Anna karenina, p.59
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       Anna Karenina, p.59

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 25

  There were seventeen officers in all riding in this race. The racecourse was a large three-mile ring of the form of an ellipse in front ofthe pavilion. On this course nine obstacles had been arranged: thestream, a big and solid barrier five feet high, just before thepavilion, a dry ditch, a ditch full of water, a precipitous slope, anIrish barricade (one of the most difficult obstacles, consisting of amound fenced with brushwood, beyond which was a ditch out of sight forthe horses, so that the horse had to clear both obstacles or might bekilled); then two more ditches filled with water, and one dry one; andthe end of the race was just facing the pavilion. But the race began notin the ring, but two hundred yards away from it, and in that part of thecourse was the first obstacle, a dammed-up stream, seven feet inbreadth, which the racers could leap or wade through as they preferred.

  Three times they were ranged ready to start, but each time some horsethrust itself out of line, and they had to begin again. The umpire whowas starting them, Colonel Sestrin, was beginning to lose his temper,when at last for the fourth time he shouted "Away!" and the racersstarted.

  Every eye, every opera glass, was turned on the brightly colored groupof riders at the moment they were in line to start.

  "They're off! They're starting!" was heard on all sides after the hushof expectation.

  And little groups and solitary figures among the public began runningfrom place to place to get a better view. In the very first minute theclose group of horsemen drew out, and it could be seen that they wereapproaching the stream in twos and threes and one behind another. To thespectators it seemed as though they had all started simultaneously, butto the racers there were seconds of difference that had great value tothem.

  Frou-Frou, excited and over-nervous, had lost the first moment, andseveral horses had started before her, but before reaching the stream,Vronsky, who was holding in the mare with all his force as she tugged atthe bridle, easily overtook three, and there were left in front of himMahotin's chestnut Gladiator, whose hind-quarters were moving lightlyand rhythmically up and down exactly in front of Vronsky, and in frontof all, the dainty mare Diana bearing Kuzovlev more dead than alive.

  For the first instant Vronsky was not master either of himself or hismare. Up to the first obstacle, the stream, he could not guide themotions of his mare.

  Gladiator and Diana came up to it together and almost at the sameinstant; simultaneously they rose above the stream and flew across tothe other side; Frou-Frou darted after them, as if flying; but at thevery moment when Vronsky felt himself in the air, he suddenly saw almostunder his mare's hoofs Kuzovlev, who was floundering with Diana on thefurther side of the stream. (Kuzovlev had let go the reins as he tookthe leap, and the mare had sent him flying over her head.) Those detailsVronsky 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, likea 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, andbegan holding her in, intending to cross the great barrier behindMahotin, and to try to overtake him in the clear ground of about fivehundred yards that followed it.

  The great barrier stood just in front of the imperial pavilion. The Tsarand the whole court and crowds of people were all gazing at them--athim, and Mahotin a length ahead of him, as they drew near the "devil,"as the solid barrier was called. Vronsky was aware of those eyesfastened upon him from all sides, but he saw nothing except the ears andneck of his own mare, the ground racing to meet him, and the back andwhite legs of Gladiator beating time swiftly before him, and keepingalways the same distance ahead. Gladiator rose, with no sound ofknocking against anything. With a wave of his short tail he disappearedfrom Vronsky's sight.

  "Bravo!" cried a voice.

  At the same instant, under Vronsky's eyes, right before him flashed thepalings of the barrier. Without the slightest change in her action hismare flew over it; the palings vanished, and he heard only a crashbehind him. The mare, excited by Gladiator's keeping ahead, had risentoo soon before the barrier, and grazed it with her hind hoofs. But herpace never changed, and Vronsky, feeling a spatter of mud in his face,realized that he was once more the same distance from Gladiator. Oncemore he perceived in front of him the same back and short tail, andagain the same swiftly moving white legs that got no further away.

  At the very moment when Vronsky thought that now was the time toovertake Mahotin, Frou-Frou herself, understanding his thoughts, withoutany incitement on his part, gained ground considerably, and begangetting alongside of Mahotin on the most favorable side, close to theinner cord. Mahotin would not let her pass that side. Vronsky had hardlyformed the thought that he could perhaps pass on the outer side, whenFrou-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 evenwith Gladiator's back. For a few lengths they moved evenly. But beforethe obstacle they were approaching, Vronsky began working at the reins,anxious to avoid having to take the outer circle, and swiftly passedMahotin just upon the declivity. He caught a glimpse of his mud-stainedface as he flashed by. He even fancied that he smiled. Vronsky passedMahotin, but he was immediately aware of him close upon him, and henever ceased hearing the even-thudding hoofs and the rapid and stillquite fresh breathing of Gladiator.

  The next two obstacles, the water course and the barrier, were easilycrossed, but Vronsky began to hear the snorting and thud of Gladiatorcloser upon him. He urged on his mare, and to his delight felt that sheeasily quickened her pace, and the thud of Gladiator's hoofs was againheard at the same distance away.

  Vronsky was at the head of the race, just as he wanted to be and as Cordhad advised, and now he felt sure of being the winner. His excitement,his delight, and his tenderness for Frou-Frou grew keener and keener. Helonged to look round again, but he did not dare do this, and tried to becool and not to urge on his mare so to keep the same reserve of force inher as he felt that Gladiator still kept. There remained only oneobstacle, the most difficult; if he could cross it ahead of the othershe would come in first. He was flying towards the Irish barricade,Frou-Frou and he both together saw the barricade in the distance, andboth the man and the mare had a moment's hesitation. He saw theuncertainty in the mare's ears and lifted the whip, but at the same timefelt that his fears were groundless; the mare knew what was wanted. Shequickened 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 herpace again.

  "Bravo, Vronsky!" he heard shouts from a knot of men--he knew they werehis friends in the regiment--who were standing at the obstacle. He couldnot fail to recognize Yashvin's voice though he did not see him.

  "O my sweet!" he said inwardly to Frou-Frou, as he listened for what washappening behind. "He's cleared it!" he thought, catching the thud ofGladiator's hoofs behind him. There remained only the last ditch, filledwith water and five feet wide. Vronsky did not even look at it, butanxious 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. Hefelt that the mare was at her very last reserve of strength; not herneck and shoulders merely were wet, but the sweat was standing in dropson 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 forthe remaining five hundred yards. It was only from feeling himselfnearer the ground and from the peculiar smoothness of his motion thatVronsky knew how greatly the mare had quickened her pace. She flew overthe ditch as though not noticing it. She flew over it like a bird; butat the same instant Vronsky, to his horror, felt that he had failed tokeep up with the mare's pace, that he had, he did not know how, made afearful, unpardonable mistake,
in recovering his seat in the saddle. Allat once his position had shifted and he knew that something awful hadhappened. He could not yet make out what had happened, when the whitelegs of a chestnut horse flashed by close to him, and Mahotin passed ata swift gallop. Vronsky was touching the ground with one foot, and hismare was sinking on that foot. He just had time to free his leg when shefell on one side, gasping painfully, and, making vain efforts to risewith her delicate, soaking neck, she fluttered on the ground at his feetlike a shot bird. The clumsy movement made by Vronsky had broken herback. But that he only knew much later. At that moment he knew only thatMahotin had flown swiftly by, while he stood staggering alone on themuddy, motionless ground, and Frou-Frou lay gasping before him, bendingher head back and gazing at him with her exquisite eyes. Still unable torealize what had happened, Vronsky tugged at his mare's reins. Again shestruggled all over like a fish, and her shoulders setting the saddleheaving, she rose on her front legs but unable to lift her back, shequivered all over and again fell on her side. With a face hideous withpassion, his lower jaw trembling, and his cheeks white, Vronsky kickedher 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 simplygazed at her master with her speaking eyes.

  "A--a--a!" groaned Vronsky, clutching at his head. "Ah! what have Idone!" 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 hisregiment, ran up to him. To his misery he felt that he was whole andunhurt. The mare had broken her back, and it was decided to shoot her.Vronsky could not answer questions, could not speak to anyone. Heturned, and without picking up his cap that had fallen off, walked awayfrom the race course, not knowing where he was going. He felt utterlywretched. For the first time in his life he knew the bitterest sort ofmisfortune, misfortune beyond remedy, and caused by his own fault.

  Yashvin overtook him with his cap, and led him home, and half an hourlater Vronsky had regained his self-possession. But the memory of thatrace remained for long in his heart, the cruelest and bitterest memoryof his life.

 
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