FictionForest

PART EIGHT : Chapter 17

Leo TolstoyAug 26, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The old prince and Sergey Ivanovitch
got into the trap and drove off; the rest of the party
hastened homewards on foot.

But the storm-clouds, turning white
and then black, moved down so quickly that they had
to quicken their pace to get home before the rain. 
The foremost clouds, lowering and black as soot-laden
smoke, rushed with extraordinary swiftness over the
sky.  They were still two hundred paces from
home and a gust of wind had already blown up, and
every second the downpour might be looked for.

The children ran ahead with frightened
and gleeful shrieks.  Darya Alexandrovna, struggling
painfully with her skirts that clung round her legs,
was not walking, but running, her eyes fixed on the
children.  The men of the party, holding their
hats on, strode with long steps beside her. 
They were just at the steps when a big drop fell splashing
on the edge of the iron guttering.  The children
and their elders after them ran into the shelter of
the house, talking merrily.

“Katerina Alexandrovna?”
Levin asked of Agafea Mihalovna, who met them with
kerchiefs and rugs in the hall.

“We thought she was with you,” she said.

“And Mitya?”

“In the copse, he must be, and the nurse with
him.”

Levin snatched up the rugs and ran towards the copse.

In that brief interval of time the
storm clouds had moved on, covering the sun so completely
that it was dark as an eclipse.  Stubbornly, as
though insisting on its rights, the wind stopped Levin,
and tearing the leaves and flowers off the lime trees
and stripping the white birch branches into strange
unseemly nakedness, it twisted everything on one side ­acacias,
flowers, burdocks, long grass, and tall tree-tops. 
The peasant girls working in the garden ran shrieking
into shelter in the servants’ quarters. 
The streaming rain had already flung its white veil
over all the distant forest and half the fields close
by, and was rapidly swooping down upon the copse. 
The wet of the rain spurting up in tiny drops could
be smelt in the air.

Holding his head bent down before
him, and struggling with the wind that strove to tear
the wraps away from him, Levin was moving up to the
copse and had just caught sight of something white
behind the oak tree, when there was a sudden flash,
the whole earth seemed on fire, and the vault of heaven
seemed crashing overhead.  Opening his blinded
eyes, Levin gazed through the thick veil of rain that
separated him now from the copse, and to his horror
the first thing he saw was the green crest of the
familiar oak-tree in the middle of the copse uncannily
changing its position.  “Can it have been
struck?” Levin hardly had time to think when,
moving more and more rapidly, the oak tree vanished
behind the other trees, and he heard the crash of the
great tree falling upon the others.

The flash of lightning, the crash
of thunder, and the instantaneous chill that ran through
him were all merged for Levin in one sense of terror.

“My God! my God! not on them!” he said.

And though he thought at once how
senseless was his prayer that they should not have
been killed by the oak which had fallen now, he repeated
it, knowing that he could do nothing better than utter
this senseless prayer.

Running up to the place where they
usually went, he did not find them there.

They were at the other end of the
copse under an old lime-tree; they were calling him. 
Two figures in dark dresses (they had been light
summer dresses when they started out) were standing
bending over something.  It was Kitty with the
nurse.  The rain was already ceasing, and it
was beginning to get light when Levin reached them. 
The nurse was not wet on the lower part of her dress,
but Kitty was drenched through, and her soaked clothes
clung to her.  Though the rain was over, they
still stood in the same position in which they had
been standing when the storm broke.  Both stood
bending over a perambulator with a green umbrella.

“Alive?  Unhurt? 
Thank God!” he said, splashing with his soaked
boots through the standing water and running up to
them.

Kitty’s rosy wet face was turned
towards him, and she smiled timidly under her shapeless
sopped hat.

“Aren’t you ashamed of
yourself?  I can’t think how you can be
so reckless!” he said angrily to his wife.

“It wasn’t my fault, really. 
We were just meaning to go, when he made such a to-do
that we had to change him.  We were just…” 
Kitty began defending herself.

Mitya was unharmed, dry, and still fast asleep.

“Well, thank God!  I don’t know what
I’m saying!”

They gathered up the baby’s
wet belongings; the nurse picked up the baby and carried
it.  Levin walked beside his wife, and, penitent
for having been angry, he squeezed her hand when the
nurse was not looking.

 

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