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The Pipe
by [?]

“Yes, brother, very few. . . . Very few everywhere! The shooting here, if one is to look at it with common sense, is good for nothing and not worth having. There is no game at all, and what there is is not worth dirtying your hands over — it is not full-grown. It is such poor stuff that one is ashamed to look at it.”

Meliton gave a laugh and waved his hands.

“Things happen so queerly in this world that it is simply laughable and nothing else. Birds nowadays have become so unaccountable: they sit late on their eggs, and there are some, I declare, that have not hatched them by St. Peter’s Day!”

“It’s all going the same,” said the shepherd, turning his face upwards. “There was little game last year, this year there are fewer birds still, and in another five years, mark my words, there will be none at all. As far as I can see there will soon be not only no game, but no birds at all.”

Yes,” Meliton assented, after a moment’s thought. “That’s true.”

The shepherd gave a bitter smile and shook his head.

“It’s a wonder,” he said, “what has become of them all! I remember twenty years ago there used to be geese here, and cranes and ducks and grouse — clouds and clouds of them! The gentry used to meet together for shooting, and one heard nothing but pouf-pouf-pouf! pouf-pouf-pouf! There was no end to the woodcocks, the snipe, and the little teals, and the water-snipe were as common as starlings, or let us say sparrows — lots and lots of them! And what has become of them all? We don’t even see the birds of prey. The eagles, the hawks, and the owls have all gone. . . . There are fewer of every sort of wild beast, too. Nowadays, brother, even the wolf and the fox have grown rare, let alone the bear or the otter. And you know in old days there were even elks! For forty years I have been observing the works of God from year to year, and it is my opinion that everything is going the same way.”

“What way?”

“To the bad, young man. To ruin, we must suppose. . . The time has come for God’s world to perish.”

The old man put on his cap and began gazing at the sky.

“It’s a pity,” he sighed, after a brief silence. “O God, what a pity! Of course it is God’s will; the world was not created by us, but yet it is a pity, brother. If a single tree withers away, or let us say a single cow dies, it makes one sorry, but what will it be, good man, if the whole world crumbles into dust? Such blessings, Lord Jesus! The sun, and the sky, and the forest, and the rivers, and the creatures — all these have been created, adapted, and adjusted to one another. Each has been put to its appointed task and knows its place. And all that must perish.”

A mournful smile gleamed on the shepherd’s face, and his eyelids quivered.

“You say — the world is perishing,” said Meliton, pondering. “It may be that the end of the world is near at hand, but you can’t judge by the birds. I don’t think the birds can be taken as a sign.”

“Not the birds only,” said the shepherd. “It’s the wild beasts, too, and the cattle, and the bees, and the fish. . . . If you don’t believe me ask the old people; every old man will tell you that the fish are not at all what they used to be. In the seas, in the lakes, and in the rivers, there are fewer fish from year to year. In our Pestchanka, I remember, pike used to be caught a yard long, and there were eel-pouts, and roach, and bream, and every fish had a presentable appearance; while nowadays, if you catch a wretched little pikelet or perch six inches long you have to be thankful. There are not any gudgeon even worth talking about. Every year it is worse and worse, and in a little while there will be no fish at all. And take the rivers now . . . the rivers are drying up, for sure.”