The Horse-Stealers by Anton Chekhov

The Horse-Stealers

And Other Stories

subjects: Short Stories

Description

Twenty-two lesser-known short stories from Anton Chekhov including; The Horse-Stealers, Ward No. 6, The Petchenyeg, A Dead Body, A Happy Ending, The Looking-Glass, Old Age, Darkness, The Beggar, A Story Without a Title, In Trouble, Frost, A Slander, Minds in Ferment, Gone Astray, An Avenger, The Jeune Premier, A Defenceless Creature, An Enigmatic Nature, A Happy Man, A Troublesome Visitor, An Actor’s End.

Excerpt

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.

“Let me in to get warm, granny,” said Yergunov. “I was driving to the hospital, and I have lost my way. It’s such weather, God preserve us. Don’t be afraid; we are your own people, granny.”

“All my own people are at home, and we didn’t invite strangers,” said the figure grimly. “And what are you knocking for? The gate is not locked.”

Yergunov drove into the yard and stopped at the steps.

“Bid your labourer take my horse out, granny,” said he.

“I am not granny.”

And indeed she was not a granny. While she was putting out the lantern the light fell on her face, and Yergunov saw black eyebrows, and recognized Lyubka.

“There are no labourers about now,” she said as she went into the house. “Some are drunk and asleep, and some have been gone to Ryepino since the morning. It’s a holiday….”

As he fastened his horse up in the shed, Yergunov heard a neigh, and distinguished in the darkness another horse, and felt on it a Cossack saddle. So there must be someone else in the house besides the woman and her daughter. For greater security Yergunov unsaddled his horse, and when he went into the house, took with him both his purchases and his saddle.

The first room into which he went was large and very hot, and smelt of freshly washed floors. A short, lean peasant of about forty, with a small, fair beard, wearing a dark blue shirt, was sitting at the table under the holy images. It was Kalashnikov, an arrant scoundrel and horse-stealer, whose father and uncle kept a tavern in Bogalyovka, and disposed of the stolen horses where they could. He too had been to the hospital more than once, not for medical treatment, but to see the doctor about horses–to ask whether he had not one for sale, and whether his honour would not like to swop his bay mare for a dun-coloured gelding. Now his head was pomaded and a silver ear-ring glittered in his ear, and altogether he had a holiday air. Frowning and dropping his lower lip, he was looking intently at a big dog’s-eared picture-book. Another peasant lay stretched on the floor near the stove; his head, his shoulders, and his chest were covered with a sheepskin–he was probably asleep; beside his new boots, with shining bits of metal on the heels, there were two dark pools of melted snow.