Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Next
Master and Man

Master and Man

Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • It happened in the 'seventies in winter, on the day after St. Nicholas's Day.
  • There was a fete in the parish and the innkeeper, Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov, a Second Guild merchant, being a church elder had to go to church, and ha_lso to entertain his relatives and friends at home.
  • But when the last of them had gone he at once began to prepare to drive ove_o see a neighbouring proprietor about a grove which he had been bargainin_ver for a long time. He was now in a hurry to start, lest buyers from th_own might forestall him in making a profitable purchase.
  • The youthful landowner was asking ten thousand rubles for the grove simpl_ecause Vasili Andreevich was offering seven thousand. Seven thousand was, however, only a third of its real value. Vasili Andreevich might perhaps hav_ot it down to his own price, for the woods were in his district and he had _ong-standing agreement with the other village dealers that no one should ru_p the price in another's district, but he had now learnt that some timber- dealers from town meant to bid for the Goryachkin grove, and he resolved to g_t once and get the matter settled. So as soon as the feast was over, he too_even hundred rubles from his strong box, added to them two thousand thre_undred rubles of church money he had in his keeping, so as to make up the su_o three thousand; carefully counted the notes, and having put them into hi_ocket-book made haste to start.
  • Nikita, the only one of Vasili Andreevich's labourers who was not drunk tha_ay, ran to harness the horse. Nikita, though an habitual drunkard, was no_runk that day because since the last day before the fast, when he had drun_is coat and leather boots, he had sworn off drink and had kept his vow fo_wo months, and was still keeping it despite the temptation of the vodka tha_ad been drunk everywhere during the first two days of the feast.
  • Nikita was a peasant of about fifty from a neighbouring village, 'not _anager' as the peasants said of him, meaning that he was not the thrifty hea_f a household but lived most of his time away from home as a labourer. He wa_alued everywhere for his industry, dexterity, and strength at work, and stil_ore for his kindly and pleasant temper. But he never settled down anywher_or long because about twice a year, or even oftener, he had a drinking bout, and then besides spending all his clothes on drink he became turbulent an_uarrelsome. Vasili Andreevich himself had turned him away several times, bu_ad afterwards taken him back again—valuing his honesty, his kindness t_nimals, and especially his cheapness. Vasili Andreevich did not pay Nikit_he eighty rubles a year such a man was worth, but only about forty, which h_ave him haphazard, in small sums, and even that mostly not in cash but i_oods from his own shop and at high prices.
  • Nikita's wife Martha, who had once been a handsome vigorous woman, managed th_omestead with the help of her son and two daughters, and did not urge Nikit_o live at home: first because she had been living for some twenty year_lready with a cooper, a peasant from another village who lodged in thei_ouse; and secondly because though she managed her husband as she pleased whe_e was sober, she feared him like fire when he was drunk. Once when he had go_runk at home, Nikita, probably to make up for his submissiveness when sober, broke open her box, took out her best clothes, snatched up an axe, and choppe_ll her undergarments and dresses to bits. All the wages Nikita earned went t_is wife, and he raised no objection to that. So now, two days before th_oliday, Martha had been twice to see Vasili Andreevich and had got from hi_heat flour, tea, sugar, and a quart of vodka, the lot costing three rubles, and also five rubles in cash, for which she thanked him as for a specia_avour, though he owed Nikita at least twenty rubles.
  • 'What agreement did we ever draw up with you?' said Vasili Andreevich t_ikita. 'If you need anything, take it; you will work it off. I'm not lik_thers to keep you waiting, and making up accounts and reckoning fines. W_eal straight-forwardly. You serve me and I don't neglect you.'
  • And when saying this Vasili Andreevich was honestly convinced that he wa_ikita's benefactor, and he knew how to put it so plausibly that all those wh_epended on him for their money, beginning with Nikita, confirmed him in th_onviction that he was their benefactor and did not overreach them.
  • 'Yes, I understand, Vasili Andreevich. You know that I serve you and take a_uch pains as I would for my own father. I understand very well!' Nikita woul_eply. He was quite aware that Vasili Andreevich was cheating him, but at th_ame time he felt that it was useless to try to clear up his accounts with hi_r explain his side of the matter, and that as long as he had nowhere to go h_ust accept what he could get.
  • Now, having heard his master's order to harness, he went as usual cheerfull_nd willingly to the shed, stepping briskly and easily on his rather turned-i_eet; took down from a nail the heavy tasselled leather bridle, and jinglin_he rings of the bit went to the closed stable where the horse he was t_arness was standing by himself.
  • 'What, feeling lonely, feeling lonely, little silly?' said Nikita in answer t_he low whinny with which he was greeted by the good-tempered, medium-size_ay stallion, with a rather slanting crupper, who stood alone in the shed.
  • 'Now then, now then, there's time enough. Let me water you first,' he went on, speaking to the horse just as to someone who understood the words he wa_sing, and having whisked the dusty, grooved back of the well-fed youn_tallion with the skirt of his coat, he put a bridle on his handsome head, straightened his ears and forelock, and having taken off his halter led hi_ut to water.
  • Picking his way out of the dung-strewn stable, Mukhorty frisked, and makin_lay with his hind leg pretended that he meant to kick Nikita, who was runnin_t a trot beside him to the pump.
  • 'Now then, now then, you rascal!' Nikita called out, well knowing ho_arefully Mukhorty threw out his hind leg just to touch his greasy sheepski_oat but not to strike him—a trick Nikita much appreciated.
  • After a drink of the cold water the horse sighed, moving his strong wet lips, from the hairs of which transparent drops fell into the trough; then standin_till as if in thought, he suddenly gave a loud snort.
  • 'If you don't want any more, you needn't. But don't go asking for any later,'
  • said Nikita quite seriously and fully explaining his conduct to Mukhorty. The_e ran back to the shed pulling the playful young horse, who wanted to gambo_ll over the yard, by the rein.
  • There was no one else in the yard except a stranger, the cook's husband, wh_ad come for the holiday.
  • 'Go and ask which sledge is to be harnessed—the wide one or the smal_ne—there's a good fellow!'
  • The cook's husband went into the house, which stood on an iron foundation an_as iron-roofed, and soon returned saying that the little one was to b_arnessed. By that time Nikita had put the collar and brass-studded belly-ban_n Mukhorty and, carrying a light, painted shaft-bow in one hand, was leadin_he horse with the other up to two sledges that stood in the shed.
  • 'All right, let it be the little one!' he said, backing the intelligent horse, which all the time kept pretending to bite him, into the shafts, and with th_id of the cook's husband he proceeded to harness. When everything was nearl_eady and only the reins had to be adjusted, Nikita sent the other man to th_hed for some straw and to the barn for a drugget.
  • 'There, that's all right! Now, now, don't bristle up!' said Nikita, pressin_own into the sledge the freshly threshed oat straw the cook's husband ha_rought. 'And now let's spread the sacking like this, and the drugget over it.
  • There, like that it will be comfortable sitting,' he went on, suiting th_ction to the words and tucking the drugget all round over the straw to make _eat.
  • 'Thank you, dear man. Things always go quicker with two working at it!' h_dded. And gathering up the leather reins fastened together by a brass ring, Nikita took the driver's seat and started the impatient horse over the froze_anure which lay in the yard, towards the gate.
  • 'Uncle Nikita! I say, Uncle, Uncle!' a high-pitched voice shouted, and _even-year-old boy in a black sheepskin coat, new white felt boots, and a war_ap, ran hurriedly out of the house into the yard. 'Take me with you!' h_ried, fastening up his coat as he ran.
  • 'All right, come along, darling!' said Nikita, and stopping the sledge h_icked up the master's pale thin little son, radiant with joy, and drove ou_nto the road.
  • It was past two o'clock and the day was windy, dull, and cold, with more tha_wenty degrees Fahrenheit of frost. Half the sky was hidden by a lowering dar_loud. In the yard it was quiet, but in the street the wind was felt mor_eenly. The snow swept down from a neighbouring shed and whirled about in th_orner near the bath-house.
  • Hardly had Nikita driven out of the yard and turned the horse's head to th_ouse, before Vasili Andreevich emerged from the high porch in front of th_ouse with a cigarette in his mouth and wearing a cloth-covered sheep-ski_oat tightly girdled low at his waist, and stepped onto the hard-trodden sno_hich squeaked under the leather soles of his felt boots, and stopped. Takin_ last whiff of his cigarette he threw it down, stepped on it, and letting th_moke escape through his moustache and looking askance at the horse that wa_oming up, began to tuck in his sheepskin collar on both sides of his rudd_ace, clean-shaven except for the moustache, so that his breath should no_oisten the collar.
  • 'See now! The young scamp is there already!' he exclaimed when he saw hi_ittle son in the sledge. Vasili Andreevich was excited by the vodka he ha_runk with his visitors, and so he was even more pleased than usual wit_verything that was his and all that he did. The sight of his son, whom h_lways thought of as his heir, now gave him great satisfaction. He looked a_im, screwing up his eyes and showing his long teeth.
  • His wife—pregnant, thin and pale, with her head and shoulders wrapped in _hawl so that nothing of her face could be seen but her eyes—stood behind hi_n the vestibule to see him off.
  • 'Now really, you ought to take Nikita with you,' she said timidly, steppin_ut from the doorway.
  • Vasili Andreevich did not answer. Her words evidently annoyed him and h_rowned angrily and spat.
  • 'You have money on you,' she continued in the same plaintive voice. 'What i_he weather gets worse! Do take him, for goodness' sake!'
  • 'Why? Don't I know the road that I must needs take a guide?' exclaimed Vasil_ndreevich, uttering every word very distinctly and compressing his lip_nnaturally, as he usually did when speaking to buyers and sellers.
  • 'Really you ought to take him. I beg you in God's name!' his wife repeated, wrapping her shawl more closely round her head.
  • 'There, she sticks to it like a leech! … Where am I to take him?'
  • 'I'm quite ready to go with you, Vasili Andreevich,' said Nikita cheerfully.
  • 'But they must feed the horses while I am away,' he added, turning to hi_aster's wife.
  • 'I'll look after them, Nikita dear. I'll tell Simon,' replied the mistress.
  • 'Well, Vasili Andreevich, am I to come with you?' said Nikita, awaiting _ecision.
  • 'It seems I must humour my old woman. But if you're coming you'd better put o_ warmer cloak,' said Vasili Andreevich, smiling again as he winked a_ikita's short sheepskin coat, which was torn under the arms and at the back, was greasy and out of shape, frayed to a fringe round the skirt, and ha_ndured many things in its lifetime.
  • 'Hey, dear man, come and hold the horse!' shouted Nikita to the cook'_usband, who was still in the yard.
  • 'No, I will myself, I will myself!' shrieked the little boy, pulling hi_ands, red with cold, out of his pockets, and seizing the cold leather reins.
  • 'Only don't be too long dressing yourself up. Look alive!' shouted Vasil_ndreevich, grinning at Nikita.
  • 'Only a moment, Father, Vasili Andreevich!' replied Nikita, and runnin_uickly with his inturned toes in his felt boots with their soles patched wit_elt, he hurried across the yard and into the workmen's hut.
  • 'Arinushka! Get my coat down from the stove. I'm going with the master,' h_aid, as he ran into the hut and took down his girdle from the nail on whic_t hung.
  • The workmen's cook, who had had a sleep after dinner and was now getting th_amovar ready for her husband, turned cheerfully to Nikita, and infected b_is hurry began to move as quickly as he did, got down his miserable worn-ou_loth coat from the stove where it was drying, and began hurriedly shaking i_ut and smoothing it down.
  • 'There now, you'll have a chance of a holiday with your good man,' sai_ikita, who from kindhearted politeness always said something to anyone he wa_lone with.
  • Then, drawing his worn narrow girdle round him, he drew in his breath, pullin_n his lean stomach still more, and girdled himself as tightly as he coul_ver his sheepskin.
  • 'There now,' he said addressing himself no longer to the cook but the girdle, as he tucked the ends in at the waist, 'now you won't come undone!' An_orking his shoulders up and down to free his arms, he put the coat over hi_heepskin, arched his back more strongly to ease his arms, poked himself unde_he armpits, and took down his leather-covered mittens from the shelf. 'No_e're all right!'
  • 'You ought to wrap your feet up, Nikita. Your boots are very bad.'
  • Nikita stopped as if he had suddenly realized this.
  • 'Yes, I ought to… . But they'll do like this. It isn't far!' and he ran ou_nto the yard.
  • 'Won't you be cold, Nikita?' said the mistress as he came up to the sledge.
  • 'Cold? No, I'm quite warm,' answered Nikita as he pushed some straw up to th_orepart of the sledge so that it should cover his feet, and stowed away th_hip, which the good horse would not need, at the bottom of the sledge.
  • Vasili Andreevich, who was wearing two fur-lined coats one over the other, wa_lready in the sledge, his broad back filling nearly its whole rounded width, and taking the reins he immediately touched the horse. Nikita jumped in jus_s the sledge started, and seated himself in front on the left side, with on_eg hanging over the edge.