A HUNGRY she-wolf got up to go hunting. Her
cubs, all three of them, were sound asleep, huddled in a heap
and keeping each other warm. She licked them and went off.
It was already March, a month of spring, but at night the trees
snapped with the cold, as they do in December, and one could
hardly put one's tongue out without its being nipped. The
wolf-mother was in delicate health and nervous; she started at
the slightest sound, and kept hoping that no one would hurt the
little ones at home while she was away. The smell of the tracks
of men and horses, logs, piles of faggots, and the dark road
with horse-dung on it frightened her; it seemed to her that men
were standing behind the trees in the darkness, and that dogs
were howling somewhere beyond the forest.
She was no longer young and her scent had grown feebler, so that
it sometimes happened that she took the track of a fox for that
of a dog, and even at times lost her way, a thing that had never
been in her youth. Owing to the weakness of her health she no
longer hunted calves and big sheep as she had in old days, and
kept her distance now from mares with colts; she fed on nothing
but carrion; fresh meat she tasted very rarely, only in the
spring when she would come upon a hare and take away her young,
or make her way into a peasant's stall where there were lambs.
Some three miles from her lair there stood a winter hut on the
posting road. There lived the keeper Ignat, an old man of
seventy, who was always coughing and talking to himself; at
night he was usually asleep, and by day he wandered about the
forest with a single-barrelled gun, whistling to the hares. He
must have worked among machinery in early days, for before he
stood still he always shouted to himself: "Stop the machine!"
and before going on: "Full speed!" He had a huge black dog of
indeterminate breed, called Arapka. When it ran too far ahead he
used to shout to it: "Reverse action!" Sometimes he used to
sing, and as he did so staggered violently, and often fell down
(the wolf thought the wind blew him over), and shouted: "Run off
The wolf remembered that, in the summer and autumn, a ram and
two ewes were pasturing near the winter hut, and when she had
run by not so long ago she fancied that she had heard bleating
in the stall. And now, as she got near the place, she reflected
that it was already March, and, by that time, there would
certainly be lambs in the stall. She was tormented by hunger,
she thought with what greediness she would eat a lamb, and these
thoughts made her teeth snap, and her eyes glitter in the
darkness like two sparks of light.
Ignat's hut, his barn, cattle-stall, and well were surrounded by
high snowdrifts. All was still. Arapka was, most likely, asleep
in the barn.
The wolf clambered over a snowdrift on to the stall, and began
scratching away the thatched roof with her paws and her nose.
The straw was rotten and decaying, so that the wolf almost fell
through; all at once a smell of warm steam, of manure, and of
sheep's milk floated straight to her nostrils. Down below, a
lamb, feeling the cold, bleated softly. Leaping through the
hole, the wolf fell with her four paws and chest on something
soft and warm, probably a sheep, and at the same moment,
something in the stall suddenly began whining, barking, and
going off into a shrill little yap; the sheep huddled against
the wall, and the wolf, frightened, snatched the first thing her
teeth fastened on, and dashed away. . . .
She ran at her utmost speed, while Arapka, who by now had
scented the wolf, howled furiously, the frightened hens cackled,
and Ignat, coming out into the porch, shouted: "Full speed! Blow
And he whistled like a steam-engine, and then shouted:
"Ho-ho-ho-ho!" and all this noise was repeated by the forest
echo. When, little by little, it all died away, the wolf
somewhat recovered herself, and began to notice that the prey
she held in her teeth and dragged along the snow was heavier
and, as it were, harder than lambs usually were at that season;
and it smelt somehow different, and uttered strange sounds. . .
. The wolf stopped and laid her burden on the snow, to rest and
begin eating it, then all at once she leapt back in disgust. It
was not a lamb, but a black puppy, with a big head and long
legs, of a large breed, with a white patch on his brow, like
Arapka's. Judging from his manners he was a simple, ignorant,
yard-dog. He licked his crushed and wounded back, and, as though
nothing was the matter, wagged his tail and barked at the wolf.
She growled like a dog, and ran away from him. He ran after her.
She looked round and snapped her teeth. He stopped in
perplexity, and, probably deciding that she was playing with
him, craned his head in the direction he had come from, and went
off into a shrill, gleeful bark, as though inviting his mother
Arapka to play with him and the wolf.
It was already getting light, and when the wolf reached her home
in the thick aspen wood, each aspen tree could be seen
distinctly, and the woodcocks were already awake, and the
beautiful male birds often flew up, disturbed by the incautious
gambols and barking of the puppy.
"Why does he run after me?" thought the wolf with annoyance. "I
suppose he wants me to eat him."
She lived with her cubs in a shallow hole; three years before, a
tall old pine tree had been torn up by the roots in a violent
storm, and the hole had been formed by it. Now there were dead
leaves and moss at the bottom, and around it lay bones and
bullocks' horns, with which the little ones played. They were by
now awake, and all three of them, very much alike, were standing
in a row at the edge of their hole, looking at their returning
mother, and wagging their tails. Seeing them, the puppy stopped
a little way off, and stared at them for a very long time;
seeing that they, too, were looking very attentively at him, he
began barking angrily, as at strangers.
By now it was daylight and the sun had risen, the snow sparkled
all around, but still the puppy stood a little way off and
barked. The cubs sucked their mother, pressing her thin belly
with their paws, while she gnawed a horse's bone, dry and white;
she was tormented by hunger, her head ached from the dog's
barking, and she felt inclined to fall on the uninvited guest
and tear him to pieces.
At last the puppy was hoarse and exhausted; seeing they were not
afraid of him, and not even attending to him, he began somewhat
timidly approaching the cubs, alternately squatting down and
bounding a few steps forward. Now, by daylight, it was easy to
have a good look at him. . . . His white forehead was big, and
on it was a hump such as is only seen on very stupid dogs; he
had little, blue, dingy-looking eyes, and the expression of his
whole face was extremely stupid. When he reached the cubs he
stretched out his broad paws, laid his head upon them, and
"Mnya, myna . . . nga--nga--nga . . . !"
The cubs did not understand what he meant, but they wagged their
tails. Then the puppy gave one of the cubs a smack on its big
head with his paw. The cub, too, gave him a smack on the head.
The puppy stood sideways to him, and looked at him askance,
wagging his tail, then dashed off, and ran round several times
on the frozen snow. The cubs ran after him, he fell on his back
and kicked up his legs, and all three of them fell upon him,
squealing with delight, and began biting him, not to hurt but in
play. The crows sat on the high pine tree, and looked down on
their struggle, and were much troubled by it. They grew noisy
and merry. The sun was hot, as though it were spring; and the
woodcocks, continually flitting through the pine tree that had
been blown down by the storm, looked as though made of emerald
in the brilliant sunshine.
As a rule, wolf-mothers train their children to hunt by giving
them prey to play with; and now watching the cubs chasing the
puppy over the frozen snow and struggling with him, the mother
"Let them learn."
When they had played long enough, the cubs went into the hole
and lay down to sleep. The puppy howled a little from hunger,
then he, too, stretched out in the sunshine. And when they woke
up they began playing again.
All day long, and in the evening, the wolf-mother was thinking
how the lamb had bleated in the cattle-shed the night before,
and how it had smelt of sheep's milk, and she kept snapping her
teeth from hunger, and never left off greedily gnawing the old
bone, pretending to herself that it was the lamb. The cubs
sucked their mother, and the puppy, who was hungry, ran round
them and sniffed at the snow.
"I'll eat him . . ." the mother-wolf decided.
She went up to him, and he licked her nose and yapped at her,
thinking that she wanted to play with him. In the past she had
eaten dogs, but the dog smelt very doggy, and in the delicate
state of her health she could not endure the smell; she felt
disgusted and walked away. . . .
Towards night it grew cold. The puppy felt depressed and went
When the wolf-cubs were fast asleep, their mother went out
hunting again. As on the previous night she was alarmed at every
sound, and she was frightened by the stumps, the logs, the dark
juniper bushes, which stood out singly, and in the distance were
like human beings. She ran on the ice-covered snow, keeping away
from the road. . . . All at once she caught a glimpse of
something dark, far away on the road. She strained her eyes and
ears: yes, something really was walking on in front, she could
even hear the regular thud of footsteps. Surely not a badger?
Cautiously holding her breath, and keeping always to one side,
she overtook the dark patch, looked round, and recognised it. It
was the puppy with the white brow, going with a slow, lingering
"If only he doesn't hinder me again," thought the wolf, and ran
quickly on ahead.
But the homestead was by now near. Again she clambered on to the
cattle-shed by the snowdrift. The gap she had made yesterday had
been already mended with straw, and two new rafters stretched
across the roof. The wolf began rapidly working with her legs
and nose, looking round to see whether the puppy were coming,
but the smell of the warm steam and manure had hardly reached
her nose before she heard a gleeful burst of barking behind her.
It was the puppy. He leapt up to the wolf on the roof, then into
the hole, and, feeling himself at home in the warmth,
recognising his sheep, he barked louder than ever. . . . Arapka
woke up in the barn, and, scenting a wolf, howled, the hens
began cackling, and by the time Ignat appeared in the porch with
his single-barrelled gun the frightened wolf was already far
"Fuite!" whistled Ignat. "Fuite! Full steam ahead!"
He pulled the trigger -- the gun missed fire; he pulled the
trigger again -- again it missed fire; he tried a third time --
and a great blaze of flame flew out of the barrel and there was
a deafening boom, boom. It kicked him violently on the shoulder,
and, taking his gun in one hand and his axe in the other, he
went to see what the noise was about.
A little later he went back to the hut.
"What was it?" a pilgrim, who was staying the night at the hut
and had been awakened by the noise, asked in a husky voice.
"It's all right," answered Ignat. "Nothing of consequence. Our
Whitebrow has taken to sleeping with the sheep in the warm. Only
he hasn't the sense to go in at the door, but always tries to
wriggle in by the roof. The other night he tore a hole in the
roof and went off on the spree, the rascal, and now he has come
back and scratched away the roof again."
"Yes, there is a spring snapped in his brain. I do detest
fools," sighed Ignat, clambering on to the stove. "Come, man of
God, it's early yet to get up. Let us sleep full steam! . . ."
In the morning he called Whitebrow, smacked him hard about the
ears, and then showing him a stick, kept repeating to him:
"Go in at the door! Go in at the door! Go in at the door!"
title: literally, "Patch"
keeper Ignat: watchmen were used to guard the forest from those
who would steal wood during the winter
Fuite: onomatopoeic sound of a whistle
pilgrim: religious pilgrims who went from shrine to shrine were
common in 19th century Russia
stove: Russian peasants usually slept on their stoves during the
winter; even after the fire was out the stove would provide
warmth for many hours
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