At the entrance to the street the wind still raged and the road was thickl_overed with snow, but well within the village it was calm, warm, an_heerful. At one house a dog was barking, at another a woman, covering he_ead with her coat, came running from somewhere and entered the door of a hut, stopping on the threshold to have a look at the passing sledge. In the middl_f the village girls could be heard singing.
Here in the village there seemed to be less wind and snow, and the frost wa_ess keen.
'Why, this is Grishkino,' said Vasili Andreevich.
'So it is,' responded Nikita.
It really was Grishkino, which meant that they had gone too far to the lef_nd had travelled some six miles, not quite in the direction they aimed at, but towards their destination for all that.
From Grishkino to Goryachkin was about another four miles.
In the middle of the village they almost ran into a tall man walking down th_iddle of the street.
'Who are you?' shouted the man, stopping the horse, and recognizing Vasil_nereevich he immediately took hold of the shaft, went along it hand over han_ill he reached the sledge, and placed himself on the driver's seat.
He was Isay, a peasant of Vasili Andreevich's acquaintance, and well known a_he principal horse-thief in the district.
'Ah, Vasili Andreevich! Where are you off to?' said Isay, enveloping Nikita i_he odour of the vodka he had drunk.
'We were going to Goryachkin.'
'And look where you've got to! You should have gone through Molchanovka.'
'Should have, but didn't manage it,' said Vasili Andreevich, holding in th_orse.
'That's a good horse,' said Isay, with a shrewd glance at Mukhorty, and with _ractised hand he tightened the loosened knot high in the horse's bushy tail.
'Are you going to stay the night?'
'No, friend. I must get on.'
'Your business must be pressing. And who is this? Ah, Nikita Stepanych!'
'Who else?' replied Nikita. 'But I say, good friend, how are we to avoid goin_stray again?'
'Where can you go astray here? Turn back straight down the street and the_hen you come out keep straight on. Don't take to the left. You will come ou_nto the high road, and then turn to the right.'
'And where do we turn off the high road? As in summer, or the winter way?'
'The winter way. As soon as you turn off you'll see some bushes, and opposit_hem there is a way-mark—a large oak, one with branches—and that's the way.'
Vasili Andreevich turned the horse back and drove through the outskirts of th_illage.
'Why not stay the night?' Isay shouted after them.
But Vasili Andreevich did not answer and touched up the horse. Four miles o_ood road, two of which lay through the forest, seemed easy to manage, especially as the wind was apparently quieter and the snow had stopped.
Having driven along the trodden village street, darkened here and there b_resh manure, past the yard where the clothes hung out and where the whit_hirt had broken loose and was now attached only by one frozen sleeve, the_gain came within sound of the weird moan of the willows, and again emerged o_he open fields. The storm, far from ceasing, seemed to have grown ye_tronger. The road was completely covered with drifting snow, and only th_takes showed that they had not lost their way. But even the stakes ahead o_hem were not easy to see, since the wind blew in their faces.
Vasili Andreevich screwed up his eyes, bent down his head, and looked out fo_he way-marks, but trusted mainly to the horse's sagacity, letting it take it_wn way. And the horse really did not lose the road but followed its windings, turning now to the right and now to the left and sensing it under his feet, s_hat though the snow fell thicker and the wind strengthened they stil_ontinued to see way-marks now to the left and now to the right of them.
So they travelled on for about ten minutes, when suddenly, through th_lanting screen of wind-driven snow, something black showed up which moved i_ront of the horse.
This was another sledge with fellow-travellers. Mukhorty overtook them, an_truck his hoofs against the back of the sledge in front of them.
'Pass on … hey there … get in front!' cried voices from the sledge.
Vasili Andreevich swerved aside to pass the other sledge.
In it sat three men and a woman, evidently visitors returning from a feast.
One peasant was whacking the snow-covered croup of their little horse with _ong switch, and the other two sitting in front waved their arms and shoute_omething. The woman, completely wrapped up and covered with snow, sa_rowsing and bumping at the back.
'Who are you?' shouted Vasili Andreevich.
'From A-a-a … ' was all that could be heard.
'I say, where are you from?'
'From A-a-a-a!' one of the peasants shouted with all his might, but still i_as impossible to make out who they were.
'Get along! Keep up!' shouted another, ceaselessly beating his horse with th_witch.
'So you're from a feast, it seems?'
'Go on, go on! Faster, Simon! Get in front! Faster!'
The wings of the sledges bumped against one another, almost got jammed bu_anaged to separate, and the peasants' sledge began to fall behind.
Their shaggy, big-bellied horse, all covered with snow, breathed heavily unde_he low shaft-bow and, evidently using the last of its strength, vainl_ndeavoured to escape from the switch, hobbling with its short legs throug_he deep snow which it threw up under itself.
Its muzzle, young-looking, with the nether lip drawn up like that of a fish, nostrils distended and ears pressed back from fear, kept up for a few second_ear Nikita's shoulder and then began to fall behind.
'Just see what liquor does!' said Nikita. 'They've tired that little horse t_eath. What pagans!'
For a few minutes they heard the panting of the tired little horse and th_runken shouting of the peasants. Then the panting and the shouts died away, and around them nothing could be heard but the whistling of the wind in thei_ars and now and then the squeak of their sledge-runners over a windswept par_f the road.
This encounter cheered and enlivened Vasili Andreevich, and he drove on mor_oldly without examining the way-marks, urging on the horse and trusting t_im.
Nikita had nothing to do, and as usual in such circumstances he drowsed, making up for much sleepless time. Suddenly the horse stopped and Nikit_early fell forward onto his nose.
'You know we're off the track again!' said Vasili Andreevich.
'Why, there are no way-marks to be seen. We must have got off the road again.'
'Well, if we've lost the road we must find it,' said Nikita curtly, an_etting out and stepping lightly on his pigeon-toed feet he started once mor_oing about on the snow.
He walked about for a long time, now disappearing and now reappearing, an_inally he came back.
'There is no road here. There may be farther on,' he said, getting into th_ledge.
It was already growing dark. The snow-storm had not increased but had also no_ubsided.
'If we could only hear those peasants!' said Vasili Andreevich.
'Well they haven't caught us up. We must have gone far astray. Or maybe the_ave lost their way too.'
'Where are we to go then?' asked Vasili Andreevich.
'Why, we must let the horse take its own way,' said Nikita. 'He will take u_ight. Let me have the reins.'
Vasili Andreevich gave him the reins, the more willingly because his hand_ere beginning to feel frozen in his thick gloves.
Nikita took the reins, but only held them, trying not to shake them an_ejoicing at his favourite's sagacity. And indeed the clever horse, turnin_irst one ear and then the other now to one side and then to the other, bega_o wheel round.
'The one thing he can't do is to talk,' Nikita kept saying. 'See what he i_oing! Go on, go on! You know best. That's it, that's it!'
The wind was now blowing from behind and it felt warmer.
'Yes, he's clever,' Nikita continued, admiring the horse. 'A Kirgiz horse i_trong but stupid. But this one—just see what he's doing with his ears! H_oesn't need any telegraph. He can scent a mile off.'
Before another half-hour had passed they saw something dark ahead of them—_ood or a village—and stakes again appeared to the right. They had evidentl_ome out onto the road.
And indeed, there on their left was that same barn with the snow flying fro_t, and farther on the same line with the frozen washing, shirts and trousers, which still fluttered desperately in the wind.
Again they drove into the street and again it grew quiet, warm, and cheerful, and again they could see the manure-stained street and hear voices and song_nd the barking of a dog. It was already so dark that there were lights i_ome of the windows.
Half-way through the village Vasili Andreevich turned the horse towards _arge double-fronted brick house and stopped at the porch.
Nikita went to the lighted snow-covered window, in the rays of which flyin_now-flakes glittered, and knocked at it with his whip.
'Who is there?' a voice replied to his knock.
'From Kresty, the Brekhunovs, dear fellow,' answered Nikita. 'Just come ou_or a minute.'
Someone moved from the window, and a minute or two later there was the soun_f the passage door as it came unstuck, then the latch of the outside doo_licked and a tall white-bearded peasant, with a sheepskin coat thrown ove_is white holiday shirt, pushed his way out holding the door firmly agains_he wind, followed by a lad in a red shirt and high leather boots.
'Is that you, Andreevich?' asked the old man.
'Yes, friend, we've gone astray,' said Vasili Andreevich. 'We wanted to get t_oryachkin but found ourselves here. We went a second time but lost our wa_gain.'
'Just see how you have gone astray!' said the old man. 'Petrushka, go and ope_he gate!' he added, turning to the lad in the red shirt.
'All right,' said the lad in a cheerful voice, and ran back into the passage.
'But we're not staying the night,' said Vasili Andreevich.
'Where will you go in the night? You'd better stay!'
'I'd be glad to, but I must go on. It's business, and it can't be helped.'
'Well, warm yourself at least. The samovar is just ready.'
'Warm myself? Yes, I'll do that,' said Vasili Andreevich. 'It won't ge_arker. The moon will rise and it will be lighter. Let's go in and war_urselves, Nikita.'
'Well, why not? Let us warm ourselves,' replied Nikita, who was stiff wit_old and anxious to warm his frozen limbs.
Vasili Andreevich went into the room with the old man, and Nikita drov_hrough the gate opened for him by Petrushka, by whose advice he backed th_orse under the penthouse. The ground was covered with manure and the tall bo_ver the horse's head caught against the beam. The hens and the cock ha_lready settled to roost there, and clucked peevishly, clinging to the bea_ith their claws. The disturbed sheep shied and rushed aside trampling th_rozen manure with their hooves. The dog yelped desperately with fright an_nger and then burst out barking like a puppy at the stranger.
Nikita talked to them all, excused himself to the fowls and assured them tha_e would not disturb them again, rebuked the sheep for being frightene_ithout knowing why, and kept soothing the dog, while he tied up the horse.
'Now that will be all right,' he said, knocking the snow off his clothes.
'Just hear how he barks!' he added, turning to the dog. 'Be quiet, stupid! B_uiet. You are only troubling yourself for nothing. We're not thieves, we'r_riends… .'
'And these are, it's said, the three domestic counsellors,' remarked the lad, and with his strong arms he pushed under the pent-roof the sledge that ha_emained outside.
'Why counsellors?' asked Nikita.
'That's what is printed in Paulson. A thief creeps to a house—the dog barks, that means "Be on your guard!" The cock crows, that means, "Get up!" The ca_icks herself—that means, "A welcome guest is coming. Get ready to receiv_im!"' said the lad with a smile.
Petrushka could read and write and knew Paulson's primer, his only book, almost by heart, and he was fond of quoting sayings from it that he though_uited the occasion, especially when he had had something to drink, as to-day.
'That's so,' said Nikita.
'You must be chilled through and through,' said Petrushka.
'Yes, I am rather,' said Nikita, and they went across the yard and the passag_nto the house.