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
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
As Nikita entered the house
she was offering her guest a
small tumbler of thick glass
which she had just filled with
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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
'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 offered.
'We'll drink our tea and be
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
'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
'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
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
'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!'
'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
'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
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 departing