There were seventeen officers in all
riding in this race. The race course was a large
three-mile ring of the form of an ellipse in front
of the pavilion. On this course nine obstacles
had been arranged: the stream, a big and solid
barrier five feet high, just before the pavilion,
a dry ditch, a ditch full of water, a precipitous
slope, an Irish barricade (one of the most difficult
obstacles, consisting of a mound fenced with brushwood,
beyond which was a ditch out of sight for the horses,
so that the horse had to clear both obstacles or might
be killed); then two more ditches filled with water,
and one dry one; and the end of the race was just
facing the pavilion. But the race began not in
the ring, but two hundred yards away from it, and
in that part of the course was the first obstacle,
a dammed-up stream, seven feet in breadth, which the
racers could leap or wade through as they preferred.
Three times they were ranged ready
to start, but each time some horse thrust itself out
of line, and they had to begin again. The umpire
who was starting them, Colonel Sestrin, was beginning
to lose his temper, when at last for the fourth time
he shouted “Away!” and the racers started.
Every eye, every opera glass, was
turned on the brightly colored group of riders at
the moment they were in line to start.
“They’re off! They’re
starting!” was heard on all sides after the
hush of expectation.
And little groups and solitary figures
among the public began running from place to place
to get a better view. In the very first minute
the close group of horsemen drew out, and it could
be seen that they were approaching the stream in twos
and threes and one behind another. To the spectators
it seemed as though they had all started simultaneously,
but to the racers there were seconds of difference
that had great value to them.
Frou-Frou, excited and over-nervous,
had lost the first moment, and several horses had
started before her, but before reaching the stream,
Vronsky, who was holding in the mare with all his
force as she tugged at the bridle, easily overtook
three, and there were left in front of him Mahotin’s
chestnut Gladiator, whose hind-quarters were moving
lightly and rhythmically up and down exactly in front
of Vronsky, and in front of all, the dainty mare Diana
bearing Kuzovlev more dead than alive.
For the first instant Vronsky was
not master either of himself or his mare. Up
to the first obstacle, the stream, he could not guide
the motions of his mare.
Gladiator and Diana came up to it
together and almost at the same instant; simultaneously
they rose above the stream and flew across to the
other side; Frou-Frou darted after them, as if flying;
but at the very moment when Vronsky felt himself in
the air, he suddenly saw almost under his mare’s
hoofs Kuzovlev, who was floundering with Diana on
the further side of the stream. (Kuzovlev had
let go the reins as he took the leap, and the mare
had sent him flying over her head.) Those details Vronsky
learned later; at the moment all he saw was that just
under him, where Frou-Frou must alight, Diana’s
legs or head might be in the way. But Frou-Frou
drew up her legs and back in the very act of leaping,
like a falling cat, and, clearing the other mare,
alighted beyond her.
“O the darling!” thought Vronsky.
After crossing the stream Vronsky
had complete control of his mare, and began holding
her in, intending to cross the great barrier behind
Mahotin, and to try to overtake him in the clear ground
of about five hundred yards that followed it.
The great barrier stood just in front
of the imperial pavilion. The Tsar and the whole
court and crowds of people were all gazing at them at
him, and Mahotin a length ahead of him, as they drew
near the “devil,” as the solid barrier
was called. Vronsky was aware of those eyes
fastened upon him from all sides, but he saw nothing
except the ears and neck of his own mare, the ground
racing to meet him, and the back and white legs of
Gladiator beating time swiftly before him, and keeping
always the same distance ahead. Gladiator rose,
with no sound of knocking against anything.
With a wave of his short tail he disappeared from
“Bravo!” cried a voice.
At the same instant, under Vronsky’s
eyes, right before him flashed the palings of the
barrier. Without the slightest change in her
action his mare flew over it; the palings vanished,
and he heard only a crash behind him. The mare,
excited by Gladiator’s keeping ahead, had risen
too soon before the barrier, and grazed it with her
hind hoofs. But her pace never changed, and Vronsky,
feeling a spatter of mud in his face, realized that
he was once more the same distance from Gladiator.
Once more he perceived in front of him the same back
and short tail, and again the same swiftly moving
white legs that got no further away.
At the very moment when Vronsky thought
that now was the time to overtake Mahotin, Frou-Frou
herself, understanding his thoughts, without any incitement
on his part, gained ground considerably, and began
getting alongside of Mahotin on the most favorable
side, close to the inner cord. Mahotin would
not let her pass that side. Vronsky had hardly
formed the thought that he could perhaps pass on the
outer side, when Frou-Frou shifted her pace and began
overtaking him on the other side. Frou-Frou’s
shoulder, beginning by now to be dark with sweat, was
even with Gladiator’s back. For a few
lengths they moved evenly. But before the obstacle
they were approaching, Vronsky began working at the
reins, anxious to avoid having to take the outer circle,
and swiftly passed Mahotin just upon the declivity.
He caught a glimpse of his mud-stained face as he
flashed by. He even fancied that he smiled.
Vronsky passed Mahotin, but he was immediately aware
of him close upon him, and he never ceased hearing
the even-thudding hoofs and the rapid and still quite
fresh breathing of Gladiator.
The next two obstacles, the water
course and the barrier, were easily crossed, but Vronsky
began to hear the snorting and thud of Gladiator closer
upon him. He urged on his mare, and to his delight
felt that she easily quickened her pace, and the thud
of Gladiator’s hoofs was again heard at the
same distance away.
Vronsky was at the head of the race,
just as he wanted to be and as Cord had advised, and
now he felt sure of being the winner. His excitement,
his delight, and his tenderness for Frou-Frou grew
keener and keener. He longed to look round again,
but he did not dare do this, and tried to be cool
and not to urge on his mare so to keep the same reserve
of force in her as he felt that Gladiator still kept.
There remained only one obstacle, the most difficult;
if he could cross it ahead of the others he would come
in first. He was flying towards the Irish barricade,
Frou-Frou and he both together saw the barricade in
the distance, and both the man and the mare had a
moment’s hesitation. He saw the uncertainty
in the mare’s ears and lifted the whip, but at
the same time felt that his fears were groundless;
the mare knew what was wanted. She quickened
her pace and rose smoothly, just as he had fancied
she would, and as she left the ground gave herself
up to the force of her rush, which carried her far
beyond the ditch; and with the same rhythm, without
effort, with the same leg forward, Frou-Frou fell
back into her pace again.
“Bravo, Vronsky!” he heard
shouts from a knot of men he knew they
were his friends in the regiment who were
standing at the obstacle. He could not fail
to recognize Yashvin’s voice though he did not
“O my sweet!” he said
inwardly to Frou-Frou, as he listened for what was
happening behind. “He’s cleared it!”
he thought, catching the thud of Gladiator’s
hoofs behind him. There remained only the last
ditch, filled with water and five feet wide.
Vronsky did not even look at it, but anxious to get
in a long way first began sawing away at the reins,
lifting the mare’s head and letting it go in
time with her paces. He felt that the mare was
at her very last reserve of strength; not her neck
and shoulders merely were wet, but the sweat was standing
in drops on her mane, her head, her sharp ears, and
her breath came in short, sharp gasps. But he
knew that she had strength left more than enough for
the remaining five hundred yards. It was only
from feeling himself nearer the ground and from the
peculiar smoothness of his motion that Vronsky knew
how greatly the mare had quickened her pace.
She flew over the ditch as though not noticing it.
She flew over it like a bird; but at the same instant
Vronsky, to his horror, felt that he had failed to
keep up with the mare’s pace, that he had, he
did not know how, made a fearful, unpardonable mistake,
in recovering his seat in the saddle. All at
once his position had shifted and he knew that something
awful had happened. He could not yet make out
what had happened, when the white legs of a chestnut
horse flashed by close to him, and Mahotin passed
at a swift gallop. Vronsky was touching the
ground with one foot, and his mare was sinking on
that foot. He just had time to free his leg when
she fell on one side, gasping painfully, and, making
vain efforts to rise with her delicate, soaking neck,
she fluttered on the ground at his feet like a shot
bird. The clumsy movement made by Vronsky had
broken her back. But that he only knew much later.
At that moment he knew only that Mahotin had flown
swiftly by, while he stood staggering alone on the
muddy, motionless ground, and Frou-Frou lay gasping
before him, bending her head back and gazing at him
with her exquisite eyes. Still unable to realize
what had happened, Vronsky tugged at his mare’s
reins. Again she struggled all over like a fish,
and her shoulders setting the saddle heaving, she
rose on her front legs but unable to lift her back,
she quivered all over and again fell on her side.
With a face hideous with passion, his lower jaw trembling,
and his cheeks white, Vronsky kicked her with his
heel in the stomach and again fell to tugging at the
rein. She did not stir, but thrusting her nose
into the ground, she simply gazed at her master with
her speaking eyes.
“A a a!”
groaned Vronsky, clutching at his head. “Ah!
what have I done!” he cried. “The
race lost! And my fault! shameful, unpardonable!
And the poor darling, ruined mare! Ah! what
have I done!”
A crowd of men, a doctor and his assistant,
the officers of his regiment, ran up to him.
To his misery he felt that he was whole and unhurt.
The mare had broken her back, and it was decided to
shoot her. Vronsky could not answer questions,
could not speak to anyone. He turned, and without
picking up his cap that had fallen off, walked away
from the race course, not knowing where he was going.
He felt utterly wretched. For the first time
in his life he knew the bitterest sort of misfortune,
misfortune beyond remedy, and caused by his own fault.
Yashvin overtook him with his cap,
and led him home, and half an hour later Vronsky had
regained his self-possession. But the memory
of that race remained for long in his heart, the cruelest
and bitterest memory of his life.