With this parting shaft, he drew on his shuba, and turned his steps homewards, highly pleased with his adventure. What a story he would have for the starost and mativshka, for Pope Nikita and one-eared Michael, not to speak of Anna Popovna, by no means the least in his estimation!
He crossed the river without delay—the ferry-boat and the penitent ferryman being this time both in readiness—and then he resumed his journey on foot. As he walked, he ate the remainder of his bread ; for he had tasted nothing that day, and it was now long past noon. With a happy heart he pursued his way until about sunset, when fatigue obliged him to stop and rest. He lay down under a solitary fir-tree, intending only to indulge in a short—a very short slumber. But nature proved too strong for him: when he awoke again the sky was flushed with the light of early dawn. The remainder of his task was quickly accomplished: he walked into the starost's cottage as the family were sitting down to their morning meal of kasha, or stewed grain.
Warm was the welcome and great were the rejoicings that greeted his appearance. The poor people had been sorely terrified by the mysterious absence of their nursling, and they had sought him far and near, through the birch-wood and the cornfields, and even for some distance in the waste. They were preparing to renew the search that day with anxious and foreboding hearts.
Almost all Nicolofsky crowded to the starost's cottage to congratulate Ivan and to hear his wonderful story. Certainly, he had attained his object, if that object was to make himself the hero of the village, and totally and for ever to eclipse the exploits of Michael Ivanovitch!
But Ivan was no more the thoughtless little lad who set out two days ago in search of adventures. His young heart had awakened from the sleep of childhood; new feelings, vague and dimly comprehended, were beginning to stir it. As he trod his