THE OLD COUNT, whose hunting establishment had always been kept up on a large scale, had now handed it all over to his sons care, but on that day, the 15th of September, being in excellent spirits he prepared to join the expedition. Within an hour the whole party was before the porch. When Natasha and Petya said something to Nikolay he walked by them with a stern and serious air, betokening that he had no time to waste on trifles. He looked over everything to do with the hunt, sent a pack of hounds and huntsmen on ahead to cut off the wolf from behind, got on his chestnut Don horse, and whistling to the dogs of his leash, he set off across the threshing-floor to the field leading to the Otradnoe preserve. The old counts horse, a sorrel gelding, with a white mane and tail, called Viflyanka, was led by the counts groom; he was himself to drive straight in a light gig to the spot fixed for him to stand.
Fifty-four hounds were led out under the charge of six whippers-in and grooms. Of huntsmen, properly speaking, there were taking part in the hunt eight men besides the members of the family, and more than forty greyhounds ran behind them, so that with the hounds in leashes there were about a hundred and thirty dogs and twenty persons on horseback.
Every dog knew its master and its call. Every man in the hunt knew his task, his place, and the part assigned him. As soon as they had passed beyond the fence, they all moved without noise or talk, lengthening out along the road and the field to the Otradnoe forest.
The horses stepped over the field as over a soft carpet, splashing now and then into pools as they crossed the road. The foggy sky still seemed falling imperceptibly and regularly down on the earth; the air was still and warm, and there was no sound but now and then the whistle of a huntsman, the snort of a horse, the clack of a whip, or the whine of a dog who had dropped out of his place. When they had gone a verst, five more horsemen accompanied by dogs appeared out of the mist to meet the Rostovs. The foremost of them was a fresh, handsome old man with large, grey moustaches.
Good-day, uncle, said Nikolay as the old man rode up to him.
Alls well and march! I was sure of it, began the man addressed as uncle. He was not really the Rostovs uncle, but a distant relative, who had a small property in their neighbourhood.
I was sure you couldnt resist, and a good thing you have come out. Alls well and quick march. (This was the uncles favorite saying.) You had better attack the preserve at once, for my Girtchilk brought me word that the Ilagins are out with their hounds at Korniky; theyll snatch the litter right under your noses.
Thats where Im going. Shall we join the packs? asked Nikolay.
The hounds were joined into one pack, and the uncle and Nikolay rode on side by side.
Natasha, muffled up in a shawl which did not hide her eager face and shining eyes, galloped up to them, accompanied by Petya, who kept beside her, and Mihailo, the huntsman and groom, who had been told to look after her. Petya was laughing and switching and pulling his horse. Natasha sat her raven Arabtchick with grace and confidence and controlled him with an easy and steady hand.
The uncle looked with disapproval at Petya and Natasha. He did not like a mixture of frivolity with the serious business of the hunt.
Good-day, uncle; were coming to the hunt too! shouted Petya.
Good-day, good-day, and mind you dont ride down the dogs, said the uncle sternly.
Nikolenka, what a delightful dog Trunila is! he knew me, said Natasha of her favourite dog.
In the first place, Trunilas not a dog, but a wolf-hound, thought Nikolay. He glanced at his sister trying to make her feel the distance that lay between them at that moment. Natasha understood it.
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