Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/33

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or six mujiks, carrying large baskets of cabbages and other vegetables. Greetings were soon exchanged. His new friends told him that they were journeying from a distant village to a fair at Kaluga, a town on the other bank of the Oka. They intended, after crossing the river, to travel all night, that they might reach the fair with their merchandise early the next morning. They took the tired little wayfarer by the hand and helped him on, encouraging him with kind words, and telling him they were now not far from the ferry.

At last the river appeared in the distance, glimmering in the light of the rising moon. "Look," cried his companions, "yonder is the Oka." But Ivan was by this time too weary to care; he could scarcely keep his eyes open and his feet moving.

They drew nearer and nearer. The river was as broad as the Thames—a fine sheet of water, with green banks on either side. From these there came a hoarse, monotonous sound—the croaking of innumerable frogs, which some one has unpoetically called "the nightingales of Russia." Soon a brown wooden shed came into view, where the men said they would find kvass, and perhaps even vodka.[1] This roused Ivan, who was still tormented with thirst. He saw the moonlight upon the waters; the grassy sward beside them; the rough boat-house, out of which a withered old woman, with a red handkerchief wrapped around her head and a torch of pine-wood in her hand, came to meet the wayfarers.

There was no boat to be had, she said; her son had not returned, though she expected him before sundown;—she could not think what detained him. The peasants were grievously disappointed. The sale of their merchandise depended on their reaching the fair in good time, so their vexation was quite natural. It was somewhat allayed, however, by the offer of vodka, that charmer so fatally dear to the heart of the mujik. And their weary little companion was not quite forgotten.

  1. Brandy.