He soon came in sight of the double row of brown wooden cottages that called itself Nicolofsky. These cottages, or izbas, were built of the trunks of trees laid one over the other, with the interstices stuffed with moss. There was a church, also of wood, but larger and better built, with a bell suspended from a fine elm tree close to it. Two of the izbas were better than the rest, and belonged, one to the starost, the other to the pope, or parish priest, Anna's father. That of the starost boasted a porch, with ornamental wooden pillars and quaint carvings. It had a substantial chimney built of good bricks, and secure well-glazed windows to keep out the intense cold of the Russian winter. Indeed all the cottages were more comfortable than they looked.
Ivan entered, and dutifully made his bow, as he had been taught to do, to the holy picture which hung in the corner, with a lamp burning before it, since this was a feast-day. The contents of the izba were extremely simple. The most conspicuous object was the stove, with a wide shelf or platform over it, upon which the family usually slept; a handsome carved chest contained the clothing used upon festive occasions, and there were besides a few stools, a table, an arm-chair, and some wooden cups, platters, and cooking utensils. The vapour-bath, that indispensable Russian luxury, occupied an outhouse.
An old woman stood over the fire, diligently stirring a capacious caldron, from which there issued a very savoury steam. The family the starost had to feed was not a small one,—three grown-up sons, with the wife and child of one of them, found shelter beneath his roof.
"You are cooking tschi for our supper, mativshka," said Ivan.
"And what better dish could I be cooking, my little dove? 'For tschi, folk wed,' says the proverb."
"When I am old enough I will wed Anna Popovna."
"Hush! hush! My darling must not talk so. He is worth a thousand Popovnas."