Pyotr the footman said something to the coachman; the coachman assented. But apparently the coachman’s sympathy was not enough for Pyotr. He turned round on the box to his master.

“Your excellency, how soft it is!” he said, smiling respectfully.


“It is soft, your excellency.”

“What does he mean?” wondered Prince Andrey. “Oh, the weather, most likely,” he thought, looking from side to side. “And, indeed, everything’s green already…how soon! And the birch and the wild cherry and the alder beginning to come out.…But I haven’t noticed the oak. Yes, here he is, the oak!”

At the edge of the wood stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birch-trees that formed the bulk of the forest, it was ten times the thickness and twice the height of any birch-tree. It was a huge oak, double a man’s span, with branches broken off, long ago it seemed, and with bark torn off, and seared with old scars. With its huge, uncouth, gnarled arms and fingers sprawling unsymmetrically, it stood an aged, angry, and scornful monster among the smiling birches. Only the few dead-looking, evergreen firs dotted about the forest, and this oak, refused to yield to the spell of spring, and would see neither spring nor sunshine.

“Spring and love and happiness!” that oak seemed to say. “Are you not sick of that ever-same, stupid, and meaningless cheat? Always the same, and always a cheat! There is no spring, nor sunshine, nor happiness. See yonder stand the cramped, dead fir-trees, ever the same, and here I have flung my torn and broken fingers wherever they have grown out of my back or my sides. As they have grown, so I stand, and I put no faith in your hopes and deceptions.”

Prince Andrey looked round several times at that oak as though he expected something from it. There were flowers and grass under the oak too, but still it stood, scowling, rigid, weird and grim, among them.

“Yes, he’s right, a thousand times right, the old oak,” thought Prince Andrey. “Others, young creatures, may be caught anew by that deception, but we know life—our life is over!” A whole fresh train of ideas, hopeless, but mournfully sweet, stirred up in Prince Andrey’s soul in connection with that oak. During this journey he thought over his whole life as it were anew, and came to the same hopeless but calming conclusion, that it was not for him to begin anything fresh, that he must live his life, content to do no harm, dreading nothing and desiring nothing.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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