered,
not knowing whom or what he was cursing, and he flung away the
crushed cigarette. He was about to throw away the matchbox
too, but checked the movement of his hand and put the box in
his pocket instead. He was seized with such unrest that he
could no longer remain in one spot. He climbed out of the
sledge and standing with his back to the wind began to shift
his belt again, fastening it lower down in the waist and
'What's the use of lying and waiting for death? Better mount
the horse and get away!' The thought suddenly occurred to
him. 'The horse will move when he has someone on his back.
As for him,' he thought of Nikita--'it's all the same to him
whether he lives or dies. What is his life worth? He won't
grudge his life, but I have something to live for, thank God.'
He untied the horse, threw the reins over his neck and tried to
mount, but his coats and boots were so heavy that he failed.
Then he clambered up in the sledge and tried to mount from
there, but the sledge tilted under his weight, and he failed
again. At last he drew Mukhorty nearer to the sledge,
cautiously balanced on one side of it, and managed to lie on
his stomach across the horse's back. After lying like that for
a while he shifted forward once and again, threw a leg over,
and finally seated himself, supporting his feet on the loose
breeching-straps. The shaking of the sledge awoke Nikita. He
raised himself, and it seemed to Vasili Andreevich that he said
'Listen to such fools as you! Am I to die like this for
nothing?' exclaimed Vasili Andreevich. And tucking the loose
skirts of his fur coat in under his knees, he turned the horse
and rode away from the sledge in the direction in which he
thought the forest and the forester's hut must be.