Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/17

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THE CZAR.




CHAPTER I.


A SLEEPING VILLAGE.


"Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."—Tennyson.


THE nineteenth century was still very young; its eventful day—that day whose sunset we have yet to see—had but lately dawned upon the world. There were regions, even in Europe, where, for any illumination brought them by the age, the hand of time might have been put back for centuries. In the vast monotonous plain around Moscow the ancient,—Moscow the holy, with her "forty times forty churches,"—Russian serfs tilled the cornfields of their lords, trembled beneath the knout and the plitt, ate their kasha and drank their kvass, and enjoyed the simple luxuries of their stoves and their vapour-baths, just as their fathers and fathers' fathers had done for generations.

In that land of sameness, where received types repeat each other to weariness, with almost as little variety in the works of nature as originality in those of man, the village of Nicolofsky was a fair sample of a hundred others. It belonged to Plato Zoubof, one of the favourites of Catherine II., who had bestowed it upon him with the adjacent lands and the "bodies and souls of men" it contained. Out of these he contrived to