A Tour in the Forest by Ivan Turgenev
The sight of the vast pinewood, embracing the whole horizon, the
sight of the 'Forest,' recalls the sight of the ocean. And the
sensations it arouses are the same; the same primaeval untouched force
lies outstretched in its breadth and majesty before the eyes of the
spectator. From the heart of the eternal forest, from the undying bosom
of the waters, comes the same voice: 'I have nothing to do with
thee,'—nature says to man, 'I reign supreme, while do thou bestir
thyself to thy utmost to escape dying.' But the forest is gloomier and
more monotonous than the sea, especially the pine forest, which is
always alike and almost soundless. The ocean menaces and caresses, it
frolics with every colour, speaks with every voice; it reflects the
sky, from which too comes the breath of eternity, but an eternity as it
were not so remote from us.... The dark, unchanging pine-forest keeps
sullen silence or is filled with a dull roar—and at the sight of it
sinks into man's heart more deeply, more irresistibly, the sense of his
own nothingness. It is hard for man, the creature of a day, born
yesterday, and doomed to death on the morrow, it is hard for him to
bear the cold gaze of the eternal Isis, fixed without sympathy upon
him: not only the daring hopes and dreams of youth are humbled and
quenched within him, enfolded by the icy breath of the elements;
no—his whole soul sinks down and swoons within him; he feels that the
last of his kind may vanish off the face of the earth—and not one
needle will quiver on those twigs; he feels his isolation, his
feebleness, his fortuitousness;—and in hurried, secret panic, he turns
to the petty cares and labours of life; he is more at ease in that
world he has himself created; there he is at home, there he dares yet
believe in his own importance and in his own power.
Such were the ideas that came into my mind, some years ago, when,
standing on the steps of a little inn on the bank of the marshy little
river Ressetta, I first gazed upon the forest. The bluish masses of
fir-forest lay in long, continuous ridges before me; here and there was
the green patch of a small birch-copse; the whole sky-line was hugged
by the pine-wood; nowhere was there the white gleam of a church, nor
bright stretches of meadow—it was all trees and trees, everywhere the
ragged edge of the tree-tops, and a delicate dim mist, the eternal mist
of the forest, hung over them in the distance. It was not indolent
repose this immobility of life suggested; no—the absence of life,
something dead, even in its grandeur, was what came to me from every
side of the horizon. I remember big white clouds were swimming by,
slowly and very high up, and the hot summer day lay motionless upon the
silent earth. The reddish water of the stream glided without a splash
among the thick reeds: at its bottom could be dimly discerned round
cushions of pointed moss, and its banks sank away in the swampy mud,
and sharply reappeared again in white hillocks of fine crumbling sand.
Close by the little inn ran the trodden highroad.
On this road, just opposite the steps, stood a cart, loaded with
boxes and hampers. Its owner, a thin pedlar with a hawk nose and
mouse-like eyes, bent and lame, was putting in it his little nag, lame
like himself. He was a gingerbread-seller, who was making his way to
the fair at Karatchev. Suddenly several people appeared on the road,
others straggled after them ... at last, quite a crowd came trudging
into sight; all of them had sticks in their hands and satchels on their
shoulders. From their fatigued yet swinging gait, and from their
sun-burnt faces, one could see they had come from a long distance. They
were leatherworkers and diggers coming back from working for hire.
An old man of seventy, white all over, seemed to be their leader.
From time to time he turned round and with a quiet voice urged on those
who lagged behind. 'Now, now, now, lads,' he said, 'no—ow.' They all
walked in silence, in a sort of solemn hush. Only one of them, a little
man with a wrathful air, in a sheepskin coat wide open, and a lambswool
cap pulled right over his eyes, on coming up to the gingerbread man,
suddenly inquired: 'How much is the gingerbread, you tomfool?'
'What sort of gingerbread will it be, worthy sir?' the disconcerted
gingerbread—man responded in a thin, little voice. 'Some are a
farthing—and others cost a halfpenny. Have you a halfpenny in your
'But I guess it will sweeten the belly too much,' retorted the
sheepskin, and he retreated from the cart.
'Hurry up, lads, hurry up,' I heard the old man's voice: 'it's far
yet to our night's rest.'
'An uneducated folk,' said the gingerbread-man, with a squint at me,
directly all the crowd had trudged past: 'is such a dainty for the
likes of them?'
And quickly harnessing his horse, he went down to the river, where a
little wooden ferry could be seen. A peasant in a white felt 'schlik'
(the usual headgear in the forest) came out of a low mud hut to meet
him, and ferried him over to the opposite bank. The little cart, with
one wheel creaking from time to time, crawled along the trodden and
deeply rutted road.
I fed my horses, and I too was ferried over. After struggling for a
couple of miles through the boggy prairie, I got at last on to a narrow
raised wooden causeway to a clearing in the forest. The cart jolted
unevenly over the round beams of the causeway: I got out and went along
on foot. The horses moved in step snorting and shaking their heads from
the gnats and flies. The forest took us into its bosom. On the
outskirts, nearer to the prairie, grew birches, aspens, limes, maples,
and oaks. Then they met us more rarely, the dense firwood moved down on
us in an unbroken wall. Further on were the red, bare trunks of pines,
and then again a stretch of mixed copse, overgrown with underwood of
hazelnut, mountain ash, and bramble, and stout, vigorous weeds. The
sun's rays threw a brilliant light on the tree-tops, and, filtering
through the branches, here and there reached the ground in pale streaks
and patches. Birds I scarcely heard—they do not like great forests.
Only from time to time there came the doleful, thrice-repeated call of
a hoopoe, and the angry screech of a nuthatch or a jay; a silent,
always solitary bird kept fluttering across the clearing, with a flash
of golden azure from its lovely feathers. At times the trees grew
further apart, ahead of us the light broke in, the cart came out on a
cleared, sandy, open space. Thin rye was growing over it in rows,
noiselessly nodding its pale ears. On one side there was a dark,
dilapidated little chapel, with a slanting cross over a well. An unseen
brook was babbling peaceably with changing, ringing sounds, as though
it were flowing into an empty bottle. And then suddenly the road was
cut in half by a birch-tree recently fallen, and the forest stood
around, so old, lofty, and slumbering, that the air seemed pent in. In
places the clearing lay under water. On both sides stretched a forest
bog, all green and dark, all covered with reeds and tiny alders. Ducks
flew up in pairs—and it was strange to see those water-birds darting
rapidly about among the pines. 'Ga, ga, ga, ga,' their drawn-out call
kept rising unexpectedly. Then a shepherd drove a flock through the
underwood: a brown cow with short, pointed horns broke noisily through
the bushes and stood stockstill at the edge of the clearing, her big,
dark eyes fixed on the dog running before me. A slight breeze brought
the delicate, pungent smell of burnt wood. A white smoke in the
distance crept in eddying rings over the pale, blue forest air, showing
that a peasant was charcoal-burning for a glass-factory or for a
foundry. The further we went on, the darker and stiller it became all
round us. In the pine-forest it is always still; there is only, high
overhead, a sort of prolonged murmur and subdued roar in the tree-tops.
One goes on and on, and this eternal murmur of the forest never ceases,
and the heart gradually begins to sink, and a man longs to come out
quickly into the open, into the daylight; he longs to draw a full
breath again, and is oppressed by the fragrant damp and decay....
For about twelve miles we drove on at a walking pace, rarely at a
trot. I wanted to get by daylight to Svyatoe, a hamlet lying in the
very heart of the forest. Twice we met peasants with stripped bark or
long logs on carts.
'Is it far to Svyatoe?' I asked one of them.
'No, not far.'
'It'll be a little over two miles.'
Another hour and a half went by. We were still driving on and on.
Again we heard the creak of a laden cart. A peasant was walking beside
'How far, brother, is it still to Svyatoe?'
'How far to Svyatoe?'
The sun was already setting when at last I got out of the forest and
saw facing me a little village. About twenty homesteads were grouped
close about an old wooden church, with a single green cupola, and tiny
windows, brilliantly red in the evening glow. This was Svyatoe. I drove
into its outskirts. A herd returning homewards overtook my cart, and
with lowing, grunting and bleating moved by us. Young girls and
bustling peasant women came to meet their beasts. Whiteheaded boys with
merry shrieks went in chase of refractory pigs. The dust swirled along
the street in light clouds, flushed crimson as they rose higher in the
I stopped at the house of the village elder, a crafty and clever
'forester,' one of those foresters of whom they say he can see two
yards into the ground. Early next morning, accompanied by the village
elder's son, and another peasant called Yegor, I set off in a little
cart with a pair of peasant's horses, to shoot woodcocks and moorhens.
The forest formed a continuous bluish ring all round the sky-line;
there was reckoned to be two hundred acres, no more, of ploughed land
round Svyatoe; but one had to go some five miles to find good places
for game. The elder's son was called Kondrat. He was a flaxen-haired,
rosy-cheeked young fellow, with a good-natured, peaceable expression of
face, obliging and talkative. He drove the horses. Yegor sat by my
side. I want to say a few words about him.
He was considered the cleverest sportsman in the whole district.
Every step of the ground for fifty miles round he had been over again
and again. He seldom fired at a bird, for lack of powder and shot; but
it was enough for him to decoy a moorhen or to detect the track of a
grouse. Yegor had the character of being a straightforward fellow and
'no talker.' He did not care for talking and never exaggerated the
number of birds he had taken—a trait rare in a sportsman. He was of
medium height, thin, and had a pale, long face, and big, honest eyes.
All his features, especially his straight and never-moving lips, were
expressive of untroubled serenity. He gave a slight, as it were inward
smile, whenever he uttered a word—very sweet was that quiet smile. He
never drank spirits, and worked industriously; but nothing prospered
with him. His wife was always ailing, his children didn't live; he got
poorer and poorer and could never pick up again. And there is no
denying that a passion for the chase is no good for a peasant, and any
one who 'plays with a gun' is sure to be a poor manager of his land.
Either from constantly being in the forest, face to face with the stern
and melancholy scenery of that inhuman country, or from the peculiar
cast and formation of his character, there was noticeable in every
action of Yegor's a sort of modest dignity and stateliness—stateliness
it was, and not melancholy—the stateliness of a majestic stag. He had
in his time killed seven bears, lying in wait for them in the oats. The
last he had only succeeded in killing on the fourth night of his
ambush; the bear persisted in not turning sideways to him, and he had
only one bullet. Yegor had killed him the day before my arrival. When
Kondrat brought me to him, I found him in his back yard; squatting on
his heels before the huge beast, he was cutting the fat out with a
short, blunt knife.
'What a fine fellow you've knocked over there!' I observed.
Yegor raised his head and looked first at me, then at the dog, who
had come with me.
'If it's shooting you've come after, sir, there are woodcocks at
Moshnoy—three coveys, and five of moorhens,' he observed, and set to
With Yegor and with Kondrat I went out the next day in search of
sport. We drove rapidly over the open ground surrounding Svyatoe, but
when we got into the forest we crawled along at a walking pace once
'Look, there's a wood-pigeon,' said Kondrat suddenly, turning to me:
'better knock it over!'
Yegor looked in the direction Kondrat pointed, but said nothing. The
wood-pigeon was over a hundred paces from us, and one can't kill it at
forty paces; there is such strength in its feathers. A few more remarks
were made by the conversational Kondrat; but the forest hush had its
influence even on him; he became silent. Only rarely exchanging a word
or two, looking straight ahead, and listening to the puffing and
snorting of the horses, we got at last to 'Moshnoy.' That is the name
given to the older pine-forest, overgrown in places by fir saplings. We
got out; Kondrat led the cart into the bushes, so that the gnats should
not bite the horses. Yegor examined the cock of his gun and crossed
himself: he never began anything without the sign of the cross.
The forest into which we had come was exceedingly old. I don't know
whether the Tartars had wandered over it, but Russian thieves or
Lithuanians, in disturbed times, might certainly have hidden in its
recesses. At a respectful distance from one another stood the mighty
pines with their slightly curved, massive, pale-yellow trunks. Between
them stood in single file others, rather younger. The ground was
covered with greenish moss, sprinkled all over with dead pine-needles;
blueberries grew in dense bushes; the strong perfume of the berries,
like the smell of musk, oppressed the breathing. The sun could not
pierce through the high network of the pine-branches; but it was
stiflingly hot in the forest all the same, and not dark; like big drops
of sweat the heavy, transparent resin stood out and slowly trickled
down the coarse bark of the trees. The still air, with no light or
shade in it, stung the face. Everything was silent; even our footsteps
were not audible; we walked on the moss as on a carpet. Yegor in
particular moved as silently as a shadow; even the brushwood did not
crackle under his feet. He walked without haste, from time to time
blowing a shrill note on a whistle; a woodcock soon answered back, and
before my eyes darted into a thick fir-tree. But in vain Yegor pointed
him out to me; however much I strained my eyes, I could not make him
out. Yegor had to take a shot at him. We came upon two coveys of
moorhens also. The cautious birds rose at a distance with an abrupt,
heavy sound. We succeeded, however, in killing three young ones.
At one meidan [Footnote 1: Meidan is the name given to
a place where tar has been made.—Author's Note.] Yegor suddenly
stopped and called me up.
'A bear has been trying to get water,' he observed, pointing to a
broad, fresh scratch, made in the very middle of a hole covered with
'Is that the print of his paw?' I inquired.
'Yes; but the water has dried up. That's the track of him too on
that pine; he has been climbing after honey. He has cut into it with
his claws as if with a knife.'
We went on making our way into the inner-most depths of the forest.
Yegor only rarely looked upwards, and walked on serenely and
confidently. I saw a high, round rampart, enclosed by a half-choked-up
'What's that? a meidan too?' I inquired.
'No,' answered Yegor; 'here's where the thieves' town stood.'
'Long ago; our grandfathers remember it. Here they buried their
treasure. And they took a mighty oath: on human blood.'
We went on another mile and a half; I began to feel thirsty.
'Sit down a little while,' said Yegor: 'I will go for water; there
is a well not far from here.'
He went away; I was left alone.
I sat down on a felled stump, leaned my elbows on my knees, and
after a long stillness, raised my head and looked around me. Oh, how
still and sullenly gloomy was everything around me—no, not gloomy
even, but dumb, cold, and menacing at the same time! My heart sank. At
that instant, at that spot, I had a sense of death breathing upon me, I
felt I almost touched its perpetual closeness. If only one sound had
vibrated, one momentary rustle had arisen, in the engulfing stillness
of the pine-forest that hemmed me in on all sides! I let my head sink
again, almost in terror; it was as though I had looked in, where no man
ought to look.... I put my hand over my eyes—and all at once, as
though at some mysterious bidding, I began to remember all my life....
There passed in a flash before me my childhood, noisy and peaceful,
quarrelsome and good-hearted, with hurried joys and swift sorrows; then
my youth rose up, vague, queer, self-conscious, with all its mistakes
and beginnings, with disconnected work, and agitated indolence....
There came back, too, to my memory the comrades who shared those early
aspirations ... then like lightning in the night there came the gleam
of a few bright memories ... then the shadows began to grow and bear
down on me, it was darker and darker about me, more dully and quietly
the monotonous years ran by—and like a stone, dejection sank upon my
heart. I sat without stirring and gazed, gazed with effort and
perplexity, as though I saw all my life before me, as though scales had
fallen from my eyes. Oh, what have I done! my lips involuntarily
murmured in a bitter whisper. O life, life, where, how have you gone
without a trace? How have you slipped through my clenched fingers? Have
you deceived me, or was it that I knew not how to make use of your
gifts? Is it possible? is this fragment, this poor handful of dusty
ashes, all that is left of you? Is this cold, stagnant, unnecessary
something—I, the I of old days? How? The soul was athirst for
happiness so perfect, she rejected with such scorn all that was small,
all that was insufficient, she waited: soon happiness would burst on
her in a torrent—and has not one drop moistened the parched lips? Oh,
my golden strings, you that once so delicately, so sweetly quivered,—I
have never, it seems, heard your music ... you had but just
sounded—when you broke. Or, perhaps, happiness, the true happiness of
all my life, passed close by me, smiled a resplendent smile upon
me—and I failed to recognise its divine countenance. Or did it really
visit me, sit at my bedside, and is forgotten by me, like a dream? Like
a dream, I repeated disconsolately. Elusive images flitted over my
soul, awakening in it something between pity and bewilderment ... you
too, I thought, dear, familiar, lost faces, you, thronging about me in
this deadly solitude, why are you so profoundly and mournfully silent?
From what abyss have you arisen? How am I to interpret your enigmatic
glances? Are you greeting me, or bidding me farewell? Oh, can it be
there is no hope, no turning back? Why are these heavy, belated drops
trickling from my eyes? O heart, why, to what end, grieve more? try to
forget if you would have peace, harden yourself to the meek acceptance
of the last parting, to the bitter words 'good-bye' and 'for ever.' Do
not look back, do not remember, do not strive to reach where it is
light, where youth laughs, where hope is wreathed with the flowers of
spring, where dovelike delight soars on azure wings, where love, like
dew in the sunrise, flashes with tears of ecstasy; look not where is
bliss, and faith and power—that is not our place!
'Here is water for you,' I heard Yegor's musical voice behind me:
'drink, with God's blessing.'
I could not help starting; this living speech shook me, sent a
delightful tremor all through me. It was as though I had fallen into
unknown, dark depths, where all was hushed about me, and nothing could
be heard but the soft, persistent moan of some unending grief.... I was
faint and could not struggle, and all at once there floated down to me
a friendly voice, and some mighty hand with one pull drew me up into
the light of day. I looked round, and with unutterable consolation saw
the serene and honest face of my guide. He stood easily and gracefully
before me, and with his habitual smile held out a wet flask full of
clear liquid.... I got up.
'Let's go on; lead the way,' I said eagerly. We set off and wandered
a long while, till evening. Directly the noonday heat was over, it
became cold and dark so rapidly in the forest that one felt no desire
to remain in it.
'Away, restless mortals,' it seemed whispering sullenly from each
pine. We came out, but it was some time before we could find Kondrat.
We shouted, called to him, but he did not answer. All of a sudden, in
the profound stillness of the air, we heard his 'wo, wo,' sound
distinctly in a ravine close to us.... The wind, which had suddenly
sprung up, and as suddenly dropped again, had prevented him from
hearing our calls. Only on the trees which stood some distance apart
were traces of its onslaught to be seen; many of the leaves were blown
inside out, and remained so, giving a variegated look to the motionless
foliage. We got into the cart, and drove home. I sat, swaying to and
fro, and slowly breathing in the damp, rather keen air; and all my
recent reveries and regrets were drowned in the one sensation of
drowsiness and fatigue, in the one desire to get back as soon as
possible to the shelter of a warm house, to have a good drink of tea
with cream, to nestle into the soft, yielding hay, and to sleep, to
sleep, to sleep....
The next morning the three of us set off to the 'Charred Wood.' Ten
years before, several thousand acres in the 'Forest' had been burnt
down, and had not up to that time grown again; here and there, young
firs and pines were shooting up, but for the most part there was
nothing but moss and ashes. In this 'Charred Wood,' which is reckoned
to be about nine miles from Svyatoe, there are all sorts of berries
growing in great profusion, and it is a favourite haunt of grouse, who
are very fond of strawberries and bilberries.
We were driving along in silence, when suddenly Kondrat raised his
'Ah!' he exclaimed: 'why, that's never Efrem standing yonder!
'Morning to you, Alexandritch,' he added, raising his voice, and
lifting his cap.
A short peasant in a short, black smock, with a cord round the
waist, came out from behind a tree, and approached the cart.
'Why, have they let you off?' inquired Kondrat.
'I should think so!' replied the peasant, and he grinned. 'You don't
catch them keeping the likes of me.'
'And what did Piotr Filippitch say to it?'
'Filippov, is it? Oh, he's all right.'
'You don't say so! Why, I thought, Alexandritch—well, brother,
thought I, now you 're the goose that must lie down in the frying-pan!'
'On account of Piotr Filippov, hey? Get along! We've seen plenty
like him. He tries to pass for a wolf, and then slinks off like a
dog.—Going shooting your honour, hey?' the peasant suddenly inquired,
turning his little, screwed-up eyes rapidly upon me, and at once
dropping them again.
'And whereabouts, now?'
'To the Charred Wood,' said Kondrat.
'You 're going to the Charred Wood? mind you don't get into the
'I've seen a lot of woodcocks,' the peasant went on, seeming all the
while to be laughing, and making Kondrat no answer. 'But you'll never
get there; as the crow flies it'll be fifteen miles. Why, even Yegor
here—not a doubt but he's as at home in the forest as in his own
back-yard, but even he won't make his way there. Hullo, Yegor, you
honest penny halfpenny soul!' he shouted suddenly.
'Good morning, Efrem,' Yegor responded deliberately.
I looked with curiosity at this Efrem. It was long since I had seen
such a queer face. He had a long, sharp nose, thick lips, and a scanty
beard. His little blue eyes positively danced, like little imps. He
stood in a free-and-easy pose, his arms akimbo, and did not touch his
'Going home for a visit, eh?' Kondrat questioned him.
'Go on! on a visit! It's not the weather for that, my lad; it's set
fair. It's all open and free, my dear; one may lie on the stove till
winter time, not a dog will stir. When I was in the town, the clerk
said: “Give us up,” says he, “'Lexandritch; you just get out of the
district, we'll let you have a passport, first-class one ...” but
there, I'd pity on you Svyatoe fellows: you'd never get another thief
'You will have your joke, uncle, you will, upon my word,' he said,
and he shook the reins. The horses started off.
'Wo,' said Efrem. The horses stopped. Kondrat did not like this
'Enough of your nonsense, Alexandritch,' he observed in an
undertone: 'don't you see we're out with a gentleman? You mind; he'll
'Get on with you, sea-drake! What should he be angry about? He's a
good-natured gentleman. You see, he'll give me something to drink. Hey,
master, give a poor scoundrel a dram! Won't I drink it!' he added,
shrugging his shoulder up to his ear, and grating his teeth.
I could not help smiling, gave him a copper, and told Kondrat to
'Much obliged, your honour,' Efrem shouted after us in soldierly
fashion. 'And you'll know, Kondrat, for the future from whom to learn
manners. Faint heart never wins; 'tis boldness gains the day. When you
come back, come to my place, d'ye hear? There'll be drinking going on
three days at home; there'll be some necks broken, I can tell you; my
wife's a devil of a woman; our yard's on the side of a precipice....
Ay, magpie, have a good time till your tail gets pinched.' And with a
sharp whistle, Efrem plunged into the bushes.
'What sort of man is he?' I questioned Kondrat, who, sitting in the
front, kept shaking his head, as though deliberating with himself.
'That fellow?' replied Kondrat, and he looked down. 'That fellow?'
'Yes. Is he of your village?'
'Yes, he's a Svyatoe man. He's a fellow.... You wouldn't find the
like of him, if you hunted for a hundred miles round. A thief and
cheat—good Lord, yes! Another man's property simply, as it were, takes
his eye. You may bury a thing underground, and you won't hide it from
him; and as to money, you might sit on it, and he'd get it from under
you without your noticing it.'
'What a bold fellow he is!'
'Bold? Yes, he's not afraid of any one. But just look at him; he's a
beast by his physiognomy; you can see by his nose.' (Kondrat often used
to drive with gentlemen, and had been in the chief town of the
province, and so liked on occasion to show off his attainments.)
'There's positively no doing anything with him. How many times they've
taken him off to put him in the prison!—it's simply trouble thrown
away. They start tying him up, and he'll say, “Come, why don't you
fasten that leg? fasten that one too, and a little tighter: I'll have a
little sleep meanwhile; and I shall get home before your escort.” And
lo and behold! there he is back again, yes, back again, upon my soul!
Well as we all about here know the forest, being used to it from
childhood, we're no match for him there. Last summer he came at night
straight across from Altuhin to Svyatoe, and no one had ever been known
to walk it—it'll be over thirty miles. And he steals honey too; no one
can beat him at that; and the bees don't sting him. There's not a hive
he hasn't plundered.'
'I expect he doesn't spare the wild bees either?'
'Well, no, I won't lay a false charge against him. That sin's never
been observed in him. The wild bees' nest is a holy thing with us. A
hive is shut in by fences; there's a watch kept; if you get the
honey—it's your luck; but the wild bee is a thing of God's, not
guarded; only the bear touches it.'
'Because he is a bear,' remarked Yegor.
'Is he married?'
'To be sure. And he has a son. And won't he be a thief too, the son!
He's taken after his father. And he's training him now too. The other
day he took a pot with some old coppers in it, stolen somewhere, I've
no doubt, went and buried it in a clearing in the forest, and went home
and sent his son to the clearing. “Till you find the pot,” says he, “I
won't give you anything to eat, or let you into the place.” The son
stayed the whole day in the forest, and spent the night there, but he
found the pot. Yes, he's a smart chap, that Efrem. When he's at home,
he's a civil fellow, presses every one; you may eat and drink as you
will, and there'll be dancing got up at his place and merry-making of
all sorts. And when he comes to the meeting—we have a parish meeting,
you know, in our village—well, no one talks better sense than he does;
he'll come up behind, listen, say a word as if he chopped it off, and
away again; and a weighty word it'll be, too. But when he's about in
the forest, ah! that means trouble! We've to look out for mischief.
Though, I must say, he doesn't touch his own people unless he's in a
fix. If he meets a Svyatoe man: “Go along with you, brother,” he'll
shout, a long way away; “the forest devil's upon me: I shall kill
you!”—it's a bad business!'
'What can you all be thinking about? A whole district can't get even
with one man?'
'Well, that's just how it is, any way.'
'Is he a sorcerer, then?'
'Who can say! Here, some days ago, he crept round at night to the
deacon's near, after the honey, and the deacon was watching the hive
himself. Well, he caught him, and in the dark he gave him a good
hiding. When he'd done, Efrem, he says to him: “But d'you know who it
is you've been beating?” The deacon, when he knew him by his voice, was
“Well, my good friend,” says Efrem, “you won't get off so easily for
this.” The deacon fell down at his feet. “Take,” says he, “what you
please.” “No,” says he. “I'll take it from you at my own time and as I
choose.” And what do you think? Since that day the deacon's as though
he'd been scalded; he wanders about like a ghost. “It's taken,” says
he, “all the heart out of me; it was a dreadful, powerful saying, to be
sure, the brigand fastened upon me.” That's how it is with him, with
'That deacon must be a fool,' I observed.
'A fool? Well, but what do you say to this? There was once an order
issued to seize this fellow, Efrem. We had a police commissary then, a
sharp man. And so a dozen chaps went off into the forest to take Efrem.
They look, and there he is coming to meet them.... One of them shouts,
“Here he is, hold him, tie him!” But Efrem stepped into the forest and
cut himself a branch, two fingers' thickness, like this, and then out
he skips into the road again, looking so frightful, so terrible, and
gives the command like a general at a review: “On your knees!” All of
them fairly fell down. “But who,” says he, “shouted hold him, tie him?
You, Seryoga?” The fellow simply jumped up and ran ... and Efrem after
him, and kept swinging his branch at his heels.... For nearly a mile he
stroked him down. And afterwards he never ceased to regret: “Ah,” he'd
say, “it is annoying I didn't lay him up for the confession.” For it
was just before St. Philip's day. Well, they changed the police
commissary soon after, but it all ended the same way.'
'Why did they all give in to him?'
'Why! well, it is so....'
'He has frightened you all, and now he does as he likes with you.'
'Frightened, yes.... He'd frighten any one. And he's a wonderful
hand at contrivances, my goodness, yes! I once came upon him in the
forest; there was a heavy rain falling; I was for edging away.... But
he looked at me, and beckoned to me with his hand like this. “Come
along,” says he, “Kondrat, don't be afraid. Let me show you how to live
in the forest, and to keep dry in the rain.” I went up to him, and he
was sitting under a fir-tree, and he'd made a fire of damp twigs: the
smoke hung about in the fir-tree, and kept the rain from dripping
through. I was astonished at him then. And I'll tell you what he
contrived one time' (and Kondrat laughed); 'he really did do a funny
thing. They'd been thrashing the oats at the thrashing-floor, and they
hadn't finished; they hadn't time to rake up the last heap; well, they
'd set two watch-men by it for the night, and they weren't the
boldest-hearted of the chaps either. Well, they were sitting and
gossiping, and Efrem takes and stuffs his shirt-sleeves full of straw,
ties up the wrist-bands, and puts the shirt up over his head. And so he
steals up in that shape to the thrashing-floor, and just pops out from
behind the corner and gives them a peep of his horns. One chap says to
the other: “Do you see?” “Yes,” says the other, and didn't he give a
screech all of a sudden ... and then the fences creaked and nothing
more was seen of them. Efrem shovelled up the oats into a bag and
dragged it off home. He told the story himself afterwards. He put them
to shame, he did, the chaps.... He did really!'
Kondrat laughed again. And Yegor smiled. 'So the fences creaked and
that was all?' he commented. 'There was nothing more seen of them,'
Kondrat assented. 'They were simply gone in a flash.'
We were all silent again. Suddenly Kondrat started and sat up.
'Eh, mercy upon us!' he ejaculated; 'surely it's never a fire!'
'Where, where?' we asked.
'Yonder, see, in front, where we 're going.... A fire it is! Efrem
there, Efrem—why, he foretold it! If it's not his doing, the damned
I glanced in the direction Kondrat was pointing. Two or three miles
ahead of us, behind a green strip of low fir saplings, there really was
a thick column of dark blue smoke slowly rising from the ground,
gradually twisting and coiling into a cap-shaped cloud; to the right
and left of it could be seen others, smaller and whiter.
A peasant, all red and perspiring, in nothing but his shirt, with
his hair hanging dishevelled about his scared face, galloped straight
towards us, and with difficulty stopped his hastily bridled horse.
'Mates,' he inquired breathlessly, 'haven't you seen the foresters?'
'No, we haven't. What is it? is the forest on fire?'
'Yes. We must get the people together, or else if it gets to Trosnoe
The peasant tugged with his elbows, pounded with his heels on the
horse's sides.... It galloped off.
Kondrat, too, whipped up his pair. We drove straight towards the
smoke, which was spreading more and more widely; in places it suddenly
grew black and rose up high. The nearer we moved to it, the more
indefinite became its outlines; soon all the air was clouded over,
there was a strong smell of burning, and here and there between the
trees, with a strange, weird quivering in the sunshine, gleamed the
first pale red tongues of flame.
'Well, thank God,' observed Kondrat, 'it seems it's an overground
'Overground? One that runs along over the earth. With an underground
fire, now, it's a difficult job to deal. What's one to do, when the
earth's on fire for a whole yard's depth? There's only one means of
safety—digging ditches,—and do you suppose that's easy? But an
overground fire's nothing. It only scorches the grasses and burns the
dry leaves! The forest will be all the better for it. Ouf, though,
mercy on us, look how it flares!'
We drove almost up to the edge of the fire. I got down and went to
meet it. It was neither dangerous nor difficult. The fire was running
over the scanty pine-forest against the wind; it moved in an uneven
line, or, to speak more accurately, in a dense jagged wall of curved
tongues. The smoke was carried away by the wind. Kondrat had told the
truth; it really was an overground fire, which only scorched the grass
and passed on without finishing its work, leaving behind it a black and
smoking, but not even smouldering, track. At times, it is true, when
the fire came upon a hole filled with dry wood and twigs, it suddenly
and with a kind of peculiar, rather vindictive roar, rose up in long,
quivering points; but it soon sank down again and ran on as before,
with a slight hiss and crackle. I even noticed, more than once, an
oak-bush, with dry hanging leaves, hemmed in all round and yet
untouched, except for a slight singeing at its base. I must own I could
not understand why the dry leaves were not burned. Kondrat explained to
me that it was owing to the fact that the fire was overground, 'that's
to say, not angry.' 'But it's fire all the same,' I protested.
'Overground fire,' repeated Kondrat. However, overground as it was, the
fire, none the less, produced its effect: hares raced up and down with
a sort of disorder, running back with no sort of necessity into the
neighbourhood of the fire; birds fell down in the smoke and whirled
round and round; horses looked back and neighed, the forest itself
fairly hummed—and man felt discomfort from the heat suddenly beating
into his face....
'What are we looking at?' said Yegor suddenly, behind my back.
'Let's go on.'
'But where are we to go?' asked Kondrat.
'Take the left, over the dry bog; we shall get through.'
We turned to the left, and got through, though it was sometimes
difficult for both the horses and the cart.
The whole day we wandered over the Charred Wood. At evening—the
sunset had not yet begun to redden in the sky, but the shadows from the
trees already lay long and motionless, and in the grass one could feel
that chill that comes before the dew—I lay down by the roadside near
the cart in which Kondrat, without haste, was harnessing the horses
after their feed, and I recalled my cheerless reveries of the day
before. Everything around was as still as the previous evening, but
there was not the forest, stifling and weighing down the spirit. On the
dry moss, on the crimson grasses, on the soft dust of the road, on the
slender stems and pure little leaves of the young birch-trees, lay the
clear soft light of the no longer scorching, sinking sun. Everything
was resting, plunged in soothing coolness; nothing was yet asleep, but
everything was getting ready for the restoring slumber of evening and
night-time. Everything seemed to be saying to man: 'Rest, brother of
ours; breathe lightly, and grieve not, thou too, at the sleep close
before thee.' I raised my head and saw at the very end of a delicate
twig one of those large flies with emerald head, long body, and four
transparent wings, which the fanciful French call 'maidens,' while our
guileless people has named them 'bucket-yokes.' For a long while, more
than an hour, I did not take my eyes off her. Soaked through and
through with sunshine, she did not stir, only from time to time turning
her head from side to side and shaking her lifted wings ... that was
all. Looking at her, it suddenly seemed to me that I understood the
life of nature, understood its clear and unmistakable though, to many,
still mysterious significance. A subdued, quiet animation, an
unhasting, restrained use of sensations and powers, an equilibrium of
health in each separate creature—there is her very basis, her
unvarying law, that is what she stands upon and holds to. Everything
that goes beyond this level, above or below—it makes no
difference—she flings away as worthless. Many insects die as soon as
they know the joys of love, which destroy the equilibrium. The sick
beast plunges into the thicket and expires there alone: he seems to
feel that he no longer has the right to look upon the sun that is
common to all, nor to breathe the open air; he has not the right to
live;—and the man who from his own fault or from the fault of others
is faring ill in the world—ought, at least, to know how to keep
'Well, Yegor!' cried Kondrat all at once. He had already settled
himself on the box of the cart and was shaking and playing with the
reins. 'Come, sit down. What are you so thoughtful about? Still about
'About the cow? What cow?' I repeated, and looked at Yegor: calm and
stately as ever, he certainly did seem thoughtful, and was gazing away
into the distance towards the fields already beginning to get dark.
'Don't you know?' answered Kondrat; 'his last cow died last night.
He has no luck.—What are you going to do?'....
Yegor sat down on the box, without speaking, and we drove off. 'That
man knows how to bear in silence,' I thought.