The Snowstorm
by Leo Tolstoy


Towards seven o’clock in the evening, after having drunk my tea, I left a station, the name of which I do not remember, though I do remember it was somewhere in the district of the Don Cossack Army near Novocherkassk.* It was already dark when, having wrapped myself in my fur coat and blanket, I took my seat beside Alyoshka in the sledge. Beyond the post-station it seemed mild and calm. Though no snow was falling, not a star was visible overhead and the sky looked extremely low and black, in contrast to the pure snowy plain spread out before us.

We had hardly passed the dark shapes of the windmills, one of which was clumsily turning its large vanes, and left the settlement behind us, when I noticed that the road had become deeper in snow and more difficult to pass, that the wind began blowing more fiercely on the left, tossing the horses’ tails and manes sideways, and that it kept carrying away the snow stirred up by the hoofs and sledgerunners. The sound of the bell began to die down, and through some opening in my sleeve a stream of cold air forced its way behind my back, and I recalled the stationmaster’s advice, not to start for fear of going astray all night and being frozen on the road.

‘Might we not lose our way?’ I said to the driver, and not receiving an answer I put my question more definitely: ‘I say, driver, do you think we shall reach the next station without losing our way?’

‘God only knows,’ he answered without turning his head. ‘Just see how the snow is drifting along the ground! The road can’t be seen at all. O Lord!’

‘Yes, but you’d better tell me whether you expect to get me to the next station or not?’ I insisted. ‘Will we get there?’

‘We ought to manage it,’ said the driver, and went on to add something the wind prevented my hearing.

I did not feel inclined to turn back, but the idea of straying about all night in the frost and snow storm on the perfectly bare steppe which made up that part of the Don Army district was also far from pleasant. Moreover, though I could not see my driver very well in the dark, I did not much like the look of him and he did not inspire me with confidence. He sat exactly in the middle of his seat with his legs in, instead of to one side; he was too big, he spoke lazily, his cap, not like those usually worn by drivers, was too big and flopped from side to side; besides, he did not urge the horses on properly, but held the reins in both hands, like a footman who had taken the coachman’s place on the box. But my chief reason for not believing in him was because he had a kerchief tied over his ears. In a word he did not please me, and his solemn, stooping back looming in front of me seemed to bode no good.

‘In my opinion we’d better turn back,’ remarked Alyoshka. ‘There’s no sense in getting lost!’

‘O Lord! Just look how the snow is blowing, the road can’t be seen at all, my eyes are all stuck with snow … O Lord!’ muttered the driver.

We had not been going a quarter of an hour before the driver handed the reins to Alyoshka, clumsily freed his legs, and went off to look for the track, making the snow crunch with his big boots.

‘What is it? Where are you going? Are we off the road?’ I asked. But the driver did not answer and, turning his face away from the wind which was beating into his eyes, he walked away from the sledge.

‘Well, is the road there?’ I asked when he returned.

‘No, there’s nothing,’ he answered with sudden impatience and irritation, as if I were to blame that he had strayed off the track, and having slowly thrust his big legs again into the front of the sledge he began arranging the reins with his frozen gloves.

‘What are we to do?’ I asked when we had started again.

‘What are we to do? We’ll drive where God sends us.’

And we took off at the same slow trot, though quite evidently not following a road, now through dry snow five inches deep, and now over brittle crusts of frozen snow.

Though it was cold, the snow on my fur collar melted very quickly; the drift along the ground grew worse and worse, and a few dry flakes began to fall from above.

It was plain that we were going heaven knows where, for having driven for another quarter of an hour we had not seen a single verst-post.*

‘Well, what do you think?’ I asked the driver again. ‘Will we get to the station?’

‘Which station? We will get back, if we give the horses the lead they will take us there. But hardly to the next station—we would just perish,’

‘Well then, let us just go back,’ I said.

‘Then I am to turn back?’ said the driver.

‘Yes, yes, turn back!’

The driver gave the horses the reins. They began to run faster, and though I did not notice that we were turning, I felt the wind blowing from a different quarter, and we soon saw the windmills appearing through the snow. The driver cheered up and began to talk.

‘The other day the return sledges from the other station spent the whole night in a snow storm among haystacks and did not get in till the morning. Lucky that they got among those stacks, else they’d have all been frozen, it was so cold. As it is, one of them had his feet frozen, and was at death’s door for three weeks with them.’

‘But it’s not cold now, and it seems calmer,’ I said, ‘we might perhaps go on?’

‘It’s warm enough, that’s true, but the snow is drifting. Now that we have it at our back it seems easier, but the snow is driving strongly. I might go if it were on courier-duty or something of the kind, on my own. But it’s no joke if a passenger gets frozen. How am I to answer for your honour afterwards?’




Just then we heard behind us the bells of several troikas* which were rapidly overtaking us.

‘It’s the courier’s bell,’ said my driver. ‘There’s no other like it in the district.’

And in fact the bell of the front troika, the sound of which was already clearly borne to us by the wind, was exceedingly fine: clear, sonorous, deep, and slightly quivering. As I learnt afterwards it was a connoisseur’s bell. It had three bells—a large one in the middle with what is called a crimson tone, and two small ones tuned to a third. The ringing of that third and of the quivering fifth echoing in the air was extraordinarily effective and strangely beautiful in that silent and deserted steppe.

‘The post is running,’ said my driver, when the first of the three troikas overtook us. ‘How is the road? Is it usable?’ he called out to the driver of the last sledge, but the man only shouted at his horses and did not reply.

The sound of the bells was quickly lost in the wind as soon as the post sledges had passed us.

I suppose my driver felt ashamed.

‘Well, let us try it again, sir!’ he said to me. ‘Others have made their way through and their tracks will be fresh.’

I agreed, and we turned again, facing the wind and struggling forward through the deep snow. I kept my eyes on the side of the road so as not to lose the track left by the troikas. For some two versts the track was plainly visible, then only a slight unevenness where the runners had gone, and soon I was quite unable to tell whether it was a track or only a layer of driven snow. My eyes were dimmed by looking at the snow monotonously receding under the runners, and I began to look straight ahead. We saw the third verst-post, but were quite unable to find a fourth. As before we drove against the wind, and with the wind, and to the right and to the left, and at last we came to such a pass that the driver said we must have turned off to the right, I said we had gone to the left, and Alyoshka was sure we had turned right back. Again we stopped several times and the driver disengaged his big feet and climbed out to look for the road, but all in vain. I too once went to see whether something I caught a glimpse of might not be the road, but hardly had I taken some six steps with difficulty against the wind before I became convinced that the same monotonous white layers of snow lay everywhere, and that I had seen the road only in my imagination. When I could no longer see in the sledge I cried out: ‘Driver! Alyoshka!’ but I felt how the wind caught my voice straight from my mouth and bore it instantly somewhere away from me. I set off to where the sledge had been—but it was not there; I set off to the right, it was not there either. I am ashamed to remember in what a loud, piercing, and even rather despairing voice I again shouted ‘Driver!’ and there he was within two steps of me. His black figure with the little whip and enormous cap pushed to one side, suddenly loomed up before me. He led me to the sledge.

‘Thank the Lord, it’s still warm,’ he said, ‘if the frost were to get us it would be terrible … O Lord!’

‘Give the horses the lead: let them take us back,’ I said, having seated myself in the sledge. ‘They will take us back, driver, eh?’

‘They ought to.’

He let go of the reins, struck the harness-pad of the middle horse with the whip, and we again took off for somewhere. We had travelled on for about half an hour when suddenly ahead of us we recognized the connoisseur’s bell and the other two, but this time they were coming towards us. There were the same three troikas, which having delivered the mail were now returning to the station with relay horses attached. The courier’s troika with its big horses and musical bells ran quickly in front, with one driver on the driver’s seat shouting vigorously. Two drivers were sitting in the middle of each of the empty sledges that followed, and one could hear their loud and merry voices. One of them was smoking a pipe, and the spark that flared up in the wind showed part of his face.

Looking at them I felt ashamed that I had been afraid to go on, and my driver probably shared the same feeling, for we both said at once: ‘Let’s follow them!’




Before the third troika had passed, my driver began turning so clumsily that his shafts hit the horses attached behind it. The three houses shied, broke their strap, and galloped aside.

‘You cross-eyed devil! Can’t you see when you’re turning into someone, you devil?’ one of the drivers began to curse in hoarse, quivering tones. The short old man, who was, as far as I could judge by his voice and figure, seated in the last sledge, quickly jumped out of the sledge and ran after the horses, still continuing his coarse and harsh abuse of my driver.

But the horses did not stop. The driver followed them, and in a moment both he and they were lost in the white mist of driving snow.

‘Vasi-i-ly! Get the dun horse! I can’t catch them without it,’ his voice shouted.

One of the other drivers, a very tall man, got out of his sledge, silently unfastened his three horses, climbed on one of them by its breeching, and disappeared at a clumsy gallop in the direction of the first driver.

Though there was no road, and the other two troikas started off, following the courier’s troika, which with its bell ringing went along at full trot.

‘Catch them! Not likely!’ said my driver of the one who had run after the horses. ‘If a horse won’t come to other horses, that shows it’s bewitched and will take you somewhere you’ll never return from.’

From the time he began following the others my driver seemed more cheerful and talkative, a fact of which I naturally took advantage, as I did not yet feel sleepy. I began asking where he came from, and why, and who he was, and it turned out that like myself he was from Tula province, a serf from Kirpichnoe village, where they were short of land and had had bad harvests since the cholera year. He was one of two brothers in the family, the third having gone as a soldier, and still they had not enough grain to last till Christmas and had to live on outside earnings. His youngest brother was head of the house, being married, while he himself was a widower. An artel* of drivers came from their village to these parts every year. Though he had not driven before, he had taken the job to help his brother, and lived, thank God, quite well, earning a hundred and twenty roubles a year, of which he sent a hundred home to the family; and that life would be quite good ‘if only the couriers were not such beasts, and the people hereabouts not so abusive’.

‘Now why did that driver scold me so? O Lord! Did I set his horses loose on purpose? Do I mean harm to anybody? And why did he go galloping after them? They’d have come back of themselves, and now he’ll only tire out the horses and get lost himself,’ said the God-fearing peasant.

‘And what is that black thing there?’ I asked, noticing several black objects in front of us.

‘Why, a train of carts. That’s pleasant driving!’ he went on, when we had come abreast of the huge mat-covered wagons on wheels, following one another. ‘Look, you can’t see a single soul—they’re all asleep. A wise horse knows by itself … you can’t make it miss the way anyhow … We’ve driven that way on contract work ourselves,’ he added, ‘so we know.’

It really was strange to see those huge wagons covered with snow from their matted tops to their very wheels, and moving along all alone. Only in the front corner of the wagon did the matting, covered two inches thick with snow, lift a bit and a cap appear for a moment from under it as our bells tinkled past. The large piebald horse, stretching its neck and straining its back, went evenly along the completely snow-hidden road, monotonously shaking its shaggy head under the whitened harness-bow, and pricking one snow-covered ear when we overtook it.

When we had gone on for another half-hour the driver again turned to me.

‘What d’you think, sir, are we going right?’

‘I don’t know,’ I answered.

‘At first there was wind, but now we are going right under it. No, we are not going where we ought, we are going astray again,’ he said quite calmly.

You could see that, though he was inclined to be a coward, yet ‘even death itself is pleasant in company’ as the saying goes, and he had become quite tranquil now that there were several of us and he no longer had to lead and be responsible. He made remarks on the blunders of the driver in front with the greatest coolness, as if it were none of his business. And in fact I noticed that we sometimes saw the front troika on the left and sometimes on the right; it even seemed to me that we were going round in a very small circle. However, that might be an optical illusion, like the impression that the leading troika was sometimes going uphill, and then along a slope, or downhill, whereas I knew that the steppe was perfectly level.

After we had gone on again for some time, I saw a long way off, on the very horizon as it seemed to me, a long, black, moving stripe; and a moment later it became clear that it was the same train of wagons we had passed before. The snow was still covering their creaking wheels, some of which did not even turn any longer, the men were still asleep as before under the matting, and the piebald horse in front blew out its nostrils as before, sniffed at the road, and pricked its ears.

‘There, we’ve turned and turned and come back to the same wagons!’ exclaimed my driver in a dissatisfied voice. ‘The courier’s horses are good ones, that’s why he’s driving them so recklessly, but ours will stop altogether if we go on like this all night.’

He cleared his throat.

‘Let us turn back, sir, before we get into trouble!’

‘No! Why? We shall get somewhere.’

‘Where shall we get to? We shall spend the night in the steppe. See how it is blowing! … O Lord!’

Though I was surprised that the driver of the front troika, having evidently lost the road and the direction, went on at a fast trot without looking for the road, and cheerfully shouting, I did not want to lag behind them.

‘Follow them!’ I said.

My driver obeyed, whipping up his horses more reluctantly than before, and did not turn to talk to me any more.




The storm grew more and more violent, and the snow fell dry and fine. I thought it was beginning to freeze: my cheeks and nose felt colder than before, and streams of cold air made their way more frequently under my fur coat, so that I had to wrap it closer around me. Sometimes the sledge bumped on the bare ice-glazed ground from which the wind had swept the snow. As I had already travelled more than five hundred versts without stopping anywhere for the night, I involuntarily kept closing my eyes and dozing off, although I was much interested to know how our wandering would end. Once when I opened my eyes I was struck for a moment by what seemed to me a bright light falling on the white plain; the horizon had widened considerably, the low black sky had suddenly vanished, and on all sides slanting white streaks of falling snow could be seen. The outlines of the front troikas were more distinct, and as I looked up it seemed for a minute as though the clouds had dispersed, and that only the falling snow veiled the sky. While I was dozing the moon had risen and was casting its cold bright light through the tenuous clouds and the falling snow. The only things I saw clearly were my sledge, the horses, my driver, and the three troikas in front of us: the courier’s sledge in which a driver still sat, as before, driving at a fast trot; the second, in which two drivers having laid down the reins and made a shelter for themselves out of a coat sat smoking their pipes all the time, as could be seen by the sparks that flew from them; and the third in which no one was visible, as probably the driver was lying asleep in the body of the sledge. The driver of the first troika, however, at the time I awoke, occasionally stopped his horses and sought for the road. As soon as we stopped the howling of the wind sounded louder and the vast quantity of snow borne through the air became more apparent. In the snow-shrouded moonlight I could see the driver’s short figure probing the snow in front of him with the handle of his whip, moving backwards and forwards in the white dimness, again returning to his sledge and jumping sideways onto his seat, and again amid the monotonous whistling of the wind I heard his dexterous, resonant cries urging on the horses, and the ringing of the bells. Whenever the driver of the front troika got out to search for some sign of a road or haystacks, there came from the second troika the bold, self-confident voice of one of the drivers shouting to him:

‘Hey, Ignashka, you’ve gone quite to the left! Bear to the right, facing the wind!’ Or: ‘What are you twisting about for, quite uselessly? Follow the snow, see how the drifts lie, and we’ll come out just right.’ Or: ‘Take to the right, to the right, mate! See, there’s something black—it must be a post.’ Or: ‘What are you straying about for? Unhitch the piebald and let him run in front, he’ll lead you right out onto the road. That would be better.’

But the man who was giving this advice not only did not unhitch one of his own side-horses or get out to look for the road, but did not show his nose from under his sheltering coat, and when Ignashka, the leader, shouted in reply to one of his counsels that he should take on the lead himself if he knew which way to go, the advice-giver replied that if he were driving the courier’s troika he would take the lead and take us right onto the road. ‘But our horses won’t take the lead in a snow storm!’ he shouted—‘they’re not that kind of horse!’

‘Then don’t bother me!’ Ignashka replied, whistling cheerfully to his horses.

The other driver in the second sledge did not speak to Ignashka at all, and in general took no part in the matter, though he was not asleep, as I concluded from his pipe being always alight, and because, whenever we stopped, I heard the even and continuous sound of his voice. He was telling a folk tale. Only once, when Ignashka stopped for the sixth or seventh time, he apparently grew vexed at being interrupted during the pleasure of his drive, and shouted to him:

‘Hey, why have you stopped again? Just look, he wants to find the road! He’s been told there’s a snow storm! Even that surveyor himself couldn’t find the road now. You should drive on as long as the horses will go, and then maybe we won’t freeze to death … Go on, now!’

‘I daresay! Didn’t a postilion freeze to death last year?’ my driver remarked.

The driver of the third sledge did not wake up all this time. Once when we had stopped the advice-giver shouted:

‘Filipp! Hey, Filipp!’ and receiving no reply remarked: ‘Has he frozen, perhaps? … Go and have a look, Ignashka.’

Ignashka, who found time for everything, walked up to the sledge and began to shake the sleeping man.

‘Just see what half a bottle of vodka has done! Talk about freezing!’ he said, shaking him.

The sleeper grunted something and cursed.

‘He’s alive, all right,’ said Ignashka, and ran forward again. We drove on, and so fast that the little sorrel on my side of the troika, which my driver continually touched with the whip near his tail, now and then broke into an awkward little gallop.