THE CAT WHO BECAME HEAD-FORESTER
 IF you drop Vladimir by mistake, you know he always falls on his feet.
And if Vladimir tumbles off the roof of the hut, he always falls on
his feet. Cats always fall on their feet, on their four paws, and
never hurt themselves. And as in tumbling, so it is in life. No cat is
ever unfortunate for very long. The worse things look for a cat, the
better they are going to be.
Well, once upon a time, not so very long ago, an old peasant had a cat
and did not like him. He was a tom-cat, always fighting; and he had
lost one ear, and was not very pretty to look at. The peasant thought
he would get rid of his old cat, and buy a new one from a neighbour.
He did not care what became of the old tom-cat with one ear, so long
as he never saw him again.
 It was no use thinking of killing him, for
it is a life's work to kill a cat, and it's likely enough that the cat
would come alive at the end.
So the old peasant he took a sack, and he bundled the tom-cat into the
sack, and he sewed up the sack and slung it over his back, and walked
off into the forest. Off he went, trudging along in the summer
sunshine, deep into the forest. And when he had gone very many versts
into the forest, he took the sack with the cat in it and threw it away
among the trees.
"You stay there," says he, "and if you do get out in this desolate
place, much good may it do you, old quarrelsome bundle of bones and
And with that he turned round and trudged home again, and bought a
nice-looking, quiet cat from a neighbour in exchange for a little
tobacco, and settled down comfortably at home with the new cat in
front of the stove; and there he may be to this day, so far as I know.
My story does not bother with him, but only with the old tom-cat tied
up in the sack away there out in the forest.
The bag flew through the air, and plumped down through a bush to the
ground. And the old tom-cat landed on his feet inside it, very much
frightened but not hurt. Thinks he, this bag,
 this flight through the
air, this bump, mean that my life is going to change. Very well; there
is nothing like something new now and again.
And presently he began tearing at the bag with his sharp claws. Soon
there was a hole he could put a paw through. He went on, tearing and
scratching, and there was a hole he could put two paws through. He
went on with his work, and soon he could put his head through, all the
easier because he had only one ear. A minute or two after that he had
wriggled out of the bag, and stood up on his four paws and stretched
himself in the forest.
"The world seems to be larger than the village," he said. "I will walk
on and see what there is in it."
He washed himself all over, curled his tail proudly up in the air,
cocked the only ear he had left, and set off walking under the forest
"I was the head-cat in the village," says he to himself. "If all goes
well, I shall be head here too." And he walked along as if he were the
Well, he walked on and on, and he came to an old hut that had belonged
to a forester. There was nobody there, nor had been for many years,
and the old tom-cat made himself quite at home.
 He climbed up into
the loft under the roof, and found a little rotten hay.
"A very good bed," says he, and curls up and falls asleep.
When he woke he felt hungry, so he climbed down and went off in the
forest to catch little birds and mice. There were plenty of them in
the forest, and when he had eaten enough he came back to the hut,
climbed into the loft, and spent the night there very comfortably.
You would have thought he would be content. Not he. He was a cat. He
said, "This is a good enough lodging. But I have to catch all my own
food. In the village they fed me every day, and I only caught mice for
fun. I ought to be able to live like that here. A person of my dignity
ought not to have to do all the work for himself."
Next day he went walking in the forest. And as he was walking he met a
fox, a vixen, a very pretty young thing, gay and giddy like all girls.
And the fox saw the cat, and was very much astonished.
"All these years," she said—for though she was young she thought she
had lived a long time—"all these years," she said, "I've lived in
the forest, but I've never seen a wild beast like that before.
 What a
strange-looking animal! And with only one ear. How handsome!"
And she came up and made her bows to the cat, and said,—
"Tell me, great lord, who you are. What fortunate chance has brought
you to this forest? And by what name am I to call your Excellency?"
Oh! the fox was very polite. It is not every day that you meet a
handsome stranger walking in the forest.
The cat arched his back, and set all his fur on end, and said, very
slowly and quietly,—
"I have been sent from the far forests of Siberia to be Head-forester
over you. And my name is Cat Ivanovitch."
"O Cat Ivanovitch!" says the pretty young fox, and she makes more
bows. "I did not know. I beg your Excellency's pardon. Will your
Excellency honour my humble house by visiting it as a guest?"
"I will," says the cat. "And what do they call you?"
"My name, your Excellency, is Lisabeta Ivanovna."
"I will come with you, Lisabeta," says the cat.
And they went together to the fox's earth. Very snug, very neat it was
inside; and the cat
 curled himself up in the best place, while
Lisabeta Ivanovna, the pretty young fox, made ready a tasty dish of
game. And while she was making the meal ready, and dusting the
furniture with her tail, she looked at the cat. At last she said,
"Tell me, Cat Ivanovitch, are you married or single?"
"Single," says the cat.
"And I too am unmarried," says the pretty young fox, and goes busily
on with her dusting and cooking.
Presently she looks at the cat again.
"What if we were to marry, Cat Ivanovitch? I would try to be a good
wife to you."
"Very well, Lisabeta," says the cat; "I will marry you."
The fox went to her store and took out all the dainties that she had,
and made a wedding feast to celebrate her marriage to the great Cat
Ivanovitch, who had only one ear, and had come from the far Siberian
forests to be Head-forester.
They ate up everything there was in the place.
Next morning the pretty young fox went off busily into the forest to
get food for her grand husband. But the old tom-cat stayed at home,
 and cleaned his whiskers and slept. He was a lazy one, was that cat,
The fox was running through the forest, looking for game, when she met
an old friend, the handsome young wolf, and he began making polite
speeches to her.
"What had become of you, gossip?" says he. "I've been to all the best
earths and not found you at all."
"Let be, fool," says the fox very shortly. "Don't talk to me like
that. What are you jesting about? Formerly I was a young, unmarried
fox; now I am a wedded wife."
"Whom have you married, Lisabeta Ivanovna?"
"What!" says the fox, "you have not heard that the great Cat
Ivanovitch, who has only one ear, has been sent from the far Siberian
forests to be Head-forester over all of us? Well, I am now the
"No, I had not heard, Lisabeta Ivanovna. And when can I pay my
respects to his Excellency?"
"Not now, not now," says the fox. "Cat Ivanovitch will be raging angry
with me if I let any one come near him. Presently he will be taking
his food. Look you. Get a sheep, and make it ready, and bring it as a
greeting to him, to show him that he is welcome and that you
 know how
to treat him with respect. Leave the sheep near by, and hide yourself
so that he shall not see you; for, if he did, things might be
"Thank you, thank you, Lisabeta Ivanovna," says the wolf, and off he
goes to look for a sheep.
The pretty young fox went idly on, taking the air, for she knew that
the wolf would save her the trouble of looking for food.
Presently she met the bear.
"Good-day to you, Lisabeta Ivanovna," says the bear; "as pretty as
ever, I see you are."
"Bandy-legged one," says the fox; "fool, don't come worrying me.
Formerly I was a young, unmarried fox; now I am a wedded wife."
"I beg your pardon," says the bear, "whom have you married, Lisabeta
"The great Cat Ivanovitch has been sent from the far Siberian forests
to be Head-forester over us all. And Cat Ivanovitch is now my
husband," says the fox.
"Is it forbidden to have a look at his Excellency?"
"It is forbidden," says the fox. "Cat Ivanovitch will be raging angry
with me if I let any one come near him. Presently he will be taking
his food. Get along with you quickly; make ready
 an ox, and bring it
by way of welcome to him. The wolf is bringing a sheep. And look you.
Leave the ox near by, and hide yourself so that the great Cat
Ivanovitch shall not see you; or else, brother, things may be
The bear shambled off as fast as he could go to get an ox.
The pretty young fox, enjoying the fresh air of the forest, went
slowly home to her earth, and crept in very quietly, so as not to
awake the great Head-forester, Cat Ivanovitch, who had only one ear
and was sleeping in the best place.
Presently the wolf came through the forest, dragging a sheep he had
killed. He did not dare to go too near the fox's earth, because of Cat
Ivanovitch, the new Head-forester. So he stopped, well out of sight,
and stripped off the skin of the sheep, and arranged the sheep so as
to seem a nice tasty morsel. Then he stood still, thinking what to do
next. He heard a noise, and looked up. There was the bear, struggling
along with a dead ox.
"Good-day, brother Michael Ivanovitch," says the wolf.
"Good-day, brother Levon Ivanovitch," says the bear. "Have you seen
the fox, Lisabeta Ivanovna, with her husband, the Head-forester?"
 "No, brother," says the wolf. "For a long time I have been waiting to
"Go on and call out to them," says the bear.
"No, Michael Ivanovitch," says the wolf, "I will not go. Do you go;
you are bigger and bolder than I."
"No, no, Levon Ivanovitch, I will not go. There is no use in risking
one's life without need."
Suddenly, as they were talking, a little hare came running by. The
bear saw him first, and roared out,—
"Hi, Squinteye! trot along here."
The hare came up, slowly, two steps at a time, trembling with fright.
"Now then, you squinting rascal," says the bear, "do you know where
the fox lives, over there?"
"I know, Michael Ivanovitch."
"Get along there quickly, and tell her that Michael Ivanovitch the
bear and his brother Levon Ivanovitch the wolf have been ready for a
long time, and have brought presents of a sheep and an ox, as
greetings to his Excellency ..."
"His Excellency, mind," says the wolf; "don't forget."
The hare ran off as hard as he could go, glad to
 have escaped so
easily. Meanwhile the wolf and the bear looked about for good places
in which to hide.
"It will be best to climb trees," says the bear. "I shall go up to the
top of this fir."
"But what am I to do?" says the wolf. "I can't climb a tree for the
life of me. Brother Michael, Brother Michael, hide me somewhere or
other before you climb up. I beg you, hide me, or I shall certainly be
"Crouch down under these bushes," says the bear, "and I will cover you
with the dead leaves."
"May you be rewarded," says the wolf; and he crouched down under the
bushes, and the bear covered him up with dead leaves, so that only the
tip of his nose could be seen.
Then the bear climbed slowly up into the fir tree, into the very top,
and looked out to see if the fox and Cat Ivanovitch were coming.
They were coming; oh yes, they were coming! The hare ran up and
knocked on the door, and said to the fox,—
"Michael Ivanovitch the bear and his brother Levon Ivanovitch the
wolf have been ready for a long time, and have brought presents of a
sheep and an ox as greetings to his Excellency."
 "Get along, Squinteye," says the fox; "we are just coming."
And so the fox and the cat set out together.
The bear, up in the top of the tree, saw them, and called down to the
"They are coming, Brother Levon; they are coming, the fox and her
husband. But what a little one he is, to be sure!"
"Quiet, quiet," whispers the wolf. "He'll hear you, and then we are
The cat came up, and arched his back and set all his furs on end, and
threw himself on the ox, and began tearing the meat with his teeth and
claws. And as he tore he purred. And the bear listened, and heard the
purring of the cat, and it seemed to him that the cat was angrily
muttering, "Small, small, small...."
And the bear whispers: "He's no giant, but what a glutton! Why, we
couldn't get through a quarter of that, and he finds it not enough.
Heaven help us if he comes after us!"
The wolf tried to see, but could not, because his head, all but his
nose, was covered with the dry leaves. Little by little he moved his
head, so as to clear the leaves away from in front of his eyes. Try as
he would to be quiet, the leaves
 rustled, so little, ever so little,
but enough to be heard by the one ear of the cat.
The cat stopped tearing the meat and listened.
"I haven't caught a mouse to-day," he thought.
Once more the leaves rustled.
The cat leapt through the air and dropped with all four paws, and his
claws out, on the nose of the wolf. How the wolf yelped! The leaves
flew like dust, and the wolf leapt up and ran off as fast as his legs
could carry him.
Well, the wolf was frightened, I can tell you, but he was not so
frightened as the cat.
When the great wolf leapt up out of the leaves, the cat screamed and
ran up the nearest tree, and that was the tree where Michael
Ivanovitch the bear was hiding in the topmost branches.
"Oh, he has seen me. Cat Ivanovitch has seen me," thought the bear. He
had no time to climb down, and the cat was coming up in long leaps.
The bear trusted to Providence, and jumped from the top of the tree.
Many were the branches he broke as he fell; many were the bones he
broke when he crashed to the ground. He picked himself up and stumbled
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
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.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics