Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/37

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also. It was sudden; but my lord does not think much of us poor people—God forgive him!"

"But, brother;—what is it you call yourself?" asked the mujik who had spoken before.

"Stefen Alexitch, at your service."

"Well, then, Brother Stefen, why did you not set out at once? You would have been by this time at your journey's end."

"I know it. Indeed I was wrong, very wrong. But the very next day was Katinka's feast-day, and as I knew only too well that I was never likely to look on her sweet face again, I was tempted to stay, just that I might dance one more measure with her. I thought I could have walked more quickly. And now this cursed delay! God grant my lord may not lose patience altogether, and wreak his vengeance on my poor old father and mother! That would be worse than the knout across my own shoulders."

Stefen's narrative elicited many expressions of compassion.

"Poor lad! thy case is hard indeed," said one.

"Ah," sighed another, "how true the proverb, 'Heaven is high, and the Czar far off.'"

But at that moment a third exclaimed joyfully,—

"Look, brothers! the boat at last!"

So it was. At first it was seen to shoot rapidly across the strong current of the river; but by-and-by the rower seemed to flag, and his strokes grew uncertain and unsteady.

The mujiks were too glad to see him on any terms to be critical about the quality of his performances. They crowded to the river's brink, that they might be ready to spring into the boat the moment it touched the land.

Ivan took advantage of the confusion to steal up to Stefen and slip his silver rouble quietly into his hand. "Take it," he whispered. "It is all I have; but you can get a fairing with it to send to Katinka."