The victorious huntsman rode off to join his fellows, and there, the centre of a sympathetic and inquisitive crowd, he recounted his exploit.

The point was that Ilagin, with whom the Rostovs had some quarrel and were engaged in a lawsuit, was hunting over places that by old custom belonged to the Rostovs, and now, as though of design, had sent his men to the ravine where the Rostovs were, and had allowed his man to snatch a fox under a stranger’s dogs.

Nikolay had never seen Ilagin, but he had heard of the quarrelsomeness and obstinacy of their neighbour; and rushing, as he always did, to an extreme in his judgments and feelings, he cordially detested him, and looked upon him as his bitterest foe. Excited and angry, he rode up to him now, grasping his whip in his hand, fully prepared to take the most energetic and desperate measures in dealing with the enemy.

He had scarcely ridden beyond the ridge of the copse when he saw a stout gentleman in a beaver cap riding towards him on a handsome raven horse, accompanied by two grooms.

Instead of an enemy Nikolay found in Ilagin a courteous gentleman of imposing appearance, who was particularly anxious to make the young count’s acquaintance. Ilagin took off his beaver cap as he approached Rostov, and said that he greatly regretted what had occurred, that he would have the man punished, that he begged the count to let them be better acquainted, and offered him the use of his preserves for hunting.

Natasha had ridden up not far behind her brother, in some excitement, fearing he might do something awful. Seeing that the opponents were exchanging affable greetings, she rode up to them. Ilagin lifted his beaver cap higher than ever to Natasha, and, smiling agreeably, said that the countess was indeed a Diana both in her passion for the chase and her beauty, of which he had heard so much.

Ilagin, to efface the impression of his huntsman’s crime, insisted on Rostov coming to his upland a verst away, which he preserved for his own shooting, and described as teeming with hares. Nikolay agreed, and the whole party, its numbers now doubled, moved on. They had to ride through the fields to get there. The huntsmen moved in a line, and the gentry rode together. The uncle, Rostov, and Ilagin glanced stealthily at each other’s dogs, trying not to be observed by the others, and looking uneasily for rivals likely to excel their own dogs.

Rostov was particularly struck by the beauty of a small thoroughbred, slender, black and tan bitch of Ilagin’s, with muscles like steel, a delicate nose, and prominent black eyes. He had heard of the sporting qualities of Ilagin’s dogs, and in that handsome bitch he saw a rival of his Milka.

In the middle of a sedate conversation about the crops of the year, started by Ilagin, Nikolay pointed out the black and tan bitch.

“You have a fine bitch there!” he said, in a careless tone. “Is she clever?”

“That one? Yes, she’s a good beast—she can catch a hare,” Ilagin said indifferently of his black and tan Yerza, a bitch for whom he had a year before given a neighbour three families of house-serfs. “So they don’t brag of their thrashing, count,” he went on, taking up their previous conversation. And feeling it only polite to repay the young count’s compliment, Ilagin scanned his dogs, and pitched on Milka, whose broad back caught his eye.

“That’s a good black and tan you have there—a fine one!” he said.

“Yes, she’s all right, she can run,” answered Nikolay. “Oh, if only a good big hare would run into the field, I would show you what she’s like!” he thought, and turning to his groom, he said he would give a rouble to any one who would unearth a hare.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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