Childhood, by Leo Tolstoy

VI

Preparations for the Chase

During dessert Jakoff had been sent for, and orders given him to have ready the carriage, the hounds, and the saddle-horses — every detail being minutely specified, and every horse called by its own particular name. As Woloda’s usual mount was lame, Papa ordered a “hunter” to be saddled for him; which term, “hunter” so horrified Mamma’s ears, that she imagined it to be some kind of an animal which would at once run away and bring about Woloda’s death. Consequently, in spite of all Papa’s and Woloda’s assurances (the latter glibly affirming that it was nothing, and that he liked his horse to go fast), poor Mamma continued to exclaim that her pleasure would be quite spoilt for her.

When luncheon was over, the grown-ups had coffee in the study, while we younger ones ran into the garden and went chattering along the undulating paths with their carpet of yellow leaves. We talked about Woloda’s riding a hunter and said what a shame it was that Lubotshka, could not run as fast as Katenka, and what fun it would be if we could see Grisha’s chains, and so forth; but of the impending separation we said not a word. Our chatter was interrupted by the sound of the carriage driving up, with a village urchin perched on each of its springs. Behind the carriage rode the huntsmen with the hounds, and they, again, were followed by the groom Ignat on the steed intended for Woloda, with my old horse trotting alongside. After running to the garden fence to get a sight of all these interesting objects, and indulging in a chorus of whistling and hallooing, we rushed upstairs to dress — our one aim being to make ourselves look as like the huntsmen as possible. The obvious way to do this was to tuck one’s breeches inside one’s boots. We lost no time over it all, for we were in a hurry to run to the entrance steps again there to feast our eyes upon the horses and hounds, and to have a chat with the huntsmen. The day was exceedingly warm while, though clouds of fantastic shape had been gathering on the horizon since morning and driving before a light breeze across the sun, it was clear that, for all their menacing blackness, they did not really intend to form a thunderstorm and spoil our last day’s pleasure. Moreover, towards afternoon some of them broke, grew pale and elongated, and sank to the horizon again, while others of them changed to the likeness of white transparent fish-scales. In the east, over Maslovska, a single lurid mass was louring, but Karl Ivanitch (who always seemed to know the ways of the heavens) said that the weather would still continue to be fair and dry.

In spite of his advanced years, it was in quite a sprightly manner that Foka came out to the entrance steps. to give the order “Drive up.” In fact, as he planted his legs firmly apart and took up his station between the lowest step and the spot where the coachman was to halt, his mien was that of a man who knew his duties and had no need to be reminded of them by anybody. Presently the ladies, also came out, and after a little discussions as to seats and the safety of the girls (all of which seemed to me wholly superfluous), they settled themselves in the vehicle, opened their parasols, and started. As the carriage was, driving away, Mamma pointed to the hunter and asked nervously “Is

that the horse intended for Vladimir Petrovitch?” On the groom answering in the affirmative, she raised her hands in horror and turned her head away. As for myself, I was burning with impatience. Clambering on to the back of my steed (I was just tall enough to see between its ears), I proceeded to perform evolutions in the courtyard.

“Mind you don’t ride over the hounds, sir,” said one of the huntsmen,

“Hold your tongue, It is not the first time I have been one of the party.” I retorted with dignity.

Although Woloda had plenty of pluck, he was not altogether free from apprehensions as he sat on the hunter. Indeed, he more than once asked as he patted it, “Is he quiet?” He looked very well on horseback — almost a grown-up young man, and held himself so upright in the saddle that I envied him since my shadow seemed to show that I could not compare with him in looks.

Presently Papa’s footsteps sounded on the flagstones, the whip collected the hounds, and the huntsmen mounted their steeds. Papa’s horse came up in charge of a groom, the hounds of his particular leash sprang up from their picturesque attitudes to fawn upon him, and Milka, in a collar studded with beads, came bounding joyfully from behind his heels to greet and sport with the other dogs. Finally, as soon as Papa had mounted we rode away.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04