The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories
NEW YEAR'S EVE. Nellie, the daughter of a landowner and general, a young and pretty
girl, dreaming day and night of being married, was sitting in her room, gazing with
exhausted, half-closed eyes into the looking-glass. She was pale, tense, and as motionless
as the looking-glass.
The non-existent but apparent vista of a long, narrow corridor with endless rows of
candles, the reflection of her face, her hands, of the frame--all this was already clouded in
mist and merged into a boundless grey sea. The sea was undulating, gleaming and now
and then flaring crimson. . . .
Looking at Nellie's motionless eyes and parted lips, one could hardly say whether she
was asleep or awake, but nevertheless she was seeing. At first she saw only the smile and
soft, charming expression of someone's eyes, then against the shifting grey background
there gradually appeared the outlines of a head, a face, eyebrows, beard. It was he, the
destined one, the object of long dreams and hopes. The destined one was for Nellie
everything, the significance of life, personal happiness, career, fate. Outside him, as on
the grey background of the looking-glass, all was dark, empty, meaningless. And so it
was not strange that, seeing before her a handsome, gently smiling face, she was
conscious of bliss, of an unutterably sweet dream that could not be expressed in speech or
on paper. Then she heard his voice, saw herself living under the same roof with him, her
life merged into his. Months and years flew by against the grey background. And Nellie
saw her future distinctly in all its details.
Picture followed picture against the grey background. Now Nellie saw herself one winter
night knocking at the door of Stepan Lukitch, the district doctor. The old dog hoarsely
and lazily barked behind the gate. The doctor's windows were in darkness. All was
"For God's sake, for God's sake!" whispered Nellie.
But at last the garden gate creaked and Nellie saw the doctor's cook.
"Is the doctor at home?"
"His honour's asleep," whispered the cook into her sleeve, as though afraid of waking her
"He's only just got home from his fever patients, and gave orders he was not to be
But Nellie scarcely heard the cook. Thrusting her aside, she rushed headlong into the
doctor's house. Running through some dark and stuffy rooms, upsetting two or three
chairs, she at last reached the doctor's bedroom. Stepan Lukitch was lying on his bed,