Next day, before the ladies were up, the wagonette and a trap for the shooting party were at the door, and Laska, aware since early morning that they were going shooting, after much whining and darting to and fro, had sat herself down in the wagonette beside the coachman, and, disapproving of the delay, was excitedly watching the door from which the sportsmen still did not come out. The first to come out was Vassenka Veslovsky, in new high boots that reached half-way up his thick thighs, in a green blouse, with a new Russian leather cartridge-belt, and in his Scotch cap with ribbons, with a brand-new English gun without a sling. Laska flew up to him, welcomed him, and jumping up, asked him in her own way whether the others were coming soon, but getting no answer from him, she returned to her post of observation and sank into repose again, her head on one side, and one ear pricked up to listen. At last the door opened with a creak, and Stepan Arkadyevitch’s spot-and-tan pointer Krak flew out, running round and round and turning over in the air. Stepan Arkadyevitch himself followed with a gun in his hand and a cigar in his mouth.
“Good dog, good dog, Krak!” he cried encouragingly to the dog, who put his paws up on his chest, catching at his game bag. Stepan Arkadyevitch was dressed in rough leggings and spats, in torn trousers and a short coat. On his head there was a wreck of a hat of indefinite form, but his gun of a new patent was a perfect gem, and his game bag and cartridge belt, though worn, were of the very best quality.
Vassenka Veslovsky had had no notion before that it was truly chic for a sportsman to be in tatters, but to have his shooting outfit of the best quality. He saw it now as he looked at Stepan Arkadyevitch, radiant in his rags, graceful, well-fed, and joyous, a typical Russian nobleman. And he made up his mind that next time he went shooting he would certainly adopt the same get-up.
“Well, and what about our host?” he asked.
“A young wife,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling.
“Yes, and such a charming one!”
“He came down dressed. No doubt he’s run up to her again.”
Stepan Arkadyevitch guessed right. Levin had run up again to his wife to ask her once more if she forgave him for his idiocy yesterday, and, moreover, to beg her for Christ’s sake to be more careful. The great thing was for her to keep away from the children—they might any minute push against her. Then he had once more to hear her declare that she was not angry with him for going away for two days, and to beg her to be sure to send him a note next morning by a servant on horseback, to write him, if it were but two words only, to let him know that all was well with her.
Kitty was distressed, as she always was, at parting for a couple of days from her husband, but when she saw his eager figure, looking big and strong in his shooting-boots and his white blouse, and a sort of sportsman elation and excitement incomprehensible to her, she forgot her own chagrin for the sake of his pleasure, and said good-bye to him cheerfully.
“Pardon, gentlemen!” he said, running out onto the steps. “Have you put the lunch in? Why is the chestnut on the right? Well, it doesn’t matter. Laska, down; go and lie down!”
“Put it with the herd of oxen,” he said to the herdsman, who was waiting for him at the steps with some question. “Excuse me, here comes another villain.”
Levin jumped out of the wagonette, in which he had already taken his seat, to meet the carpenter, who came towards the steps with a rule in his hand.
“You didn’t come to the counting house yesterday, and now you’re detaining me. Well, what is it?”
“Would your honor let me make another turning? It’s only three steps to add. And we make it just fit at the same time. It will be much more convenient.”
“You should have listened to me,” Levin answered with annoyance. “I said: Put the lines and then fit in the steps. Now there’s no setting it right. Do as I told you, and make a new staircase.”
The point was that in the lodge that was being built the carpenter had spoiled the staircase, fitting it together without calculating the space it was to fill, so that the steps were all sloping when it was put in place. Now the carpenter wanted, keeping the same staircase, to add three steps.
“It will be much better.”
“But where’s your staircase coming out with its three steps?”
“Why, upon my word, sir,” the carpenter said with a contemptuous smile. “It comes out right at the very spot. It starts, so to speak,” he said, with a persuasive gesture; “it comes down, and comes down, and comes out.”
“But three steps will add to the length too ... where is it to come out?”
“Why, to be sure, it’ll start from the bottom and go up and go up, and come out so,” the carpenter said obstinately and convincingly.
“It’ll reach the ceiling and the wall.”
“Upon my word! Why, it’ll go up, and up, and come out like this.”
Levin took out a ramrod and began sketching him the staircase in the dust.
“There, do you see?”
“As your honor likes,” said the carpenter, with a sudden gleam in his eyes, obviously understanding the thing at last. “It seems it’ll be best to make a new one.”
“Well, then, do it as you’re told,” Levin shouted, seating himself in the wagonette. “Down! Hold the dogs, Philip!”
Levin felt now at leaving behind all his family and household cares such an eager sense of joy in life and expectation that he was not disposed to talk. Besides that, he had that feeling of concentrated excitement that every sportsman experiences as he approaches the scene of action. If he had anything on his mind at that moment, it was only the doubt whether they would start anything in the Kolpensky marsh, whether Laska would show to advantage in comparison with Krak, and whether he would shoot well that day himself. Not to disgrace himself before a new spectator—not to be outdone by Oblonsky—that too was a thought that crossed his brain.
Oblonsky was feeling the same, and he too was not talkative. Vassenka Veslovsky kept up alone a ceaseless flow of cheerful chatter. As he listened to him now, Levin felt ashamed to think how unfair he had been to him the day before. Vassenka was really a nice fellow, simple, good-hearted, and very good-humored. If Levin had met him before he was married, he would have made friends with him. Levin rather disliked his holiday attitude to life and a sort of free and easy assumption of elegance. It was as though he assumed a high degree of importance in himself that could not be disputed, because he had long nails and a stylish cap, and everything else to correspond; but this could be forgiven for the sake of his good nature and good breeding. Levin liked him for his good education, for speaking French and English with such an excellent accent, and for being a man of his world.
Vassenka was extremely delighted with the left horse, a horse of the Don Steppes. He kept praising him enthusiastically. “How fine it must be galloping over the steppes on a steppe horse! Eh? isn’t it?” he said. He had imagined riding on a steppe horse as something wild and romantic, and it turned out nothing of the sort. But his simplicity, particularly in conjunction with his good looks, his amiable smile, and the grace of his movements, was very attractive. Either because his nature was sympathetic to Levin, or because Levin was trying to atone for his sins of the previous evening by seeing nothing but what was good in him, anyway he liked his society.
After they had driven over two miles from home, Veslovsky all at once felt for a cigar and his pocketbook, and did not know whether he had lost them or left them on the table. In the pocketbook there were thirty-seven pounds, and so the matter could not be left in uncertainty.
“Do you know what, Levin, I’ll gallop home on that left trace-horse. That will be splendid. Eh?” he said, preparing to get out.
“No, why should you?” answered Levin, calculating that Vassenka could hardly weigh less than seventeen stone. “I’ll send the coachman.”
The coachman rode back on the trace-horse, and Levin himself drove the remaining pair.
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