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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

The Horse-Stealers
A HOSPITAL assistant, called Yergunov, an empty-headed fellow, known throughout
the district as a great braggart and drunkard, was returning one evening in Christmas
week from the hamlet of Ryepino, where he had been to make some purchases for the
hospital. That he might get home in good time and not be late, the doctor had lent him his
very best horse.
At first it had been a still day, but at eight o'clock a violent snow-storm came on, and
when he was only about four miles from home Yergunov completely lost his way.
He did not know how to drive, he did not know the road, and he drove on at random,
hoping that the horse would find the way of itself. Two hours passed; the horse was
exhausted, he himself was chilled, and already began to fancy that he was not going
home, but back towards Ryepino. But at last above the uproar of the storm he heard the
far-away barking of a dog, and a murky red blur came into sight ahead of him: little by
little, the outlines of a high gate could be discerned, then a long fence on which there
were nails with their points uppermost, and beyond the fence there stood the slanting
crane of a well. The wind drove away the mist of snow from before the eyes, and where
there had been a red blur, there sprang up a small, squat little house with a steep thatched
roof. Of the three little windows one, covered on the inside with something red, was
lighted up.
What sort of place was it? Yergunov remembered that to the right of the road, three and a
half or four miles from the hospital, there was Andrey Tchirikov's tavern. He
remembered, too, that this Tchirikov, who had been lately killed by some sledge-drivers,
had left a wife and a daughter called Lyubka, who had come to the hospital two years
before as a patient. The inn had a bad reputation, and to visit it late in the evening, and
especially with someone else's horse, was not free from risk. But there was no help for it.
Yergunov fumbled in his knapsack for his revolver, and, coughing sternly, tapped at the
window-frame with his whip.
"Hey! who is within?" he cried. "Hey, granny! let me come in and get warm!"
With a hoarse bark a black dog rolled like a ball under the horse's feet, then another white
one, then another black one--there must have been a dozen of them. Yergunov looked to
see which was the biggest, swung his whip and lashed at it with all his might. A small,
long-legged puppy turned its sharp muzzle upwards and set up a shrill, piercing howl.
Yergunov stood for a long while at the window, tapping. But at last the hoar-frost on the
trees near the house glowed red, and a muffled female figure appeared with a lantern in
her hands.