Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/31

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21
IVAN'S ADVENTURE

brown cottages on either side of him looking peaceful and homelike in the morning twilight. The church-bell in the tall elm-tree seemed to beckon him near; he could scarcely resist the temptation of climbing the tree, seizing the rope, and astonishing the village with an untimely peal. Only the reflection that this would inevitably bring his own adventure to an abrupt conclusion stayed his hand. Leaving the houses behind him, he passed through fields rich with waving corn, then through pasture-lands, from which he emerged at length upon a bare, monotonous, sandy plain. Now, for the first time, he ventured to beguile his way with a song; and his clear, ringing, childish voice sounded far and wide, yet failed to reach any human ear. Nor would it have fared otherwise with a cry for help, however shrill and agonized.

Ivan, happily, did not think of this. Fleet of foot and light of heart, he pursued his course, still singing as he went, until village, corn-fields, and birch-woods were all left far behind him. And now, wherever he looked, he saw nothing but a dreary waste of sand, with here and there a few patches of stunted herbage, and at rare intervals a solitary pine or a little cluster of birch-trees. The stillness was absolute: the children of the air eschewed that land of barrenness, and the beasts of the field seemed also to have abandoned it. None of the gentler races that man has succeeded in taming found pasture there; and fortunately wolves were extremely rare, though not quite unknown. Ivan never dreamed of them; his one concern was to keep the road, for so he called the track made by the wheels of the rude waggons which brought the produce of the corn-fields to the river Oka. He knew that a ferry-boat crossed the river, bringing adventurous travellers to the great Moscow road on the other side. This road was the goal of his ambition. As already intimated, no clear distinction existed in his mind between the Moscow road and Moscow itself, the holy city towards which the heart of every Russian yearned with reverent love