Nikita awoke before daybreak. He was aroused by the cold that had begun t_reep down his back. He had dreamt that he was coming from the mill with _oad of his master's flour and when crossing the stream had missed the bridg_nd let the cart get stuck. And he saw that he had crawled under the cart an_as trying to lift it by arching his back. But strange to say the cart did no_ove, it stuck to his back and he could neither lift it nor get out from unde_t. It was crushing the whole of his loins. And how cold it felt! Evidently h_ust crawl out. 'Have done!' he exclaimed to whoever was pressing the car_own on him. 'Take out the sacks!' But the cart pressed down colder an_older, and then he heard a strange knocking, awoke completely, and remembere_verything. The cold cart was his dead and frozen master lying upon him. An_he knock was produced by Mukhorty, who had twice struck the sledge with hi_oof.
'Andreevich! Eh, Andreevich!' Nikita called cautiously, beginning to realiz_he truth, and straightening his back. But Vasili Andreevich did not answe_nd his stomach and legs were stiff and cold and heavy like iron weights.
'He must have died! May the Kingdom of Heaven be his!' thought Nikita.
He turned his head, dug with his hand through the snow about him and opene_is eyes. It was daylight; the wind was whistling as before between th_hafts, and the snow was falling in the same way, except that it was no longe_riving against the frame of the sledge but silently covered both sledge an_orse deeper and deeper, and neither the horse's movements nor his breathin_ere any longer to be heard.
'He must have frozen too,' thought Nikita of Mukhorty, and indeed those hoo_nocks against the sledge, which had awakened Nikita, were the last effort_he already numbed Mukhorty had made to keep on his feet before dying.
'O Lord God, it seems Thou art calling me too!' said Nikita. 'Thy Holy Will b_one. But it's uncanny… . Still, a man can't die twice and must die once. I_nly it would come soon!'
And he again drew in his head, closed his eyes, and became unconscious, full_onvinced that now he was certainly and finally dying.
It was not till noon that day that peasants dug Vasili Andreevich and Nikit_ut of the snow with their shovels, not more than seventy yards from the roa_nd less than half a mile from the village.
The snow had hidden the sledge, but the shafts and the kerchief tied to the_ere still visible. Mukhorty, buried up to his belly in snow, with th_reeching and drugget hanging down, stood all white, his dead head presse_gainst his frozen throat: icicles hung from his nostrils, his eyes wer_overed with hoar-frost as though filled with tears, and he had grown so thi_n that one night that he was nothing but skin and bone.
Vasili Andreevich was stiff as a frozen carcass, and when they rolled him of_ikita his legs remained apart and his arms stretched out as they had been.
His bulging hawk eyes were frozen, and his open mouth under his clippe_oustache was full of snow. But Nikita though chilled through was still alive.
When he had been brought to, he felt sure that he was already dead and tha_hat was taking place with him was no longer happening in this world but i_he next. When he heard the peasants shouting as they dug him out and rolle_he frozen body of Vasili Andreevich from off him, he was at first surprise_hat in the other world peasants should be shouting in the same old way an_ad the same kind of body, and then when he realized that he was still in thi_orld he was sorry rather than glad, especially when he found that the toes o_oth his feet were frozen.
Nikita lay in hospital for two months. They cut off three of his toes, but th_thers recovered so that he was still able to work and went on living fo_nother twenty years, first as a farm-labourer, then in his old age as _atchman. He died at home as he had wished, only this year, under the icon_ith a lighted taper in his hands. Before he died he asked his wife'_orgiveness and forgave her for the cooper. He also took leave of his son an_randchildren, and died sincerely glad that he was relieving his son an_aughter-in-law of the burden of having to feed him, and that he was no_eally passing from this life of which he was weary into that other life whic_very year and every hour grew clearer and more desirable to him. Whether h_s better or worse off there where he awoke after his death, whether he wa_isappointed or found there what he expected, we shall all soon learn.