The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories
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 rails!"
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.