The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories HTML version
A "POPULAR" fête with a philanthropic object had been arranged on the Feast of
Epiphany in the provincial town of N----. They had selected a broad part of the river
between the market and the bishop's palace, fenced it round with a rope, with fir-trees and
with flags, and provided everything necessary for skating, sledging, and tobogganing.
The festivity was organized on the grandest scale possible. The notices that were
distributed were of huge size and promised a number of delights: skating, a military band,
a lottery with no blank tickets, an electric sun, and so on. But the whole scheme almost
came to nothing owing to the hard frost. From the eve of Epiphany there were twenty-
eight degrees of frost with a strong wind; it was proposed to put off the fête, and this was
not done only because the public, which for a long while had been looking forward to the
fête impatiently, would not consent to any postponement.
"Only think, what do you expect in winter but a frost!" said the ladies persuading the
governor, who tried to insist that the fête should be postponed. "If anyone is cold he can
go and warm himself."
The trees, the horses, the men's beards were white with frost; it even seemed that the air
itself crackled, as though unable to endure the cold; but in spite of that the frozen public
were skating. Immediately after the blessing of the waters and precisely at one o'clock the
military band began playing.
Between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, when the festivity was at its height, the
select society of the place gathered together to warm themselves in the governor's
pavilion, which had been put up on the river-bank. The old governor and his wife, the
bishop, the president of the local court, the head master of the high school, and many
others, were there. The ladies were sitting in armchairs, while the men crowded round the
wide glass door, looking at the skating.
"Holy Saints!" said the bishop in surprise; "what flourishes they execute with their legs!
Upon my soul, many a singer couldn't do a twirl with his voice as those cut-throats do
with their legs. Aie! he'll kill himself!"
"That's Smirnov. . . . That's Gruzdev . . ." said the head master, mentioning the names of
the schoolboys who flew by the pavilion.
"Bah! he's all alive-oh!" laughed the governor. "Look, gentlemen, our mayor is coming. .
. . He is coming this way. . . . That's a nuisance, he will talk our heads off now."
A little thin old man, wearing a big cap and a fur-lined coat hanging open, came from the
opposite bank towards the pavilion, avoiding the skaters. This was the mayor of the town,
a merchant, Eremeyev by name, a millionaire and an old inhabitant of N----. Flinging
wide his arms and shrugging at the cold, he skipped along, knocking one golosh against
the other, evidently in haste to get out of the wind. Half-way he suddenly bent down,