Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/39

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

events, he made no effort to grasp the oar; and the mujiks—ignorant, stupid, and awkward, though not lacking in kindliness—gave him up for lost. Indeed, their own situation was critical enough; but they got to the shore somehow.

The boatman was sobered by the shock, and almost stupified with grief for what had happened. But the others crowded round him, and urged him to go and seek for poor Stefen's body, that he might at least be buried like a Christian. This he consented to do; and the task of finding it proved unexpectedly easy, for a miniature island, in the midst of the river, with a single tree growing upon it, had arrested the body as it was borne downwards by the strong current of the stream. The group on the shore waited in mournful silence while the boatman and two of the mujiks went and returned, bringing with them their solemn freight, which they laid sadly and reverently on the fair greensward, beneath the happy morning sun.

All crossed themselves and murmured a prayer for his soul; and the oldest of the mujiks detached a little sacred picture from his own neck and laid it on his breast.

It was Ivan's first meeting face to face with the king of terrors. The form so lately full of life and energy lay stiff and rigid; while the brow, the cheek, the lips—when he saw the strange and solemn change that had swept over all these, his young heart could bear no more, he lifted up his voice and wept. His tears unlocked the floodgates of the general sorrow; all the mujiks standing around him wept and wrung their hands, like the grown-up children that in truth they were.

Just at that moment, as if to throw into strongest relief the contrast between life and death, between earth's brightest sunshine and her deepest shadows, a young boyar from the party at the post-house came riding rapidly over the smooth greensward. Drawing near the weeping group, he checked his horse to a foot-pace, and Ivan turned and looked at him. There was