Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/19

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9
A SLEEPING VILLAGE

for the festive evening meal. The young people, as they passed along, made the air resound with their sweet national songs, chanted in parts and with wonderful grace and harmony.

The company of children seemed to follow the guidance of one of their number, whom either his position or the choice of his companions had made a leader amongst them. At twelve or fourteen the little mujik is often a very handsome lad, as may be seen from the boy postilions of St. Petersburg. And a most favourable specimen of the class, if indeed he belonged to it at all, was the fair-haired boy who stepped so proudly along, quite conscious of his superior dignity, and conspicuous in his new caftan of bright blue, bound round the waist with a crimson sash. He held by the hand a little girl, very pretty, though not so gaily clad. She seemed to be his especial charge; and when the spot in the wood where they meant to pursue their sport was reached at last, the other children crowded around them, and, like juvenile courtiers, emulously tendered their help to make a swing for "Barrinka," the little lord, who had promised to swing Anna "Popovna," the priest's daughter. These swings were made very easily, by bending down and tying together the flexible elastic branches of the giant birches.

Barrinka, however, wanted to do all himself, and he did it quickly and neatly. He had just, with boyish gallantry, placed his little companion in the seat prepared for her, when an older lad pushed rudely through the group of children, and coming up to him laid his hand on his shoulder. "Get into that seat and swing yourself, Ivan Barrinka," he said. "To-day Anna Popovna belongs to me—not to you."

Ivan shook off his hand, and for a moment they stood motionless, looking each other in the face. Strong was the contrast between the fine, delicate features of the one, and the rough, dogged, determined face of the other, which seemed hewn out