The mummers (some of the house serfs) dressed up as bears, Turks,
innkeepers, and ladies–frightening and funny–bringing in with them the
cold from outside and a feeling of gaiety, crowded, at first timidly,
into the anteroom, then hiding behind one another they pushed into
the ballroom where, shyly at first and then more and more merrily and
heartily, they started singing, dancing, and playing Christmas games.
The countess, when she had identified them and laughed at their
costumes, went into the drawing room. The count sat in the ballroom,
smiling radiantly and applauding the players. The young people had
Half an hour later there appeared among the other mummers in the
ballroom an old lady in a hooped skirt–this was Nicholas. A Turkish
girl was Petya. A clown was Dimmler. An hussar was Natasha, and a
Circassian was Sonya with burnt-cork mustache and eyebrows.
After the condescending surprise, nonrecognition, and praise, from those
who were not themselves dressed up, the young people decided that their
costumes were so good that they ought to be shown elsewhere.
Nicholas, who, as the roads were in splendid condition, wanted to take
them all for a drive in his troyka, proposed to take with them about a
dozen of the serf mummers and drive to “Uncle’s.”
“No, why disturb the old fellow?” said the countess. “Besides, you
wouldn’t have room to turn round there. If you must go, go to the
Melyukova was a widow, who, with her family and their tutors and
governesses, lived three miles from the Rostovs.
“That’s right, my dear,” chimed in the old count, thoroughly aroused.
“I’ll dress up at once and go with them. I’ll make Pashette open her
But the countess would not agree to his going; he had had a bad leg all
these last days. It was decided that the count must not go, but that
if Louisa Ivanovna (Madame Schoss) would go with them, the young ladies
might go to the Melyukovs’, Sonya, generally so timid and shy, more
urgently than anyone begging Louisa Ivanovna not to refuse.
Sonya’s costume was the best of all. Her mustache and eyebrows were
extraordinarily becoming. Everyone told her she looked very handsome,
and she was in a spirited and energetic mood unusual with her. Some
inner voice told her that now or never her fate would be decided, and
in her male attire she seemed quite a different person. Louisa Ivanovna
consented to go, and in half an hour four troyka sleighs with large and
small bells, their runners squeaking and whistling over the frozen snow,
drove up to the porch.
Natasha was foremost in setting a merry holiday tone, which, passing
from one to another, grew stronger and reached its climax when they all
came out into the frost and got into the sleighs, talking, calling to
one another, laughing, and shouting.
Two of the troykas were the usual household sleighs, the third was
the old count’s with a trotter from the Orlov stud as shaft horse,
the fourth was Nicholas’ own with a short shaggy black shaft horse.
Nicholas, in his old lady’s dress over which he had belted his hussar
overcoat, stood in the middle of the sleigh, reins in hand.
It was so light that he could see the moonlight reflected from the metal
harness disks and from the eyes of the horses, who looked round in alarm
at the noisy party under the shadow of the porch roof.
Natasha, Sonya, Madame Schoss, and two maids got into Nicholas’ sleigh;
Dimmler, his wife, and Petya, into the old count’s, and the rest of the
mummers seated themselves in the other two sleighs.
“You go ahead, Zakhar!” shouted Nicholas to his father’s coachman,
wishing for a chance to race past him.
The old count’s troyka, with Dimmler and his party, started forward,
squeaking on its runners as though freezing to the snow, its deep-toned
bell clanging. The side horses, pressing against the shafts of the
middle horse, sank in the snow, which was dry and glittered like sugar,
and threw it up.
Nicholas set off, following the first sleigh; behind him the others
moved noisily, their runners squeaking. At first they drove at a steady
trot along the narrow road. While they drove past the garden the shadows
of the bare trees often fell across the road and hid the brilliant
moonlight, but as soon as they were past the fence, the snowy plain
bathed in moonlight and motionless spread out before them glittering
like diamonds and dappled with bluish shadows. Bang, bang! went the
first sleigh over a cradle hole in the snow of the road, and each of
the other sleighs jolted in the same way, and rudely breaking the
frost-bound stillness, the troykas began to speed along the road, one
after the other.
“A hare’s track, a lot of tracks!” rang out Natasha’s voice through the
“How light it is, Nicholas!” came Sonya’s voice.
Nicholas glanced round at Sonya, and bent down to see her face closer.
Quite a new, sweet face with black eyebrows and mustaches peeped up at
him from her sable furs–so close and yet so distant–in the moonlight.
“That used to be Sonya,” thought he, and looked at her closer and
“What is it, Nicholas?”
“Nothing,” said he and turned again to the horses.
When they came out onto the beaten highroad–polished by sleigh runners
and cut up by rough-shod hoofs, the marks of which were visible in the
moonlight–the horses began to tug at the reins of their own accord and
increased their pace. The near side horse, arching his head and breaking
into a short canter, tugged at his traces. The shaft horse swayed from
side to side, moving his ears as if asking: “Isn’t it time to begin
now?” In front, already far ahead the deep bell of the sleigh ringing
farther and farther off, the black horses driven by Zakhar could be
clearly seen against the white snow. From that sleigh one could hear the
shouts, laughter, and voices of the mummers.
“Gee up, my darlings!” shouted Nicholas, pulling the reins to one side
and flourishing the whip.
It was only by the keener wind that met them and the jerks given by the
side horses who pulled harder–ever increasing their gallop–that one
noticed how fast the troyka was flying. Nicholas looked back. With
screams squeals, and waving of whips that caused even the shaft horses
to gallop–the other sleighs followed. The shaft horse swung steadily
beneath the bow over its head, with no thought of slackening pace and
ready to put on speed when required.
Nicholas overtook the first sleigh. They were driving downhill and
coming out upon a broad trodden track across a meadow, near a river.
“Where are we?” thought he. “It’s the Kosoy meadow, I suppose. But
no–this is something new I’ve never seen before. This isn’t the Kosoy
meadow nor the Demkin hill, and heaven only knows what it is! It is
something new and enchanted. Well, whatever it may be…” And shouting
to his horses, he began to pass the first sleigh.
Zakhar held back his horses and turned his face, which was already
covered with hoarfrost to his eyebrows.
Nicholas gave the horses the rein, and Zakhar, stretching out his arms,
clucked his tongue and let his horses go.
“Now, look out, master!” he cried.
Faster still the two troykas flew side by side, and faster moved the
feet of the galloping side horses. Nicholas began to draw ahead. Zakhar,
while still keeping his arms extended, raised one hand with the reins.
“No you won’t, master!” he shouted.
Nicholas put all his horses to a gallop and passed Zakhar. The horses
showered the fine dry snow on the faces of those in the sleigh–beside
them sounded quick ringing bells and they caught confused glimpses of
swiftly moving legs and the shadows of the troyka they were passing.
The whistling sound of the runners on the snow and the voices of girls
shrieking were heard from different sides.
Again checking his horses, Nicholas looked around him. They were still
surrounded by the magic plain bathed in moonlight and spangled with
“Zakhar is shouting that I should turn to the left, but why to the
left?” thought Nicholas. “Are we getting to the Melyukovs’? Is this
Melyukovka? Heaven only knows where we are going, and heaven knows what
is happening to us–but it is very strange and pleasant whatever it is.”
And he looked round in the sleigh.
“Look, his mustache and eyelashes are all white!” said one of the
strange, pretty, unfamiliar people–the one with fine eyebrows and
“I think this used to be Natasha,” thought Nicholas, “and that was
Madame Schoss, but perhaps it’s not, and this Circassian with the
mustache I don’t know, but I love her.”
“Aren’t you cold?” he asked.
They did not answer but began to laugh. Dimmler from the sleigh behind
shouted something–probably something funny–but they could not make out
what he said.
“Yes, yes!” some voices answered, laughing.
“But here was a fairy forest with black moving shadows, and a glitter
of diamonds and a flight of marble steps and the silver roofs of fairy
buildings and the shrill yells of some animals. And if this is really
Melyukovka, it is still stranger that we drove heaven knows where and
have come to Melyukovka,” thought Nicholas.
It really was Melyukovka, and maids and footmen with merry faces came
running, out to the porch carrying candles.
“Who is it?” asked someone in the porch.
“The mummers from the count’s. I know by the horses,” replied some
Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace