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PART SIX : Chapter 10

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Vassenka drove the horses so smartly
that they reached the marsh too early, while it was
still hot.

As they drew near this more important
marsh, the chief aim of their expedition, Levin could
not help considering how he could get rid of Vassenka
and be free in his movements.  Stepan Arkadyevitch
evidently had the same desire, and on his face Levin
saw the look of anxiety always present in a true sportsman
when beginning shooting, together with a certain good-humored
slyness peculiar to him.

“How shall we go?  It’s
a splendid marsh, I see, and there are hawks,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, pointing to two great birds
hovering over the reeds.  “Where there are
hawks, there is sure to be game.”

“Now, gentlemen,” said
Levin, pulling up his boots and examining the lock
of his gun with rather a gloomy expression, “do
you see those reeds?” He pointed to an oasis
of blackish green in the huge half-mown wet meadow
that stretched along the right bank of the river. 
“The marsh begins here, straight in front of
us, do you see ­where it is greener? 
From here it runs to the right where the horses are;
there are breeding places there, and grouse, and all
round those reeds as far as that alder, and right
up to the mill.  Over there, do you see, where
the pools are?  That’s the best place. 
There I once shot seventeen snipe.  We’ll
separate with the dogs and go in different directions,
and then meet over there at the mill.”

“Well, which shall go to left
and which to right?” asked Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
“It’s wider to the right; you two go that
way and I’ll take the left,” he said with
apparent carelessness.

“Capital! we’ll make the
bigger bag!  Yes, come along, come along!”
Vassenka exclaimed.

Levin could do nothing but agree, and they divided.

As soon as they entered the marsh,
the two dogs began hunting about together and made
towards the green, slime-covered pool.  Levin
knew Laska’s method, wary and indefinite; he
knew the place too and expected a whole covey of snipe.

“Veslovsky, beside me, walk
beside me!” he said in a faint voice to his
companion splashing in the water behind him. 
Levin could not help feeling an interest in the direction
his gun was pointed, after that casual shot near the
Kolpensky marsh.

“Oh, I won’t get in your
way, don’t trouble about me.”

But Levin could not help troubling,
and recalled Kitty’s words at parting: 
“Mind you don’t shoot one another.” 
The dogs came nearer and nearer, passed each other,
each pursuing its own scent.  The expectation
of snipe was so intense that to Levin the squelching
sound of his own heel, as he drew it up out of the
mire, seemed to be the call of a snipe, and he clutched
and pressed the lock of his gun.

“Bang! bang!” sounded
almost in his ear.  Vassenka had fired at a flock
of ducks which was hovering over the marsh and flying
at that moment towards the sportsmen, far out of range. 
Before Levin had time to look round, there was the
whir of one snipe, another, a third, and some eight
more rose one after another.

Stepan Arkadyevitch hit one at the
very moment when it was beginning its zigzag movements,
and the snipe fell in a heap into the mud.  Oblonsky
aimed deliberately at another, still flying low in
the reeds, and together with the report of the shot,
that snipe too fell, and it could be seen fluttering
out where the sedge had been cut, its unhurt wing
showing white beneath.

Levin was not so lucky:  he aimed
at his first bird too low, and missed; he aimed at
it again, just as it was rising, but at that instant
another snipe flew up at his very feet, distracting
him so that he missed again.

While they were loading their guns,
another snipe rose, and Veslovsky, who had had time
to load again, sent two charges of small-shot into
the water.  Stepan Arkadyevitch picked up his
snipe, and with sparkling eyes looked at Levin.

“Well, now let us separate,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, and limping on his left
foot, holding his gun in readiness and whistling to
his dog, he walked off in one direction.  Levin
and Veslovsky walked in the other.

It always happened with Levin that
when his first shots were a failure he got hot and
out of temper, and shot badly the whole day. 
So it was that day.  The snipe showed themselves
in numbers.  They kept flying up from just under
the dogs, from under the sportsmen’s legs, and
Levin might have retrieved his ill luck.  But
the more he shot, the more he felt disgraced in the
eyes of Veslovsky, who kept popping away merrily and
indiscriminately, killing nothing, and not in the slightest
abashed by his ill success.  Levin, in feverish
haste, could not restrain himself, got more and more
out of temper, and ended by shooting almost without
a hope of hitting.  Laska, indeed, seemed to
understand this.  She began looking more languidly,
and gazed back at the sportsmen, as it were, with
perplexity or reproach in her eyes.  Shots followed
shots in rapid succession.  The smoke of the
powder hung about the sportsmen, while in the great
roomy net of the game bag there were only three light
little snipe.  And of these one had been killed
by Veslovsky alone, and one by both of them together. 
Meanwhile from the other side of the marsh came the
sound of Stepan Arkadyevitch’s shots, not frequent,
but, as Levin fancied, well-directed, for almost after
each they heard “Krak, Krak, apporte!”

This excited Levin still more. 
The snipe were floating continually in the air over
the reeds.  Their whirring wings close to the
earth, and their harsh cries high in the air, could
be heard on all sides; the snipe that had risen first
and flown up into the air, settled again before the
sportsmen.  Instead of two hawks there were now
dozens of them hovering with shrill cries over the
marsh.

After walking through the larger half
of the marsh, Levin and Veslovsky reached the place
where the peasants’ mowing-grass was divided
into long strips reaching to the reeds, marked off
in one place by the trampled grass, in another by
a path mown through it.  Half of these strips
had already been mown.

Though there was not so much hope
of finding birds in the uncut part as the cut part,
Levin had promised Stepan Arkadyevitch to meet him,
and so he walked on with his companion through the
cut and uncut patches.

“Hi, sportsmen!” shouted
one of a group of peasants, sitting on an unharnessed
cart; “come and have some lunch with us! 
Have a drop of wine!”

Levin looked round.

“Come along, it’s all
right!” shouted a good-humored-looking bearded
peasant with a red face, showing his white teeth in
a grin, and holding up a greenish bottle that flashed
in the sunlight.

Qu’est-ce qu’ils disent?”
asked Veslovsky.

“They invite you to have some
vodka.  Most likely they’ve been dividing
the meadow into lots.  I should have some,”
said Levin, not without some guile, hoping Veslovsky
would be tempted by the vodka, and would go away to
them.

“Why do they offer it?”

“Oh, they’re merry-making. 
Really, you should join them.  You would be
interested.”

Allons, c’est curieux.”

“You go, you go, you’ll
find the way to the mill!” cried Levin, and
looking round he perceived with satisfaction that Veslovsky,
bent and stumbling with weariness, holding his gun
out at arm’s length, was making his way out
of the marsh towards the peasants.

“You come too!” the peasants
shouted to Levin.  “Never fear!  You
taste our cake!”

Levin felt a strong inclination to
drink a little vodka and to eat some bread. 
He was exhausted, and felt it a great effort to drag
his staggering legs out of the mire, and for a minute
he hesitated.  But Laska was setting.  And
immediately all his weariness vanished, and he walked
lightly through the swamp towards the dog.  A
snipe flew up at his feet; he fired and killed it. 
Laska still pointed. ­“Fetch it!”
Another bird flew up close to the dog.  Levin
fired.  But it was an unlucky day for him; he
missed it, and when he went to look for the one he
had shot, he could not find that either.  He
wandered all about the reeds, but Laska did not believe
he had shot it, and when he sent her to find it, she
pretended to hunt for it, but did not really. 
And in the absence of Vassenka, on whom Levin threw
the blame of his failure, things went no better. 
There were plenty of snipe still, but Levin made
one miss after another.

The slanting rays of the sun were
still hot; his clothes, soaked through with perspiration,
stuck to his body; his left boot full of water weighed
heavily on his leg and squeaked at every step; the
sweat ran in drops down his powder-grimed face, his
mouth was full of the bitter taste, his nose of the
smell of powder and stagnant water, his ears were
ringing with the incessant whir of the snipe; he could
not touch the stock of his gun, it was so hot; his
heart beat with short, rapid throbs; his hands shook
with excitement, and his weary legs stumbled and staggered
over the hillocks and in the swamp, but still he walked
on and still he shot.  At last, after a disgraceful
miss, he flung his gun and his hat on the ground.

“No, I must control myself,”
he said to himself.  Picking up his gun and his
hat, he called Laska, and went out of the swamp. 
When he got on to dry ground he sat down, pulled off
his boot and emptied it, then walked to the marsh,
drank some stagnant-tasting water, moistened his burning
hot gun, and washed his face and hands.  Feeling
refreshed, he went back to the spot where a snipe
had settled, firmly resolved to keep cool.

He tried to be calm, but it was the
same again.  His finger pressed the cock before
he had taken a good aim at the bird.  It got
worse and worse.

He had only five birds in his game-bag
when he walked out of the marsh towards the alders
where he was to rejoin Stepan Arkadyevitch.

Before he caught sight of Stepan Arkadyevitch
he saw his dog.  Krak darted out from behind the
twisted root of an alder, black all over with the
stinking mire of the marsh, and with the air of a
conqueror sniffed at Laska.  Behind Krak there
came into view in the shade of the alder tree the
shapely figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch.  He came
to meet him, red and perspiring, with unbuttoned neckband,
still limping in the same way.

“Well?  You have been popping
away!” he said, smiling good-humoredly.

“How have you got on?”
queried Levin.  But there was no need to ask,
for he had already seen the full game bag.

“Oh, pretty fair.”

He had fourteen birds.

“A splendid marsh!  I’ve
no doubt Veslovsky got in your way.  It’s
awkward too, shooting with one dog,” said Stepan
Arkadyevitch, to soften his triumph.

 

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