War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy Book VII

CHAPTER VI

The old count went home, and Natasha and Petya promised to return very soon, but as it was still early the hunt went farther. At midday they put the hounds into a ravine thickly overgrown with young trees. Nicholas standing in a fallow field could see all his whips.

Facing him lay a field of winter rye, there his own huntsman stood alone in a hollow behind a hazel bush. The hounds had scarcely been loosed before Nicholas heard one he knew, Voltorn, giving tongue at intervals; other hounds joined in, now pausing and now again giving tongue. A moment later he heard a cry from the wooded ravine that a fox had been found, and the whole pack, joining together, rushed along the ravine toward the ryefield and away from Nicholas.

He saw the whips in their red caps galloping along the edge of the ravine, he even saw the hounds, and was expecting a fox to show itself at any moment on the ryefield opposite.

The huntsman standing in the hollow moved and loosed his borzois, and Nicholas saw a queer, short-legged red fox with a fine brush going hard across the field. The borzois bore down on it . . . . Now they drew close to the fox which began to dodge between the field in sharper and sharper curves, trailing its brush, when suddenly a strange white borzoi dashed in followed by a black one, and everything was in confusion; the borzois formed a star-shaped figure, scarcely swaying their bodies and with tails turned away from the center of the group. Two huntsmen galloped up to the dogs; one in a red cap, the other, a stranger, in a green coat.

"What's this?" thought Nicholas."Where's that huntsman from? He is not 'Uncle's' man."

The huntsmen got the fox, but stayed there a long time without strapping it to the saddle. Their horses, bridled and with high saddles, stood near them and there too the dogs were lying. The huntsmen waved their arms and did something to the fox. Then from that spot came the sound of a horn, with the signal agreed on in case of a fight.

"That's Ilagin's huntsman having a row with our Ivan," said Nicholas' groom.

Nicholas sent the man to call Natasha and Petya to him, and rode at a footpace to the place where the whips were getting the hounds together. Several of the field galloped to the spot where the fight was going on.

Nicholas dismounted, and with Natasha and Petya, who had ridden up, stopped near the hounds, waiting to see how the matter would end. Out of the bushes came the huntsman who had been fighting and rode toward his young master, with the fox tied to his crupper. While still at a distance he took off his cap and tried to speak respectfully, but he was pale and breathless and his face was angry. One of his eyes was black, but he probably was not even aware of it.

"What has happened?" asked Nicholas.

"A likely thing, killing a fox our dogs had hunted! And it was my gray bitch that caught it! Go to law, indeed! . . . He snatches at the fox! I gave him one with the fox. Here it is on my saddle! Do you want a taste of this? . . ." said the huntsman, pointing to his dagger and probably imagining himself still speaking to his foe.

Nicholas, not stopping to talk to the man, asked his sister and Petya to wait for him and rode to the spot where the enemy's, Ilagin's, hunting party was.

The victorious huntsman rode off to join the field, and there, surrounded by inquiring sympathizers, recounted his exploits.

The facts were that Ilagin, with whom the Rostovs had a quarrel and were at law, hunted over places that belonged by custom to the Rostovs, and had now, as if purposely, sent his men to the very woods the Rostovs were hunting and let his man snatch a fox their dogs had chased.

Nicholas, though he had never seen Ilagin, with his usual absence of moderation in judgment, hated him cordially from reports of his arbitrariness and violence, and regarded him as his bitterest foe. He rode in angry agitation toward him, firmly grasping his whip and fully prepared to take the most resolute and desperate steps to punish his enemy.

Hardly had he passed an angle of the wood before a stout gentleman in a beaver cap came riding toward him on a handsome raven-black horse, accompanied by two hunt servants.

Instead of an enemy, Nicholas found in Ilagin a stately and courteous gentleman who was particularly anxious to make the young count's acquaintance. Having ridden up to Nicholas, Ilagin raised his beaver cap and said he much regretted what had occurred and would have the man punished who had allowed himself to seize a fox hunted by someone else's borzois. He hoped to become better acquainted with the count and invited him to draw his covert.

Natasha, afraid that her brother would do something dreadful, had followed him in some excitement. Seeing the enemies exchanging friendly greetings, she rode up to them. Ilagin lifted his beaver cap still higher to Natasha and said, with a pleasant smile, that the young countess resembled Diana in her passion for the chase as well as in her beauty, of which he had heard much.

To expiate his huntsman's offense, Ilagin pressed the Rostovs to come to an upland of his about a mile away which he usually kept for himself and which, he said, swarmed with hares. Nicholas agreed, and the hunt, now doubled, moved on.

The way to Iligin's upland was across the fields. The hunt servants fell into line. The masters rode together."Uncle," Rostov, and Ilagin kept stealthily glancing at one another's dogs, trying not to be observed by their companions and searching uneasily for rivals to their own borzois.

Rostov was particularly struck by the beauty of a small, pure-bred, red-spotted bitch on Ilagin's leash, slender but with muscles like steel, a delicate muzzle, and prominent black eyes. He had heard of the swiftness of Ilagin's borzois, and in that beautiful bitch saw a rival to his own Milka.

In the middle of a sober conversation begun by Ilagin about the year's harvest, Nicholas pointed to the red-spotted bitch.

"A fine little bitch, that!" said he in a careless tone."Is she swift?"

"That one? Yes, she's a good dog, gets what she's after," answered Ilagin indifferently, of the red-spotted bitch Erza, for which, a year before, he had given a neighbor three families of house serfs."So in your parts, too, the harvest is nothing to boast of, Count?" he went on, continuing the conversation they had begun. And considering it polite to return the young count's compliment, Ilagin looked at his borzois and picked out Milka who attracted his attention by her breadth."That black-spotted one of yours is fine — well shaped!" said he.

"Yes, she's fast enough," replied Nicholas, and thought:"If only a full-grown hare would cross the field now I'd show you what sort of borzoi she is," and turning to his groom, he said he would give a ruble to anyone who found a hare.

"I don't understand," continued Ilagin,"how some sportsmen can be so jealous about game and dogs. For myself, I can tell you, Count, I enjoy riding in company such as this . . . what could be better?" (he again raised his cap to Natasha)"but as for counting skins and what one takes, I don't care about that."

"Of course not!"

"Or being upset because someone else's borzoi and not mine catches something. All I care about is to enjoy seeing the chase, is it not so, Count? For I consider that . . ."

"A-tu!" came the long-drawn cry of one of the borzoi whippers-in, who had halted. He stood on a knoll in the stubble, holding his whip aloft, and again repeated his long-drawn cry,"A-tu!" (This call and the uplifted whip meant that he saw a sitting hare.)

"Ah, he has found one, I think," said Ilagin carelessly."Yes, we must ride up . . . . Shall we both course it?" answered Nicholas, seeing in Erza and"Uncle's" red Rugay two rivals he had never yet had a chance of pitting against his own borzois."And suppose they outdo my Milka at once!" he thought as he rode with"Uncle" and Ilagin toward the hare.

"A full-grown one?" asked Ilagin as he approached the whip who had sighted the hare — and not without agitation he looked round and whistled to Erza.

"And you, Michael Nikanorovich?" he said, addressing"Uncle."

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