The old count went home, and Natásha and Pétya promised to return very soon, but as it was still early the hunt went farther. At midday they put the hounds into a ravine thickly overgrown with young trees. Nicholas standing in a fallow field could see all his whips.
Facing him lay a field of winter rye, there his own huntsman stood alone in a hollow behind a hazel bush. The hounds had scarcely been loosed before Nicholas heard one he knew, Voltórn, giving tongue at intervals; other hounds joined in, now pausing and now again giving tongue. A moment later he heard a cry from the wooded ravine that a fox had been found, and the whole pack, joining together, rushed along the ravine toward the ryefield and away from Nicholas.
He saw the whips in their red caps galloping along the edge of the ravine, he even saw the hounds, and was expecting a fox to show itself at any moment on the ryefield opposite.
The huntsman standing in the hollow moved and loosed his borzois, and Nicholas saw a queer, short-legged red fox with a fine brush going hard across the field. The borzois bore down on it.... Now they drew close to the fox which began to dodge between the field in sharper and sharper curves, trailing its brush, when suddenly a strange white borzoi dashed in followed by a black one, and everything was in confusion; the borzois formed a star-shaped figure, scarcely swaying their bodies and with tails turned away from the center of the group. Two huntsmen galloped up to the dogs; one in a red cap, the other, a stranger, in a green coat.
“What’s this?” thought Nicholas. “Where’s that huntsman from? He is not ‘Uncle’s’ man.”
The huntsmen got the fox, but stayed there a long time without strapping it to the saddle. Their horses, bridled and with high saddles, stood near them and there too the dogs were lying. The huntsmen waved their arms and did something to the fox. Then from that spot came the sound of a horn, with the signal agreed on in case of a fight.
“That’s Ilágin’s huntsman having a row with our Iván,” said Nicholas’ groom.
Nicholas sent the man to call Natásha and Pétya to him, and rode at a footpace to the place where the whips were getting the hounds together. Several of the field galloped to the spot where the fight was going on.
Nicholas dismounted, and with Natásha and Pétya, who had ridden up, stopped near the hounds, waiting to see how the matter would end. Out of the bushes came the huntsman who had been fighting and rode toward his young master, with the fox tied to his crupper. While still at a distance he took off his cap and tried to speak respectfully, but he was pale and breathless and his face was angry. One of his eyes was black, but he probably was not even aware of it.
“What has happened?” asked Nicholas.
“A likely thing, killing a fox our dogs had hunted! And it was my gray bitch that caught it! Go to law, indeed!... He snatches at the fox! I gave him one with the fox. Here it is on my saddle! Do you want a taste of this?...” said the huntsman, pointing to his dagger and probably imagining himself still speaking to his foe.
Nicholas, not stopping to talk to the man, asked his sister and Pétya to wait for him and rode to the spot where the enemy’s, Ilágin’s, hunting party was.
The victorious huntsman rode off to join the field, and there, surrounded by inquiring sympathizers, recounted his exploits.
The facts were that Ilágin, with whom the Rostóvs had a quarrel and were at law, hunted over places that belonged by custom to the Rostóvs, and had now, as if purposely, sent his men to the very woods the Rostóvs were hunting and let his man snatch a fox their dogs had chased.
Nicholas, though he had never seen Ilágin, with his usual absence of moderation in judgment, hated him cordially from reports of his arbitrariness and violence, and regarded him as his bitterest foe. He rode in angry agitation toward him, firmly grasping his whip and fully prepared to take the most resolute and desperate steps to punish his enemy.
Hardly had he passed an angle of the wood before a stout gentleman in a beaver cap came riding toward him on a handsome raven-black horse, accompanied by two hunt servants.
Instead of an enemy, Nicholas found in Ilágin a stately and courteous gentleman who was particularly anxious to make the young count’s acquaintance. Having ridden up to Nicholas, Ilágin raised his beaver cap and said he much regretted what had occurred and would have the man punished who had allowed himself to seize a fox hunted by someone else’s borzois. He hoped to become better acquainted with the count and invited him to draw his covert.
Natásha, afraid that her brother would do something dreadful, had followed him in some excitement. Seeing the enemies exchanging friendly greetings, she rode up to them. Ilágin lifted his beaver cap still higher to Natásha and said, with a pleasant smile, that the young countess resembled Diana in her passion for the chase as well as in her beauty, of which he had heard much.
To expiate his huntsman’s offense, Ilágin pressed the Rostóvs to come to an upland of his about a mile away which he usually kept for himself and which, he said, swarmed with hares. Nicholas agreed, and the hunt, now doubled, moved on.
The way to Iligin’s upland was across the fields. The hunt servants fell into line. The masters rode together. “Uncle,” Rostóv, and Ilágin kept stealthily glancing at one another’s dogs, trying not to be observed by their companions and searching uneasily for rivals to their own borzois.
Rostóv was particularly struck by the beauty of a small, pure-bred, red-spotted bitch on Ilágin’s leash, slender but with muscles like steel, a delicate muzzle, and prominent black eyes. He had heard of the swiftness of Ilágin’s borzois, and in that beautiful bitch saw a rival to his own Mílka.
In the middle of a sober conversation begun by Ilágin about the year’s harvest, Nicholas pointed to the red-spotted bitch.
“A fine little bitch, that!” said he in a careless tone. “Is she swift?”
“That one? Yes, she’s a good dog, gets what she’s after,” answered Ilágin indifferently, of the red-spotted bitch Erzá, for which, a year before, he had given a neighbor three families of house serfs. “So in your parts, too, the harvest is nothing to boast of, Count?” he went on, continuing the conversation they had begun. And considering it polite to return the young count’s compliment, Ilágin looked at his borzois and picked out Mílka who attracted his attention by her breadth. “That black-spotted one of yours is fine—well shaped!” said he.
“Yes, she’s fast enough,” replied Nicholas, and thought: “If only a full-grown hare would cross the field now I’d show you what sort of borzoi she is,” and turning to his groom, he said he would give a ruble to anyone who found a hare.
“I don’t understand,” continued Ilágin, “how some sportsmen can be so jealous about game and dogs. For myself, I can tell you, Count, I enjoy riding in company such as this... what could be better?” (he again raised his cap to Natásha) “but as for counting skins and what one takes, I don’t care about that.”
“Of course not!”
“Or being upset because someone else’s borzoi and not mine catches something. All I care about is to enjoy seeing the chase, is it not so, Count? For I consider that...”
“A-tu!” came the long-drawn cry of one of the borzoi whippers-in, who had halted. He stood on a knoll in the stubble, holding his whip aloft, and again repeated his long-drawn cry, “A-tu!” (This call and the uplifted whip meant that he saw a sitting hare.)
“Ah, he has found one, I think,” said Ilágin carelessly. “Yes, we must ride up.... Shall we both course it?” answered Nicholas, seeing in Erzá and “Uncle’s” red Rugáy two rivals he had never yet had a chance of pitting against his own borzois. “And suppose they outdo my Mílka at once!” he thought as he rode with “Uncle” and Ilágin toward the hare.
“A full-grown one?” asked Ilágin as he approached the whip who had sighted the hare—and not without agitation he looked round and whistled to Erzá.
“And you, Michael Nikanórovich?” he said, addressing “Uncle.”
The latter was riding with a sullen expression on his face.
“How can I join in? Why, you’ve given a village for each of your borzois! That’s it, come on! Yours are worth thousands. Try yours against one another, you two, and I’ll look on!”
“Rugáy, hey, hey!” he shouted. “Rugáyushka!” he added, involuntarily by this diminutive expressing his affection and the hopes he placed on this red borzoi. Natásha saw and felt the agitation the two elderly men and her brother were trying to conceal, and was herself excited by it.
The huntsman stood halfway up the knoll holding up his whip and the gentlefolk rode up to him at a footpace; the hounds that were far off on the horizon turned away from the hare, and the whips, but not the gentlefolk, also moved away. All were moving slowly and sedately.
“How is it pointing?” asked Nicholas, riding a hundred paces toward the whip who had sighted the hare.
But before the whip could reply, the hare, scenting the frost coming next morning, was unable to rest and leaped up. The pack on leash rushed downhill in full cry after the hare, and from all sides the borzois that were not on leash darted after the hounds and the hare. All the hunt, who had been moving slowly, shouted, “Stop!” calling in the hounds, while the borzoi whips, with a cry of “A-tu!” galloped across the field setting the borzois on the hare. The tranquil Ilágin, Nicholas, Natásha, and “Uncle” flew, reckless of where and how they went, seeing only the borzois and the hare and fearing only to lose sight even for an instant of the chase. The hare they had started was a strong and swift one. When he jumped up he did not run at once, but pricked his ears listening to the shouting and trampling that resounded from all sides at once. He took a dozen bounds, not very quickly, letting the borzois gain on him, and, finally having chosen his direction and realized his danger, laid back his ears and rushed off headlong. He had been lying in the stubble, but in front of him was the autumn sowing where the ground was soft. The two borzois of the huntsman who had sighted him, having been the nearest, were the first to see and pursue him, but they had not gone far before Ilágin’s red-spotted Erzá passed them, got within a length, flew at the hare with terrible swiftness aiming at his scut, and, thinking she had seized him, rolled over like a ball. The hare arched his back and bounded off yet more swiftly. From behind Erzá rushed the broad-haunched, black-spotted Mílka and began rapidly gaining on the hare.
“Miláshka, dear!” rose Nicholas’ triumphant cry. It looked as if Mílka would immediately pounce on the hare, but she overtook him and flew past. The hare had squatted. Again the beautiful Erzá reached him, but when close to the hare’s scut paused as if measuring the distance, so as not to make a mistake this time but seize his hind leg.
“Erzá, darling!” Ilágin wailed in a voice unlike his own. Erzá did not hearken to his appeal. At the very moment when she would have seized her prey, the hare moved and darted along the balk between the winter rye and the stubble. Again Erzá and Mílka were abreast, running like a pair of carriage horses, and began to overtake the hare, but it was easier for the hare to run on the balk and the borzois did not overtake him so quickly.
“Rugáy, Rugáyushka! That’s it, come on!” came a third voice just then, and “Uncle’s” red borzoi, straining and curving its back, caught up with the two foremost borzois, pushed ahead of them regardless of the terrible strain, put on speed close to the hare, knocked it off the balk onto the ryefield, again put on speed still more viciously, sinking to his knees in the muddy field, and all one could see was how, muddying his back, he rolled over with the hare. A ring of borzois surrounded him. A moment later everyone had drawn up round the crowd of dogs. Only the delighted “Uncle” dismounted, and cut off a pad, shaking the hare for the blood to drip off, and anxiously glancing round with restless eyes while his arms and legs twitched. He spoke without himself knowing whom to or what about. “That’s it, come on! That’s a dog!... There, it has beaten them all, the thousand-ruble as well as the one-ruble borzois. That’s it, come on!” said he, panting and looking wrathfully around as if he were abusing someone, as if they were all his enemies and had insulted him, and only now had he at last succeeded in justifying himself. “There are your thousand-ruble ones.... That’s it, come on!...”
“Rugáy, here’s a pad for you!” he said, throwing down the hare’s muddy pad. “You’ve deserved it, that’s it, come on!”
“She’d tired herself out, she’d run it down three times by herself,” said Nicholas, also not listening to anyone and regardless of whether he were heard or not.
“But what is there in running across it like that?” said Ilágin’s groom.
“Once she had missed it and turned it away, any mongrel could take it,” Ilágin was saying at the same time, breathless from his gallop and his excitement. At the same moment Natásha, without drawing breath, screamed joyously, ecstatically, and so piercingly that it set everyone’s ear tingling. By that shriek she expressed what the others expressed by all talking at once, and it was so strange that she must herself have been ashamed of so wild a cry and everyone else would have been amazed at it at any other time. “Uncle” himself twisted up the hare, threw it neatly and smartly across his horse’s back as if by that gesture he meant to rebuke everybody, and, with an air of not wishing to speak to anyone, mounted his bay and rode off. The others all followed, dispirited and shamefaced, and only much later were they able to regain their former affectation of indifference. For a long time they continued to look at red Rugáy who, his arched back spattered with mud and clanking the ring of his leash, walked along just behind “Uncle’s” horse with the serene air of a conqueror.
“Well, I am like any other dog as long as it’s not a question of coursing. But when it is, then look out!” his appearance seemed to Nicholas to be saying.
When, much later, “Uncle” rode up to Nicholas and began talking to him, he felt flattered that, after what had happened, “Uncle” deigned to speak to him.