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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

The Petchenyeg
IVAN ABRAMITCH ZHMUHIN, a retired Cossack officer, who had once served in the
Caucasus, but now lived on his own farm, and who had once been young, strong, and
vigorous, but now was old, dried up, and bent, with shaggy eyebrows and a greenish-grey
moustache, was returning from the town to his farm one hot summer's day. In the town he
had confessed and received absolution, and had made his will at the notary's (a fortnight
before he had had a slight stroke), and now all the while he was in the railway carriage he
was haunted by melancholy, serious thoughts of approaching death, of the vanity of
vanities, of the transitoriness of all things earthly. At the station of Provalye--there is such
a one on the Donetz line--a fair-haired, plump, middle-aged gentleman with a shabby
portfolio stepped into the carriage and sat down opposite. They got into conversation.
"Yes," said Ivan Abramitch, looking pensively out of window, "it is never too late to
marry. I myself married when I was forty-eight; I was told it was late, but it has turned
out that it was not late or early, but simply that it would have been better not to marry at
all. Everyone is soon tired of his wife, but not everyone tells the truth, because, you
know, people are ashamed of an unhappy home life and conceal it. It's 'Manya this' and
'Manya that' with many a man by his wife's side, but if he had his way he'd put that
Manya in a sack and drop her in the water. It's dull with one's wife, it's mere foolishness.
And it's no better with one's children, I make bold to assure you. I have two of them, the
rascals. There's nowhere for them to be taught out here in the steppe; I haven't the money
to send them to school in Novo Tcherkask, and they live here like young wolves. Next
thing they will be murdering someone on the highroad."
The fair-haired gentleman listened attentively, answered questions briefly in a low voice,
and was apparently a gentleman of gentle and modest disposition. He mentioned that he
was a lawyer, and that he was going to the village Dyuevka on business.
"Why, merciful heavens, that is six miles from me!" said Zhmuhin in a tone of voice as
though someone were disputing with him. "But excuse me, you won't find horses at the
station now. To my mind, the very best thing you can do, you know, is to come straight to
me, stay the night, you know, and in the morning drive over with my horses."
The lawyer thought a moment and accepted the invitation.
When they reached the station the sun was already low over the steppe. They said nothing
all the way from the station to the farm: the jolting prevented conversation. The trap
bounded up and down, squeaked, and seemed to be sobbing, and the lawyer, who was
sitting very uncomfortably, stared before him, miserably hoping to see the farm. After
they had driven five or six miles there came into view in the distance a low-pitched house
and a yard enclosed by a fence made of dark, flat stones standing on end; the roof was
green, the stucco was peeling off, and the windows were little narrow slits like screwed-
up eyes. The farm stood in the full sunshine, and there was no sign either of water or trees
anywhere round. Among the neighbouring landowners and the peasants it was known as