In Leo Tolstoy’s story “Master and Man,” Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov is a well-to-do Russian landowner intent on outdoing his competitors. He has his eye on some land just a few miles from his estate. Despite the danger of a threatened winter storm, he tells his trusted servant Nikita to prepare the sledge, and they set out on a journey to a nearby town that should take only a few hours.
Vasili Andreevich is full of himself. He is greedy, and a cheat. He pays Nikita neither a fair wage nor what he has promised, though, ironically, he thinks of himself as Nikita’s benefactor. Nikita is a laborer and an alcoholic. Drink has led him to the brink, and his wife has left him. Despite this, he is the antithesis of his master, easygoing and caring and patient with all the knavery dealt him.
With vivid detail, Tolstoy describes how the pair get lost several times and are then stuck in the snow, forced to spend the night exposed to the elements. Vasili Andreevich, of course, takes the best place – in the sledge – while Nikita quietly huddles under a blanket in the snow.
Eventually, in desperation and panic, the master climbs onto his horse and rides away, leaving the man alone to die. Reckoning neither with himself nor with death, Vasili Andreevich rides blindly through the blizzard only to find himself back at the sledge where Nikita now lies freezing.
Believing he is going to die, Nikita asks tearfully that his master pay his family his remaining wages. Something suddenly comes over Vasili Andreevich.