FictionForest

PART SIX : Chapter 12

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

Light off Small Medium Large

Waking up at earliest dawn, Levin
tried to wake his companions.  Vassenka, lying
on his stomach, with one leg in a stocking thrust
out, was sleeping so soundly that he could elicit no
response.  Oblonsky, half asleep, declined to
get up so early.  Even Laska, who was asleep,
curled up in the hay, got up unwillingly, and lazily
stretched out and straightened her hind legs one after
the other.  Getting on his boots and stockings,
taking his gun, and carefully opening the creaking
door of the barn, Levin went out into the road. 
The coachmen were sleeping in their carriages, the
horses were dozing.  Only one was lazily eating
oats, dipping its nose into the manger.  It was
still gray out-of-doors.

“Why are you up so early, my
dear?” the old woman, their hostess, said, coming
out of the hut and addressing him affectionately as
an old friend.

“Going shooting, granny. 
Do I go this way to the marsh?”

“Straight out at the back; by
our threshing floor, my dear, and hemp patches; there’s
a little footpath.”  Stepping carefully
with her sunburnt, bare feet, the old woman conducted
Levin, and moved back the fence for him by the threshing
floor.

“Straight on and you’ll
come to the marsh.  Our lads drove the cattle
there yesterday evening.”

Laska ran eagerly forward along the
little path.  Levin followed her with a light,
rapid step, continually looking at the sky.  He
hoped the sun would not be up before he reached the
marsh.  But the sun did not delay.  The
moon, which had been bright when he went out, by now
shone only like a crescent of quicksilver.  The
pink flush of dawn, which one could not help seeing
before, now had to be sought to be discerned at all. 
What were before undefined, vague blurs in the distant
countryside could now be distinctly seen.  They
were sheaves of rye.  The dew, not visible till
the sun was up, wetted Levin’s legs and his blouse
above his belt in the high growing, fragrant hemp
patch, from which the pollen had already fallen out. 
In the transparent stillness of morning the smallest
sounds were audible.  A bee flew by Levin’s
ear with the whizzing sound of a bullet.  He looked
carefully, and saw a second and a third.  They
were all flying from the beehives behind the hedge,
and they disappeared over the hemp patch in the direction
of the marsh.  The path led straight to the marsh. 
The marsh could be recognized by the mist which rose
from it, thicker in one place and thinner in another,
so that the reeds and willow bushes swayed like islands
in this mist.  At the edge of the marsh and the
road, peasant boys and men, who had been herding for
the night, were lying, and in the dawn all were asleep
under their coats.  Not far from them were three
hobbled horses.  One of them clanked a chain. 
Laska walked beside her master, pressing a little
forward and looking round.  Passing the sleeping
peasants and reaching the first reeds, Levin examined
his pistols and let his dog off.  One of the horses,
a sleek, dark-brown three-year-old, seeing the dog,
started away, switched its tail and snorted. 
The other horses too were frightened, and splashing
through the water with their hobbled legs, and drawing
their hoofs out of the thick mud with a squelching
sound, they bounded out of the marsh.  Laska
stopped, looking ironically at the horses and inquiringly
at Levin.  Levin patted Laska, and whistled as
a sign that she might begin.

Laska ran joyfully and anxiously through
the slush that swayed under her.

Running into the marsh among the familiar
scents of roots, marsh plants, and slime, and the
extraneous smell of horse dung, Laska detected at
once a smell that pervaded the whole marsh, the scent
of that strong-smelling bird that always excited her
more than any other.  Here and there among the
moss and marsh plants this scent was very strong,
but it was impossible to determine in which direction
it grew stronger or fainter.  To find the direction,
she had to go farther away from the wind.  Not
feeling the motion of her legs, Laska bounded with
a stiff gallop, so that at each bound she could stop
short, to the right, away from the wind that blew
from the east before sunrise, and turned facing the
wind.  Sniffing in the air with dilated nostrils,
she felt at once that not their tracks only but they
themselves were here before her, and not one, but
many.  Laska slackened her speed.  They
were here, but where precisely she could not yet determine. 
To find the very spot, she began to make a circle,
when suddenly her master’s voice drew her off. 
“Laska! here?” he asked, pointing her
to a different direction.  She stopped, asking
him if she had better not go on doing as she had begun. 
But he repeated his command in an angry voice, pointing
to a spot covered with water, where there could not
be anything.  She obeyed him, pretending she
was looking, so as to please him, went round it, and
went back to her former position, and was at once
aware of the scent again.  Now when he was not
hindering her, she knew what to do, and without looking
at what was under her feet, and to her vexation stumbling
over a high stump into the water, but righting herself
with her strong, supple legs, she began making the
circle which was to make all clear to her.  The
scent of them reached her, stronger and stronger,
and more and more defined, and all at once it became
perfectly clear to her that one of them was here,
behind this tuft of reeds, five paces in front of
her; she stopped, and her whole body was still and
rigid.  On her short legs she could see nothing
in front of her, but by the scent she knew it was
sitting not more than five paces off.  She stood
still, feeling more and more conscious of it, and
enjoying it in anticipation.  Her tail was stretched
straight and tense, and only wagging at the extreme
end.  Her mouth was slightly open, her ears raised. 
One ear had been turned wrong side out as she ran
up, and she breathed heavily but warily, and still
more warily looked round, but more with her eyes than
her head, to her master.  He was coming along
with the face she knew so well, though the eyes were
always terrible to her.  He stumbled over the
stump as he came, and moved, as she thought, extraordinarily
slowly.  She thought he came slowly, but he was
running.

Noticing Laska’s special attitude
as she crouched on the ground, as it were, scratching
big prints with her hind paws, and with her mouth
slightly open, Levin knew she was pointing at grouse,
and with an inward prayer for luck, especially with
the first bird, he ran up to her.  Coming quite
close up to her, he could from his height look beyond
her, and he saw with his eyes what she was seeing
with her nose.  In a space between two little
thickets, at a couple of yards’ distance, he
could see a grouse.  Turning its head, it was
listening.  Then lightly preening and folding
its wings, it disappeared round a corner with a clumsy
wag of its tail.

“Fetch it, fetch it!”
shouted Levin, giving Laska a shove from behind.

“But I can’t go,”
thought Laska.  “Where am I to go? 
From here I feel them, but if I move forward I shall
know nothing of where they are or who they are.” 
But then he shoved her with his knee, and in an excited
whisper said, “Fetch it, Laska.”

“Well, if that’s what
he wishes, I’ll do it, but I can’t answer
for myself now,” she thought, and darted forward
as fast as her legs would carry her between the thick
bushes.  She scented nothing now; she could only
see and hear, without understanding anything.

Ten paces from her former place a
grouse rose with a guttural cry and the peculiar round
sound of its wings.  And immediately after the
shot it splashed heavily with its white breast on the
wet mire.  Another bird did not linger, but rose
behind Levin without the dog.  When Levin turned
towards it, it was already some way off.  But
his shot caught it.  Flying twenty paces further,
the second grouse rose upwards, and whirling round
like a ball, dropped heavily on a dry place.

“Come, this is going to be some
good!” thought Levin, packing the warm and fat
grouse into his game bag.  “Eh, Laska, will
it be good?”

When Levin, after loading his gun,
moved on, the sun had fully risen, though unseen behind
the storm-clouds.  The moon had lost all of its
luster, and was like a white cloud in the sky. 
Not a single star could be seen.  The sedge,
silvery with dew before, now shone like gold. 
The stagnant pools were all like amber.  The
blue of the grass had changed to yellow-green. 
The marsh birds twittered and swarmed about the brook
and upon the bushes that glittered with dew and cast
long shadows.  A hawk woke up and settled on
a haycock, turning its head from side to side and
looking discontentedly at the marsh.  Crows were
flying about the field, and a bare-legged boy was
driving the horses to an old man, who had got up from
under his long coat and was combing his hair. 
The smoke from the gun was white as milk over the
green of the grass.

One of the boys ran up to Levin.

“Uncle, there were ducks here
yesterday!” he shouted to him, and he walked
a little way off behind him.

And Levin was doubly pleased, in sight
of the boy, who expressed his approval, at killing
three snipe, one after another, straight off.

 

Leave a Reply