Open main menu

Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/181

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

spicuous among the faults of this our land are her long winters; but it is her great merit that she knows better than any how a winter evening should be passed. For the half-hour's attention which you have bestowed on my musings, I thank you, courteous reader; and I trust that you also, ere the midnight chimes, will have joined in some lively pleasure, and have thought with me, that even when darkness covers the land for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, our lives need not be dreary, and we may be numbered among the fortunate band with whom Time gallops withal.

From Temple Bar.




I have a neighbor, Ardalion, a young laird and a keen sportsman. One fine July morning I rode over to his place, to propose our going out grouse-shooting together.

"Yes," said he, "let's ride through my copses. I will look at Tchaplygino on the way; my oak-wood, you know. It's being thinned."

We set off. My neighbor took with him his bailiff, Archip, a strong under-sized peasant, with a square face and pre-historically developed cheekbones; and an overseer just come from the Baltic provinces, Herr Gottlieb von der Kolk, a thin, fair, short-sighted, nineteen-year-old youth, with sloping shoulders and a long neck. My neighbor had not long come into possession of his estate. He had inherited it from an aunt, an uncommonly fat woman, who even when lying in bed used to be always painfully panting.

"Wait for me in this glade," said my neighbor Ardalion to his companions, when we reached the copses.

I had known Ardalion's forest ever since my childhood. I often used to go to Tchaplygino with my French tutor, M. Desire Fleury, a most kindly man, who nearly ruined my health, however, by making me take physic every night. The forest consisted of some two or three hundred old oaks and ashes. Their strong and stately trunks stood proudly out in dark relief against the transparent gold-flaked green of the hazel-bushes and maples. Higher up they were sharply outlined against the clear azure of the sky, and there spread out like a tent their wide and knarled boughs. Above their motionless tops soared, with shrill cries, hawks, buzzards, and kites, while mottled woodpeckers tapped away loudly at their thick bark; the blackbird's clear notes suddenly resounded through the dense foliage, mingled with the ivolga's fluent song. Hedge-sparrows and siskins twittered in the underwood below, chaffinches fluttered across the path, and every now and then a hare stole along the edge of the thicket, or a ruddy squirrel boldly sprang from tree to tree, and suddenly sat still with his tail curled over his head. In the grass, close to some huge anthills, violets and lilies of the valley bloomed beneath the shade of delicate ferns; saxifrage, cotton-grass, and red agaric stood all around; and the tiny lawns amid the bushes were crimsoned by strawberries. And what shade there was in the wood! In the very noontide's heat it was actual night there — night with its stillness and fragrance and freshness.

I had formerly spent many a joyous hour in that wood, and it was not, I must admit, without a feeling of melancholy that I now rode under the too well-known trees. The destructive snowless winter of 1840 had not spared my old friends the oaks and ashes. Dry and bare, but colored here and there with a hectic green, they sadly reared themselves above the young undergrowth which crept around their feet. Some of them, still foliaged below, seemed to stretch out their stunted and lifeless arms with a gesture of reproach and despair, others waved aloft their dry, dead branches high above the already thickish though not luxuriant undergrowth; some had already lost their bark, others had at last fallen, and now, like corpses, lay rotting on the ground. Who could ever have believed it? Here in this very wood no shade was to be found. "You may well feel sad and ashamed," thought I, as I gazed at the dying trees. Involuntarily I thought of Koltsoff's lines: —

Ah, where are now
Thy lofty speech,
Thy proud strength,
Thy royal courage?
Ah, where is now
Thy leafy might?

"How comes this, Ardalion?" I began; "why weren't these trees felled the next year? You won't get a tenth part now of the price that they would have fetched then."