Time passed: life and death were struggling for the mastery, and the conflict was tedious and protracted. It was no even contest. From the first, victory seemed to incline to the side of the sable king. The chance of life, always desperate, lessened apparently with every minute, and when the minutes grew to hours it seemed to vanish altogether away. At last the tall surgeon shook his head, and turning to the boyar said something in a foreign tongue that evidently expressed despair. But he would not admit the thought. Ivan knew not, of course, what he said in answer, but it was easy to see that he had steadfastly resolved not to abandon hope, and that he was entreating, urging, even commanding the rest to continue their efforts.
Apparently for no purpose but to please him they obeyed. An interval followed of renewed exertion, though of ever-waning hope. At length, however, the surgeon's instrument flashed out once more, and almost immediately afterwards a thrill of emotion passed through the entire group. One shuddering sigh, one faint, low groan was heard from the lips that had seemed to be sealed for ever in Death. "Thank God!" said the boyar, raising the military cap from his stately head with its clustering chestnut curls. "This is amongst the brightest days of my life." Ivan stood near enough to see that his blue eyes were full of tears.
Whilst they gave Stefen a little vodka, and prepared a kind of litter in which to carry him to the post-house, several other persons came up, including the priest and the starost of the nearest village; for some of the mujiks had gone away and spread the story of the strange things they had been witnessing.
Then to Ivan's young eyes the scene became confused. Much happened that he could not exactly understand. But Stefen was alive—that at least was certain, for he saw him try to kiss the hand that had so patiently drawn him back from the gates of the grave. And now, for the first time, the thought occurred