`Can I possibly have missed it?' shouted Stepan Arkadyevich, who could not see for the smoke.
`Here it is!' said Levin, pointing to Laska, who, with one ear pricked up, wagging the tip of her shaggy tail, was coming slowly back, as though she would prolong the pleasure, and seemingly smiling, was bringing the dead bird to her master. `Well, I'm glad you were successful,' said Levin, who, at the same time, had a sense of envy that he had not succeeded in shooting the woodcock.
`It was a bad shot from the right barrel,' responded Stepan Arkadyevich, loading his gun. `Sh... Here it comes!'
The shrill whistles rapidly following one another were heard again. Two woodcocks, playing and chasing one another, and only whistling, not crying, flew straight at the very heads of the sportsmen. There was the report of four shots, and like swallows, the woodcocks turned swift somersaults in the air and vanished from sight.
The stand shooting was capital. Stepan Arkadyevich shot two more birds, and 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 west, behind the birch trees, and high up in the east twinkled the red fires of somber Arcturus. Over his head Levin made out the stars of the Great Bear and lost them again. The woodcocks had ceased flying; but Levin resolved to stay 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 perfectly plain. Venus had risen above the branch, and the chariot of the Great Bear with 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 Arkadyevich.
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 whether your sister-in-law's married yet, or when she's going to be?'
Levin felt so resolute and serene that no answer he fancied could affect him. But he had never dreamed of the answer which Stepan Arkadyevich made.
`She's never thought of being married, and isn't thinking of it; but she's very ill, and the doctors have sent her abroad. They're positively afraid she may not live.'
`What!' cried Levin. `Very ill? What is wrong with her? How is she?...'
While they were speaking, Laska, with ears pricked up, was looking upward at the sky, and, reproachfully, at them.
`What a time they have chosen to gab,' she was thinking. `There it comes.... Here it is - yes, sure enough. They'll miss it...' thought Laska.
But at that very instant both suddenly heard a shrill whistle which, as it were, smote on their ears, and both suddenly seized their guns and two flashes gleamed, and two bangs sounded at the very same instant. The woodcock flying high above instantly folded its wings and fell into a thicket, bending down the delicate shoots.