Brekhunov has a passion to acquire a grove of oak trees in the nearby village of Gorachkin. He fears that unless he gets there as soon as possible, someone else will buy it before he can. The enterprising Brekhunov intends to have the trees cut down to make into sledge-runners; the leftovers will be sold for firewood. From this deal, he hopes to realize a tidy profit. He figures that the grove of trees is worth more than twenty thousand rubles. The owner is asking only ten thousand but will probably take seven thousand, with three thousand on account. Brekhunov will use seven hundred rubles of his own money for the down payment and make up the rest with some church money that he has in his safekeeping. Brekhunov is a church elder.
It is winter and the ground is covered with snow. It is now past two o’clock in the afternoon, and the day is “windy, dull, and cold,” and twenty degrees below zero. Nevertheless, Brekhunov orders his horse and sledge made ready for the trip. His motto in business is, “Lose an hour and you can’t catch it up in a year.” His wife is apprehensive about his leaving, especially alone, and gets him to take his willing servant, Nikita, with him just in case.
The two men set off together. The going is fairly easy at first, despite the snow-covered roads. However, soon the wind becomes much stronger than either has anticipated, and the blowing snow diminishes visibility. The sledge comes to a fork in the road. Although both turnings go toward their destination, one road, the longer of the two, is better traveled and marked with a double row of high stakes. Brekhunov asks Nikita which fork they should choose, but the question is rhetorical, as he has already made up his mind to take the straighter, not-so-well-marked route. Brekhunov wants to get to Gorachkin as soon as possible, despite the risk.
After they have been jogging along for about ten minutes, however, it becomes obvious that the sledge has strayed off the road. They halt, and Nikita gets off to look around. The snow is still not too deep, except in certain places, but the wind is as fierce as before. It has now begun to snow, and the horse is becoming exhausted. After a prolonged search, the horse manages to stumble back on a road, but on a road that leads to another village, one off to the left of their original direction. They enter the town, and Brekhunov asks directions. However, no sooner is the sledge headed toward Gorachkin than they become lost again. Nikita again makes an effort to set things right, but the road is not easy to find, being completely covered with a snow that even hides the marker stakes. It is now getting dark, and the wind is blowing in their faces. They let the horse try to find the way. Some time passes, but the animal does manage to come onto a roadway again. This leads to Grishkino, the same village that they have recently left. They have been traveling in circles.
Brekhunov stops to get his bearings in front of a large, brick-fronted house, and the owner invites him to stay the night. Brekhunov insists that he must go on. “It’s business and can’t be helped,” he explains. He agrees to come inside to warm up, and he and Nikita are served food and tea and vodka. Nikita, a onetime heavy drinker, refuses the vodka. Brekhunov tells his host how they have twice lost their way but says that he is confident that things will now go well, if he can have someone see them as far as the turning.
They get started again, but by now the weather is worse than before: “The wind was so strong that when it blew from the side and the travelers steered against it, it tilted the sledges and turned the horses to one side.” They are taken to the intersection leading to Grishkino and bid their host farewell. It becomes more and more difficult to keep to the road, and they are soon lost for a third time. As they plough through the drifts, trying to find the right direction, the horse plunges down an incline into the bottom of...
(The entire section is 1,244 words.)