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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

A Troublesome Visitor
IN the low-pitched, crooked little hut of Artyom, the forester, two men were sitting under
the big dark ikon--Artyom himself, a short and lean peasant with a wrinkled, aged-
looking face and a little beard that grew out of his neck, and a well-grown young man in
a new crimson shirt and big wading boots, who had been out hunting and come in for the
night. They were sitting on a bench at a little three-legged table on which a tallow candle
stuck into a bottle was lazily burning.
Outside the window the darkness of the night was full of the noisy uproar into which
nature usually breaks out before a thunderstorm. The wind howled angrily and the bowed
trees moaned miserably. One pane of the window had been pasted up with paper, and
leaves torn off by the wind could be heard pattering against the paper.
"I tell you what, good Christian," said Artyom in a hoarse little tenor half-whisper,
staring with unblinking, scared-looking eyes at the hunter. "I am not afraid of wolves or
bears, or wild beasts of any sort, but I am afraid of man. You can save yourself from
beasts with a gun or some other weapon, but you have no means of saving yourself from
a wicked man."
"To be sure, you can fire at a beast, but if you shoot at a robber you will have to answer
for it: you will go to Siberia."
"I've been forester, my lad, for thirty years, and I couldn't tell you what I have had to put
up with from wicked men. There have been lots and lots of them here. The hut's on a
track, it's a cart-road, and that brings them, the devils. Every sort of ruffian turns up, and
without taking off his cap or making the sign of the cross, bursts straight in upon one
with: 'Give us some bread, you old so-and-so.' And where am I to get bread for him?
What claim has he? Am I a millionaire to feed every drunkard that passes? They are half-
blind with spite. . . . They have no cross on them, the devils . . . . They'll give you a clout
on the ear and not think twice about it: 'Give us bread!' Well, one gives it. . . . One is not
going to fight with them, the idols! Some of them are two yards across the shoulders, and
a great fist as big as your boot, and you see the sort of figure I am. One of them could
smash me with his little finger. . . . Well, one gives him bread and he gobbles it up, and
stretches out full length across the hut with not a word of thanks. And there are some that
ask for money. 'Tell me, where is your money?' As though I had money! How should I
come by it?"
"A forester and no money!" laughed the hunter. "You get wages every month, and I'll be
bound you sell timber on the sly."
Artyom took a timid sideway glance at his visitor and twitched his beard as a magpie
twitches her tail.
 
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