Anna karenina, p.167
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       Anna Karenina, p.167

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 10

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

  As they drew near this more important marsh, the chief aim of theirexpedition, Levin could not help considering how he could get rid ofVassenka and be free in his movements. Stepan Arkadyevitch evidently hadthe same desire, and on his face Levin saw the look of anxiety alwayspresent in a true sportsman when beginning shooting, together with acertain 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 thereeds. "Where there are hawks, there is sure to be game."

  "Now, gentlemen," said Levin, pulling up his boots and examining thelock of his gun with rather a gloomy expression, "do you see thosereeds?" He pointed to an oasis of blackish green in the huge half-mownwet meadow that stretched along the right bank of the river. "The marshbegins 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 breedingplaces there, and grouse, and all round those reeds as far as thatalder, and right up to the mill. Over there, do you see, where the poolsare? That's the best place. There I once shot seventeen snipe. We'llseparate with the dogs and go in different directions, and then meetover there at the mill."

  "Well, which shall go to left and which to right?" asked StepanArkadyevitch. "It's wider to the right; you two go that way and I'lltake 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 abouttogether and made towards the green, slime-covered pool. Levin knewLaska's method, wary and indefinite; he knew the place too and expecteda whole covey of snipe.

  "Veslovsky, beside me, walk beside me!" he said in a faint voice to hiscompanion splashing in the water behind him. Levin could not helpfeeling an interest in the direction his gun was pointed, after thatcasual 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 atparting: "Mind you don't shoot one another." The dogs came nearer andnearer, passed each other, each pursuing its own scent. The expectationof snipe was so intense that to Levin the squelching sound of his ownheel, as he drew it up out of the mire, seemed to be the call of asnipe, and he clutched and pressed the lock of his gun.

  "Bang! bang!" sounded almost in his ear. Vassenka had fired at a flockof ducks which was hovering over the marsh and flying at that momenttowards the sportsmen, far out of range. Before Levin had time to lookround, there was the whir of one snipe, another, a third, and some eightmore rose one after another.

  Stepan Arkadyevitch hit one at the very moment when it was beginning itszigzag movements, and the snipe fell in a heap into the mud. Oblonskyaimed deliberately at another, still flying low in the reeds, andtogether with the report of the shot, that snipe too fell, and it couldbe seen fluttering out where the sedge had been cut, its unhurt wingshowing 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 anothersnipe 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 thewater. Stepan Arkadyevitch picked up his snipe, and with sparkling eyeslooked at Levin.

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

  It always happened with Levin that when his first shots were a failurehe got hot and out of temper, and shot badly the whole day. So it wasthat day. The snipe showed themselves in numbers. They kept flying upfrom just under the dogs, from under the sportsmen's legs, and Levinmight have retrieved his ill luck. But the more he shot, the more hefelt disgraced in the eyes of Veslovsky, who kept popping away merrilyand indiscriminately, killing nothing, and not in the slightest abashedby his ill success. Levin, in feverish haste, could not restrainhimself, got more and more out of temper, and ended by shooting almostwithout a hope of hitting. Laska, indeed, seemed to understand this. Shebegan looking more languidly, and gazed back at the sportsmen, as itwere, with perplexity or reproach in her eyes. Shots followed shots inrapid succession. The smoke of the powder hung about the sportsmen,while in the great roomy net of the game bag there were only three lightlittle snipe. And of these one had been killed by Veslovsky alone, andone by both of them together. Meanwhile from the other side of the marshcame the sound of Stepan Arkadyevitch's shots, not frequent, but, asLevin fancied, well-directed, for almost after each they heard "Krak,Krak, _apporte_!"

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

  After walking through the larger half of the marsh, Levin and Veslovskyreached the place where the peasants' mowing-grass was divided into longstrips reaching to the reeds, marked off in one place by the trampledgrass, in another by a path mown through it. Half of these strips hadalready been mown.

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

  "Hi, sportsmen!" shouted one of a group of peasants, sitting on anunharnessed cart; "come and have some lunch with us! Have a drop ofwine!"

  Levin looked round.

  "Come along, it's all right!" shouted a good-humored-looking beardedpeasant with a red face, showing his white teeth in a grin, and holdingup 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 dividingthe meadow into lots. I should have some," said Levin, not without someguile, hoping Veslovsky would be tempted by the vodka, and would go awayto them.

  "Why do they offer it?"

  "Oh, they're merry-making. Really, you should join them. You would beinterested."

  "_Allons, c'est curieux_."

  "You go, you go, you'll find the way to the mill!" cried Levin, andlooking round he perceived with satisfaction that Veslovsky, bent andstumbling with weariness, holding his gun out at arm's length, wasmaking his way out of the marsh towards the peasants.

  "You come too!" the peasants shouted to Levin. "Never fear! You tasteour cake!"

  Levin felt a strong inclination to drink a little vodka and to eat somebread. He was exhausted, and felt it a great effort to drag hisstaggering legs out of the mire, and for a minute he hesitated. ButLaska was setting. And immediately all his weariness vanished, and hewalked lightly through the swamp towards the dog. A snipe flew up at hisfeet; he fired and killed it. Laska still pointed.--"Fetch it!" Anotherbird flew up close to the dog. Levin fired. But it was an unlucky dayfor 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, butLaska 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 ofVassenka, on whom Levin threw the blame of his failure, things went nobetter. There were plenty of snipe still, but Levin made one miss afteranother.

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

  "No, I must control myself," he said to himself. Picking up his gun andhis hat, he called Laska, and went out of the swamp. When he got on todry ground he sat down, pulled off his boot and emptied it, then walkedto the marsh, drank some stagnant-tasting water, moistened his burninghot gun, and washed his face and hands. Feeling refreshed, he went backto 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 thecock 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 marshtowards the alders where he was to rejoin Stepan Arkadyevitch.

  Before he caught sight of Stepan Arkadyevitch he saw his dog. Krakdarted out from behind the twisted root of an alder, black all over withthe stinking mire of the marsh, and with the air of a conqueror sniffedat Laska. Behind Krak there came into view in the shade of the aldertree the shapely figure of Stepan Arkadyevitch. He came to meet him, redand 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, forhe 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 awkwardtoo, shooting with one dog," said Stepan Arkadyevitch, to soften histriumph.

 

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