The Schoolmaster and Other Stories HTML version

Overdoing It
GLYEB GAVRILOVITCH SMIRNOV, a land surveyor, arrived at the station of
Gnilushki. He had another twenty or thirty miles to drive before he would reach the estate
which he had been summoned to survey. (If the driver were not drunk and the horses
were not bad, it would hardly be twenty miles, but if the driver had had a drop and his
steeds were worn out it would mount up to a good forty.)
"Tell me, please, where can I get post-horses here?" the surveyor asked of the station
"What? Post-horses? There's no finding a decent dog for seventy miles round, let alone
post-horses. . . . But where do you want to go?"
"To Dyevkino, General Hohotov's estate."
"Well," yawned the gendarme, "go outside the station, there are sometimes peasants in
the yard there, they will take passengers."
The surveyor heaved a sigh and made his way out of the station.
There, after prolonged enquiries, conversations, and hesitations, he found a very sturdy,
sullen-looking pock-marked peasant, wearing a tattered grey smock and bark-shoes.
"You have got a queer sort of cart!" said the surveyor, frowning as he clambered into the
cart. "There is no making out which is the back and which is the front."
"What is there to make out? Where the horse's tail is, there's the front, and where your
honour's sitting, there's the back."
The little mare was young, but thin, with legs planted wide apart and frayed ears. When
the driver stood up and lashed her with a whip made of cord, she merely shook her head;
when he swore at her and lashed her once more, the cart squeaked and shivered as though
in a fever. After the third lash the cart gave a lurch, after the fourth, it moved forward.
"Are we going to drive like this all the way?" asked the surveyor, violently jolted and
marvelling at the capacity of Russian drivers for combining a slow tortoise-like pace with
a jolting that turns the soul inside out.
"We shall ge-et there!" the peasant reassured him. "The mare is young and frisky. . . .
Only let her get running and then there is no stopping her. . . . No-ow, cur-sed brute!"
It was dusk by the time the cart drove out of the station. On the surveyor's right hand
stretched a dark frozen plain, endless and boundless. If you drove over it you would
certainly get to the other side of beyond. On the horizon, where it vanished and melted