Towards evening the male, for some unknown reason, began to croak.
"Oo-hoo-hoo-oo!" he cried in guttural tones, as though the sound in
his throat came from across the water.
Sometimes as he sat solitary on his height, the wolves would observe
him, and one of the famished beasts would begin clambering up the
precipitous side of the ravine.
The female would then take fright, and flap her wings; but the male
would look down calmly with his big, glistening eyes, watching the
wolf slowly clamber, slip and fall headlong downwards, bringing a
heap of snow with it, tumbling over and over and yelping in fright.
The twilight crept on.
In March, as the days lengthened, the sun grew warmer; the snow
darkened and thawed; the twilight grew balmy; and the wolf-packs
stirred, while prey became more abundant, for now all the forest
denizens felt the overwhelming, entrancing throb of Spring, and
wandered through the glades, down the ravines and into the woods,
powerless under the sway of the early Spring-time langour; and it was
easy to catch them.
The male-bird brought all his kill to his mate - he ate little
himself: only what she left him, usually the entrails, the flesh of
the thoracic muscles, the skin and the head, although she usually
pecked out the eyes as the most savoury portion.
The sun was bright. There was a soft, gentle breeze. At the bottom of
the ravine the dark, turbulent brook rushed gurgling between the
sharp outlines of its snow-laden banks.
It was cool. The male-bird sat roosting with his eyes closed, his
head sunk deep into his shoulders. Outwardly he bore a look of great
humility, of languishing expectation, and a droll look of guiltiness
wholly unbecoming to his natural severity.
At dusk he grew restless. He stood up on his feet, stretched his
neck, opened wide his round eyes, spread out his wings, beating the
air with them: then closed them again. Curling up into a ball,
drawing his head into his shoulders and blinking, he croaked:
"Oo-hoo-hoo-hoo!" The rueful cry scared the forest denizens.
And the echo in the ravine answered back:
The twilight was green, merging into blue. The sky was spangled with
great glowing stars. The pine-trees exhaled an oily odour. In the
night-frost, the brook at the bottom of the ravine grew still.
Somewhere, caught in its current, birds were crying. Yet all was in a
state of watchful calm.
When at length the night set in, the male stealthily and guiltily
approached the female in the nest, cautiously spreading his big,
awkward feet, which were so clumsy on the ground . . . A great and
beautiful passion urged him to the side of his mate.
He perched beside her, smoothing her feathers with his bill, still
with that droll absurd look of guilt. The female responded to his
caresses; she was very soft and tender; but behind this tenderness
could be detected her great strength and power over the male: perhaps
she realized it herself.
In the language of instinct, she said to her mate:
"Yes, you may."
The male succumbed to his passion, and she yielded to him.
It was thus for a week or ten days.
Then at last, when the male came to her one night-time, she said:
She spoke instinctively, for another time had come - the time for the
birth of her children.
The male-bird, abashed, as though conscience-stricken at not having
divined the bidding of his mate earlier, went away from her only to
return at the end of a year.
From Spring-time, all through the Summer until September, the male
and female were absorbed in the great, beautiful, indispensable task
of breeding their young. In September the fledgelings took wing.
The Spring and Summer developed in their multi-coloured glory: they
burned with fiery splendour; the pine-trees glowed with a resinous
phosphorescence. There was the fragrance of wormwood. Chicory, blue-
bells, buttercups, milfoil, and cowslip blossomed and faded; prickly
In May the nights were deeply blue.
In June they were pale green.
The dawn broke in a blood-red flare like a great conflagration, and
at night pale silvery mists moved along the bottom of the ravine,
washing the tops of the pines.
At first the nest contained five grey eggs with green speckles. Then
came the little birds, big-headed, with disproportionately large
yellow mouths, their bodies covered with down. They chirruped
plaintively, stretching their long necks out from the nest, and they
They flew in June, though as yet clumsily, piping, and awkwardly
fluttering their immature wings.
The female was with them all the time, ruffling her feathers,
solicitous and petulant.
The male had no power of thought and hardly any of feeling, but
within him was a sense of pride in his own work, which he carried on
with joy. His whole life was dominated with an instinct which
subjugated his will and his desires to the care of his young.
He hunted for prey.
He had to obtain a great deal, because both his fledglings and his
mate were voracious. He had to fly sometimes as far as the river
Kama, in order to catch seagulls, which hovered over the huge, white,
unfamiliar, many-eyed monsters that floated over the water, puffing,
and smelling strangely like forest fires - the steamers!
He fed his fledgelings himself, tearing the meat into pieces. And he
watched attentively how, with wide open beaks, they seized the little
lumps of meat and, rolling their eyes and almost choking in the
effort, swallowed them.
Sometimes one of the fledgelings awkwardly fell out of the nest and
rolled down the steep. Then he hastily and anxiously flew after it,
bustling and croaking as though he were grumbling; he would take it
cautiously and clumsily in his talons and carry it, a frightened
flustered atom, back to the nest. There he would smooth its feathers
with his great beak for a long time, strutting round it, standing
high on his legs, and continuing his anxious croaks.
He dared not sleep at nights.
He perched on the end of a root, vigilantly peering into the
darkness, guarding his nestlings and their mother from danger. The
stars were above him. At times, as though scenting the fullness and
beauty of life, he fiercely and ruefully uttered his croak - scaring
He lived through the Winter in order to live. Through the Spring and
Summer he lived to breed. He was unable to think. He acted
instinctively, because God had so ordained it. Instinct alone guided
He lived to eat in the Winter so that he should not die. The Winters
were cold and cruel.
In the Spring he bred. Then the blood coursed warmly through his
veins. It was calm; the sun was bright; the stars glittered; and all
the time he longed to stretch himself, to close his eyes, to smite
the air with his wings, and to croak with an unreasoning joy.
The birdlings flew away in the autumn. The old birds and the young
bade adieu for ever with indifference. Rain came, mists swept by, the
sky hung lowering over the earth. The nights were dreary, damp and
dark. The old couple sat together in their nest, trying to cover
themselves and sleep. They froze and tossed about in discomfort.
Their eyes gleamed with greenish-yellow lights.
Thus passed the thirteen years of their life together.
* * * * * * *
Then the male-bird died.
His wing had been injured in youth, at the time he fought for his
mate. As the years rolled on, he found it more and more difficult to
hunt his prey: he had to fly ever farther and farther for it, and in
the nights he could get no rest because of the overwhelming pain that
shot right through the whole of his wing, and tormented him terribly.
Formerly he had not heeded the injury; now he found it grew
exceedingly grave and painful.
He did not sleep, but let his wing hang down as though he were
thrusting it from him. And in the morning he was hardly able to use
it when he flew off after his prey.
His mate forsook him.
She flew away from the nest at dusk one evening in early spring.
He sought for her all through the night - at dawn he found her with
another male, young and strong, who croaked tenderly round her. Then
the old bird felt life was over: he had lost all that made it
beautiful. He flew to fight his younger rival, but his attack was
weak and wavering. The young one rushed at him violently and
passionately, tore his body, and croaked menacingly. The female
watched the fray with indifference, as she had done many years
The old bird was beaten.
Fluttered, blood-stained, with one eye swollen, he flew back to his
nest and painfully perched himself on the end of a root. Something
within him told him his life was at an end. He had lived in order to
eat and to breed. Now he had only to die. Instinct told him that. For
two days he sat perched above the steep, quiet, immovable, his head
sunk deep into his shoulders.
Then, calmly, unperceivingly, he died. He fell down from the steep
and lay with his legs crooked and turned upward.
This was during the night. The stars were brilliant. Birds were
crying in the woods and over the river. Somewhere owls hooted.
The male-bird lay at the bottom of the ravine for five days. His body
was already decaying, and emitted a bitter, offensive odour.
A wolf came and devoured it.
ALWAYS ON DETACHMENT
Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev, engineer, spent all day in the
quarry, laying and exploding dynamite. In the village below was a
factory, its chimneys belching smoke; and creaking wagonettes sped
backwards and forwards from the parapet. Above on the cliff stood
huge sappy pines. All day the sky was grey and cloudy, and the smoke
from the chimneys spread like a low pall over the earth. The dynamite
exploded with a great detonation and expulsion of smoke.
The autumn darkness, with its sharp, acid, sweet tang, was already
falling as Agrenev proceeded homeward with the head-miner,
Eduardovich Bitska, a Lithuanian, and the lights from the engine-
house shone brightly in the distance.
The engineer's quarters lay in a forest-clearing on the further side
of the valley; the cement structures of its small buildings stood out
in monotonous uniformity; the blue light of its torches flared and
hissed, throwing back dark shadows from the trunks and branches of
the pine-trees, which laced, interlaced, and glided dusky and
intangible between the tall straight stems, finally melting amidst
His skin jacket was sticking to Agrenev's back, as, no doubt,
Bitska's was also.
"My missus will soon be home," Bitska said cheerfully - he had
recently been married. He spoke in broken Russian, with a foreign
In Agrenev's house it was dark. The warm glow from the torches
outside fell on the window-ledges and illuminated them, but inside
the only light was that visible through the crevices of his wife's
tightly closed door: his beloved wife - so aloof - so strange. The rain
had started, and its drip on the roof was like the sound of water-
falls: he changed, washed, took up a newspaper. The maid entered and
announced that tea was ready.
His wife - tall, slim, beautiful, and strange - was standing by the
window, her back to him, a book in her hand; a tumbler was on the
window-sill close beside her. She did not turn round as he entered,
merely murmuring: "Have some tea."
The electric light gave a brilliant glow. The freshly varnished
woodwork smelt of polish. She did not say another word, but returned
to her book, her delicate fingers turning over the leaves as,
standing with bent head, she read.
"Are you going out this evening, Anna?" he asked.
"Eh? No, I am staying in."
"Is there anyone coming?"
"Eh? No, nobody. Are _you_ going out?"
"I am not sure. I am going to-morrow on Detachment duty for a week."
"Eh? Oh yes, on Detachment."
Always the same! No interest in him; indifferent, absorbed in other
things. How he longed to stay and talk to her, on and on, of
everything; of the utter impossibility of life without love or
sympathy, of the intensity of his own love, and the melancholy of his
evenings. But he was silent.
"Is Asya asleep?" he inquired at last.
"Yes, she is asleep."
A nickel tea-pot and a solitary tumbler stood on the table with its
white cloth falling in straight folds. The ticking of the clock
"She does not deceive, nor betray, nor leave me," he thought; "but
she is strange, strange - and a mother!"
At last the earth was cloaked in darkness, the torches hung like
gleaming balls of fire, the pattering of the rain echoed dismally,
and above it, drowning all other sounds, was the dreary roar of the
He sauntered through the straight-cut avenues of the park towards his
club, but near the school turned aside and went in to see Nina. They
had known each other from childhood, attending the same school, Nina
his faithful comrade and devoted slave - and ever since he had
remained for her the one and only man, for she was of those who love
but once. Since then she had been flung about Russia, striven to
retain her honour, vainly tilting against the windmills of poverty
and temptation - had failed, been broken, and now had crept back that
she might live near him.
He walked through the school's dark corridors and knocked.
Alone, in a grey dress, plain-featured, her cheek red where it had
rested against the palm of her hand, she sat beside a little table in
the bare, simple room, a book on her lap. With a pang, Agrenev noted
her sunken eyes. But at sight of him they brightened instantly, and
she rose from her seat, putting the book aside.
"You darling? Welcome! Is it raining?"
"Greeting! Nina. I have just come in for a moment."
"Take off your coat," she urged. "You will have some tea?" Her eyes
and outstretched hands both said: "Thank you, thank you." "How are
you doing?" she asked him anxiously.
"I am bored. I can do nothing. I am utterly bored."
She placed the tea-urn on the table in her tiny kitchen, laid some
pots of jam by her copy-book, seated him in the solitary armchair,
and bustled round, all smiles, her cheeks flushing - the spot where
she had rested her hand all the long evening still showing red, - all-
loving, all-surrendering, yet undesired.
"You musn't wait on me like this, Nina," Agrenev protested;"... Sit
down and let us talk."
Their hands touched caressingly, and she sat down beside him.
"What is it, my dear?" She stroked his hand and its touch warmed her!
"What is it?"
At times indignation overcame her at the thought of life; she wrung
her hands, spoke with hatred, and her eyes darkened in anger. At
times she fell on her knees in tears and supplication; but with
Alexander Alexandrovitch she was always tender, with the tenderness
of unrequited love.
"What is it, darling?"
"I am bored, Nina. She ... Anna ... does not love me; she does not
leave me, nor deceive me, but neither does she love me. I know you
At home four walls ... Coldness ... The miner, Bitska, making jokes
all day in the rain ... the fuse to be lighted in the quarry, the
slow igniting to be watched. Thirty years had been lived ... five-
tenths of his life ... a half ... ten-twentieths. It was like a blank
cartridge ... no kindness ... a life without feeling ... all blank ...
The lamp seemed to go out and something warm lay over his eyes. The
palm of a hand. Nina's words were calm at first; then they grew
"Leave her, leave her, darling! Come to me, to me who wants you! What
if she doesn't love you? I do, I love you ..."
He was silent.
"You say nothing? I will give you all; you shall have everything!
Come to me, to me who will give to you so gladly! She is as dead; she
needs nothing! Do you hear? You have me ... I will take all the
suffering on myself ..."
* * * * * * *
The lamp streamed forth clearly again. A little grey clod of humanity
fell on to the maiden's narrow bed.
It was so intensely dark that the blackness seemed to close in on one
like a great wall, and it was difficult to see two paces ahead. Close
to the barracks some men were bawling to the music of a mouth-organ.
Under cover of the gloom someone whistled between his fingers,
babbling insolence and nonsense. The torches glowed through the
tangled network of branches and leaves like globes of fire.
Agrenev walked along, carrying a lantern, by the light of which he
mechanically picked his steps; close to his heels, Nina hurried
through the darkness and puddles. On every side there was the
rustling of pines, hundreds of them, their immense stems towering
upwards into obscurity. Although invisible, their presence could be
felt. The place was wild and dreary, odours of earth, moss, and pine-
sap mingled together in an overpowering perfume; it was the heart of
a vast primeval forest. Agrenev murmured as if to himself:
"No, Nina, I do not love you. I want nothing from you.... Anna ...
her father ordered her to marry me.... Ancient blood.... Anna told me
she would never love.... Asya is growing up under her influence.... I
love my little daughter ... yet she is strange too ... she looks at
me with vacant eyes ... my daughter! I stole her mother out of a
void! I go home and lie down alone ... or I go to Anna and she
receives me with compressed lips. I do not want a daughter from you,
Nina ... Why should I? To-morrow will ... be the same as yesterday."
By the door of his house in the engineer's quarters, he remembered
Nina, and all at once became solicitous:
"You will catch cold, my dear. It will be terrible for you getting
He stood before her a moment silently; then stretched out his hand:
"Well, the best of luck, my dear!"
A band of youths strolled by. One of them flashed a lantern-light on
"Aha! Sky-larking with the engineers! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
They began chattering among themselves and sang in chorus a ribald
"Once upon a time a wench
Appeared before a judge's bench.."
Before he went to bed Agrenev laid out cards to play Patience, ate a
cold supper, stood a long time staring at the light from under Anna's
door, then knocked.
He entered for a moment, and found her sitting at a table with a
book, which she laid down upon an open copybook diary. When, when is
he to know what is written there?
He spoke curtly:
"I go to Moscow the first thing to-morrow on Detachment. Here is some
money for the housekeeping."
"Thanks. When do you return?"
"In a week - that is, Friday next week. Is there anything you need?"
"No thanks." She rose, came close and kissed him on the cheek near
his lips. "A safe journey. Goodbye. Do not waken Asya."
And she turned away, sat down at the table, and took up her book
In the early hours of the morning a horse was yoked, and Agrenev
drove with Bitska over the main road to the station. It was wet. The
sombre figures of workmen were dimly seen through the rain and
darkness, hastening to the factory. The staff drove round in a motor
as the shrill sound of the factory horn split the silence.
Bitska in a bowler-hat, red-faced, with thin whiskers such as are
worn by the Letts, looked gravely round:
"You have not slept, Robert Edouardovitch?" asked Agrenev.
"No, I have not, and I am not in a good humour either." The man was
silent a moment, then burst out; "Now I am forty years, and my vife
she is eighteen. I am in vants of an earnest housekeeper. But my
vife, she is always jesting and dragging me by the - how do you call
it - the beard! And laughing and larking...." His little narrow eyes
wrinkled up into a wry smile: "Ah, the larking vench!"
THE WOLF'S RAVINE
In childhood, as a small lad, Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev had
heard from listening to his mother's conversation how - lo and behold!
one morning at 9 o'clock Nina Kallistratovna Zamotkina had proceeded
with her daughter to Doctor Chasovnikov's flat, in order to deliver a
slap in the face to his wife for having broken up the family hearth
by a liaison with Paul Alexander Zamotkin, Nina Kallistratovna's
The child Agrenev had vividly pictured to himself how Nina
Kallistratovna had walked, holding her daughter with one hand, an
attach√©-case in the other: of course her bearing must have been
singular, as she was going to the flat to administer a slap in the
face; no doubt she had walked either in a squatting or a bandy-legged
fashion. The family hearth must have been something extremely
valuable, as she was going to deliver a slap in the face on its
account - perhaps it was some kind of stove.
It was highly interesting - in the child's imagination - to picture
Nina Kallistratovna entering the flat, swinging back her arm, and
delivering the slap: her gait, her arms, the flat - all had a sudden
hidden and exceedingly curious meaning for the child.
This had remained out of his childhood memories of the little town
and province, where all had seemed unusual as childhood itself.
Now in the Wolf's Ravine Agrenev recalled this incident, and he
brooded bitterly over the certainty that no one would ever deliver a
slap in the face on his account! What vulgarity - slaps in the
face!... and a slap in the face was no solution.
It was now autumn, and as he stood in the ravine waiting for Olya,
the cranes flew low over his head, stretching themselves out like
arrows and crying discordantly. A wintry sulphurous light overspread
the eastern sky, and the blue crest of the Vega shone out above him
tremendous and triumphant, sweeping up into the very heart of the
On a sudden, Olya arrived, her figure darkly silhouetted an instant -
a tiny insignificant atom - against the vastness of the hill and sky
as she stood poised on the brink of the ravine; then she clambered
down its precipitous side to Agrenev.
Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev, mining engineer and married man,
and Olya Andreevna Golovkina!
* * * * * * *
She was a school teacher, who, after passing through the eight
classes of her college, now resided with her aunt. She was always
known as Olya Golovkina, although she bore the ancient Russian
surname made famous in the time of Peter the Great by Senator
Golovkin. But even in the time of Peter the Great this name had sunk
into the gutter and had left in this town a street Golovkinskaya, and
in that same Golovkinskaya Street a house, by the letting of which
Olya's aunt made her living.
Agrenev knew that the aunt - whose name he had never heard - was an old
maid, and that she had one joy - Olya. He knew she sat at her window
without a lamp throughout the evenings, waiting for Olya; and that
for this reason her niece, on leaving him, went round by the back-
way, in order to obviate suspicion.
Nothing was ever said of the aunt in a personal way; the name was
uttered only indirectly, as though applying to a substance and not to
a human being.
Olya was a very charming girl, of whom it was difficult to say
anything definite: such a pretty provincial maid, like a slender
The town lay over hillocks and fields and the ancient quarries, all
its energies flowing out from the factory at the further end - and a
casual conversation which occured in the spring at the beginning of
Agrenev's acquaintance with Olya was characteristic alike of the town
and of her. Agrenev had said apropos of something:
"Balmont, Blok, Brusov, Sologub..."
She interrupted him hastily - a slender little reed: "As a whole I
know little of foreign writers ..."
In the town - neither in the high-school, the library, nor the
newspapers - did they know of Balmont or Blok, but Olya loved to
declaim by rote from Kozlov, and she spoke French.
The factory lived its dark, noisy, unwholesome life sunk in poverty
beneath the surface, steeped in luxury above; the little town lived
amid the fields, scared and pressed down by the factory, but still
carrying on its own individual life.
Beyond it, on the side away from the factory, lay the pass called the
Wolf's Ravine. On the right, close to the river, was a grove where
couples walked. They never descended to the ravine, because it was so
unpoetic, a treeless, shallow, dull, unterrifying spot. Yet it
skirted the hills, dominated the surrounding country; and people
lying flat in the channel at its summit could survey the locality for
a mile round without being seen themselves.
Alexander Alexandrovitch was a married man. The shepherd lads tending