Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/21

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11
A SLEEPING VILLAGE

the other boys. Leaving their swings, they came crowding around; and as soon as they understood the cause of the dispute, they all turned with one accord upon Michael, threatening him with condign punishment if he did not forthwith let Barrinka have his way, whatever that way might be.

But Barrinka no longer cared for the pastime. Michael's taunt, "Who knows who and what you are?" had struck home. From infancy the pet and plaything of the village every wish anticipated, every caprice borne with, he had been surrounded with an atmosphere of deferential affection. He could not but know that he differed from all around him; a mystery hung about his birth, which, through injudicious and mistaken kindness, had been neither wholly concealed nor yet frankly revealed to him. All his little playfellows had fathers and mothers. It is true they were beaten sometimes, while he was never beaten. Still, it seemed to him a strange thing to have no father or mother. He called the starost, or elder of the village, in whose house he had been brought up, "bativshka" (little father), and his wife, "mativshka" (little mother), but that was not by any means the same as having a father and mother of his own.

"Take the swing if you like it," he said to Michael. "I care nothing about it. I shall do something by-and-by much better than anything you have ever done in your life."

Leaving the children behind him in the wood, he bent his steps homeward, regardless of the regretful looks sent after him by blue-eyed Anna Popovna, who saw that her little cavalier was sorely vexed, and would gladly have comforted him. Two longings filled his childish heart,—to be able to tell Michael and everybody who he was, and to be the hero of an adventure more wonderful than Michael's wanderings through the snow in search of the priest's children. Michael had been out in a snowstorm and lost an ear! In comparison with such a hero the little lord felt himself a very child.