Anna karenina, p.49
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       Anna Karenina, p.49

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 15

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

  Gray old Laska, who had followed them, sat down warily opposite him andpricked up her ears. The sun was setting behind a thick forest, and inthe glow of sunset the birch trees, dotted about in the aspen copse,stood out clearly with their hanging twigs, and their buds swollenalmost 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'sleaves, stirred by the thawing of the earth and the growth of the grass.

  "Imagine! One can hear and see the grass growing!" Levin said tohimself, noticing a wet, slate-colored aspen leaf moving beside a bladeof young grass. He stood, listened, and gazed sometimes down at the wetmossy ground, sometimes at Laska listening all alert, sometimes at thesea of bare tree tops that stretched on the slope below him, sometimesat 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 andvanished. The birds twittered more and more loudly and busily in thethicket. An owl hooted not far off, and Laska, starting, steppedcautiously a few steps forward, and putting her head on one side, beganto listen intently. Beyond the stream was heard the cuckoo. Twice sheuttered her usual cuckoo call, and then gave a hoarse, hurried call andbroke down.

  "Imagine! the cuckoo already!" said Stepan Arkadyevitch, coming out frombehind a bush.

  "Yes, I hear it," answered Levin, reluctantly breaking the stillnesswith his voice, which sounded disagreeable to himself. "Now it'scoming!"

  Stepan Arkadyevitch's figure again went behind the bush, and Levin sawnothing but the bright flash of a match, followed by the red glow andblue smoke of a cigarette.

  "Tchk! tchk!" came the snapping sound of Stepan Arkadyevitch cocking hisgun.

  "What's that cry?" asked Oblonsky, drawing Levin's attention to aprolonged 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, sowell known to the sportsman, two seconds later--another, a third, andafter the third whistle the hoarse, guttural cry could be heard.

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

  "Can I have missed it?" shouted Stepan Arkadyevitch, who could not seefor 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 wouldprolong the pleasure, and as it were smiling, brought the dead bird toher master. "Well, I'm glad you were successful," said Levin, who, atthe same time, had a sense of envy that he had not succeeded in shootingthe snipe.

  "It was a bad shot from the right barrel," responded StepanArkadyevitch, loading his gun. "Sh... it's flying!"

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

  The stand-shooting was capital. Stepan Arkadyevitch shot two more birdsand 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 westbehind the birch trees, and high up in the east twinkled the red lightsof Arcturus. Over his head Levin made out the stars of the Great Bearand lost them again. The snipe had ceased flying; but Levin resolved tostay 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 perfectlyplain. Venus had risen above the branch, and the ear of the Great Bearwith 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 whetheryour sister-in-law's married yet, or when she's going to be?"

  Levin felt so resolute and serene that no answer, he fancied, couldaffect him. But he had never dreamed of what Stepan Arkadyevitchreplied.

  "She's never thought of being married, and isn't thinking of it; butshe's very ill, and the doctors have sent her abroad. They're positivelyafraid 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 lookingupwards at the sky, and reproachfully at them.

  "They have chosen a time to talk," she was thinking. "It's on thewing.... Here it is, yes, it is. They'll miss it," thought Laska.

  But at that very instant both suddenly heard a shrill whistle which, asit were, smote on their ears, and both suddenly seized their guns andtwo flashes gleamed, and two bangs sounded at the very same instant. Thesnipe flying high above instantly folded its wings and fell into athicket, bending down the delicate shoots.

  "Splendid! Together!" cried Levin, and he ran with Laska into thethicket to look for the snipe.

  "Oh, yes, what was it that was unpleasant?" he wondered. "Yes, Kitty'sill.... 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 warmbird from Laska's mouth and packing it into the almost full game bag."I've got it, Stiva!" he shouted.

 
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