In the woods, in the deep woods, was an open glade in which stood the house of the forester Stephan. The house was built of logs packed with moss, and the roof was thatched with straw; hard by the house stood two outbuildings; in front of it was a piece of fenced-in ground, and an old well with a long, crooked sweep; the water in the well was covered with a green vegetation at the edges.
Opposite the windows grew sunflowers and wild hollyhocks, high, stately, and covered with blossoms as if with a swarm of gorgeous butterflies; between the sunflowers there peeped the red heads of the poppy; around the hollyhocks entwined sweet peas with pink blossoms and morning-glories; close to the ground grew nasturtiums, marigolds, primroses, and asters, pale because they were shaded from the sunlight by the leaves of the hollyhocks and sunflowers.
The fenced ground on either side of the pathway leading to the house was planted with vegetables—carrots, beets, and cabbage; further off in a separate fenced-in lot there waved with each breath of wind the tender blue flower of the flax; still beyond could be seen the dark green of the potato patch; the rest of the clearing was checkered with the variegated shades of the different cereals that ran to the edge of the lake which touched the glade on one side.
Near to the house a few trees were growing. Some were cherry trees, and one was a birch, with long, slender branches which swayed in the wind, and with every breeze its leaves touched the dilapidated moss-covered straw thatch of the roof; when the stronger gusts of wind bent its boughs to the wall, and pressed its twigs and the waves of leaves against the roof, it would seem as if the tree loved the house and embraced it.
In this tree the sparrows made their home; the rustling of the leaves and twigs commingled with the chirp and joyous noise of the birds; in the eaves of the house the doves had built their nests, and the place was filled with their speech, cooing and calling to each other, entreating and discussing as is customary between doves, these noisy and talkative people.
At times it happened that they were startled by some unknown cause; then around the house was heard a loud flapping, the air was filled with the whirl of wings and a multitude of white-feathered breasts; you could hear tumult, noise and excited cries—the whole flock flew out suddenly, circled round the house, now near, now far off. Sometimes they melted in the blue, sometimes their white feathers reflected the sunlight, again they hung over the house, undulating in the air, and alighting at last like a downfall of snowflakes on the gray straw of the roof.
If this occurred in the rosy morning or in the splendor of the red setting sun, then in the glory of the air these doves were not white, but tinted pink, and settled on the roof and birch tree as flames or scattered rose leaves.
At twilight, when the sun had hidden itself beyond the woods, this cooing under the roof and chirping in the birch tree became gradually quiet. The sparrows and the doves shook the dew from their wings and prepared to sleep; sometimes one of them gave voice once more, but more rarely, more softly, more drowsily, and then all was silent—the dusk was falling from the heavens upon the earth. The house, cherry trees, and birch were losing their form, mingling together, melting, and veiled in a mist which rose from the lake.
Around the glade, as far as the eye could reach, there stretched the wall of dark pine trees and thick undergrowth. This wall was broken in one place by a wide dividing line, which reached to the edge of the lake. The lake was a very large one, the opposite side was nearly lost to view, and in the mist could be hardly discerned the red roof and steeple of a church, and the black line of the woods closing the horizon beyond the church.
The pines were looking from the high sandy banks upon their reflection in the lake as if in a mirror, and it seemed as if there was another forest in the water; and when the trees were swaying on the earth they were also swaying in the water, and when they quivered on the earth they seemed to quiver in the water; as they stood in the still air motionless, then every needle of the pines was painted distinctly on the smooth, unruffled surface, and the straight trunks of the trees standing like rows of pillars reaching afar off into infinity. In the middle of the lake the water in the daytime reflected the sun, and in the morning and the evening the glories of its rising and its setting; at night the moon and stars; and it seemed to be as deep as the dome of the sky above us is high, beyond the sun, moon, and stars.
In the house dwelt the forester, named Stephan, and his daughter, Kasya, a maiden of sixteen. Kasya was the light of the household, as bright and fresh as the morning. She was brought up in great innocence and in the fear of God. Her uncle, who was now dead, and who was a poor but devout man, the organist of the neighboring church, had taught her to read her prayer book, and her education was perfected by her communing with nature. The bees taught her to work, the doves taught her purity, the happy sparrows to speak joyfully to her father, the quiet water taught her peace, the serenity of the sky taught her contemplation, the matin-bell of the distant church called her to devotion, and the universal good in all nature, which reflected the love of God, sank deep into her soul.
Therefore the father and Kasya led a peaceful and happy life, surrounded by the silence and solitude of the woods.
One noon, before Ascension Day, Stephan came home to his dinner. He had visited a large tract of the forest, so he arrived weary, having returned through the thickets of the swamp. Kasya placed the dinner on the table, and after they had finished and she had fed the dog and washed the dishes, she said:
“What is it?”
“I shall go into the woods.”
“Go, go,” adding jestingly, “and let some wolf or wild beast devour you.”
“I shall go and gather herbs. To-morrow is Ascension Day and they will be needed in the church.”
“If so, you can go.”
She covered her head with a yellow kerchief embroidered with blue flowers, and looking for her basket she began singing:
“The falcon came flying, the falcon came grey.”
The old man began to grumble: “If you were as fond of working as you are of singing.”
Kasya, who was standing on her tiptoes to look on a shelf, turned her head to her father, laughed merrily, and showing her white teeth, sang again as if to tease him:
“He hoots in the woods and the cuckoo’s his prey.”
“You would be glad yourself to be a cuckoo until a falcon came,” said the old man. “Perhaps ’tis falcon who is at the turpentine works? but this is folly. You can’t earn a piece of bread by singing.”
Kasya again sang:
“Hoot not thou, my falcon, unhappy thy quest,
In the depths of the lake thy cuckoo doth rest.”
Then she said:
“Wilt thou decorate the room with the evergreens for to-morrow? I shall return in time to milk the cows, but they should be brought from the pasture.”
She found her basket, kissed her father, and went out. Old Stephan got his unfinished fishing-net, and seated himself on a bench outside the door. He gathered his twine, and half-closing one eye he tried to thread his netting needle; after several attempts he succeeded and began to work.
From time to time he watched Kasya. She was walking on the left side of the lake; against the background of the sandy banks she stood out in relief as if in a picture. Her white waist and red striped skirt and yellow kerchief glistened in the sunlight like a variegated flower. Though it was spring the heat was unbearable. After she had gone about half a mile she turned aside and disappeared into the woods. The afternoon hours were hot in the sun, but in the shade of the trees it was quite cool. Kasya pressed forward, suddenly stopped, smiled, and blushed like a rose.
In front of her in the pathway stood a youth about eighteen years of age.
This youth was the turpentine worker, from the edge of the woods, who was now on his way to visit Stephan.
“The Lord be praised!” said he.
“Forever and ever,” answered she, and in her confusion she covered her face with her apron, peeping shyly out of a corner of it and smiling at her companion.
“Kasya,” said he.
“What is it, John?”
“Is your father at home?”
The turpentine worker, poor fellow, perhaps desired to speak of something else beside the father, but somehow he was frightened and unconsciously inquired for him; then he became silent and waited for Kasya to speak to him first. She stood confused, twisting the corners of her apron.
At last she spoke.
“What is it, Kasya?”
“Does the turpentine works smoke to-day?” She also wished to speak of something else.
“Why should it not? The turpentine works never stop. I left lame Frank there; but dost thou wish to go there?”
“No, I go to gather plants.”
“I will go with thee, and on our return, if thou dost not chase me away, I will come to thy house.”
“Why should I chase thee away?”
“If thou dost like me thou wilt not chase me away, and if thou dost not, then thou wilt. Tell me, Kasya, dost thou like me?”
“Fate, my fate,” and Kasya covered her face with her hands. “What can I say to thee? I like thee, John, very much I like thee,” she whispered faintly.
Then before he could reply she uncovered her blushing face and cried out, “Let us go and gather plants; let us hurry.”
And so went they, John and Kasya. The radiance of love surrounded them, but these simple children of nature dared not speak of it. They felt it, although they knew not what they felt; they were embarrassed but happy. Never before had the forest sung so wonderfully over their heads, never was the wind so sweet and caressing, never at any time had the noises of the forest, the rustling of the breeze in the trees, the voices of the birds, the echoes of the woods, seemed to merge into such an angelic choir, so sweet and grand, as at this moment, full of unconscious happiness.
Oh, holy power of love! how good an angel of light thou art, how rosy an aureole in the dusk, how bright a rainbow on the cloud of human tears!
Meanwhile, in the woods resounded echoes from pine to pine, the barking of the dog, Burek, who had escaped from the house and ran on the pathway after Kasya. He came panting heavily, and with great joy he jumped with his big paws on Kasya and John, and looked from one to the other with his wise and mild eyes, as if wishing to say:
“I see that you love one another; this is good.”
He wagged his tail and ran quickly ahead of them, then circled round to them, then stopped, barked once more with joy, and rushed into the woods, looking back from time to time on the boy and girl.
Kasya put her hand to her forehead, and looking upward upon the bright sun between the leaves she said:
“Just think, the sun is two hours beyond noontime and we have not yet gathered any plants. Go thou, John, to the left side and I shall go the right, and let us begin. We should hasten, for the dear Lord’s sake.”
They separated and went into the woods, but not far from one another and in a parallel direction, so that they could see each other. Among the ferns between the pine trees could be seen fluttering the vari-colored skirt and yellow kerchief of Kasya. The slender, supple maiden seemed to float amid the berry-laden bushes, mosses and ferns. You would say it was some fairy wila or rusalka of the woods; every moment she stooped and stood erect again, and so, further and further, passing the pine trees, she entered deeper into the forest as some spritely nymph.
Sometimes the thick growth of young hemlocks and cedars would conceal her from view, then John stopped, and putting his hand to his mouth would shout, “Halloo! Halloo!”
Kasya heard it; she stopped with a smile, and pretending that she did not see him, answered in a high, silvery voice:
The echo answers:
Meanwhile Burek had espied a squirrel up a tree, and, standing before it looking upward, barked. The squirrel sitting on a branch covered herself with her tail in a mocking manner, lifted her forepaws to her mouth and rubbed her nose, seemed to play with her forefingers, make grimaces, and laugh at the anger of Burek. Kasya, seeing it, laughed with a resounding, silvery tone, and so did John, and so the woods were filled with the sound of human voices, echoes, laughter and sunny joy.
Sometimes there was a deep silence, and then the woods seemed to speak; the breeze struck the fronds of the ferns, which emitted a sharp sound; the trunks of the pines swayed and creaked, and there was silence again.
Then could be heard the measured strokes of the woodpecker. It seemed as if some one kept knock—knocking at a door, and you could even expect that some mysterious voice would ask:
“Who is there?”
Again, the wood thrush was whistling with a sweet voice; the golden-crowned hammer plumed his feathers. In the thicket the pheasants clucked and the bright green humming birds flitted between the leaves; sometimes on the top of the pine tree a crow, hiding itself from the heat of the sun, lazily flapped its wings.
On this afternoon the weather was most clear, the sky was cloudless, and above the green canopy of the leaves there spread out the blue dome of the heavens—immense, limitless, transparently gray-tinted on the sides and