The Snowstorm
by Leo Tolstoy

VII

‘We’re ready, your honour!’ shouted Alyoshka from the front sledge.

The storm was so violent that, though I bent almost in two and clutched the skirts of my cloak with both hands, I was hardly able to walk over the drifting snow which the wind swept from under my feet, or even take the few steps that separated me from the sledge. My former driver was already kneeling in the middle of his empty sledge, but when he saw me going he took off his big cap (whereupon the wind lifted his hair furiously) and asked for a tip. Evidently he did not expect me to give him one, for my refusal did not grieve him in the least. He thanked me anyway, put his cap on again, and said: ‘God keep you, sir …’ and jerking his reins and clicking his tongue, turned away from us. Then Ignat swayed his whole back and shouted to the horses, and the sound of the snow crunching under their hoofs, the cries, and the bells, replaced the howling of the wind which had been peculiarly noticeable while we stood still.

For a quarter of an hour after my transfer I kept awake and amused myself watching my new driver and his horses. Ignat sat like a mettlesome fellow, continually rising in his seat, flourishing over the horses the arm from which his whip was hung, shouting, beating one foot against the other, and bending forward to adjust the breeching of the shaft-horse, which kept slipping to the right. He was not tall, but seemed to be well built. Over his sheepskin he wore a large, loose cloak without a belt, the collar of which was turned down so that his neck was bare. He wore not felt but leather boots, and a small cap which he kept taking off and putting straight. His ears were only protected by his hair. In all his movements one was aware not only of energy, but even more, as it seemed to me, of a desire to arouse that energy in himself. And the further we went the more often he straightened himself out, rose in his seat, beat his feet together, and addressed himself to Alyoshka and me. It seemed to me that he was afraid of losing courage. And there was good reason for it: though the horses were good the road grew more and more difficult at every step, and it was plain that they were running less willingly: it was already necessary to touch them up with the whip, and the shaft-horse, a good, big, shaggy animal, stumbled more than once, though immediately, as if frightened, it jerked forward again and tossed its shaggy head almost as high as the bell hanging from the bow above it. The right-side horse, which I could not help watching, with a long leather tassel to its breeching which shook and jerked on its off side, noticeably let its traces slacken and required the whip, but from habit as a good and even mettlesome horse seemed vexed at its own weakness, and angrily lowered and tossed its head at the reins. It was terrible to realize that the snow storm and the frost were increasing, the horses growing weaker, the road becoming worse, and that we did not at all know where we were, or where we were going, or whether we should reach a station or even a shelter of any sort; it seemed strange and ridiculous to hear the bells ringing so easily and cheerfully, and Ignat shouting as lustily and pleasantly as if we were out for a drive along a village street on a frosty noon during a Twelfth Night holiday, but it was stranger still that we were always driving and driving fast somewhere from where we were. Ignat began to sing some song in a horrid falsetto, but so loud and with such intervals, during which he whistled, that it seemed strange to be afraid while one heard him.

‘Hey there, what are you splitting your throat for, Ignat?’ came the advice-giver’s voice. ‘Stop a minute!’

‘What?’

‘Sto-o-op!’

Ignat stopped. Again all became silent, and the wind howled and whined, and the whirling snow fell still more thickly into the sledge. The advice-giver came up to us.

‘Well, what now?’

‘What now? Where are we going?’

‘Who can tell?’

‘Are your feet freezing, that you knock them together so?’

‘Quite numb!’

‘You should go over there: look, where there’s something glimmering. It must be a Kalmyk camp. It would warm your feet too.’

‘All right. Hold the reins … here you are.’

And Ignat ran in the direction indicated.

‘You always have to go about a bit and look, then you find the way, or else what’s the good of driving about like a fool?’ the advice-giver said to me. ‘See how the horses are steaming.’

All the time Ignat was gone—and that lasted so long that I even began to fear he might have lost his way—the advice-giver kept telling me in a self-confident and calm tone how one should behave in a snow storm, that it was best to unharness a horse and let it go, and, as God is holy, it would be sure to lead one out, and how it is sometimes possible to find the way by the stars, and that had he been driving in front we should long ago have reached the station.

‘Well, is there anything?’ he asked Ignat when the latter came back, stepping with difficulty through the knee-deep snow.

‘There is, there is a camp of some sort,’ replied Ignat, gasping for breath, ‘but I can’t tell what it is. We must have strayed right into the Prologov estate. We must bear off to the left.’

‘What’s he jabbering about? It’s our camp that’s behind the Cossack village,’ rejoined the advice-giver.

‘I tell you it’s not!’

‘Well, I’ve had a look too, and I know: that’s what it is, and if it isn’t, then it’s Tamyshevsk. Anyhow we must bear to the right, and then we’ll come right out to the big bridge at the eighth verst.’

‘I tell you it’s nothing of the sort. Haven’t I looked?’ said Ignat with annoyance.

‘Yah, brother, and you call yourself a driver!’

‘Yes, a driver! … Go and look for yourself.’

‘Why should I go? I know without going.’

Ignat had evidently grown angry: he jumped into the sledge without replying and drove on.

‘How numb my legs have got! I can’t warm them up,’ he said to Alyoshka, knocking his feet together oftener and oftener, and scooping up and emptying out the snow that had got into his boot-legs.

I felt dreadfully sleepy.

 

 

VIII

‘Can it be that I am freezing to death?’ I thought, half asleep. ‘They say it always begins with drowsiness. It would be better to drown than to freeze, let them drag me out with a net; but it does not matter much whether I freeze or drown if only that stick, or whatever it is, would not prod me in the back and I could forget myself!’

I did so for a few seconds.

‘But how will all this end?’ I suddenly asked myself, opening my eyes for a moment and peering into the white expanse before me. ‘How will it all end? If we don’t find any haystacks and the horses stop, as they seem likely to do soon, we shall all freeze to death.’ I confess that, though I was a little afraid, the desire that something extraordinary, something rather tragic, should happen to us, was stronger in me than that fear. It seemed to me that it would not be bad if towards morning the horses brought us of their own accord, half-frozen, to some far-off unknown village, or if some of us were even to perish of the cold. Fancies of this kind presented themselves to me with extraordinary clearness and rapidity. The horses stop, the snow drifts higher and higher, and now nothing is seen of the horses but their ears and the bows above their heads, but suddenly Ignat appears above us with his troika, and drives past. We entreat him, we shout that he should take us, but the wind carries our voices away and we have no voices left. Ignat grins, shouts to his horses, whistles, and disappears into some deep, snow-covered ravine. The little old man jumps astride a horse, flourishes his elbows and tries to gallop away, but cannot stir from the spot; my former driver with the big cap rushes at him, drags him to the ground and tramples him into the snow. ‘You’re a wizard!’ he shouts. ‘You’re a scolder! We shall all be lost together!’ But the old man breaks through the heap of snow with his head; and now he is not so much an old man as a hare, and leaps away from us. All the dogs bound after him. The advice-giver, who is Fyodor Filippych, tells us all to sit round in a circle, that if the snow covers us it will be all right, we shall be warm that way. And really we are warm and cosy, only I want a drink. I fetch out my lunch-basket, and treat everybody to rum and sugar, and enjoy a drink myself. The storyteller spins a tale about a rainbow, and now there is a ceiling of snow and a rainbow above us. ‘Now let us each make himself a room in the snow and let us go to sleep!’ I say. The snow is soft and warm, like fur. I make myself a room and want to enter it, but Fyodor Filippych, who has seen the money in my lunch-basket, says: ‘Stop! Give me your money, you have to die anyway!’ And he grabs me by the leg. I hand over the money and only ask him to let me go; but they won’t believe it is all the money I have and want to kill me. I seize the old man’s hand and begin to kiss it with inexpressible pleasure: his hand is tender and sweet. At first he snatches it from me, but afterwards lets me have it, and even caresses me with his other hand. Then Fyodor Filippych comes near and threatens me. I run away into my room: it is, however, no longer a room but a long white corridor, and someone is holding my legs. I wrench myself free. My clothes and part of my skin remain in the hands of the man who was holding me, but I only feel cold and ashamed, all the more ashamed because my aunt with her parasol and homoeopathic medicine-chest under her arm is coming towards me arm in arm with the drowned man. They are laughing and do not understand the signs I make to them. I throw myself into the sledge, my feet trail behind me in the snow, but the old man rushes after me flapping his elbows. He is already near, but I hear two church bells ringing in front of me, and know that I shall be saved when I get to them. The church bells sound nearer and nearer; but the little old man has caught up with me and falls with his stomach on my face, so that I can scarcely hear the bells. I again grasp his hand and begin to kiss it, but the little old man is no longer the little old man, he is the man who was drowned … and he shouts: ‘Ignat, stop! There are the Akhmetkins’ stacks, I think! Go and have a look at them!’ This is too terrible. No, I had better wake up.

I open my eyes. The wind has thrown the flap of Alyoshka’s cloak over my face, my knee is uncovered, we are going over the bare frozen road, and the bells with their quivering third can be distinctly heard.

I look to see the haystacks, but now that my eyes are open I see no stacks, but a house with a balcony and the crenellated wall of a fortress. I am not interested enough to scrutinize this house and fortress: I am chiefly anxious to see the white corridor along which I ran, to hear the sound of the church bells, and to kiss the little old man’s hand. I close my eyes again and fall asleep.

 

 

IX

I slept soundly, but heard the ringing of the bells all the time. They appeared to me in my dream now in the guise of a dog that barked and attacked me, now of an organ in which I was one of the pipes, and now of some French verses I was composing. Sometimes those bells seemed to be an instrument of torture which kept squeezing my right heel. I felt that so strongly that I woke up and opened my eyes, rubbing my foot. It was getting frost-bitten. The night was still light, misty, and white. The same motion was still shaking me and the sledge; the same Ignat sat sideways, knocking his feet together; the same side-horse with outstretched neck ran at a trot over the deep snow without lifting its feet much, while the tassel on the breeching bobbed and flapped against its belly. The head of the shaft-horse with its flying mane stooped and rose rhythmically as it alternately drew the reins tight and loosened them. But all this was covered with snow even more than before. The snow whirled about in front, at the side it covered the horses’ legs knee-deep, and the runners of the sledge, while it fell from above on our collars and caps. The wind blew now from the right, now from the left, playing with Ignat’s collar, the skirt of his cloak, the mane of the side-horse, and howling between the shafts and above the bow over the shaft-horse’s head.

It was growing terribly cold, and hardly had I stuck my head out of my coat collar before the frosty, crisp, whirling snow covered my eyelashes, got into my nose and mouth, and penetrated behind my neck. When I looked round, everything was white, light, and snowy, there was nothing to be seen but the dull light and the snow. I became really terrified. Alyoshka was asleep at my feet at the bottom of the sledge, his whole back covered by a thick layer of snow. Ignat did not lose courage: he kept pulling at the reins, shouting, and clapping his feet together. The bell went on ringing just as wonderfully. The horses snorted a little, but ran more slowly and stumbled more and more often. Ignat again leaped up, waved his mitten, and again began singing in his strained falsetto. Before finishing the song he stopped the troika, threw down the reins on the front of the sledge, and got out. The wind howled furiously; the snow poured on the skirts of our cloaks as out of a scoop. I turned round: the third troika was not to be seen (it had lagged behind somewhere). Near the second sledge, in the snowy mist, I saw the little old man jumping from foot to foot. Ignat went some three steps from the sledge, and sitting down in the snow undid his belt and pulled off his boots.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked.

‘I must change, or my feet will be quite frozen,’ he replied, and went on with what he was doing.

It was too cold to keep my neck out of my collar to watch what he was doing. I sat up straight, looking at the side-horse, which with one leg wearily stretched out, painfully whisked its tail that was tied in a knot and covered with snow. The thump Ignat gave the sledge as he jumped onto his seat roused me.

‘Where are we now?’ I asked. ‘Shall we get anywhere, say by daybreak?’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll get you there,’ he replied. ‘Now that I have changed, my feet are much warmer.’

And he drove on, the bell began to ring, the sledged swayed again, and the wind whistled under the runners. We again started to swim over the limitless sea of snow.

 

 

X

I fell soundly asleep. When Alyoshka woke me up by pushing me with his foot, and I opened my eyes, it was already morning. It seemed even colder than in the night. No more snow was falling from above, but a stiff dry wind continued to sweep the powdery snow across the plain, and especially under the hoofs of the horses and the runners of the sledge. In the east, to our right, the sky was heavy and of a dark bluish colour, but bright orange oblique streaks were growing more and more defined in it. Overhead, through flying white clouds as yet scarcely tinged, gleamed the pale blue of the sky; on the left, bright, light clouds were drifting. Everywhere, as far as eye could see, deep snow lay over the plain in sharply defined layers. Here and there could be seen greyish mounds, over which fine, crisp, powdery snow swept steadily. No track either of sledge, man, or beast could be seen. The outlines and colour of the driver’s back and of the horses were clearly and sharply visible even on the white background. The rim of Ignat’s dark-blue cap, his collar, his hair, and even his boots were white. The sledge was completely covered with snow. The right side and forelock of the grey shaft-horse were thick with snow, the legs of the horse on my side were covered with it up to the knee, and its curly sweating flank was covered and frozen to a rough surface. The tassel still bobbed up and down in tune to any rhythm you liked to imagine, and the side-horse itself kept running in the same way, only the sunken, heaving belly and drooping ears showing how exhausted it was. The one novel object that attracted my attention was a verst-post from which the snow was falling to the ground, and near which to the right the snow was swept into a mound by the wind, which still kept raging and throwing the crisp snow from side to side. I was very much surprised that we had travelled all night, twelve hours, with the same horses, without knowing where, and had arrived after all. Our bell seemed to tinkle yet more cheerfully. Ignat kept wrapping his cloak around him and shouting; the horses behind us snorted, and the bells of the little old man’s and the advice-giver’s troika tinkled, but the driver who had been asleep had certainly strayed from us in the steppe. After going another half-mile we came across the fresh, only partly obliterated, traces of a three-horsed sledge, and here and there pink spots of blood, probably from a horse that had overreached itself.

‘That’s Filipp. Fancy his being ahead of us!’ said Ignat.

But here by the roadside a lonely little house with a signboard was seen in the midst of the snow, which covered it almost to the top of the windows and to the roof. Near the inn stood a troika of grey horses, their coats curly with sweat, their legs outstretched and their heads drooping wearily. At the door there was a shovel and the snow had been cleared away, but the howling wind continued to sweep and whirl snow off the roof.

At the sound of our bells, a tall, ruddy-faced, red-haired peasant came out with a glass of vodka in his hand, and shouted something. Ignat turned to me and asked permission to stop. Then for the first time I saw his mug.

 

 

XI

His face was not swarthy and lean with a straight nose, as I had expected judging by his hair and figure. It was a round, jolly, very snub-nosed mug, with a large mouth and bright light-blue eyes. His cheeks and neck were red, as if rubbed with flannel; his eyebrows, his long eyelashes, and the down that smoothly covered the bottom of his face, were plastered with snow and were quite white. We were only half a mile from our station and we stopped.

‘Only be quick about it!’ I said.

‘Just one moment,’ replied Ignat, springing down and walking over to Filipp.

‘Let’s have it, brother,’ he said, taking the mitten from his right hand and throwing it down with his whip on the snow, and tossing back his head he emptied at a gulp the glass that was handed to him.

The innkeeper, probably a discharged Cossack, came out with a half-bottle in his hand.

‘Who shall I serve?’ said he.

Tall Vasily, a thin, brown-haired peasant, with a goatee beard, and the advice-giver, a stout, light-haired man with a thick beard framing his red face, came forward and also drank a glass each. The little old man too went over to the drinkers, but was not served, and he went back to his horses, which were fastened behind the sledge, and began stroking one of them on the back and croup.

The little old man’s appearance was just what I had imagined it to be: small, thin, with a wrinkled livid face, a scanty beard, sharp little nose, and worn yellow teeth. He had a new driver’s cap on, but his coat was shabby, worn, smeared with tar, torn on one shoulder, had holes in the skirt, and did not cover his knees, or the homespun trousers which were tucked into his huge felt boots. He himself was bent over, puckered up, his face and knees trembled, and he tramped about near the sledge evidently trying to get warm.

‘Come, Mitrich, you should have a glass; you’d warm right up,’ said the advice-giver.

Mitrich’s face twitched. He adjusted the harness of one of his horses, straightened the bow above its head, and came over to me.

‘Well, sir,’ he said, taking the cap off his grey head and bending low, ‘we have been wandering about together all night, looking for the road: won’t you give me enough for a small glass? Really sir, your honour! I haven’t anything to get warm on,’ he added with an ingratiating smile.

I gave him a quarter-rouble. The innkeeper brought out a small glass and handed it to the old man. He took off his mitten, together with the whip that hung on it, and put out his small, dark, rough, and rather livid hand towards the glass; but his thumb refused to obey him, as though it did not belong to him. He was unable to hold the glass and dropped it on the snow, spilling the wine.

All the drivers burst out laughing.

‘See how frozen Mitrich is, he can’t even hold the wine.’

But Mitrich was greatly grieved at having spilt the wine.

However, they filled another glass for him and poured it into his mouth. He became cheerful in a moment, ran into the inn, lit his pipe, showed his worn yellow teeth, and began to swear with every word he spoke. Having drained the last glass, the drivers returned to their troikas and we started again.

The snow kept growing whiter and brighter so that it hurt one’s eyes to look at it. The orange-tinted reddish streaks rose higher and higher, and growing brighter and brighter spread upwards over the sky; even the red disc of the sun became visible on the horizon through the blue-grey clouds; the sky grew more brilliant and of a deeper blue. On the road near the settlement the sledge tracks were clear, distinct, and yellowish, and here and there we were jolted by pot-holes in the road; one could feel a pleasant lightness and freshness in the tense, frosty air.

My troika went very fast. The head of the shaft-horse, and its neck with its mane fluttering around the bow, swayed swiftly from side to side almost in one place under the special bell, the tongue of which no longer struck the sides but scraped against them. The good side-horses tugged together at the frozen and twisted braces, and sprang energetically, while the tassel bobbed from right under the horse’s belly to the breeching. Now and then a side-horse would stumble from the beaten track into the snowdrift, throwing up the snow into our eyes as it briskly got out again. Ignat shouted in his merry tenor; the dry frosty snow squeaked under the runners; behind us two little bells were ringing resonantly and festively, and I could hear the tipsy shouting of the drivers. I looked back. The grey shaggy side-horses, with their necks outstretched and breathing evenly, their bits awry, were leaping over the snow. Filipp, flourishing his whip, was adjusting his cap; the little old man, with his legs hanging out, lay in the middle of the sledge as before.

Two minutes later my sledge scraped over the boards before the clean-swept entrance of the station house, and Ignat turned to me his snow-covered merry face, smelling of frost.

‘We’ve got you here after all, sir!’ he said.