“Don’t imagine we shall get in anybody’s way, uncle,” said Natasha.

“We’ll stay in our right place and not stir from it.”

“And you’ll do well, little countess,” said the uncle. “Only don’t fall off your horse,” he added, “or you’d never get on again—all’s well, quick march!”

The Otradnoe preserve came into sight, an oasis of greenness, two hundred and fifty yards away. Rostov, settling finally with the uncle from what point to set the dogs on, pointed out to Natasha the place where she was to stand, a place where there was no chance of anything running out, and went round to close in from behind above the ravine.

“Now, nephew, you’re on the track of an old wolf,” said the uncle; “mind he doesn’t give you the slip.”

“That’s as it happens,” answered Rostov. “Karay, hey!” he shouted, replying to the uncle’s warning by this call to his dog. Karay was an old, misshapen, muddy-coloured hound, famous for attacking an old wolf unaided. All took their places.

The old count, who knew his son’s ardour in the hunt, hurried to avoid being late, and the whippers-in had hardly reached the place when Count Ilya Andreitch, with a cheerful face, and flushed and quivering cheeks, drove up with his pair of raven horses, over the green field to the place left for him. Straightening his fur coat and putting on his hunting appurtenances, he mounted his sleek, well-fed, quiet, good-humoured Viflyanka, who was turning grey like himself. The horses with the gig were sent back. Count Ilya Andreitch, though he was at heart no sportsman, knew well all the rules of sport. He rode into the edge of the thicket of bushes, behind which he was standing, picked up the reins, settled himself at his ease in the saddle, and, feeling that he was ready, looked about him smiling.

Near him stood his valet, Semyon Tchekmar, a veteran horseman, though now heavy in the saddle. Tchekmar held on a leash three wolfhounds of a special breed, spirited hounds, though they too had grown fat like their master and his horse. Two other keen old dogs were lying beside them not in a leash. A hundred paces further in the edge of the copse stood another groom of the count’s, Mitka, a reckless rider and passionate sportsman. The count had followed the old custom of drinking before hunting a silver goblet of spiced brandy; he had had a slight lunch and after that half a bottle of his favourite bordeaux.

Count Ilya Andreitch was rather flushed from the wine and the drive; his eyes, covered by moisture, were particularly bright, and sitting in the saddle wrapped up in his fur coat, he looked like a baby taken out for a drive.

After seeing after his duties, Tchekmar, with his thin face and sunken cheeks, looked towards his master, with whom he had lived on the best of terms for thirty years. Perceiving that he was in a genial humour, he anticipated a pleasant chat. A third person rode circumspectly—he had no doubt been cautioned—out of the wood, and stood still behind the count. This personage was a grey-bearded old man, wearing a woman’s gown and a high, peaked cap. It was the buffoon, Nastasya Ivanovna.

“Well, Nastasya Ivanovna,” whispered the count, winking at him, “you only scare off the game, and Danilo will give it you.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday,” said Nastasya Ivanovna.

“Sh!” hissed the count, and he turned to Semyon. “Have you seen Natalya Ilyinitchna?” he asked Semyon. “Where is she?”

“Her honour’s with Pyotr Ilyitch, behind the high grass at Zharvry,” answered Semyon, smiling. “Though she is a lady, she has a great love for the chase.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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