One Spring Morning

With his empty game bag and rifle on his shoulder, Loveţ the woodsman was slowly walking up the path stretching under the hill.A silly cuckoo was singing in the ash trees on the nearby summit; from the valley, another cuckoo answered its call. The forest had almost leafed out. The fresh, tender leaves were basking in the sun and the entire place, newly awoken from its winter slumber, echoed with song.Half way up the slope, Loveţ stopped under the big beech and rested on his rifle. The hills nearby spread their spiky curves in the sunlight like giant hedgehogs. Playful orioles were whistling from the top branches of the alder trees; the jays were sending out their calls over the meadows and from the hills, blackbirds joined their songs in one melodious choir. And this whole lushness of fresh green was shining as bright as Heaven itself on a spring morning.Above Loveţ’s head, a small and noisy nuthatch, hanging with its back down on the rough tree bark, trod along a tilted branch, making small and furtive, mouse-like steps, then it knocked the bark with its beak and, from deep within its crop, it made squeaky noises: tweet, tweet!Loveţ took aim… the report blasted like thunder, resounded through the valley, faded away in the distance and, bouncing off the broad chest of the furthermost hill, its echo came back skirting the forest. Taken by surprise, the voices of the forest grew still and quiet for a few moments… a woodpecker darted like a flash of green through the tops of two beeches. Then, a woodpecker, hidden who knows where – in a thicket, perhaps – gave a quick laugh, more like a shower of short calls. And then, as if on somebody’s signal, all the singing dwellers of this world of light and green resumed their carefree song, only temporarily interrupted.But, under the tall beech tree, the nuthatch had fallen to the ground, its wings dripping blood.Loveţ picked it up from the grass and held it in his palm. The tiny bird was warmish and light as a feather; it had a grey back and a yellow belly. It wasn’t dead yet. It looked as if the bird had tears in its eyes like two tar drops clouded with pain. The woodsman threw him back in the grass next to his empty game bag. A hot drop of blood streamed down his hand.The sun was now up in the sky, hanging over the front hill. At times, the wind flowed down the tree tops like a gentle river.Face up and arms under his head, Loveţ stretched on the ground in the shade of the old bush-like tree. Famished forest mosquitoes came flying about, buzzing sharply. Looking at him with at once scared and curious eyes, a wren began squawking from the top of its lungs, but it didn’t fly very far, so as not to lose sight of him. The bird was jumping back and forth around the man, sticking its head underneath the leaves to catch a better glimpse of him… Coming from who knows where, a bumble bee hurried to join the scene; it circled the place a couple of times, grumbling like a true bear of the Lilliputian insect folk that it was, and then disappeared in the bushes.The buzzing that filled the air started dying away in the day’s heat, while a kind of all-engulfing torpor was spreading from tree to tree like a web woven with threads of silence. Loveţ blinked quickly and then closed his eye lids. A thin strand of spider web clung to his lashes… And suddenly, on top of the beech tree under which Loveţ had lain down, there appeared a strange bird, large and delicate, looking as if carved out from a snowball. Its immaculate feathers shone in the sunlight as though made of pure silver. The bird stood still; it only moved its small, black head from side to side, its resounding calls carrying over the forest: ga-ga! gi-gi!Never before had Loveţ seen such a marvel… stealthily, his heart in his mouth, the man raised his rifle slowly, took aim carefully and pulled the trigger…But the bird didn’t fall. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, it had remained still and its powerful calls could yet again be heard over the forest: gi-gi, ga-ga!The hunter was looking at it in amazement. His rifle had never before missed the target…Loveţ grudgingly poured two measures of gun powder down the barrel, and used a rod to press down, first, a big ball of tow and, then, a whole handful of pellets. Holding his breath, he took aim again… but the shot came out without a noise, like a short discharge of smoke. And the silver bird remained as before, motionless…Loveţ threw the rifle in the grass. Even more grudgingly now, he clenched the beech trunk and began climbing up the branches. The higher he got, the more impatient he grew. And the bird kept turning its head and looking in all directions; all but down to the man – it was as if the bird did not even heed his presence.Loveţ was now close to it; he could see the bird’s golden tuft and its eyes like twin rubies… but when he stretched out his hand to grab it, the bird flapped its wings gently, rose up in the air above him and knocked the man with its beak right in the middle of his forehead…And all of a sudden, Loveţ felt so small and light under the wings of the unknown, mysterious bird. Much to his surprise, he realized that he was able to understand its tongue.“I am the queen of birds,” it said. “I now have turned you, Loveţ, into a bird. Follow me!”They both flew away over the tree tops and stopped in the leafy branches of a huge sycamore, in the heart of the forest.Darkness had fallen. All around, as far as the eye could see, the only visible sight was now that of the forests stretching endlessly, sound asleep under the moon.From the top of the sycamore, the enchanted bird began calling out again and its cries resounded even farther than before, carrying over the trees and into the silence of the night.And, from the four corners of the world, obeying their queen’s call, started streaming in all the spotted and glamorous prima donnas of daylight, all the grumpy and scruffy feathered creatures of the night, the numerous crowd of tiny chirping birds that bustle in the bushes under the protective shadow of the forest. In they all flew, flapping their wings hurriedly, and landed around the two; flock after flock, thousands of birds lined up according to breed, craft, song or feathers.In the moonlight, the trees around the sycamore looked like huge grape clusters, heavy with chattering birds; even the ground was covered with a swarming rug of small feathered creatures that had not been able to find a place on the branches and were now huddling up and pointing their beaks upwards.In the vicinity, other tiny beasts began waking up from their deep night’s sleep. The hedgehogs curled up in the bushes pushed their muzzles out of their bundles of spikes and watched in surprise; black salamanders raised their little heads to the stars, their mouths sealed by a curse; reddish mice half emerged from holes in the ground, and curious squirrels with their bushy tails close on their backs watched from afar, standing on their hind legs, ready to make a run for it…Loveţ had his heart in his mouth and felt terribly lonely in the middle of this strange kingdom, far from any human presence and waiting for the birds’ council to begin in the solitude of the deep forest and the secrecy of the night.The first to step forth and complain was a female rock pigeon. Silence fell on the gathering.“Loveţ shot my mate, who brought food to our nest while I looked after the chicks,” the dove said. “And I had to fly out in search of nourishment, leaving my baby chicks alone… while I was away, a weasel came and ate them. I have been a widow ever since and all alone in the world.”“Loveţ! Loveţ, the killer!” cried the bird folk.Loveţ cowered next to the queen, his heart in his boots.“As for me,” said a maimed thrush standing askew on a branch, “Loveţ shot me in the wing while I was pecking at a stag beetle near a fir tree stump. I took shelter under some roots and got away with my life. Since then I haven’t been able to fly and, woe to me, I crawl under the bushes looking for worms…”“And he broke one of my paws!” an uninvited squirrel dared to cry out from a safe distance.All heads turned and the eagle owls perched in a circle on the side, near the top of an ash, puffed up like angry turkeys and made the squirrel return to its previous silence.“He broke my leg, too!” one of the small birds in the crowd chirped.“Mine, too! Mine, too! Mine, too!” different chirps were heard coming from every corner.Other birds stepped forth to make their complaints against the hunter. There were brick-red chaffinches and mistle thrushes violently awoken from their sleep; silly jays with blue-spotted feathers and wrens with their tails spread out in a fan; there came lonely turtle doves and golden orioles, and blackbirds as black as the cold embers left after a thunder-struck fir tree has been consumed by fire; there were also spotted woodpeckers whose tails appeared as if sprayed with red paint, green woodpeckers and big-eared little owls, and owls with feathered legs and big-headed pygmy owls…And the last to show up was a nuthatch with bleeding wings, who cried out loud: “Waaait!... wait! Loveţ shot me this very morning…”“Loveţ! Loveţ! Loveţ!” all bird flocks were now crying so loud that the whole forest resounded with their fury.“Loveţ is right here, in our midst,” the queen said pointing its wing at him. “Here he is!”“Hoot, hoot, hoot!” the eagle owls shrieked, their cry carrying over the hills.And all the birds dashed at him and overwhelmed him, wings, beaks and claws striking and landing blows from every direction… Loveţ sprang to his feet in a cold sweat. He wiped his forehead with his hand and cast a frightened and bewildered glance about him. Then, when his eyes fell on the shot nuthatch, it all came back to him…The sun was half way down in the sky. The forest was silent and still. Loveţ stooped in a hurry, grabbed his rifle and game bag, and started a hasty descent without ever looking back over his shoulder.Behind him, with its tiny wings close to its body, the murdered little bird remained still in the grass like a bare handful of ashes. Translated by Alina Popescu

by George Topîrceanu (1886-1937)