Chapter 3

WINTRY WEATHER was already setting in, the morning frosts hardened the earth drenched by the autumn rains. Already the grass was full of tufts, and stood out bright green against the patches of brown winter cornland trodden by the cattle, and the pale yellow stubble of the summer cornfields, and the reddish strips of buckwheat. The uplands and copses, which at the end of August had still been green islands among the black fields ploughed ready for winter corn, and the stubble had become golden and lurid red islands in a sea of bright green autumn crops. The grey hare had already half-changed its coat, the foxes’ cubs were beginning to leave their parents, and the young wolves were bigger than dogs. It was the best time of the year for the chase. The dogs of an ardent young sportsman like Rostov were only just coming into fit state for hunting, so that at a common council of the huntsmen it was decided to give the dogs three days’ rest, and on the 16th of September to go off on a hunting expedition, beginning with Dubravy, where there was a litter of wolves that had never been hunted.

Such was the position of affairs on the 14th of September.

All that day the dogs were kept at home. It was keen and frosty weather, but towards evening the sky clouded over and it began to thaw. On the morning of the 15th of September when young Rostov in his dressing-gown looked out of window he saw a morning which was all the heart could desire for hunting. It looked as though the sky were melting, and without the slightest wind, sinking down upon the earth. The only movement in the air was the soft downward motion of microscopic drops of moisture or mist. The bare twigs in the garden were hung with transparent drops which dripped on to the freshly fallen leaves. The earth in the kitchen-garden had a gleaming, wet, black look like the centre of a poppy, and at a short distance away it melted off into the damp, dim veil of fog.

Nikolay went out on to the wet and muddy steps. There was a smell of decaying leaves and dogs. The broad-backed, black and tan bitch Milka, with her big, prominent, black eyes, caught sight of her master, got up, stretched out her hindlegs, lay down like a hare, then suddenly jumped up and licked him right on his nose and moustache. Another harrier, catching sight of his master from the bright coloured path, arched its back, darted headlong to the steps, and, lifting its tail, rubbed itself against Nikolay’s legs.

“O, hoy!” He heard at that moment the inimitable hunting halloo which unites the deepest bass and the shrillest tenor notes. And round the corner came the huntsman and whipper-in, Danilo, a grey, wrinkled man, with his hair cropped round in the Ukrainian fashion. He held a bent whip in his hand, and his face had that expression of independence and scorn for everything in the world, which is only to be seen in huntsmen. He took off his Circassian cap to his master and looked scornfully at him. That scorn was not offensive to his master. Nikolay knew that this Danilo, disdainful of all, and superior to everything, was still his man and his huntsman.

“Danilo,” said Nikolay, at the sight of this hunting weather, those dogs, and the huntsman, feeling shyly that he was being carried away by that irresistible sporting passion in which a man forgets all his previous intentions, like a man in love at the sight of his mistress.

“What is your bidding, your excellency?” asked a bass voice, fit for a head deacon, and hoarse from hallooing, and a pair of flashing black eyes glanced up from under their brows at the silent young master. “Surely you can’t resist it?” those two eyes seemed to be asking.

“It’s a good day, eh? Just right for riding and hunting, eh?” said Nikolay, scratching Milka behind the ears.

Danilo winked and made no reply.

“I sent Uvarka out to listen at daybreak,” his bass boomed out after a moment’s silence. “He brought word she’s moved into the Otradnoe enclosure; there was howling there.” (“She’s moved” meant that the mother wolf, of whom both knew, had moved with her cubs into the Otradnoe copse, which was a small hunting preserve about two versts away.)

  By PanEris using Melati.

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