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Title: Boris the Bear-Hunter
Author: Whishaw, Frederick, 1854-1934
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Internet Archive)



BORIS THE BEAR-HUNTER

[Illustration: "_The huge brute was in full pursuit of his young wife._"
Page 248. ]



  BORIS THE
  BEAR-HUNTER

  [Illustration]

  _T. NELSON & SONS_



  BORIS THE BEAR-HUNTER
  BY FRED
  WHISHAW

  LONDON, EDINBURGH,
  AND NEW YORK
  THOMAS NELSON
  AND SONS



_CONTENTS_


       _I. The Hunter Hunted_                                 9
      _II. Boris Finds a New Friend_                         17
     _III. Boris Changes Masters_                            25
      _IV. Boris Goes A-sailing_                             34
       _V. How Peter the Great was knocked over_             46
      _VI. A Taste of the Knout_                             56
     _VII. A Race for Life_                                  70
    _VIII. Boris and his Fellow-Officers_                    84
      _IX. One Sword against Five_                           96
       _X. A Night Ambush_                                  108
      _XI. A Battle against Odds_                           120
     _XII. A Perilous Slide_                                132
    _XIII. Boris Goes on the War-path_                      144
     _XIV. Taken Prisoner_                                  155
      _XV. An Exciting Escape_                              167
     _XVI. Home Again_                                      181
    _XVII. Off to England_                                  193
   _XVIII. How Boris threw a Big Dutchman Overboard_        204
     _XIX. Bad News from Moscow_                            215
      _XX. Boris in Disgrace_                               228
     _XXI. Nancy and the Big Bear_                          243
    _XXII. A Wolf Maiden_                                   253
   _XXIII. A Notable Day among the Wolves_                  266
    _XXIV. With the Tsar Again_                             278
     _XXV. Boris has a Narrow Escape_                       290
    _XXVI. How Boris Outwitted the Swedish Admiral_         303
   _XXVII. Small Beginnings of a Great City_                315
  _XXVIII. How the Swedes Erected a Gibbet for Boris_       326
    _XXIX. Mazeppa_                                         340
     _XXX. Russia's Great Day_                              353
    _XXXI. Peace at Last_                                   366



_LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS_


  "_The huge brute was in full pursuit of his young wife_"
                                                _Frontispiece._
  "_That moment saved the Tsar's life_"                      54
  "_Slashing at the wolves which swarmed about him_"         81
  "_In an instant the two were upon him_"                   124
  "_Out sprang Boris, and alighted with terrific force
      upon Menshikoff's back_"                              186
  "_Boris lifted his kicking legs and slid them over the
      bulwark_"                                             210
  "_Bringing up his clenched fists together against the
      fellow's chin_"                                       337



BORIS THE BEAR-HUNTER.


CHAPTER I.
THE HUNTER HUNTED.


The moment at which I propose to introduce my readers to Boris the
Bear-Hunter came very near, as it happened, to being the last which my
hero was destined to spend upon this earth. Great hunter as Boris was,
there is no doubt about it that on this particular occasion he met his
match, and came within measurable distance of defeat at the hands--or
rather paws--of one of the very creatures whose overthrow was at once
his profession and his glory.

It happened many a year ago--about two hundred, in fact; and the scene
of Boris's adventure was an exceedingly remote one, far away in the
north of Europe, close to Archangel.

Boris Ivanitch was a peasant whose home was an outlying village near
the large town just mentioned. He was a serf, of course, as were all
his fellows at that time; but in consequence of his wonderful strength
and courage, and of his aptitude for pursuing and killing every kind
of wild beast and game, he was exempt, by favour of his lord, both
from taxation and from the manual labour which the owner of the soil
could have exacted from him. In a word, Boris was employed to keep the
country clear, or as clear as possible, of bears and wolves, which,
when left to themselves, were at that time the cause of much danger and
loss to the inhabitants of that portion of the Russian empire.

Boris performed his duties well. There was no man, young or old, for
hundreds of miles around who could compare with this young giant
in any of those sports or competitions in which the palm went to
the strongest. Tall and muscular beyond his years--for he was but
nineteen at this time--lithe as a willow, straight as a poplar,
Boris excelled in anything which called into play the qualities of
activity and strength. Had he lived in our day and attended an English
public school, he would undoubtedly have come to the front, whether
on the cricket or the football field, on the running path or on the
river. But being debarred from the privileges of English schoolboys,
Boris was obliged to expend his energies in those exercises which
were open to him, and which alone were familiar to the people of his
country--snow-shoeing, hunting, swimming, and similar sports natural to
the livers of a wild, outdoor life in a scarcely civilized land.

It was early summer-time, and the woods, or rather forests, about
Archangel were in their fullest heyday of life and beauty. Hundreds of
square miles of pine trees were the principal feature of the landscape,
dotted here and there by a patch of cultivated land, or watched over by
a tumble-down village nestling beneath the shadow of the forest. Oats
and wheat, now fast ripening, waved in the soft air of June, and told
of peace and plenty for those who took the trouble to till the generous
soil for a living. The prospects of the crops around Dubinka, Boris's
village, appeared at first sight to be promising enough--the rye was
tall and nearly ripe, and the oats were doing capitally; but had you
asked the peasants, the owners of the crops, they would have told you,
with the lamentations common to the Russian peasant, that God had
certainly been very good to them and sent them a fine harvest, but that
the devil had spoiled all the good work by sending two large bears to
eat up and trample down the fruits of the field, and to ruin the poor
peasants. Ivan's field was half eaten up already, they would have said,
and Andrey's would go next. And Boris couldn't find the bears, or he
would soon give them "something in their stomachs better for them than
the peasants' oats;" but there was no snow, and Boris could not track
them without it, though he had been after the brutes for a fortnight
and more.

This was all true enough--indeed, Boris was "after them" at the present
moment, though to look at him you would scarcely have thought it; for
the hunter was busily engaged strolling lazily through the forest,
picking and enjoying the beautiful wild strawberries which covered the
ground in profusion. He had propped his bear-spear against a tree, and
was at the moment some distance from the weapon--tempted away from it
against his usual habit by the peculiar lusciousness of the fruit,
which was warm from the sun, and very delicious.

Even strawberry eating palls at length upon the satiated palate, and
Boris began to think that he had had enough. He would now resume, he
thought, his search for those marauding bears who had broken into the
village corn-fields and destroyed the peace of the poor peasants. So
he picked one more handful of the strawberries, crammed them into his
mouth, sighed, glanced regretfully at the delicious fruit at his feet,
and finally raised his head to look for his bear-spear. As he did so,
he became aware of a huge form standing close at hand, some ten yards
away, showing its teeth, and quietly watching his movements. It was a
bear!

Boris's first feeling was one of great joy at meeting his enemy at
last; his second was one of dismay as he realized the want of his
trusty spear.

It must not for a moment be supposed that Boris was alarmed by the
situation. If any one had told him that he was in a situation of peril,
he would have laughed aloud at the very idea of such a thing. His
regret was caused solely by the fear that, being unarmed, he might lose
the opportunity of doing business with that bear upon this particular
occasion, and would probably have to find him again before settling
accounts.

Hoping to catch sight of his spear, and to reach it before the bear
could make off, Boris backed slowly towards the place where he thought
he had left the weapon. Bruin did not, as he had expected, give a loud
roar to show his enemy that he was an awful fellow if he liked, and
then straightway turn and run. On the contrary, the brute advanced
towards the hunter, growling and showing certain very large and
business-like teeth. Then Boris felt that it would be well to find that
spear of his as quickly as possible, for he had no other weapon about
him, and the bear appeared to be very much in earnest. So the hunter
turned and ran, with the bear at his heels.

At first Boris rather enjoyed the chase. It would be an amusing story
to tell at the village when he arrived there with the bear's skin. How
the peasants would all laugh, and how they would sing and make merry
in the evening over the downfall of their enemy! Boris could afford to
tell a good story about himself and a bear, even though the laugh had
been on the bear's side to begin with, if he produced the skin of the
bear at the same time.

Yes, _if_. But the growling of the brute sounded rather close at his
ear, and Boris was forced to dodge in and out between the tree trunks
in order to avoid capture.

As the moments passed, and he grew more and more out of breath, Boris
longed eagerly for the welcome sight of his bear-spear. Once or twice
the bear had so nearly collared him that he bethought him that he must
devise some plan by which to gain a little breath. A roar and a rush
from behind at this moment, together with the loss of a considerable
portion of the tail of his shirt, which, being worn outside the
trousers, Russian fashion, had fluttered in the breeze, made it plain
that there was no time to be lost. He must take to a tree and gain
time. So Boris pulled himself together, put on a mighty spurt, and was
five feet up the stem of a pine tree just as Bruin reached the foot of
it, and rose on his hind legs to follow him aloft.

Up went Boris and up went Bruin, both fine climbers, and both
scrambling and puffing as though their very lives depended upon their
agility, as indeed was the case so far as concerned one at least of
them. Quick as he was, Boris was nearly caught. He had barely time to
climb along a branch and let himself fall to the earth, when the bear
was already upon the same bough and looking down after him, meditating
as to whether he too should drop to the ground or adopt the slower and
safer course of climbing down again by the trunk, as he had come up.
Luckily for Boris the discretion of that bear prevailed over his desire
to save time, and he decided upon the slower method of descent. This
decision gave Boris a moment or two of breathing time, which he sadly
required.

He sat down to rest, and looked around frantically in every direction
in hopes of catching sight of his spear. That action nearly cost him
his life. The bear, impatient as bears are when irritated, could not
tolerate the slow process of descending which it had chosen, and when
half-way down the stem of the pine had dropped the rest of the way in
order to gain time. Boris was barely able to rise and slip away when
the heavy brute dropped upon the very spot where he had been sitting.
Away went Boris, slightly refreshed, and with his "second wind" coming
on, and after him flew Bruin, furious and determined. Again Boris
dodged and ran, and ran and dodged, and again he felt the hot breath
and heard the loud pants and growls at his ear; again his breath began
to fail him, and his heart as well, when, just as he was nearly spent,
his eye fell upon that which was to him at that moment the fairest
sight that ever his eye beheld--his beloved spear leaning against a
tree-trunk one hundred yards away.



CHAPTER II.
BORIS FINDS A NEW FRIEND.


Boris was so exhausted with the long chase that he had hardly
sufficient strength to reach the weapon and turn it against his furious
pursuer. To do this he must gain ground upon the bear, which was at the
instant so close behind that he could have kicked it with his heel.
Summoning therefore all the energy of which he was still master, the
hunted hunter filled his lungs to the full, and started to run the
fastest hundred yards that he had ever covered. So swiftly did he fly
over the ground that he was some twenty-five good paces in front of the
bear when his hands closed upon his faithful spear, and he knew that,
for the moment at least, he was saved, and that if only his strength
did not fail him he should now hold his own and perhaps a little more
when Bruin came to close quarters.

Twisting round with the rapidity of a spindle, Boris felt for a steady
foothold for both of his feet, found it, poised his long steel-tipped
wooden spear, took a long, deep breath, set his teeth, and in a moment
the struggle had commenced. The bear, slightly rising on his hind
legs to seize and hug his foe, threw himself with a loud roar of rage
upon Boris, impaling himself as he did so upon the cruel point of the
spear. This was a critical moment. Strong as he was, and firmly as
he had taken his stand, the shock of the huge brute's rush all but
knocked poor weary Boris off his legs and nearly tore his muscular arms
from their sockets. The bear, mad with pain and rage, pressed in its
fury upon the stout spear, and bit and tore at the good oak until the
splinters flew and the whole spear shook and trembled in the hunter's
grasp.

Breathless and weary as he was, Boris nevertheless held his own, and
for some time budged not an inch.

There is a limit, however, to the powers of the hardest muscles and of
the stoutest hearts, and the present tension was more than the bravest
and the strongest could support for any length of time. Boris was
evidently tiring. Had he been fresh when this great wrestling match
began, he would long since have made an irresistible rush, pushed
the monster over backwards, and despatched him with repeated digs of
the spear, as he had many a time treated bears before. But Boris was
weary with his long struggle. He could not hold on much longer, but in
desperation he still clung to his quivering spear, and pushed with all
his might and determination against his giant enemy.

And now his head began to swim, and his eyes grew hot and dimmed,
and there was a sound in his ears as of waters that rushed in and
overwhelmed him. Still his senses did not desert him, nor his nerve.
As he became conscious that his strength was failing him he became
the more determined to hold out, and with a hoarse shout of defiance
he pulled himself together for one supreme effort. His failing grasp
clutched tighter at the shaft; his stiff and aching feet planted
themselves yet more firmly in their grip of the foothold from which
they had not budged by a hair's-breadth; his tightened muscles
tightened themselves yet more as he bore upon the shaft, and forced it
by sheer strength of will a couple of inches further towards victory.
The bear tottered, his eyes rolled and his tongue showed between his
teeth, and for a moment it seemed that Boris had won the battle. Now
it is anybody's game! For an instant and another neither bear nor
man has the advantage. Then the bear rallies. Growling, sputtering,
roaring, the monster slowly recovers his lost ground, then gains
an inch, and another. Boris feels faint and dizzy; his strength is
failing, his grasp relaxing. Still he fights on; but it is useless now.
His brave feet, that have held their own so long, give way; his muscles
too, they have made a good fight, but they cannot hold out longer--they
are relaxing; his fingers are loosening their hold upon the shaft; his
eyes are so dim now that they cannot see the monster who is falling
upon him to slay him; he is vanquished, he is giving ground rapidly;
in another instant he will fall, and die. The bear will die too, of
course; that thought will be his dying consolation.

A shout of encouragement behind him, and the sound of rushing
feet! "Hold tight there just one minute more!" somebody cries; and
automatically the stiffened fingers tighten themselves, and the feet
grip the ground. Then a fresh hand grasps the shaft; two powerful feet
plant themselves in the place where the failing ones have stood; and as
the wearied and vanquished Boris falls fainting to the earth, the new
arrival bears upon that stout staff with a force which even the mighty
bear cannot withstand.

Back goes the bear by inches--now he is tottering--another shout and an
irresistible rush forwards, and he is down, fighting and tearing to the
last as a bold king of the forest should.

One more dig into the dying monster, a kick upon the prostrate carcass
with the long, heavy Russian boot, and then the stranger turns to
look after poor Boris. But first he wipes his hands upon a tuft of
purple-fruited bilberry leaves, and from an inner pocket of his
somewhat rich-looking _kaftan_, or tunic, he produces a silver-tipped
flagon of Russian spirits. This he puts to the lips of Boris, who soon
revives under the treatment, and sits up, dazed, to stare around with
his hand to his eyes. First he fixes a long look upon the prostrate
bear and the spear lying beside it; then he catches sight of the
stranger, and stares long and fixedly at him. At last he says, "Are you
St. Boris come to save me in answer to my call?"

The stranger burst into a loud, jovial guffaw.

"Bless your heart," he shouted, "I'm not a saint! Very far from it, I'm
afraid. I'm only a man, like yourself."

"A man indeed!" said Boris; "and such a man as I have not seen the
likeness of--well, since I last looked in the looking-glass!"

Boris made this remark in perfectly good faith, and without the
slightest intention of paying himself a compliment. He knew well enough
that he was by many degrees the strongest and finest-looking man in
the country side, and by comparing the stranger with himself he merely
offered honest testimony to the magnificent appearance of the latter.
Nor was his admiration misplaced, for a finer-looking young fellow
than he who now bent over Boris was rarely seen. Scarcely more than
a boy--he was about the same age as Boris himself--the stranger was
tall and robust, and straight as a young pine; taller than Boris, and
broader too, though not more athletic-looking. His face was handsome
and powerful, and his black hair curled in masses over a wide forehead
and bold, rather cruel eyes. Boris gazed in admiration at this
magnificent specimen of humanity--it was a new sensation to him to see
any one physically superior to himself.

"You made a good fight," said the stranger, guffawing once more over
the last speech of Boris; "but though you seem to have a fairly good
opinion of yourself, that bear would have been lying on the top of you
by this time if I had not come up in the nick of time. I watched the
fight for some minutes. You have pluck, I am pleased to observe. What
is your name?"

"Boris the Bear-Hunter," replied that worthy.

"Ha, ha! Boris the Bear-_Hunted_, you mean," laughed the stranger.
"Well, I should like to know more of you, if you will. Come and see me
to-morrow morning at Archangel, and we'll have a chat."

"Very well, _barin_" (gentleman), said Boris, feeling, in spite of his
own usually defiant independence of spirit, that here was one who must
of necessity command and be obeyed; "for I see you are a barin by your
kaftan. What are you called, and where shall I seek you?"

"Petka, and sometimes Petrushka, is my name," said the big youth; "and
you may ask for me at the burgomaster's house in the town. You will
hear of me there till eleven to-morrow; after that I take ship for a
sail abroad. And now I will leave you and _mishka_[1] yonder to take
care of one another. Beware, while you skin him, that he doesn't jump
up and skin _you_. He may be shamming while I am here, you see; but he
has no cause to be afraid of you."

With which gentle sarcasm and another jovial laugh the tall youth
departed, leaving Boris to reflect upon the extreme good fortune which
had sent him the right man at the right moment to extract him from the
tightest fix he had ever succeeded in getting himself into during the
whole course of his nineteen summers.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] _Mishka_ is the familiar Russian name for a bear.



CHAPTER III.
BORIS CHANGES MASTERS.


Boris, when he returned to the village that same afternoon, enjoyed a
veritable triumph at the hands of his delighted fellows. He was honest
enough to confess his indebtedness to the stranger, but this did not
make the slightest difference in the gratitude of the peasants; and
indeed the service which Boris had rendered them, in thus ridding
them of an infliction worse than the most terrible blight, was no
slight one. A large bear, when so disposed, and when allowed to work
his wicked will upon the corn-fields of a village, will very speedily
either consume or trample into hay the entire grain wealth of the
community; so that the gratitude of the peasants was proportionate to
their clear gain in the death of one of the two monster pests which had
come, like a scourge upon the village, to devour the fatness thereof.

Boris was carried shoulder-high through the one street of the place;
while the carcass of the dead robber, slung by his four legs to a pole,
was borne behind, escorted by a booing, yelling crowd of women and
children. A bonfire was lighted at night in honour of the hunter and
his achievement, when portions of the bear were cooked and eaten, more
as an expression of contempt for the late owner of the flesh than for
love of the food. Most of the carcass was given to the dogs, however,
and they, at least, were delighted with the feast.

Boris was well feasted with _vodka_ and with other delicacies
equally bad for him; but being a sensible youth and steady withal,
he did not retire at night in the degraded condition of most of his
fellow-villagers. He was elated, no doubt, not by the fumes of the
spirits, however, but by the sense of triumph; yet the more he pondered
over his fight and victory, the more clearly did he realize his
indebtedness to the timely aid of the strong young giant who had come
to his assistance. As he lay and dozed, half conscious, through the hot
hours of the summer night, Boris weaved the adventure of the day into
a thousand fantastic shapes, in all of which, however, the stranger
played an important part: sometimes he was his own patron saint; then
he was a benevolent _lieshui_, or wood-spirit, a class of beings fully
believed in by the peasants, but, according to popular tradition, more
likely to take the part of the bear than of Boris in a fight between
the two. In a word, the stranger assumed so many various shapes in the
hunter's overwrought brain at night, that when day came Boris was by no
means certain whether the stranger had in reality existed at all, and
was inclined to fancy that the whole thing had been a dream as he lay
and slept after the death of the bear, which he had slain single-handed.

Half hoping that this might prove to be the case--for the idea that
he had almost been worsted by a bear, however huge, was an unwelcome
thought to so renowned a hunter--Boris determined, nevertheless, that
he would at least journey as far as the town, which was but a mile or
two distant, in order to learn for himself whether there indeed existed
a young giant of the name of Petka.

Boris set out at the appointed hour for Archangel and the house of
the burgomaster. The house was easily found, for it was the principal
building of the place, and was so grand, indeed, to look upon that
Boris scarcely liked his mission. What if the whole thing should have
been a dream? Why, what a fool he would appear, coming to this grand
place and inquiring for some one who did not exist; all these serfs and
dressed-up people about the front door would laugh at him, and tell
him to go home and drink less vodka the next time he killed a bear.
However, Boris reflected, if any one should laugh at him, laughers
were easily knocked down. He was as good a man, and perhaps a trifle
better, than any of these embroidered chaps. Let them laugh if they
liked; their mirth might cost them a little of their embroidery! So
Boris pulled himself together, and marched up to the porch of the big
wooden structure which had been pointed out to him as the house of the
burgomaster. A stately doorkeeper, dressed, in spite of the warmth of
the season, in a gold-laced kaftan and a high fur cap, listened to
the young peasant's inquiry with some bewilderment. Was there any one
living there of the name of Petka? Boris had asked,--a young fellow
about his own age? Boris believed he was a barin, but could not be
sure; he gave this address.

"Petka?" repeated the astonished porter. "What do you mean? Petka who?
What's his family name?"

"I only know he called himself Petka; he said sometimes he was known
as Petrushka," said Boris, beginning to feel assured that he was the
victim of a dream. "He was a tall, well-set-up sort of a fellow," he
continued, "as big as I am, or bigger. Come now; is he here, or is he
not? I warn you I am not a man to annoy; I am Boris the Bear-Hunter."

It was not meant as an idle boast. Had the doorkeeper been a native
of the town he would have known well enough who the bearer of this
name was; but it so happened that this man was a new arrival from
Moscow, whence he had come with the retinue of his master the Tsar, and
therefore the title meant nothing to him, but savoured only of boasting
and the conceit of local celebrity.

"Well," he said, "you can go home again and hunt your bears at leisure;
there's no Petka, nor yet Petrushka, here. As for annoying you, I know
nothing about that, but you are going the right way to get yourself
a taste of the knout, my friend; and if you don't clear out of this
street in double quick time, I shall summon those who are very well
able to make you cry, though you may be the best bear-sticker that ever
walked. Now then, off you go!"

The fellow laid his hand upon the hunter's arm, as though to put his
threat of violence into execution; but in doing so he made a great
mistake. Boris was fearless and independent; he was unaccustomed to
threats and interference. As a rule people were afraid of him, and
showed him deference: what right had this man to browbeat and threaten
him? Boris's hot blood resented the insult, and in a moment the man lay
sprawling at his feet, bellowing loudly for help, crying and swearing
in a breath, in a manner which is natural to the Russian peasant. His
cries instantly brought around the pair a host of serfs and servants,
who quickly hustled Boris within the passage, and made as though they
would lay hold of him. But this the high-spirited hunter of bears
would not submit to, and, with his back to the wall, he hit out right
and left with so good effect that the number of his assailants was
considerably reduced in very quick time indeed.

This was a row quite after Boris's own heart, and he was thoroughly
enjoying himself among the noisy crowd of shouting and whining
serving-men, when a loud voice broke in above the noise--a voice that
Boris seemed to recognize, and at the sound of which every other
voice in that noisy hall died away into instant silence. The fallen
assailants of Boris uprose from the earth and ranged themselves in
line, prepared to denounce the foe or to excuse themselves according as
occasion arose. But the new arrival exacted no explanations.

"Why," he cried, "it's my friend the bear-eater! Come along this way,
Bear-eater, and tell me all about this disturbance. Have you killed so
few bears of late that you must needs work off your spare energies at
the expense of my poor servants? Well, well, if you were to rid me of
a score or two of the thieving rogues, I should do well enough without
them, I daresay. But what is it all about?"

"The man with the embroidery wanted to give me the knout because I
asked for you by the name of Petka," said Boris, feeling that there was
more in all this than he had quite understood. This must be something
like a barin, who could talk in so airy a way of a "score or two" of
his servants. "You said your name was Petka, didn't you?"

"Assuredly," said the other, leading the way into a private chamber;
"Petka or Petrushka, sometimes Peter--I answer to all these names. But
come now, to business. I like the look of you, Boris. I want Russians
with strong bodies and brave hearts; I shall have work for them. Do
you feel inclined to enter my service? I will pay you well if you
serve me well. Now, then, no wasting words, for I am due down at the
harbour--is it yes or no?"

"But I am not my own master," said the astonished Boris. "I am the
property of my barin, who employs me to hunt the bears and wolves. I
cannot say I will leave him and serve you, though I like the look of
you well enough. Besides, what do you want me for--to kill bears?"

"You shall hunt the bears to your heart's content," said the barin;
"and as for your master, I will see that he does not object to your
transfer to my service. Is it agreed? come, yes or no."

"Yes, then," said Boris, who both spoke and acted as in a dream. The
mastery of this young giant over him seemed so complete that he could
not have answered otherwise than in the affirmative even if he had
wished to do so. He was drawn by a power stronger than himself.

"Very well," said the other, writing rapidly, "excellently well;
shake hands upon it. Take this to your master, and come to this place
to enter upon your service to-morrow morning. You may ask for Piotr
[Peter] Alexeyevitch, and I shall be ready to receive you. Now I must
go sailing with Meinheer de Kuyper. Stay; your hand-grip now. Good!
that's more like a grip than any I have felt for some time. I shall
like you, I think; only serve me faithfully."

Peter Alexeyevitch, as he had called himself, left the room with these
words. But Boris preserved somewhat painful reminiscences of his new
friend and master for several hours, for the return hand-grip had been
such that the bones of his hand had ground together in the mighty
clasp.



CHAPTER IV.
BORIS GOES A-SAILING.


It was all very well for Boris to tell his new friend that he would
enter his service; but when, away from the glamour of his presence,
he considered the matter in cold blood, it appeared to him to be a
somewhat audacious proceeding on his part to coolly bring to his master
a note from some one else, whom he could only describe as a tall and
masterful young barin of the name of Peter Alexeyevitch, stating that
somebody proposed to deprive his lawful lord of the services of his
paid serf and servant, the bear-hunter! Why, after all, should his lord
consent to so audacious a proposal from a total stranger? There was
no reason that Boris knew why he should do so; in all probability he
would refuse, and perhaps punish Boris besides for his impertinence and
disloyalty in proposing such a thing, or at least being a consenting
party to such a proposal. Hence Boris entered the barin's house at
Dubinka in some trepidation, and gave his letter into the master's own
hands, quite expecting an angry reception.

"Well, Boris, so you killed one of the two bears, I'm told," began
the barin. "You've come for your 'tea-money,' I suppose? Well, you
have deserved it this time, and I shall pay it with pleasure. What's
this?--a letter? from whom?"

"That's what I can't tell your Mercifulness," said Boris. "Petka, he
calls himself, but I don't know who he is, excepting that he is a
gentleman like yourself, and very big and strong--like me."

The barin took the letter and glanced at it; then he flushed, and
uttered an exclamation of surprise. Then he laughed, and patted Boris
kindly on the back.

"Bravo, Boris!" he said, "you have made a useful friend. Do you know
whom this letter is from?"

"From Petka, of course!" said blunt Boris.

"Your friend is the Tsar of all the Russias, my son; and, moreover, he
has requested me to transfer you to his service. You are a lucky boy,
Boris, and I hope you may do your new master credit. Serve him well.
He is Peter, the Hope of the Nation; all Russia looks to him, for he
promises much. You are a lucky fellow, Boris, and you may be a great
man yet."

Astonishment and wonder had caused the bear-hunter to collapse into a
chair, a liberty he would never have thought of taking except under
extraordinary circumstances. The Tsar! it was actually the Tsar himself
who had stepped forward to save his humble life. Boris pinched his leg
to see whether he was awake or asleep: it was all right, he was not
dreaming. And he had called him "Petka," and the Tsar had not promptly
cut off his head for the impertinence! Perhaps he would to-morrow when
he went to the burgomaster's house in the morning. And those were the
Tsar's servants with whose whining forms he had carpeted the floor of
the entrance hall! Assuredly he would pay for all this with his head.

In a dazed condition Boris left the barin's presence, and walked home
to his father's cottage, wondering whether it would not be wiser, on
the whole, to disappear into the depths of the forest until such time
as the Tsar should have left Archangel and returned to Moscow? But
worthier thoughts quickly succeeded these promptings of cowardice.
Boris recalled the Tsar's kind words--he had taken a fancy to the
bear-hunter, he said; and again, "Russia had need of strong arms and
brave hearts!" If this was so, and he could please the magnificent
young Tsar by doing it, he should unreservedly place his life and his
service at Peter's disposal.

The next morning found Boris once again at the house of the
burgomaster. This time the embroidered functionary in charge of the
front entrance, mindful of his experience of the preceding day, was
careful to keep his conversation void of offence, and to preserve a
respectful demeanour to the owner of two such powerful fists. Acting
perhaps on orders received, he ushered the young bear-hunter directly
into the presence of his new master.

Peter sat at a table, busily employed in manipulating a model
sailing-vessel, explaining the uses of the various sails and other
portions of the ship's furniture to a stolidly attentive companion,
who sat and listened and smoked, and occasionally bowed his head in
assent to the propositions laid down by his handsome young companion.
There could not well be a greater contrast between any two men than
existed between these two--the one, a short, thick-set, squat-figured,
Dutch-built caricature of a man; the other, tall, far beyond the
ordinary height of man, straight as any one of all the millions of
pines that stood sentinel over his vast dominions, noble and majestic,
the very incarnate spirit of majesty.

Peter paused in his lesson to greet the new-comer.

"De Kuyper," he said, "look here! This is a fellow who calls himself
a bear-hunter, and I saw him the other day running away from a bear
for dear life, like a hare from a hound--it was grand! If I had not
interfered, the bear would have deprived me of the services of an
excellent soldier, or sailor, or keeper, or whatever I may decide to
make of him--eh, Boris?"

"I will serve your Majesty with my life blood in whatever manner you
may be pleased to use me," said Boris, kneeling before the young Tsar
and touching the ground with his forehead; "and I entreat you to
forgive my ignorance yesterday, and my impertinence in treating you as
little better than my equal----"

"Nonsense," said Peter; "get up. I hate cringing and all foolery.
You shall show me what you are good for; I shall see that you have
ample opportunity. Meanwhile let's have no talk about equality or
inferiority. You will find that they who serve me well are my equals
in all but the name. For the present you are my special body-servant,
to attend me wherever I go. And first you shall attend me on board De
Kuyper's ship, and we shall see what prospect there is of making a
sailor of you.--Come on, De Kuyper, the wind is getting up. We shall
have a glorious sail.--Come on you too, Boris."

De Kuyper was the fortunate skipper of the first foreign vessel which
had entered the port of Archangel during the present season, after
the disappearance of the ice had left the harbour open to arrivals
from abroad. Peter had instantly boarded the _Drei Gebrüder_ on its
appearance, and having himself purchased the cargo, and handsomely
rewarded the skipper and crew for their enterprise, carried away De
Kuyper to be his guest and favourite companion until his departure from
Archangel. Under the Dutch skipper's guidance, Peter was laying the
foundations of that nautical experience which was so often to stand him
in good stead in after life.

Boris was no sailor--indeed, he had never been fifty yards from the
shore upon shipboard, though he had ventured very much further in
swimming. His sensations, therefore, as the lumbering old vessel
plunged through the waves, were the reverse of enviable. Peter himself
handled the rudder, and gave all the necessary orders for managing the
sails, insisting upon Boris doing his share of the work in spite of the
misery of sea-sickness which sat heavily upon the poor landsman.

It was a splendid day--hot on shore, but delightfully cool and pleasant
out at sea. The wind blew freshly from the north and east, and Peter
crowded on all the sail he could. The clumsy old vessel, squat-built
and broad in the beam like her master, strained and groaned beneath
the weight of canvas, but sped along at a rate which filled the young
Tsar's soul with the wildest delight. As usual, when particularly
happy, he was boisterous and very noisy, poking fun at De Kuyper,
Boris, and the sailors, and from time to time singing snatches of his
favourite songs.

It so happened that a small boat which was attached by a short length
of tow-rope to the stern of the _Drei Gebrüder_ presently broke adrift,
in consequence of the strain, and floated away astern. The young Tsar
was annoyed. He loved a good boat, and disliked to see one needlessly
lost before his eyes.

"De Kuyper," he shouted, "have you a swimmer on board? Send one of
your Dutchmen after it! Come, look sharp about it! They're not afraid
surely? Why, I'll go myself; see here!"

Before the horrified skipper could prevent him, the rash young Tsar had
thrown away his kaftan and boots, and was in the act of mounting the
bulwark, when a strong hand seized his shoulder and pulled him back.
The Tsar flushed with anger, and raised his big right hand to strike
the man who had presumed to take so great a liberty; but Boris pushed
back the lifted arm with a sweep of his own, leaped upon a hen-coop
near at hand, so to the bulwark of the vessel, and in an instant was
overboard, battling with the waves, and making good progress towards
the fast-disappearing boat, now far astern. The Tsar's face was all
beaming with delight in a moment.

"De Kuyper!" he cried, "look at the lad--a Russian lad, mind you,
skipper; none of your Dutchmen! Would your Dutchmen swim those waves? I
think not. I tell you, skipper, that bear-hunter is a man after my own
heart. Did you observe him push me aside--glorious!--as though I had
been the cabin-boy? Oh, for ten thousand such Russians!"

De Kuyper grunted and took the rudder, which Peter in his excitement
had neglected.

"Your bear-hunter had better look sharp and get into that boat," he
muttered, "for the sky looks squally, and we shall have a knock-about
before we reach Archangel. The sooner we get him and the boat aboard
the better I shall be pleased!"

Boris meanwhile was fast gaining upon the lost boat. Soon he had
reached it and was hauling himself over the side. The oars were safe,
so that he had little difficulty in propelling the small craft towards
the larger vessel, which had put about, and was now coming round as
quickly as possible, in order to take up the recovered boat and its
occupant.

With some considerable difficulty, owing to the roughness of the sea,
this was at last effected; and Boris felt that he was amply repaid for
the risk he had run by the few words of the Tsar, and his mighty grip
of the hand.

"Bear-eater," he had said, "you are my brother; let that be understood
between us."

After this episode neither sea-sickness nor the discomfort of sitting
in wet clothes could divert the mind of Boris from the thought of
his exceeding great joy. He had been called "brother" by the young
Tsar--the god-like Peter, who had been hailed almost from his cradle
as the hope of Russia; of whom even the unlettered Boris in far-off
Archangel had heard distant and indistinct rumours, as of some prince
of fairyland, come from no one knew where, to work wonders for his
empire, and astonish the world by his power and magnificence! Now he
had seen this wonder of the age with his own eyes--he had spoken with
him--was his servant--had received his approbation, nay, had been
called "brother" by him.

Boris, musing thus on his great good fortune, suddenly became aware of
a commotion on board. A squall had violently struck the vessel, and she
was heeling over till her rail lay deep in the surging sea, and her
deck sloped like the side of one of his beloved snow-hills. Peter, at
the helm, was shouting orders to the seamen, with his eyes fixed upon
the sails, while the vessel plunged and lay over till the seas washed
her fore and aft.

De Kuyper rushed to the rudder.

"Steady her--steady, Tsar!" he shouted, "or we shall founder in a
minute!"

Peter, wanting experience and unused to squalls and emergencies, was
thinking only of the splendid excitement of rushing through the big
waves as fast as the ship could be made to go; the danger of the
moment was nothing to him. Perhaps he did not realize it; he certainly
did not heed it.

"Steady her, I tell you!" shrieked the skipper once more. "Here; let me
come! I won't go to the bottom for a hundred Russian kings. Let go, I
say!"

Peter's face flushed angrily.

"Keep away, De Kuyper, keep away," he cried; "don't anger me. This is
glorious!"

But De Kuyper knew that this was no time for the politeness of courts
and the deference due to princes. He seized Peter by the shoulders and
forced him from the tiller.

"I'm skipper of this vessel," he shouted, "and I intend to be obeyed
while aboard of her. You shall command when we get ashore, if we ever
do!"

Peter let go his hold of the clumsy tiller-shaft, looking for a moment
like a thunder-cloud. During that moment he revolved in his mind
whether or not he should take up that squat little Dutch skipper in his
great arms and throw him overboard; but better impulses prevailed. The
vessel quickly righted under De Kuyper's experienced guidance, and flew
through the water actually quicker than before, and upon a more even
keel. In a moment Peter had recovered his equanimity. He burst into
a roar of laughter, and brought his big hand with a whack upon the
little Dutchman's shoulder.

"Skipper," he cried, in his hearty loud tones of approval, "forgive
me! You are a better sailor than I am, and a plucky fellow to boot. I
love a man who stands up to me. You Dutchmen are a fine race, and good
sailors."

De Kuyper, the excitement over and the danger past, was much upset by
the recollection of his rudeness to one who, though his inferior in
the art of sailing, was so immeasurably his superior in position and
importance. He apologized profusely and humbly, and on his knees begged
to be forgiven.

"Get up," said Peter, "and don't be a fool, skipper. I liked you far
better when you forced me away from the tiller. I was a fool, and you
told me so; that is what I like in a man."



CHAPTER V.
HOW PETER THE GREAT WAS KNOCKED OVER.


Before Boris had been very long in the service of the Tsar he had
become quite an expert sailor; indeed, he and his young master were
scarcely ever absent from shipboard of one kind or another. Archangel
was at this time Russia's one outlet to the sea. St. Petersburg was
not yet built, nor Cronstadt thought of; the Baltic ports had still
to be wrested from their proprietors; only the little northern port
at the mouth of the Dwina was open to receive the ships and commerce
of the world. Consequently, as the season proceeded, vessels of all
nationalities, including English, appeared with their merchandise at
this distant market; and Peter passed many weeks in the most congenial
occupation of studying each vessel that entered the port, sailing about
in them, making friends with their captains, and learning everything
he could gather of the history and circumstances of the people to which
each belonged. Boris, too, learned many marvels concerning this planet
of ours and its inhabitants, undreamed of hitherto. The young hunter
was constantly in attendance on Peter--waited upon him at dinner, slept
at his door at night, sailed with him, walked abroad with him, and was,
in a word, his inseparable companion.

The villagers at Dubinka greatly deplored the departure of Boris
from among them; for what were they going to do without him when the
winter-time came round, and the wolves began to be both numerous and
assertive? Who was to keep them in check now that the great Boris was
gone? Even now they had the best of reasons for acutely deploring the
hunter's absence. It will be remembered that whereas there had been
two bears engaged in the plundering of the peasants' corn-fields, only
one of these had been accounted for by Boris before his departure. The
second bear had disappeared for some little time after the death of
its liege lord; but the days of her mourning being now accomplished,
she had reappeared, and with appetite largely improved by her period
of abstinence. Her depredations became so serious at last that it was
resolved by the council of the peasants to send into the town a request
to Boris to devote his earliest leisure to a personal interview with
the widow of his late antagonist.

Boris received the message of the good folks of Dubinka with delight.
The very mention of a bear aroused all his old sporting instincts, and
he went straight to the Tsar to obtain his permission to absent himself
for a day.

"Ho, ho!" laughed Peter. "So you want to be eaten up again, do you? I
doubt whether I can spare you; you have made yourself too useful to me.
Had you not better stay? It is safer here."

Boris blushed. "The bear isn't born yet, sire," he said, "that will
make me run again. The bear you killed had caught me napping. I shall
never leave my spear again, to eat strawberries."

"Well, well," said Peter, "you shall go on one condition--that I go
with you to see you safely through with the adventure."

And so it came about that Boris and his master walked out very early
one summer morning to relieve the peasants of Dubinka of their
unwelcome visitor. The two young giants called first at the house of
the _starost_, or principal peasant of the place, whom they aroused
from his slumbers and carried off with them into the fields at the
edge of the forest, to show them the exact spot at which the robber
had concluded her supper on the previous evening; for it was probable
that she would recommence her plundering at or about the same spot. The
starost brought the hunters to the place they sought, approaching it
in abject terror, and scudding home again like a hare, lest the bear
should pursue him back over the fields.

Boris was the Tsar's master in their present occupation, and thoroughly
understood what he was about. The pair concealed themselves in a dense
clump of cover at the edge of the wood. Just in front of their ambush
lay the oat-field last honoured by the attentions of the bear. A large
portion of it looked as though a battle had been fought on it, so
downtrodden and crushed were the tall, delicate stalks. It was arranged
that Peter should hold the spear, while Boris was to be content with
the hunting-knife, one which the Tsar had brought with him, a long and
business-like blade, both tough and sharp, as a blade needs to be to be
driven through the thick hide of a bear. The young monarch was anxious
to try his "'prentice hand" with the spear, for he had never handled
one excepting on that memorable occasion when he gave the final push
to the huge brute which had first winded and then overpowered poor
Boris. The hunter very carefully explained the exact way in which Peter
must poise his body, how he must grip the spear-shaft, and how he must
plant his feet so as to balance his body conveniently and at the same
time obtain a purchase with his heel which should enable him to support
any, even the greatest, strain. Then the two men waited in silence for
the arrival of the widow of the late lamented Mr. Bruin.

It was still very early, about four o'clock. There was no sound to
break the repose of the young day, save the boisterous song which now
and again some little bird set up for a moment, and as suddenly broke
off, finding itself to be the only singer. The pines swayed solemnly
in the faint morning breeze, sending down showers of bright dewdrops
far and wide. A hare was playing quietly in the oat-field, quite
unconscious of the presence of its natural enemy, man; and presently a
proudly-clucking grouse walked out with her brood into the oat-strown
space beyond the wood, and there demonstrated to her young hopefuls
how easily a breakfast could be picked up by people who knew where to
look for it. In the far distance a family of cranes could be heard at
intervals, exchanging confidences upon the adventures of the past
night and the delights of a hearty breakfast of frog.

Suddenly, and without apparent reason, the hare raised its head,
sniffed the air, and in a moment was scuttling full speed across the
field, heading for the village, as though it had remembered a message
for the starost which it had omitted to deliver while he was on the
spot. The careful grouse at the same moment rose from the earth with
a loud cluck, and darted away, followed by her little brood. Over the
tops of the pines they went, far away into the heart of the forest.

In another moment the reason for this abrupt departure of bird and
beast became apparent. Shuffling awkwardly along, and mumbling in a
querulous way as she went, as though complaining that she had been
called up to breakfast earlier than was necessary, came the wicked
old widow-bear, marching straight for the standing oats, as though
everything in the district belonged to her. She was a huge creature,
a fitting helpmate for the gigantic old warrior whom Peter had
slain. Slowly she picked her way along, swinging her heavy body and
half-turning her great head at each step, looking alternately to right
and to left in a perfunctory manner, as though making a concession
to the principle of precaution, while declining to believe in the
possibility of misadventure.

Boris's finger was at his lip, enjoining patience and prudence, for
the impulsive young Tsar was excited, and quite capable of ruining the
chances of a successful hunt by doing something rash and ill-timed.
Boris touched the Tsar's arm and whispered. Peter was to creep
cautiously along and place himself in the very spot at which the bear
had issued from the forest. When there, he was to hold his spear ready
for action and await events. Boris himself would walk out into the
oat-field, in full view of the bear, who would probably not charge him.
Most likely she would hurry back to the cover, entering the wood where
she had left it; and if Boris could influence her course, he would
encourage her to choose that particular direction. Then the Tsar must
suddenly step out from his ambush and receive the bear upon his spear;
and if matters went smoothly, the impetus of her flight would bring her
down upon him, whether she liked it or not.

The plan of attack thus settled, Peter withdrew under cover of the
bushes and pine trunks to take up the position assigned him, while
Boris boldly stepped forth from his ambush, and made for a point
beyond the place where the bear was now busy gobbling the grain
greedily, and emitting grunts of satisfaction and high content. So
well occupied was she, indeed, that she took no notice of the hunter's
approach until Boris was nearly level with her. Then she raised her
head with a grunt, and expressed her surprise and displeasure in a loud
roar. For a moment it appeared likely that she would charge Boris, who,
having nothing but a hunting-knife wherewith to defend himself, might
in that event have fared badly; for he would have died rather than turn
his back upon her and run, since Peter was at hand to see. But timid
counsels prevailed, and Mrs. Bruin quickly determined to take the safer
course. She twisted her bulky body round, and made off, as Boris had
foretold, straight for the spot at which she had left the forest. Boris
ran after her, shouting, in hopes of accelerating her speed; and in
this he was entirely successful. Straight down for the Tsar's ambush
she raced, and close at her heels went Boris, shouting instructions to
Peter as he sped. The result of all this speed and excitement was that
by the time the great creature had reached the spot where Peter awaited
her, the impetus of her flight was so great that she was upon him, as
he stepped out to meet her, ere she had time to swerve sufficiently to
avoid him.

The Tsar had stepped forth at precisely the right moment, and was
ready with poised spear to receive the rush. His feet had gripped the
earth as tightly as in the somewhat slippery condition of the ground
was practicable. With a roar the monster hurled herself upon the
spear-point, uttering a second and very bitter cry as she felt the
steel enter into her vitals.

The shock of her rush was terrific. Peter, strong as he was and firmly
as he had planted himself, was knocked off his feet in an instant, and
ere Boris could realize the full horror of the situation, the most
valuable life in all Russia lay at the mercy of an enraged and maddened
she-bear. Peter fell backwards; but as the huge brute precipitated
herself upon the top of him, the good spear-shaft of seasoned wood
caught in the ground, and for a moment held her suspended, so that she
could reach her enemy with neither teeth nor claws.

That moment saved the Tsar's life. Boris was but a few yards behind,
and it was the work of an instant for him to cast himself headlong upon
the carcass of the roaring, blood-stained brute, and with an accurately
placed thrust of the knife in her throat put an end in the nick of
time to her cravings for vengeance. With his additional weight thrown
suddenly into the scale the good spear-shaft snapped in two, and bear
and hunter together toppled over upon the prostrate figure of Russia's
Tsar.

[Illustration: "That moment saved the Tsar's life."
_Page 54._ ]

"Thank you, Brother Boris," said the Tsar quietly, rising from the
ground and wiping the bear's blood from his clothes. "It was well done;
we are quits. When you see me over-proud, my son, you shall remind me
of this morning, and how an old she-bear sent me head over heels. Now
let's get home to breakfast."



CHAPTER VI.
A TASTE OF THE KNOUT.


Thus were laid and cemented the foundations of a friendship destined
to last for many a long, history-making year. Boris was a man after
Peter's own heart, and from those early Archangel days until the end
of their lives the two were rarely parted for long, excepting when the
exigencies of public affairs necessitated the departure of one of them
for distant portions of the realm.

The summer in Archangel is a short one, and by the end of August autumn
is in full progress, with icy warnings of winter at night-time. Peter
the Tsar had, besides, many important duties which called for his
presence at the capital, Moscow; and towards the end of July it became
necessary to bring his delightful seaside holiday to an end, and return
to sterner duties at home. Peter decided to travel in a three-horse
_tarantass_, a springless carriage slung upon a pole instead of
springs--comfortable enough on soft country roads, but desperately
jolting on stony ones.

Boris had begged to be allowed to accompany his beloved patron and
friend, in order that he might instruct the Tsar in the art of
"calling" wolves and perhaps lynxes, and thus while away a few of the
tedious hours of the long journey. Peter was delighted to acquiesce in
this arrangement; for if there was one thing in the world that this
most energetic of sovereigns could not tolerate, it was to sit idle
with no possibility of finding food for observation for his eyes or new
facts and new ideas for assimilation in his ever active and receptive
brain. So the two posted on in front of the long procession of servants
and luggage, comfortably housed in a covered tarantass, drawn by three
horses abreast, and driven by a notable driver renowned for his skill
in persuading that erratic animal, the Russian pony, to move along
faster than had been its intention when it started. Ivan arrived at
this happy result by a judicious mixture of coaxing and abuse, calling
the ponies every pet name in the Russian vocabulary at one moment, and
sounding the very depths and shoals of the language of the slums at
the next. Ivan was never silent for a moment, but spoke to his ponies
incessantly; and these latter generously decided as a rule that they
must do their best for such an orator.

Through the tumble-down villages of northern Russia the tarantass flew,
while the inhabitants stared round-eyed as it passed, not dreaming for
a moment that it was their Tsar who glided by, but taking him for one
of the many traders who posted between the seaport and the capital in
tarantasses crammed with merchandise of every description. Peter was
well armed with matchlock and pistols, for there was the possibility of
a _rencontre_ with wolves or robbers, and it was well to be prepared
for every contingency.

The two young men frequently stopped at some village _traktir_, or
inn, as they passed, to refresh themselves with a meal of peasant fare
and a chat with the village people, whose opinions about his august
self Peter loved to learn. Since they had not the slightest idea of
the identity of their questioner, the Tsar gathered much information
of great value to himself in indicating which way, to use a familiar
expression, "the cat jumped" with regard to popular opinion upon some
of the important questions of the day.

Most peasants, Peter found, were convinced that the Tsar was more than
human. Exaggerated versions of his intelligence and vigour as child
and boy had reached them, and it was a common belief that the young
prince had been specially sent by Providence to right the wrongs of the
Russian people, and to make life for the peasantry a sweet dream of
marrow and fatness and exemption from work.

The priests, on the other hand, had widely different ideas upon the
subject. The young Tsar, they said, mournfully shaking their heads,
was a fine young fellow, no doubt, but his character was full of
danger for Holy Russia. He was too liberal and progressive. Progress
was the enemy of Russia and of the Holy Church. Russia required no
western civilization imported within her peaceful borders. She was
not a secular country, but the specially favoured of the church, and
foreigners and foreign manners and so-called civilization would be the
curse of the country, and Peter threatened to introduce both. He was
all for progress, and the priests did not believe in progress.

Occasionally discussion waxed warm at the traktirs visited by the two
young men, and once or twice blows were exchanged.

Once a party of drunken peasants uproariously declared that the Tsar
Peter was a mere usurper, and that if he had had his deserts he would
have been "put away" long since in some monastery or castle, never more
to be heard of. Peter flushed when he heard this, for the question
of his right to the throne of Russia was always to him a sore point;
whereupon Boris, seeing that his master was annoyed, sprang up and
knocked the speaker down. The landlord then rushed in, and finding that
two strangers had set a company of his regular customers by the ears,
bade them depart from his house that instant.

Peter laughed good-naturedly, but on the landlord becoming abusive he
seized the man by the neck and trousers and pitched him upon the top of
the stove. Then Boris and the Tsar took the rest of the company, who
fought with drunken desperation, and pitched them up, one after the
other, to join the landlord, until there were nine men in all huddled
together on the wide top of the stove, whining and afraid to come down
again.

Peter was perfectly good-humoured throughout, and enjoyed the fun;
but the landlord was naturally furious, and when his two tall guests,
having paid their reckoning, left the house, he took the opportunity of
scrambling down from his prison and going for the village policeman,
whom he despatched at full speed after the travellers. The policeman,
being well mounted, overtook the tarantass, and explained his mission,
when Peter immediately gave orders to the driver to turn the horses'
heads and return to the village.

There the pair, to their great amusement and delight, were placed
in the village lock-up, pending inquiries by the village council of
peasants; and there they still were when, with bells jingling, and
horses galloping, and dust flying, and with much shouting and pomp, the
Tsar's retinue drove into the place, and pulled up at the traktir.

It so happened that the whole of Peter's late antagonists, including,
of course, the landlord, were still present, having all by this time
climbed down from the stove. They were discussing, in the highest
good-humour and with much self-satisfaction, the promptitude with which
the landlord had avenged the insult to his customers, and discussing
also what punishment would be suitable for the delinquents now confined
in the village lock-up. The arrival of the Tsar's retinue broke up the
deliberations, however, and the peasants retired to the far end of
the room in order to make way for the crowd of kaftaned and uniformed
servants of the Tsar, who quickly monopolized all the tables and
chairs, and settled themselves for a quarter of an hour's rest and
refreshment.

The visitors were noisy, and took to ill-using the peasants and
chaffing the irate landlord. One of them threw a glass of vodka in his
face, and asked him if that was the only sort of stuff he had to offer
to gentlemen of quality? The landlord sputtered and raged, and, in the
pride of his late successful capture of two travellers, threatened.
His threats largely increased the merriment of his guests, who thumped
him on the back and roared with laughter. One seized him by the nose
in order to cause his mouth to open wide, when he dashed down his
throat the contents of a huge tumblerful of _kvass_, a kind of beer
very nauseous to any palate save that of a Russian peasant. The poor
landlord choked and sputtered and abused, but succeeded in escaping
out of the room, returning, however, in a few minutes armed with
authority in the shape of the _ooriadnik_, or village policeman, whom
he requested instantly to "arrest these men."

The little policeman glanced at the uproarious company in a bewildered
way. He was not a coward, and he relied much upon the power of the
law--of which he was the embodiment--to overawe the minds of all
good Russians. Besides, had he not, a few minutes since, successfully
arrested and locked up two giants, in comparison with whom these noisy
people were mere puppets? He therefore pulled himself together, and
tentatively laid his hand upon the arm of one who seemed to be quieter
than the rest of the party; he was smaller, anyhow, and would therefore
do very well to practise upon first. But the man shook him off and
warned him.

"Don't be a fool," he said; "get out of this and let us alone. Don't
you see we could strangle you and the whole villageful of peasants if
we pleased? Go home while you can walk on two legs, and let us alone!"

But the plucky little ooriadnik was not so easily discouraged.

"You may threaten as much as you please," he said, "but you will find
I am not afraid of a party of tipsy cowards like you. Why, it isn't
half-an-hour since I arrested, all by myself, a couple of fellows three
times your size. Didn't they fight, too!"

The Tsar's servants interchanged glances.

"Where are the two men you speak of?" some one asked.--"What were they
driving in, and where were they coming from?" said another.

"They're in the village lock-up at this moment," said the ooriadnik;
"and that's where you'll be in another minute or two."

Some of the party looked serious, some burst into roars of laughter,
others started up excitedly.

"You must show us this lock-up first," said the small person whose
arrest was half accomplished; "we can't submit to be huddled into a
little hole of a place incapable of holding more than the two you have
there already!"

"Oh, there's plenty of room for you, never fear!" said the brave
ooriadnik. "Come along, by all means, and see for yourself!"

The policeman foresaw an easy way to effect the arrest of at least one
or two of those present, and they would serve as hostages for the rest.
He would push them in as they stood at the door of the lock-up, and
fasten the bolt upon them!

So the whole party adjourned to the lock-up. The door was opened, and
there, to the horror of his frightened servants, sat the Tsar of all
the Russias, unconcernedly playing cards with Boris the Bear-Hunter.

One official instantly seized the ooriadnik by the throat and pinned
him to the wall; another performed the same service on the landlord.
Others threw themselves upon the floor at Peter's feet and whined out
incoherent reproaches that their beloved sovereign should have trusted
himself to travel so far in advance of his faithful servants and
guards, and thus lay himself open to outrage of this description.

"What is the matter?" asked Peter; "what's all the disturbance about?
Let those men go. Get up, all you fools there, and stop whining;
there's no harm done.--Listen, Mr. Landlord. You have had me arrested;
very well, here I am. I am the Tsar; but what of that? If I have done
wrong, I desire to be treated just as any other delinquent would be
treated. Call your village council together, and let's have the inquiry
over as quickly as possible. We must push on!"

The landlord, followed by the ooriadnik, both in tears and with loud
lamentations, threw themselves at Peter's feet, asking his pardon and
pleading ignorance of his identity with their beloved Tsar. But Peter
insisted upon being treated exactly as any other offender, and the
_moujiks_ of the community were convened as quickly as possible to the
village court. All these, including the persons whose upheaval upon
the stove had been the original cause of all the disturbance, came in
terror for their lives--most of them loudly weeping--for there was not
one but made sure that the lives of every moujik in the village must of
necessity be forfeit, since so terrible an outrage and insult had been
inflicted upon the Tsar.

Peter bade the landlord state his case, and instructed the starost,
or elder of the community, to question both accuser and accused
according to the usual procedure of the village court. But it appeared
that both landlord and starost were far too frightened to find their
tongues. Then the Tsar took upon himself to state the case. He and
his body-servant, he explained, had violently assaulted the landlord
of the inn, together with certain of his customers. There had been
provocation, but nevertheless the assault was undoubtedly committed.
What was the penalty for assault?

The starost, to whom the Tsar addressed this remark, burst into tears
and knelt with his forehead tapping the floor at Peter's feet. All the
moujiks followed suit, and for some minutes there was naught to be
heard save groanings and whinings and bits of the litany in use in the
Russo-Greek Church. But neither the starost nor any of his peers of
the community offered a reply.

"Speak up, man!" said the Tsar angrily, and then immediately bursting
into one of his loud guffaws. "What's the penalty for assault? Speak! I
am determined to be told, and by yourself."

Once more the entire company of peasants made as though they would
throw themselves upon the ground and whine and pray as they had done
before; but when Peter angrily stamped upon the floor, they all, with
one accord, renounced the intention and stood quaking in their places.

"Come, come," said Peter impatiently; "don't be a fool, man. You are
here to state the law, and you shall state it! What is the penalty for
assault?"

The wretched starost strove to speak, but his lips would not open. He
essayed once again, and this time succeeded in whispering,--

"Your High Mercifulness--pardon--it is ten cuts of the knout."

Then his legs failed him once more, and he fell, together with his
moujiks, upon the floor, weeping and wailing, and calling upon the Tsar
and upon Heaven for mercy. When the hubbub had in part subsided, Peter
spoke again.

"Very well," he said. "Ooriadnik, do your duty. Don't be afraid; I
prefer to see duty fearlessly done. Take your knout and lay on!"

The unfortunate ooriadnik was sufficiently master of himself to
comprehend that it was useless to resist when the Tsar's will had once
been expressed. He took his knout in his nerveless hand, and with white
face and haggard expression tapped the Tsar's back the necessary number
of times, inflicting strokes which would hardly have caused a fly, had
one of these insects happened to settle upon Peter's broad back, to
raise its head and inquire what the matter was. Then he threw down his
knout and grovelled at the Tsar's feet, begging forgiveness.

"Nonsense, man," said Peter, but kindly; "finish your work first, and
then we can talk of other matters.--Now, Boris, your turn.--Lay on,
ooriadnik, and put a little more muscle into it; this fellow's skin is
as hard as leather!"

The ooriadnik, intensely relieved by the Tsar's evident good-humour,
laid on with some vigour, and flogged poor Boris in a manner not
entirely agreeable to the hunter's feelings, who, nevertheless, did not
flinch, though he felt that the young Tsar's manner of amusing himself
was somewhat expensive to his friends. Boris lived to learn that this
was so indeed. Nothing ever pleased Peter more than to enjoy a hearty
laugh at the expense of his familiar companions.

But the ooriadnik's duties were not yet concluded. The Tsar patted
him kindly on the back. "Bravo, ooriadnik!" he cried; "you are
improving.--Now, then, you gentlemen who threw vodka and kvass at the
landlord of the traktir, step out.--Lay on again, ooriadnik, and teach
these persons not to waste good vodka!"

Then those servants found that they had committed an error in having
assaulted the landlord; for the ooriadnik, having warmed to his work,
and remembering the laughter and contempt with which his authority
had been treated by these men at the inn, laid on his blows with such
good will that the unfortunate culprits howled for mercy, to the huge
delight of the Tsar.

After which object-lesson upon the impartiality of true justice, and
the duty of respect towards the powers that be, Peter and his retinue
resumed their journey.



CHAPTER VII.
A RACE FOR LIFE.


It has been already mentioned that Boris had promised to instruct his
master in the art of calling various animals. In this art Boris was
marvellously expert, and could imitate the cry of the wolf, lynx, and
other creatures so exactly that if any member of the particular family
whose language he was imitating chanced to be within hearing, it would
invariably respond to his call--sometimes to its destruction, if it
did not find out in time that it had been made the victim of a gross
deception. The practice of this art was a source of unfailing delight
and amusement to the Tsar during that weary drive of hundreds of miles
through the plains and forests of northern and central Russia; for most
of the journey was performed by land, though the Dwina offered a good
water-way for a considerable distance.

The aptitude of Boris for imitation extended to the calling of birds
as well as beasts, and many were the tree-partridges that were lured
by him to their doom, and subsequently eaten by the monarch with much
enjoyment as a welcome change from the sour cabbage-soup and black
bread and salt, which were for the most part all that the party could
get to subsist upon.

It was rarely, indeed, that wolf or lynx ventured to approach close
enough to the carriage of the Tsar to permit of a successful shot
with his old matchlock; but these animals, wolves especially, were
frequently seen at a distance, appearing for an instant amid the gloom
of the dense pines, but rapidly disappearing as soon as they had
ascertained that they had been deceived. But once, when within two
or three days' journey of Moscow, this now favourite pastime of the
Tsar came near to involving himself and Boris in a fate which would
have saved the present writer the trouble of following any further the
fortunes of Boris, and would have caused the history of Russia, and
indeed that of Europe, to be written in an altogether different manner,
for the stirring pages of the life and work of Peter the Great would
never have been penned at all.

Boris, as usual, was reclining easily in the front seat of the
travelling carriage, idly smoking and chatting, and now and again, at
the bidding of Peter, who occupied the back seat, sending out loud
invitations in wolf language, in the hope that some wandering member of
the family might happen to be within call and respond to his advances.
Of a sudden Boris's cries were answered; a melancholy howl was
distinctly heard by both men to proceed from within the heart of the
dense forest through which the road lay. The howl appeared to proceed
from a distance of half-a-mile, and was instantly followed by a second
a little further away. The Tsar quickly sat up, gun in hand, while
Boris excitedly reiterated his cries, producing tones so pathetically
melancholy that the wolf would be hard-hearted indeed that could resist
so touching an appeal for companionship. To his surprise, however,
there came not one reply but several; half-a-dozen wolves, seemingly,
had heard the invitation, and were hastening to respond to it. This was
splendid. The young Tsar was now extremely excited.

"Howl away, Boris," he whispered; "there are several of them. We are
sure of a shot this time!"

Nothing loath, Boris continued his howlings, and at each repetition
the number of wolves that took part in the responding calls appeared
to increase, until some twenty distinct voices could be made out, each
coming from a slightly different quarter.

Ivan the driver turned half round and crossed himself; then he spat on
the ground--a sure sign of discontent in a Russian; then he addressed
the young Tsar with the easy familiarity of an old Russian servant.

"Stop it, Peter, the son of Alexis," he said; "there are too many
wolves here! My horses will lose their heads if they see them.--Don't
howl any more, Boris Ivanitch, if you love your life!"

Boris himself was looking somewhat grave, for he was well aware of the
truth of old Ivan's remark that there were too many wolves--it was a
pack, not a doubt of it; and the character of wolves when in a pack is
as different from that of the same animals when alone or in pairs as is
the harmless malevolence of a skulking beggar in the streets compared
with the mischief-making capacity of an armed and howling mob of roughs
and blackguards. But the Tsar had never seen a pack of wolves, and knew
little of the dangers of which both Boris and Ivan were well aware;
therefore he directed the former to continue his calls, bidding Ivan,
at the same time, keep a proper hold upon his horses if he was afraid
of them.

Old Ivan crossed himself once more and spat a second time, but he
gathered up the reins as the Tsar commanded. As for Boris, he looked
graver than ever, and howled in a half-hearted manner.

In a very few moments the vanguard of the wolf-host made its
appearance. First one gaunt, gray-pointed snout appeared amid the pines
on the right of the road, then another; almost at the same instant
three cantering forms hove into view close behind; and two more were
seen taking a survey in front of the horses' heads.

Peter was in a high state of excitement; he thought nothing of the
danger of the moment--it is doubtful whether he realized it. His
gun-barrel was raised and pointed now at one gray form, now at another,
as each in turn appeared to offer a better chance of a successful
shot. Just as he fired, however, the horses had caught sight of the
leaders of the pack, but a few paces from their noses, and the sudden
apparition so startled them that all three shied with one accord,
bringing the wheel of the tarantass into a gigantic rut, and so nearly
upsetting the carriage that the gun flew out of Peter's hands as he
clutched at the side of the vehicle to save himself from being pitched
out.

The next instant the horses, entirely beyond the control of poor Ivan,
were dashing along the road at full gallop, the wolves accelerating
their easy canter in order to keep up. It now became apparent that
there were many more of these grim-looking creatures present than
had at first seemed to be the case; indeed, the wood on either side
of the roadway appeared to swarm with their gaunt figures, while
numbers followed behind, and a few headed the carriage. Even Peter,
now that his gun was lost to him, began to feel that the position
was not so agreeable as he had thought; while Boris said little, but
watched gravely the slightest movement of the leaders of the wolf-mob,
loosening the knife at his side the while and bidding Peter do the same.

"How far to the next post-station, Ivan?" the Tsar shouted presently.

"Twelve versts," Ivan shouted back, without turning his head.

It was all the old man could do to keep the horses' heads straight; so
mad were they with terror that they would have rushed wildly into the
forest at the side of the road if permitted to do so.

Twelve versts are eight English miles, and Boris was well aware that
the wolves would be unlikely to content themselves with passively
following or accompanying the carriage for so great a distance;
they would, he knew, attack the horses before very long, for their
excitement would carry them away into what wolves with cool heads would
consider an indiscretion. Occasionally a wolf would push ahead of its
fellows, impelled by the desire to have the first taste of blood,
advancing its gray nose so close to the side of the carriage that Boris
or his master was able to aim a vicious dig at it, and once or twice a
howl of pain attested to the fact that the blow had reached and either
scratched or gashed the indiscreet assailant.

And so, for several miles, matters remained. Boris began to take heart,
for half the journey had been accomplished, and if nothing more serious
were attempted by the wolves than had been ventured by them up till
now, there was no reason to fear any evil consequences. The wolves
would pursue them thus up to within a few yards of the village, and
then slink back into the woods to reflect upon what might have been had
they been more enterprising.

Peter clearly shared the favourable view of Boris; no gloomy fears
oppressed his sturdy mind. He laughed as he gashed at the trespassers,
calling them all the bad names in the Russian vocabulary, including
"cholera," which is a favourite term of abuse in that country, for
sufficiently apparent reasons, and "Pharaoh," which, with less obvious
point, is to a Russian the most irritating and offensive of all the bad
names you can call him.

But while the two young men were thus busily engaged in the hinder
portion of the carriage, a cry from old Ivan on the box caused them to
desist from their exciting occupation and to look ahead. Not a moment
too soon had the old driver uttered his warning note. Three huge wolves
had pushed in front of their fellows and had commenced their attack
upon the horses, just as Boris had feared would be the case. The fierce
brutes were leaping up on either side, attempting to seize the horses
by the throat, but making their springs as yet in a half-hearted way,
as though they had not quite worked themselves up to the necessary
point of audacity. The poor horses, however, at each spring of their
assailants, jerked up their heads in terror, losing their step, and
thus causing a new danger, for at the present rate of speed a stumble
from any of the three might have had fatal results to the occupants of
the carriage.

Boris realized the danger in a moment. Quickly directing his companion
to remain where he was and attend to the attack from the rear, he
sprang upon the coach-box, and thence upon the back of the shaft-horse.
The other two horses were attached to the carriage by pieces of rope
only, fastened to leather collars about their necks; and it was these
two outsiders against whose flanks and throats the wolves were now
directing their attacks. Boris with difficulty obtained a position upon
the back of one of them, lying along its spine and hitching his feet
into the rope at either side, while he clasped the leather collar with
one hand and held his long sharp knife in the other. In this awkward
and insecure position he managed to slash at the wolves, two of which
were now making determined springs, as though resolved at all hazards
to pull the unfortunate horse down and put an end to this prolonged
chase.

It was a good fight. Boris aimed his blows well, and before a couple
of hundred yards had been covered one of the rash assailants, leaping
rather higher than before, received a dig from the big knife that sent
him yelping and somersaulting among his fellows, and a detachment of
them quickly fell behind to eat him up. This did not affect the rest,
however, and Boris found that he had about as much as he could do to
beat off the constantly increasing number of assailants.

Meanwhile another warning from old Ivan caused Boris to look up for
a moment, when he became aware that the second outsider was in need
of instant assistance. A large wolf had succeeded in effecting for a
moment a hold upon the throat of the poor brute, which had, however,
either shaken or kicked it off again with its galloping front legs.
Peter was fully occupied in beating off the increasingly audacious
attacks of the rearguard, while Ivan could, of course, give him no
assistance. Boris quickly made up his mind that something must be done,
and that instantly, or one of the horses must inevitably be pulled
down, with fatal results to all parties. Thereupon Boris slashed with
his knife the rope which attached the left-hand horse; and as the
animal, feeling itself free, darted towards the forest, he was pleased
to see that it was immediately followed by a dozen gray pursuers, which
were thus drawn away from the main body. Horse and assailants quickly
disappeared among the trees, whither the historian is unable to follow
them, and the last tragedy of that steed, and its escape or death, was
played out far away in the heart of the pine forest.

And now recommenced that fierce fight between Boris and his numerous
antagonists which had been interrupted for a moment by the last
recorded incident. Deftly as Boris fought, the wolves were so
aggressive and numerous that it soon became apparent to the hunter that
they were gaining ground upon him, and that in all probability they
would succeed before long in pulling down one of the two remaining
horses, which he was striving so determinedly to defend. Boris was
accustomed to make up his mind quickly in cases of emergency. He
shouted back to the Tsar to hand up to Ivan the long bear-spear which
was strapped to the side of the tarantass. With this weapon he directed
Ivan to prod at those wolves which attacked the shaft-horse, while he
himself confined his attention to those whose springs were aimed at
the remaining outsider. Old Ivan rose to the occasion; he gathered the
reins in one hand, and with the other struck manfully at the brutes
which ever swarmed at flank and throat of the poor shafter. Some of his
blows grazed the horse's shoulder and neck, causing it to rush on with
even greater speed. The post-village was now but a mile away, and if
only Boris could keep off the swarming brutes for a few minutes longer
the Tsar would be safe.

[Illustration: "Slashing at the wolves which swarmed about him."
_Page 81._ ]

On flew the horses, and on hacked Boris; while Peter, in the carriage,
slashed at the hindmost wolves, and old Ivan prodded bravely and
shouted loudly at those in front. If things were to go wrong, and he
should be unable to keep the leaders at bay until the Tsar was in
safety, Boris knew what he would do.

Meanwhile the chase went on for another half-mile. Then the outside
horse, harassed beyond endurance by the ever-increasing number of his
assailants, stumbled repeatedly. In an instant Boris had slashed in two
the cords which attached him to the vehicle, and freed from the incubus
of the carriage, the poor animal darted forward and turned aside into
the forest, Boris himself still lying full length upon its back, but
assuming as quickly as he could a sitting posture. In this position,
still slashing at the wolves which swarmed about him, and waving adieu
to the Tsar with his left hand, he disappeared from sight; and in the
distance the horrified Peter heard the clatter of his horse's hoofs as
the devoted hunter was borne away from him to his doom.

For one wild moment Peter was for bidding Ivan direct the carriage in
pursuit; but the absurdity of such a course was apparent on the face
of it, and the Tsar was obliged, with grief and reluctance, to leave
his faithful servant and friend to his fate. At least half the wolves
or more had followed Boris into the depths of the forest, and Peter and
Ivan together succeeded in keeping the rest at bay long enough to allow
the panting shafter to drag the carriage in safety to within sight of
the village, when, with a gasp of despair, the poor creature stumbled
and fell, causing the carriage to stop suddenly with a jolt that
almost unseated the driver. Peter, with that personal courage in which
he has never been surpassed, leaped out to cut the traces and allow
the gallant animal which had served him so well to gallop for life.
Seeing him on foot, the wolves, unable even now to overcome altogether
their natural terror of man, drew off for a moment, and in that moment
Peter freed the horse, which dashed madly away into the woods like its
fellows, followed by all the wolves with the exception of two or three
which preferred to hang about the two men as they walked on towards the
village, but not daring to approach within striking distance of spear
or knife. When within a few yards of the first dwelling-house of the
village, these disappeared into the forest also, looking round once or
twice ere they finally retreated, and licking their lips, as though
their imagination dwelt upon the delights of a feast that might have
been.

The Tsar was morose and silent; and his attendants, who arrived within
an hour after himself, and who declared that they had met neither
wolves nor Boris, left the young monarch to his supper, avowing to one
another that they had never yet seen the Tsar so terrible to look upon.



CHAPTER VIII.
BORIS AND HIS FELLOW-OFFICERS.


The young Tsar was himself surprised, as he sat alone at his evening
meal, to find how very heavily the loss of poor Boris weighed upon him.
He had scarcely realized how closely the young hunter had wound himself
already around his heart--a heart which, in spite of its hardness and
waywardness, was capable of forming the warmest attachments. Peter was
all through his life on the look-out for men who were after his own
ideal, and upon whom he could rely for assistance in carrying out the
vast schemes and plans for the good of his people, and the development
and aggrandizement of his country, with which his brain was filled from
the first. Such a man Peter thought he had found in Boris--one upon
whose absolute faithfulness he could rely, and whose courage, as he had
seen already more than once, was equal to any emergency. He felt that
he could have trained Boris to be the ideal man for his purposes, to be
employed far or near with equal confidence, and in any capacity that
seemed good to his employer; and instead, here was the poor fellow gone
already, a martyr to his devotion to himself! "Why are there not more
of my poor Russians like this one?" thought the young Tsar; "and where
am I to lay my hand upon such another--even _one_?" It certainly was
most unfortunate and deplorable; so no wonder the Tsar's servants found
their master in his most dangerous mood, and left him, as soon as might
be, to himself.

Peter ate his cabbage-soup, and sighed as he ate. Why had he not
anticipated the sudden action of Boris, and sternly forbidden him to
sacrifice himself--ah, why indeed? Peter was not accustomed to personal
devotion of this sort. He had not come across a Boris before this one,
or he might have guessed what the brave fellow would do, and could
have pulled him back into the carriage at the last moment. He would
rather have fed those thrice-accursed gray brutes upon the whole of his
retinue than that they should have feasted upon that brave heart. Poor
Bear-Hunter! he had killed his last bear. What a fight there must have
been at the very last before he permitted the skulking brutes to crowd
around and pull him down!

Wrapped in these sad reflections, Peter sat before his neglected bowl
of soup, when of a sudden the door opened, and the apparition of the
very subject of his dismal reflections stood before him. Bootless,
dishevelled, and with his clothes, what was left of them, blood-stained
and in rags, was it the ghost of Boris as he had appeared at his last
moment on earth? Peter was not superstitious, wonderfully little so for
a Russian, but for a full minute he gazed in doubt and uncertainty upon
the apparition before him. Then he burst into one of his very loudest
guffaws.

"Boris!" he cried. "Yes! it is certainly Boris. Come here, my brother.
I was already mourning you for dead. How did you escape those accursed
gray brutes? Here is a hunter indeed! Come here, my brother." Peter
kissed his friend upon both cheeks; then administered a pat on the back
which might have felled an ox, laughed aloud once more, and poured into
a tumbler an immense draught of strong vodka. "There," he said, "sit
down and drink that, my tsar of hunters, and tell me all about it."

"There's little to tell your Majesty," said Boris, taking a big sip
at the spirits. "God was very merciful to me; and as the wolves rushed
in and dragged the poor horse down, which they did almost immediately
after I left you, I grabbed at the branch of a pine and hauled myself
up out of their reach just in time--not quite in time to save my boots,
in fact; for two active fellows jumped up and pulled them both off
my legs. I hope they choked the brutes! Afterwards I settled myself
comfortably in the branches of the tree, and threw fir-cones at them
while they pulled poor Vaiska the horse to pieces and fought over his
carcass. In five minutes there was not as much of Vaiska left as would
make a meal for a sparrow. When they had eaten Vaiska, they sat around
my tree, watching me and hoping that I should soon let go and fall
into their jaws. I howled at them in their own language instead, and
they howled back at me. What I said seemed greatly to excite them, for
they ran round the tree, and jumped up at me, and licked their lips.
I climbed down to a point just above that which they could reach by
leaping, and there I reclined at my ease and slashed at them with my
knife as long as they were inclined for the game. When they grew tired
of it, they sat round the tree licking their chops and looking up
at me, and we exchanged complimentary remarks at intervals in their
language.

"After a while the rumble and jingle of the carriages of your Majesty's
retinue was heard approaching. The wolves pricked up their ears to
listen. They made as though they would go back to the road at first, in
the hope of picking up more horse-flesh--greedy brutes! as if Vaiska
was not enough for them--but thought better of it, there was so much
noise and rattle; and as the carriages came nearer and nearer, they
grew more and more anxious, until at length, with a final chorus of
abuse levelled at me as I sat up in my perch, they one after the other
retired into the wood. Then I came down and ran for the village; and
here I am, alive to serve your Majesty for many a long year, I trust."

"Glad am I to see you, my prince of hunters," said the Tsar earnestly.
"But what of your wounds--is there anything serious? You look as though
you had been half-way down their throats; you must have had a nasty
gash somewhere to have got all that blood on you. Call the surgeon and
let him see to it. I can't afford to lose so much of your good blood,
my Boris; Russia has not too much of the right quality."

Boris laughed, and glanced at his saturated shirt and waistcoat. "It's
all wolf's blood," he said, "and I wish there were more of it; I
haven't a scratch." And this was the simple truth.

So ended happily an adventure which came near to depriving Russia of
her greatest son and me of a hero.

Two days after this the Tsar with his following reached the capital,
and Boris was given a commission in one of the Streltsi regiments,
while retaining his place at the side of his master as body-attendant.
In the ranks of the Streltsi our hunter soon learned the simple drill
which the soldiers of the Russia of that day had to acquire. The
Streltsi were at this time practically the only regular regiments of
the country, though they were not destined to remain so long under
the progressive rule of their present enlightened Tsar. Being the one
armed power in the state, and having on several occasions successfully
taken advantage of their position, the Streltsi had been loaded with
privileges wrung from rulers and statesmen who were afraid of them,
and their present position was most enviable. The men were allowed to
marry, and to live at their private homes; to carry on any business or
trade they pleased by way of adding to the substantial incomes which
they already enjoyed at the expense of the state; and, in a word, to
do very much as they liked as long as they attended the easy drills
and parades which the regulations enjoined. Hence Boris had plenty of
time to spare from his military duties to devote to attendance upon his
beloved master.

Peter had a double object in placing Boris in a Streltsi regiment.
He was anxious that the hunter should learn all that there was to
be learned in so poor a military school of the life and duties of
the soldier; but chiefly because he had good reason to mistrust the
Streltsi as a body, and it suited his purpose to distribute a few of
his more enlightened and devoted adherents among the various regiments,
in order that he might rest assured that in case of disaffection among
the troops he would hear of it at the first whisper. Peter had not
forgotten a certain horrible scene of violence enacted before his
eyes by these very regiments in the days of his early childhood, when
the entire corps had revolted, and, in presence of himself and his
young co-Tsar, had massacred their chiefs and others in the square of
the palace of the Kremlin. It is probable that, young as he had been
at that time, Peter never forgave the Streltsi for that terrible
experience, and that his distrust of them as a danger to the state
dated from that day. Growing as time went on, his hatred of them
culminated in the horrors attending their ultimate extermination, to
which brief reference will be made at a later stage of this narrative.

Meanwhile Boris hastened to acquire all that he could pick up of
military knowledge. He did not like this city life, accustomed as he
was to the free and healthy open-air existence of the old Dubinka days,
neither did he like his fellows in the Streltsi regiment to which he
had been appointed; but it was enough for our faithful hunter to know
that it was the Tsar's desire that he should associate with these men:
so long as he could render service to his beloved master, Boris was
content. Nor, in truth, was Boris popular with his comrades. It was
well known that the new-comer was the _protégé_ and favourite of the
Tsar, and he was distrusted on this account; for the conscience of the
regiment was not altogether void of offence towards the young head of
the realm, and it was more than suspected that Peter had on that very
account placed Boris as a kind of spy upon their inner counsels.

The reason for the dislike entertained by the Streltsi for their
Tsar was this:--The elder brother of Peter, Ivan, was still alive
and physically in good health; but, as is well known, though he had
acted at one time as co-Tsar with Peter, Ivan was quite incapable, by
reason of the weakness of his intellect, of taking any real part in
the government of the country, and Peter, by his own brother's earnest
wish, as well as by the expressed desire of the nation, had assumed the
sole authority over the destinies of the country. The Streltsi, full of
their own importance as the actual backbone of the state, and on this
account "busy-bodies" to a man, were never perfectly satisfied with
this state of affairs, and evinced at all times a nervous anxiety as to
their duty in the matter. Ivan, they considered, was the real Tsar or
Cæsar, successor to the Byzantine and Roman Cæsars, and therefore the
lord, by divine right, of Holy Russia. It mattered little that he was
incompetent and unwilling to govern; that was regrettable, no doubt,
but it did not justify another, either Peter or any one else, sitting
in his place and holding a sceptre which did not belong to him. The
Streltsi were probably perfectly honest in their opinions. They had
nothing to gain by a revolution; their position was assured, and a
very good position it was. It was the feeling of responsibility which
weighed upon them, and filled them with a restless sense that they
ought by rights to interfere.

Peter, acute as he was, undoubtedly realized the exact state of
affairs, and was well aware that a constant danger of trouble with his
Streltsi regiments stood in the way of the many reforms and projects
with which his active brain teemed at all times; and it is probable
that he was on the look-out even now for a plausible excuse to rid
himself of an incubus which he felt was inconsistent with his own ideas
of the fitness of things and with the spirit of the times. Boris was
therefore, more or less, that very thing which the regiment believed
him to be--namely, a spy upon their actions and intentions.

The hunter was far too simple-minded to comprehend that this was his
position. As a matter of fact, unlettered peasant as he was, he knew
little of the history of the last few years. He was aware, indeed,
of the existence of Ivan, but he had no suspicion whatever of the
good faith of his companions towards the Tsar; all of which became,
moreover, so apparent to his fellow Streltsi, that they soon learned
to look indulgently upon "simple Boris," as he was called, as one who
was too much a fool to be a dangerous spy. Hence, though never openly
airing their views before their latest recruit, the young officers of
the regiment gradually began to disregard the presence of Boris, and
to indulge in hints and innuendoes referring to the matter which they
had at heart, even though Boris was in the room and sharing in the
conversation.

Now Boris, as is the case with many others, was by no means such a
fool as he looked. He heard references to matters which he did not
understand, and which he knew he was not intended to understand.
He observed frequently that parties of officers seated dining at
the eating-houses frequented by the regiment would glance at him as
he entered the room and moderate their loud tones to a whisper. He
overheard such sentences as--"The priests count for much, and they are
with us!" or again, "Who is to persuade the Grand Duke that his brother
is a mere usurper?" And once Boris thought he caught the Tsar's name,
as he entered the room, received with groans, and striding to the table
with flushed face, asked whose name the company had received with these
manifestations of dislike; whereupon the Streltsi officers had laughed
aloud, and replied that they had spoken of a dog which had stolen a
bone that didn't belong to it.

The simple-minded Boris laughed also, and said, "What dog?"

Whereat the company roared with laughter, and the major replied with
streaming eyes,--

"Oh, a big dog I saw up at the Kremlin, that found a little dog with
a nice bone, and bow-wowed at him till the little dog thought he had
better let it go with a good grace. We all thought this so mean of the
big dog that we hooted him and drank his health backwards!"

Afterwards Boris recalled this and other curious sayings of his
companions, and revolved them in his mind as he lay at the Tsar's door
at night.



CHAPTER IX.
ONE SWORD AGAINST FIVE.


The result of Boris's reflections was that he became suspicious and
unhappy. He felt that his position was a delicate and difficult one,
and that it would be impossible for him to maintain it under present
conditions. Putting two and two together, he had concluded that there
was something existing in the minds of his brother officers to which
he was no party, and which he feared--though he hesitated to believe
it--might be treason against his beloved master. If this should prove
to be the case, he reflected, what course ought he to pursue? Should
he inform the Tsar, and thus be the means of terrible trouble to the
regiment of which he was a member, or allow matters to take their
course in the hope that either his suspicions would prove unfounded, or
that his companions might shortly see the iniquity of their ways, and
return to full loyalty, as behoved true officers of the Tsar? After
all, it was merely a suspicion; all that talk about big dogs and little
dogs might be the purest nonsense. What right had he to take serious
action upon so feeble a suspicion? Boris finally decided that he would
do nothing rash and ill-considered; for the generous Tsar would be the
first to laugh at him for jumping at ill-based conclusions, and Boris
was very sensitive to derision, especially at Peter's mouth.

Very soon after the discussion on canine iniquity recorded above, Boris
had the decision as to his duty in these trying circumstances taken
out of his hands by the workings of destiny. Sitting over his dinner
at the restaurant patronized by the officers of the Streltsi, he found
himself listening in spite of himself to the conversation of a group
of his companions dining at a table close to his own. The vodka had
flowed pretty freely, it appeared, and tongues were growing looser and
slipping the leash which restraint and discretion usually put upon
them in the presence of Boris. The major, Platonof, was the noisiest
speaker--he of the dog story; and Boris several times recognized his
somewhat strident voice raised above that of his fellows, who, however,
generally hushed him down before his words became distinctly audible.
Once Boris overheard his own name spoken by one of the younger
officers, whereupon the major said aloud,--

"What! simple Boris--our Bear-hunter? Why, he's a capital fellow is our
Boris--he's one of us--we needn't be afraid of Boris.--Need we, Boris?"
he continued, looking tipsily over his shoulder at the hunter. "You'll
fight for the lord of Russia, won't you, Boris, in case of need?"

"I'll fight for the Tsar with my last drop of blood, if that's what you
mean," said Boris, flushing.

"Say the Tsar that should be--the friend of the church and of the
priests--in fact, the lord of Russia!" continued Platonof.

"Certainly the lord of Russia," said Boris, "but why the Tsar that
'should be'?"

"Because," hiccoughed the major solemnly, "while Peter remains upon the
throne, the lord of Russia reigns only in our hearts. When the Streltsi
have ousted the big dog from the little dog's kennel--Peter being the
big dog--and given the little dog back his bone--that's Ivan--then--"

Platonof never finished that sentence. Boris had sprung to his feet,
and drawing his sword, dashed from the major's hand the tumbler which
he tipsily waved before his face as he spoke these significant words.
The vodka which the glass contained bespattered half the company as
they, too, rose excitedly to their feet.

"Traitors!" cried Boris, "so this is the meaning of your whisperings
and secrecy; and but for yonder drunken fool I might have remained in
ignorance of your treachery. Out with your swords and defend yourselves
if you are men. I am on Peter's side!"

The party consisted of the major and four others. All drew their
swords, including Platonof, who was somewhat unsteady, though
partly sobered by the turn events had taken. The rest were pale and
determined, for they realized the fact that the tipsy major had plunged
them into a serious dilemma. Either they must kill this favourite of
the Tsar, and incur Peter's wrath on that account, or else he must
be allowed to escape alive, but with the certainty that all he had
heard would be repeated for Peter's private benefit. And then--well,
the young Tsar's character was already sufficiently understood by his
subjects to leave no doubt in the minds of these Streltsi officers that
he would make a terrible example of them. Under the circumstances there
was practically no choice for them: it was Boris's life or theirs;
Boris must not leave the room alive.

One of the younger officers sprang to the door and locked it, placing
the key in his pocket. Meanwhile Boris had crossed swords with
Platonof, but finding that the major was too unsteady to make a fight
of it, he pushed him out of the way. Platonof tumbled over the table,
dragging the glasses and bottles with him. This was fortunate for
Boris, for it placed the table between himself and his adversaries, and
prevented overcrowding.

Then the four men fiercely attacked the one, hacking savagely but
unscientifically at him, each retreating as he thrust back. Boris had
the advantage of a long reach, and before many blows had been exchanged
he had put one of his assailants _hors de combat_ with a straight
thrust which penetrated his sword-arm. Boris knew, as yet, little
swordsmanship, but he had a good natural idea of thrusting straight
and quickly, acquired in his bear-hunting days. He had, besides, the
advantages of great strength and agility, in both of which qualities
he far excelled any of the five men opposed to him, of whom but three
were now left to carry on the battle. These three now separated, one
presently advancing from either side, while the third endeavoured
to get behind him in order to take him in the rear. Boris backed
towards the wall, hoping to frustrate his intention, while the others
pressed him hard in the endeavour to entice him to follow one of them
up. But Boris, waiting until his third assailant was well behind him,
suddenly swept round with so terrible a backhander that the unfortunate
officer's arm was cut through and half of his body besides. The man
dropped where he stood and never moved again.

Then Boris made so savage an attack upon his two remaining opponents
that they fled, and were pursued by him twice round the room, fighting
as they ran, until Boris, tripping over the sleeping major, fell
among the bottles and glasses. During the moment or two which expired
before the redoubtable bear-hunter could recover his footing, the two
fugitive heroes succeeded in opening the door and escaping, but not
before Boris, seizing a heavy wooden stool from the floor, hurled it
after them with so true an aim that it struck the hindmost between the
shoulders, sending him head first downstairs, to the great injury of
his front teeth and the bridge of his nose.

Then Boris endeavoured to arouse Platonof, to bid him see to his
wounded friends, but found this impossible. Moreover, he discovered
on looking up that the young officer first wounded had taken the
opportunity, during Boris's preoccupation with the tipsy major, to
escape through the open door. As for the fifth man, Boris soon found
that he would need no help from the major or any one else. He therefore
administered a final kick to the snoring form of Platonof, and quitted
the apartment which had witnessed so exciting a struggle for life.

Then only did Boris discover that he had not come through the fierce
fight scathless. His hand was bleeding from a gash over the knuckles,
and a pain just above the knee, and a rent in his kaftan, plainly
indicated that he had received a second wound more or less severe. He
was able to walk home, however, to the palace in the Kremlin, and to
attend to his duties about the person of the Tsar. But there the keen
glance of Peter detected at once the cut over the fingers, and this
discovery was instantly followed by a demand for an explanation.

Boris had firmly resolved that even at the Tsar's bidding he would
never reveal the names of his assailants, or say more than was
absolutely necessary as to the treasonable words which he had
overheard. When therefore the Tsar inquired what was the matter with
his hand, Boris blushed and stammered, and said that he had hurt it.

"That much I see already," said Peter. "I see also that this is a sword
cut, and that you have a rent in your kaftan. You have been fighting,
my Bear-eater, but not with a bear this time, nor yet with a wolf,
except it be a human one. Come, who is it? Don't be afraid, man--are we
not sworn brothers?"

"It is true, your Majesty, I have fought," said poor Boris, and stopped.

"And pray with whom," Peter insisted, "and with what results? Come,
Boris, this is interesting, and you shall tell me all about it ere we
sleep to-night. I desire it. Have you killed a man? Speak up; I shall
not mind if the cause is good."

"I have killed a man, your Majesty," Boris stammered, "and the cause is
good. The man was an officer; he is dead, and therefore I may tell his
name--Zouboff, the Streltsi Captain, of my regiment."

"Oho! Zouboff killed--and the cause good!" said the Tsar, looking
grave. "And the others of his company--Platonof, Katkoff, Zaitzoff,
Shurin--what of them? Those five are never apart. Fear nothing, tell
me all. I have watched them, and guessed their disaffection."

Boris was thunderstruck at the Tsar's knowledge, but he was not
startled into committing himself.

"There were others, your Majesty, who took his part; but I entreat you
not to bid me name them, nor to insist upon the cause of our quarrel.
It was but certain drunken nonsense to which I objected. I entreat your
Majesty to press me no further."

Peter strode up and down the apartment looking his blackest. For a
moment or two it seemed as though the storm would burst; then his eye
fell once more upon wounded Boris, and his brow cleared.

"And the rest," he asked kindly, "are they wounded too?"

"Some are wounded; one was too drunk to fight," Boris replied, his
cheek flushing with martial ardour as he recalled the circumstances of
the late encounter.

"Ho, ho!" laughed the Tsar; "would I had been there to see, my valiant
Bear-eater. Now I will tell you what happened before the fight, and you
shall narrate to me, without mentioning names, how the fight itself was
conducted; that is a fair compromise. First, then, one of them--perhaps
Zouboff, who is dead, or drunken Platonof, who deserves to be--made a
remark about one Peter Alexeyevitch Romanof which our Boris disapproved
of--no matter what he said. Then up strode Boris. 'Sir,' he said, 'you
are a liar!' or words to that effect, perhaps striking the speaker with
his hand or with the back of his sword. Then out flew all the swords,
five traitor swords against one honest and loyal one, and then--well,
then comes your part of the story; so put off that melancholy
expression and speak up. I love to hear of a good fight."

Boris laughed in spite of himself, for the Tsar's acuteness delighted
him and comforted him also; for, he reflected, his puny enemies could
surely never triumph over this mighty, all-seeing, all-knowing young
demi-god, his master. Therefore Boris made no further difficulty about
the matter, but did as Peter bade him, and told the story of his fight
in detail, naming no names.

Peter heard the tale with alternate rage and delight.

"Very good, my Bear-hunter," he said, when the recital was ended;
"excellently good. You have done well, and for reward I shall take no
notice of the individuals concerned. But for your personal intercession
they should have hung in chains to-morrow morning from the four corners
of their own barracks. I know their names, though you have not
mentioned them. Now, good-night, Captain Bear-Eater--you are captain
from to-morrow's date--and thank you."

Boris threw himself at the Tsar's feet in gratitude for the magnanimity
with which he had consented to forego his just wrath against these
traitors--he could have kissed those feet in his joy and in the
intensity of his relief--for he felt that though he would have no
compunction in slaying these men in fair fight, he could never have
forgiven himself had he as informer been the means of bringing them to
a disgraceful end upon the gibbet.

"But grant me one more favour, your Majesty," he pleaded. "I will not
ask another until I shall have earned the right to do so; but grant me
this one I entreat you: send our regiment far away from Moscow; send it
to any distant garrison town, but do not let it remain here."

"And why not, my Bear-eater?" asked the Tsar, amused at the earnestness
of the appeal.

"Your Majesty knows why not," said Boris; "when a bough is rotten who
would lean upon it?"

"When a bough is rotten," repeated the Tsar, looking grave, "it is best
cut down and burned. But I will think upon your request--perhaps you
are right--though, my Bear-eater, you too would go with them in that
case, which would be regrettable. Meanwhile you take care of your own
skin, for the Streltsi officers hold together. Keep that good sword
loose when you approach the dark corners of the city. I will think of
what you have said. Good-night!"



CHAPTER X.
A NIGHT AMBUSH.


Contrary to his expectations, Boris found that his position in the
regiment after the _fracas_ described in the foregoing chapter was
in no respect more unpleasant than it had been before; indeed, it
appeared to him that his fellow-officers now treated him with greater
consideration. No reference whatever was made to the death of Zouboff,
or indeed to any circumstance in connection with the fight at the
restaurant. In those days the taking of life was little thought of,
and if an officer chose to brawl with others of his regiment, and lose
his life in the struggle, that was considered his own look-out, and
so much the worse for him. As for punishing those at whose hands he
met his death, no one thought of such a thing. Hence matters in the
regiment remained very much as they were before; the officers taking
care, however, to keep a discreet tongue in the presence of Boris, and
to maintain outwardly an appearance of respect for that dangerously
formidable young man. As for his late opponents, these glared at him
whenever they met on parade or elsewhere, and exchanged no word with
their late antagonist; but Boris was not anxious to enter into friendly
intercourse with men whom he had, as he considered, actually convicted
of treason to the Tsar, and he was glad enough of their coldness
towards him. Platonof, having no recollection of the circumstances of
that fatal afternoon, was not without a feeling of gratified surprise,
when informed of his indiscretion and its results, that he had been
permitted to depart alive and in peace, and was inclined to make
friendly advances towards the magnanimous young man who had neither dug
him between the ribs with a sword thrust--as he undoubtedly might have
done--nor delivered him alive and guilty into the hands of an enraged
Tsar. But Boris showed no disposition to respond to his advances, and
treated him with the same disregard which he showed towards the rest of
the party of avowed traitors to his master.

Meanwhile the Tsar had not as yet acceded to the urgent request of
Boris that the regiment might be sent out of the capital. Peter was
unwilling to make any concession to a feeling of unworthy anxiety for
his personal safety; but, at the same time, he now only awaited an
opportunity to banish the regiment upon some plausible pretext, for
reflection had quite convinced him that the presence of disaffected
Streltsi in Moscow was a needless standing danger to the peace of the
realm.

The opportunity he sought came in the course of a few months. It became
necessary to send troops into the south of Russia in preparation for
the contemplated siege of Azof, a fortress of the Mohammedans, and
one of the last still held in the country by the once all-conquering
Mussulman hosts. The Streltsi of Boris's regiment were ordered to
proceed to the Ukraine, where they were to hold themselves at the
disposal of the Cossack chieftain or hetman Mazeppa, who had begged of
the Tsar some support in order to enable him to maintain and strengthen
his lately-acquired position at the head of the warlike tribes he had
been called to govern. Peter at all times showed the most loyal regard
for this Mazeppa, who was destined in after years to ill repay him for
his generosity; and it was in his desire to accede to the Cossacks
request for temporary assistance, and at the same time to push on his
preparations for the intended Azof campaign, that the Tsar now found
an excellent opportunity for ridding Moscow of a dangerous element by
despatching this disaffected body of men far away from the seat of
government and out of the reach of any ill-advised interference on
their part.

The order for their departure--exile, as they termed it--was received
with a storm of rage and indignation by all ranks in the regiment. The
men had never before been called upon to leave Moscow for prolonged
service, though many others of the Streltsi regiments had not been
so fortunate. Many of them were married men with large families, and
were engaged in various profitable trades and professions, without the
exercise of which, they declared, they would be unable to support those
dependent upon them. Besides this, each man and officer had a thousand
ties and interests which bound him to the capital, and would bear it
ill to have these suddenly torn away and himself cast adrift into
unknown places and among strange people, and submitted to dangers and
discomforts to which he had not been trained, and which he feared to
encounter.

All sorts of reasons for the Tsar's sudden _ookaz_, or edict, were
suggested and considered by men and officers. Had he discovered
the disaffection of the regiment? If so, how? The affair of Boris
and Platonof and his party had not become generally known, at the
urgent request of Platonof, who was naturally anxious that his tipsy
indiscretion should not be spoken of. Those who were acquainted with
the details of the affair, however, had no doubt whatever of the cause
which had brought the displeasure of the Tsar upon the regiment:
Boris had revealed the whole story. But in that case why had the
Tsar's vengeance not been--as the vengeance of Peter was wont to
be--immediate and terrible? Why, in other words, were not Platonof and
his three friends dangling aloft far above the heads of the crowd, upon
improvised gibbets, as a warning to the treasonable and the conspiring?
Probably, these men concluded, because the Tsar was somewhat afraid of
the Streltsi, and was therefore unwilling to risk giving provocation
which might lead to a sudden rising.

Anyhow, it was not the fault of Boris that worse things had not
happened than this sufficiently annoying ookaz from the Tsar; and if
opportunity arose during the three days remaining to the regiment
in Moscow, Boris should be made to regret his position as spy and
tale-bearer-in-ordinary to the Tsar. So vowed Platonof and his friends,
and with them a few other choice spirits who were acquainted with
the state of affairs, and were not averse to a little night work at
street corners, provided the dangerous element was eliminated as far as
possible!

"Boris, my trusty one, eater of bears and render of wolves," said the
Tsar, on the second evening after the issue of the ookaz dismissing the
Streltsi from Moscow, "I feel inclined for an evening out. What say you
to a visit to Lefort and a taste of his French wine, and perhaps a game
or two at cards, to-night? If Lefort is asleep, so much the better;
we'll pull him out of bed, and bid him send for Gordon and the rest,
and we can order supper while he's dressing."

Lefort, one of Peter's prime favourites, as he well deserved to be
when his services to Russia and the Tsar are taken into consideration,
was the third of the trio selected by the monarch as his constant
companions and advisers, the remaining members of this trinity of
favour being Menshikoff and Patrick Gordon, once a Scotsman, and
related to some of the best and oldest Scottish families, now a
naturalized Russian and the ablest of Peter's generals, as well as his
most faithful and honoured servant. Menshikoff had not as yet come into
prominence; but Gordon and Lefort--the latter a Russianized foreigner
as Gordon was--were already the chosen advisers and friends of the
Tsar, both men after his own heart--capable, brave, hard workers, ready
at an instant's notice either to drink and fool with their master, to
command his armies or direct his fleets, to wrestle with him and engage
in any kind of athletic competition, to build boats with him, to make
love with him, or, in a word, share with the Tsar in any and every
occupation or duty which Peter might call upon them to perform.

It was no uncommon event for the young monarch to suddenly descend thus
upon his friends at any hour of the day or night, and General (Patrick)
Gordon has left it on record that occasionally these visits were made
at the dinner-hour, upon short notice, and sometimes with a retinue of
a hundred companions. Thus it was necessary for the friends of the Tsar
to keep in the house a constant stock of wine for the consumption of
Peter and his following, which might consist of one or two persons, or,
as I have said, of a hundred men.

"We will go incognito," Peter added. "Muffle yourself in this cloak,
and I will do the same; it is better not to be seen. I love to go among
my people in the streets and hear what they say about me."

Nothing loath, Boris took the Tsar's spare cloak, which was much too
big for him in spite of his seventy odd inches of bone and muscle,
and followed his master from the Kremlin. Through the streets of the
old city went the tall pair, pausing here and there in the darker
corners in order to listen to the conversation of the townsfolk as they
passed. This was a favourite pastime of Peter's, who loved to gather at
first-hand the opinions and wishes of his poorer subjects, with whom he
was ever the popular hero as well as the beloved sovereign, and from
whose lips there was therefore little risk of hearing anything about
himself which would sound unpleasant in his ears. On this occasion he
heard little of interest. A few remarks were made about the impending
departure of the Streltsi, which the people appeared to regret but
little. Presently, however, two young Streltsi officers came walking
down the street talking confidentially. Peter and Boris withdrew deeper
into the shadow and listened.

"Consequently," said one, "there's no doubt whatever about it--we have
to thank him and him only for the ookaz."

"What! do you suppose he told the Tsar about what that fool Platonof
said, and all that?" said the second officer, who apparently had just
been informed by his companion of the encounter between Boris and his
assailants.

"Undoubtedly he did, confound him!" said the first; "and that's why we
are all off the day after to-morrow."

"Well, why don't we get hold of the spying rascal and"--the officer
made a gesture as of a knife at his throat. The other laughed.

"That's just what's going on now, I hope," he said; "for Zaitzoff and
a few others have sworn to have him before we go. They watched all
last night; and to-night they are keeping guard at the corner of the
Uspensky, where he goes for his supper. I hope they kill him--hateful
spy!"

Peter almost danced with delight as the footsteps of the men died away
in the distance. "Bear-eater, my son, we are in luck!" he whispered
excitedly. "Come along quickly. Got your sword?"

Boris rattled his weapon for answer, but he looked grave and
preoccupied. "Go home, your Majesty, I entreat you," he said; "don't
run into needless danger. I can settle accounts with these men alone."

For a moment the Tsar looked as black as thunder. "_What!_" he cried;
"go home, and miss the play? Don't be a fool, man. Am I to be afraid
of my own officers? No, my Bear-eater. You may cut and run from an old
bear if you like, but not I from a Streletz, or any number of Streltsi.
Come on!" The Tsar ended with one of his loud laughs, and dragged after
him poor Boris, whose cheek was red by reason of Peter's allusion to
his escapade with the bear.

Through the wretchedly lighted streets they sped until they reached the
Uspensky, where, in the distance, they soon espied a group of figures
standing at the corner as though awaiting an arrival.

The two tall men, shrouded in their mantles as they were, approached
close up to the group of officers before they were recognized.

"It's the Tsar!" some one whispered at length. "Round the corner all,
and away--quick!"

Off went the party, scudding down the road like a pack of frightened
sheep; but the Tsar's loud voice of authority soon recalled them. They
crept back in a huddled, scared group.

"Good evening, Zaitzoff," said Peter. "How are you, Shurin? What,
Ulanof, is that you? Good evening, gentlemen all. You are waiting for
the pleasure of seeing my friend Boris Ivanitch, I believe. Well, here
he is."

No one spoke a word. The Tsar laughed. "Is it not so? Zaitzoff, speak!"

"It is true, your Majesty," said Zaitzoff at length. "We came to meet
the gentleman you name, with whom we have a quarrel."

"Oh, indeed!" said the Tsar, in affected surprise; "what, all of you?
Do you _all_ desire to quarrel with my friend? It is most flattering,
upon my word, gentlemen. And do you still wish to quarrel with Boris
Ivanitch, now he is here? Positively I was under the impression that I
observed you all racing down the road there, as though anxious to get
out of his way!"

"Our quarrel is a private one, your Majesty," said Ulanof; "and if your
Majesty will withdraw, we shall proceed with it."

"What!--withdraw? I, his second? No, my good Ulanof, that is
impossible; the quarrel must proceed. Boris Ivanitch is here to give
you every satisfaction, and I shall act as his second. Now then,
gentlemen, who is to lay on first? One would suppose that you had
contemplated a combined assault in the--ha! ha!--in the dark, were we
not acquainted with the strictly honourable traditions of the Streltsi
officers. Come, Zaitzoff, you seem to be the leader of the party;
you shall have the first opportunity of depriving the rest of their
prey.--Come, Boris, draw!"



CHAPTER XI.
A BATTLE AGAINST ODDS.


The experience of two months ago, when he had last been called upon
to defend his life against some of these very men, had not been lost
upon Boris. He had then realized that he was but a poor swordsman, and
that he was indebted more to his superior agility and strength than
to his skill for his safety on that occasion. True, his antagonists
had shown that their knowledge of the science was not greater than his
own; but nevertheless Boris had made a mental note of his incapacity,
and had registered at the same time a vow to make the science of the
sword his principal study until he should have gained at least a fair
degree of proficiency. He had not failed to put this good resolution
into practice, and had assiduously worked at his fencing daily with
an exponent of the art, a German named Schmidt, under whose skilful
tuition, and with his natural aptitude for every kind of manly
exercise, Boris had quickly acquired no little skill in the use of his
somewhat clumsy but formidable Russian weapon.

At the first onset, the Tsar was surprised and delighted to observe
that Boris was more than a match for his opponent. Before the swords
had been crossed for two minutes, Zaitzoff was disabled and disarmed.

The Tsar bade him give up his sword and retire to the opposite wall,
where he might watch the fun with as much comfort as was possible with
a hole through his sword-arm and a deepish cut in the shoulder as well.
Then Ulanof came to take his place.

Ulanof was a big and heavy man, determined and very powerful, but
lacking skill. He made so furious an onslaught upon his antagonist,
cutting and slashing and thrusting at him with extreme rapidity though
quite without method, that for some moments Boris was fully occupied
in defending his own person without attempting to carry the fight into
the enemy's camp--in fact he actually lost ground, being surprised into
stepping backwards by the unexpectedly furious character of Ulanof's
attack upon him. But as soon as the Tsar whispered encouragingly,
"Steady, my Bear-eater!" Boris quickly recovered his position, and
pulling himself together delivered an equally furious but a more
scientific counter-attack upon Ulanof, whose exertions had already
deprived him of much breath.

Still fiercely battling, and contesting every inch of ground, Ulanof
was now driven backwards yard by yard until he stood at bay with his
back to the wall of the house opposite. To that wall Boris speedily
spitted him, his sword passing through Ulanof's body and into the
wooden side of the house, whence Boris with difficulty drew it forth.
As he did so, Ulanof fell with a gasp at his feet, and the officers'
list of the Streltsi regiment was shorter by one name.

"Bravo, bravo, my good Boris!" cried the Tsar; "it was well and
scientifically done, and after the German method, I perceive. We shall
see you sticking bears in the Prussian fashion on our next trip.--Now,
gentlemen, how many more of you? Four, is it not?--Now, what say you,
Boris, to taking them two at a time? This single process grows tedious.
I shall see fair play--is it agreed?"

"With all my heart, your Majesty, if you desire it," said Boris, eying
his still untried foes as though to estimate his chances against them,
two swords to one.

After a short whispered consultation, these officers, however, stepped
forward and informed the Tsar that their honour was satisfied--there
was no need for the fight to continue.

But the Tsar would not hear of it. The matter rested with Boris
Ivanitch, he declared; and, if Boris so desired it, every one of them
should meet him until _his_ honour had obtained ample satisfaction.
"As for _your_ honour, gentlemen, you left it at home when you sallied
forth this evening like common midnight assassins to fall upon him
unawares and murder him. No, officers of the Streltsi, you are here to
fight, and fight you shall. If any man shirks, I too have a sword, and
with my sword I shall write 'coward' on his body for all men to see!"

Then the two, Katkoff and Shurin, fell upon the one, and the fight
recommenced; and a good fight it was. Katkoff was a good swordsman,
Shurin was strong and active, and the battle was at first sight
unequal. The Tsar would not suffer the pair to separate. If either
attempted to edge to one side and take Boris in the flank, the Tsar
angrily bade him return to line. The battle was to be fought fair,
this much was plainly evident; it behoved Shurin and his partner,
therefore, to be careful and watch, and to take the first advantage
that offered.

Boris fought like a lion, or like one of his own bears at bay. In
vain Katkoff slashed and Shurin thrust; his sword was always there to
intercept, and even to aim an answering blow before the pair were able
to repeat the attack. Once a thrust from Shurin touched his cheek and
made the blood spirt. Shurin cheered, and redoubled his exertions, well
backed up by Katkoff. Then Boris, like an enraged tiger, fell upon the
pair so fiercely, raining his blows upon them like hailstones in June,
that they gave ground both together. Pursuing his advantage quickly
Boris drove them round by the wall, the two whole men and the wounded
one moving out of their way as they went, Peter close at their heels
to see fair play. One tripped over dead Ulanof and nearly fell, but
recovered himself and fought on. Then Boris in his turn tripped and
fell on his knee. In an instant the two were upon him, and Shurin's
thrust pierced through his left arm, while he just saved his head from
the downward blow of Katkoff's weapon. But before Shurin could withdraw
his sword, Boris aimed a cut at the arm that held it with such terrible
force that it was severed at the wrist. Shurin caught at the kaftan
of Boris to pull him over; while Katkoff, seeing that now, if ever,
he must make his effort and end this struggle, rained his blows from
above. Then Boris, in guarding his shoulder, nevertheless contrived at
the same time to administer to Shurin a backhander which laid him flat
beside Ulanof, and rising from his kneeling position he so furiously
fell upon Katkoff that in a moment the latter was disarmed, his sword
flying through the air with a whistle, and alighting point-down upon
the low wooden roof of an adjoining house, where it stuck, vibrating
with the force of its flight.

[Illustration: "In an instant the two were upon him."
_Page 124._ ]

But this was Boris's final effort--tired nature could do no more. He
turned, as though to return to Peter's side, but slipped and fell
fainting into the Tsar's strong embrace.

Peter looked darkly around at the remains of the party which had been
so roughly handled by Boris. "Go!" he said, "get you gone, you that can
walk. Leave your swords. You shall hear of me to-morrow. Meanwhile, you
that have escaped, be thankful that I am not tempted myself to finish
what Boris Ivanitch has left undone. I should know well how to treat
midnight assassins. Leave your swords, I say. Now go!"

As the party of discomfited warriors limped and slunk away in the
darkness, leaving Shurin and Ulanof behind them, the Tsar tenderly
picked up the still unconscious Boris in his great arms, and carried
him like a child to the nearest house. Thither he sent his own doctor,
a Scotsman of much skill, under whose care Boris very quickly came
round, and, his arm being carefully bandaged and treated, he was able
to return on foot to the palace, to the delight of his master.

But though Boris was able to make his own way home, he was not
destined to come through this matter quite so easily as he had at
first believed. His wound proved somewhat obstinate, and the poor
hunter tossed for many days upon his plain camp-bed, racked with pain
and fever, during which time he longed incessantly for the fresh air,
and the forest, and the delights of his old open-air life. All that
could be done to relieve his pain and hasten his recovery was done by
Macintyre, the Tsar's own doctor, who tended him assiduously, having
taken a great liking to this fine specimen of a Russian peasant.

The Tsar himself frequently stole an hour from his various pressing
duties in order to sit by his favourite servant and chat over what had
been and what was yet to be--fighting over again their battles with
bear and wolf, which, to the joy of Boris, Peter solemnly promised
should be repeated at the earliest opportunity; and discussing many
projects at that time in the brain of the Tsar--such as the development
of a standing army, which idea was already beginning to take practical
form; the organization of a navy; the building of a capital which
should be a seaport; the necessity for recommencing that which Ivan
the Terrible had so nearly accomplished, but in which that monarch had
eventually failed--namely, the wresting from their lieges of those
ports in the Baltic which were absolutely necessary for the development
of the empire; and, lastly, Eastern conquest--overland trade with
India, and many other dazzling projects upon which the heart of Peter
was set.

From the Tsar, also, Boris learned that the banishment of the
Streltsi regiment to which the wounded hunter was attached was now an
accomplished fact. After the disgraceful conduct of the officers at
the corner of the Uspensky, Peter had determined that the regiment
should not remain another hour in the capital, but be marched out of
it as early as possible on the following morning. The Tsar therefore
himself attended the early parade of the regiment, when he read aloud
a revised list of officers, in which the names of the six midnight
assailants of Boris had no place. In their stead were substituted those
of six privates, men who had shown aptitude for military service, and
whose good conduct had entitled them to recognition. Then Peter read
the names of six officers who, he said, in consequence of conduct
which disqualified them for ever from associating with men of their
own position in the service, were degraded to the ranks. These men
were directed to step out in order to be deprived of their insignia
of officer's rank, when Peter himself tore from their shoulders the
epaulets of their order. It was observed that but four men appeared
instead of six, and that one of these wore his arm in a sling, while
another limped as he walked.

After this ceremony, the Tsar bade the commanding officer pass the
regiment in review, when Peter himself uttered several words of
command; finally in stentorian tones giving the order,--

"Gentlemen of the Streltsi, form in marching order! Right about face!
Quick march! to the Ukraine!"

As the Tsar uttered these words, the consternation and surprise of the
regiment, men and officers, was indescribable. None had expected this
sudden change of date; no one was ready; final arrangements for the
winding up or transfer of business had been left by many to the last
moment, and were still in abeyance; farewells to families and lovers
were still unsaid; many of the men were but half dressed, their long
kaftans serving to conceal the shortcomings of the unseen portion
of their costume. But none dared disobey the personal ookaz of the
masterful young giant whose stern lips had uttered it.

Sobbing and whining the regiment marched slowly through the streets
of Moscow, followed by troops of women and children, who sobbed and
whined also. The officers strode along looking pale and gloomy, many
with tears streaming down their faces. The word had soon passed from
street to street, and from house to house, and as the woful procession
approached the gates of the city the ranks of the weeping crowd of
friends and relatives became largely increased, until, when the
regiment had reached the open country, the colonel, who doubtless
had matters of his own to attend to, called a halt in order that the
unfortunate men might at least take a last farewell of their wives and
families ere they marched out into an exile the duration of which none
could foretell.

Then ensued a remarkable scene. Most of the men were married, and most
of the wives and a great host of children of all ages had heard the
news of the sudden departure of their lords, and had hastened after
them to get a last glimpse of them, and if possible a last word. No
sooner had the ranks obeyed the order to halt, than the lines were
instantly invaded by swarms of sobbing women and children, each
seeking her own, and calling his name aloud. The confusion became
indescribable, the din deafening. Frantic women, unable to find their
husbands or lovers, rushed shrieking from line to line, imploring
sergeants and soldiers to tell them where to seek their lords. Others,
having found their belongings, clung about their necks, while the
children clasped the knees of their fathers and cried aloud. For a
full hour the scene of woe and noise was prolonged, and then at last
the word was given to resume the march, the women and children being
forbidden to follow further. Many young wives and girls, however,
refused to obey the colonel's command, and followed or accompanied the
troops for many miles, wailing and crying and shouting last words of
love and farewell to their friends in the ranks.

Thus did Peter rid himself, in a characteristic manner, of a regiment
which he knew to be rotten at the core. And thus it happened that Boris
remained behind while the rest went into exile.



CHAPTER XII.
A PERILOUS SLIDE.


To Boris the news that the Streltsi had gone away without him was the
best and most acceptable news in the world. To his simple, honest mind
the atmosphere of disloyalty and disaffection in which he had been
forced to live, as well as the unrest and actual physical danger which
were the unavoidable consequence of the unpopularity in which he was
held by his fellows, as one outside their own circle and therefore
dangerous--all this was intolerable. Boris was not a quarrelsome man,
yet he had been forced into several fights already; and if he had
proceeded to the Ukraine with the rest he would undoubtedly have been
drawn into many other quarrels as soon as the repressive influence
of the Tsar's presence had ceased to work upon the minds of his
comrades. The departure of the Streltsi, therefore, acted like a tonic
upon his system, and his recovery was speedy from this day onwards.
Within a week after the scene on the parade-ground Boris was up and
about attending once more upon his master, the Tsar, and learning
with astonishment the remarkable phases and contrasts of Peter's
character--a character which must ever puzzle students and analysts in
the inconsistencies and contradictions which it revealed from day to
day.

Peter was particularly busy just at this time enrolling soldiers for
certain new regiments of Guards which he designed should take the place
of the erratic Streltsi. Lefort, of whom mention has already been made,
was most energetic in this work, and proved himself a most successful
recruiting officer. Foreigners--Englishmen, Germans, and others--were
engaged as far as possible to officer these new troops; but Boris, to
his great joy, was permitted to exchange from his Streltsi regiment,
which he hated, into one of the newly-organized corps.

The Tsar was radiant and happy over the congenial work upon which he
was engaged, and worked night and day in order to accomplish the task
he had set before himself. Yet, in spite of his activity and energy,
and of the amazing amount of work he managed to get through during the
day, this remarkable young monarch found time for boisterous carousals
almost every evening. At these Boris was expected to attend the Tsar,
and did so; but he was never a lover of indoor amusements, and did not
take to card-playing and heavy drinking with the zeal infused into the
pursuit of such joys by his betters, including Peter himself.

At the court, too, Boris was out of his element. The big bear-hunter
was not used to the society of ladies; and though the manners of
Peter's court were far from being characterized by all that we in
our day understand when we speak of refinement and breeding, yet the
measure of their civilization was naturally far beyond that reached by
the good folks at Dubinka, or even at Archangel.

The ladies of the court, including the empress, were one and all
attracted by the handsome young hunter, now officer, and some made no
secret of their admiration. The empress was kind and condescending,
and occasionally preached Boris a little sermon on the iniquity of
making friends of foreigners, warning him to beware of familiarity with
those alien officers who had lately been imported into Russia. These
men, the Tsaritsa declared, would be the ruin--they and the foreign
institutions and vices which they foreshadowed--of holy Russia and her
exclusiveness. The church, she said, and all her dignitaries looked
with horror upon the many un-Russian innovations which were the ruling
spirit of the day.

Boris thought that the empress ought to know all about the church and
her opinions, if anybody did, for the palace, or her own portion of it,
was always full of priests and confessors; but he thought it a curious
circumstance, nevertheless, that the wife should speak thus of the work
upon which the husband was engaged. To his frank and simple mind it
appeared unnatural and wrong that the very person in all the world who
should have been the first to encourage and help the Tsar in his work
of reformation and progress should have neglected no opportunity of
hindering and crying it down.

In short, the ladies of the court had for Boris but little attraction;
he had not been used to the society of ladies, and did not understand
them and their mysterious ways. He was glad when Peter avoided his
wife's portion of the palace for days together; and though he did not
particularly enjoy the carouses with Lefort and Gordon, and other
kindred spirits of the Tsar, yet he preferred these noisy and rowdy
gatherings to the society of the ladies. In a word, Boris was not a
lady's man, although there were many fair damsels at court and out of
it who would fain it had been otherwise.

But Boris had a little adventure early in this first winter in Moscow
which laid the foundation of a great and momentous friendship, the
greatest and most important of any formed by him throughout his life,
even though we include that which united him with his beloved Tsar. The
circumstances were romantic, and may be given with propriety in this
place.

It has been mentioned that many foreigners were at this time being
attracted into Russia by the liberal offers made to them of lucrative
employment in the service of the Tsar. Among the officers thus
engaged by Peter to train and command his newly-levied troops of the
Guard was a certain Englishman of the name of Drury, who, with his
wife and little daughter aged twelve, had but lately arrived in the
great northern city. Boris had seen and made the acquaintance of the
English officer at Peter's palace, and had moreover met the wife and
child at the court of the Tsaritsa, where he had admired the little,
bright-eyed, flaxen-haired English maiden, and had even played ball
with her, and taught her the use of the Russian swing in the courtyard.

Nancy Drury, as she was called, possessed all the love for outdoor
amusements and exercise which is the heritage of the British race; and,
consequently, no sooner did the early northern winter bring enough
frost to cover the narrow Moscow river with a thin layer of ice, than
Miss Nancy determined to make the most of the advantages of living "up
north," by enjoying an hour's sliding at the very first opportunity.
Thus, on the second day after the appearance of the ice, though no
Russian would have thought of stepping upon it for at least another
week, the child walked fearlessly out to the centre of the stream and
commenced her sliding.

The ice was smooth and very elastic, and Nancy found the sliding
excellent; but, as might have been expected, at the third or fourth
slide the ice gave way beneath even her light feet, and in went Nancy,
sprawling forwards as her footing played her false, and thus breaking
up a large hole for herself to splash into. Luckily Nancy was a brave
child, and did not struggle and choke and go straight to the bottom, or
under the ice. She supported herself as best she could upon the sound
ice which surrounded the hole she had made, and shouted for assistance.

The streets were full of people; but that circumstance was of little
comfort to poor Nancy, had she known it. For if she had found herself
in this fix on ninety-nine out of a hundred occasions, she would have
received no doubt the deepest sympathy from those on shore, evidenced
by much weeping and wailing from the women, and running about and
shouting of conflicting instructions and advice on the part of the men;
but as for solid assistance, she would have gone to the bottom long
before the one man in a hundred or a thousand who could render it to
her had arrived upon the scene. Luckily again for Nancy, however, that
one man chanced to pass by on this occasion, in the shape of our brave
bear-hunter, and in the very nick of time.

Boris grasped the situation at a glance, though without as yet
recognizing the child. Kicking off his heavy Russian boots, he ran
nimbly over the intervening ice, which lay in broken, floating pieces
behind him as he crushed it beneath his feet at each quick step, and
reached the child in a twinkling, seizing her in his arms and floating
with her for a moment as he reflected upon the best way to get back.

During that moment Nancy recognized her preserver and clung to him,
shivering and crying a little, but with an assurance of safety in his
strong arms which she did her best to express by burying her face in
his breast and half drowning him with her clinging arms about his neck.

A wonderfully tender spirit fell over the rough hunter as he felt the
confiding hugs of this little English girl, and he realized that she
must be saved at all hazards. But it was exceedingly difficult to swim
with her in his arms, as those who have tried it will know, especially
as his course was impeded by floating ice of sufficient strength and
thickness to offer an awkward obstacle to a burdened swimmer. Boris
was aware that little Nancy had picked up but little Russian as yet;
nevertheless he succeeded in conveying to her that she must not clasp
his neck so tightly, or both would presently go to the bottom; also
that he intended to help her to climb back upon the ice, but that he
would be near if it should break again and let her through. Then,
finding a sound edge which looked strong enough for his purpose, with
an effort he raised the child sufficiently high to slide her out upon
unbroken ice, where Nancy quickly regained her feet and ran lightly to
the shore. As for Boris, relieved of his burden, he easily swam to
shore, where he found his little friend awaiting him.

To the immense amusement of the onlookers, of whom there was a
considerable gathering, Nancy, having first with her little hand helped
him out of the water, sprang up into the arms of her big preserver
and covered his wet face with kisses. Then the tall hunter and his
little English friend walked off together, amid the admiring comments
of the crowd, who were unanimous in their opinion that the officer was
a _molodyets_, or, as a British schoolboy would call it, "a rare good
chap;" and that the little _Anglichanka_ was very sweet to look upon,
and wore very nice clothes.

From this day commenced a firm friendship between these two persons,
which strengthened and ripened from week to week and from month to
month. They were in some respects an oddly-assorted couple; and yet
there was much in common between them, as for instance the intense love
which both bore towards the open air and all that appertains to life
in the country. Nancy had lived, while still in her English home, far
away from the town; her sympathies were all for the fields, the woods,
birds, and rabbits, and wild fowl, and the sights and sounds of the
country.

Neither Drury nor his wife had the slightest objection to the great
friendship existing between their little daughter and this fine young
officer of the Tsar; as indeed why should they? On the contrary, they
were glad enough to intrust her to one who could be so thoroughly
trusted to take good care of her under any and every circumstance and
emergency which could arise, whether in the forest or in the streets
of the city. Consequently the two were often together; and Boris loved
nothing better than to set his little friend in a _kibitka_, or covered
sledge drawn by two horses, and drive out with her into the country,
far away beyond the smoke and din of Moscow.

There he would spend a few happy hours in teaching the child the art
of tracking and trapping hares, foxes, and larger game, an art in
which Nancy proved an apt pupil; while his skill in calling birds and
beasts to him proved a source of unfailing delight and amusement to
her. Concealed in a tiny conical hut made of fir boughs, and built
to represent as far as possible a snow-laden pine tree, the pair
would sit for an hour or two and watch the effects of Boris's skilful
imitation of the various voices of the forest. Many a time did Nancy
enjoy the excitement of hearing and even occasionally of seeing a wolf,
as he came inquisitively peering and listening close up to the hut,
wondering where in the world his talkative friend had hidden himself,
and evidently half beginning to fear that he had been the victim of
a hoax. On such occasions a loud report from Boris's old-fashioned
matchlock quickly assured the poor wolf that he had indeed been deluded
to his destruction, and that this hoax was the very last he should live
to be the victim of.

Rare, indeed, was the day when the hunter and his little English
friend returned to Moscow without something to show as the result of
their drive out into the forest. Whether it was a hare, or a brace
of tree-partridges, or the pretty red overcoat of a fox, or the gray
hide of a wolf--something was sure to accompany little Nancy when she
returned to her father's apartments; for Boris was a hunter whose skill
never failed.

Thus the winter passed and the summer came, and another winter, and
the Tsar was ever busy with his recruiting, and his drilling, and his
revellings, and his designing of ships and fleets. And Boris was busy
also with his duty and his pleasure--his duty with his regiment and
with his Tsar, and his chief pleasure in the company of the little
English girl who had found for herself a place so close to his heart.
And Boris was happy both in his pleasure and in his duties, as should
be the case with every right-minded person, and is, I trust, with every
reader of these lines.



CHAPTER XIII.
BORIS GOES ON THE WAR-PATH.


One day the Tsar asked Boris whether he would like to be one of the
electors of the College of Bacchus, and take part in the election of a
new president.

The College of Bacchus was one of the products of those all too
frequent uproarious moods of the Tsar, when he and his friends would
meet to drink and make a noise, to gamble, wrestle, play with the
_kegels_, or skittles, and, in short, pass a day or a night in those
festivities which Peter found necessary in order to work off some of
the superabundant energy with which nature had dowered him. The college
was, as its name implies, a mere drinking institution, wherein the
hardest drinker was king, or pope, or president; and the last president
of this society having lately died, it became necessary to elect a
successor.

When the Tsar proposed to Boris, however, that the latter should form
one of the electors, he doubtless offered the suggestion more by way
of banter than in sober seriousness; for none knew better than Peter
that such a thing as an election at the College of Bacchus was not at
all in Boris's line. It is distinctly to the credit of the many-sided
Tsar that he thought none the worse of his faithful hunter because
the latter had not proved so good a boon companion as others of his
favourites of the day. He was fully conscious of Boris's many excellent
qualities, and easily forgave him his shortcomings as a reveller in
consideration of his humble birth and upbringing, as well as of his
pre-eminence in other directions. Hence when Peter made the suggestion,
he was not offended, but only amused, when Boris said, with a grimace,
that he thought his Majesty must probably possess many subjects better
qualified than a poor bear-hunter for so exalted an office. Peter, with
a laugh, agreed that this might be so; but added that he was not so
certain that he could find any one better qualified than Boris to act
as judge or referee at the election, since it would be the duty of that
functionary to keep the peace and to restrain the ardour, if necessary,
of the electors, who would be likely to prove an awkward body to
manage, and would require both a strong hand and a cool head to keep in
order during the excitement of the election.

Since Peter appeared anxious that Boris should act in the capacity
last suggested--that of referee--the hunter did not refuse to comply
with his request. The experience was of service to him because it gave
him once for all so great a horror of the vice of drinking that he
never afterwards, to his dying day, took spirits of any kind excepting
on special occasions when he considered the stuff to be required
medicinally, and then in small quantities.

It was no wonder that a sober-minded man like Boris should have refused
to act as one of the electors, as my readers will agree when I explain
the function in use at the elections of the College of Bacchus. The
body of twelve electors were locked up together in a room which
contained a large table in the centre of which was a wine cask, upon
which one of them sat astride, representing Bacchus. On either side of
this emblematical figure were a stuffed bear and a live monkey.

The hour at which those chosen to elect the new president were locked
up was about seven in the evening, from which time until the following
morning, when the door was thrown open once more, each elector was
obliged to swallow at regular intervals a large glassful of vodka, a
spirit nearly, though not quite, so strong as whisky. He whose head
proved best able to support this trying ordeal was the chosen president
for the following year, or series of years.

The function to which Boris had been called was to see that each
elector was supplied with his proper allowance of vodka at the
stipulated times, and to prevent any quarrelling between them. The
hunter found that the office of judge and peacemaker was no sinecure,
and a thousand times during the night did poor Boris bitterly repent
his compliance with the Tsar's wishes in this matter, and long for
the arrival of morning to put an end to the scene of which he was a
thoroughly disgusted and sickened spectator.

This was one of the peculiar ways in which the greatest and by far
the ablest and most enlightened monarch that Russia had ever seen
amused himself, the sovereign but for whom Russia would have lagged
hundreds of years behind in the race of civilization and progress,
but for whose foresight and sagacity, too, Russia might never have
occupied the position she now holds in the councils of Europe and of
the world. This was Peter at his lowest and meanest; and if we shall
see him in these pages at his cruelest and most brutal, we shall also
have the opportunity, I trust, of viewing this many-sided and truly
remarkable man at his highest and noblest--and none was ever nobler and
more self-sacrificing and devoted than he when occasion arose for the
display of his best qualities, for the truth of which statement let the
manner of his death testify.[2]

It must not be supposed that the Tsar himself took part in the
degrading ceremony I have just described. Beyond locking and sealing
the door upon the electors, and again unlocking it at morning, Peter
took no personal part in the proceedings, thus exercising a wise
discretion.

Boris came forth from that room feeling that he could never again
attend the Tsar at one of his drinking bouts at Lefort's or at
Gordon's, or elsewhere; he had seen enough drinking and drunkenness
to make him hate the very sight of a vodka bottle. When he told Peter
of this, and of his intense desire to be exempted from the duty of
attending any further carousals, the Tsar slapped him on the back and
laughed in his loud way.

"I am glad, my Bear-eater," he said, "that I have at least one friend
who is not afraid of being great when I am little! There are plenty
left to drink with me. You shall be a total abstainer, and then I am
sure of some one to steady me when I return at nights less master of
myself than of Russia. I am glad of your decision, my good Boris; you
shall be as sober as you please, so long as I need not follow your
example." With that Peter laughed again, louder than ever, and gave
Boris a great push by the shoulders, which sent him flying backwards
against the wall, and proved conclusively that whatever the Tsar might
be "when he returned late at night," he was master of himself, at all
events, at this particular moment.

Thus it came about that Boris gradually became practically a
teetotaller--which is a _rara avis_ in Russia, and was still more so
in those old days when drunkenness was thought little of, and was even
habitually indulged in by the honoured head of the realm.

Boris had many friends now, chiefly among the officers of his regiment,
with whom, in spite of his humble origin, he was extremely popular.
By this time he excelled in all those arts which were the peculiar
property of the military--in swordsmanship, in drill, and even in
gunnery, upon the practice of which the Tsar laid great stress.
Competitions were held among the officers; and here Boris soon
displayed a marked superiority over his fellows, his accurate eye and
steady hand enabling him to do far better work with the big clumsy
ordnance than his fellows, many of whom could rarely boast of a steady
hand at any time of day. It was a peculiarity of the Tsar himself,
however, who indeed was an exception to all rules, that however deep
his potations might have been, either on the previous evening or on the
very day of the competition, his hand was always steady and his eye
true--in fact, he was at all times the chief rival of Boris for first
gunnery honours.

Such was the life in Moscow during the two or three years which our
friend passed in the capital at this stage of his career--years which
were of incalculable benefit to him as a period of education and
experience; years also which were passed very happily, and during
which the friendship between the young guardsman and Nancy Drury ever
ripened and matured. From Nancy, Boris gradually picked up more than
a smattering of the English language, and by the time he had known
her for two full years the pair were able to converse in English--a
circumstance greatly applauded by Peter, who meditated a visit to our
country, and declared that the hunter should go with him and do the
talking for him.

But before the plans for a trip to England and the Continent had
taken definite shape, events occurred to postpone the journey for a
while. The regiment of Guards to which Boris was attached was ordered
to proceed to the south of Russia, where the Streltsi were already
gathered before the walls of the city of Azof in preparation for a
siege. Boris took an affectionate farewell of his beloved master, who
bade him God-speed and a quick return home. "Don't get into trouble
with your old enemies of the Streltsi," were the Tsar's parting words.
"See if you can be the first man into Azof--I expect it of you--and be
home as quickly as possible; for what am I to do without my faithful
old Sobersides Bear-eater to keep me in order and take care of me?"

Boris laughed at the allusion to his old acquaintances the Streltsi; he
had quite grown out of his dislike and horror for those poor misguided
men, and was inclined to recall their treatment of him with indulgence
and pity rather than with indignation. "I am sure to be back soon,
your Majesty," he said, "if the Tartars don't pick me off. We'll soon
pepper them out of Azof. And, besides, I have attractions here besides
your Majesty's person."

"Ah, the fair Nancy! I had forgotten," said Peter, laughing. "Well,
well, my Bear-eater, happy is he who is beloved by a child; their love
is better than woman's love, and wears better, too. Now go and bid
farewell to your Nancy. Tell her Peter will look after her right well
in your absence!"

Boris went straight from the Tsar to the house of the Drurys, where he
was ever a welcome guest.

Poor Nancy was very miserable at the prospect of parting with her
friend, for she felt that there would be no more long sledge drives
for her over the crisp snow roads, no more pleasant days in mid-forest
watching for bird and beast, nor jolly skating expeditions along the
smooth surface of the river when the wind or thaws had cleared it of
its deep snow-mantle, nor happy half-hours spent in laughing over the
hunter's attempts to master the pronunciation of her own difficult
language. Life would be very dull and miserable for her now, and the
colonel informed Boris that Nancy had even spoken of persuading him,
Boris, to take her with him to the south. "In fact, Boris Ivanitch,"
added Drury, "my wife and I both complain that you have quite stolen
the child's heart from us; and, if we know anything of Nancy, we shall
have our hands full to manage her while you are away."

Nancy had disappeared out of the room, for her feelings had proved too
much for her, and Boris regretfully felt obliged to depart at length
without seeing the child again. But as he groped his way out of the
dark, badly-lighted passage to the front door, he was surprised by
a small, light figure bouncing suddenly into his arms, and a flaxen
head burying itself in his bosom, while hot tears were freely shed
and hot kisses rained over his face and neck and wherever the two
soft lips could plant them. With difficulty Boris unclasped the fond
arms, and detached the pretty head from his shoulder, and tenderly
placed the little feet upon the ground. Then Nancy quickly ran away,
and disappeared without a word, though Boris heard a great sob as the
dainty figure passed out of sight in the dusky distance of the passage.
When the young guardsman, mighty hunter and redoubtable soldier as he
was, left the house and strode down the familiar street for the last
time, there was a tear in his eye that would not be denied, but rolled
deliberately down his cheek till it was dashed away.

On the following morning Boris marched out of Moscow with his regiment,
bound for the seat of war, far away in the south, on the Sea of Azof.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] Peter the Great contracted his last illness through a chill caught
while saving a boat's crew from drowning, which he did at the risk of
his life and unaided, rescuing nearly thirty men one by one.



CHAPTER XIV.
TAKEN PRISONER.


The fortress of Azof, upon the sea of that name, was principally used
by the Turks and Tartars, who at this time occupied it, as a centre
for their plundering and marauding expeditions inland. Some sixty-five
years before this, in 1627, the city had been surprised and captured by
the enterprising Don Cossacks, who found that it lay too close to their
own hunting-grounds to be an altogether acceptable neighbour. Having
possessed themselves of the city, the Don Cossacks offered it as a free
gift to their liege lord, the then Tsar of Muscovy, Michael, Peter's
grandfather.

The Tsar sent down officers and experts, before accepting the gift, to
report upon the place; but these announced that the fortress was rotten
and indefensible, and not worth having. The Cossacks were therefore
directed to evacuate the city; which they did, but not before they had
razed every building to the ground, so that not one stone stood upon
another.

But now, at the date of my story, the young Tsar Peter was full of
schemes for aggrandizement by land and sea; his mind was intent upon
fleet-building as well as upon army-organizing. But the difficulty
was, as one of his intimates pointed out to the Tsar, "What was the
use of building a large number of ships with no ports for them to go
to?" for, besides Archangel--which was a terribly long way off--Russia
had at this time no windows looking out to the sea. The Baltic was in
the hands of Sweden, the Black Sea was held by the Turk, the Caspian
by Persia. In one of these directions Russia must look for new outlets
to the ocean highroads. Peter's reply was characteristic. He said, "My
ships shall make ports for themselves"--a boast indeed, but, as events
showed, not an idle one.

But the question arose, which foreign power should be first attacked
and made to disgorge that without which the development of Russia was
hampered and impracticable? The Caspian was, after all, but an inland
sea; that could wait. The Baltic was well enough, but Peter knew that
he was as yet quite unprepared to tackle Sweden, either by land or
sea; that must wait also. There remained the Black Sea. And here Peter
would fulfil a double purpose in attacking the dominions of the Turk.
He would secure a much-needed port to begin with--that was reason
sufficient in itself for the contemplated onslaught; but besides this,
he would be dealing a blow for Christianity by smiting Islamism in its
stronghold, and chasing from their lair the enemies of Christ.

So Peter decided upon the siege of Azof as a first step towards greater
ends. In 1694 he sent down from Moscow several regiments of his new
troops, the Preobrajensk, of which the Tsar was himself a member,
having entered the regiment at the very lowest grade, and enjoying
at this time the rank of "bombardier;" Lefort's regiment of twelve
thousand men, mostly foreigners; the Semenofski, and the Batusitski.
Besides these were our old friends the Streltsi; and the entire army,
numbering one hundred thousand men, was led by Golovnin, Schéin,
Gordon, and Lefort. Accompanying this force went, as we have seen,
Boris, late bear-hunter, now captain in the Preobrajensk regiment.
Though our friend had bidden farewell to the Tsar at Moscow, Peter
nevertheless changed his mind and followed the expedition in person,
joining the troops beneath the walls of Azof, still as "Bombardier
Peter Alexeyevitch," which character he kept up throughout the
subsequent proceedings, being determined, as an example to his people,
to pass through every grade of both the military and the naval services.

Boris greatly enjoyed the march southwards. He welcomed with all
his heart the change from the close, stuffy life in the Moscow
drawing-rooms and barracks to his beloved woods and moors and open air
at night and day. He was the life of the regiment throughout the long
march, entertaining the officers with exhibitions of his animal-calling
talent, and teaching them the arts of the forest at every opportunity.
Big game naturally kept out of the way of the great host of men, and
never came within a mile of the road, though answering calls from
wolves might frequently be heard in the distance; but the officers'
mess was indebted daily to Boris and his knowledge of woodcraft for
constant supplies of toothsome partridge, or delicious willow-grouse,
with sometimes a fine blackcock, or even a lordly capercailzie.
There was no more popular officer of the Preobrajensk than Boris,
whose position was thus very different from that he had held in
his late Streltsi regiment, where every officer had been at heart a
revolutionist, and therefore hated him for his known devotion to the
person of the Tsar.

But the long march was finished at last, and the entire force assembled
beneath the walls of Azof.

And now "Bombardier Peter Alexeyevitch" realized with sorrow that
without ships to support his land forces he was likely to have a tough
struggle to capture the city. When, seventy years before, the Don
Cossacks had surprised and taken it, Azof had been a very inferior
stronghold to this which now frowned upon him but a mile or less from
his outposts. The new city now possessed a high wall, strongly built,
and likely to defy awhile the assault of the heavy but feeble ordnance
of that time. Peter accordingly determined, in council with Lefort
and the rest, that rather than lay siege to the place, it would be
advisable, in the absence of ships, to attempt its capture by assault.

Arrangements were made that the artillery fire should be concentrated
upon that portion of the wall which appeared to be the weakest, and
that the instant a breach was made the Preobrajensk, supported by the
rest, should advance to the assault and carry the town _vi et armis_.
The attack was fixed for the following morning.

During that evening an unfortunate quarrel took place between the
general Schéin and the principal artillery officer, a German named
Jansen, familiarly known to the Russian soldiers as "Yakooshka." Schéin
fixed upon one portion of the wall as that to be attacked, while Jansen
was determined that another spot offered a more suitable mark for the
Russian guns. Schéin insisted, and Jansen, with blunt German obstinacy,
insisted also. Schéin lost his temper and abused Jansen, when Jansen
grew angry also and said, no doubt, what was unbecoming in an inferior
to a superior officer. Then Schéin lost control over himself, and
commanded the guard to arrest poor "Yakooshka," whereupon the latter
was led away and actually bastinadoed for insubordination.

That night Jansen escaped from his undignified captivity, and having
first made the round of the Russian guns and spiked them all, quietly
shook the dust from off his feet, turned his back upon the Russian
lines, and went over to the enemy, being admitted into Azof by its
Mussulman holders with joy and thanksgiving.

On the following morning, when the order was given to train the guns
upon the city walls and to open fire, the treachery of Jansen was
discovered. The Bombardier Peter Alexeyevitch, when this information
was brought to him, was a terrible object to behold. Great spasms of
passion shook him from head to foot, while his face--black as any
storm-cloud--worked in contortions and grimaces like the features of
one in a terrible fit. For a few moments he said no word. Then he took
his note-book and wrote therein large and prominent the name _Jansen_.
After which he gave orders for the assault of Azof, guns or no guns,
and in a few moments the brave Preobrajensk were in full career towards
the walls of the city.

The guns opened fire upon them so soon as the guard became conscious
of the surprisingly rash intentions of the Russians; but the shot flew
over their heads. Boris, mindful of the Tsar's words to him while still
in Moscow, that he should do his best to be the first man into Azof,
led his company cheering and waving his sword. Russians have never
held back when there was storming work to do, and the troops advanced
quickly at the double, singing, as Russians love to do, one of their
stirring military songs.

The musketry fire opened from the top of the walls as they came to
close quarters, and though the shooting was very wild, still many wide
gaps were made in the ranks. In a moment the foot of the wall was
reached, and now came the difficult work of ascending. Scaling-ladders
were placed, and knocked ever from above, and placed again. Scores
of men endeavoured to climb the wall without the aid of ladders, but
were easily shot down or knocked on the head if they ever succeeded
in climbing within reach of the sharp swords and scimitars waving in
readiness above.

The din was deafening, the cries of Christian and Mussulman outvying
the roar of musketry. Now and again a squad of Russians firing
from below would clear the wall, and a ladder would be placed for
half-a-dozen brave fellows to rush upwards and be cut down by new
defenders who came to fill the gaps of the fallen. Once a roar of
applause was set up by the Russian hosts as a Russian officer, followed
by half-a-dozen men, rushed up one of the ladders, and with a shout
of triumph stood upon the top of the wall, waving their swords, and
shouting to their companions to follow. This triumph was short-lived.
First one man fell, pierced through the heart by a bullet; then
another and another was knocked on the head, while those who essayed
to come to their rescue were shot down in their attempt to mount the
ladder. At length there remained alive the officer alone, he who had
first surmounted the wall. This officer was Boris, whose superior
agility had once more stood him in good stead, and enabled him to climb
where the rest had failed. That same activity appeared, however, to
have got him into a terrible fix. Alone he stood for a few moments,
fighting bravely but hopelessly against a dozen swords, until at
length, to the consternation of his friends below, he was seen to
receive a blow which tumbled him off the wall upon the Azof side, and
no more was seen of him.

For an hour or more the Russians fought bravely on, endeavouring to
obtain a foothold upon those grim walls, but all in vain. The Tartar
women brought boiling water and threw it down upon the "Christian
dogs," together with every sort of filth, and large stones. Every
inhabitant of the city appeared to have come out upon the walls in
order to assist in beating off the infidel; and though many fell
pierced by Russian bullets, they were entirely successful in their
patriotic endeavours, for, with the exception of the half-dozen men
who followed Boris upon the walls, no single Russian succeeded in
mounting the ladders, or in any other way effecting a footing within
the Mussulman stronghold.

Meanwhile the guns of the town, probably aimed by the treacherous
though much provoked Jansen, rained fire and hail upon the main body
of the besiegers, who, with spiked guns, were unable to retaliate.
Peter the Bombardier was gloomy and black. He strode among his
guns, superintending the efforts of his smiths to get them into
working order; he swore at his generals right and left, in a manner
ill-befitting a humble bombardier; he swore with yet more deadly wrath
at Jansen, and with greater justice. But in spite of all his ferocity
and fury he did not lose his discretion; and finding that his troops
were doing and could do no good under present circumstances, the Tsar
gave orders that the assaulting columns should retire. Thus the day,
the first of many, passed without result.

As time went on, and Peter found that his attacks upon Azof made no
progress, but that he lost daily large numbers of his best soldiers
to no purpose, he decided reluctantly that until he should become
possessed of a fleet which could blockade the city by sea, while he
attacked it at the same time, and in force, by land, he must abandon
all hope of capturing the place. At present, as he had now realized to
his loss, the city could be reinforced and revictualled at any moment.
Besides this, his mainstay in the science of artillery attack, Jansen,
had basely failed him; he had no one competent to take his place. Such
an officer, together with clever engineers, must be invited to enter
his service as quickly as might be--an Englishman, a Frenchman, even
a German again, but not a touchy and quarrelsome and treacherous one,
such as Yakooshka had proved himself.

So Peter wisely, but sorrowfully, abandoned the siege of Azof for that
season, promising himself a speedy return in the following summer, when
he was fully determined he would possess a fleet capable of blockading
the city from the sea side, as well as capable and experienced foreign
officers, who should lead his brave fellows to that victory which had
been snatched from them this season through no fault of their own.

Peter had still much to learn in the art of war; but, like a man
of sense, he accepted defeat on this and on future occasions as
object-lessons for the benefit of his own inexperience. The great Tsar
had his own patient way of attaining his ends through many defeats
and much discouragement. He learned from his enemies at each repulse,
assimilating the experience thus gained until he was in a position, in
his turn, to teach. How thorough was his method of impressing a lesson
upon those who had once been his teachers, let Pultowa and Nystad
testify.

Nevertheless, Peter's rebuff at Azof in 1695 was to him an exceedingly
serious matter in the peculiar condition of affairs in the Russia of
that day; for it gave to his enemies, and the enemies of progress, the
opportunity to point the finger of scorn at his foreign soldiers and
his un-Russian policy generally, and smile and say, "Ha, we told you
so! these foreigners will be the ruin of Russia. The priests are right,
and we shall yet see this young man, the Tsar, acknowledge the error
of his ways, and turn his great energies to clearing the land of the
foreigner, with his alien manners and civilization."

But these men imagined a vain thing; and the young Tsar, like a young
lion, did but shake his mane and lick his wounded paw, and sally forth
once again to encounter and slay the enemy who had wounded him.



CHAPTER XV.
AN EXCITING ESCAPE.


When the Tsar returned to Moscow and set himself deliberately to count
up his losses, he was obliged to admit that what affected him more
grievously than anything else was the disappearance of poor Boris;
a disappearance which he could not but feel certain meant death, or
captivity and torture, in comparison with which death would be vastly
preferable. Peter missed his devoted servant and friend at every turn
and at every hour of the day.

On the second day after his arrival, the Tsar was surprised to receive
a request for an audience from, as his orderly informed him, "a little
English fairy." Permission being given, the door opened, and in walked
Nancy Drury, now nearly fifteen years old, and as sweet-looking an
example of English maidenhood as any could wish to see. Nancy was very
grave and hollow-eyed, and her face showed signs of many tears.

"Is it true?" said Nancy, advancing towards the Tsar, and speaking in
the hollowest and most tragic of voices.

"Is what true, my dear?" asked Peter kindly, taking the child on his
knee, though he thought he knew well enough what she required of him.

"Is it true that he is lost--my Boris--and perhaps dead?" Poor Nancy
burst into tears as she spoke the last word, and hid her face in her
hands. "Oh, what have you done with him, and why did you let the
Tartars have him?" she continued, through sobs and tears.

Peter did his best to pacify the child, assuring her, against his own
convictions, that Boris was certainly alive and well, and promising
faithfully that at the renewed campaign next summer his troops should
certainly release Boris from captivity before they did anything else.

When Nancy had extracted this promise from the Tsar, she dried her
tears, and thanked him and smiled. Peter kissed the sweet English face.
"If only I were not married already, Nancy," he said, laughing, "I
declare I should be tempted to make an empress of you when you were
old enough! Would you like to be an empress?"

Nancy blushed. "I love your Majesty very much," she said, "but I would
never be empress--" She hesitated.

"And why not, my little English fairy?" said the Tsar kindly.

"I--I shouldn't like to live in a big palace all my life," faltered
Nancy. "I love the woods and the fields, and--"

"But if Boris were emperor?" laughed the Tsar.

Nancy hid her face, and flushed scarlet. Then she jumped off his knee
and burst into tears again, throwing herself at his feet, and sobbing,
"Oh, save him from the Tartars, your Majesty--do save him! Take him
away from the enemies of Christ, and God will bless you for it!"

There was not much of the man of sentiment about this practical young
potentate, but Peter could not help feeling greatly touched to see the
child's anxiety and sorrow. Once more he assured her that all would
be well, and Nancy accepted his assurance and left the Tsar's cabinet
smiling and hopeful.

But my readers will wish to know what has become of poor Boris all
this time. They will think, very properly, that the fate of a single
Christian falling wounded into the hands of an excited mob of the
children of the Prophet must be pretty well settled before ever
his feet have touched the ground. So it would be, undoubtedly, in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred; but Boris was not quite "done
for" when he fell, and therefore the swords and knives which were
anxiously awaiting the opportunity to dip into his Christian blood were
obliged first to fight for the privilege. He had received a terrific
blow, certainly, but had guarded in time, and though overbalanced and
tumbled off the wall, he was still unhurt. Regaining his feet in an
instant, he had placed his back against the wall, and stood to receive
attack. Half-a-dozen swords soon sprang out to give him battle, and in
a minute he was engaged in an encounter compared with which his fight
with the Streltsi was the tamest of toy battles. Boris felt that there
was little hope of his keeping his antagonists at bay until some of
his friends should have mounted the wall and arrived to give him the
much-needed assistance; but he was resolved, nevertheless, to keep up
the game until either death or assistance came, and to exact at least
twelve Mussulman lives as the price of his own!

Boris fought a good fight that day. Turk after Turk fell before his big
swinging sword, and whenever one fell another took his place. Bravely
he cut and thrust and guarded, and the very Turks themselves stayed
their crowding upon the walls to see out this fine exhibition of skill
and endurance and Muscovitish pluck. But cutting and thrusting and
guarding one's body from two or three assailants at once is tiring
work, and poor Boris felt his strength failing him, and his eye grew
dim, so that he could scarcely see accurately where he struck, and
some of his blows began to fall at random. His breath came and went
in gasps, and his arms ached with weariness. In another moment one of
those flashing blades would find a billet somewhere in the region of
his stout heart, and the career of the brave bear-hunter would be over
and done with.

But fate had decided that the readers of these records of Boris should
have many more pages of his history to peruse, and just when the hunter
was making up his mind that he had fought his last fight and lost
it, this same fate, in the person of a Turkish pasha who had watched
the fray admiringly from the beginning, strode up and knocked aside
the swords of the assailants of Boris just in time to prevent them
from dyeing themselves red in his blood. The pasha felt that here
was a splendid slave being wasted, or perhaps a prisoner for whom a
good ransom might be eventually forthcoming. So he struck away the
swords, and skipping aside to avoid a savage thrust from poor dim-eyed
Boris, who could not see and knew not the signification of this new
assailant's interference, he rushed in and pinned the half-fainting
Russian to the wall. The sword dropped from Boris's hand as the fingers
of the pasha closed around his throat, a thick film came over his eyes,
black fog enveloped his brain, and the shouts and cries of the battle
around him receded further and further into space; his consciousness
faded and failed, his senses vanished one by one like the extinguishing
of candles, and Boris knew no more.

When Boris came to himself he was in a small room, whose only window
was at a height of some five feet from the floor and iron-barred. He
could hear a sentinel pass and repass beneath it, and from a distance
came the sounds of musketry and artillery fire, which quickly recalled
to his mind the events of the morning--or of yesterday, for he was
without means of ascertaining how long he had remained unconscious.
Food--some coarse bread and a dish of water--stood upon the floor
beside the straw upon which he found himself outstretched. Boris was
very hungry, and at once ravenously consumed the food, finishing the
bread to the last crumb, and wishing there were more of it, coarse
though it was. He felt very weary still, and though unwounded, save
for a prick or two in the hand and fore-arm, quite incapable of and
disinclined for thought or exertion. So Boris lay still, and presently
fell asleep.

He was awakened at night by voices as of people conversing within the
room, and opened his eyes to find the pasha, his captor, with another
Turk and a third figure whose presence first filled him with joy,
and then, as he remembered, with bitter loathing. It was Jansen, the
treacherous gunner, to whose perfidy and desire for vengeance was due
the repulse of Peter and his army, and, indeed, indirectly, his own
present situation.

Boris was for upraising his voice in angry denunciation of the traitor,
but the pasha dealt him a blow in the mouth and bade him roughly be
silent. Boris felt for his sword, but found it was no longer at his
side, neither was his dagger nor his big clumsy pistol; he was entirely
unarmed.

Jansen and the Turks were conversing in a language unknown to Boris,
the pasha asking questions and putting down Jansen's replies in a
note-book. Then Jansen, addressing Boris, informed him that the pasha
had spared his life in order to employ him in his own service, either
to teach his soldiers the art of swordsmanship, in which, the pasha had
observed, he excelled, or perhaps to help him, Jansen, in managing the
big guns mounted upon the walls.

But at this point the tongue of Boris would be silent no longer, and
burst into furious invective. That this man should desert his master
the Tsar in his need was bad enough, but that the traitor should expect
him, Boris, to employ his skill in gunnery against his own beloved
sovereign and his own people passed the patience of man, and Boris
was with difficulty prevented from casting himself upon the deserter
and throttling him as he stood. Three swords flashing out of their
scabbards at the same moment, however, reminded the captive of his
helplessness, and Boris relinquished, reluctantly, the pleasure of
suffocating the traitor.

Whether Jansen persuaded the pasha of the impracticability of
compelling Boris to do any useful work with the guns, or whether it
struck the pasha that Boris might easily do more harm than good at
the walls, I know not, but the prisoner was never requested to take
part in artillery practice at the Russian lines. His duties, he found,
consisted chiefly in helping to carry the pasha's palanquin about the
streets of the city--an occupation rendered exceedingly disagreeable by
the rudeness of the population, who pushed, and jostled, and cursed,
and spat upon the "Christian dog" whenever he appeared. Occasionally
he was directed to practise sword exercise with chosen Mussulman
swordsmen; and this he was glad enough to do, for it gave him amusement
in plenty to teach these Easterns all manner of Western malpractices,
tricks of swordsmanship of an obsolete and exploded nature such as
would undoubtedly expose them, should they come to blows with an
experienced fencer, to speedy defeat. Besides these occupations Boris
was ever busy in another way--a field of activity in which his energies
were employed without the sanction or the knowledge of his master, for
he was labouring every day to loosen the iron bars of his prison room.
By means of peeping out of his window at moments when the sentry was
at a distance Boris had discovered that between him and the outer wall
of the city there was but a space of thirty yards of stone pavement,
up and down which paced the sentinel. Beyond this was the wall; and
over the wall, not indeed the plain whereon the Russian troops had till
lately been encamped, but the shining waters of that arm of the Black
Sea known as the Sea of Azof.

Day by day Boris worked at his bar, choosing those moments when the
sentinel was farthest from him. Once, during the sword instruction in
the courtyard, a sword broke, and the broken end of the weapon, a blunt
piece of steel about eight inches in length, was left on the ground.
Boris found an opportunity to seize this and secrete it before leaving
the spot, and the fragment proved of the utmost service to him in
scraping the mortar from beneath and around the iron bars. Two months
after his capture Boris saw to his delight that he could now at any
moment he chose remove these bars and attempt his escape.

The opportunity arrived at last: a warm, dark night, drizzling with
rain; the sentry, muffled in his _bashlik_, could see little and hear
less; no one else would be about the walls in such weather and so
late. The bit of sword end, by constant working, had worn to itself
by this time a sharp and formidable edge; it was no longer a weapon
to be despised. In Boris's wallet were stored the economized savings
of many meals--food enough to keep him alive for several days. The
hunter removed carefully the iron bars which had made this little room
a prison-house for two long months, and clambering upon the somewhat
narrow ledge, sat in the darkness and waited. Would the sentinel never
pass close enough for his purpose? To and fro the man went, but he did
not guess what was required of him, and passed along rather further
from the window than exactly suited the designs of Boris.

Seeing that the man was evidently a person of method, and stepped time
after time in his old tracks, Boris determined that he must accept the
inevitable and deal with matters as they were, without waiting longer
for desirable contingencies which destiny refused to bring about.
Standing crouched upon the ledge, Boris waited until the sentinel was
opposite, as nearly as he could guess in the darkness; then setting
every muscle in his body, he sprang out as far as he could towards the
spot where he judged the man to be. So vigorous was his leap, that
though the soldier was upwards of five yards from the window, Boris
alighted with tremendous force upon his shoulders, bearing him to the
ground and himself falling over him.

The wretched sentry, conscious only that something very heavy indeed
had fallen down upon him, apparently from the skies, was about to howl
to his Prophet for help; but in an instant Boris had one big hand over
the fellow's mouth, and with the other felt for a spot where a dig of
his little weapon might serve to silence for ever the man's appeals,
whether to Mohammed or to any one else. A quick struggle as they rolled
together on the ground, a sharp dig, and the sentinel lay still and
harmless, and Boris had accomplished his task so far.

Taking the man's outer garment and bashlik, and leaving his own, taking
also the fellow's musket and pistol, Boris clambered up the outer wall
and looked for a moment into the darkness beneath. That the sea was
there was certain, for he could hear the sound of the wavelets lapping
the wall below him; but how far down was the water--in other words, how
high was the wall?

However, this was no time for anxious reflection. If Boris ever wished
to see his home again, and his beloved Tsar, and, lastly, his little
friend Nancy Drury, he must jump now and at once. Murmuring a prayer,
then giving one somewhat trembling look down into the grim darkness
beneath him, Boris took a long breath and jumped.

It must have been a high wall, for as Boris fell through the air it
seemed to him as though he would never reach the water. At last he
felt the cold waves close over him, and then it seemed as though he
would never rise to the surface again; but when his breath was nearly
exhausted, and he was well-nigh choked for want of air, his head
emerged once more, and he was able to float quietly for a while, in
order to obtain a fresh supply of breath, and to listen for any sound
which might either warn him of danger, or indicate the direction in
which he ought to strike out in order to make the shore.

Presently Boris heard the sound of oars, and remained where he was
until the boat should pass. It was a party of fishers putting out to
sea, and Boris judged that by going in the opposite direction he would
reach land; so he struck boldly out for the point whence the boat
had come. Soon his intently listening ears caught the sound of the
twittering of sand-pipers, and Boris guessed that he neared the shore.
This was the case, and in some twenty minutes from the time of his
plunge the hunter had the satisfaction of feeling the bottom, and of
wading, drenched and somewhat cold, but exceedingly rejoiced, ashore.
There was no one about. The city lay to the left; he could hear the
crowing of cocks, and caught the occasional glimmer of a light. Boris
took the opposite direction, and walked along what seemed to be the
edge of an arm of the sea or of a large river. All night he toiled
along, sometimes swimming or wading, in order to put possible pursuers
off the track.

When morning came, Boris found himself on the skirt of a large forest,
and here he concealed himself, and dried his clothes and his food in
the sun. Then, deep in the shade of a birch thicket, he lay down and
enjoyed a good rest until the evening, when he rose up and recommenced
his flight, always keeping to the shore of the river, which, as he
afterwards discovered, was the Don. Thus Boris travelled for three
days, pushing on at night and resting during the day, until his food
was well-nigh exhausted. Then, to his joy, he reached a rough-looking
village where he found the Russian language was understood. Here
he was received kindly and entertained hospitably by the rough but
good-hearted inhabitants, a tribe of Don Cossacks; and here he rested
for several days, and collected his exhausted energies amid his kind
Cossack friends, in preparation for the long journey for Moscow and
home!



CHAPTER XVI.
HOME AGAIN.


One day, early in November 1695, when the palace of the Tsar in the
Kremlin was thronged with officers and dignitaries awaiting audience in
the ante-chambers, and crowding one another in the halls and passages,
discussing the news and transacting various matters of state business,
a tall but ragged-looking figure strode in at the principal entrance of
the palace, pushing aside the doorkeepers, and elbowed his way through
the crowded entrance-hall. Up the wide stairs he went, taking no notice
of the protests and smothered curses of those whose toes he trod upon,
or into whose sides he had insinuated his sharp elbows. Many of those
who had turned round to see who this audaciously rough individual
might be, stopped open-mouthed when they beheld him, the protest
half-uttered, and gazed after him with wide eyes, muttering prayers,
as men who believe they see a ghost. But the ragged courtier looked
neither to the right hand nor to the left, but pursued his reckless
march over the toes of the highest dignitaries in the realm, without
noticing the fact or the persons, and making straight for the private
cabinet of the Tsar as though, until he should reach that haven, there
could be no thought for anything else.

Arrived at the ante-chamber, wherein were assembled Lefort and
Menshikoff and a few others of the inner circle of favour, the new
arrival paid no more heed to these august personages than he had done
to the rest, but elbowed them out of his way and went straight to
the door which led into the sanctum of the great Peter, altogether
disregarding the exclamations of surprise and awe which were all that
these found time to utter as he passed rapidly through the room and in
at the Tsar's own door.

Peter was sitting alone at the writing-table, busily penning letters
to foreign potentates--applications, in fact, for the loan of talented
engineer and artillery officers for the new campaign against the Turk
on the Black Sea; a project upon which his mind was so fixed that his
whole time was spent in planning and organizing it in advance. The
Tsar raised his eyes as the ragged figure entered the room and stood
before his table. But though Peters eyes fixed themselves upon the
strange, wild object before them, the speculation in them had nothing
to do with the object of their regard. Peter lowered his head again and
wrote; he finished his letter, and signed it. Then, once more he raised
his eyes, and this time those orbs were looking outwards, not inwards.
Peter started, and spat on the ground; then he crossed himself, and
shaded his eyes, and stared at the figure that stood before him. For a
moment the strong face looked scared and bewildered; then the Tsar rose
with his big laugh, and walking round to the other side of the table
caught the man by both shoulders and shook him till his teeth rattled.

"It is true flesh and blood," he cried, "and no ghost! Boris, my most
miraculous of bear-hunters, whence come you, and why is this ragged
body of yours not eaten by Turkish rats? This is the best and most
wonderful thing that mortal man ever heard of." Peter drew the grimy
traveller to his own broad breast and embraced him in the most approved
Russian manner, kissing both cheeks and his forehead.--"Here! Lefort,
Menshikoff, all you fellows in there!" continued the Tsar, shouting
aloud, "here's Boris come back, our faithful, Streltsi-sticking,
Turk-spitting Bear-eater!--Come, sit down, my Boris, quickly, and tell
us all about it. Why are you alive--have you a plan of Azof--how did
you get out of the place--has that Yakooshka had his sneaking German
tongue cut out of him yet? Tell me that first of all, quick!"

Boris replied that as far as he knew the head of Jansen was still upon
his shoulders with his tongue in it.

"Then," said Peter, "we shall have at least the satisfaction of
removing it ourselves instead of relinquishing the privilege to the
Turk, as I had feared." Peter took two or three turns about the room,
looking his blackest; then he recovered his equanimity. "Come," he
said, "let's talk of pleasanter subjects; tell us all about your
adventures."

Boris told his plain tale amid frequent interjections from the four
or five men present. Peter roared with laughter over the account of
how Boris with his sword had kept at bay for ten minutes any number of
Turks who chose to come on, and how he was ultimately scragged by a
pasha while in the very act of fainting from sheer exhaustion. "Bravo,
Bear-eater," he cried, "and bravo again! Ho, if I had but five thousand
bear-hunters like you, my son, I should attack Sweden to-morrow! But
there is some good in the Turk after all; for think how easily any one
of a thousand of them might have blown your brains out with musket or
pistol. Yet they preferred to see a good fight out to the end; but, ha!
ha! that pasha. You shall scrag that same pasha with your own hands, my
son, next summer, as sure as I am standing here. Go on!"

[Illustration: "Out sprang Boris, and alighted with terrific force upon
Menshikoff's back."
_Page 186._ ]

Peter's pleasant mood underwent a great change when Boris went on
to tell of his interview with Jansen in prison. His face worked in
terrible contortions, and he rose and paced the room once more without
a word. "So you would have throttled him, would you?" he said at last.
"I am thankful that you did not interfere with what is my privilege.
Enough about Yakooshka. Go on."

But the Tsar fairly roared with laughter as Boris described how he
had leaped upon the back of the sentinel, a distance of fifteen feet,
and stuck the poor fellow with his little broken bit of sword-end. He
must have that little weapon, he said, as a keepsake from his good
bear-eater. But nothing would satisfy the Tsar with regard to the
mighty spring upon the back of the sentry but a rehearsal of the feat
then and there, in that very room.

Menshikoff said the thing was impossible; no man, he said, could
leap five yards from a cramped position upon a window ledge. Boris
must have miscalculated the distance. But Menshikoff regretted this
remark a moment after he had made it; for Peter declared he believed
the bear-eater could perform the feat if no one else could, and that
he should try it at once, in order to put this sceptic to confusion.
Menshikoff should act the part of sentry, and walk along while Boris
jumped on him. Afterwards they would all try it. Then two tables
were piled together, and Boris was instructed to bend himself into
the original position as far as possible, and thence spring upon the
unhappy Menshikoff, who paced the floor at a distance of fifteen feet.
Menshikoff eyed the heavy figure of Boris, soon to be launched at him,
with gloomy foreboding; but there was no help for it, Peter was in
earnest. As Menshikoff reached the necessary point, out sprang Boris,
and without difficulty covering the distance, alighted with terrific
force upon Menshikoff's back. Over rolled the favourite, and over went
Boris with him, amid the boisterous laughter of the Tsar and the rest,
the crash making such a commotion that frightened courtiers from
the room beneath presently rushed in to see what had happened to his
Majesty.

Peter insisted upon attempting the feat himself, and insisted also that
Lefort and Menshikoff should leap as well. The Tsar easily accomplished
the leap; but so tremendous was the shock of his descent, that poor
Lefort, who was detailed to receive the ponderous imperial body after
its flight through space, was well-nigh wiped out of the land of the
living. Both Menshikoff and Lefort failed to accomplish the feat, and
Boris was obliged to repeat it, in order that the Tsar might try the
sensations of the sentinel, as a "bolt from the blue," in the shape of
some thirteen stone of humanity, came crashing down upon his shoulders.
Peter was better built to stand the shock than the unfortunate Turkish
soldier, and Boris's big body hardly caused him to stagger; though when
the two changed places, and the huge Tsar sprang through the air and
alighted upon the back of Boris, that hardy young hunter, for all his
sturdiness, rolled over like a rabbit.

Then at length the Tsar, now in the highest good-humour, permitted
Boris to finish his tale--how he had plunged into the dark waters of
the Azof Sea, and found his way to land; how he had been befriended
in a village of the Cossacks of the Don--Peter making a note of the
name of the village; and of his long adventurous journey through moor
and forest, where he supplied himself with food from day to day by
means of his knowledge of woodcraft, until he reached Moscow that very
morning. Then the Tsar informed Boris of his own designs for a renewed
siege of Azof by land and sea, and of all that had happened in the
regiment and out of it since his disappearance. The officers had all
mourned him as certainly lost, the Tsar said, and had even included
his name in their service for the repose of the souls of those slain
beneath the walls of the city; they would be overjoyed to see his face
again. Then Peter told of how little Nancy Drury had come to scold him
for losing "her Boris," and of how he had promised faithfully to go
and fetch her friend home again in the summer. When Peter mentioned
Nancy, the face of Boris flushed, but his eyes glowed with great
tenderness; and presently he asked leave to retire, in order to visit
his fellow-officers, "and others." The Tsar permitted him to go, on
condition that he went first to see "those others;" for, said Peter,
those others might be even more rejoiced to see him home again than
the officers of the regiment, who, at least, had not blushed whenever
his name had been mentioned. Then Boris blushed again, and thanked the
Tsar, and went out to do his kind bidding.

When Boris reached the house of the Drurys, and was ushered into the
sitting-room by the frightened servant, who took him for a ghost, and
did not announce him because his tongue refused to speak for very fear,
Mrs. Drury was busy over her needlework, while Nancy sat at her lessons
at the same table. Mother and daughter looked up together, but their
first impressions were entirely different. Mrs. Drury had never felt
the slightest doubt that her little daughter's faithful friend was long
since dead and buried in the far-away Tartar city, and had mourned his
death in secret, while concealing her convictions from Nancy, in the
hope that when the truth must be known time would have softened the
blow. When, therefore, the door opened noiselessly, and the scared
servant, speechless and pale, admitted the ragged figure which so
strongly resembled the dead friend of the family, Mrs. Drury was taken
by surprise, and screamed and hid her face in her hands. But Nancy's
instincts did not err. No sooner did she raise her eyes than she knew
that this was no ghost, but her own beloved and familiar friend; and
with a cry of great joy and surprise she sprang to her feet, and was in
his arms in a moment, her head buried in his tanned neck, sobbing and
laughing, and conscious of nothing excepting that here was her Boris
alive and well and come home again.

When Mrs. Drury recovered her equanimity, which she did in a minute,
her English ideas of propriety were a little shocked at Nancy's
undisguised demonstration towards her friend, and, after warmly
greeting Boris, she reminded her little daughter that her fifteenth
birthday was at hand, and that she would shock Boris Ivanitch by her
demonstrativeness. But Boris begged her to let Nancy be as affectionate
as she pleased, for, he said, he had sadly needed the comfort of a
little love for many a long and dreary month. So Mrs. Drury let matters
be as they were, and Nancy clung to her friend's neck, and cried and
laughed in turns, though saying but little, until Boris gently detached
her arms from about his neck and placed her upon his knee to hear the
stirring tale of his adventures and escape and return home.

Boris left the Drurys' house presently with a new conviction looming
large and prominent in his inner consciousness, and that was that
there was nothing in all the world quite so good as the love of an
innocent girl; neither the delights of bear-hunting, nor the glory of
successful fight, nor the favour of a great king, nor the applause of
his fellows, nor rank in the army, nor wealth, nor the pride of great
strength, nor anything else. All these things were good, especially
the praise of a beloved master and Tsar; but the clinging arms of this
child had revealed a new yet a very old thing to him, and Boris walked
towards the barracks of the Preobrajensk Guards on feet that felt not
the wooden pavement beneath them, and with his manly heart so full of
tenderness towards that other confiding and loving little heart that he
almost wished all the world would rise up and menace that one little
child, that he might rise also and defend her.

Then Boris went and proved for a third time that he was no ghost, but a
solid and able-bodied bear-hunter, and retold once again the story of
his adventures for the benefit of an admiring mess. Here Boris learned
also from the officers of his regiment that he had narrowly escaped
a shot in the back as he stood alone upon the wall of Azof; for a
former companion of the Streltsi, one Zaitzoff, had deliberately taken
a shot at him, in order, as he had declared, to pay off old scores.
Another member of the corps, one Platonof, being wounded to death, and
horrified at the dastardliness of the proceeding, had communicated
Zaitzoff's words to the surgeon who attended him. The surgeon in his
turn reported to the officers of the Preobrajensk, and these took
summary vengeance. They had gone in a body to the Streltsi quarters
that very evening on hearing the surgeon's tale, had pulled Zaitzoff
out of his tent, held an improvised court-martial on the spot, and shot
the miscreant then and there, and in the presence of all his comrades,
who did nothing to protect him, being themselves horrified with his
action.

One more danger escaped, added to the many, was as nothing to this man
returned, as it were, from the very gates of death; yet Boris did not
fail to offer thanks for the erring flight of Zaitzoff's bullet when he
counted up the mercies of God on this first evening of his return, and
knelt long and fervently within the cathedral of the Kremlin. Neither
did Nancy forget to be grateful when she knelt at her bedside and said
her daily prayers, which were the old English ones, in spite of the
fact that Colonel Drury and all his house were now within the fold of
the Russo-Greek Church and naturalized Russians.



CHAPTER XVII.
OFF TO ENGLAND.


Bombardier Peter Alexeyevitch entered with all his impetuosity
and marvellous energy into the preparations for the second attack
upon Azof. During the whole of the winter and spring he was busy
superintending the work of ship-building in the south of Russia. Every
little river harbour on either side of the Don had its own improvised
ship-building yards, and its hundreds of workmen from all parts of the
country, engaged in the setting up as quickly as might be of galleys
and rafts and every kind of floating vehicle. "We live, as old Adam
did, in the sweat of our brow," wrote the Tsar to one of his intimates
in Moscow, "and have hardly time to eat our bread for the pressure of
work." Dockyards burned down, and destroying in their own destruction
the work of many months; gangs of labourers deserting and disappearing
when most required to complete their work--nothing could discourage
the great Tsar, or turn him by the fraction of an inch from the path
he had laid out for himself. Galleys and boats quickly took shape,
and gradually approached completion. Peter was everywhere, swearing,
scolding, encouraging, organizing, never weary, and never losing heart
because of the misfortunes of the moment. The Don waters rose and
carried away many half-completed vessels and much valuable timber;
but the forests of Voronej were not so far away nor so poor but that
inexhaustible supplies of birch and oak and pine and beech might be had
to replace what was lost; and these same waters of the Don which had
swept the timber away should be utilized to carry down on their broad
bosom as much again and more than they had stolen and cast into the
sea. Then Peter himself fell ill; but even sickness could not quell
his ardour for the work he had set himself, and the building was not
delayed for a moment. At last, when the long nights of midsummer were
near at hand, the flotilla was ready and slipped down the broad river
straight for the doomed city. There were twenty-two galleys, and one
hundred large rafts for carrying ordnance, and some seventeen hundred
smaller vessels, boats and lighters.

By this time the regiments from Moscow and the Streltsi, who had never
left the neighbourhood, were once more assembled beneath the walls of
Azof. The Preobrajensk were there, and among them our friend Boris, who
had spent a delightful winter and spring in Moscow, and was now ready
and anxious for adventure again. All the troops which had taken part in
the former unsuccessful attack upon the fortress were now present again
to retrieve their laurels, which had faded before the breath of Turk
and Tartar.

But many new faces were to be seen among the old ones--veterans,
chiefly, of tanned and foreign appearance; experienced engineers and
gunners from France, and Hanover, and Brandenburg. Under the orders of
these men a high wall of earth was built beneath the very ramparts of
the city, so that the soil, when the wall was finished, trickled over
the ramparts of Azof, which it overtopped, and fell into the streets of
the city. At the same time the ships and rafts blockaded the town from
the water side, so that there was no escape this time by way of the
Black Sea. Then, when all was ready for the attack, preparations were
made for a combined assault both by land and sea.

But the hearts of the Tartars failed them, and the city capitulated
before the storming was commenced, greatly to the disappointment of
many young heroes who had intended to perform deeds of valour, and
especially of the valiant Boris, whose arms ached for another brush
with the Turkish swordsmen, especially with those who had been so
unfortunate as to be instructed in the art by himself, with whom he had
promised himself much entertainment.

The Tsar spared no pains to discover Boris's friend the pasha, whom,
when found, he placed at the service of Boris. The hunter, remembering
the palanquin, but recollecting also that he owed to the pasha, in a
fashion, his deliverance from death by the sword, was merciful, and did
but take his fun out of him for a day or so, after which he released
him altogether and let him go free. But for one day that poor pasha
afforded much amusement to the officers of the Preobrajensk and to
the Tsar also; for Boris harnessed the poor fat manikin to a light
hand-cart, and, himself sitting as a coachman in front, drove him up
and down the camp, whipping him up with a horse-lash when he tired,
till the wretched Turk was ready to fall between the shafts and expire
from pure exhaustion.

Jansen, who was captured also in the streets of the city, though
disguised in the garb of a common Tartar tradesman, did not escape so
easily. He was carried in chains to Moscow when the troops returned
to the capital, and there his head was struck off his shoulders and
exhibited on a pole as a warning to traitors.

The army entered Moscow in triumph, under festal arches made to
represent Hercules trampling Turkish pashas under foot, while Mars, on
the summit of a second triumphal archway, pitched Tartars over in large
numbers. The principal generals were drawn into the city upon gilded
sledges placed on wheels; while Bombardier Peter Alexeyevitch, now
raised, however, to the rank of captain, walked in the procession as
befitted his humbler grade in the service. Boris was there, too, in all
the glory of a major's epaulets; and if he had glanced up at a certain
balcony in the Troitski Street as he passed beneath, there is no doubt
that he might have seen two bright eyes for which he was the centre of
the procession, if not the only figure in it, and which did not fail
to notice with pride the new insignia of rank and promotion which he
bore on either broad shoulder. There, too, in the midst of the happy
marching host, was the wretched prisoner Yakooshka, hooted and spat
upon by the crowd as he dragged his heavily-ironed feet over the stones
of Moscow.

Thus the first triumph of Peter's new army and navy was achieved with
scarcely a single blow struck; for, with the exception of a brilliant
assault upon redoubts by the Don Cossacks and an easily-repulsed sortie
by the inhabitants, during which but few lives were lost on the Russian
side, there had been no fighting done. But the prestige of the foreign
troops was won, Peter's policy was justified, the enemies of Christ and
of the true faith had been overthrown, a seaport had been gained for
Russia, and the beginning of her expansion had become an accomplished
fact.

Peter was thoroughly and entirely happy, for he had made the first move
in the great game he had come into this world to play, and it was a
good move. The Mussulmans had been hustled out of Azof, and a garrison
of Streltsi left in the city to take care that they did not return; and
now three thousand Russian families were sent to the town, there to
abide for ever, they and their descendants. Ship-building was commenced
wherever docks could be conveniently erected, and all classes were
heavily taxed in order to pay for the ships to be built in them.

Meanwhile, young Russians of talent were despatched to Venice, to the
Netherlands, to London, and to Paris, in order to learn the newest
things, whether in ship-building, or in gunnery, or in drill and
uniform. Their orders were to keep their eyes open and to see and learn
everything worth learning.

And now Peter felt that he might conscientiously undertake that trip
to foreign lands which he had long promised himself, and to which he
had so ardently looked forward. He was to travel incognito, in order to
avoid the worry of publicity and the tedious attentions of courts. The
journey was to be undertaken under the ægis of a great embassy, Peter
following in the train of his ambassadors in the character of a humble
_attaché_ or secretary. Boris was to go, as the Tsar had long since
promised him; for he would be extremely useful, in England at least,
if they ever got so far, by reason of his knowledge of the language.
Besides, Peter liked to have his faithful bear-eater, as he still loved
to call him, constantly at his side, and would not have thought of
leaving him behind under any circumstances.

There was one little heart that was sore indeed when Boris came to
take his leave before the departure of the embassy. It was always
good-bye, Nancy said wistfully, as the hunter tore himself regretfully
from her side: would there never come a time when she would not
continually be looking forward with dread to his departure somewhere?

Boris gazed long and earnestly into the sorrowful blue eyes raised to
his own. "Perhaps there will, my Nancy, perhaps there will," he said at
last, "when you are a little older--God knows; but I must always be a
soldier and serve the Tsar wherever he will have me go."

"And I shall always love you and be miserable when you go away," said
Nancy, in perfect sincerity.

Nancy had intrusted to Boris many letters and presents to her friends
and relations in England, letters in which she had not failed to
enlarge upon the greatness and heroism of the bearer; for she had
extracted a promise that Boris would deliver with his own hands certain
of the packages. There would be frequent couriers backwards and
forwards, so that she could write to her friend, and he would write
too; so after all Nancy felt there would still be some comfort in life
in spite of the envious fate which so constantly took her idol away
from her.

Then began that historical journey of Peter and his suite through the
Baltic provinces, and Königsberg, and Hanover, and the Netherlands,
where Peter left his embassy to follow him at leisure while he hastened
on and lived for some weeks at Zaandam as a common Dutch labourer, in
order to learn thoroughly the rudiments of ship-building, and to set a
good example of industry and self-denial to a lazy and self-indulgent
people at home. The details of Peter's life at Zaandam are known to the
"youngest schoolboy." I need not therefore dwell upon this hackneyed
subject.

Boris had passed with wonder and admiration through the various foreign
lands and courts visited by the great Muscovite embassy; but there
was far too much eating and drinking and wearing of fine clothes to
please him, and he soon began to weary of it and think of home and the
simplicity of his life in Moscow, and of hunting expeditions, with
Nancy for companion. Especially after the Tsar left the suite and went
his own way, Boris found life desperately dull and monotonous. Right
glad was he when the embassy reached Amsterdam and the spell of the
Tsar's presence was once more upon him. Peter had just been informed
that, good as the Dutch ship-builders were, they were very inferior to
those of England. This had been quite sufficient for the energetic
Tsar, and Boris found that arrangements had already been made for a
visit to the latter country.

"So get ready, my bold Bear-eater, for to-morrow we cross the water.
You will be sea-sick, of course; but then you will see Nancy's native
land--ha, think of that!"

Boris did think of that, and it rejoiced his heart to reflect that his
eyes should look upon the country which could produce so wonderful a
thing as Nancy Drury.

So, on the following morning, Peter, with Boris and fifteen other
Russians, took ship in the private yacht of his Majesty William III.,
which that monarch had sent for his accommodation, together with three
ships of war, the whole under the orders of Admiral Mitchell of the
British navy, and crossed the seas for this hospitable land of Britain.
The weather being rough, Boris was sea-sick, as foretold by the Tsar;
but Peter himself was as happy as a schoolboy out for a holiday, for
that sail in his Majesty's beautiful yacht, escorted by such ships of
war as he had never yet beheld, was the most delightful thing he had
ever experienced. Such being the case, Peter arrived in this country
in the highest good-humour, having familiarized himself on the way with
the name and use of every single object on board the yacht, as well as
with the names, ages, duties, and salaries of every man and boy that
went to make up her crew.

Once on shore, the Tsar would hear no talk of palaces and luxury and
the idle life of courts, but went with two or three chosen followers
and pitched his tent in a country house close to the shipping at
Deptford, where he was soon busy among the skippers and sailors,
inquiring into and laying to heart everything that he saw which was
likely to prove of service to him in his own country. And ever at his
right hand, ready for work or for play, though preferring the latter,
was Boris the Bear-Hunter, whose prowess in all athletic matters Peter
was never weary of showing off to his English friends.



CHAPTER XVIII.
HOW BORIS THREW A BIG DUTCHMAN OVERBOARD.


But busy as the Tsar was during the daytime, visiting and inspecting
the ships and trade, and examining the skippers and sailors of all
nationalities as to maritime affairs and other matters connected with
the various countries from which they hailed, he nevertheless found
time at night for much conviviality and jollification. Menshikoff
was always at hand to bear his master company, but Boris, being now
practically a teetotaller, was allowed to go to bed instead of taking
his share of drinking and revelling. There were generally guests at
these entertainments--skippers from English and Dutch ships, or English
friends of low or high degree who had been fortunate enough to scrape
acquaintance with the big Russian Tsar.

One night there was a guest present, the mate of a Dutch vessel then
lying in the Thames, to whom the Tsar was much attracted by reason of
his great size, of which the man was exceedingly proud. He was almost,
if not quite, as tall as Peter himself, who, according to Russian
chroniclers, measured six feet seven inches in height. This person, by
name Otto Koog, had taken his full share of the good cheer provided by
his royal host, and his tongue was freed so that it spoke many vain
things, both of his own prowess and of the feebleness of other people.
There was no man on this earth, the fellow boasted, whom he could not
put down in fifteen seconds. The Tsar expressed a great desire to
witness an exhibition of Koog's strength, whereupon Koog said that,
with his Majesty's permission, he would carry Peter and Menshikoff
together three times round the room, like two babies, one upon each
arm. This feat he performed with ease, though he declared the Tsar to
be one of the finest babies he had ever lifted. Then Peter said that
this was all very well, but could he carry in his arms a strongish man
who was unwilling to be so carried? To this Koog replied that there
breathed not a man whom he could not lift and carry, whether willing or
unwilling, as easily as a four days' puppy.

"That being so, mynheer," said Peter, "there is one asleep in the
room above us in this very house whom I should like to see brought
downstairs in your arms. You shall wake him first and pull him out of
bed. Tell him I sent you to bring him down in your hands as you would
carry a baby."

Nothing loath, the big Dutchman left the room, and soon the Tsar
and his guests could hear him blundering up the wooden stairs. Then
came the sound of his heavy feet upon the floor above, after which a
ponderous bump, as of a great body falling upon the ground, this being
followed by the noise of talking.

Next began rushings to and fro, bumpings and thumpings on the floor,
crashing of glass, and smashing of crockery and furniture; then more
jumping and tumbling, with occasional loud shouts. Then came the
banging open of a door, and the stumbling and sliding footfall as
of one descending the stairs with difficulty. Next there was much
struggling at the door of the room, with kickings at the panels of
the door; and presently the hinges flew asunder and a big Russian
boot appeared through the panels, and into the chamber walked Boris,
carrying in his arms Mynheer Otto Koog, whose kickings and strugglings
scattered many bottles as the young Russian deposited his burden upon
the supper-table before the Tsar in the centre of a large dish of stew.

Then the Tsar and his guests began to laugh and applaud, and laugh
again when Boris wiped his brow with his hand, and with mock gravity
said, "Supper is served, your Majesty."

Koog declared that he must have drunk more than was good for him, or no
man on earth could have done what Boris had done this night. But the
Tsar laughed, and maintained that drunk or sober Koog would find his
bold bear-eater a pretty tough customer.

Then Koog, in the smart of defeat, challenged Boris to a wrestling
match on board his own ship, the match to take place on the following
morning, and the victory to belong to him who should first succeed in
pitching the other overboard into the water. The Tsar did not wait for
Boris to express any opinion on this matter, but immediately accepted
the challenge in his name for ten o'clock on board the _Zuyder Zee_.

When the morning came rain was falling heavily, which made the deck of
the Dutch ship, upon which this wrestling match was to take place, very
wet and slippery. Koog had put on his string slippers, which would
give him a far better hold of the wet deck than would be afforded by
the thick Russian boots which Boris wore. Nevertheless, the hunter made
no objection, and took his stand opposite to his antagonist, both being
stripped to the waist.

The Dutchman was by far the taller and heavier man, but what Boris
lacked in weight he made up in the spring and agility of his movements.
At the word to commence, given by the Tsar himself, the big Dutchman
sprang at Boris, and clasping him by the waist raised him some inches
from the ground, and actually made as though he would end the battle in
its earliest stage by carrying the Russian to the side of the ship, and
fairly hoisting him over the bulwark. But the hunter had no intention
of allowing the fight to close before it had fairly begun. He struggled
in Koog's arms until his feet were once more upon the ground, when he,
in his turn, clasped his antagonist by neck and waist, and the wrestle
began in earnest. For full half-a-minute neither Dutchman nor Russian
obtained any advantage; if Otto succeeded in pushing Boris a few inches
nearer to the ship's side, Boris quickly recovered his lost ground.
Then, of a sudden, the hunter's foot slipped on the wet deck, and in
an instant he was prone at the feet of the other. Koog was all ready
to take advantage of this misfortune, and before the Russian champion
could recover himself he seized him in his arms, as though he carried a
baby, and sprang with him to the side of the vessel.

[Illustration: "Boris lifted his kicking legs and slid them over the
bulwark."
_Page 210._ ]

For a moment Peter and the crowd of spectators thought that it was all
up with the chances of poor Boris, and looked over the side to see him
go splashing into the water beneath.

But Boris was far from being beaten yet. He laid hold of a rope which
formed part of the rigging of the ship, and to this he clung so tightly
that all the efforts of the mighty Dutchman could not compel him to
relax his hold. Suddenly, however, he did relax his hold, and this just
as Koog gave so violent a pull that when the resistance unexpectedly
failed, he staggered backwards. At the same moment, Boris twisted in
his arms, and feeling the ground once more with his feet, pushed so
vigorously at his antagonist that Otto fell violently backwards with
Boris on the top of him. They both rolled about for many minutes, first
one being uppermost and then the other, until by mutual consent they
both rose to their feet in order to start fair once more; and thus
ended the first round.

Then began the final stage of the contest. Three times Boris forced
Koog to the bulwark, but could get him no further; and twice the
bear-hunter was himself well-nigh hoisted over the side. Then, at his
fourth attempt, Boris drove Koog backwards till his back touched the
bulwark; there, closing with him, with a desperate effort he lifted
the ponderous Dutchman till Koog sat upon the rail. Then Otto, in
desperation, hitched one foot around an iron stay which stood up
against the bulwark, and pressed forward with all his weight and
strength upon the champion of Russia, who, in his turn, did all that
lay in his power to force the Dutchman backwards; and so the pair
remained for upwards of a minute, straining, and hissing, and panting,
and sweating, while the fate of Koog hung in the balance.

Then suddenly Boris relaxed, for an instant, his pressure upon Otto's
shoulders, though without losing his grip. The strain removed, Koog's
body fell forwards, while his leg flew up, having released itself from
the stay. Instantly Boris stooped, and with one hand laid hold of the
Dutchman's baggy trouser leg, while with the other he continued his
pressure upon the shoulder. Backwards went the Netherlander, slowly but
surely; his balance was lost, and so, for him, was the fight. Deftly
Boris lifted his kicking legs and slid them over the bulwark, bending
them back over the body, which was now in full retreat towards the
water, and in an instant the big man splashed into the waves and the
muddy Thames closed over his head. So fatigued was the Dutchman with
his exertions that he could barely keep afloat, and was quite unable to
swim a stroke; he floated away gasping and sputtering, and the crew of
a neighbouring vessel fished him out with a boat-hook and ropes.

Great was the joy of the Tsar over this victory of his champion. Peter
hoisted Boris upon his own shoulders, and carried him round and round
the ship, amid the cheers and laughter of many spectators, not only on
board the _Zuyder Zee_, but also upon many other vessels anchored near
her.

After this triumph, the Tsar was still more anxious to pit his Russian
champion against those of other nationalities, and involved poor Boris
in many defeats by reason of this passion. As an instance, a coal miner
from Cumberland, and a champion wrestler of that county, was hunted up
by the Tsar and pitted against Boris for a match. In the skilled hands
of this man, poor, untutored Boris was as a child in arms. The Cumbrian
threw him again and again, adopting at each attempt a new device of the
many known to him, and every one of them sufficient to topple over
the Russian like a nine-pin. Boris, and Peter also, were to learn that
mere strength and activity were insufficient to cope with equal, or
even inferior strength, scientifically exercised. But in spite of this,
Boris, after having fallen heavily six times, ended the fight in a
manner unexpected by his adversary, and little to his taste. The match
took place on the deck of a collier, and at the seventh round Boris,
suddenly bending before his antagonist could lay hold of him, caught
the Cumbrian champion by the knees, and lifting him by a tremendous
effort, sent him flying over his shoulder, and over the side of the
ship also, into mid-river, where the poor man would have been drowned
had not Boris himself gone to his assistance.

Peter gave the Cumbrian champion a present in money, and offered him
handsome wages to come over to his country and teach the Russians to
wrestle. But the man of Cumberland looked knowingly at the Tsar, and
refused the offer; he would rather stay, he said, in a country "where
men did not eat their own kind," even though at a lower rate of wages.
In vain the Tsar assured him that in Russia men are not cannibals;
the sturdy north countryman only looked the more knowing, and the
negotiations ended where they began.

Then, again, Boris was required to run races with sundry champions, who
easily defeated him, as was natural; though he held his own in jumping.
At swimming, however, even the best of his English competitors were
obliged to take a second place, for Boris excelled any who were pitted
against him, especially in the longer races.

In the noble science of self-defence Boris, though untutored, surprised
every one by his aptitude. It was not that he was skilled either in
defence or in attack; but his eye was good and his natural guard
excellent, while his enemies, or rather antagonists, declared that it
was one of the most disagreeable things in the world to receive a blow
straight from the Russian's shoulder.

Thus, though often worsted in the competitions wherein, by the desire
of the Tsar, he tried his strength and agility against the best foreign
exponents, Boris on the whole held his own against all comers, and the
Tsar declared himself well satisfied with his faithful bear-hunter, who
had upheld, to the best of his ability, the claim of far-away Muscovy
to compete with the rest of the world in trials of strength and pluck
and endurance. It was, indeed, a matter of no little pleasure and
encouragement to Peter to find that he was able to produce a picked
man who had proved himself as good as, and sometimes better than, the
picked men of other nationalities. The circumstance led him to hope
that his Russians, when instructed by qualified tutors, would show
themselves worthy to take their proper place in Europe, and to hold
their own whether on the battle-field or on board ship, as he would
assuredly call upon them to do ere many years were past.

Besides all this, Peter saw and did much, during his stay in London,
with which our bear-hunter was not so immediately connected; but for
a short account of his doings and seeings among our forefathers in
this merry land of England, I must refer my readers to the following
chapter.



CHAPTER XIX.
BAD NEWS FROM MOSCOW.


To Admiral Carmarthen, of the British Navy, Peter of Russia was
indebted for one of the supremest pleasures of his life. This was
a review, or naval sham-fight, which the admiral organized for the
Tsar's benefit at Spithead. We can imagine how Peter, whose heart was
so set at this time upon ships and all matters connected with the sea
and maritime affairs, must have gazed in rapture and delight at the
beautiful battle-ships that manoeuvred before his eyes; how he must
have knit his strong face, and bent his eagle glance which nothing ever
escaped, upon each turn and evolution of the vessels, and watched each
manoeuvre, drinking in for his future guidance the reason for every
movement made and the probable result, had this been actual warfare,
of every gun fired. There is no doubt that the young autocrat learned
much from this memorable scene, and laid to heart many hints to be
utilized afterwards when he himself, in command of a Russian fleet,
engaged and overcame a stronger fleet of the King of Sweden.

Peter's delight with the day's entertainment may be gauged by his
conversation, when it was ended, with Admiral Carmarthen. "Admiral," he
said, "you are a lucky man! I would rather be the admiral of a British
fleet such as this than the Tsar of all the Russias!"

Probably Peter's excited state of mind was responsible for this
somewhat exaggerated manner of expressing his satisfaction; but there
is no doubt that his enthusiasm and delight were perfectly sincere at
the time. Boris was present also, and his delight was no less than
that of his master. He, too, felt that it must indeed be a delightful
position to be in command of so magnificent a sea-army as this.

"Boris, Boris!" said Peter, as the two tall men stood side by side
watching the beautiful spectacle, "shall I ever own a fleet like this,
and a good seaport to keep it in?"

"That depends upon your Majesty," said Boris. "Every one knows that
Peter Alexeyevitch will perform anything to which he puts his hand and
sets his heart!"

"Ah, Boris," said the Tsar, "I thought so too before we left Russia;
but I am humbler now! Oh, for the sea, my Bear-eater--the sea! that is
what we must fight for and live for. Our poor Russia is cramped and
stifled for want of windows; we must break through her walls, Boris,
and that as quickly as possible. I can build a fleet, there is no fear
of that. If we had but a hundredth part of the seaboard that these
happy Britons possess, I should be blessed indeed!"

"Never fear, your Majesty; we shall have seaports yet!" said Boris, to
whom the matter presented no difficulty whatever, for did not Peter
desire it?

As the Tsar and his henchman walked through the streets of London, they
attracted considerable attention by reason both of their size and of
the conduct of Peter, whose actions were at times very eccentric. He
would stop people in the street, in order to ask questions as to the
make of their clothes and hats and watch-chains. Once he seized the
wig of a passing pedestrian, to that individual's surprise and alarm,
who thought he had to deal with a gigantic lunatic. Peter carefully
examined the wig, which was of a new-fashioned shape and did not
please him, gave a short laugh and a grunt of disgust, and clapped
it back upon the man's head so violently that the unfortunate fellow
nearly fell forward upon his nose. He would enter jewellers' and other
shops, and question the artificers very minutely as to their trade and
craft, frequently ending the conversation by inviting the shopman to
remove his business to Moscow, where he should be assured of a fine
trade among Peter's subjects. Sometimes these offers were accepted,
and numbers of goldsmiths, blacksmiths, gunsmiths, joiners, and other
skilled workmen were prevailed upon to travel to the far north, where
they were subsequently well treated and made fortunes for themselves,
while they were useful in teaching their crafts to the Russian people.

Couriers frequently passed between London and Moscow, and through
their good offices Boris was able to keep up a constant communication
with his friend Nancy. The hunter was no great hand at letter writing,
though he had long since learned the arts of reading and writing, of
which of course he had been ignorant while still the bear-hunter of
Dubinka. In one of his epistles Boris wrote to this effect, the letter
being partly in English and partly in Russian:--

"His Majesty is exceedingly pleased with this city [London], wherein
are more people than would fill a score of Moscows. The people are
kind and hospitable, but somewhat boastful, and think but little of
the Russians. His Majesty deigns to take his pleasure in causing me
to wrestle and otherwise contend with great wrestlers and swimmers
and fighters of the English. In these matters there are some experter
than I, excepting in swimming. I have seen your friends and delivered
your letters and packages, wherewith all were greatly pleased. Your
friends made much of me, far more than I deserve. For their kindness I
am indebted to you, and also for many good words spoken of me in your
letters, portions of which they read to me.

"The Tsar and I had an adventure last night which might have ended in
bloodshed, but ended actually only in laughter; for we were fallen
upon by robbers, of whom there were five, in an outlying, lonely part
named Hampstead. The robbers surprised us in the midst of this place,
and would, no doubt, have cut our throats, but that his Majesty and I,
being armed with thick oaken sticks, kept them at bay, and in process
of time banged two of them on the head. The rest his Majesty, with some
assistance from me, pitched into a small pond covered with green ooze,
whence they issued half-drowned, and ran to their homes."

Nancy, on her part, told all the Moscow news and the progress of the
ship-building throughout the country, of which she heard much talk,
for every one spoke of it. Nancy also mentioned that many reports were
being disseminated in Moscow by the priest party to the effect that
the Tsar had been drowned on his way to England. Others said that he
had been captured by the Queen of Sweden, placed in a barrel, and
rolled into the sea. The motive of these reports was obvious. If Peter
were dead, his widow, or his brother, or his son would be proclaimed
head of the realm, and in any case his policy would be reversed;
foreigners would be sent out of the country, and Russia given back to
the Russians. It may be mentioned in this connection that so deeply
was the belief in Peter's death at this time rooted in the minds of
hundreds among the lower classes, both in Moscow and throughout the
country, that to their dying day many of these believed that the man
who returned eventually from abroad, and assumed the government of
the realm, though he certainly resembled Peter, was an impostor and
a pretender, and that the real Tsar lay drowned at the bottom of the
North Sea.

During his stay in London, Peter had many opportunities of conversation
with all classes of the subjects of William III. He visited country
houses, where he startled the sober rural folks by the eccentricity of
his manners--loving to amuse himself in rough and barbarous ways, such
as causing Boris to wheel him, afterwards himself wheeling Boris, in a
barrow through a massive holly hedge at Saye's Court. The Tsar could
not endure the ways of refinement and luxury, and preferred to sleep on
the floor rather than in a grand bed, and loved to drink quantities of
English beer, which he condescended to admire.

Boris thought little of England from the point of view of the hunter.
There were no woods, he said, fit to hide a bear or a wolf; as for
hunting the fox, it was poor sport. The country was well enough, but
not in his line; he preferred the broad forests of his native land, and
the excitement and danger of hunting big game. In a word, Boris was
well tired of England when, at the end of a few months, Peter declared
that he had seen enough, and would now depart homewards, taking Vienna
on the way, and travelling slowly in order to see as much as possible
of every country visited.

The English king made Peter the most acceptable of presents at parting,
in the shape of a small frigate of twenty-four guns. The delight of
the Tsar in his new possession was immense, and his return voyage to
Holland was made aboard of this vessel. But Peter, too, desired to
offer a memento of his visit to the hospitable British sovereign, and
did so in a characteristic manner; for, while bidding William farewell,
he pressed into his hand a small object wrapped in a piece of dirty
brown paper, which he took out of his waistcoat pocket. This proved to
be a magnificent ruby, and was valued afterwards at ten thousand pounds.

So the Tsar and Boris and the rest took ship and set sail for Holland
in the frigate which the English king had presented to his Russian
brother. And that voyage came well-nigh to being the last that any of
the party were to undertake; for a terrific storm arose in the North
Sea, and for a day or two they were uncertain whether they should live
or die. The Tsar's suite were greatly concerned at their master's
danger, knowing well that the destiny of Russia was kept by this
man in the hollow of his hand. But Peter himself professed to have
perfect confidence in the happy outcome of the voyage; he inquired of
his long-visaged companions whether they had ever heard of a Tsar of
Russia being drowned in the North Sea? All admitted that they certainly
never had read of such a disaster! "Very well then," said Peter; "I
don't intend to be the first to set the example!" Whereupon the suite
took heart of grace, and trusted to the good luck of the Tsar to pull
them through, which it did; for the good ship sailed safely into port,
and was then sent round to Archangel, while the Tsar and his embassy
continued their journey by land, and in due course arrived at Vienna.

Here Peter had intended to stay some little while, in order to learn
whatever the Austrians might have to teach him; but disquieting news
came from Moscow, which compelled him to give up the contemplated
visit, and to make all the haste he could towards his own capital. So
bad was the news, indeed, that the Tsar was at his blackest and most
savage during the whole of the hurried journey home, and those pleased
him best who talked least, and left him most alone to his gloomy
thoughts. Like a storm-cloud that rushes over the face of the sky, the
angry Tsar flew over the hundreds of miles that lay between him and the
objects of his wrath; and like the piled-up masses of black vapour that
burst and vomit forth water and lightning, so burst the anger of Peter
upon those who had vexed him, when, a very few days after receiving
the news, he dashed into Moscow with a few attendants only, the rest
following as quickly as they could.

The purport of the letter received by Peter in Vienna was certainly
disquieting enough, for the epistle contained an account of a
military revolt, and of a march upon the capital by the Streltsi. It
appeared that these regiments, ever on the watch for opportunities of
interfering in existing affairs, had sent a deputation to Moscow to
inquire into the truth of the rumours as to the absence or death of the
Tsar, and to demand of the authorities orders for the immediate return
of all the Streltsi regiments to Moscow. Their wives and families were
still in the capital, and they had been absent long enough at Azof and
elsewhere. Besides, political affairs demanded their presence in the
capital.

The deputation were unable to obtain the ear of the authorities, and
were dismissed with scant ceremony from Moscow--very loath to leave
the city, and extremely angry with those who would not listen to their
grievances.

Meanwhile the main body of the Streltsi had become impatient, and sent
word that, if not summoned to Moscow in compliance with their request,
they intended to come without waiting for an invitation.

It was at this stage of affairs that letters were despatched to the
Tsar at Vienna, summoning him to his capital, which was menaced by a
descent upon it by the dissatisfied Streltsi regiments.

Meanwhile, however, the two generals, Schéin and Gordon, whom Peter had
left at the head of military affairs in his absence, proceeded wisely
to take the bull by the horns. They prepared a moderate force, selected
from the new regiments, and marched towards the seat of disturbance.

Before they had gone very far they met emissaries from the Streltsi,
who informed them that the massed regiments of that body were in
full march upon Moscow, with intent to chase the foreigner from the
soil of holy Russia; to place the Grand-Duchess Sophia, late regent,
upon the throne in lieu of the Tsar Peter, who, they had heard, was
dead; and to restore the old _régime_ and the good old days of a
Streltsi-dominated Moscow, without a foreigner in the place to set
everything upside down and worry the souls of the priests.

Gordon sent these men back with a message to their comrades to get home
as quickly as might be to their quarters, and there to pray Heaven to
so rule the heart of the Tsar Peter (who was quite alive enough to cut
the throat of every Streletz in Russia), that he might be led to look
with indulgence upon their foolish imaginings, and forgive them in
consideration of their instant and complete submission, tendered from
their barracks.

But the Streltsi would not believe the words of Gordon, and declared
that they must and would come to Moscow in order to see with their own
eyes that all was well with the Tsar and the country.

Thereupon Gordon and Schéin met these misguided men half way as they
marched upon Moscow. The Streltsi would not surrender at demand, and
therefore a volley was fired over their heads. This set the brave
fellows running, which proved that their courage was scarcely equal to
the noise they made in the world. Three thousand of them were taken
prisoners and brought to Moscow; the rest were permitted to escape and
return to their own quarters.

Such was the state of affairs when the enraged young Tsar dashed into
Moscow in his angriest and blackest mood, and with his mind set upon
making a terrible example of this body of men, who had been a thorn in
the flesh to him since his first experience of their eccentricities, at
the age of ten.

How he carried out his intentions, and the bearing which this affair
had upon the career of our bear-hunter, shall be treated of in the
following chapter.



CHAPTER XX.
BORIS IN DISGRACE.


The page of the history of Peter of Russia which I must now briefly
refer to is stained and blurred with the records of ferocity and
brutality, and I am sure my readers will thank me if I give as cursory
an account of the Tsar's terrible mood of cruelty as is barely
necessary for the thread of my own tale. This is the blackest period of
Peter's life, if we except perhaps his persecution in later years of
the unfortunate Grand-Duke Alexis, his utterly unworthy son; and for
those who are sincere admirers of the genius and self-denial of the
great Tsar, and of his many remarkable and wonderful gifts and graces
of mind and disposition, the record of his treatment of the Streltsi at
this time affords extremely unpleasant reading.

Peter's first step was to form a court of inquiry, or inquisition, on
a gigantic scale. For many weeks this court continued its labours of
investigation, examining the captured soldiers and officers at great
length and with extreme persistency, in the hope of extracting from
them minute details of the conspiracy which had culminated in the
revolt and march upon Moscow. The object of the Tsar was to obtain
the names of all those connected with the plot who were outside the
ranks of the Streltsi, and more especially to discover proof of the
participation of his sister Sophia, the late regent, in the affair.

To this end horrible tortures by scourge and fire were daily inflicted
upon the unfortunate Streltsi, who very soon confessed all they knew,
which was the very simple fact that the priests had persuaded them
that Peter was dead, and that they had therefore determined to come
to Moscow in order to request Sophia, the Grand-Duchess, to take in
hand measures for the legal succession to the throne. Also, they were
anxious to see their wives and families, from whom they had been, as
they imagined, unfairly separated. Not a man among them, either by
torture or of free will, could be made to say that the Grand-Duchess
had stirred up or in any way encouraged the rising. They had, indeed,
brought a letter for Sophia, begging her to act as regent and
to reinstate themselves in Moscow, dismissing the foreigners and
disbanding the new regiments; but Sophia herself had known nothing of
the letter or of their intentions.

The Grand-Duchess and those around her were exhaustively examined,
though not by torture, as to the truth of these statements; and the
investigators could find no reason to believe that it was otherwise
than as declared by the Streltsi.

Foiled in his attempt to dig down to the roots of this matter, but
unconvinced that his sister and others were innocent, Peter then
proceeded to wreak his vengeance upon the Streltsi themselves. The
Tsar was determined that this festering sore in the side of Russia
should be healed once for all. The Streltsi, if allowed to remain in
their old strength and numbers, and with their traditions of privilege
and license of interference undisturbed, must for ever be a fruitful
source of disturbance, and an element of danger to the state. They
must be exterminated, root and branch, as an institution. But first
these ringleaders must be dealt with; and here Peter determined to
make a terrible example. Nearly two thousand of the unfortunate
prisoners, together with a number of priests who were proved to have
been implicated in the rising, were put to death in the streets of the
city. One man was left hanging close to the window of the Grand-Duchess
Sophia, holding in his dead hand the letter which the Streltsi had
intended to present to her, in order to show Peter's half-sister how
little he believed in her protestations of innocence.

It is not my intention to enter into any details of the horrors of this
time, but one circumstance must be mentioned in connection with all
this brutality and bloodshed, because it bears upon the career of our
friend Boris, who was at this time forced into taking a step which was
pregnant with changes in his life and prospects.

The Tsar, lost in these dark days of vengeance and brutality to
all sense of propriety and moderation, decreed that his nobles
and favourites should all take a hand in the barbarities being
enacted--should, in a word, assist in the death of the mutineers.
Some of Peter's intimates, either brutal enough to enjoy the work or
else anxious to please the Tsar, cheerfully consented to do as he had
requested them. Others protested, and with tears besought his Majesty
to exempt them from so unworthy a duty. But the maddened young autocrat
was firm, and insisted upon the carrying out of his commands.

What misguided motive Peter can have had for this outrageous piece
of brutality it is impossible to determine; but since he never acted
without motive of some kind, it is charitable to suppose that he
believed he fulfilled some subtle purpose in commanding these men to
do his savage will. Perhaps he desired to impress upon his favourites
the awful consequences of treason to his person, by means of an object
lesson which would linger in their minds as long as they lived,
and thus effectually deter them from ever entertaining the idea of
disobedience. It was a terrible lesson, whether required or not, and
we may safely suppose that no man who was concerned in those scenes of
violence and cruelty ever forgot the experience. The Streltsi behaved
with exemplary bravery, and laughed, and sang soldier-songs, and prayed
aloud upon the scaffold, until death stilled their tongues.

But there was one man who neither at the request nor at the command of
the Tsar would take a hand in the horrors of the day, and that man was
Boris. Among the captured and condemned Streltsi were several members
of the hunter's old regiment (which had revolted with the rest), one
or two of whom had in former days crossed swords with Boris on a
memorable occasion; indeed, two of them were of the party who had
lurked in the dusk of the Moscow street-corner in order to assassinate
him.

One morning, when Boris paid his usual visit to the cabinet of the Tsar
to hear his Majesty's commands for the day, he found the latter pacing
rapidly up and down the apartment, black and gloomy, as he ever was
at this time. None had ever known the Tsar's savage mood to last for
so long as it had continued on this occasion. Since the day when, in
Vienna, the letter of Gordon had been brought to him, the "black dog"
had sat upon his Majesty's shoulder, and there had been no gleam of
even transient sunshine to dispel the clouds that overcast his soul.
Peter was not himself. He had been worked up by his passion into a
condition of mind in which his own intimate friends failed to recognize
their rough but ever kind and indulgent master.

At this present moment Boris could plainly see that rage had full
possession of his Majesty's spirit. He took no notice of him beyond
glaring fiercely at him as he entered, and said no word of greeting.
Boris had been bitterly affected lately, not because of Peter's neglect
of himself--for that, he knew, would mend with brighter days--but
because the dreadful savagery which the Tsar had shown at this time
revealed his beloved master in a character which the hunter had not
seen before; a revelation which filled him with a shocked sense of pain
and disappointment very hard to bear.

Peter continued to stride up and down the room, muttering to himself,
and spoiling the rugged beauty of his features by twisting them into
contortions and grimaces as the passion worked within his soul. At last
he stopped. Then he raised his eyes and saw the hunter, who lingered
near the door.

"Ah! it's you, is it?" he said. "It is as well you have come, for I
have special work for you to-day. There are some old friends of yours,
I find, among these accursed ones, the Streltsi prisoners."

The heart of Boris sank, for he guessed what was coming; many of the
Tsar's intimates having already been told off to do his savage will,
and he knew that his turn was come.

"I have reflected that it would be only fair," continued the Tsar, "to
allow you the privilege of paying off old scores. Since these men are
sentenced to death, there is none who could so fitly carry out the
sentence as yourself."

"Your Majesty must excuse me," said Boris, who was more of the athlete
and soldier than the orator; "I am an officer, not an executioner."

The Tsar's face worked. He glared savagely at Boris for the space of
half a minute; then he laughed, but not in his old hearty way.

"You are a bold man, whatever else you may be," he said. "Now listen.
It is my desire that you take this axe"--here his Majesty produced
a workman's hatchet from a grim pile beside his table--"and with it
proceed to that corner of the Uspensky where these men or others of the
same regiment once attempted your life. There you will find a block
already erected, and upon that block you shall execute these three
men--Michael Orlof, Vladimir Donskoi, Feodor Latinski." The Tsar read
these names from a slip of paper which he took from his table.

But Boris still preserved a bold front. He raised himself to his full
height, looking very proud and very handsome, and almost as big as the
Tsar himself, who appeared somewhat bent and borne down by the evil
days and more evil passions which had fallen upon him.

"I have told your Majesty I am no executioner," repeated the hunter,
regardless of the passion of the Tsar. "Command me to fight these
men, all three at once if you will, with the sword, and I will obey
your bidding this very hour, and your Majesty knows enough of me to
accept my promise that not one of them shall remain alive; but as for
beheading them in cold blood with yonder axe, I cannot and I will not
do the deed."

Boris felt that in taking this bold course he was probably, in the
Tsar's present humour, signing his own death-warrant; yet he knew also
that he would sooner die than do this detestable thing that Peter would
have of him.

The Tsar bit his lip till the blood showed red on the white. "Boris
Ivanitch, I entreat you," he muttered, "do not anger me more. By the
mercy of Heaven, I know not myself at this time. I repeat to you that I
am to be obeyed. Take this axe and do my bidding--go!"

But Boris stood straight and firm, and looked the Tsar boldly in the
eyes. His blood was up and his stubborn spirit was in arms. He seized
the axe which Peter held out to him and flung it crashing to the
farthest end of the room.

"No," he said, quietly but with firm lips and erect form, "I am not a
slave. I love your Majesty, but your way this day is not God's way. Not
even the Tsar shall force me into doing this ungodly and detestable
deed!"

The Tsar recoiled, his face livid and bloodless, and his features
convulsed with the passion that beset him--drawing his sword as he
stepped backwards.

Boris thought that his end was come; yet even at this supreme moment he
felt as cool as though he were going to step out of the chamber next
moment and go about his usual business.

For a full minute the Tsar and Boris faced each other without a spoken
word from either--Peter, with drawn sword half raised to strike, his
breast heaving, his breath drawn in with hissings, his face working
with evil passion, his eyes ablaze, and the infinite generosity and
manhood of his nature struggling beneath the passion that had so long
suffocated and cramped it; Boris, calm and cool, thinking, like a good
Russian, of his soul, but thinking also of Nancy, who was so soon to be
deprived of a friend as tender and true as the best.

At length the Tsar's arm fell to his side and he tossed his sword upon
the table.

"Be it so," he said; and then, "There is not another in all Russia
for whose sake that sword should have been held back. Boris Ivanitch,
I remind myself of your good service--we have been friends and
brothers--you have even saved my life at the risk of your own. For
these reasons I forbear to strike, as you deserve. But you have
disobeyed me--" here the Tsar's face worked once more, and he was
silent for a moment. Then he continued, "You have disobeyed me; you
can serve me no longer, you are no servant of mine from this hour.
Thus I tear you from my heart for ever. Give me your sword." Peter
tore the epaulets from his shoulders, and took Boris's sword, laying
it beside his own upon the table. "Now go from my sight; I will never
see you more. I can never forget your disobedience; it is for me the
unpardonable thing. Away--out of my sight!"

Boris had been prepared for death, but he had not expected
this--disgrace and banishment from the face of his beloved master; for
at the Tsar's words Boris had felt all his old love come swelling into
his heart.

The poor hunter burst into tears and seized the Tsar's hand to kiss it
ere he left his presence for ever.

But the Tsar repelled him. "Go," he said sternly--"out of my sight;
you sicken me with your woman's ways; I am not to be softened by
hand-kissing and crying--go!"

Thus befell the first and only quarrel between the bear-hunter and his
much-loved master, and the pair were destined, in consequence of it, to
be parted for many a long year.

Boris realized at once that he must leave Moscow. There was little
object and much danger in remaining in the capital. Once in disgrace
with the Tsar, there was no certainty but that the madness of Peter
might cause him to treat Boris with scant ceremony should he meet the
hunter in the streets or elsewhere. Whither, then, should he go?

Boris went to his apartment, and, with aching head and dazed
intelligence, sat down to think out the problem. Why not return to
Dubinka? That was his first idea; but he put it from him at once.
Dubinka was too far away from Moscow; for Boris could not allow himself
to banish entirely the hope that the Tsar might yet forgive him when
these evil days had passed and all was forgotten. Besides, there was
Nancy. He could never bear to live so far away from her home; how
should he ever do without her love, now that he had come to realize
that it was, if not all in all to him, at least a large proportion of
his all?

Boris ended his cogitations, which resulted in nothing, by setting out
to walk to the Drurys' house, to inform them of the melancholy turn
which his affairs had taken, and to ask their advice. No one was at
home excepting Nancy, and to her Boris then and there confided his tale.

Nancy's face flushed as her friend told of how he had refused to obey
the Tsar's bidding, of his disgrace, and of the loss of military rank
and the Tsar's service. To the surprise of Boris the girl burst into
tears and kissed the torn places upon his tunic where the Tsar had
violently removed the epaulets. "I thank God you did what you did," she
cried, "for, O Boris! I could never have loved you quite so well again
if you had executed those poor men!"

Then Boris felt a great flood of comfort and encouragement come welling
into his heart, and he went on to tell Nancy, with recovered spirits,
of his determination to leave Moscow, and his reasons for taking the
step.

Nancy grew very pale as he spoke of this, and when he was silent she,
too, said no word for some little space. Then she placed her little
hand in his big one and said,--

"If you leave Moscow, I shall go with you."

"Where to, Nancy? I am not going for one day," said obtuse Boris,
playing with the little hand in his, and speaking sadly enough.

"Anywhere--I care not whither; but wherever you go, my Boris, I shall
go too." Nancy smiled through her tears. "Won't you take me--won't you
have me, Boris?" she said.

Then the hunter understood what the child wished to convey to his dense
mind, and all his soul came rushing to his lips as he gathered her to
his breast and said a thousand incoherent and tender and ridiculous
things. For it had not dawned upon Boris that she was no longer a
child, but a very beautiful and tender maiden of seventeen; and that it
was now possible, if nothing untoward prevented it, to carry her away
with him, even as she had, in her innocent candour, suggested, to be
his lifelong companion and helpmate.

So Boris and Nancy passed a happy hour together, and all things
miserable and unfortunate were forgotten in the new light which was
thus shed upon the prospect. How different now seemed the idea of
leaving Moscow! How could Boris have been so blind? Fate could not have
been kinder. The Tsar would have forgiven him long before he should
grow tired of indolent married life and wish to return to service and
the imperial favour.

When Colonel and Mrs. Drury returned home and heard the story of Boris,
and Nancy's declaration that she would not suffer him to go alone
into exile (which in no wise surprised them), they had a new plan to
propose. They possessed a country house, set in its own corner of the
forest, some twenty miles from Moscow. Why should not the whole party
retire to Karapselka for a while? The priest of the village could
perform the marriage ceremony as well as the high ecclesiastics of
Moscow; and probably Boris would prefer to have a quiet wedding, in
order to escape observation. After the ceremony Nancy and her husband
could take up their abode permanently at Karapselka, and there await
the dawn of happier days, while the old people returned to Moscow,
where they would at all times be within easy reach of their daughter.
Boris would find plenty of congenial occupation among the bears and
wolves in the forest.

This plan was hailed with joy by all concerned; and it need only be
added that Nancy and Boris were duly married, and took up their abode
at Karapselka, as the parents of the bride had suggested and as destiny
decreed.



CHAPTER XXI.
NANCY AND THE BIG BEAR.


There was, as Colonel Drury had promised, plenty for Boris to do at
Karapselka; so much so, indeed, that the hunter scarcely was aware
of the flight of time, so happily did the days and the weeks and the
months come and go. Nancy was the sweetest of young wives, and in her
company Boris soon forgot his disgrace, and the sorrow and regret
which the quarrel with the Tsar still caused him whenever he recalled
it. Away from drills and service and the countless engagements and
amusements of city life, the bear-hunter soon recovered all his old
passion for the life of the forest. From morn till night he was afoot,
tracking, hunting upon his trusty snow-shoes, stalking capercailzie or
blackcock among the rime-embroidered pine trees, and revelling in the
free and wholesome air of his oldest friend, the forest. Nancy often
accompanied him on his excursions, when the distance was not too great;
and the evenings passed as happily as mutually agreeable society could
make them.

During these months and even years of peaceful life at Karapselka,
Boris had many adventures with those animals which had furnished him
his original title, as well as with wolves. In these adventures he
found that his old skill in the chase was in no wise diminished, nor
his nerve shaken, nor his strength and activity abated; he was still
the bear-hunter all over. Sometimes it appeared to him that all his
military career and his many adventures by land and sea were nothing
more than a dream, and that he was back in Dubinka chasing the wild
animals as a paid employé of his liege lord, the owner of the land and
village in which he lived. But a word from Nancy, or a look into her
sweet face, soon put matters into shape, and he knew himself for what
he was--a once-favoured servant and soldier of the Tsar, now living
under a cloud; a state of affairs which should have made him very
miserable, whereas there was no denying the fact that he was nothing
of the sort, but, on the contrary, exceedingly well content with his
present lot.

One day, when they had been married for the better part of a year,
Boris and Nancy met with an adventure which might have had fatal
consequences for both of them.

Boris had allowed his wife to accompany him, as he often did, into
the woods, driving in their comfortable kibitka, or covered sledge,
to a point at a distance of a few miles from the house, and thence
proceeding on snow-shoes for a mile or two further in pursuit of hares
or foxes, or perhaps with an eye to a partridge or two to replenish the
larder.

The day was magnificent--one of those glorious February days when the
sun is bright but not warm, and the air rare and invigorating; when
every pine is a marvel of subtile filigree-work in silver rime, and the
snow beneath one's feet is dazzling with innumerable ice-gems, and has
so hard a crust upon it that it will bear the weight of a man.

Nancy and her husband had enjoyed their drive, and were now drinking in
the intoxicating fresh forest air as they slid easily along upon their
snow-shoes, Nancy having by this time become quite an expert in this
graceful fashion of getting over the ground.

The larder at Karapselka happened to be empty at this time, for there
was no system of obliging bakers and butchers to call for orders in
that out-of-the-way spot, nor indeed in Moscow either in those days;
and Boris was intent upon whistling up tree-partridges, to provide
food for the establishment at home. Three of these beautiful birds had
come swooping up in response to his call, but had swerved and settled
a hundred paces to the left. Boris immediately and cautiously followed
them, in hope of getting a shot at the birds before they should take
fright. On crept Boris, Nancy cautiously following him at a distance.

Suddenly, to the surprise and alarm of Nancy, and certainly no less
of himself, Boris disappeared in a cloud of snow--disappeared as
completely as though the earth had opened and swallowed him whole.

For a moment Nancy stopped short in consternation and uncertainty,
so sudden had been the disappearance of her lord, when, to her still
greater amazement and horror, there came from the spot where her
husband had disappeared first terrific roars and growlings, together
with much upheaving of snow and pine boughs, and next the ponderous
figure of a large bear. Boris had fallen into a _berloga_, which
is Russian for the den which a bear makes for himself during his
hibernating period, and in which he remains more or less fast asleep
from November until the thawing of the snow in March or April.

This was the first occasion upon which Nancy had seen a live bear at
close quarters; and though she was as courageous a little person as you
will meet in a day's march, yet the unexpected sight filled her with
terror, which was largely increased when the great brute caught sight
of her, and with renewed roarings made straight for the very spot where
she stood helpless and motionless.

What had happened is easily explained and in a few words. Boris had
stepped upon the top of a berloga, the roof of which immediately gave
way beneath his weight, precipitating him upon the top of the sleeping
tenant. The bear was not so far gone in somnolence but that the sudden
descent upon his person of so heavy an individual as Boris not only
awoke but irritated him exceedingly. Boris, finding himself upon the
bear's back at the bottom of Bruin's own premises, felt quite at home;
indeed, he was never more so than when in the company of a bear. He
felt about for his knife, but found to his annoyance that he had left
it at home. His axe was at his side, but there was no room to use it
except by getting off the brute's back and allowing it to scramble out
of the den, when he might get a stroke at it as it went, wounding it
sufficiently to prevent its escape, and finishing the business as soon
as he could climb out also.

Meanwhile, the bear was doing its utmost to rid itself of the incubus
on its back. It heaved itself up and wriggled, and at last tried to
bolt through the aperture which the new arrival had made in the roof of
the den. By this move it rid itself of Boris, who slid off backwards,
but could not recover himself in time to aim the blow at Bruin's
hind-quarter which he had intended to deal it.

By the time Boris was upon his feet the bear had disappeared, and it
only then struck Boris that Nancy was outside, and might be in danger
of receiving injury from the frightened and angry creature. Full of
this fear Boris darted upwards in order to follow the bear and see to
Nancy's safety. But the roof gave way as he attempted to climb out, and
he fell backwards a second time to the bottom of the berloga. At the
second attempt Boris was more successful, and reached the surface in
safety.

But when he did so he saw a sight which filled him with fear and
horror, for the huge brute was in full pursuit of his young wife,
who fled before it upon her snow-shoes, uttering cries of alarm and
calling on Boris to help her.

"Bear round this way to me--to me, Nancy!" shouted the poor hunter in
agony, starting to run after the pair in desperate dread.

His snow-shoes had been broken in his tumble into the bear's den, so
that he was now on foot and trusting to the hard crust of the snow
to support him. The animal turned at the sound of his voice, and for
a moment seemed to pause, as though doubtful upon which of the two
enemies to wreak its passion; then it turned again and resumed its
pursuit of poor Nancy. Boris saw with anguish that whenever Nancy
endeavoured to edge round in order to come towards him, her pursuer
seemed to comprehend her design, and prevented it by cutting the corner
to meet her.

Then Boris thought in his agony of mind of another plan. Nancy was
gliding beautifully on her light shoes, and could easily keep her lead
of the bear so long as her breath held out; while he, run as fast as he
might, could scarcely keep up with the chase, without shoes to help him
along. It was plain that at this rate he would never overtake bear or
wife, and could thus do nothing to assist poor Nancy.

"Make for the sledge, Nancy," he shouted; "go straight along our old
tracks--'tis but a short half-mile away!"

Nancy heard and understood, and went straight on, looking neither to
the right hand nor to the left, but only straining every nerve to gain
upon the brute behind her, so as to reach the sledge sufficiently well
ahead of him to allow time to unfasten the horse, which was tied to a
tree.

On rushed Nancy, and on came the bear behind her, she gaining slowly
but steadily; and after them came panting Boris, with difficulty
holding his own, for all that he was a good runner and in fair
condition, for at every third or fourth step the treacherous snow
surface gave way and plunged his foot and leg deep in the powdery
ice-covered stuff.

And now the sledge came into view, and a glad sight it was for more
than one of the party. Nancy took heart at seeing it, and made a
renewed effort to gain a yard or two, reaching the horse's head--the
horse struggling and tugging for terror of the bear the while--with a
lead of thirty good yards. Deftly she untied the noose and freed the
snorting, terrified animal, and as deftly she threw her body across the
side of the sledge, and the horse, feeling himself free, dashed with
it homewards. Then she slipped into the seat, just at the very moment
that Bruin arrived upon the spot to find his bird flown.

"Bravo, bravo, my Nancy!" shouted Boris, as he watched with unspeakable
relief and joy how the swift little sledge bore her instantly out of
danger.--"Now, Mishka," he added, "come back and settle accounts with
me; you won't catch that bird, she's flown."

The bear, who was still standing and watching the sledge as it glided
away from him, seemed to hear and comprehend the invitation of Boris.
It turned sharp round upon hearing his voice, and with a loud roar
accepted the challenge thrown out to it. It looked very large, and
certainly a terrific object, as it bore down upon Boris, half mad with
fury that Nancy should have escaped its wrath, and roaring aloud as it
came.

But the hunter cared nothing for its roarings, nor yet for the ferocity
of its appearance, though such fury as it had shown was somewhat rare
in a bear which is suddenly awaked from its winter sleep. He stood very
calmly, axe in hand, and awaited the onslaught.

When the bear came close up it raised itself upon its hind-legs,
whereupon Boris aimed a terrific blow with his axe at the head of the
brute. The axe was sharp and the aim was true, and the iron crashed
through Bruin's head with so mighty a shock that in an instant this
monster, who had been so terrible but a moment since, was more harmless
than the smallest creature that flies and stings.

Then Boris looked, and perceived that his wife had returned from the
sledge and was at his elbow with the gun, which she had found and
brought in case he should require help in his dealings with the bear.
She was pale with her fright and panting with her run, and Boris took
her very tenderly in his arms and bore her back to the sledge, praising
and encouraging her. And it so fell out that on this very night was
born their little daughter Katie, of whom I shall have something
presently to tell.



CHAPTER XXII.
A WOLF-MAIDEN.


Happy as she had been before, Nancy was now in the seventh heaven of
content. There was no more dulness and waiting for her now, when Boris
had set forth for a full day's hunting in the forest and left her to
look after household matters at home. That little baby was companion
and occupation and amusement to her, all in one tiny person, and the
days passed right joyously at Karapselka.

When spring came, and the frost and snow had disappeared from the
woods, Nancy loved to take her little companion in the tiny hand-cart
and pass a pleasant hour or two wandering beneath the waving pine
trees, enjoying the fine air, and listening to the thousand and one
sounds of awakening forest life. The little birds populating the
tree-tops were noisy at this time of year, and there were the crooning
of the amorous blackcock to listen for, and the tok-tok of the gluhar,
or capercailzie, while in the distance might always be heard the
screaming of cranes in some damp corner of the woods, as they kept up
their constant sentry-cry. There was plenty both to see and hear in
these glorious woods--there always is for those who have eyes and ears,
and know how to employ them to advantage--and Nancy was never weary of
strolling with her baby asleep in her cart into the delightful glades
which lay within easy reach of her home.

Since her adventure with the bear, Boris had insisted that she should
go armed, and had presented her with a neat hunting-knife, without
which she was never, he said, to stir from home, were it but for a
hundred paces into the forest and back again. So Nancy went armed,
though she declared she would be far too frightened to use her dagger
if she were to encounter a second bear anything like the first. But
Boris explained carefully how the knife should be used in emergency,
and how not to use it, of which there appeared to be a great many ways.

One day, while out strolling as usual in the forest, Nancy suddenly
caught sight of two small animals whose aspect was quite unfamiliar to
her, which was odd, for she was as well acquainted with the life of the
forest by this time as any Russian peasant-woman who had lived in it
from childhood. The little creatures were somewhat like puppies, with
a suggestion of fox, and when Nancy ran after them they scuttled away
with comical little barks.

Nancy mentioned this matter to Boris on his return from hunting.

"What colour were they?" Boris asked.

Nancy said they were of a yellowish gray.

"They were young wolves, then," said Boris; "and if you see them again,
catch one for me if you can--I long to possess a tame wolf-cub; but
have your knife handy in case of the mother interfering."

It so fell out that a few days after this conversation Nancy did see
these same little creatures again, four of them together; whereupon,
mindful of her husband's great wish to possess one, she left the
baby asleep in its hand-cart and gave chase. The wolflings scampered
bravely, and led her up and down and about in every direction, until
Nancy bethought herself that she was getting winded, and besides that
she might easily get confused, if she went further, as to the position
in which she had left her precious little Katie. So she gave up the
hunt, and returned towards the place whence she started.

Then she realized how just had been her fears, for it was with
difficulty that she succeeded at last in retracing her steps to the
place where the hand-cart had been left. To her surprise and alarm she
saw that the cart lay over upon its side; and hastening towards it she
perceived, to her unspeakable consternation and horror, that it was
empty.

Poor Nancy was not the person to sit down and do nothing in an
emergency; but the horror of the discovery she had just made bereft her
for some few moments of the power of action as well as of thought. Her
mind instantly flew back to the words of Boris telling her to beware
of the mother-wolf, and for several minutes these words danced in
her brain. The mother-wolf, it was the mother-wolf! it had taken her
darling child in order to feed those detestable little gray scuttling
things which she had chased through the trees! While she had been
senselessly hunting the cubs, the mother-wolf--some lean-looking, gray,
skulking brute--had crept secretly up and carried away her Katie, her
darling baby.

In another moment Nancy had drawn her sharp little dagger, and with
shriek upon shriek had rushed wildly into the forest and disappeared
among the pines, whither she knew not, but full of a wild determination
to find that gray thief and force her to deliver up to her the
priceless thing she had stolen.

When Boris returned home late in the afternoon he was somewhat
surprised to find that Nancy was not at home. She and the baby had gone
for a stroll in the woods, the old servant explained, and had not been
home to dinner.

"God grant the _lieshui_ [wood-spirits] have not got hold of them, or
done them some injury!" the old fellow concluded, sighing deeply. "The
forest is a terrible place, and for my part I have always warned the
barina."

Boris did not stay to exchange words with his faithful old serf, but
taking a horse from the stable galloped off as fast as he could into
the forest, shouting Nancy's name in every direction. Up and down,
and through and through every glade and pathway, wherever there was
room for the horse to pass, Boris rode; and ever as he rode he shouted
Nancy's name, until his voice grew hoarse, and the cob waxed weary, and
the light began to wane, and still he neither found trace nor heard
sound of his lost wife and child.

Still he rode on and on, and would have ridden all night rather than
return home to misery and uncertainty; but when he was upwards of
twelve miles from the house, and his heart was despairing and his
spirit mad within him, he heard at length a faint reply to his calling.
Lashing up his tired horse he dashed on, and presently, to his infinite
joy and relief, he came upon Nancy sitting worn and utterly fagged out
beneath a tree, crying bitterly, and nursing in her arms a portion of
her baby's frock which she had picked up in the forest.

For many minutes poor Nancy could do no more than cling to her
husband's broad breast, and sob and weep as though her very heart were
melted within her for sorrow. At last she held up the tiny torn dress,
and murmured, "The mother-wolf," and then betook herself once more to
her bitter crying.

Boris realized at once what had happened--realized also that he had
arrived far too late to do any good; for the wolf, even if it had
not at once eaten the poor baby but carried it away to feast upon at
leisure, must now be far away beyond the reach of pursuit. In his
great joy and thankfulness to have found Nancy safe, Boris did not
feel in all its poignancy, in these first moments, that grief for the
child which he was destined to suffer acutely afterwards. His chief
thought was for Nancy; she must be got home and at once, that was the
most important duty of the moment. As for the baby, it was gone beyond
recall, and would assuredly never be seen again by mortal eye.

"Come, Nancy," he said, when he had comforted and petted his poor
stricken wife, "let me get you home, and then I will scour the forest
on a fresh horse. You need food and rest. If our Katie is alive, I
shall not cease searching till she is found; if not, I shall not rest
until I have killed every wolf within fifty miles of the house!"

But Nancy would not hear of it. "Oh no, no," she cried, "I shall never
go home till we have found our darling. She is alive, I am sure of it.
See, there is no blood on the frock; the wolf has not hurt her. It
stole her away because I was wicked to chase her little ones. It is
wrong to catch the wild animals of God's forest and enslave them. We
ought to have known it, Boris."

The frock had no stain of blood, that was true enough; and the
circumstance gave Boris some slight hope that it might be as the
stricken mother had suggested, though the chances were much against
it. Boris had heard often enough stories of how wolves had taken and
befriended babies, allowing them to grow up with the cubs. His own
experience of the ferocity and greed of these animals, however, had
always led him to laugh at such tales as old women's yarns, unworthy of
a moment's serious consideration. Nancy had heard of them too, that was
evident, and was now leaning upon the hope that in poor little Katie's
disappearance was living evidence of their truth.

No persuasions would induce the sorrowing mother, therefore, to give up
the search. All night long Boris walked beside the horse, supporting
his weary little wife, who could scarcely sit in the saddle for
weakness and fatigue; and not until the horse was unable to go further
would she consent to pause in the work of quartering the ground in
every direction, and riding through every clump of cover, in case the
beloved object of her search should have been concealed in it.

When morning came, and the sun rose warm and bright over the aspen
bushes, Boris found a place where the horse could obtain a meal of
coarse grass, and where Nancy, upon a soft couch of heather, could lie
down and take the rest she so greatly required. He was lucky enough
to find and kill a hare, and with the help of a fire of sticks, which
no man in Russia was better able to kindle than he, an excellent
improvised breakfast was soon prepared. Afterwards, Nancy slept for
several hours while Boris watched, listening intently the while in
the hope of hearing the sound of a wolf-howl, which might possibly
indicate the whereabouts of the thief. But the hours passed, and there
was nothing to guide him to take one direction more than another, and
poor Boris knew well enough that he had set himself a hopeless task;
nevertheless, for Nancy's sake, he agreed to continue the search for
the rest of that day, and the forest was hunted as it had never been
hunted before, until his feet ached with walking, and Nancy was but
half-conscious for sheer weariness. Then Boris took the law into his
own hands and directed the horse for home, and the weary trio reached
Karapselka as the shadows of night fell upon the forest behind them.

The next morning a peasant came early and inquired for the barin.
Boris, who was about to set out once more upon his hopeless search,
received the man unwillingly, as one who is in a hurry and cannot stop
to discuss trifles.

"Well?" he said; "quick, what is it?"

The man scratched his head for inspiration, then he cleared his throat
and began the business upon which he had come. He had been in the
forest yesterday, he said, collecting firewood. The winters were cold,
he proceeded, and the poor peasants must spend a good deal of their
time during summer in laying up a store of fuel for the winter. But it
was God's will that the peasants should be always poor.

"Get to the point," said Boris impatiently, "or I must go without
hearing it."

That would be a pity, the man continued, for he believed that when the
barin heard what he had to tell, the barin would give him a _nachaiok_
(tea-money) for the news. He had been in the forest collecting wood,
he repeated, when suddenly he saw a sight which filled him with
fear--nothing less than a great she-wolf with a whole litter of young
ones following at her heels. The man had at once thought to himself,
"Here now is a chance of a nachaiok from Boris Ivanitch, who is a
great hunter, and will love to hear of a family of wolves close at
hand." But the moment after, said the peasant, he saw something which
quite altered the aspect of the affair. When the wolf saw him, she
had stopped and picked up from the ground where it lay close to her
a small creature something like a human child, and which cried like
one, but which was of course one of the lieshui, or wood-spirits, which
often enough take the form of babe or old man. The she-wolf took up the
creature in its mouth and trotted away with it into the forest. "Oho,"
the man had thought, "still more shall I earn a nachaiok from Boris
Ivanitch; for now I must warn him that if he meets with this particular
she-wolf and her brats he must give them a wide berth and be sure not
to shoot or injure them, for this wolf is the handmaid of the lieshui,
and woe to him who interferes with the favoured creatures of those
touchy and tricksy spirits, for they would assuredly lure him to his
destruction when next he ventured deep into the heart of the forest."

Boris hastily bade the man follow him and point out the exact spot
where he had seen this wonderful sight. The peasant showed a place
within a short distance of the house, and added that the wolf family
had passed at sunset on the previous evening.

Here then was joyous news for Nancy; her babe had been alive and well
some thirty-six hours after its disappearance, and had actually been
seen within call of its own home, while its distracted parents had
scoured the woods for a score of miles in every direction, little
dreaming that the child was left far behind.

Nancy received the news calmly, but with the intensest joy and
gratitude. "I was sure our darling was alive," she said; "but oh,
Boris, if only it were winter and we could track the thief down! What
are we to do, and how are we to find the child before the she-wolf
carries her far away, or changes her mind and devours her?" And Nancy
wailed aloud in her helplessness and misery.

There was nothing to be done but to search the forest daily, taking
care to do nothing and permit nothing to be done in the village to
frighten the wolves, and scare them away far into the depths of the
forest, where there would be no hope of ever finding them again.
Accordingly no day went by but was spent by Boris and his ever-hopeful
but distracted wife in quartering the woods far and near, the pair
going softly and speaking seldom, and that in whispers, for fear of
scaring the wolves away.

But the days passed, and the weeks also, and a month came, and slowly
there crept over their souls the certainty that their labour would
be in vain, and that they had seen the last of their beloved child.
Still, they would never entirely lose hope, and day by day they
continued their wearisome tramping, sometimes going afoot, sometimes
riding when their feet grew sore with the constant walking. Another
fortnight went by, and it was now high summer, and still they were
childless.



CHAPTER XXIII.
A NOTABLE DAY AMONG THE WOLVES.


Then, at length, when their bodies were wearied with the fatigue of
constant tramping, and their souls worn out with disappointment, and
their hearts sick with hope deferred, there came a day of great joy for
Boris and Nancy.

It befell on this wise. They were out, as usual, quartering the forest,
and hunting every clump of birch cover and grove of young fir trees,
Boris being in front, and Nancy behind on the left, when a cry from his
wife caused the hunter to start and look round, fingering his axe, for
he knew not what might befall in these dark depths of the forest. Nancy
repeated her cry and rushed forwards; and Boris knew at once that it
was no cry of terror, but of ecstasy and joy. He too sprang forward to
rejoin Nancy, and a wonderful sight met his eye.

There, close before them in an open space between the trees, a huge
she-wolf was trotting across the glade, followed by her six cubs,
and chasing after the tail of the procession was a tiny human child,
hurrying along as fast as it could make way on hands and knees, losing
ground, however, rapidly, and crying because it could not keep up with
the rest.

With swift inarticulate cries of great joy Nancy rushed open-armed in
pursuit, and Boris was not far behind.

The old wolf stopped once, and turned and snarled savagely at Nancy;
but its heart failed, and it quickly disappeared among the trees,
followed by its four-legged cubs, leaving the little foster-child. Her
the true mother, frantic with love and happiness, caught quickly up
and hid close in her bosom, bending over it and calling it every sweet
name in the English language, and in the Russian also, and cooing and
talking nonsense to it.

But the child snapped, and scratched, and growled, and struggled, and
fought, as though it were no human child but a very wolf born and bred.
So fiercely did it fight and kick out for its freedom that Nancy was
obliged presently to set it down, when it instantly made off on hands
and knees in the direction taken by its companions.

Boris fairly roared with laughter in the exuberance of his delight to
see the child alive and well; and Nancy in her joy could do nothing
wiser than laugh also, as they both walked quickly after the little
crawling thing, easily keeping up with it, though it went far quicker
than they would have believed possible. This time the father picked
up the wild tiny creature, and well he got himself scratched for his
pains, of which he took no heed whatever. Presently the poor babe,
finding that her captor had no intention of hurting her, lay quiescent
in his arms, and after a while fell asleep, tired of crying and
fighting, and doubtless feeling very comfortable.

Nancy meanwhile walked beside her husband, feeling no ground beneath
her feet. All her weariness and her heart-soreness had vanished
entirely, and the lines of care which had set themselves upon her
face, and caused her to look old and worn in the May-time of her life,
had vanished also. She danced and sang as she went, and in all that
forestful of gay singers there was none that was so happy as she. And
at home, what though the little savage bit and snarled and refused to
be fed or washed, and for many hours thought of nothing but how to
escape back into the woods--why, a mother's love and care would soon
recover it to herself, she said, and she could well afford to wait for
a few days longer for her full happiness, she who had waited so long
and wearily in tears and sorrow!

As a matter of fact, the faithful Nancy had not to wait very long
before matters began to mend. The little wolf-girl soon found that she
was well off, and that no one wished to do her hurt. After this it was
merely a matter of patience, for the little one became more human, and
showed less of the wolf every hour, until, at the end of a week, she
permitted herself to be washed and dressed and fed and petted with no
more opposition than is generally shown by people of the age of four or
five months! What opposition she did make to anything she disapproved
of was perhaps more savage than that of most babies; but there the
difference ended.

One peculiarity remained for many a day--an intense love of the woods
and of the open air generally, as well as a marked taste for scuttling
about on hands and knees, which she managed to do at a very great
speed considering her size. Nancy was wont to declare that for neither
of these characteristics was she indebted to her sojourn among the
wolves, but that she simply inherited both her love of the forest as
well as her nimbleness from her father. I who write these lines am
inclined to believe that her wolfish infancy is a sufficiently good
reason for both.

Thus ended happily the most terrible experience that a devoted father
and mother could pass through; and if the child was loved before, she
was ten times as dear to both parents after her almost miraculous
recovery from the very jaws of death. Boris declared that he could
never kill another she-wolf unless it were to save his own or another
life; and this resolution, I may add, he kept until his dying day.

Thus the months and the years went by at Karapselka in peace and
happiness, with but an occasional adventure to break the monotony of
such an existence. Boris was perfectly happy; but for all that he was
conscious from time to time of a feeling of regret for his old days of
activity in the Tsar's service, and of honour fairly won and unfairly
lost, and he felt that this fleeting sensation might at any moment
strengthen into an irresistible desire and longing to be up and about
once more among his fellow-men. This sort of life was all very well
for a time, but, after all, it was an inglorious sort of existence,
and Boris knew that even his devotion to Nancy and her babies--for
she had two now--would not suffice to keep him at Karapselka very
much longer, especially if anything should happen to reawaken his old
spirit of enterprise, or to bring him again within the magic of the
Tsar's presence and favour. Of this last Boris had but little hope, for
Peter's displeasure had been too deep for forgiveness; but there were
rumours of war with Sweden, which Colonel Drury, who brought the news,
said would be a long and terrible struggle if the threatenings came to
anything; and Boris in his wanderings through the forest continually
found himself turning over in his mind the idea that if war broke
out with Sweden he must have a share in the business, ay, even if he
enlisted as a soldier of the lowest rank to do it. Had not the Tsar
himself started at the very foot of the ladder? then why not he? He
was barely twenty-eight; there was plenty of time to carve himself out
new honour and a new career with the sword. And if, _if_ he were so
fortunate as to gain the notice of the Tsar, by some feat of arms, for
instance, or some act of bravery on the battle-field--and the Tsar's
eye saw everything, so that it would not escape his notice--who knows?
As a new man his beloved master might take him into new favour.

Occupied with these thoughts, Boris walked one winter day through the
forest, looking for the tracks of any beast that should have had the
misfortune to pass where he too wandered. Suddenly the hunter was
pulled up in his reflections, as also in his stride, by a largish
footprint in the snow. He knew it at once for what it was--a wolf's;
but the experienced eye of Boris knew also at a glance what a less
expert woodcraftsman would not have known--namely, that here had passed
not one wolf but several, for wolves prefer to tread in one another's
tracks, in order to save themselves the trouble of plunging into the
snow and out again.

Boris examined the track, and judged that there must have been five or
six wolves, at least, travelling in a procession, and also that they
must have passed this spot but a very short while ago, for the loose
snow-powder still sifted into the holes left by the animals' feet.

The sporting instincts of Boris never required much to arouse them when
dormant, and in a moment Boris had forgotten all about the possible
Swedish war, and enlistment, and everything else, excepting the fact
that here was a family of wolves, and here was he, the hunter, and that
the sooner he followed up and engaged those wolves the greater would be
his happiness. So away went Boris upon the trail, flying like the wind
upon his light Archangel snow-shoes, which are the best in the world,
and the use of which Boris understood perhaps better than any man in
all Russia.

Before he had gone very far the hunter noticed that the track of a man,
without snow-shoes, came into that of the wolves, cross-wise--that is,
the wolves had come upon the track of this man, and had turned aside
to follow it. "Hungry wolves," said Boris to himself; "going to run in
the man's tracks--perhaps to attack him if they get a good chance!"
Accordingly Boris hastened on, for he scented fun in this, and his life
of late had been terribly lacking in incident.

The tracks meandered about in the most curious way, now heading in one
direction, now in another, and at last travelling round in a complete
circle and recrossing a point where they had passed before; and
wherever the man went the wolves had gone also. "Lost his way," thought
Boris. "How frightened the poor fellow must have been when he crossed
his own track and saw there were wolves after him!" Then the hunter
could see that after crossing the old tracks the wanderer had greatly
accelerated his pace. "Frightened," thought Boris; "and small wonder."

Soon there was audible at no great distance a noise of yelpings, such
as wolves make when they grow excited in the pursuit of their prey; and
Boris rightly concluded that these wolves were very hungry, and not
likely to hold back from attacking a single man, unless he should be
provided with fire-arms. He had better make all speed, or the matter
might end unpleasantly for one of the members of the hunt.

And presently Boris ran suddenly into a stirring sight. There, before
him, with his back to a tree, stood a big, kaftaned man, armed with a
dagger, keeping at bay as best he could a band of seven wolves, who, to
judge by their demeanour, had every intention of pulling him down. If
there was one thing in all the world that Boris would have chosen, it
was such an enterprise as this. His very soul was athirst for a good
slashing fight with man or beast--it was four or five years since he
had engaged in a real scrimmage against odds, such as this promised to
be; so Boris flourished his axe and rushed into the thick of it with a
shout of real exultation. Right and left he slashed, and right and left
again, and two wolf-lives had gone out in a moment, while two other
gray bleeding creatures crawled yelping and snarling away to die in
hiding. Another rush in, and the foe would wait no longer, but turned,
and in an instant were skulking away into the forest.

Then for the first time Boris looked up at the man whom he had saved
from the unpleasant position of a minute or two ago, and as he raised
his eyes the axe fell from his hand, and his heart gave a great bound
of surprise and joy, and then stood still.

Of all the men in the world least likely to be met with in this place,
of all men in the world that Boris loved the dearest and honoured the
most, and most ardently longed to see and to speak to, it was he--the
Tsar--Peter!

For a full minute neither spoke. The heart of Boris was too full for
words, and his tongue refused to utter sound of any sort. When at
length the silence was broken, it was the Tsar who spoke, and his voice
seemed to Boris unlike the old boisterous voice of three years ago; it
was quieter and a little tremulous.

"Boris," said the Tsar, "this cannot be accident; we are but puppets in
the hands of a mightier Power which overrides our puny will and laughs
at our dispositions. This is the fourth time, I account it, that you
have directly or indirectly stood between me and death; how can I
possibly continue to hold aloof from you, my brother?"

At these words all the old love and devotion that Boris had felt for
his master completely overcame him, and he fairly flung himself at
Peter's knees and hugged them, weeping.

"No, no; get you up, my Bear-eater," said the Tsar, raising him.
"It appears to me that we were both somewhat wrong upon a memorable
occasion; I have since thought so more than once. And having said this
much, I will neither say nor hear another word in respect of those
events, which are done with and lie buried in the past. As concerning
the present, my Boris, what brought you so miraculously here at the
precise moment when you of all men were the most needed? I had you in
my mind as you appeared, and had but that instant bethought me that I
would you were with me as of old; and at that same instant you came."

Then Boris, his heart bursting with great joy, began to tell the Tsar
how that his house was but a few miles away, and that in this same
house he and Nancy had dwelt for the last three years. Peter knew
nothing of all this, for the name of Boris was never breathed at court
since the day of his disgrace, seeing that the Tsar himself never
spoke it. Then Peter in his turn explained how he had wandered from
his suite in pursuit of a roebuck, but had lost his way; and how he
had not thought of danger until he found himself pursued by wolves and
armed with but a knife. And both thanked God that Boris and his axe had
chanced to wander in the same direction.

Then the pair got to talking of old days and their many adventures
together as they walked towards the house; and the Tsar graciously
said that now he had found him again, he could only wonder how he had
contrived to do without his faithful bear-eater so long, and would
Boris, forgetting all that had been unpleasant in the past, return
to his service once more, and things should be as they had been at
the return from England? And Boris could only weep for joy, and this
foolishness was the wisest thing he could find to do.



CHAPTER XXIV.
WITH THE TSAR AGAIN.


Supper at Karapselka that night was a happy meal for Boris and his
wife, though Nancy, as a matter of fact, preserved her secret private
opinion as to the rights and wrongs of the quarrel over the Streltsi,
and did not altogether forgive Peter for his conduct at that time.
But Boris was happy in his restoration to the Tsar's favour--that was
enough for Nancy to think of to-night; and the Tsar was certainly all
kindness and cordiality and friendship towards her husband. And so the
evening was a right joyous one to herself as well as to Boris.

Peter declared that now he was here he should stay and have one more
hunt with his bear-eater before returning to Moscow. As for his suite
and their feelings, they deserved a lesson for their awkwardness in
losing their master in the forest. They might roam the woods in search
of him all night and to-morrow morning as well. If one or two of the
lazy hounds were eaten by wolves, so much the better; there would be
vacancies for better men!

Accordingly, arrangements were made for the Tsar to sleep at
Karapselka, and Nancy went upstairs to prepare the best bed and the
most luxurious coverings and decorations that the house afforded. And
an extremely good piece of work she made of it; for Nancy was a young
person of some taste in these matters. But when the Tsar was shown,
with pride, to his chamber, the very first thing he did was to gather
all these Turkish coverings and Persian silk draperies and fineries
together and pitch an armful of them outside the door; after which he
dragged the hardest of the mattresses from the bedstead, laid it upon
the floor, and slept upon it.

In the morning, Tsar and hunter had a great spin on snow-shoes. They
found a lynx track, which was great good luck, Boris said, for lynxes
are rare; and following it for miles, they eventually came so close
upon the animal's heels that it was forced to run up a tree to avoid
being caught and killed from behind. No shaking of the tree from below
could bring the lynx to the ground, and it appeared that the animal
must either be shot in the tree or fetched down by hand--which is
an exceedingly unpleasant process, and not to be recommended to the
amateur.

"Now, Boris," said the Tsar, "shall it be you or I? We are both fairly
good at climbing the rigging!" But the hunter could not think of a Tsar
of Russia climbing a pine tree after a lynx, and was half-way up before
the words were well out of Peter's mouth.

The lynx looked down the tree and up the tree, and ran up a little
higher, till the top of the pine bent with its weight like a
fishing-rod. Then it looked at the next tree, which was the better
part of ten yards away; and glared down at Boris, and hissed like a
great cat at bay to a dog. Suddenly the creature jumped straight for
the nearest tree, and alighted fairly upon an outstanding branch; but,
alas, the branch was a dead one, and broke with the weight, and down
came the lynx with a thud to the earth close to the feet of the Tsar.
Down came Boris also, almost as rapidly, and he and the Tsar threw
themselves upon the animal almost at the same instant.

Though stunned with its fall, the infuriated lynx, which vies with
the tiger for ferocity when at bay, instantly seized the Tsar by the
leg--the imperial limb being clad, luckily for the imperial feelings,
in thick Russian thigh-boots--whereupon Peter caught the animal's
neck with one great hand, and deftly passed his knife across its
yellow throat with the other. The sharp teeth loosened their hold of
the leather hunting-boots, the terrible claws relaxed, the wicked,
yellow-green eye grew slowly dim, and the lynx lay dead at Peter's feet.

The Tsar was as pleased as a schoolboy with his success, and together
he and Boris skinned the creature as a memento of the exploit.

Afterwards, as the pair strolled together through the woods, the talk
fell upon politics and the projects of Peter. War was certain and
imminent, the Tsar said; Poland had joined with him in an engagement to
drive the Swede out of the Baltic.

"Only think of it, my Bear-eater," said Peter, "the Baltic!--ports,
Boris, seaports! How we shall fight for our windows. If it takes us a
score of years, we shall have them!"

The Tsar spoke more prophetically than he knew of; for those ports were
won indeed, but the final winning of them actually did cost Russia
twenty years of fighting by sea and land, so stubborn was the struggle.

Then came the question as to what part Boris should play in these
weighty projects which were so soon to be embarked upon; and at this
point the hunter's exultation received a check, for Peter spoke as
though it must be taken for granted that Boris would recommence his
career at the foot of the ladder--he must enlist. That, the Tsar
explained, was indispensable; for he could not stultify himself
by taking Boris back straight into all the ranks and dignities of
his former position. What would the rest of the officers of the
Preobrajensk think? Yes, Boris must enlist.

Boris looked foolish, but said nothing. For the life of him, he could
not tell whether the Tsar was pleased to joke with him or was serious.

"I am only a major myself, you know," continued Peter, "and I cannot
have officers admitted into the regiment at a grade senior to my own;
that would delay my promotion."

"Very well then, your Majesty," said Boris, simply because he could
think of nothing else to say, "then I enlist."

"Come, come, then," said Peter, "we've made a start. I congratulate
you, Mr. Private-soldier Boris Ivanitch, and may your promotion be
speedy!"

Boris began to think that the Tsar was scarcely treating an old friend
very generously. He grinned, however, weakly, because there was nothing
else to do, and said he was "much obliged."

"Let me see," Peter continued, after a pause; "was it you or was it
another who saved me from an old she-bear at Archangel some years
since?"

Boris began to fear for the Tsar's reason, but he replied,--

"It was I, your Majesty; but then you had befriended me a few days
before, so that we were quits for that."

"What! the bear you ran away from? Dear me! yes; so I did. Well, well,
never mind that. As I was about to observe, in consideration of the
service you did me on that day, I think you might be allowed a step in
rank--say a corporal. You are promoted, Mr. Corporal!"

"I am extremely obliged," said poor Boris, bewildered.

"Who was it behaved rather well that afternoon when the pack of wolves
attacked us?" asked Peter, with perfectly-assumed seriousness, a minute
or two later. "Was it you or old Ivan the driver?"

"Oh, Ivan, your Majesty," said Boris, nettled at the Tsar's levity.

"Ah, modest as usual!" said the Tsar. "But it won't do, Boris; you must
be promoted, whether you like it or not! Sergeant of the Preobrajensk,
I congratulate you!"

"Thank you, your Majesty; but surely I have already received all the
recognition those services deserved, for you rewarded me well at the
time with many favours."

"Well, now, there's a good deal in what you say," said Peter, still
quite serious, "and perhaps you are right. Your promotion, Mr.
Sergeant Boris Ivanitch, should, properly speaking, follow some signal
achievement of the present time, and not be awarded for services long
past. Now, see what I have in my mind. You were a good jumper in the
old days; I daresay you are stiffer now, for want of practice. Here
I lay my cap on the ground: for every foot you can jump beyond the
distance of five yards, you shall have a step in rank. There, now,
that's fair enough; only don't jump yourself into a major-general, for
I have too many of them on my hands already."

"Come, come!" thought Boris, "if the Tsar is in this playful mood, I'm
his man!" So the hunter stripped off his kaftan and laid aside his
heavy long-boots, and chose a spot where the snow was hard enough to
bear him running over it, and stood ready to jump for his rank and
position in life.

"Three jumps," said the Tsar, "and I'll measure the best. My foot is
just an English foot, without the boot."

Boris girt up his loins, took a good run, and launched himself into
space. But he was stiff, and barely cleared the five-yard mark planted
by the Tsar.

"Only just got your commission," Peter remarked. "That won't do; you
must leap better than that."

At the second attempt Boris cleared a foot and a half over the mark.

"Better!" said the Tsar; "but leap well up for your last!"

This time the hunter, who was getting into the way of it now, sprang so
lightly and powerfully that the Tsar ran up excitedly to measure the
distance. As he placed his feet down one behind the other, measuring,
he ticked off the promotions thus:--

"Sub-lieutenant, lieutenant, captain, major, and a bit--say brevet
lieutenant-colonel. Bravo, bravo, Colonel Bear-eater, 'tis a good
jump--nineteen and a half feet--and it has landed you one grade
above me! A good jump indeed!" And so pleased was the Tsar with his
pleasantry, that he caused Boris's commission to be made out endorsed
with all these promotions, "for special service."

       *       *       *       *       *

Boris found great changes in Moscow. As he and the Tsar reached the
western gate of the city, the hunter was immensely surprised to observe
hanging upon a large post what at first sight appeared to be a human
being, but which proved, on closer inspection, to be a suit of clothes
such as he had seen worn in London by the people of the country.
Written underneath the clothes, in large letters that all might read,
was a notice to the effect that it was the Tsar's will that all his
subjects above the rank of peasant should wear clothes of a cut similar
to the suit here represented. Any who left or arrived in the city by
any gate thereof, at any time after the 1st January 1700, without
having previously complied with this ookaz, should be condemned to pay
a heavy fine, or submit to have their kaftans cut short to the knee by
the gatekeeper.

Peter informed his companion that most people had quietly submitted to
the change, but that there were still many who would neither wear the
new clothes nor pay the fine which would be payable at each passing
through the gates of the city, whether leaving or returning; and that
these men went with kaftans cut short to the knee, to the huge delight
of the people.

Boris saw the gatekeeper in the act of cutting down a kaftan; and
certainly the appearance of the obstinate gentleman who wore it was
funny enough to justify the amusement which it caused to the yelling
and hooting crowd who watched him leave the place. Boris laughed till
the tears ran down his cheeks, as he stood with the Tsar and looked on
at the comedy; nor did he stop laughing until the Tsar jogged him by
the elbow and said, "Come, Bear-eater, your turn; will you pay up or be
cut short?" Then Boris laughed no more, but paid up with the best grace
he could.

And this was the Tsar's method of teaching his people the way to dress
_à l'Anglais_. Boris noticed, further, that beards were no longer
worn in Moscow, and found that this also was the result of an ookaz
from Peter, which ookaz cost Boris himself a very fine specimen of
a patriarchal Russian beard; indeed, when he rode down next day to
Karapselka, poor Nancy did not recognize him in his new style of
apparel and without the flowing ornament to his chin, though she was
bound to admit, when she became used to them, that both the changes
were great improvements to his personal appearance.

The officers of the Preobrajensk greeted Boris as one returned from
the grave. He had always been a favourite with his fellows, and their
delight to have him back among them was cordial and sincere. From them
Boris learned that the Tsar's evil humour had lasted for long months
after the hunter's banishment from Moscow; and that his bitterness
against Boris must have been deep indeed, for that he had never once
mentioned the name of the bear-hunter in all the three years of his
absence. Accordingly, they congratulated him the more sincerely
upon his return to favour; and when Boris described to the mess,
or rather to the assembled officers at the favourite eating-house,
where his return was celebrated, how he had literally jumped from
non-commissioned rank to that of brevet lieutenant-colonel, they fairly
roared with laughter in their delight, for, they said, the Tsar must
be quite coming round again to his old _status quo ante Streltsi_, and
they had not heard of so "Peterish" an action on his part for many a
long day.

So, at last, after three years of quiet life in exile at Karapselka,
Boris was restored to favour, and entered once more upon an active
military career. For the next three or four years he enjoyed many
opportunities of distinguishing himself in arms, and of engaging in
the kind of stirring adventure which his soul loved; for, a few months
after his arrival, with Nancy and her babies, in his new Moscow home,
war was declared with Sweden, and the entire army lately raised by
Peter and carefully drilled by himself and his trusted veteran officers
at Preobrajensk, together with the four old regiments raised by Lefort
and Peter for the siege of Azof, marched away for the Swedish fortress
of Narva, and with them went Boris the Hunter.



CHAPTER XXV.
BORIS HAS A NARROW ESCAPE.


The formation of the twenty-nine new regiments which were to take part
in the war had been an arduous undertaking. While Boris was in exile
at Karapselka the Tsar had lost two capable assistants, as well as
dear friends, in Lefort and Gordon, both of whom had died during that
interval of time. Had these men lived to assist him at this emergency,
there is no doubt that the raw peasantry now sent up for training at
Preobrajensk would have emerged from their months of drill in a higher
state of efficiency than that in which they actually marched out of
Moscow in August. Nevertheless much had been done, and the Tsar had
worked as few but he could labour to make soldiers of them. In this
matter Boris was of inestimable service to him; and many a time did
Peter declare that he would not for half his empire that those wolves
had not run him down in the Karapselka forest and in doing so brought
him back his bear-eater, for what could he have done without Boris at
this time?

Nancy was sensible enough to see that, happy as she had been with her
husband for three long years of country life at Karapselka, she must
accept the inevitable, and allow him to do now as his duty and his
manhood dictated. So Boris bade farewell to his young wife, and the
little wolf-maiden and her tiny brother, and marched away from Moscow
with a feeling that life was recommencing for him--stern, workaday,
adventurous life--and that the idle paradise of Karapselka had been
nothing but a dream.

The possession of Livonia and Esthonia, of Ingria and Karelia was the
darling object of Peter's ambition. He longed for the mastery of the
Gulf of Finland and a grip of the Baltic coast as a hungry man longs
for the food he sees in a shop window. Without some outlet to the sea
in this direction, he well knew that Russia could never develop her
trade and take her proper position in Europe as a European power.

But Sweden at this time was strong and courageous, and there sat
upon her throne a young prince who had been devoted from his
earliest infancy to the study of war and its practice in the
playground--Charles XII.; who at this very moment was proving to the
allies of Russia--Poland and Denmark--that in picking a quarrel with
him they had attacked a hornet's nest. Charles had not as yet attained
to his full reputation as a soldier; but he was formidable already, and
his name was feared and respected by all who had had dealings with him
in the field. For this reason, Peter knew well that he must proceed
with caution.

No sooner was war declared than he marched away towards Narva, the
nearest Esthonian fortress occupied by the Swedes; for, could he but
possess himself of this stronghold, he foresaw that the Neva and the
opposite coasts of the Gulf of Finland would be practically at his
mercy, for both Livonia and Esthonia would be cut off from direct
communication with those parts.

Thus Narva became the first objective for the armies of Peter. But the
journey from Moscow to that fortress, undertaken at this late season of
the year, proved long and tedious. The transport service was crude and
inefficient, and the want of stores delayed the march; the roads were
frightfully bad, as any one who knows Russian roads, even at this day,
may well believe; hence it was not until the first days of November
that the first detachment of troops with a portion of the artillery
arrived before the walls of Narva.

The Tsar himself superintended the placing of the guns in position,
and fired the first shot. It was soon found that the gun-carriages had
been so knocked about that they would not stand more than two or three
discharges, and then broke in pieces. By the 14th November all the
powder and shot had been used, and the troops were obliged to sit and
wait for new supplies with the best grace they could muster.

During this tiresome period of waiting the garrison of Narva made
several gallant sorties. During one of these, Peter's own regiment,
the Preobrajensk, was engaged, Boris and the Tsar both fighting at
their posts. One of the foreign officers, a certain Major Hummert, at
one period of the engagement, finding himself pressed by the Swedes,
became alarmed, and gave the word to retire; thereupon the whole
regiment turned and fled in sudden panic, in spite of all the efforts
of the officers to keep them in their places. The Tsar was furious, and
sent for Hummert in the evening, when the day's fighting was over, in
order to treat him to one of those ebullitions of passion in which he
indulged on provocation. But poor Hummert could not face the ordeal,
and escaping from the lines under cover of the darkness, deserted to
the enemy. Peter hung him in effigy; but the Swedes themselves improved
upon this by hanging the deserter in the flesh. Shortly after this
episode, the Tsar left the Russian troops at Narva and departed to
attend to other duties, and while he was absent a great and unexpected
misfortune befell the Russians.

No sooner did Charles of Sweden hear of the action of Peter in
laying siege to Narva than he took ship with nine thousand troops
for Revel and Pernau. Landing at these ports, he marched with all
his characteristic energy and marvellous expedition straight across
country to Narva, falling upon the Russians from the rear like a sudden
terrible tornado. The Russians, with the exception of the Preobrajensk
and Semenofski--two of the veteran regiments--ran like sheep, hardly
striking a blow in self-defence. They rushed hither and thither
headlong, shrieking that the "Germans had betrayed them," and making
matters very unpleasant for their foreign officers, many of whom they
killed, or chased over the field. The Preobrajensk, with Boris among
them, held out bravely, and Boris had the honour of crossing swords
with Charles XII. as the latter rode by slashing right and left
with his weapon, and doing execution at each passage of his terrible
blade. Boris barred his way, guarded a tremendous downward cut at his
helm, and lunged fiercely back, striking the Swedish king full in the
breast-plate, and causing him to grab with his left hand at the horse's
mane in order to prevent himself falling over backwards. Charles was
furious, and smote at Boris with such energy that, though Boris guarded
the blow, the sword cut his tall Preobrajensk helmet clean in two,
but fortunately left his head untouched. Then the hunter's blood was
thoroughly up, and he slashed back at the king with such good will that
his Majesty was knocked clean off his horse by the force of the blows,
though his body remained unwounded. At the same moment the horse itself
received a flesh wound and dashed away in terror and pain. But Charles
was quickly placed upon a second horse by his people, who thronged
around when they perceived his dangerous position, and the king, though
he endeavoured to get back to Boris, was unable, because the crowd
separated them. Charles turned in his saddle and smiled and waved to
Boris. "Well done, Russian," he shouted. "I am glad there are not many
of them like you! We'll finish this another day!"

But Boris, together with the rest of his regiment, was being forced
back at this moment, fighting for every yard of ground, and he had
no time to respond to his Majesty's kind attentions. Bravely the
Preobrajensk fought, but the weight of numbers drove them back surely
and steadily; and now they were upon the bridge which the Russians
themselves had built in order to connect the two portions of their
camp, which occupied both sides of the river. Suddenly, the bridge
being crammed at the moment with crowds of Russian soldiers and
gun-carriages, all retiring face to foe, there was a terrible sound
of crashing and rending timbers, which rose above the din of musketry
fire, the shouting of officers, and the cries of the wounded, and in an
instant Boris found himself struggling in the half-frozen waters of the
river, one of several hundred Russians in the same predicament.

As we have had occasion to see during the course of his adventurous
career, water had no terrors for Boris; but to the danger of drowning
was added on this occasion a far greater peril. The banks were lined
with Swedish soldiers, and these men immediately opened fire upon the
unfortunate Russians in the water. As Charles wrote to a friend after
the battle, "The greatest fun was when the bridge broke and tumbled
the Russians into the water. The whole surface of the river was crammed
with heads and legs of men and horses sticking up, and my men shot at
them as though they were ducks."

It may have been very amusing for Charles XII. to watch, but it was
very poor fun for Boris and his unfortunate companions, who were
drowned around him in scores, while hundreds of others were killed by
the rain of bullets poured upon them from the banks.

Boris felt that this was indeed a critical moment in his career, for if
he allowed his head to remain a moment above the surface his life was
not worth a moment's purchase. Accordingly, the hunter allowed himself
to sink to the bottom, and then swam under water down the current, as
fast and as far as his breath would hold out. The water was freezing
cold, and he was much hampered in his swimming by the numbers of
drowning men whom he was obliged to circumvent as far as possible for
fear of being seized and drowned before he could escape from the grip
of despair.

Boris came to the surface some twenty yards from the bridge, but the
bullets were falling upon the water like hailstones in a sharp shower,
and after taking a gulp or two of air he sank once more. He was
instantly gripped by a drowning man, who clung to his throat with both
hands. Boris felt that his last hour was come, and said the prayer
of the dying; nevertheless he gripped the man by the neck also, and
it became a strangling match. For ten seconds or so, which seemed an
eternity, both men throttled each other in this strange and unnatural
duel, and then Boris saw the man's mouth open wide and the water pour
in, and the poor fellow's grasp relaxed and let go, and he floated away.

Boris rose to the surface a second time, but little further from the
bridge than before. Finding a dead body floating beside him as he rose,
he used this as a screen from the fire while he took four or five deep
lungfuls of air. He was used to the water now and did not feel it so
cold. He dived again, and this time he swam under water for a long
distance, coming to the surface far enough from the bridge to be out of
the great crush of struggling humanity.

From this point his progress was much easier; and though he was shot
at several times, none of the bullets struck him. One Swedish soldier
ran down the bank after him, and fired twice as he rose. Boris was
obliged to pretend that he was hit in order to rid himself of this
tiresome individual. He raised his arms and gave a cry as of one sorely
struck, and sank; but came to the surface ten yards further up stream
and close under the bank, whence he watched the soldier look out for
him to appear at a point lower down, his musket ready to shoot again.
Presently the man, satisfied that Boris was "done for," came slowly
along towards the bridge, and the hunter bobbed beneath the current,
though he stood in shallow water close to the low bank. As he came up
again the Swedish soldier was just passing him, but he did not see him,
for he was gazing towards the bridge, looking out for more Russian
ducks to wing. Boris could not resist the temptation, but stretched
out his arm and seized the man by the leg, pulling him violently as he
did so. The Swede slipped and fell with a cry of surprise and alarm;
but Boris dragged him remorselessly down into the cold stream before
he could recover himself, and pushing him out into deep water drowned
him then and there as a punishment for his cruelty in shooting poor,
struggling Russians as they battled for life with the river.

Almost worn out, Boris, by swimming and diving, succeeded in making his
way to a turn of the stream where he was out of sight of the bridge and
its tragedies, and he came to the shore for a good rest.

He was numb and cold and stiff, and finding a dead Swedish soldier he
took the liberty of divesting him of his uniform and of putting himself
into it, leaving his own wet garments on the ground. He took the man's
sword and pistol also; and thus provided, Boris felt that, all things
considered, he had come fairly well out of this adventure.

After resting a while, the hunter took careful observations from a
neighbouring tree to discover in which direction the Russian army had
fled, and how best to avoid the Swedish troops which, he imagined,
would be sure to have followed in close pursuit. But Boris soon found
that he had little to fear from the Swedish forces. They had by this
time all returned to the Russian camp, and were now making free with
the Russian provisions, which they much needed, since they had marched
for nearly three days without resting and with scarcely any food to
eat, thanks to the energy and military ardour of their young king, who
was determined to reach the Russian position before rumours of his
landing should have spoiled his game.

That night every Swedish soldier in his army was drunk with Russian
vodka; and had the Russians known it, they might have returned and
made short work of their late victors. But the troops of the Tsar were
now far away, heading for home as rapidly as they could get over the
ground, in terror for their lives, and imagining that the Swedes with
that terrible young king at their head would overtake them and cut them
to pieces at any moment.

Thus Peter's first attempt to wrest a fortress from Sweden proved
a terrible failure; but the experience was by no means an unmixed
disaster for Russia, because of its different effect upon the minds
of the two sovereigns concerned. Charles was puffed up with pride and
vainglory, and from the day of his victory at Narva imagined himself to
be invincible, and the Russians to be mere sheep who would scatter at
any time at the barking of a dog. The Tsar, on the other hand, took his
defeat coolly and sensibly. It was an object lesson, and he recognized
it as such. His men were, he knew, mere recruits; the troops of Charles
were veterans. He studied the details of the fight as reported to him
by his generals, and learned, by careful comparison, where the Swedish
generalship had been superior to the Russian, and made a note of it.
"We shall learn to fight by-and-by!" he said; "and when we have
learned what Charles has to teach us, we shall practise our knowledge
upon our teacher!" Events proved that Narva was a blessing in disguise
to the vanquished Russian troops, and that this was so is due to the
greatness of Peter.



CHAPTER XXVI.
HOW BORIS OUTWITTED THE SWEDISH ADMIRAL.


His reverse at Narva aroused the Tsar to tremendous exertions. He met
the remains of his beaten troops at Novgorod, where he ordered every
portion of the scattered army to assemble and report itself. The town
of Novgorod first, and afterwards those of Pskof and Petcherski--the
site of the famous monastery--were strongly fortified and garrisoned,
as the frontier to be defended against a possible advance of the
enemy. For the work of fortification every man, woman, and child in
the several districts was employed; the services in the churches were
suspended in order that the priests might be free to assist in the
business of national defence; houses and even churches were pulled down
if they in any degree impeded the work; the bells of cathedrals and
monasteries all over the country were melted down to supply metal for
the forging of cannon; and through it all Peter himself worked like a
common labourer in the trenches, except that he did as much work as any
three other men. His disposition towards those generals who had been
beaten at Narva was kind, and he did not this time allow his passion to
get the mastery of his judgment; so that all men worked in harmony for
the defence of the fatherland.

Gradually the troops dribbled into Novgorod, arriving sometimes in
bodies of several hundreds, and occasionally in small companies of ten
or a dozen men.

One fine afternoon a small company reached the town, bringing with
them a Swedish prisoner, whom they led straight to the Tsar as he
stood working in the trenches, exceedingly proud of their achievement
in having secured and retained the fellow, for he was a big man, much
bigger than any of themselves, and a good deal too big for his clothes.
The men marched up to the trench where the Tsar was busy with his
spade, and stood at attention. Peter looked up after a while. "Well,"
he said, "what is it?"

"A Swedish prisoner, your Majesty," said the men.

Peter was all attention immediately, for this was the first prisoner
brought in, and he might prove an exceedingly valuable source of
information as to Charles's intended movements. The Tsar fumbled in
his pocket for loose cash, intending to bestow a gratuity on those who
had effected the capture. But as he did so his eye fell upon the face
of the prisoner. Peter stared at the fellow. Suddenly his countenance
changed, and he burst into one of his loudest laughs.

"Bear-eater," he said, "I shall never believe you dead again, until
I bury you with my own hands.--Get out there, you idiots, and report
yourselves to your colonel; your prisoner is about as much a Swede as I
am.--Here, Boris, my wonderful Bear-eater, come into this ditch, if you
aren't a ghost, and tell me all about it. Don't think I am not mighty
glad to see you; but there's no time for chatting idly. Get a spade and
come in; we can talk as we dig."

So Boris was obliged to do half a day's work in the trenches while he
told the Tsar his story, part of which we know.

"At last," Boris continued, having described his adventures in the
water, and how he had travelled half the night in pursuit of the
retiring Russian troops--"at last I overtook those heroes there, who,
seeing that I was in a Swedish uniform, were at first for catching up
all they were possessed of and continuing their headlong flight; but
finding that I was but one belated man, and without a musket besides,
they gallantly surrounded me and discussed my throat as a suitable
whetstone for their swords. I informed them in my purest Russian
that I was of their own way of thinking--not as to my throat, but
politically; but they were not to be taken in, and declared that I was
a Swedish spy, and as such ought to be shot. I pointed out that, even
if this were so, it would be far better to make me a prisoner and take
me straight to the Tsar, who would give them a handsome gratuity for
their service. What would they gain by shooting me down? There would be
no nachaiok [tea-money], and no glory either; for none would believe
them, and they could not well take along my body for evidence, with
the Swedish troops in full pursuit behind them; it would hamper their
movements and prevent their escape! This last consideration decided
them, and they took me prisoner, and bound me hand and foot. One of
them had secured a horse, and as I found it awkward to walk all tied
up like a bit of boiled beef, they put me on the horse and gave me a
pleasant lift to Novgorod; and here I am."

"Well done, my Bear-eater," said the Tsar, delighted with the tale.
"I thought we could trust you to take good care of yourself, and,
believing this, I did not send word to Nancy of your death--which is
just as well. And now I have plenty of work for you!"

There was indeed work, not only for Boris but for all those who had
the safety of the country at heart. Besides the fortifying of the
frontier towns, there was much recruiting to be done. The Tsar would
have nine new regiments of dragoons formed at once; this being one of
the results of his object lesson at Narva, where the cavalry of Charles
had swept Peter's timid footmen before them like autumn leaves before
the storm-wind. Then the infantry regiments must be patched up with new
men to fill the gaps. And the drilling of all these soldiers, new and
old, must be taken in hand by men like Boris qualified to undertake
it. All this necessary work was set agoing without a moment's delay by
the never-weary Tsar; and so well did it proceed that, within a few
months after the rout at Narva, Peter found himself in possession of a
far better army than that which he had left beneath the walls of the
Swedish fortress to be cut to pieces by the enemy as soon as he had
turned his back.

Boris was as busy as man could be over his various occupations, but
found time to write continually to Moscow, where his letters comforted
and entertained his wife amazingly, whose faith in the star of Boris
was so great, that even his narrative of the adventures at and after
Narva alarmed her less than they amused her. She felt, as the Tsar had
declared that he also felt, that under any conceivable circumstances
her husband was well able to take care of himself.

But with the spring came a change for the hunter. News arrived
that the Swedish fleet meditated a descent upon Archangel as soon
as the disappearance of the ice should have rendered navigation
possible. Boris, to his delight, was sent up north to superintend the
fortification of the old town which had been the home of his boyhood
and early youth. The hunter received his new commission with joy, and
started at once, passing through those forests and villages which
were memorable by reason of his adventures with the Tsar nearly ten
years ago. Though there was no time to waste, Boris managed to enjoy a
day or two in the woods, after his old friends the bears and wolves,
and reached Archangel early in April, when he commenced the work of
fortifying the place without further delay.

And now the hunter was to experience one of the most exciting of all
the adventures of his chequered career. Scarcely was the ice away,
and the mouth of the Dwina open to navigation, than one fine day in
May there appeared a fleet of, seemingly, English and Dutch merchant
vessels, which sailed in from sea and anchored off the island of
Modiug. Suspecting nothing, a boat containing fifteen soldiers, acting
as custom-house officials, made the usual visit to the foreign ships
to collect the harbour dues, receive the reports of cargo, and go
through the ordinary commercial formalities in connection with the
port. These men did not return at once; and when night fell and they
were still absent, the authorities were obliged to conclude that the
Dutch or British skippers had proved too hospitable, and that the
officials were still occupied in drinking the health of the first
arrivals of the year. But in the middle of the night Boris, in his
capacity of commissioner of the Tsar, was awakened from his sleep by a
half-drowned, dripping person, who stated that he was one of those who
had been sent on board the supposed English and Dutch merchantmen. He
had swum ashore at Modiug, he said, having escaped from the cabin in
which the company had been confined. But the rest were still on board,
and likely to remain so; for the ships were not merchantmen but vessels
of war, and their crews were not good Englishmen and Dutchmen but
blackguardly Swedes, sailing under false colours in order to steal a
march upon the forts and capture the city unawares as soon as the first
glimmering of light should render such an enterprise possible. The man
had climbed out, by the help of his companions, through the skylight,
choosing his time when the sentry had his back turned, had crept to
the side, let himself down by means of a rope, and swum to the island.
There he found a boat, and got himself rowed quickly to the town; and
here he was! The man added that he had overheard it said that three
of the vessels would signal for a pilot in the morning, and sail into
port; the remainder of the fleet were to wait where they were, in case
of accidents, and would come on if required.

Boris made glad the heart of this dripping hero by rewarding him
handsomely in money, and promising to mention his conduct to the Tsar
at the first opportunity. Then the hunter sat down to think matters
out, and the result of his cogitations was, first, a visit to the
commandant of the fort, to whom he gave his instructions. After this
Boris got himself ready for the further development of his plans,
and took up his position in the pilot-house, whence a good view of
the foreigners would be obtained as soon as it became light enough to
see. Boris had concocted a delightful plot, and hugged himself with
joy to think how the Tsar would roar with laughter when he told him of
it, after its successful outcome. It did not occur to Boris that he
ran about as good a chance of having his own throat cut as ever man
deliberately set himself to run; but then Boris was a great believer in
his own star, and would have laughed at the very idea of danger in his
scheme.

When morning came, Boris soon observed the usual signal flying from the
deceitful flag-ship's mainmast indicating that a pilot was required.
Then he arrayed himself in an over-garment, which caused him to look as
much like a pilot as any other man, stepped into the pilot-boat, and
had himself conveyed on board the Swedish admiral's ship, to the great
astonishment of the real pilot, who could not imagine why the Tsar's
commissioner usurped his duties when he had plenty of his own to look
after.

When Boris stepped aboard the frigate, the Swedish admiral did not
pretend to be other than he really was, but roughly bade the "pilot"
take the vessel into Archangel harbour. The pilot, simulating great
fear and distress of mind, did as he was told--the frigate, followed by
its two companions, sailing gallantly forward on a light wind direct
for port.

But that deceitful pilot did not intend that those Swedish ships should
ever reach the harbour save under the Russian flag, and before a mile
of water had been covered they were all three suddenly brought up by
running straight upon a sandbank which jutted out from the island of
Modiug. When the admiral and the rest of the Swedish gentlemen who
happened to be on deck at the moment of the catastrophe had picked
themselves up from the undignified attitudes into which they had been
thrown by the shock, they learned two extremely unpleasant things.
One was that their pilot had left them the legacy of his topcoat, and
had taken a neat header into the water, whence he was now addressing
certain remarks to them in the English language, remarks of a
valedictory nature, coupled with flattering expressions of the hope
that he would soon have the pleasure of meeting them again on shore;
and the other that the forts were in the act of opening fire upon them
as they lay helpless and immovable upon the sandbank.

Within half a minute of the first discovery a dozen furious Swedes had
snatched their muskets, and a dozen Swedish bullets whistled through
the air and sent up little fountains of spray as they struck the water
somewhere near the spot where the head of that pilot had last appeared.
But the head was no longer there. When it appeared again it did so in a
direction where it was not expected; and though the bullets sought it
once more, they did not find it. The furious Swedes even went so far as
to train a gun upon the vanishing black spot, and banged away merrily
at it with musket and cannon as long as it was in sight, but never went
within several yards of the mark; for Boris dived so deftly and dodged
so cunningly that he invariably had plenty of time to fill his lungs
before he was seen and shot at.

Meanwhile the fort blazed away at the stranded ships, with such success
that these soon hauled down their colours; after which a party of
Russians from the fort put off in boats to take possession, picking up
the swimming pilot on their way. Once on board, the Russians turned the
ships' guns upon the four remaining Swedish vessels and quickly drove
them from their moorings.

Boris was not mistaken as to the Tsar's delight upon hearing of his
exploit. Peter wrote him an affectionate and appreciative letter, in
which he congratulated him on his out-foxing the old Swedish reynard,
presented him with a gratuity of two thousand roubles, and gave him a
commission in the navy. Peter himself was at this time a boatswain in
the same service, having risen, some say, from the humble position of
cabin-boy, in which capacity he had insisted upon entering the navy
in order that he might experience the duties of every grade of both
branches of the service.



CHAPTER XXVII.
SMALL BEGINNINGS OF A GREAT CITY.


Boris lived on at Archangel during the whole of the summer of 1701;
but his Majesty of Sweden did not venture to send a second force to
Russia's only seaport, the first lesson having proved a salutary one.
Boris had therefore plenty of time for the indulgence of his passion
for hunting, and during those pleasant months he was fully occupied in
clearing the country around, including his own native village, of the
bears which infested it. The peasants declared that they had suffered
from a plague of bears since his departure, for there had been no one
to rid the place of them. Accordingly, the hunter had a grand summer of
it among the members of the Bruin family, who must have regretted his
reappearance as fervently as the peasants rejoiced over it. Nancy with
the little ones had joined Boris at Archangel, and the pair enjoyed
many days together in the woods, days which reminded them of old Moscow
times and recalled the three quiet years at Karapselka.

With the approach of winter, however, came letters from the Tsar
appointing Boris to the command of one of the new regiments of
infantry, and requiring his immediate attendance at the head of his men
to act under the orders of General Sheremetieff, who had already had
a brush with the Swedes at Rappin in Livonia, and was now waiting to
follow up his success there with a more important affair. In January
the opportunity arrived, and a serious engagement was fought at
Erestfer, Boris being present with his regiment. On this occasion the
Russian troops gained a victory which went far to efface the memory
of Narva. Three thousand of the troops of Charles XII. were left dead
upon the field, after both sides had fought for several hours with the
greatest courage and determination. Every officer engaged in this fight
was promoted or decorated, Sheremetieff being made field-marshal, and
Boris receiving the decoration of St. Ann. The troops marched into
Moscow in triumph, and a solemn Te Deum was chanted in the national
cathedral in the Kremlin.

The Russians followed up this success with a second brilliant victory
at Hummelshof, which decided the fate of Livonia; and this unfortunate
province was given over to devastation, from the effects of which it
took many years to recover. Swedish prisoners became so common that a
boy or a girl of fifteen years of age could be bought for the sum of
fourpence.

Boris was not present at this second battle, for he had at this time
accompanied the Tsar to Archangel, whither Peter had travelled on
ship-building intent. Here the pair had a small adventure with a
bear. Boris had introduced the Tsar on this occasion to a new method
of hunting the bear--that of sitting in ambush over the carcass of
a horse or a cow, in the hope that the bear will scent the delicacy
and arrive to make a meal of it. On the occasion in question the Tsar
and Boris had sat up in the branches of two pine trees opposite each
other for two nights without result, and were in the midst of a third,
which Peter vowed should be the last--for the carcass was by this time
so very unsavoury that nothing would induce him to sit there another
night--when of a sudden the watchers became aware by sundry gruntings
and shufflings in the distance that the guest for whom the feast had
been set was approaching.

It was a moonlight night, and Peter, being anxious to secure the brute
while he could see to shoot, sighted him as best he could, and pulled
the trigger. The bullet passed through one of the bear's ears, and only
served to enrage it. Seeing the smoke hanging about the tree in which
the Tsar sat, the angry brute rightly guessed that its assailant lurked
amid the branches, and with a roar of rage and defiance it dashed to
the foot of the tree, intent upon climbing it and fetching down the
rash person who had dared to burn its ear with a hot iron.

The Tsar had nothing but his knife to protect himself with; and
remembering this, Boris was somewhat concerned to observe the course
which events had taken. He was not long in making up his mind, however,
that he must shoot and that quickly, for the bear was already half-way
up the trunk of the pine. Boris hastily put his gun to his shoulder and
fired, but his bullet did nothing better than hit the furious brute in
the foot, redoubling its fury.

The Tsar was now in a somewhat serious position, for it is never
pleasant to be obliged to face a bear with no weapon excepting a
knife, and from the insecure position of a pine branch it is even less
agreeable than on _terra firma_. Peter nevertheless drew his knife and
settled himself in his place, resolved to make things as unpleasant as
possible for the visitor, as soon as he should come within striking
distance.

Up came Bruin, hand over hand, climbing very fast, and already the Tsar
was slashing at him, though as yet without reaching him, when suddenly,
with a loud roar of rage, the bear let go his hold of the tree trunk
and slipped down to the ground, clutching at the stem of the tree as
he went. Boris, seeing the Tsar's danger, had slipped down from his
perch, and with a bound just succeeded in catching hold of the bear's
hind feet, from which he dangled and swung with all his weight. This
sudden mysterious tugging from below had so startled Bruin that he let
go and fell together with poor Boris to the ground, the hunter being
undermost. The bear caught him by the leg as he attempted to crawl away
from beneath, and inflicted a nasty wound. But just at this moment the
Tsar dropped from his perch to the ground, and stepping behind the bear
as it tore at the poor hunter's leg, he deftly inserted his sharp
blade in the brute's windpipe and ended the fray.

       *       *       *       *       *

Soon after this last episode, Boris having recovered from his wounds,
the Tsar left Archangel with the hunter, full of plans for a great
_coup_ to be directed at that portion of the Swedish king's territory
which he coveted far more than any other. Peter went south through
the Onega lake, thence by the river Svir to Lake Ladoga, where he met
by appointment Sheremetieff with his army of thirteen thousand men,
still flushed with their great victory at Hummelshof. After a few days'
rest, Peter fell upon the small fortress of Noteburg, which stood upon
a tiny island just where the Neva flows out of Ladoga. This fortress
was attacked with great spirit, and was defended with equal gallantry
by its Swedish garrison. On the second day, Peter received a letter
from the "ladies of Noteburg," begging that they might be allowed to
leave the place, the Russian fire being rather warmer than they liked.
The Tsar, however, returned a characteristic reply to the effect that
he could not think of permitting the ladies to travel alone in these
troublous times; they were quite at liberty to depart, however, if they
took their husbands with them. So on the third day of the siege, the
ladies actually persuaded their lords to escort them to the nearest
Swedish stronghold, and the place was evacuated.

The capture of Noteburg was most important, since it furnished the
Tsar with the mastery of the Neva, so far as its upper waters were
concerned, and there now remained but one small fortress between him
and the open sea. This was a day of joy for Peter. The fort at Noteburg
was rechristened Schlüsselburg, and the Tsar caused the key of the
castle to be fastened to a bastion as an indication that here was the
_open sesame_ to the Neva, which was the gate of the sea.

Having proceeded thus far towards the attainment of his ends, the
conqueror, leaving a strong force in possession of his newly-acquired
fortress of Schlüsselburg, and with it our friend the hunter, hurried
away to Voronej in order to see to the ship-building on the Don, and to
keep an eye upon the movements of Turkey, whom he suspected of designs
upon his city of Azof, the Tartar stronghold whence Boris had escaped
on a memorable occasion.

Boris found life at Schlüsselburg very pleasant. It was winter time,
and the forest in this part of the country was full of game, so that
he had ample opportunity both to enjoy himself and also to instruct
his fellow officers in the delights of the chase. Wolf hunting became
the fashionable occupation among the garrison of Schlüsselburg, and
many were the exciting hunts and adventures which occurred during
those months, not always to the final triumph of the hunters; for more
than one inexperienced sportsman met with his end at the teeth of a
desperate wolf, or in the close embrace of a bear who would not be
denied the pleasure of hugging one of his Majesty's subjects. But my
readers will pardon me if I do not enter into details of these events
in this place, for there is matter of more moment to be described.

The Tsar, having satisfied himself that all was right in the south,
returned to Schlüsselburg in the early part of the year 1703, and
without loss of time proceeded to do that which set the seal upon
Russia's greatness by providing her for ever with that window into
Europe, to attain which was the main object of his life. Peter marched
down the flat banks of the Neva with an army of twenty thousand men
until he came to a spot where a small stream called the Ochta mingles
its waters with those of the larger river. Here was situated the
Swedish stronghold of Nyenkanz, which was quickly bombarded by the
Russian troops, and captured the following day. Peter rechristened this
fort Slotburg, and from this small beginning there arose in a very few
years the city of St. Petersburg, which was built around the nucleus
afforded by this little fort.

Soon after the capture of this all-important _pied-à-terre_, the
garrison were startled to hear one day the sound of two cannon shots
coming from the direction of the Gulf of Finland, which opens out
almost from the very city of St. Petersburg. Peter, guessing rightly
that this was a signal from a Swedish fleet which approached in
ignorance that the place was in the hands of the Russians, immediately
replied with a similar discharge of two pieces. Within an hour a
row-boat appeared, and was allowed to approach close up to the walls
of the fort, when its crew were made prisoners, to their unbounded
astonishment. From these men Peter learned that the fleet consisted
of nine ships of war. Soon after two large vessels were observed to
leave the fleet and sail up the Neva as far as the island now forming
the northern half of the city, and known as Vasili Ostrof (William, or
Basil Island). Here they anchored by reason of the darkness. They had
come to see why their boat had not returned, and what was the meaning
of the suspicious absence of the usual courtesies between garrisons and
maritime visitors.

That night Peter prepared thirty large flat-bottomed boats, and when
morning came loaded these full with two regiments of the Guards, and
made the best of his way, by a circuitous route, towards the Swedish
frigates. The Neva, just before throwing itself into the gulf at St.
Petersburg, spreads out into several branches, like the fingers of
a hand, the spaces between these fingers being occupied by islands.
Hidden among these islands, the barges of the Tsar had no difficulty in
keeping themselves out of sight, and after a thorough inspection of the
Swedish strength it was resolved to make a dash and, if possible, board
the vessels. Accordingly the long oars were got out, and the barges
glided silently around the eastern end of Basil Island, massed just at
that corner where the Bourse now stands, and at a given signal dashed
round the corner and were upon the astonished Swedes in a moment.
Before the enemy could do anything to prevent it, boarding-ladders were
placed at the ships' sides, and crowds of the Russian Guards swarmed
up and over the bulwarks, sword in hand, Peter and Boris among the
foremost.

From the first the Swedes were at a hopeless disadvantage, and in
half-an-hour or less the sailor Tsar found himself in possession of two
very fine specimens of the warship of that day, and, what was still
better, the undisputed proprietor of a fine natural harbour, with
outlet to the sea, to keep them in.

There was no happier man inhabiting this planet that evening than
Peter Alexeyevitch; and if he demonstrated his delight by dancing
upon the supper-table after that meal was over, we must regard with
indulgence this characteristic manner of working off the exuberance
of his feelings in consideration of the momentous importance of his
achievements of the past few days. For Russia had won her first naval
engagement, and from this day would commence to rank as a maritime
power, and to draw into her bosom the wealth and the commerce of other
nations. Truly there was something to dance for, even though it were
among empty bottles and upon the top of the supper-table.



CHAPTER XXVIII.
HOW THE SWEDES ERECTED A GIBBET FOR BORIS.


Now that Russia was, or would be, a maritime power, the Tsar was
determined that those around him, of every grade, should learn
something of naval affairs. While, therefore, the beginnings of the
city of St. Petersburg were in progress, the sovereign devised means
whereby as many as possible of his favourite companions and officers,
as well as humbler classes of his subjects, should at least have the
opportunity of learning the use of sails and oars. Peter organized
entertainments for his people, inviting large numbers to sup with him
each evening in a tent upon an island, which could only be approached
by means of boats or sailing yachts, for of course there were as yet
no bridges. Peter provided the craft as well as the supper, but the
guests were obliged to navigate for themselves. Many, the majority
indeed, of these had never set foot in a boat of any sort in their
lives, and, notwithstanding the honour which an invitation to his
Majesty's board undoubtedly carried with it, they would gladly have
gone without both the honour and the sailing, too. The Tsar's guests
were invited to step into the first boat that came, and whether this
happened to be a rowing or sailing boat they were expected to find
their way unassisted by experts to the imperial sea-girt pavilion. If
this plan was productive of confusion and exciting incident while the
unfortunate guests set out supperwards, it is easy to imagine that the
scenes when these same gentlemen returned after their meal and its
accompanying potations must have been doubly entertaining. Wrecks and
drenchings were the rule; prosperous journeys and the haven safely won
the exception. The Tsar stood upon his island and watched the approach
of his expected guests as one who goes to the play; their frantic
efforts to manage oar and sail gave him the most exquisite delight, his
happiness reaching its culmination whenever one of them, more awkward
than the rest, was upset. No one was permitted to drown, for either the
Tsar himself or Boris or other competent persons were ever at hand to
rescue the shipwrecked; and many a poor dripping wretch was brought
ashore by the hunter, to eat his supper in the miserable anticipation
of more boating to be done afterwards.

Meanwhile a new fortress began to take shape, close to the old one, and
the city of St. Petersburg was commenced.

Boris returned to Moscow in the autumn, and spent the winter with his
family, to the great content of his devoted Nancy. But his peaceful
home-life did not last very long; for with the return of spring the
troops were called out once more to finish that which had been so
well begun in the previous year, and the hunter bade farewell to his
belongings, little thinking that he should come very nigh, during this
summer's campaign, to forming a meal for the Swedish crows--nearer,
indeed, than ever before.

There were two fortresses which the Tsar felt must be his before he
could feel quite secure in the possession of the Neva--namely, Dorpat,
and his old friend Narva, where the Russian arms had received their
first salutary check, and where Boris had so nearly had his brains
blown out as he swam for life in the blood-stained river whose surface
hissed in the hail of the Swedish bullets.

With the siege of Dorpat we are not concerned, for Boris was not
present. Suffice it to say that it fell before the Russian assault
during the summer months, and that its fall greatly encouraged the
other half of the Russian army which sat before the walls of Narva,
among which latter was Boris. Weeks passed, but Narva, mindful of
former achievements, still held out, and besiegers and besieged alike
grew very tired of the weary business of bombarding one another,
and longed for something more exciting. Then the ingenious spirit
of Menshikoff devised a plan which promised at least the chance of
a few lively moments. Early in August the Russian troops before the
city divided themselves under cover of night into two portions. One
half retired out of sight of the city, where they arrayed themselves
in Swedish uniforms, and returning when it became light, with drums
beating and flags flying, fell upon the Russian lines, to the intense
delight of the beleaguered ones within the city, who imagined that
history was here repeating itself, and that Charles himself had arrived
once more in the nick of time to relieve his faithful city, and to
cut the Russians to pieces. Their delight was still greater when the
supposed Swedish hosts hotly pressed the Russians, who slowly but
surely gave way before them towards the walls of the city. So well did
the Russians perform this wholesale piece of play-acting, that not for
one moment did the troops within the city doubt the reality of the
victory which their friends outside appeared to be gaining over the
besiegers. With the intensest excitement they watched the progress of
the fight; and when there was no longer any doubt as to which side was
winning, they threw open the gates of Narva and sallied out to assist
in the rout of the enemy. Then the fleeing hosts turned savagely upon
them, and what was a thousand times worse, the late assailants of the
latter, Swedes though they appeared to be, now took sides with their
defeated foes and fell upon them also. The brave Narva garrison fought
well, though they were surprised and demoralized by the deception of
which they were the victims. They fell back in good order towards
the town; and though they lost several hundreds of their men, they
succeeded in getting home again and shutting their gates in the face of
the Russians, of whom they carried away one or two prisoners.

Boris had acted as one of the pseudo-Swedes, and had fought with his
usual dash, both while the cartridges had been blank ones and the
swords ash staves, and also afterwards when the curtain fell upon the
opening farce and the real play began. He had pressed, at the head of
his men, to the very gates of Narva, and was fighting desperately to
effect an entrance, when something crashed upon him from the walls
above, the gates of the city turned black in his eyes, and as he fell
senseless at the almost-entered haven, the last retiring squad of
Swedish soldiers picked him up and carried him into the city, his men
vainly struggling to effect a rescue, and many of them falling as he
had beneath the showers of large stones and sand-bags hurled upon their
heads from above.

When Boris recovered his senses he found himself in a small cell in
the citadel, aching all over, and sick and weary. He was still in the
Swedish uniform which he had donned for the purpose of carrying out
the ruse of Menshikoff. A tall Swedish guardsman stood at the door.
Boris was visited during the day by many of the leaders of the garrison
troops in Narva, and was questioned by them at great length as to
matters upon which he had not the remotest intention to enlighten
them. One of the officials who thus catechised the poor hunter
recognized him as having been the sham pilot in the Archangel affair
of a year or two ago--the Swede having been at that time on board
the frigate captured by means of the hunter's successful deception.
Boris was unwise enough to laugh heartily as the official recalled
this circumstance, a proceeding which much incensed his interviewer.
It appeared that the commandant of Narva and his officers were not in
the best of humours, by reason of the trick played upon them by the
Russians, and were inclined to make an example of Boris, especially now
that he was recognized as having already outwitted them on a previous
occasion.

Every day Boris was examined by the authorities, but all to no purpose.
Gradually it dawned upon the governor that there was nothing to be done
with this long-limbed Russian, whose legs stuck out of his Swedish
garments, and whose tongue could not be induced to wag. He might just
as well be hung on the ramparts at once, as a warning to other Russian
deceivers who presumed to play-act in Swedish uniforms. So Boris was
given to understand that he might prepare for his end, which would be
brought about on the gallows, and in the uniform which he had dared to
desecrate.

Even to Boris, who believed so implicitly in his own star, this
communication came with somewhat of a shock. To be hung on the gallows
like a common spy, and in full view of his own people too--for the
execution was to take place upon the ramparts--this was rather more
than even Boris could contemplate with serenity! One thing was
certain--he must escape, if he was shot a thousand times in the
attempt; anything would be preferable to hanging on a gibbet.

But there was no question of escape at present. The window, so called,
was too small to admit of the passage of a full-sized human being;
and Boris was certainly full-size. The door of the cell was but the
entrance to a stone corridor which, in its turn, was jealously locked
and guarded, and led into a courtyard full of soldiers. Besides this,
the poor hunter was heavily chained. There could be no talk of escape
here. However, they could not rear a gallows in this little room and
hang him here; they must take him outside to die--and then! Well, then,
Boris promised himself, he would have a merry five seconds or five
minutes with somebody's sword, or, failing that, with his own fists,
which he had learned to use with some skill while in England.

Meanwhile the Russians outside the walls were growing deadly tired of
this long siege. A new general, a foreigner named Ogilvie, had been
brought down by the Tsar to watch the siege. Ogilvie declared that if
the Russians peppered away at Narva until doomsday, in the present
disposition of their guns, they would never take the city. The guns
must be placed differently. If this were done, and a sharp fire kept
up for two days, he would guarantee that the place could be stormed
with success on the third day. Ogilvie's advice was taken. The guns
were brought round to the eastern side of the walls, and a terrific
bombardment was commenced and kept up for two days.

On the morning of the third day, at sunrise, the Tsar, with his new
general and a group of officers, was up and about preparing for the
attack upon the besieged city which was to take place that day. The
fire of the last two days had been marvellously successful, and the
Tsar was in the best of spirits as he visited the guns which had been
so well served on the preceding day. Peter distributed rewards among
the gunners, and bade them recommence their practice immediately. He
swept the walls with his telescope, considering which spot should be
selected as the breach to be stormed by his brave soldiers; for there
were several weak places, and it would be well to concentrate his fire
upon one or two.

"Ogilvie," said Peter, after a prolonged stare through the glass, "what
do you make of the erection upon the eastern ramparts? What are they
doing? It looks to me more like a crane than anything else--probably
to raise stones for patching their walls. They really might save
themselves the trouble."

Ogilvie took the glass. "It's no crane," he said; "it's a gallows. Some
poor fellow going to be hung, I suppose."

"Then why on the walls?" said the Tsar. "That must be for our
edification. They haven't another Hummert, have they, or any deserter
from us; or--" Peter's countenance suddenly changed--"it can't
surely be for Boris Ivanitch! They would never dare!--Here, men! a
hundred roubles to the gunner who brings down yonder gallows on the
walls--fire, quick, every one of you!"

Crash went the big guns one after the other, sending the stonework
flying around the spot indicated, and scattering the crowds of people
who could be distinguished surrounding the gibbet; and, finally, a
shot struck the gallows itself, either full or at a ricochet, and the
erection disappeared. Peter gave orders that the fortunate gunner
should receive his reward, and hurried away to see after the immediate
despatch of the storming party.

Meanwhile Boris, on the evening preceding the events just narrated,
had been informed by a friendly sentry that he was to be publicly
executed on the following morning. He did not sleep the worse for this
information. He had lived up till now with his life in his hand, and
had stood many a time face to face with death, and yet survived it. If
by the mercy of God he should escape this time also, why, so much the
better; if it was decreed that he should die, well, that was no reason
why he should fret all night and destroy his nerve, in case it were
wanted in the morning.

At sunrise Boris was led out upon the ramparts; and certainly his heart
sank when he caught sight of the gallows upon which these Swedish
fellows meant to suspend his long body. He was still bound at the
wrists as he marched up to the place of execution; but they would not
surely hang him in thongs? Boris vehemently protested as the final
arrangements were being made, imploring the officer of the guard to
loose his wrists; but in vain. When all was ready he was seized by
soldiers, and in another instant would have been carried to the gibbet
and set swinging there, when, at this critical moment, big shot from
the Russian lines began to fly high and low and in every direction, and
soldiers and crowd were scattered in an instant to all points of the
compass.

[Illustration: "Bringing up his clenched fists together against the
fellow's chin."
_Page 337._ ]

Boris thought this a good opportunity to make his first move for
freedom. He raised his foot and tripped up one of the men who held him
by the arm, the guards with Boris between them being in full run at the
moment. The man fell. Thus freed of one hindrance to his movements,
Boris quickly turned upon his second custodian, and bringing up his
clenched fists together with tremendous force against the fellow's chin
sent him flying backwards.

The crowd were fortunately too busy rushing hither and thither for
shelter from the Russian cannon-balls to take much notice of the
prisoner and his doings, and Boris was able to dodge round the corner
of a house and into a yard with a gate to it before his bewildered
guards had recovered their feet. Kicking the gate shut behind him,
Boris rushed down the yard and into the back door of a house. Here he
found himself within a kitchen, in which a woman was busy preparing
food, presumably for some one's breakfast Boris appealed to her to
cut his thongs, which she (he being still in his Swedish uniform)
immediately did, without asking questions. Having heartily thanked
the amiable cook, he went back to the yard and prospected through the
key-hole of the gate.

The Russian gunners had made good practice, he observed, during
the last few minutes. The crowd was dispersed; the gallows had
disappeared--shot away, doubtless; many dead soldiers lay about the
walls and in the street below--there was one just outside the yard gate.

This was the very opportunity the hunter required. He opened the gate
and dragged the man inside, where he despoiled him of his sword.
He recognized the fellow as one of the guards from whose hands he
had escaped a few minutes since: clearly he had been in the act of
following Boris into the yard when he was shot down.

Now Boris was ready for anything. If they came to fetch him here, at
this gateway--well, it was narrow, and, barring accidents, he thought
he could defend it against swords all day!

As a matter of fact he was not again molested, for the garrison had
enough to do in defending the breaches in their walls from the storming
party to have any time to search for the escaped prisoner. When his
fellow-officers and the men of his regiment came scouring into the town
an hour afterwards, flushed with victory, and on plunder and prisoners
intent, some of them rushed into the house which had been the hunter's
shelter since the early morning, and there they found our friend Boris
seated in the kitchen over an excellent breakfast, of which some of
them were invited to partake, and waited upon by his benefactress, the
Swedish cook.



CHAPTER XXIX.
MAZEPPA.


And now the Tsar of Russia, well satisfied with the success of his
arms, was for making peace with the King of Sweden. He had made himself
master of Ingria and Livonia, but was ready, if necessary, to restore
the latter province if he might be allowed to retain the Neva with its
two forts of Schlüsselburg and Slotburg.

But Charles XII. would not hear of peace. He would have the Neva forts,
he declared, if it should cost him his last soldier to regain them.
Then Peter sent ambassadors to the court of St. James in London, to
petition for the mediation of Queen Anne. But the ambassadors found
the British statesmen, as they declared, too diplomatic and tricky for
them, and could get no decided answer. Then the Duke of Marlborough
was approached, and handsome bids were made for his good offices, if
only he would consent to be peacemaker. The Tsar offered to the duke
the title of Prince of Siberia, or of Kief or Vladimir, a large sum of
money in gold, and "the finest ruby in Europe." Marlborough did not at
once refuse to act as mediator, but, though he seriously considered the
proposition, nothing came of Peter's offer, and the matter dropped.

Then the Tsar regretfully realized that there was to be no peace, but
that he must make himself ready for war.

The year 1705 began with a victory for Sweden at Gemanerthof, near
Mitau; but Peter, hastening up to the front with fresh troops, stormed
Mitau and made the honours equal. Neither was there much advantage to
either side in 1706, though the Russians were lucky in retiring from
the fortress of Grodno, hard pressed by the Swedes, without serious
misfortune. Charles himself had awaited the moment when the Russian
troops must retire in order to follow them and cut them to pieces,
which he probably would have succeeded in doing, but he was delayed
for a week by the breaking up of the ice on the River Niemen, and this
delay saved the Russians from destruction.

The following year was without military movement on either side, but
was spent chiefly in diplomacy--Peter striving for peace, Charles
insisting upon war; and when the year went out, it left the latter
young monarch occupied in making preparations for the invasion of
Russia, and the Tsar equally busy in putting his forces into order for
the defence of the fatherland.

Meanwhile Boris, after his terrible experiences in Narva, had been but
little engaged in the few military movements of the following year
or two, and had spent most of his time at home in Moscow, or rather
at Karapselka, with Nancy and the children. His little wolf-maiden
was now seven years old, and there was very little of the wolf about
her seemingly; for she was as pretty a child as could be found in all
Russia. Nevertheless she was strangely and passionately devoted to the
woods, and was never so happy as when allowed to accompany her father
and mother upon their drives into the forest. In the summer time she
would spend the entire day there, wandering about among the pines, or
lying couched in a heathery bed at their roots. She was never in the
least afraid of wild animals, and loved nothing better than to hear
repeated the oft-told tale of her own sojourn among the wolves as a
helpless baby. If the truth had been known, she longed in her heart to
see a big wolf, and she would undoubtedly have offered to play with it
then and there had one appeared, without an atom of fear.

Her little brother Boris, aged six, was a fitting companion to this
forest-loving maiden. The boy was the bear-hunter in miniature, strong
and hearty, and a stranger to all cravenness.

Nancy and her husband were proud of their children, and were right
glad, moreover, to have spent this quiet year with them at Karapselka;
for the little ones had not seen much of their father during those
troublous war-years. Next year there would be more fighting--any
one with his eye on the signs of the times could see that; indeed,
half Europe was convinced that 1708 would close with the Swedish
king dictating terms of peace from the Kremlin. Why this should have
been the opinion of Europe it is difficult to say, for the balance
of success up to this point had undoubtedly rested with the Russian
arms; but Charles was making great preparations, and was very much in
earnest, and his reputation as a successful soldier was very great,
and, since he would conduct the new campaign in person, those who knew
best made no secret of their conviction that he would carry all before
him. As for Charles XII., he himself was perfectly sure that there
could be but one end to the struggle. He gave out far and wide that
Russia was to be subdued, and that he intended to do it. She was to be
forced to disband her new regular armies, and Peter was to be made to
restore to the country the Streltsi whom he had abolished, and the old
order of things generally. The Neva was to remain, of course, a Swedish
river; and as for Dorpat and Narva, and the rest of the places which
his fools of generals had allowed Peter to become temporarily possessed
of--why, Charles would soon make him disgorge them.

Meanwhile Boris was summoned to the Tsar, who was busy at St.
Petersburg building that city under difficulties. Peter wished to
send him, he said, on a mission to the hetman of the Cossacks of the
Ukraine, to inquire what force the latter could put into the field for
the approaching campaign of defence. The hetman bore a name familiar
to my readers. He was no other than that Mazeppa whom Voltaire and
Byron have made so familiar to readers of poetry as the hero of one of
the most romantic episodes ever sung by bard or told as sober truth by
historian.

I regret to say that the real Mazeppa was very far from being the
romantic hero he is generally supposed to have been. His ride, strapped
to the back of a wild horse and pursued by numbers of wolves, is little
better than a myth, though founded upon a slight substratum of truth,
as will presently be shown.

Born of Cossack parentage, young Mazeppa appears to have served as
page to King John Casimir of Poland about the year 1660, twelve years
before the birth of Boris; but by reason of his quarrelsome disposition
he soon got himself into trouble at court, and retired to his father's
estate in Volhynia. Here again Mazeppa fell into disgrace, this time
with a neighbouring Polish gentleman. This is where Mazeppa's ride
comes in. The Polish neighbour, infuriated at the young Cossack,
caused his attendants to strip Mazeppa of his clothes, and to fasten
him with thongs to the back of his own horse. In this undignified and
uncomfortable position Mazeppa was conveyed to his home, which lay but
a mile away, the horse galloping straight to its own stable with its
naked master tightly secured to it. After so disgraceful an exposure,
Mazeppa disappeared, and he is next heard of as a man of light and
leading among the Cossacks of the Ukraine.

The Ukraine[3] was a sort of no-man's-land, lying between Pole,
Russian, Turk, and Tartar. To this happy retreat fled, in former years,
every kind of freebooter, robber, and bad character who had made his
own home, whether in Russia or Poland or elsewhere, too hot to hold
him. These were the first Cossacks of the Ukraine. As time went on and
the Cossacks became numerous, large portions of the fertile soil of
the country were reclaimed, and a great proportion of the inhabitants
gradually settled down as peaceful agriculturists, tilling their own
land. Those Cossacks nearest to Poland became independent vassals of
the kings of Poland, and were called "registered Cossacks," because
their names were entered in a book as "subjects" of the Polish monarch,
though they insisted throughout on their absolute independence, and
their hetman or chief considered himself the equal of the king, and
brooked no condescension or patronage from him. Towards the middle
of the seventeenth century, however, the Cossacks threw off the
Polish connection and espoused the cause of Russia; the tribe having
decided by their votes whether they should enrol themselves under
the protectorate of Russia, Poland, or Turkey. Thus the Ukraine
became Russian territory, and the Cossacks, though "preserving their
privileges," acknowledged the Tsar as their head.

This was the position of affairs when Mazeppa appeared among the
Cossacks of the Ukraine.

At this particular juncture there were two hetmans, one being at the
head of that larger half of the population which had embraced the
protectorate of Russia; the other, chief of a portion of the Cossacks
who still coquetted with Pole and Turk and Russian, faithful to none of
the three, but always on the look-out for betterment. Mazeppa became
secretary to this latter chief. In this capacity he was, a year or
two later, despatched to Constantinople with letters to the Sultan
containing proposals for the transfer of the allegiance of his wavering
master from Russian to Turk.

But Mazeppa never reached Constantinople. He was arrested, papers and
all, by agents of the Tsar, and carried off to Moscow. Here, by his
diplomatic gifts, Mazeppa not only succeeded in exculpating himself,
but contrived so deeply to impress the reigning Tsar, Alexey, Peter's
father, with a belief in his merits, that both Alexey and afterwards
Peter himself remained his truest friends and benefactors, in spite
of every attempt of his enemies--and there were many--to dethrone the
idol.

Mazeppa now realized that the Russian was the real "strong man," and
that he had espoused the wrong cause. His late employer was arrested
and exiled; but a place was found for Mazeppa with the rival hetman,
Russia's faithful vassal, Samoilovitch, in whose service he so greatly
strengthened his position that in 1687, when Galitsin returned from an
unsuccessful campaign in the Crimea, and in order to shield himself
threw the blame upon Samoilovitch and his Cossacks, who had been
employed to assist him, Mazeppa found means to overthrow his late chief
and to get himself elected in his place as hetman of the Cossacks of
the Ukraine.

One of Mazeppa's first acts was to hasten to Moscow in order to assure
the young Tsar Peter of his loyalty, and, if possible, to make a
personal friend of the monarch. In this he proved so successful that,
once having accepted and pinned his faith to the Cossack chief, Peter
never could be persuaded to doubt his honesty, in spite of every
effort to convince him of Mazeppa's perfidy. For many years there was
a constant stream of correspondence reaching the Tsar from various
sources, warning him of the treacherous disposition of his trusted
hetman. All these letters Peter invariably forwarded to Mazeppa,
with assurances to the effect that his faith in the latter was quite
unshaken. Frequently the Tsar added that the Cossack might consider
himself free to deal with his traducers as he pleased. Mazeppa was
never backward in taking the hint, and many of his enemies were thus
removed out of his way, some with great barbarity.

As for the rights and wrongs of these matters, it is impossible to
judge whether Mazeppa was or was not so bad as he was painted. His
name is execrated to this day in the national songs and ballads of the
Ukraine, where his memory appears to be cordially hated, while the
names of his enemies are crowned with all the tribute of honour and
love that song can offer. An intimate personal acquaintance of Mazeppa
has placed on record his conviction that the famous hetman was always
at heart a Pole and detested Russia, and that all his life he was on
the look-out for a good opportunity of casting off his allegiance, and
transferring it to Pole or Turk or Swede, as soon as any one of these
should have proved himself the stronger man. At the same time, in
justice to Mazeppa, it must be mentioned that he undoubtedly received
more than one invitation from the King of Poland to break with the
Tsar, and that he invariably forwarded such proposals to Moscow for
Peter's perusal. Probably Mazeppa was a time-server, and was faithful
to Russia only so long as Russia appeared to be the rock upon which
his house was built. As will presently appear, he eventually, in his
old age, made the one great mistake of his life, when his political
sagacity, which had befriended him and guided him aright for many a
long year, at last failed him and brought about the ruin which his
treachery undoubtedly deserved.

Mazeppa received Boris with every mark of honour and respect as the
Tsar's emissary. His court at Batourin was that of a king, far more
luxurious and refined than that of Peter himself; and Boris was
surprised to see the gorgeousness and magnificence of this man, whom
he had been accustomed to think of more as a wild Cossack chief than
as a monarch surrounded by every luxury and refinement of western
civilization.

Mazeppa spoke with tears in his eyes of his love and devotion for
Peter, and quite charmed the simple-minded Boris by his eloquent
declaration that he would rather be the bear-hunter himself (of whom
he said he had heard), and be ever about the person of that most
marvellous man, his master, than hetman of the Cossacks of the
Ukraine, honourable and dignified though the position might be.

To Boris's questions as to the forces at his disposal and their loyalty
to the cause of Russia, Mazeppa replied,--

"My dear man, I have fifty thousand lances; and I would rather each one
was buried in my own flesh than turned against the throne of my brother
Peter. Why has he sent you? Does he not know that we are brothers, and
more than brothers, and that all that I have is his?"

Boris was perfectly satisfied. He could not doubt this man, whose voice
shook with feeling as he spoke, and whose eyes were filled with tears
when he told of his devotion to the great Tsar, their beloved master.

Then Mazeppa entertained Boris with much talking, of which he was a
master, and with a review of those fifty thousand lances of which he
had made mention, or as many of them as he could collect at Batourin.
Boris was delighted with their wonderful feats of horsemanship. Whole
squadrons would dash forward at the charge, the wiry little ponies
holding up their heads till their ears touched the Cossacks' bending
figures; then, suddenly, every man would dip down sideways till his
hand swept the ground, and again with one accord the entire body would
recover their original position. Then a company would gallop past,
every man kneeling in his saddle; followed by a second, of which each
Cossack stood upright. Then a body of men would dash by, spring from
their saddles while at the gallop, and spring back again. Then the
entire corps would burst into wild, stirring song, and charge, singing,
at an imaginary foe. It was a fine sight, and gave Boris much sincere
pleasure; and he returned to give his report to the Tsar, convinced
that in Mazeppa and his lances Peter possessed a friendly contingent
which would prove of immense service during the coming Swedish attack.
How Mazeppa acted, and what is the exact value to be attached to
moist-eyed protestations of love and faith from a Cossack of the
Ukraine, will be seen in the following pages.

FOOTNOTE:

[3] _Russian_, "At the borderland."



CHAPTER XXX.
RUSSIA'S GREAT DAY.


In the autumn of 1707, Charles XII. made the first move in the great
game which was to decide for ever the supremacy of Sweden or of her
great rival of the north of Europe. Charles left his camp near Altstadt
with forty-five thousand men, marching through Poland; twenty thousand
were sent under Lewenhaupt to Riga, and fifteen thousand to Finland; in
all, the Swedish king put in the field eighty thousand of the finest
troops in the world.

Passing the winter at Grodno, Charles appeared early in the following
summer at Borisof. Here he found a Russian army ready to contest his
passage over the river Beresina; but he drove the Tsar's troops before
him, and defeated them again at Moghilef, and a third time at Smolensk,
which point he reached about September 1708.

He was now but ten days' march from Moscow, and there is no doubt
that, had he pushed straight on at this time, he might have, as he had
promised, dictated terms of peace from the Kremlin. There is no doubt,
also, that the Tsar himself began at this period to entertain grave
fears for the final outcome of the struggle, and made proposals of
peace which would practically have annulled his successes of the past
few years. Had Charles either accepted these terms or marched direct
to Moscow, the history of Russia from that day to this would have been
written very differently; but, fortunately for the Tsar and for Russia,
he did neither the one nor the other, and the reason for this was the
conviction of a certain individual of whom we have lately heard that
the run of luck which had attended the arms of Russia had received a
check.

Mazeppa, watching events from his castle at Batourin, observed with
disquietude the rapid and victorious advance of the dashing young
soldier whom all Europe at that time hailed as a second Alexander
of Macedon. He saw his lord the Tsar, in the person of his advanced
guards, driven from pillar to post, and flying before the soldiers
of Charles like sheep before the sheep-dog; and the politic soul of
Mazeppa quaked within him. Still he waited on, unwilling to take
decisive action until there remained no doubt whatever as to the
final issue of the struggle. When, however, the Swedish hosts arrived
at Smolensk, Mazeppa deemed that the moment had come when it behoved
him to declare for the stronger, and he despatched letters secretly to
Charles at his camp in that city, offering to place at the disposal of
the Swedish monarch his entire strength of fifty thousand lances.

On receiving this communication, Charles immediately altered his plans.
He quitted the highroad to Moscow, and turned aside into the Ukraine in
order to effect a junction with the Cossacks of Mazeppa.

This movement proved a fatal mistake. The Tsar had not been idle during
the last few months, and though his troops had met with no success in
their efforts to stop the onward march of Charles's hosts, Peter, with
his best officers and an army of about one hundred thousand men, had
still to be reckoned with before his Majesty of Sweden could carry out
his threat of dictating peace from the palace in Moscow.

No sooner had Charles turned aside into the Ukraine, thereby exposing
his flank to the Russian attack, than the Tsar saw his advantage, and
hastened towards the Borysthenes, or Dnieper, with all the speed he
could, at the head of a strong force of fifty thousand picked troops.
His object was to cut off the main Swedish body from communication
with the army of Lewenhaupt, which was hastening to join Charles in
the Ukraine, at a distance of twelve days' march behind him. With this
force was the whole of Charles's supply of provisions, upon which the
Swedish host relied for its maintenance during the approaching winter.
Peter, with whom was of course his faithful bear-hunter, in command of
the Semenofski regiment, fell upon Lewenhaupt near the banks of the
river Borysthenes. For three days a stubborn fight dragged on, and the
brave Swedes strove to break through the opposing ranks of the equally
valiant Russians; and when, at length, they cut their way through, and
the general joined his master at the river Desna, he found himself
at the head of but four thousand men--the rest of his army of twenty
thousand fine troops being either dead on the battle-field or prisoners
in the hands of the enemy, who had captured also all the guns and
ammunition, and, worst of all, the invaluable convoy of supplies upon
which the troops of Charles had relied.

This was a great day for the Tsar, and he celebrated his victory by
a grand Te Deum in the cathedral at Moscow, leaving Charles and his
famishing troops to winter as best they could in the Ukraine, in
company with their perfidious ally Mazeppa, who, instead of fifty
thousand lances, had provided but six thousand in all, the rest either
preferring to remain loyal to Russia, or else joining Charles, but
afterwards deserting. The Swedish army spent a wretched winter in the
Ukraine, and Charles lost half his men by hunger and cold.

Before departing for Moscow, the Tsar demolished Mazeppa's castle at
Batourin; and from that day to this, or until recent years, the name
of Mazeppa has been solemnly cursed once a year in all the churches of
Russia.

Mazeppa was safe with Charles, however, having discreetly fled before
the Tsar appeared, carrying with him two barrels of gold, in which form
he had consolidated the greater portion of his possessions.

The winter was spent by the Tsar, as well as by Boris, in busily
preparing for the crisis of Russia's fate--a crisis which could not
now be longer delayed, for the enemy was at the gates, and with the
spring would commence to knock loudly for admittance. When the troops
were collected and drilled into shape, Boris received a signal favour
from the Tsar in the command of a contingent of these forces, which
he was instructed to conduct southwards to Pultowa, a fortified city
on the river Vorskla, which had the advantage of commanding the main
road to Moscow as well as that of being close to the base of Charles's
operations. Boris had charge of large quantities of provisions and
ammunition for the use of the army during the coming season.

The trusty hunter safely reached his destination and took over the
command of the garrison at Pultowa. And none too soon, as it turned
out; for early in the spring Charles set out upon his march for Moscow,
and as a first step towards attaining his end, invested the fortress
of Pultowa, of which he expected to make short work. But Charles was
not so intimately acquainted with the character of Commandant Boris as
you, reader, and I; and all his efforts to bring the brave bear-hunter
and his men to submission were unavailing. On the contrary, he found
them perfectly ready and willing to meet him, in so far as fighting at
close quarters was concerned, and many a time did the Russian troops
sally out from behind their protecting walls and give battle to their
assailants in the open. On one of these occasions, Boris had the honour
of crossing swords a second time with his Swedish Majesty. The two
men met at the head of their respective parties, Charles being, as
usual, on horseback, the hunter afoot. Charles recognized his former
adversary immediately. "Ha!" he cried, "Mr. Russian, we are old friends
surely? There was a matter we left unfinished; come, lay on now. I am
on horseback; you shall have the first blow!"

Boris did not wait for a second invitation, but aimed one of his
bravest slashes at the king's head, which the king neatly turned aside,
aiming a furious blow at Boris in return, which went near to lopping
off one of the hunter's ears. Then the pair had a cut-and-thrust match,
each laying on at his best, until something startled the horse of
Charles and it swerved aside, just as the sword of Boris descended from
a vicious sweep at Sweden's most precious crest. Most unfortunately for
Charles, the sharp blade caught his foot in its descent and inflicted a
painful wound, while at the same moment the horse bolted and the duel
came to an indecisive termination.

On this occasion, as always, the sortie did no more than vex the
besiegers, and the enterprising party of Russians were soon driven
back. But Boris found that his men liked these sorties, as a change
from the dulness of the siege, and he was not the man to refuse them
their pleasure from prudential motives.

But the crisis was now at hand. In June, the Tsar, fearing for the
safety of Pultowa, hastened to the relief of the garrison with a force
of nearly sixty thousand men. He crossed the Vorskla and established
himself upon the same side of that river with the besiegers, arranging
his lines so that if the army of Charles should attack him and be
worsted in the fight they must be driven back to the angle formed by
the junction of the Vorskla and the Borysthenes. Here he strengthened
his position with redoubts mounted with heavy artillery, and awaited
developments; which he could afford to do, for his troops were amply
supplied with provisions and ammunition, whereas what was left of
Charles's force--about twenty-five thousand men--were in a wretched
condition by reason of the hardships they had endured for many months
while roughing it in the Ukraine.

The proud Charles, hearing that Peter intended to attack him,
immediately decided to take the initiative and be himself the
assailant. Still suffering from his wounded foot, he was carried to
battle in a litter, and, placing himself at the head of his troops, he
advanced to attack the Russian redoubts.

It was scarcely a fair fight, for Peter's force outnumbered that of
Charles by two to one, besides having the fortress of Pultowa with
its garrison at their back. But so bravely did the Swedes fight that
day, that at the first advance they reached and captured the first
Russian line of defence, and were actually raising cries of victory
when the Russians, encouraged by the Tsar himself, who fought all day
at the head of his men, made a tremendous effort and put a new aspect
upon the affair. Forth from the walls of Pultowa poured fresh masses
of Russians, with Boris at their head; the Swedes, at the point of
victory, wavered, but fought bravely on; the Russian guns redoubled
their efforts and poured a rain of cannon-balls among the ranks of
the assailants; Peter called upon his men to make their effort, and
like one man the Russian host, singing their soldier songs as they
went, advanced and drove the Swedes before them. In vain the gallant
Charles was borne up and down the lines in his litter, shouting,
fighting, encouraging; in vain Mazeppa and his Cossacks made charge
upon charge--for, in spite of all his faults, it must be admitted that
the hetman fought well this day and performed prodigies of valour.
The Russians would take no denial, but marched steadily forward. And
ever as they advanced they drove the Swedes before them; and ever as
the Swedish hosts retired the star of Sweden fell lower and lower in
the heavens, until, on the evening of Pultowa, it sank for ever in the
waters of the Borysthenes.

Boris, as well as his master, fought like a lion on this Russia's
greatest day. His great object during the fight was to come to close
quarters with the traitor Mazeppa; but though he was able at one moment
to arrive within speaking distance, he could not approach close enough
to exchange blows.

"Ha, traitor and liar!" Boris had shouted, as Mazeppa dashed past at
the head of his Cossacks, "is this your sworn love and devotion to the
Tsar? Come and answer for your lies!"

"My dear man," said the courtly hetman, "the rats leave a falling
house. Peter should have made a better fight last year. As for meeting
you now, I should be delighted, but there is no time for pleasure
to-day, I am too busy. _Au revoir!_"

Mazeppa certainly was busy, and it was no fault of his that his side
failed to gain the day.

Soon the battle became a mere rout. The Swedes were driven steadily
onward towards the angle of the two rivers; and here they were forced
to surrender to their pursuers, though a few hundred men, among whom
were Charles and Mazeppa, succeeded in crossing the waters of the
Borysthenes. About ten thousand had fallen on the field or in the
redoubts.

That night on the banks of the Borysthenes Peter pitched his tent in
joy and gratitude such as no words can describe. Weary as he was with
the tremendous exertion and excitement of the day, sleep would not
visit the aching eyes or soothe the restless brain of the victorious
Tsar, and he left his tent and strolled out in the quiet moonlight in
order to breathe the cool air of night and enjoy the luxury of a little
calm reflection upon the events of the day.

The July moon lay upon the face of the river, so lately crossed in hot
haste by Charles and the traitor Mazeppa. What were they doing at this
moment, thought Peter, and where were they, poor wretches?--hurrying
on, probably, in terror for their lives, somewhere in the heart of
yonder forest, their hopes turned to despair, their lives spoiled, the
greatness of Sweden buried for ever in the reddened soil of Pultowa
field; while he stood here and contemplated the same events from how
widely different a standpoint! To them Pultowa meant ruin, complete and
irretrievable; to him it told of a fatherland saved, of an empire whose
foundations this day had been secured for ever, of the removal of an
hereditary enemy whose existence as a first-class power in the north
of Europe must for ever have hampered and prevented the expansion of
Russia. And then, what a battle it had been! how his men had fought,
and how Charles's soldiers had fought also, to do them justice!

As the conqueror thus mused and watched the moon's broad highway over
the water, a man came up and disturbed the Tsar's reflections. It was
Boris. He, too, was unable to sleep after this exciting day, and had
wandered down to the river side to cool his heated brow in the fresh
night air. Peter grasped his old friend's hand solemnly and without a
word and wrung it until the bones crunched together; then he took the
hunter's arm and walked up and down by the river's bank in silence.

"Bear-eater," said the Tsar at length, "God has been very good to us
this day. The Neva is safe; we shall have the Baltic for our own. You
have served me well, my Boris, both this day and for many a day--ask
what you will of me!"

But Boris laughed, and said that he had all he desired and there was
nothing to ask.

"That is well," said Peter; "the wisest man is he who is the most
contented."

After a while the Tsar spoke again. "My Bear-eater," he said, "I am
so happy to-night that I even feel glad poor Charles escaped; but not
Mazeppa--not Mazeppa! Ha! if I had come within reach of the traitor!"
Peter burst out laughing. "Poor fellow," he said, "poor fellow! he
thought Charles was our master, my Boris--poor Charles the Twelfth--the
new Alexander--who is wandering among the wolves and the pine trees,
tired and cold and hungry, in yonder forest--poor fellow!" Then after a
pause, "Can you sleep to-night, Boris?" he asked.

Boris could not sleep, he said; he was too much affected by the
excitement and wild joy of the battle.

"Neither can I," said Peter. "Sit you down here and tell me a stirring
wolf tale or two, or a bear story--something which will take us both
from the events of the day. This will ease our brains, and we shall
sleep after it."

So the pair settled themselves upon the bank of the Dnieper and watched
the moonlight weld its silver ladder over the broad stream, and Boris
told many tales of adventure--of Nancy's bear, and of his little Katie
carried off by the wolves, and many others. And when he had done, and
glanced at his companion, lo! Peter--like that other monarch whom Byron
describes as listening on this very night to Mazeppa's tale in the
sanctuary of yonder dark forest--Peter, tired out with the joys and
exertions of this great day, "had been an hour asleep."



CHAPTER XXXI.
PEACE AT LAST.


The return to Moscow was a joyous procession. Never had the Tsar been
so merry, so indulgent to all ranks, and so absolutely free of all
traces of his evil temper. Charles had escaped into Turkish territory,
indeed; but what cared Peter for that? he was harmless enough now. As
for Mazeppa, it was a pity he had escaped; but perhaps the Sultan would
hang him, or if he failed to perform this service, likely enough the
wretched man would save others the trouble by doing it himself! In any
case he was out of mischief's way.

Peter offered up thanks for Pultowa at every shrine and church and
monastery on the route to the capital. Further, he gave way to no
excessive service of Bacchus during this time, but passed his evenings
with Boris and others of his intimates in song and laughter and
tale-telling, using the vodka in moderation.

Boris became quite an expert spinner of yarns, most of them about his
adventures with bears, as befitted his title of the bear-hunter; but
the Tsar himself occasionally treated his hearers to one of his own
reminiscences, many of which were of stirring interest. He told, among
others, of an adventure in the forest, when, having lost his way, he
overtook a soldier, by whom he was not recognized. With this man he
had sought shelter in a lonely hut in mid-forest, which had turned out
to be the headquarters of a gang of murderous thieves. Here, overcome
with weariness, he had fallen asleep in an outhouse, where he had
sought repose in company with his new friend. The soldier, however,
suspicious of the good faith of his hosts, had preferred to remain
awake and watch. During the night, this brave fellow had protected his
sleeping companion from the attack of five ruffians, who ascended the
ladder one by one and were in turn despatched by the soldier as soon as
their heads appeared within the garret window. The Tsar added that the
man's conduct when he found out whom he had rescued from assassination
was more ridiculous than words can describe, as was his delight when
he received his promotion to the rank of corporal, together with one
thousand roubles in cash.

Right glorious was the entry into Moscow of the victorious Pultowa
heroes. The church and cathedral bells clanged; flower-decked triumphal
arches had been reared in every street; gorgeously robed priests and
bishops met the troops and chanted litanies of praise, and sprinkled
the ranks with holy water; while the wives and children of the
returning soldiers marched alongside, singing and laughing and dancing
for joy. Nancy was there with her little ones, and Boris took both the
tiny wolf-maiden and her brother upon the saddle before him; for the
hunter was now a general of brigade and rode a fine black charger whose
long tail swept the ground. The children chattered in English as they
rode and told their father all the news--that Katie had caught a young
fox at Karapselka, and mother had given little Boris a new pony from
England which had run away with him into the forest and upset him into
a morass, spraining his ankle, but he was all right now; with other
information of a like nature.

Those were happy days, and there were happy years to follow. There was
war, indeed, for Charles by dint of much perseverance persuaded the
Turk to enter the lists against Peter and fight his battles for him;
and adventurous war too, for the troops of the Tsar suffered defeat
on more than one occasion in the disastrous campaign of the Pruth,
where both the Tsar and Boris himself were once well-nigh captured by
the Mussulman enemy, and Peter was obliged to surrender the fortress
of Azof, the capture of which had been the first exploit of Russian
arms under his flag. But in spite of all this, and of the fact that the
Tsar was still unable, as the years went on, to conclude a satisfactory
peace with Sweden, there was more peace than war during the five or six
years which followed Pultowa, and the building of St. Petersburg was
the work that occupied most of the sovereign's attention. The greater
portion of his time was spent there, superintending the erection
of fortress and city, and there he collected a large fleet of both
British-made and home-built vessels of war.

Boris lived in the new city with Peter, his house being one of the very
first to be erected. Nancy and her children joined him on the Neva
banks, and soon became as ardent sailors as the Tsar could desire his
subjects to be.

As for Boris himself, he had plenty of congenial occupation in
endeavouring to thin the numbers of the wolves which infested the
forests around, and even swarmed into the streets of the half-built
city. Even as late as 1713, about ten years after the first pile of
the new capital had been driven, wolves still occasionally entered the
town and carried away children and women during the severe weather,
when starvation made them bold; and many were the exciting chases which
Boris enjoyed after such depredators, and many were the lives he saved
of those who had been seized and carried off by the midnight robbers.

Little Katie, now aged twelve years, and her brother, had an exciting
adventure at this time. They had been for a sail in the boat which the
Tsar had given them; but the wind having failed them while still in the
gulf, they were somewhat late in returning, and landed at the farther
end of the city in order to avoid the necessity of rowing home against
the current.

It was dusk of a September evening, and the streets through which they
had to pass were unfinished and unpopulated; the open country, with the
forest but a short distance away, stretching straight from the road on
their right, while the river flowed swiftly towards the gulf on their
left. Of a sudden they became aware of two gray wolves standing in the
midst of the muddy road, blocking their passage. Neither child was
afraid of wolves or of any other wild animal that breathes; but they
were unarmed, save for the knife which little Boris, like a true son
of his father, invariably carried at his side. The children stopped to
consult: should they move on, in the hope that the brutes would give
way and allow them to pass; or would it be wiser to retire towards the
boat and row homewards, in spite of the current? The wolves, however,
decided the question for them by opening their savage mouths, showing
their business-like teeth, and themselves advancing, in order to carry
the war into the enemy's country.

"Get behind me, Katie," said little Boris, "I've got my long knife;
I'll take care they shan't touch you!"

But this was not Katie's way. She remained at her brother's side,
catching up a thick piece of wood, one of many with which the ground
was covered preliminary to road-making.

And now occurred a most unaccountable incident. The foremost wolf made
a rush at Katie, stopped, sniffed at her dress, and slunk aside. The
other brute behaved very differently. It sprang towards young Boris,
who stood up to it and smote bravely at it with his knife, inflicting
more than one gash upon nose and head and shoulder. Each time it was
struck the wolf whined but came on again, until at length, having had
enough of little Boris and his sharp knife, it too slunk away and
joined its companion, and the two trotted off towards the forest.

Nancy declared, amid sobs and kisses, as the children related their
story, that Katie could never be hurt by a wolf, for every wolf would
know by some mysterious instinct of the relationship which her darling
little wolf-maiden bore to his kind, and would not touch her. But that
rude man, her husband, laughed loud and long at the very idea of such a
thing, as I daresay my reader will also; and yet I am half inclined to
believe in Nancy's pretty theory, for want of a better.

While at St. Petersburg, Boris took part, for the first time in his
life, in a naval engagement. His rank in the navy was now lieutenant,
and in this capacity Boris sailed out with the Tsar one fine morning
in the flagship of "Rear-Admiral Peter Alexeyevitch" as the Tsar loved
to style himself, this being his rank in the navy at that time. A
Swedish fleet had been reported in the gulf, and the Russian vessels
were now sallying forth to sight the enemy, and if possible to offer
them battle. The Tsar-admiral not only came upon the enemy, but engaged
and overthrew him also, capturing the Swedish admiral in person,
together with a number of his ships. With his prizes in tow, Peter
sailed proudly up the Neva and landed at the senate steps, where
he was met and requested to attend and present to the authorities a
report of his engagement with the enemy. After hearing this report,
the senate unanimously decided that, in consideration of his services,
Rear-Admiral Peter Alexeyevitch be promoted then and there to the rank
of vice-admiral. Thereupon the Tsar immediately hurried back to his
ship and hoisted the flag of a vice-admiral. Nothing in the world could
have made Peter happier than such recognition of his services as a
sailor apart from his position as Tsar.

Boris lived to take the chief part in many adventures both by sea and
land. He slew many bears and wolves in all parts of the country, and
went through more terrible dangers and sufferings during an ill-omened
expedition despatched by his master against Khiva and India, than any
which I have narrated in the foregoing pages; but the limits of this
volume forbid me to enter into any of these, much as I should like
to introduce my readers to the ambitions of Peter in the Indies, and
the misfortunes which overtook his arms in those distant parts of the
world. Perhaps, if the fates will it, I may find occasion to treat of
these thrilling matters another day; but the moment has now arrived
when I must describe the closing scene in this present tale of the
Tsar's triumphs and his faithful hunter's adventures.

For many years Peter laboured his utmost to make such terms of peace
with Sweden as should secure to him those solid advantages which his
victories and his perseverance warranted him in demanding. But ardently
as he laboured for peace, Sweden, beaten and subdued though she was,
still held out for war.

At last, when the eighteenth century was already a score of years
old, negotiations were entered into at Nystad which promised to bring
forward a satisfactory result. In feverish anxiety the Tsar sailed
daily in his yacht about the placid waters of the Gulf of Finland, on
the look-out for that longed-for messenger-boat which should bring him
the news that peace was signed. One afternoon, the Tsar, with Boris
and one or two others, cruised thus close to Cronstadt, when a small
vessel was observed sailing with all speed towards St. Petersburg, now
the capital city of Russia. It was the messenger-boat, and on board
was that treaty of peace for which the Tsar had fought and negotiated
and waited for upwards of twenty years. With this priceless document
on board, Peter's little yacht fled through the waters; and as it
approached the mouth of the Neva it fired first one gun and then many,
in token of the glorious news it brought. As the yacht raced up the
river, banging its guns and flying every inch of bunting it carried,
every gun in the metropolis responded, and every house mounted its flag
and sent out its cheering contribution to the thronged streets of the
city; for all understood the meaning of the Tsar's noisy little vessel
flitting up the Neva in this way. It meant that war was over, and that
Russia had leave to grow and prosper and develop. Oxen were roasted
whole in the large square in front of the senate, and the Tsar himself
carved and dispensed the meat to all who came.

In the evening a display of fireworks was given, and here again Peter,
in his capacity of all things to all men, personally superintended
the fun and himself fired off the rockets. The senators assembled and
proclaimed new titles for their adored sovereign, the maker of Russia:
he should be known henceforth as "Emperor," in place of Tsar, and to
all time he should be called "The Great," and "Father of his People."
That evening there were banquets throughout the city, and the joy
of the populace was shown in every way in which a happy people can
demonstrate their delight; for all were weary of war and bloodshed, and
longed for peace as ardently as their sovereign himself.

Lastly, there was a grand procession to the cathedral of St. Isaac--or
rather, this came first though I mention it last; a procession of a
fervent, thankful population. The crowds in the streets all joined in
as it approached them, and the Tsar walked with the priests and sang
and chanted with them as one of themselves. When the procession reached
the steps of the cathedral, and the tall Tsar stood upon the highest
and faced the multitude, a great shout of joy and praise rang out, such
as had not been heard in all Russia before that day; and when, the
shouting being ended, the Tsar raised his hand and would speak to the
multitude, all were silent to listen. Then Peter the Great raised both
arms high over his head,--

"_Sursum corda! sursum corda!_" cried the Emperor. "Lift up your
hearts, O my people!"

And all the people with one voice made answer,--

"We lift them up unto the Lord!"


THE END.



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Transcriber's Notes

=Bold face= font indicated thus.

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

The capitalization of "bear-eater" and "bear-hunter" is inconsistent
but has not been changed.

Hyphen added: "hand-cart" (p. 196).

Hyphen removed: "outdoor" (p. 11), "schoolboy" (p. 140), "seaport" (pp.
58, 316).

p. 34: Duplicate "that" removed (stating that somebody proposed to
deprive).





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