Chapter 6

THE OLD COUNT went home. Natasha and Petya promised to follow immediately. The hunting party went on further as it was still early. In the middle of the day they set the hounds into a ravine covered with thickly growing young copse. Nikolay, standing on the stubble land above, could see all his party.

Facing Nikolay on the opposite side was a field of green corn, and there stood his huntsman, alone in a hollow behind a nut bush. As soon as they loosed the hounds, Nikolay heard a hound he knew—Voltorn—give tongue at intervals; other hounds joined him, pausing now and then, and taking up the cry again. A moment later he heard from the ravine the cry that they were on the scent of a fox, and all the pack joining together made for the opening towards the green corn away from Nikolay.

He saw the whippers-in in their red caps galloping along the edge of the overgrown ravine; he could see the dogs even, and was every instant expecting the fox to come into sight on the further side among the green corn.

The huntsman standing in the hollow started off and let his dogs go, and Nikolay saw the red, uncouth- looking fox hurrying along close to the ground, with its bushy tail, through the green corn. The dogs bore down on it. And now they were getting close, and now the fox was beginning to wind in circles between them, making the circles more and more rapidly, and sweeping its bushy brush around it, when all of a sudden a strange white dog flew down upon it, and was followed by a black one, and everything was confusion, and the dogs formed a star-shaped figure round it, scarcely moving, with their heads together, and their tails out. Two huntsmen galloped down to the dogs; one in a red cap, the other, a stranger, in a green coat.

“What’s the meaning of it?” wondered Nikolay. “Where did that huntsman spring from? That’s not uncle’s man.”

The huntsmen got the fox, and remained a long while standing on foot there, without hanging the fox on the saddle.

He could see the horses with their snaffles jutting up standing close by the huntsmen, and the dogs lying down. The huntsmen were waving their arms and doing something with the fox. A horn was sounded—the signal agreed upon in case of a dispute.

“That’s Ilagin’s huntsman getting up a row of some sort with our Ivan,” said Nikolay’s groom.

Nikolay sent the groom to call his sister and Petya to come to him, and rode at a walking pace towards the spot where the whippers-in were getting the hounds together. Several of the party galloped to the scene of the squabble.

Nikolay dismounted, and, with Natasha and Petya, who had ridden up, he stood by the hounds waiting to hear how the difficulty was settled. The huntsman who had been quarrelling came riding out of the bushes with the fox on the crupper, and rode towards his young master. He took off his cap a long way off and tried as he came up to speak respectfully. But he was pale and gasping for breath, and his face was wrathful. One of his eyes was blackened, but he was probably not aware of it.

“What was the matter over there?” asked Nikolay.

“Why, he was going to kill the fox right under our hounds’ noses! And my bitch it was—the mouse-coloured one—that had got hold of it. You can go and have me up for it! Snatching hold of the fox! I gave him one with the fox. Here it is on my saddle. Is it a taste of this you want?” said the huntsman, pointing to his hunting-knife and apparently imagining that he was still talking to his enemy.

Nikolay did not waste words on the man, but asking his sister and Petya to wait for him, rode over to where the hounds and the men of the enemy, Ilagin, were gathered together.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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