The household to which Vasili Andreevich had come was one of
the richest in the village. The family had five allotments,
besides renting other land. They had six horses, three cows,
two calves, and some twenty sheep. There were twenty-two
members belonging to the homestead: four married sons, six
grandchildren (one of whom, Petrushka, was married), two
great-grandchildren, three orphans, and four daughters-in-law
with their babies. It was one of the few homesteads that
remained still undivided, but even here the dull internal work
of disintegration which would inevitably lead to separation had
already begun, starting as usual among the women. Two sons
were living in Moscow as water-carriers, and one was in the
army. At home now were the old man and his wife, their second
son who managed the homestead, the eldest who had come from
Moscow for the holiday, and all the women and children.
Besides these members of the family there was a visitor, a
neighbour who was godfather to one of the children.
Over the table in the room hung a lamp with a shade, which
brightly lit up the tea-things, a bottle of vodka, and some
refreshments, besides illuminating the brick walls, which in
the far corner were hung with icons on both sides of which were
pictures. At the head of the table sat Vasili Andreevich in a
black sheepskin coat, sucking his frozen moustache and
observing the room and the people around him with his prominent
hawk-like eyes. With him sat the old, bald, white-bearded
master of the house in a white homespun shirt, and next him the
son home from Moscow for the holiday--a man with a sturdy back
and powerful shoulders and clad in a thin print shirt--then the
second son, also broad-shouldered, who acted as head of the
house, and then a lean red-haired peasant--the neighbour.
Having had a drink of vodka and something to eat, they were
about to take tea, and the samovar standing on the floor beside
the brick oven was already humming. The children could be seen
in the top bunks and on the top of the oven. A woman sat on a
lower bunk with a cradle beside her. The old housewife, her
face covered with wrinkles which wrinkled even her lips, was
waiting on Vasili Andreevich.
As Nikita entered the house she was offering her guest a small
tumbler of thick glass which she had just filled with vodka.
'Don't refuse, Vasili Andreevich, you mustn't! Wish us a merry
feast. Drink it, dear!' she said.
The sight and smell of vodka, especially now when he was
chilled through and tired out, much disturbed Nikita's mind.
He frowned, and having shaken the snow off his cap and coat,
stopped in front of the icons as if not seeing anyone, crossed
himself three times, and bowed to the icons. Then, turning to
the old master of the house and bowing first to him, then to
all those at table, then to the women who stood by the oven,
and muttering: 'A merry holiday!' he began taking off his outer
things without looking at the table.
'Why, you're all covered with hoar-frost, old fellow!' said the
eldest brother, looking at Nikita's snow-covered face, eyes,
Nikita took off his coat, shook it again, hung it up beside the
oven, and came up to the table. He too was offered vodka. He
went through a moment of painful hesitation and nearly took up
the glass and emptied the clear fragrant liquid down his
throat, but he glanced at Vasili Andreevich, remembered his
oath and the boots that he had sold for drink, recalled the
cooper, remembered his son for whom he had promised to buy a
horse by spring, sighed, and declined it.
'I don't drink, thank you kindly,' he said frowning, and sat
down on a bench near the second window.
'How's that?' asked the eldest brother.
'I just don't drink,' replied Nikita without lifting his eyes
but looking askance at his scanty beard and moustache and
getting the icicles out of them.
'It's not good for him,' said Vasili Andreevich, munching a
cracknel after emptying his glass.
'Well, then, have some tea,' said the kindly old hostess. 'You
must be chilled through, good soul. Why are you women dawdling
so with the samovar?'
'It is ready,' said one of the young women, and after flicking
with her apron the top of the samovar which was now boiling
over, she carried it with an effort to the table, raised it,
and set it down with a thud.
Meanwhile Vasili Andreevich was telling how he had lost his
way, how they had come back twice to this same village, and how
they had gone astray and had met some drunken peasants. Their
hosts were surprised, explained where and why they had missed
their way, said who the tipsy people they had met were, and
told them how they ought to go.
'A little child could find the way to Molchanovka from here.
All you have to do is to take the right turning from the high
road. There's a bush you can see just there. But you didn't
even get that far!' said the neighbour.
'You'd better stay the night. The women will make up beds for
you,' said the old woman persuasively.
'You could go on in the morning and it would be pleasanter,'
said the old man, confirming what his wife had said.
'I can't, friend. Business!' said Vasili Andreevich. 'Lose an
hour and you can't catch it up in a year,' he added,
remembering the grove and the dealers who might snatch that
deal from him. 'We shall get there, shan't we?' he said,
turning to Nikita.
Nikita did not answer for some time, apparently still intent on
thawing out his beard and moustache.
'If only we don't go astray again,' he replied gloomily. He was
gloomy because he passionately longed for some vodka, and the
only thing that could assuage that longing was tea and he had
not yet been offered any.
'But we have only to reach the turning and then we shan't go
wrong. The road will be through the forest the whole way,'
said Vasili Andreevich.
'It's just as you please, Vasili Andreevich. If we're to go,
let us go,' said Nikita, taking the glass of tea he was
'We'll drink our tea and be off.'
Nikita said nothing but only shook his head, and carefully
pouring some tea into his saucer began warming his hands, the
fingers of which were always swollen with hard work, over the
steam. Then, biting off a tiny bit of sugar, he bowed to his
hosts, said, 'Your health!' and drew in the steaming liquid.
'If somebody would see us as far as the turning,' said Vasili
'Well, we can do that,' said the eldest son. 'Petrushka will
harness and go that far with you.'
'Well, then, put in the horse, lad, and I shall be thankful to
you for it.'
'Oh, what for, dear man?' said the kindly old woman. 'We are
heartily glad to do it.'
'Petrushka, go and put in the mare,' said the eldest brother.
'All right,' replied Petrushka with a smile, and promptly
snatching his cap down from a nail he ran away to harness.
While the horse was being harnessed the talk returned to the
point at which it had stopped when Vasili Andreevich drove up
to the window. The old man had been complaining to his
neighbour, the village elder, about his third son who had not
sent him anything for the holiday though he had sent a French
shawl to his wife.
'The young people are getting out of hand,' said the old man.
'And how they do!' said the neighbour. 'There's no managing
them! They know too much. There's Demochkin now, who broke
his father's arm. It's all from being too clever, it seems.'
Nikita listened, watched their faces, and evidently would have
liked to share in the conversation, but he was too busy
drinking his tea and only nodded his head approvingly. He
emptied one tumbler after another and grew warmer and warmer
and more and more comfortable. The talk continued on the same
subject for a long time--the harmfulness of a household
dividing up--and it was clearly not an abstract discussion but
concerned the question of a separation in that house; a
separation demanded by the second son who sat there morosely
It was evidently a sore subject and absorbed them all, but out
of propriety they did not discuss their private affairs before
strangers. At last, however, the old man could not restrain
himself, and with tears in his eyes declared that he would not
consent to a break-up of the family during his lifetime, that
his house was prospering, thank God, but that if they separated
they would all have to go begging.
'Just like the Matveevs,' said the neighbour. 'They used to
have a proper house, but now they've split up none of them has
'And that is what you want to happen to us,' said the old man,
turning to his son.
The son made no reply and there was an awkward pause. The
silence was broken by Petrushka, who having harnessed the horse
had returned to the hut a few minutes before this and had been
listening all the time with a smile.
'There's a fable about that in Paulson,' he said. 'A father
gave his sons a broom to break. At first they could not break
it, but when they took it twig by twig they broke it easily.
And it's the same here,' and he gave a broad smile. 'I'm
ready!' he added.
'If you're ready, let's go,' said Vasili Andreevich. 'And as
to separating, don't you allow it, Grandfather. You got
everything together and you're the master. Go to the Justice
of the Peace. He'll say how things should be done.'
'He carries on so, carries on so,' the old man continued in a
whining tone. 'There's no doing anything with him. It's as if
the devil possessed him.'
Nikita having meanwhile finished his fifth tumbler of tea laid
it on its side instead of turning it upside down, hoping to be
offered a sixth glass. But there was no more water in the
samovar, so the hostess did not fill it up for him. Besides,
Vasili Andreevich was putting his things on, so there was
nothing for it but for Nikita to get up too, put back into the
sugar-basin the lump of sugar he had nibbled all round, wipe
his perspiring face with the skirt of his sheepskin, and go to
put on his overcoat.
Having put it on he sighed deeply, thanked his hosts, said
good-bye, and went out of the warm bright room into the cold
dark passage, through which the wind was howling and where
snow was blowing through the cracks of the shaking door, and
from there into the yard.
Petrushka stood in his sheepskin in the middle of the yard by
his horse, repeating some lines from Paulson's primer. He said
with a smile:
'Storms with mist the sky conceal,
Snowy circles wheeling wild.
Now like savage beast 'twill howl,
And now 'tis wailing like a child.'
Nikita nodded approvingly as he arranged the reins.
The old man, seeing Vasili Andreevich off, brought a lantern
into the passage to show him a light, but it was blown out at
once. And even in the yard it was evident that the snowstorm
had become more violent.
'Well, this is weather!' thought Vasili Andreevich. 'Perhaps
we may not get there after all. But there is nothing to be
done. Business! Besides, we have got ready, our host's horse
has been harnessed, and we'll get there with God's help!'
Their aged host also thought they ought not to go, but he had
already tried to persuade them to stay and had not been
'It's no use asking them again. Maybe my age makes me timid.
They'll get there all right, and at least we shall get to bed
in good time and without any fuss,' he thought.
Petrushka did not think of danger. He knew the road and the
whole district so well, and the lines about 'snowy circles
wheeling wild' described what was happening outside so aptly
that it cheered him up. Nikita did not wish to go at all, but
he had been accustomed not to have his own way and to serve
others for so long that there was no one to hinder the