Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/23

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"One-eared Michael does not think that."

"Who cares for one-eared Michael?"

"But, mativshka, to-day he asked me who I was, and I—I had no answer."

"No answer! Why, every one knows who you are. You are our dear little lord."

"But whose son am I, mativshka? That was what he wanted to know."

"Ask the father, boy, ask the father. As for me, why, 'A word is not a bird: if it flies out, you'll never catch it again.'"

Old Feodora would not have thought it any harm to put her nursling off with a string of falsehoods, if they had occurred to her at the moment, or if she had thought them necessary; for these poor, "dimly-lighted souls" had little idea of the value of truth. But Ivan's history was now so much an "open secret" in the village, that she saw no reason why the boy should not know it himself, since he was twelve years old, and very intelligent. Still, she was afraid to tell him anything without her husband's knowledge and concurrence.

Soon afterwards the starost came in—an imposing and venerable figure, his long, gray beard nearly covering the breast of his caftan. He would have parted with his head quite as readily as with that beard.

As soon as he had made his reverence to the sacred picture, seated himself in his chair by the stove, and exchanged his formidable (and fragrant) boots of Russia leather for a pair of lapti, or bark slippers, Ivan stood up before him, and put the question directly, "Bativshka, whose son am I?"

"Great St. Nicholas! what has come to the boy?" the starost exclaimed; then he looked perplexed, and hesitated for an answer. His wife leaned over the back of his chair and said a few words in a low voice, and a whispered discussion followed, during which Ivan waited patiently. Presently Feo-