The pretty young fox sat still, and cried out, “Run, run, Brother Levon!... Quicker on your pins, Brother Michael! His Excellency is behind you; his Excellency is close behind!”
Ever since then all the wild beasts have been afraid of the cat, and the cat and the fox live merrily together, and eat fresh meat all the year round, which the other animals kill for them and leave a little way off.
And that is what happened to the old tom-cat with one eye, who was sewn up in a bag and thrown away in the forest.
“Just think what would happen to our handsome Vladimir if we were to throw him away!” said Vanya.
Warmer the sun shone, and warmer yet. The pines were green now. All the snow had melted off them, drip, drip, the falling drops of water making tiny wells in the snow under the trees. And the snow under the trees was melting too. Much had gone, and now there were only patches of snow in the forest—like scraps of a big white blanket, shrinking every day.
“Isn’t it lucky our blankets don’t shrink like that?” said Maroosia.
Old Peter laughed.
“What do you do when the warm weather comes?” he asked. “Do you still wear sheepskin coats? Do you still roll up at night under the rugs?”
“No,” said Maroosia; “I throw the rugs off, and put my fluffy coat away till next winter.”
“Well,” said old Peter, “and God, the Father of us all, He does for the earth just what you do for yourself; but He does it better. For the blankets He gives the earth in winter get smaller and smaller as the warm weather comes, little by little, day by day.”
“And then a hard frost comes, grandfather,” said Ivan.
“God knows all about that, little one,” said old Peter, “and it’s for the best. It’s good to have a nip or two in the spring, to make you feel alive. Perhaps it’s His way of telling the earth to wake up. For the whole earth is only His little one after all.”
That night, when it was story-time, Ivan and Maroosia consulted together; and when old Peter asked what the story was to be, they were ready with an answer.
“The snow is all melting away,” said Ivan.
“The summer is coming,” said Maroosia.
“We’d like the tale of the little snow girl,” said Ivan.
“‘The Little Daughter of the Snow,’” said Maroosia.
Old Peter shook out his pipe, and closed his eyes under his bushy eyebrows, thinking for a minute. Then he began.
There were once an old man, as old as I am, perhaps, and an old woman, his wife, and they lived together in a hut, in a village on the edge of the forest. There were many people in the village; quite a town it was—eight huts at least, thirty or forty souls, good company to be had for crossing the road. But the old man and the old woman were unhappy, in spite of living like that in the very middle of the world. And why do you think they were unhappy? They were unhappy because they had no little Vanya and no little Maroosia. Think of that. Some would say they were better off without them.