Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/36

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of a boat, he grew pale, and ground his teeth with angry disappointment.

"Just like my luck!" he muttered. "As well throw myself into the river at once, as wait here much longer."

"Patience, friend," said the oldest of the mujiks. "Are we not all in the like case? Nay, we are worse off than you, for we have waited here all night."

"Worse off! you little know! With you it is a matter of a few kopecks; with me it is life and death. If I am not at Klopti by sundown, there is the knout for my back."

"Why? In Heaven's name, what have you done?"

"Done! nothing in the world but work at my trade, and pay my obrok truly to my lord" (for he was one of that numerous class of serfs who were permitted by their lords to work on their own account, upon payment of an annual tax, or obrok). "But he raised my obrok three times, until at last I could scarcely live, and was left no chance of saving a rouble or two for the future. Then last summer I fell from the scaffolding of a house I was building, and was sore hurt. Only that the people I lodged with were good Christians, it would have gone ill with me. But I recovered, thanks to my patron St. Stefen; and when the spring came on I got work again—government work too, which is well paid. I made up my obrok, and then—why then, my brothers, the world went well with me, and my heart was light. Little Katinka, the daughter of the kind soul that took care of me while I was ill, was the prettiest girl in the quarter, and good and pure like a candle of white wax made to burn before the picture of a holy saint. So we gave each other our troth; and I think the Czar himself on his golden throne was scarce happier than I. But five days ago there came a messenger from Klopti to call me home at once. My lord wants to make him a new house, and must needs have me to build it for him and to teach the men of the village to build