A blizzard is covering the roads with a thick coating of snow. The horses are up to their fetlocks in it. The dark-green firs bend beneath its weight, and what has melted in the midday sun already hangs from the slender branches of the undergrowth in thick masses of icicles; and as the wind sweeps through the forest the ice-covered leaves and branches ring and jingle like fairy bells.
Ever and anon the moon shines out from amid the fast-flying clouds; then, as though it has seen enough, hides itself again under the ghostly mist. The sighing of the wind through the forest is like the trembling of fever-stricken nature. In the stillness of night, through the pathless forest, rides a troop of horsemen. Their little long-maned horses sniff their way with low, sunk necks; by the shaggy fur caps of their riders, and their long lances hanging far back at their sides, they are to be recognized as a party of Don Cossacks.