FictionForest

PART TWO : Chapter 15

Leo TolstoyAug 22, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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The place fixed on for the stand-shooting
was not far above a stream in a little aspen copse. 
On reaching the copse, Levin got out of the trap
and led Oblonsky to a corner of a mossy, swampy glade,
already quite free from snow.  He went back himself
to a double birch tree on the other side, and leaning
his gun on the fork of a dead lower branch, he took
off his full overcoat, fastened his belt again, and
worked his arms to see if they were free.

Gray old Laska, who had followed them,
sat down warily opposite him and pricked up her ears. 
The sun was setting behind a thick forest, and in
the glow of sunset the birch trees, dotted about in
the aspen copse, stood out clearly with their hanging
twigs, and their buds swollen almost to bursting.

From the thickest parts of the copse,
where the snow still remained, came the faint sound
of narrow winding threads of water running away. 
Tiny birds twittered, and now and then fluttered
from tree to tree.

In the pauses of complete stillness
there came the rustle of last year’s leaves,
stirred by the thawing of the earth and the growth
of the grass.

“Imagine!  One can hear
and see the grass growing!” Levin said to himself,
noticing a wet, slate-colored aspen leaf moving beside
a blade of young grass.  He stood, listened, and
gazed sometimes down at the wet mossy ground, sometimes
at Laska listening all alert, sometimes at the sea
of bare tree tops that stretched on the slope below
him, sometimes at the darkening sky, covered with
white streaks of cloud.

A hawk flew high over a forest far
away with slow sweep of its wings; another flew with
exactly the same motion in the same direction and
vanished.  The birds twittered more and more loudly
and busily in the thicket.  An owl hooted not
far off, and Laska, starting, stepped cautiously a
few steps forward, and putting her head on one side,
began to listen intently.  Beyond the stream
was heard the cuckoo.  Twice she uttered her usual
cuckoo call, and then gave a hoarse, hurried call
and broke down.

“Imagine! the cuckoo already!”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, coming out from behind a
bush.

“Yes, I hear it,” answered
Levin, reluctantly breaking the stillness with his
voice, which sounded disagreeable to himself. 
“Now it’s coming!”

Stepan Arkadyevitch’s figure
again went behind the bush, and Levin saw nothing
but the bright flash of a match, followed by the red
glow and blue smoke of a cigarette.

“Tchk! tchk!” came the
snapping sound of Stepan Arkadyevitch cocking his
gun.

“What’s that cry?”
asked Oblonsky, drawing Levin’s attention to
a prolonged cry, as though a colt were whinnying in
a high voice, in play.

“Oh, don’t you know it? 
That’s the hare.  But enough talking! 
Listen, it’s flying!” almost shrieked Levin,
cocking his gun.

They heard a shrill whistle in the
distance, and in the exact time, so well known to
the sportsman, two seconds later ­ another,
a third, and after the third whistle the hoarse, guttural
cry could be heard.

Levin looked about him to right and
to left, and there, just facing him against the dusky
blue sky above the confused mass of tender shoots
of the aspens, he saw the flying bird.  It was
flying straight towards him; the guttural cry, like
the even tearing of some strong stuff, sounded close
to his ear; the long beak and neck of the bird could
be seen, and at the very instant when Levin was taking
aim, behind the bush where Oblonsky stood, there was
a flash of red lightning:  the bird dropped like
an arrow, and darted upwards again.  Again came
the red flash and the sound of a blow, and fluttering
its wings as though trying to keep up in the air,
the bird halted, stopped still an instant, and fell
with a heavy splash on the slushy ground.

“Can I have missed it?”
shouted Stepan Arkadyevitch, who could not see for
the smoke.

“Here it is!” said Levin,
pointing to Laska, who with one ear raised, wagging
the end of her shaggy tail, came slowly back as though
she would prolong the pleasure, and as it were smiling,
brought the dead bird to her master.  “Well,
I’m glad you were successful,” said Levin,
who, at the same time, had a sense of envy that he
had not succeeded in shooting the snipe.

“It was a bad shot from the
right barrel,” responded Stepan Arkadyevitch,
loading his gun.  “Sh…it’s flying!”

The shrill whistles rapidly following
one another were heard again.  Two snipe, playing
and chasing one another, and only whistling, not crying,
flew straight at the very heads of the sportsmen. 
There was the report of four shots, and like swallows
the snipe turned swift somersaults in the air and vanished
from sight.

The stand-shooting was capital. 
Stepan Arkadyevitch shot two more birds and Levin
two, of which one was not found.  It began to
get dark.  Venus, bright and silvery, shone with
her soft light low down in the west behind the birch
trees, and high up in the east twinkled the red lights
of Arcturus.  Over his head Levin made out the
stars of the Great Bear and lost them again. 
The snipe had ceased flying; but Levin resolved to
stay a little longer, till Venus, which he saw below
a branch of birch, should be above it, and the stars
of the Great Bear should be perfectly plain. 
Venus had risen above the branch, and the ear of the
Great Bear with its shaft was now all plainly visible
against the dark blue sky, yet still he waited.

“Isn’t it time to go home?”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch.

It was quite still now in the copse,
and not a bird was stirring.

“Let’s stay a little while,” answered
Levin.

“As you like.”

They were standing now about fifteen paces from one
another.

“Stiva!” said Levin unexpectedly;
“how is it you don’t tell me whether your
sister-in-law’s married yet, or when she’s
going to be?”

Levin felt so resolute and serene
that no answer, he fancied, could affect him. 
But he had never dreamed of what Stepan Arkadyevitch
replied.

“She’s never thought of
being married, and isn’t thinking of it; but
she’s very ill, and the doctors have sent her
abroad.  They’re positively afraid she may
not live.”

“What!” cried Levin. 
“Very ill?  What is wrong with her? 
How has she…?”

While they were saying this, Laska,
with ears pricked up, was looking upwards at the sky,
and reproachfully at them.

“They have chosen a time to
talk,” she was thinking.  “It’s
on the wing….  Here it is, yes, it is. 
They’ll miss it,” thought Laska.

But at that very instant both suddenly
heard a shrill whistle which, as it were, smote on
their ears, and both suddenly seized their guns and
two flashes gleamed, and two gangs sounded at the
very same instant.  The snipe flying high above
instantly folded its wings and fell into a thicket,
bending down the delicate shoots.

“Splendid!  Together!”
cried Levin, and he ran with Laska into the thicket
to look for the snipe.

“Oh, yes, what was it that was
unpleasant?” he wondered.  “Yes,
Kitty’s ill….  Well, it can’t be
helped; I’m very sorry,” he thought.

“She’s found it! 
Isn’t she a clever thing?” he said, taking
the warm bird from Laska’s mouth and packing
it into the almost full game bag.  “I’ve
got it, Stiva!” he shouted.

 

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