Page:The Czar, A Tale of the Time of the First Napleon.djvu/54

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here and there by some pasture lands, or by a brown village built upon the pattern of Nicolofsky. On one occasion, however, they passed a company of horsemen carrying long lances, and clad in gray cloaks, with ample hoods drawn over their heads.

"Who are these?" Ivan asked with interest.

"Cossacks. I suppose they are going to join the army. They had better have stayed at home now that peace is being made with the French. That unlucky peace!" he grumbled, touching his horse rather unnecessarily with his long whip.

"Why do you say that? I thought peace was always a good thing. We have a proverb in Nicolofsky, 'A bad peace is better than a good quarrel.'"

"A bad peace with your enemies sometimes means a worse quarrel with your best friends.—On, my little pope! Now, now, my beauty, my darling, mind what you are about. Gee up, you barbarian!" This to his horse, the wheel of the kibitka having stuck fast in a deep rut. A touch of the whip, this time in earnest, and the horse bounded on, freeing the wheel with a jolt that brought Ivan to his feet, and shook peace and war alike out of his thoughts. But Petrovitch, more accustomed to the ordinary incidents of travel, presently resumed the thread of his discourse.

"What does peace with France mean? War with England, for one thing. And that—what does that mean? Our ports shut up, our trade destroyed. No market for our timber, our corn, our tallow, our furs. Ruin, ruin!" groaned the merchant.

"I have heard of France," said Ivan. "But England—what is that?"

"England is a great, rich, beautiful country, with the sea like a wall of defence built by the hand of God all around it. The King of England hates Napoleon, and has sworn before the picture of his saint never to make peace with him."