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Title: Mazeppa
Author: Whishaw, Frederick
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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                                MAZEPPA


                          BY THE SAME AUTHOR.

                   Crown 8vo. cloth, gilt top, 6_s._

                           A FORBIDDEN NAME.


‘We have to congratulate the author upon a thoroughly competent piece of
work. The style is good and without affectations; the principal
characters are drawn with a due regard for both the strength and
shortcomings of human nature, and are conducted through their allotted
parts with sympathy, consistency, and intelligence, whilst the parts
allotted to them are such as to present dilemmas to each in his or her
turn, and therefore to keep the author’s brain busy and the reader’s
interested.... As good a novel of its kind as we expect to see for some
time.’--MANCHESTER GUARDIAN.

‘A well-thought-out study of unrest and political intrigue in the
Russian capital soon after the death of the great Peter.... Alike in
matter as in manner the novel is one of notable merit, and will be read
with the greatest interest.’--SCOTSMAN.

‘If you care for an historical novel of a time and of a country which
have lain almost fallow in spite of their wealth of material, I can
recommend to you Mr. Fred. Whishaw’s “A Forbidden Name.” ... Whether
Catherine was capable of the magnanimity she shows ... readers in their
breathless interest in the tale will hardly stop to ask.’--TRUTH.

‘“A Forbidden Name” involves a good deal of free but effective handling
of Russian Court history during the later decades of the last
century.’--SPECTATOR.

‘The pathos and historic interest of the book can be enjoyed in their
full measure.’--DAILY EXPRESS.

‘The theme is well handled.’--ATHENÆUM.

‘The style is pleasant and easy.’--MORNING LEADER.

‘Mr. Whishaw is an expert concocter of historical-adventure stories....
The story is well compacted of love, politics, and fighting.’--ACADEMY.

‘Mr. Fred. Whishaw’s customary skill in telling Russian stories has not
deserted him in “A Forbidden Name.” ... The tale is brightly written,
and contains much thrilling incident.’--DAILY TELEGRAPH.

‘Mr. Whishaw may always be counted upon to speed a passing
hour.’--GLASGOW HERALD.

‘A stirring tale, told in the vigorous and graphic style characteristic
of the writer.’--WESTERN MAIL.

‘Full of adventure.’--ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS.

‘The book is well written and is capital reading.’--DAILY NEWS.

‘There is excitement enough in it to satisfy the most exacting reader,
yet its most thrilling incident never exceeds the bounds of possibility.
It is a volume all lovers of the semi-historical novel of adventure will
revel in.’--LLOYD’S WEEKLY NEWSPAPER.

‘A good lively tale of adventure.’--LITERATURE.

‘It is well told, full of spirit, and the fighting parts are nothing if
not realistic.--SATURDAY REVIEW.

‘A most excellently narrated drama.... We can thoroughly recommend Mr.
Whishaw’s able and interesting novel to the reader who likes artistic
workmanship as much as stirring incident and drama.’--VANITY FAIR.

‘A capital story.’--MIDDLESEX GAZETTE.

‘The plot is at once stirring and pathetic. Mr. Whishaw has produced an
unusually good book.’--GUARDIAN.

‘The story is well told.’--LITERARY WORLD.


         London: CHATTO & WINDUS, 111 St. Martin’s Lane, W.C.



                                MAZEPPA

                                  BY
                             FRED. WHISHAW

                   AUTHOR OF ‘A FORBIDDEN NAME’ ETC.

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                                LONDON
                            CHATTO & WINDUS
                                 1902


                              PRINTED BY
             SPOTTISWOODE AND CO. LTD., NEW-STREET SQUARE
                                LONDON



                                MAZEPPA



CHAPTER I


I will begin my story from the moment when, at the age of sixteen, my
destiny first came more directly in touch with that of Mazeppa, my
cousin in the third degree and my compatriot. My father was Chelminsky,
a captain under the renowned Hmelnisky, a great and honoured name among
Cossacks; for under his leadership our tribes threw off the yoke of the
Polish King and became once more independent, as Cossacks should for
ever be.

Mazeppa’s father and mine were relatives, rivals, and near neighbours.
The same may be said of Mazeppa and myself, for together we entered
service as pages at the Court of John Casimir of Poland, and together we
left it. Also, as I shall presently show, we were in after life in
constant rivalry--whether as lovers, as leaders of our compatriots, or
in any other capacity.

Our home was in Volhynia, near the borders of Poland and of the
Ukraine, and our estates were distant but three or four leagues from one
another: thus as youths Mazeppa and I met occasionally, though not very
frequently. Our educations differed considerably, for my cousin’s tutor
was a cultured Pole who held, and made no secret of his opinion, that
the training of the mind is of greater importance in the life of a man
than the training of the body, supposing that a youth must make his own
way in the world. Therefore Mazeppa was brought up as a clerk, though
possessing strength and activity of body which made easy for him the
acquisition of skill in manly exercises; while my father preferred that
I should be made a soldier, a horseman, a swordsman--in a word, that I
should become a true Cossack.

Nevertheless, when Mazeppa was sent as page to the Polish Court, my
father being dead by that time, my mother wished that I should go also,
in order to acquaint myself with the ways of princes and courtiers, and
attain a knowledge of life in high places. The King being at this time
anxious to oblige the Cossack nation, there was little difficulty in
securing employment for us.

Neither Mazeppa nor I were popular among the Polish youths at Court,
though I may say that the ladies were less disposed to cavil at us.

We were Russian, we were told, though we stoutly denied the fact, and
Russians were to the Poles at this time as the sun to the ice. The
Cossacks, emancipated by our great leader, with my father and others,
had lately found it difficult to stand alone, and being obliged to
choose for support between Russian, Turk and Pole, had chosen the
former. We were therefore, strictly speaking, under allegiance to the
Tsar. Moreover, we were of the Orthodox religion; hence, though actually
and jealously Cossack in nationality, we were, in a sense, and as our
Polish companions loved to assure us, Russians. This was a constant
source of quarrel between us and them, and in the end was the immediate
cause of our departure from the Court of John Casimir.

In this quarrel, which I shall now describe, I was of course upon the
side of Mazeppa; so that our connection began not in rivalry but in
friendship, and for a while after this event we remained the closest of
friends, and if there was any feeling of rivalry it did not show itself.

It was I that had made a swordsman of Mazeppa, which is a proud boast;
for indeed--thanks to the instruction and practice which I gave to him
during the earlier days of our life at Court--he became a very expert
handler of the foils--a pupil of whom any master might justly be proud.

The fatal quarrel was none of our seeking, but we were of an age when to
fight is as natural as to breathe or to eat, though in the Court of King
John Casimir personal encounters were not encouraged--were, indeed,
strictly forbidden--a fact which rendered indulgence in the pastime a
dangerous luxury.

There were five of us pages, all lads of sixteen, and at certain hours
of the day it was our duty to assemble in the ante-room appointed to our
use, and there to await His Majesty’s pleasure.

On this day we five loitered long and wearily; and the King not
appearing, and we having nothing better to do, we took to
quarrelling--the three young Polish blades forming one party and we two
Cossack youths the other.

I must confess that it was generally I who was at the bottom of the
disputes in which we constantly engaged, though usually without coming
to blows. Mazeppa was, perhaps, as independent in spirit and as
quarrelsome as I, at heart, but his manners were better: he was more of
a courtier than I, and also more cautious and less frank; but his tongue
when he used it bit very deeply.

‘Here come the Russians,’ said one of the Poles, ‘entering the room as
though it were their own property.’

‘Only Russians since the Cossacks overthrew the Poles,’ replied I,
cruelly throwing in his teeth for the hundredth time the victory of my
father and his Cossacks.

‘Poor Cossacks that cannot stand on their own legs!’ laughed
Vladimirsky, one of the three Poles, ‘but must for ever hold hands with
Pole or Russian, lest they fall for lack of support.’

‘Who supported us when we thrashed you at Moldávetz?’ said I. ‘Moreover,
it is better to be allied with a bear than a fox, though I protest we
require neither, and it is certain that we hate both.’

‘Peace, Chelminsky,’ said Mazeppa, ‘this conversation grows stale, we
have heard it so often! Vladimirsky will never learn the difference
between a Russian and a Cossack: he is short of understanding, for which
we may blame his parents, but scarcely himself.’

‘I will tell you,’ began Zofsky, another of them, ‘of what these two
fellows most remind me, Vladimirsky. They remind me of a Russian bear
and his keeper that I saw last spring in a street in the city. The bear
was a fierce, ill-mannered brute--another Chelminsky--while the keeper,
who constantly kept him in check lest he should get himself into
trouble by his stupidity and ruthlessness, was Mazeppa.’

‘Did the bear, then, fall upon those of the crowd who baited or laughed
at him?’ said I, feigning a coolness which I did not feel.

‘When he showed signs of doing so, for the fool did not know that any
one of the bystanders could have smashed his head with an axe.
Mazeppa--I should say the keeper--interfered and pulled at the chain
which was fastened to the nose of the rash and foolish beast.’

‘One day,’ I said, ‘that bear will show that he is not for ever to be
baited with impunity; he will fall upon some fool that is taunting him,
and maybe his keeper will not prevent him from teaching his enemies a
lesson.’

‘That would be an unfortunate day for both bear and keeper,’ laughed
Zofsky, ‘for they would gain nothing better than broken heads.’

‘Let us play at bear and bystander!’ said I, and in spite of Mazeppa,
who cried, ‘Hush, Chelminsky,’ and of the others, who stepped forward to
interfere, I administered a couple of quick buffets, one on Zofsky’s
right cheek and the other on his left, and in a moment all five of our
swords flew out of their scabbards, and there was promise of a good
battle--three Poles to us two Cossacks.

The battle actually began.

Zofsky, red in the face and furious, sprang towards me, and our swords
clashed. Mazeppa, with his left arm, pressed me gently backwards until I
stood beside him, back to the wall, I defending myself, meanwhile,
against Zofsky’s onslaught.

‘Against odds,’ Mazeppa said, ‘it is better to have no one behind us,
and especially,’ he added, glancing at our three opponents, ‘when we
have Poles for adversaries.’

At this the three sprang angrily upon us, and for a minute or two there
was quite a din of clashing swords, so that we did not know that the
door of the King’s cabinet had opened and the King himself had entered
the ante-room.

His stern voice was heard quickly enough, and with lightning speed our
weapons found scabbards, and we stood, all five, with hanging heads and
flushed faces.

For a moment the King was silent. Doubtless he looked sternly upon each
one of us, but I think not an eye was raised to meet his. Certainly my
own gazed only upon the toe of my shoe.

‘I am amazed!’ said the King, very distinctly. ‘Are you, gentlemen, in
ignorance of the King’s commands in respect to quarrelling?’

No one replied.

‘Speak you, Vladimirsky’ said the King.

‘Pardon, Majesty,’ said Vladimirsky, ‘I have not the plea of ignorance.’

‘And you, Zofsky?’

‘I was struck first, Majesty,’ said Zofsky; ‘my anger carried me away: I
am guilty.’

‘Struck? Within the precincts of my Court? And by whom?’ thundered the
King.

‘By me, Majesty,’ I said, ‘whom he first insulted in a manner which it
was impossible to tolerate!’

‘Impossible? And yet it is possible to disobey the King’s command! What
say you, Mazeppa?’

‘We were attacked, Majesty,’ said Mazeppa; ‘it is the instinct of our
race to stand by one another. I could not see Chelminsky cut to pieces
before my eyes.’

‘Indeed,’ said the King, very sternly; ‘if that be so, go fight one
another’s battles where you will for the future. I will have no
spitfires in my Court; go, both of you, whence you came. Let me see your
faces no more. As for you others, your case shall be considered.’

Then Zofsky behaved in a manner I should not have expected, for he stood
forth and boldly told the King that it might be he and Vladimirsky were
more to blame in this matter than we, since they had, indeed, provoked
us in a manner that no honourable man could tolerate. But the honest
fellow did no service to his cause, for the King flew into a passion and
chased from his Court both Zofsky and Vladimirsky, who might otherwise
have been forgiven as well as our two selves, so that of his five pages
only one remained to him. What became of these young Poles I have never
heard and have never inquired; enough that the career of Mazeppa and
myself was ended in so far as concerned the Court of Poland. We retired
into Volhynia with hearts abashed and heavy, somewhat sullen, and much
depressed in spirit, for both of us were ambitious, and indeed it seemed
as though our prospects were irretrievably ruined.



CHAPTER II


After our dismissal from the Polish Court we returned for a while to our
own homes, where we should have seen little of one another but for the
circumstance that we happened to fall in love--if the mild passion of a
youth of seventeen can be called by that name--with the same lady, an
attractive person of mature age, in comparison with our own, and withal
the wife of another, a neighbour, Falbofsky.

It became our delight--an unworthy pastime, indeed--to compete for the
favour of this lady, and this foolish competition was the first
beginning of the state of constant rivalry in which we two have since
passed our lives.

Probably, but for the desire to outdo one another, neither of us would
have thought seriously of the matter. I am sure, looking back through
the years that have passed, that I was never in love with Falbofsky’s
wife, and Mazeppa has many times assured me that his attentions to the
lady were prompted by that necessity for some kind of amusement or
pastime which every idle youth must experience. But though both denied
afterwards that love impelled us to the lady’s side, I think we were
both at the time seriously determined to get the better of one another
in her affections; and I remember that each boasted continually of the
progress and success of his pursuit of the fair one, who smiled, I dare
say, impartially upon both of us, pleased with the attentions of each,
though not disposed to reward either with any but the cheapest favours.

The matter ended somewhat abruptly, and indeed seriously enough for all
parties concerned.

Falbofsky was a Polish noble. We had seen him occasionally at the King’s
Court, where, being our senior, he had taken but little notice of us. We
did not like him, and our visits to his wife were generally undertaken
when we knew that he was away from home, at Court or elsewhere.

The lady would inform us whenever these absences were to take place,
when Mazeppa or I would be sure to appear, and sometimes both of us
together, in order to lighten for her the creeping hours of separation
from her husband.

I know not whether someone played us false, some messenger or servant at
Falbofsky’s house, but it is certain that one day Falbofsky got wind of
our habit of profiting by his absence, for he played us a pretty trick.

We each received, as usual, intimation that Madame would receive
visitors upon a certain day and at a certain hour, and as usual, too,
both Mazeppa and I strained every nerve to get the better of one another
by arriving first, in order to enjoy the society of the lady for awhile
before the other should come to destroy the delights of undisturbed
possession. On this occasion I had the advantage of Mazeppa, it
appeared, being half an hour in advance of my rival, a fact which I
discovered by falling first into the ambush prepared for us by the angry
husband, who, having smelt a rat or having received warning, lay in wait
for us at a lonely spot in the forest, accompanied by half a dozen stout
retainers.

A couple of these pounced out from their hiding-place before I had
realised that I was attacked, and seized my reins.

I imagined that I had to do with robbers, and hit out so lustily with my
fist that one of my fellows dropped the bridle and fell. But others
rushed out and pulled me from the saddle. My horse galloped away,
leaving me in their hands. Then I realised that I had to do with
Falbofsky.

‘Gag him,’ he said, ‘and tie him to a tree meanwhile, lest he make a
noise and warn the other rascal.’

‘So Mazeppa is still expected,’ I thought. It would be like his cunning,
however, if he should have obtained information of this ambush and had
stayed away, or maybe gone round by a longer road. Mazeppa was ever the
most subtle of mortal men--a very fox, indeed.

‘Falbofsky, let us fight it out like men,’ I said. He took no notice of
my words.

‘Do you hear?’ he repeated. ‘Gag him, and tie him to a tree; his fool of
a horse has run away, or----’

I knew not what he was going to say, though, knowing what I now know, I
have no doubt he intended to treat me as he presently treated Mazeppa.
Thanks to my good horse, who was cleverer than I, and escaped, he was
unable to have his will. I interrupted him.

‘Are you afraid to cross swords, Falbofsky? I will fight you for your
wife, come!’

He took no more notice of this foolish speech than of the other.

‘Gag him quickly, fools!’ he said, stamping his foot; ‘if he shows fight
tap him, one of you, on the head.’

Then four of them fell upon me, and in spite of my struggling overbore
me and fastened a band tightly about my mouth. Then they tied me to a
tree, and sat about waiting and watching, as they had waited and watched
for me.

Presently came the sound of galloping hoofs. Mazeppa rode quickly,
anxious, like me, to obtain the lady’s ear before his rival should have
arrived.

‘He comes,’ said Falbofsky; ‘be ready all, and this time secure the
horse, or by thunder you shall be sorry, every one of you!’

Nearer came Mazeppa: the galloping hoofs approached very close, they
were almost upon us. Oh, that I could cry out and warn him! but I was as
dumb as the dead.

‘Now!’ whispered Falbofsky, ‘two, and then immediately other two!’

At the word out darted a pair of fellows and seized Mazeppa’s reins as
they had seized mine. The horse reared up in sudden terror. Mazeppa
struck at his assailants, but missed; he tried to draw his sword, but a
second pair of fellows had pinned his arms and quickly pulled him from
the saddle.

Mazeppa lay and struggled, moving this way and that with a heap of men
atop of him. Now he showed a head, now an arm, and all the while he
cursed and threatened; but the fight was unequal--as I knew to my
cost--and presently he was exhausted and lay still.

All the while he had not seen me, nor yet Falbofsky, so that he did not
yet understand how matters stood.

‘If it is a matter of ransom,’ he panted, and then paused open-mouthed,
for his eyes fell upon me. His hand stole towards his sword hilt, but
they had deprived him of the weapon. Then he recognised Falbofsky.

‘Oh, is it so then?’ he said. ‘What is the meaning of this outrage,
Falbofsky? Have you and your crew turned highway robbers?’

‘Bind his wrists behind his back,’ said Falbofsky, ignoring Mazeppa’s
words. His men obeyed, Mazeppa resisting, but uselessly.

‘Now,’ continued Falbofsky, ‘strip him; leave him not a vestige of his
garments; strip the horse also of his saddle and cloth. Take one of the
ropes you have brought and tie the fool tightly to the horse’s back. Lay
him along, so, and pass the rope round the middle of both. Now remove
the bridle, and let them go. Lord, what a thin poor creature thou art,
Mazeppa! The folks in the villages will mistake thy lean naked body for
a pine-stem!’

Mazeppa was too dazed to reply, he seemed bereft of speech. The men had
meanwhile slipped the bridle from his horse’s neck. One of them gave a
shout to startle the animal, and another, snatching a stick, smote it
violently upon the quarters. Away dashed the frightened creature.

For a moment or two the fleeting hoof-steps were audible as it dashed,
mad with surprise and terror, through the forest: a wild curse or shriek
from the throat of Mazeppa came back faintly from the distance, then
horse and man had disappeared from sight and sound.

Now came my turn.

‘Strip him, too,’ said Falbofsky, ‘and leave him gagged in the road.’

If looks could kill, mine would, I think, have slain my enemy at that
moment, but he avoided my gaze and took no further notice of me. He
mounted a horse which was brought him from a distance, where it had
remained in hiding, and rode away.

Me they stripped of all but a thin shirt. He whom I had knocked down
when he held my bridle came up when his master had gone, and belaboured
me with a stick, adding many curses. The rest laughed and applauded,
making insulting remarks and treating me roughly and brutally as they
dragged me into the road, gagged and naked, and there left me.

A peasant found me an hour later as he passed with his cart of hay. He
released me, covered me with a cloth, and drove me to my house. Here I
lost little time. Fortunately, I had succeeded in gaining the house
unseen, for it was the dinner hour and the servants were busy with their
meal. I dressed myself quickly, took my sword, mounted my best horse,
and dashed away towards the Falbofsky mansion, distant but two leagues
from our own.

My horse knew the road well, for he had borne me many times by the same
route. But love had never caused me to drive him so wildly forward as
did now the madness of hate and the desire for revenge. My madness
seemed to infect him. His hoofs spurned the earth as we flew through
air. Within half an hour I stood in the presence of Falbofsky, who sat
with his wife talking and laughing, and I doubt not telling her the
story of how he had served the two fools who had loved to hang at her
apron strings.

She cried out when she saw me. She was accustomed to see me look
differently.

‘Chelminsky!’ she exclaimed in terror; ‘your eyes are full of murder.’

‘My heart also,’ I said. ‘Draw, Falbofsky. This time you must fight,
whether you will or no!’

‘Oh, I am ready,’ he laughed, drawing his weapon, ‘if you must needs
have another lesson!’

We crossed swords, and I was conscious of our fair Helen rushing from
the room screaming for help. ‘I must make haste,’ I thought, ‘and get
this matter finished before they come to interrupt.’ We began to fight
cautiously.

‘While yet you have hearing and understanding,’ I said, as our swords
touched, ‘let me tell you that your wife is innocent of all sin. I would
not have you die suspecting her falsely.’

‘Die!’ he said with an oath. ‘Death will not come at your call, my
friend; as for my wife, she knows a man from a child as well as I. You
have been punished enough for the wrong you have done. Will you go
home?’

For answer I fell upon him with vigour. This last insult cut me deeply,
wounding my vanity. I would show him what manner of child I was. If I
might not wound the heart of a woman, I could at least cut to pieces any
man who presumed to offend me!

Falbofsky was, I could see, surprised and alarmed by my skill with the
sword. He had begun the fight leisurely, as one reserving his strength.
Soon he was fencing with all his art, and fencing well. But this day I
would take no denying, and within a few minutes I had him disarmed and
at mercy. I think I should have given him the point without pity, but
that his fair wife ran shrieking into the room at the moment, followed
by servants, and implored me to spare him.

‘Chelminsky, do not slay,’ she cried. ‘Chelminsky, my friend! See, he is
wounded already!’

I had not observed this. It was true, however; his sword-arm was soaked
with blood.

‘Well, I will spare him,’ I said, ‘since you ask me!’ Whereupon I
stalked from the room very proudly and happily, for I felt my honour had
been amply vindicated.



CHAPTER III


Then I rode to Mazeppa’s house in order to find how he had fared in his
ride home. To be sent riding back to one’s friends stripped of all
clothes and tied like a pack to the horse is a shameful thing, and I
intended to have my fun out of Mazeppa. He had striven daily to better
me in the matter of the lady whose favour we both desired, and I was not
sorry that to-day, at least, I had had the laugh of him. Who had seen
him as he came jolting, naked, into the stable yard, I wondered! How he
would hate the man or men who saw and released him--I knew Mazeppa well!
Those men would not remain long in his service! Sweet Lady of Kazan! to
ride naked and bound among one’s own servants! A shame indeed!

But to my surprise nothing was known of Mazeppa at his own house.

‘And the horse?’ I inquired.

The servant smiled. ‘It would need a clever horse to rid himself of our
master!’ he said. ‘The Pan is a Cossack, and sticks to his horse like
the devil to a weak soul! This day he rides the new horse, indeed--an
untried Tartar beast from the Ukraine, bought from a merchant who brings
a number for sale each year. But the horse is not foaled that can throw
Mazeppa!’

Knowing what I knew, I said nothing, but took a bundle of clothes and
some food, and galloped forth in order to take up Mazeppa’s track from
the spot in which Falbofsky lay in ambush for us.

The ground was soft, and it was easy enough to follow the hoof marks.
Falbofsky’s men had first well startled the horse by shouting and
beating him with sticks, so that he had fled at full gallop, kicking up
the grass and earth as he went. A child could have led me upon the
scent.

But though I rode ten leagues and more before darkness came to render
further tracking impossible I had not yet overtaken Mazeppa, and I was
obliged to seek shelter for the night in a village which lay a mile from
the cross-country path chosen by the horse, which had avoided passing
close to the habitations of man, as though aware that he bore a burden
which must not be gazed upon.

Very early in the morning I set out once more upon my pursuit, and,
taking up the track where I left it, was soon in full chase.

And I had scarcely travelled more than two or three leagues when I came
upon what at first sight appeared to be Mazeppa lying dead beneath the
horse, which was as dead as its rider. He was still tightly bound to the
beast, which lay with protruding tongue and glazed eyes starting from
their sockets, having--as it seemed--tripped and fallen headlong over
the trunk of a tree uprooted by the wind, while galloping through the
forest in the darkness.

Now, though I was never sure at this time whether I more loved or hated
Mazeppa, the sight of his poor naked body come to so pitiful an end
filled me with sorrow, and I dismounted very mournfully in order to
disengage him from the carcass of the horse which lay upon him. First I
cut the bonds that bound him to the dead beast; after that I dragged the
burden from him, for it lay upon one leg and one side of him, covering
his chest, but leaving his head free.

‘Poor dead Mazeppa!’ I murmured; ‘thou hast been ever ready to better
me, my friend, but I have loved thee, nevertheless, more than other men
that I have known!’

As I freed him from the weight that had oppressed him, Mazeppa seemed to
groan; his eyelids quivered as though he would come to. I took water
and sprinkled his face. Presently he sighed and opened his eyes. He
stared dully at me for a minute; then he seemed to remember and sat up
to look around. It was plain that he had not broken his neck, like the
poor beast that carried him.

He rose to his feet and examined the dead horse, spurning it with his
foot.

‘Take these clothes, Mazeppa,’ I said; ‘it is a mercy and a marvel that
you are not as dead as the beast.’

‘Curse him!’ said Mazeppa; ‘and doubly, trebly and eternally damned be
Falbofsky in this and all worlds! I am shamed and disgraced for ever.’

‘No one saw thee except Falbofsky and his men,’ I said, thinking to
soothe him.

‘Curse thee, too, for a fool!’ he cried angrily. ‘Do not men’s tongues
wag? All the world will know of it for fifty leagues around!’ His jaws
shook with the cold, but he seemed to take no heed of it, though he
quickly donned the clothes I brought. I gave him food; but, though he
must have been starving, he ate it without thinking what he did; his
thoughts were far away.

‘How came you free?’ he said suddenly. ‘Did you escape them?’

‘My horse escaped,’ I said, ‘or doubtless I should have been treated as
you were. As it was, I was left gagged and bound in the wood, stripped
also; but a peasant found me and carried me home in his cart. Then I
rode across to Falbofsky’s house, and----’

‘You have not killed him--do not tell me that!’ cried Mazeppa, so loudly
and furiously that I was startled. ‘Dare not to tell me you have killed
Falbofsky!’

‘I fought him and wounded him, but spared his life,’ I said, ‘because
she----’

‘She!’ cried Mazeppa, and repeated ‘_She_,’ almost shrieking the word;
‘it was _she_ that led us into the trap. Do you know that, Chelminsky?
How would he have known of our coming but for her? And you spared him
because she wept and bade you be merciful----was it so, I say?’

I assented, somewhat shamefaced. Mazeppa’s madness made me afraid and
ashamed.

‘Well, thank God, you spared him!’ he laughed, a moment later. ‘And you
reached home naked?’ he ended unexpectedly.

‘I was not seen,’ I said.

‘It is the same as though we were both seen. By this time all is known.
We have done with home for ever, my friend, you and I--with home and
with all who knew us there. I thought of this as I rode yesterday.
Would you return?’

It had not occurred to me that it would be necessary to depart, as
Mazeppa suggested, but now that he pointed it out I realised the whole
shame that would attach to us both in this matter if folks should speak
of it, as speak they surely would. It would be impossible to live,
knowing that people looked askance at us as we passed and told one
another of our disgrace. True, I had fought Falbofsky and had the better
of him, but that would be forgotten, while the rest remained.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I will not return, or, if I do, only for a short space in
order to put my affairs in order with the steward.’

‘No; let him come to you, that is my advice. We will abide at Gorelka,
which cannot be far from here. I have an idea for our future career (I
had time to think yesterday), and from Gorelka we will summon our
servants.’

We travelled slowly to Gorelka, which was a small town distant about two
leagues from the spot in which I had found Mazeppa. There we lodged at
the post station, but when we had eaten and rested an hour Mazeppa said
that he would borrow my horse for a day, or maybe two days.

‘Whither go you?’ I said. ‘Homewards, to settle your affairs?’

‘Yes, homewards, and to settle my affairs,’ he replied grimly.

‘If one is to go,’ I said, ‘it were surely better I, for of the two,
Mazeppa, it is you that have been worse treated and will be most spoken
of. Both of us will lie under contempt, but you more than I.’ I spoke
honestly, desiring to spare him the shame of being seen, for I saw
plainly that this would be no small matter for him in his present
temper.

‘Fool!’ he retorted. ‘Do you not understand that because I have suffered
the greater disgrace therefore it is for me to go?’

I did not understand for a moment or two. When his meaning at last
occurred to me I said no more, for it would have been as foolish to
attempt to stem a mountain torrent as to divert Mazeppa from his purpose
at that moment. And presently he took my horse and rode away.

A day and a half I awaited his return at that post station at Gorelka. I
guessed what was passing in our own district, and I spent my time musing
over this and over the question of my future career. Now that Mazeppa
had shown me the matter from his point of vision, I wondered how I
could ever have contemplated living at home after Falbofsky’s treatment
of us and the disgrace and derision that were bound to follow. Truly
this fiend could not have devised a more devilish trick to bring fellow
creatures into the contempt of men though he had been Beelzebub himself,
the prince of fiends!

Mazeppa returned, and I looked into his eyes, saying nothing. He, too,
gazed in mine, but smiled only, keeping silence upon the subject we both
thought of. But he was now himself once more, and in excellent temper,
from which I inferred that his mission, whatever it might be, had
succeeded.

On the following day my servant arrived, and Mazeppa’s with him. I had
despatched post horses and a messenger to fetch them. They brought
terrible news.

Falbofsky had been dragged from his bed at night, it was said, and
forced to fight with some desperate stranger, who had left him dead or
dying upon the ground and departed. ‘It was as well,’ said the servant,
‘that the Pans Mazeppa and Chelminsky were both here at Gorelka, as
could be testified, for otherwise suspicion might have fallen upon
either or both, since it was freely spoken of that there had been a
quarrel in which all three were involved.’

‘And the lady?’ I asked, glancing at Mazeppa.

‘They say she was beaten with thongs by the same miscreant, and lies
raving and accusing,’ said the man. ‘The Pan Falbofsky was a fierce
lord, and had many enemies!’

Not one word did I speak with Mazeppa of this matter. We settled our
affairs as well as we could do so by our servants, and having dismissed
them lost no further time, but rode direct towards Bastupof, a city of
the Cossacks of the Ukraine, in search of a career. It was some time
before I heard definitely whether Falbofsky died or lived.



CHAPTER IV


See us now at the headquarters of the Hetman or chief of the Registered
Cossacks, by name Doroshenko. These Registered Cossacks are they whose
names are entered in the book as adherents of the King of Poland: they
are thus distinguished from those others who espouse the cause of the
Tsar of Russia. It was Mazeppa who so quickly found a new career for
both of us, and that by his amazing assurance; for he rode straight to
the Court of the Hetman (who holds his head, be it remembered, as high
as the Polish King himself, though in a measure his vassal), and
demanded employment, stating our names and the places we came from, but
preserving silence--be sure--upon the reason for our leaving home.

‘Which is Chelminsky?’ asked the Hetman, and learning that it was I,
‘What, the son of our good captain, under Hmelnisky?’ he asked with
interest.

I blushed, and said that so it was.

‘Then I say that none have a better right to demand service among us
here,’ said he, taking me by the hand. ‘You shall find a good friend in
me, my man,’ he added kindly, ‘and if you are like your father we shall
be glad of you indeed! I do not know your name, Pan Mazeppa, but you
seem to be one who goes with his eyes open.’

‘You will find that Mazeppa’s eyes never shut, Hetman,’ I said; ‘be wise
and take him into your special service. He can do many things besides
ride and use a sword, in which common accomplishments he excels.’

‘Is he a _gramatny_?’ asked the Hetman. ‘Can he write and read?’

‘I am as much clerk as soldier,’ said Mazeppa, ‘and I know figures.’

‘Come, then, that falls in well for both of us,’ said the Hetman, ‘for
my _peesar_ (secretary) died but a week since, and all these
fellows--though they are devils to fight and can write well with their
swords upon the body of an enemy--can wield a pen no more than ply a
needle. You shall be tried, sir, as _peesar_, and you, Chelminsky, shall
remain soldier.’

Thus Mazeppa first received employment in the country of which he was
destined to be the greatest of all, by virtue of his friendship with
myself--a matter which has given me cause for many reflections and for
some laughter. I to have been Mazeppa’s godfather in Cossack-land! and
he to have owed his first advancement to me! Lord! how oddly things
happen in this world.

As young men and leaders, for so we soon became, we did well among our
equals at the Hetman’s Court, and presently stood high in Doroshenko’s
favour.

With the ladies Mazeppa was ever popular: fickle and inconstant as water
was he, yet having some quality of attractiveness which drew female
hearts to him in spite of the fate which--it was to be seen--would
surely overtake those who trusted him. It may be that women did not take
him seriously, as at this time he certainly did not take them. At any
rate, he ever stood well with them. With the men he was not so popular,
though, for some reason, they seldom quarrelled with him. When they did
so they fared ill, for if it came to swords Mazeppa was as skilful as
any, and rarely received so liberally as he gave; while if matters went
before the Hetman, then Mazeppa’s tongue easily gained him the victory,
however weak his cause, for in craftiness and cleverness he was the
superior of all, and it so happened that those who offended him came
invariably to ill either immediately or soon, and either upon one plea
or another, so that men began to fear Mazeppa.

Occasionally we differed, he and I; but our quarrels were not serious,
for, though I began to know Mazeppa from this time somewhat better than
I had known him heretofore, or cared to show even now, yet I was fond of
him as my first friend, and he of me.

When Mazeppa was chosen, therefore, as ambassador or secret envoy of the
Hetman to the Turk in Constantinople, I was chosen by Mazeppa to
accompany him. We bore letters from the Hetman, who wrote, at Ian
Casimir’s request, suggesting a combined movement of Turk, Pole and
Cossack against the Russian Tsar, who grew aggressive.

But it happened that we never reached Constantinople, for before we had
been many days travelling we were fallen upon, at evening, by a body of
Russian Cossacks, who held us prisoners until we should have been
examined by their captain in the morning.

During the night, when our guards slept, Mazeppa nudged me.

‘Wake, Chelminsky,’ he said, ‘and eat this.’

‘I am not hungry,’ I replied wearily, ‘let me sleep.’

‘Eat, fool, and talk to-morrow,’ he said angrily, holding something out
to me. I took it: it was several small scraps of paper.

‘What is this jest?’ I asked. ‘This is not the time for fooling, but for
sleeping.’

‘It is no jest; this is part of the Hetman’s letter, which was concealed
in my boot. I have eaten much of it and can swallow no more; eat your
share: it must all go, and quickly.’

I swallowed a scrap or two of paper and choked. Mazeppa snatched the
rest of the torn letter and thrust it into his long boot. Two soldiers
awoke. Mazeppa clapped me upon the back.

‘He chokes for want of water!’ he said. ‘Give us a drink, friend, for
the love of Heaven. We are all Cossacks, though we swear by different
overlords!’

They gave us water, and Mazeppa drank also. Afterwards, when the fellows
were asleep again, I tried to swallow more pieces of the letter, but
made but a poor job of it. Mazeppa ate some of it, contriving to swallow
better than I had done. I hid the rest in my boot, intending to finish
it before daylight, and thought I had done so; but when we were
carefully examined at morning for letters or despatches, one small scrap
was found in my boot, and upon this scrap were treasonable words which
betrayed our mission.

‘Oho!’ said the Captain; ‘so you are envoys to the Turk? We have made
our capture, men! Come, you young gamecocks,’--to us--‘where is the rest
of the letter?’

‘Down our throats, most of it,’ said Mazeppa, laughing; ‘washed down by
the water which you kindly provided us withal.’

‘Come, reveal: what was in this letter?’ said the man. ‘You had better
disclose, or, who knows? we may rip you up to find the pieces. Which of
you swallowed the letter? This one, I’ll be sworn, since he is so
silent, and seeing, too, that a scrap was found in his boot.’ The
Captain nodded his head at me.

Mazeppa did not contradict. I have since thought that if it had come to
ripping us open in order to secure the letter, I should have been the
first and perhaps the only one to suffer. At that time I did not suspect
that Mazeppa would have allowed me to be the victim; the suspicion came
long afterwards, when I knew more of the man’s heart.

The fellows consulted, however, and determined to leave us to digest the
letter, whatever it might be.

‘It seems a serious matter,’ said the Captain; ‘and you shall be taken
to the Tsar’s Court at Moscow. They have ways there of getting men to
reveal what it is desirable to know.’

‘Take us to the devil if you will,’ laughed Mazeppa. ‘The Tsar shall
know just as much or just as little as we--who know nothing--can tell
him. It is easier to eat a sealed letter than to read it.’

‘It is easiest of all to tell what was in it, when the knout is at the
back!’ laughed the Captain. ‘We shall see what will happen, Mr.
Boastful.’

And so we were actually carried to Moscow to the Court of the Tsar, and
since we were not allowed to ride together, nor to speak a word to one
another on the way, I did not know what Mazeppa intended to do, or
whether he would reveal or conceal what he knew of the vanished letter,
or the object of our mission.

As for me I hoped, and prayed also, that I should be found courageous in
the time of trial, and that I should not be forced to betray our trust
under the anguish of the knout, which tears the flesh like the claws of
a bear.

But in this matter, as in every position of difficulty, Mazeppa, born
diplomatist and leader of men, found a way to escape--though not the
most honourable. Since this is an honest record, however, and not a
story drawn up for my own glorification or Mazeppa’s, I must admit that
I was so greatly relieved and delighted by our unhoped-for escape from
the knout or other torture, that I thought less of the end attained than
of the means employed to attain it!

We were confined separately in Moscow, and I was surprised one day
when--together with the jailor--Mazeppa entered my chamber.

‘We are free, Chelminsky,’ he said. ‘Come forth--we are in the Tsar’s
favour.’

‘But how--how and why--we who were his arch enemies, and caught in the
act of working for his disadvantage!’ I cried, hastening out of my
captivity, however, and following him quickly from the house as I spoke.

‘The Tsar Alexis is the strong man,’ said Mazeppa. ‘I was brought before
him and spoke with him, and I have discerned that it is so. From this
time we are no longer registered vassals of the Pole: we are Russians,
my friend, and shall henceforward offer our allegiance to the Tsar.’

‘Oh, Mazeppa!’ I exclaimed; ‘have you turned traitor and betrayed our
own kith?’

‘Bah! we are all Cossacks: those are not more our kith than these; your
own father fought the Poles--why not you?’

‘That was for independence, not for the Tsar!’ I groaned.

‘Well,’ said Mazeppa, somewhat disdainfully, ‘then refuse to be the
Tsar’s man. Go back and sit in your prison for a few years, if you
prefer it, or in a worse place; taste the knout and die of weariness of
your own society and the devil’s!’



CHAPTER V


Of course I took part in Mazeppa’s perfidy, and shared in its reward,
freedom and the favour of the Tsar, and presently profitable employment
under another Hetman.

We remained in Moscow a little while, and during that period I heard
that the Hetman Doroshenko, our late master, had been attacked in his
citadel by a large force of Tsar’s Cossacks; that he had been captured
and sent into exile. In that exile he died.

That Mazeppa was guilty of contributing in any way to his capture I will
not expressly declare. Let each man think as he will upon such matters.

The Tsar Alexis was greatly impressed by Mazeppa, treating him with
marked favour and kindness. He took little notice of me, regarding me as
a mere hanger-on or attendant of my companion, and Mazeppa’s manner,
under the sun of the Tsar’s regard, grew different towards me. He spoke
to me, from this time, with condescension and hauteur, rousing my
resentment at times almost to quarrelling point, though we always ended
in reconciliation.

And when I consider the surprising scheme, which at this time took root
and began to grow in Mazeppa’s brain--a scheme of ambition and
presumption indeed, even though he eventually brought one half of it to
pass, I am not surprised that he walked head-in-air.

The Tsar Alexis was, as I say, most gracious towards his new Cossack
convert. He saw in him, I doubt not, indications of certain qualities
which might be turned to the advantage of the State. Mazeppa was a plant
to be watered by Tsarish favour and counsel in order that it might one
day grow so great and so strong that it should give support to those who
desired to lean upon it. Now I discovered without intent the ambitious
ideas of my friend, and this by means of a quarrel with him which
ended--instead of in his overthrow or mine--in amazement and surprise on
my part so great that the quarrel died in the birth, for simple lack in
me either of tongue power or arm power to continue it.

We quarrelled because of his new manner towards me.

‘Come, Mazeppa,’ I said angrily--some word of mine having been
slightingly turned aside by him--‘enough of your new manner. I know
nothing in you which should justify this new assumption of superiority
over me, unless it be that you are a better traitor.’

‘Bah! traitor!’ said Mazeppa with scorn. ‘Must you for ever be a fool,
Chelminsky? Shall we not do the best for our own country? What matters
who is Hetman or whether a man dies, or a hundred men, if we are
learning meanwhile what is wisdom and what is folly?’

‘I am not a reader of riddles,’ said I, ‘but this I know and will say,
that you shall treat me as an equal, for your equal I am, or it maybe
that swords will be drawn, and it shall be shown that you have a
superior.’

‘See here, Chelminsky,’ said Mazeppa in his friendliest manner; ‘put up
your sword, or rather do not dream of drawing it against me who am your
best friend. You are my equal in most things, I admit, and maybe my
superior in some. But in one matter, at any rate, I have you at
advantage, for my eyes see further than yours into the coming time,
which, I must tell you, if we so desire it, shall be pregnant with good
things for us: for you and me that is, and through us for the Cossack
nation.’

‘Oh, indeed!’ I laughed; ‘forgive me for my ignorance; I knew thee not
for a prophet until this day!’

‘Prophecy goes mainly by the gathering and the placing together of
little atoms of knowledge. When one has collected together a pile of
such atoms he may stand upon the top and prophesy. Now I know that the
Tsar has--for no merit of my own, but because he sees in me an
instrument--I know, I say, that the Tsar has set a favourable eye upon
me. I know also that Russia is large and full of latent force, but that
Poland is small and proud and disinclined to make profitable bargains
with our people. She is afraid of Russia. She has just applied to the
Turk for aid against the Tsar. We should know that! but the Moslems are
not to be trusted: see how they cheated the Poles in the wars of
Hmelnisky and your father! As men have been they shall be; they will
cheat again. Russia is the strong man armed and the best friend for us,
by which I mean that with her we may make the best bargain. Now the Tsar
desires that I--and of course yourself--shall return as Russian
Cossacks. Samoilovitch is the Russian Hetman, and to his service we
shall go. Can you now prophesy with me, or shall I say more?’

‘I do not see that we are any farther advanced than when we began to
speak,’ said I. ‘We have, very treacherously, exchanged our allegiance
from Pole to Russian; that I knew before. What else have you shown that
I know not? You are a poor prophet so far, Mazeppa.’

‘Well, then, I will show more. The Tsar somewhat distrusts Samoilovitch.
In any case the Hetman cannot live--or govern--for ever. One day, sooner
or later--it may be sooner than one supposes--there will be required a
new Hetman, and he will be a nominee of the Tsar.’

‘But he will not be a foolish, callow youth of thy age,’ I said,
laughing scornfully. ‘Is this thy prophecy? Be sure, my friend, the next
Hetman will not be named Mazeppa!’

‘Either that or Chelminsky,’ he replied, quite seriously. ‘That will
depend. Mark you, there is no need of haste in these changes. In five
years, in ten maybe, we shall be so much older and wiser. The Tsar, be
assured, does not speak so directly of these matters as I now speak with
you, but he allows his meaning to appear. As confidential secretary to
Samoilovitch I shall soon learn much, says the Tsar, that it is
important for him to know. The Tsar values the friendship and the
allegiance of the Cossacks. They might, at emergency, bring him fifty
thousand lances, or more. He would have me sit and watch and bide my
time. It was the Tsar who said the Hetman cannot live for ever.’

All this certainly gave colour to Mazeppa’s hints. The surprise of the
communication took my breath away. I had never so much as dreamed of the
possibility of Mazeppa attaining one day to the Hetmanship of the
Cossacks, nor had I cherished so foolish an ambition for myself: the
idea of such a thing had never occurred to me. I sat and gazed at
Mazeppa, too amazed to speak.

‘I see that I have surprised you,’ he said. ‘I have thought very deeply
upon this matter, and I have persuaded myself that from the Tsar’s point
of view I may indeed become a useful instrument for his ends. Kings are
not guided by philanthropy in their imperial schemes, but by expediency.
In me Alexis sees an agent suited, as he thinks, for his purposes;
therefore he will employ me. I take no credit, excepting that I have
discerned as quickly as he has discerned that there is a kernel to the
Cossack nut, and that it may be cracked by teeth that seem weak.’

‘I wager,’ said I, ‘that in this matter the Tsar did not mention my
name, though you mention it!’

‘Well, he did not,’ said Mazeppa. ‘He cannot deal in such matters with
more than one. He would scarcely say, “One of you two, whichever prove
the worthier, shall serve me in this matter and be rewarded in such and
such a manner.” The Tsar speaks by hints, mentioning no names. I think I
do not lack in friendliness towards you, my friend, in confiding all
this to you. You shall go with me to Samoilovitch, and under him we
shall rise side by side; which shall rise the higher in the end matters
little so long as the two highest places are ours!’

In short, Mazeppa easily talked me over to his views, rousing my
ambition and quieting my compunctions in the matter of the transfer of
allegiance from Pole to Russian.

And I was duly presented to the Tsar, who spoke kindly and regarded me
with interest, as though Mazeppa had said good words for me, which, as a
matter of fact, Mazeppa declared that he had done.

And at the Court of Alexis Romanof we lived for a month, learning many
things concerning Russian life and customs, and here I soon perceived
that Mazeppa’s ambitions did not end where his first homily had ended.

There was a young princess, by name Sophia, whose heart seemed of the
softest. This was the daughter of the Tsar, young and moderately
fair--so it was said, though I did not see her at this time, for she
lived in great seclusion, as became, according to the traditions of the
Russian Court, the daughters of the House-Royal. But Mazeppa--to my
amazement--informed me that he had seen her, not once, but many times.

‘In the name of Heaven, how and why and when were you so favoured?’
asked I.

‘As to _how_, first, then,’ Mazeppa laughed. ‘The god of love has fought
for me; one of the maidens of the Court is very friendly with me. I have
walked many times in the garden at Preobrajensky with her, and there the
Princess sometimes takes the air. As to _when_, I may say that I have
been honoured with sight of her Highness six times, and have spoken with
her four times. As to _why_--must I tell thee, Chelminsky?’

‘As you will,’ I laughed. ‘Tell me if it pleases you, that the Tsar will
beg of his new Hetman the favour of becoming his son-in-law, and----’

Mazeppa interrupted me with a laugh.

‘Come, Chelminsky,’ he exclaimed, ‘you make progress! Do not move too
fast! No, the Tsar knows not that we have met. She herself--well, she
smiles sweetly and talks shyly--there it ends to-day. But there will be
a to-morrow. A Hetman is a Hetman and the brother of kings. A Hetman of
Cossacks might do worse for his people than marry a daughter of the
Tsar, and--who knows?--the Tsar might do worse for his than choose such
a son-in-law!’



CHAPTER VI


I had begun, as I say, to understand and to know Mazeppa, and the first
fruit of my better knowledge was the determination to be very cautious
in my dealings with him, for in spite of his seeming goodwill towards me
I began almost unconsciously to distrust him. It was not long before I
became persuaded of this, in Mazeppa, that he did nothing and said
nothing without careful intent. Which being so, thought I, his
friendship towards me cannot be disinterested, and its reason must be
discovered.

Thus, after much consideration, I came at length to the conclusion that
Mazeppa intended to use me. I was a pawn in his political schemes, to be
employed in the accomplishment of his ends. But I must have position and
power to be of use to him, and at present I had none. Then I thought of
his words: ‘We will rise in the world side by side,’ and the idea came
to me that Mazeppa fixed certain hopes upon my career as a soldier. He
intended that I should have influence among the soldier population, and
that that influence should be employed by me, when the time came, for
his advantage.

‘Well,’ thought I, ‘I am willing to rise; but whether my influence, if I
have it, shall be used to your advantage or my own, friend Mazeppa,
shall depend!’

And indeed both Mazeppa and I--perhaps specially recommended to
Samoilovitch by the Tsar himself, as to which I knew nothing--prospered
amazingly at the Court of the Hetman. Mazeppa, as secretary to
Samoilovitch, soon gained his confidence and became very quickly a
power--a force more felt than seen and realised, but none the less a
force. As for myself, I too was in much favour with the Hetman, and rose
rapidly as a soldier of his army.

The Tsar Alexis died, and in a very short while his son Feodor died
also, and now Mazeppa was sent to Moscow, at his own suggestion, in
order to see how the land lay in the matter of the Romanof succession. I
accompanied him by order of the Hetman, who bade me keep an eye upon
Mazeppa and report all that he said and did.

I received this order with surprise. Did the Hetman, then, distrust his
_peesar_?

We found Moscow in a turmoil, arriving--as it chanced--on the very day
when the Streltsi those hereditary regiments of turbulent busybodies
which Ivan the Terrible had raised and armed, marched in revolt upon the
palace within the Kremlin, in order to right certain imaginary wrongs.

It had been whispered among these men that the Tsar Feodor had been done
to death by the family of Naryshkin, in order that their own
relative--young Peter--might succeed. The Tsar Alexis had married a
second wife, choosing a daughter of the Naryshkin family, and her
brothers--it was said--would be deterred by no crime from placing their
nominee, Peter, upon the throne. Some even said that they would go
further than this and murder Peter himself in order that one of
themselves, as brothers of the Tsaritsa, might usurp the throne. Now
between Peter and the succession there stood Ivan, his imbecile
half-brother, and it was averred by the Streltsi that the Naryshkins had
not only murdered Feodor, but also this Ivan, and it was in the midst of
the fury and the madness of their awakening that we reached Moscow. We
found the streets full of an excited mob, all surging in the direction
of the palace, following and accompanying the Streltsi, who rushed
through the midst of the crowd shouting and gesticulating, and turning
up the sleeves of their red shirts as they ran with naked swords to the
slaughter.

Some cried as they ran that Feodor had been assassinated; others that
Ivan, the helpless, harmless child of fourteen, had been murdered also;
but all shrieked curses upon the Naryshkins and howled for their blood.

Now whether Feodor had been poisoned, as was said, or whether he died a
natural death, I know not; but it is certain that neither Ivan nor Peter
had been harmed, for the Tsaritsa, in response to the shouts of the
Streltsi mob beneath the palace windows, brought out both children upon
a balcony and allowed the deputation of the soldiers to climb up and
identify them.

But this was not enough for the Streltsi, who had come for blood and
must have it. They still shouted for Naryshkins to be thrown out to
them, and two of their own generals who strove to appease them were
quickly cut in pieces.

Then a search was made for the brothers of the Tsaritsa, the Naryshkins,
a number of the Streltsi forcing their way into the palace and searching
it throughout. They found and slew two who had taken refuge in the
chapel, and--having vented their fury upon them--were satisfied.

But the mob without howled for victims, and by an unfortunate chance
both Mazeppa and I, who followed with the mob into the palace square,
came near to supplying food for their insensate rage. For as we stood,
or were hustled hither and thither, Mazeppa, nudging my arm, bade me see
who stood near us, separated from us, however, by a score, or maybe a
hundred, of the crowd. I looked and immediately recognised an old
acquaintance, Falbofsky. This was he whom Mazeppa had left for dead some
years before at our home in Volhynia--the rogue who had sent him to ride
naked through the Ukraine, shaming us both into exile.

‘It is Falbofsky,’ I said laughing--‘an old friend indeed!’ I felt no
animosity against the man; time had smoothed out the rancour I had felt
in the old days. But Mazeppa was, it seemed, of a different temper.

‘I hoped I had wiped out our score that night,’ he said, looking darkly
at the man, ‘but the fellow takes two killings to end him. We will see
that he does not escape: he is easily followed and marked down!’

Presently Falbofsky turned and observed us, and I could see at once that
if Mazeppa had not forgiven his offence, neither had he forgiven
Mazeppa’s; for he stared and glared furiously at us for a moment. Then,
like a fool, he began to shout aloud maledictions and threats, calling
us by our names, and continuing, yet more foolishly, to tell those
about him of the escapade of many years ago and of Mazeppa’s shameful
treatment.

Mazeppa’s face grew milk-white with rage. A few Streltsi standing near
began to be attracted by the loud voice of Falbofsky.

‘What is the matter--have you found a Naryshkin?’ they cried, pushing
through the crowd towards Falbofsky, who took no notice but talked on,
glaring at Mazeppa.

Then I observed Mazeppa behave in a surprising way. He pointed at
Falbofsky: ‘A Naryshkin!’ he shouted. ‘If you seek for Naryshkins, there
is one, the vilest fox of the litter!’

‘Which, which?’ cried the Streltsi, struggling up with bloodshot eyes
and hands that clutched their naked weapons, ready to strike.

‘The old one!’ cried Mazeppa, pointing. ‘He was on his way to the
palace, but got jammed in the crowd.’

In a moment the men fell upon Falbofsky and cut him to pieces. They
killed two others standing beside him, lest they should have made a
mistake and slain the wrong one. They stuck the three heads upon
spear-points and pushed through the mob, screaming that they had sent
one or more of the Naryshkin litter to hell.

‘Come,’ said Mazeppa, ‘we will not stay!’ and, sick at heart and
shocked, I struggled my way out of the square.

‘You devil, Mazeppa!’ I said, when I had recovered my breath. ‘No
murderer is more guilty than you after such a deed!’

‘You fool--it was his death or ours!’ he replied. ‘Could you not discern
so much? Let a man but point at another, this day, and speak loudly, and
lo! there is found a Naryshkin for the Streltsi to fall upon. In another
moment we should have been the victims instead of he.’

‘Thank God,’ said I, ‘that my heart is not for ever full of black
vengeance. I had forgotten his offence, and wished him no ill.’

‘As to that,’ said Mazeppa grimly, ‘it is not my way to forget, nor yet
to forgive. Moreover, it was I that was put to shame, and not you.’

Thus again did Mazeppa reveal himself. A terrible hater, indeed!
Nevertheless, as I have since thought, his quick wit saved us that day
from the fate of Falbofsky and of many others mistaken by the Streltsi
for Naryshkins.

Wise folks declare that the real secret of the rising of the Streltsi
was the rivalry between the two factions represented by the families of
the two wives of the Tsar Alexis--the Miloslavskys and the Naryshkins.
It is natural that the Miloslavskys, relations of Ivan, the incompetent
prince, and of Sophia, the princess upon whom Mazeppa had set ambitious
eyes, should have desired that their own nominee should sit in the
highest place, rather than a younger prince of the Naryshkin faction,
and it is said that the Miloslavskys it was who aroused the Streltsi, by
foolish reports, to wage war upon their rivals and to murder all upon
whom they could lay hands that were of Naryshkin blood.

The upshot of the Streltsi rising was, shortly, this: that Ivan and
Peter became joint Tsars, in name, under the Regency of Sophia, in whom
was vested the real power, the elder Tsar being both sickly and
incompetent, and the younger--though a child of spirit and showing
promise of character even at this early time--a mere fledgling of ten
years.

This was a victory for the Miloslavskys, of course, for Sophia was the
daughter of the Tsar Alexis by his first wife, the Miloslavsky princess,
and the incompetent Ivan was her full brother.

I saw the princess now for the first time, and was not greatly charmed
by her appearance. She was stunted and squat in form, sickly in
complexion, and far from attractive in feature and expression. She
smiled very kindly upon Mazeppa, who assumed his most winning air. But
whatever Mazeppa may have thought or hoped, it appeared to me that his
ambitions in this direction must be doomed to disappointment; for the
lady--it seemed to me--was already provided with a lover, one Galitsin,
who never left her side and who frowned at Mazeppa’s advances as though
he would have no poacher upon his domain. Moreover, Mazeppa was as yet
as far as ever from the Hetmanship, and what possible chance should he
have of securing a Tsar’s daughter for bride unless he were already the
elected chief of the Cossack tribes? Add to this, that the lady was now
Regent, and it will be seen that Mazeppa’s chances were slight indeed. I
said as much to Mazeppa, who laughed and replied that Galitsin was
welcome to the princess.

‘I am Galitsin’s lover no less than hers!’ he said. ‘Politically I am
deeply in love with both, and there my love ends.’



CHAPTER VII


I had several opportunities of seeing the two young Tsars, as well as
the Regent, at this time. The contrast between the elder and younger
sovereign was almost incredible--Ivan, the elder, a puny, unwholesome,
puffy, sickly-looking lad of some fifteen years, timid and inclined to
weep when spoken to, glad to retire from the public eye; Peter, the
younger, upright, and very tall for his age--he was scarcely more than
ten, indeed, but he was already taller than his brother--fearless,
dominant, gazing round with the proud and defiant air of the lion,
answering boldly and with dignity both to the questions which were
addressed to himself and also those to which Ivan should have replied.
For when Ivan was addressed he would flush and hesitate and look as
though he must presently burst into tears. Then he would glance at his
brother, and the child Peter would speak for him, unless indeed the
Regent were present, in which case she would reply for both.

The two princes occupied a double throne, which consisted of two chairs
separated by a space of a foot or two, which space was covered or veiled
by a silken screen, behind which sat and listened, and sometimes
prompted, the Regent Sophia.

I soon conversed with the little Tsar Peter, whose frank manner
captivated me. Seeing that I was a Cossack officer, he questioned me
closely as to the feats of horsemanship for which our tribes are famous,
bidding me describe some of these, which, to the best of my power, I
did.

‘When I am older you shall come up to Moscow and teach me,’ he said: ‘I
shall learn all these tricks of riding. What are the qualities necessary
for one who will excel?’

‘First, patience in practice, Highness,’ said I; ‘then suppleness of
body, and, chief of all, courage or nerve, and the determination to
laugh when you tumble and not to be deterred by a little pain or even a
broken bone.’

‘Well, you shall show me one day,’ said the Prince, ‘and afterwards I
will decide whether it is worth while to learn.’

Mazeppa was very friendly with both Sophia and her favourite friend and
counsellor, Galitsin, one of the ablest men that Russia has yet
produced, though a poor general, as we shall soon learn. Between these
three there were held many secret councils, and I have little doubt that
Mazeppa at this time arranged many things both to his own satisfaction
and to theirs with regard to the future politics of our tribes. He
learned his lesson well, indeed, for I know that he was never afterwards
in doubt when any point arose for discussion as to the wishes of our
suzerain power--Russia.

Mazeppa had resigned his ambitious matrimonial project without, as it
seemed, a pang of regret. But, as though to console himself for the
sacrifice, he bestowed much time to the society of one who could
scarcely have been more different in every respect from the Regent
Sophia, a little maiden--daughter of a well-to-do Boyar, one Kurbatof,
by a French wife--Vera Kurbatof, who by virtue of her semi-foreign birth
was not condemned to the seclusion of the _terem_, or ‘woman’s
department,’ in which most maidens of her day were obliged to pass their
existence.

Vera was very young and very beautiful, and there is no doubt that
Mazeppa soon lost his heart to her, delighting in her society and
spending all the time that he could spare in the endeavour to make
himself agreeable to her. Vera, it seemed to me, was less fascinated by
Mazeppa than he by her, a circumstance which I was glad to perceive,
for throughout our long friendship it has been my habit to pity any lady
upon whom Mazeppa is disposed to bestow the illusory boon of his
affections. Mazeppa’s heart was ever soft and susceptible, and ever
inconstant. Woe to every maiden who should listen to the voice of this
most fickle of wooers, for his love was a hostage for many tears.

It were wasted time indeed to dwell upon the tale of this as of any
other of Mazeppa’s excursions in love, but that in this particular
matter there is much to be told that concerns others besides himself,
for this Vera is to occupy a large space in these records.

And the first intimation I had that there might be more in this than in
others of the countless love affairs in which I have seen my friend
involved was that one day--shortly before we left Moscow to return to
the Ukraine--the Princess Sophia bade me, with a laugh, ‘look whereto
converge the eyes of thy friend and of another.’

I followed the gaze of the Princess: she was looking at Vera Kurbatof
and glanced at Mazeppa. ‘That is one pair,’ she said; ‘now seek for
thyself the other.’

I looked round at the roomful of courtiers and others, for there were
many present--taking the oath of allegiance some, and others spectators
and officials--but I could see none who seemed to stare, like Mazeppa,
at this fair young girl.

‘Look higher!’ the Princess said, smiling.

Then it occurred to me to glance at the two Tsars, seated upon their
twin throne, and to my wonder I perceived that the eyes of Ivan were
riveted upon Vera. His pale, puffed face was somewhat flushed and
animated--more so than I had yet seen it--and he seemed for once
interested and absorbed, instead of listless and weary and worried.

‘It will be desirable and most necessary that my brother should one day
choose for himself a wife,’ said Sophia, ‘and in a year, or at most two
years, his marriage may be arranged. It would be a matter for which to
praise God if he should show any desire to enter the wedded state, and a
mercy for which we have scarcely dared to hope.’

Being somewhat slow of wit, especially when in conversation with great
people, for at such moments a certain shyness often assails me, I did
not at once comprehend why her Highness favoured me with this
communication.

‘Your friend Mazeppa should be warned,’ she continued, ‘that he treads
on dangerous ground.’

Then I understood, and laughed together with her Highness.

‘My friend does not take seriously the affairs of the heart,’ I said.
‘In two days he will leave Moscow, and in three he will forget that he
has seen this lady.’

‘And she? That is also important. My poor brother should have, if
possible, a heart that is untainted. Mazeppa is a handsome man.’

‘As to that, Highness,’ I said, ‘I cannot judge, for I have neither
spoken to Mazeppa of the matter nor yet watched it for myself. But at
any rate I will warn my friend.’

‘Do so,’ said her Highness, ‘but not as from me.’

I did warn Mazeppa, telling him that I had observed the Tsar Ivan look
in such a manner at the girl that one might suppose he was attracted by
her. Mazeppa laughed much when I told him.

‘The youth is one of God’s afflicted,’ he said. ‘There is not life
enough in his veins to warm him into admiration for the charms of a
maiden. What, would the Regent have Vera marry that dolt? As soon let a
maiden mate with a figure of clay.’

‘See for yourself how he gazes at her and flushes, even now!’ I said.

Mazeppa looked and laughed scornfully.

‘Bah!’ he said. ‘He is gazing at the jewel that hangs at her neck; it
moves with her breathing, and he stares at it as a cat would. You are a
fool, Chelminsky, to speak of that imbecile and of love in the same
breath.’

This was certainly possible, though it appeared to me that the fact was
otherwise, and that this unfortunate prince had actually found a face
which it pleased him to gaze upon.

‘Nevertheless,’ I said, ‘without doubt they will one day cause this
youth to marry someone, for the succession’s sake!’

‘Then Heaven have pity upon the lady,’ he laughed, ‘for imagine what it
would be for a woman to be mated with a thing no more beautiful and
man-like than this, even though they should call him Tsar of Russia!
Moreover, my friend, look on this prince and on that--which is the
likelier to dominate when both are grown out of leading-strings? Peter
is ten times the better man already, ay, and better now than the other
will ever be!’

‘She is a beautiful girl, however,’ I said, ‘and it is no wonder that
even a half-man, like Ivan, should gaze upon her face with admiration!’

‘Oh, I grant that,’ said Mazeppa, flushing; ‘the best and highest of men
might so gaze upon her and thank his God for the eyes that were given
him to see so fair a sight withal!’

‘Ha!’ I said. ‘Mazeppa, that is more than thy usual praise for a woman:
is it possible that thou hast it in thy mind to run a race with the Tsar
for a pretty wench? That would endanger thy favour with her Highness!’

‘Bah!’ said Mazeppa. ‘I tell you that he gazes at the jewel at her
throat because it flashes in the sun: set a light dancing upon the wall,
and he will stare at that. As for the girl, it is not my habit to do
things in a hurry, and least of all will I marry in haste; but she is
certainly one of the fairest of women that I have yet seen! Think you
such as she would mate with an Ivan, even though he be half a Tsar? I
think she would die first!’

As to that I knew nothing, for I did not pretend to understand the heart
of woman. But I knew this, that Russian Tsars marry whom they will, be
they devils like Ivan the Terrible, or unsightly, unwholesome things
like this other Ivan; for either the maidens must, though they would
not, or else they consider that the man matters little so long as there
is a crown to be worn, and one may call herself Tsaritsa!

I became somewhat friendly with Vera Kurbatof, and before I left Moscow
I took occasion to ask her how she liked my friend Mazeppa.

‘He is handsome,’ she said, ‘and has a good manner, and he is cleverer
than all these together except Galitsin; but he is cunning, and I am
afraid of him; also he looks as though he might be treacherous. On the
whole, I do not like him! Yet, if I should ever need such help as the
wit or cunning of a man might furnish me withal, I should trust his wit
sooner than another’s, so long as I knew that he lost nothing by helping
me.’

I laughed much at the time over Vera’s saying. But afterwards, that is
when next Vera’s destiny crossed my own, I remembered it, for I had then
reason to believe that Mazeppa had somehow compacted with the girl to
stand her friend in certain contingencies. And that Mazeppa was one who
would never work without pay I knew well!



CHAPTER VIII


About one year from the time of our return to the Hetman’s Court after
this visit to Moscow, as I reckon it, there began to subsist a state of
constant warfare between Mazeppa and myself; not a warfare of thrust and
blow, of swords or of pistols, indeed, for we never came to violence,
but a warfare of wit, in which the desire to obtain the better of one
another was the principal end and motive.

We had been, on the whole, good friends up to this time. I had, indeed,
begun very gradually to understand Mazeppa and to regard him, in
consequence, with more suspicion and less respect than formerly; but I
now soon realised that I must treat him differently, that I must in fact
dissemble with him, since I found that he dissembled constantly in
dealing with myself, if I desired to live upon equal terms with my
friend and not to lag for ever behind in the race of life.

That which first angered and set me to use my wits against him was
this:

I was sent in command of my thousand of Cossacks upon an expedition,
half scouting and half punitive, in connection with the Tartars of Azof,
an expedition which, though its results were meagre, occupied half a
year. Now, though I have said little about such matters in connection
with myself, preferring to regard Mazeppa as the hero of my history and
to dwell upon that which concerns him rather than my own affairs, I will
now state that there was a maiden at the Court of the Hetman towards
whose charms I was not indifferent. I had had many affairs of the heart:
we Cossacks never lack for friends of the fair sex, and I may say
without boasting that my success in such matters had for ever been
satisfactory, and quite on a par with that of Mazeppa himself, who
prided himself upon being irresistible.

Now this lady, Olga Panief, was young and proud, and pre-eminent among
Cossack maidens for comeliness. There was scarcely one of us who lived
within the shadow of the Hetmanate who had not, at one time or another,
laid siege to her heart, which, however, had never until quite recently
capitulated.

Even when, as all supposed, I had at length caused the beleaguered one
to lower her flag and permit the entrance of Love the Conqueror, I was
not at all so sure of my conquest as others supposed, and when I went
with my Cossacks among the Tartars I rode with an unquiet heart, for I
knew for certain two things--the first, that Mazeppa would profit by my
absence in order to re-invest the citadel which should be mine by right
of conquest; and the second, that my hold upon the fair Olga was not so
secure but that she might even now lend a willing ear to so artful a
singer as Mazeppa.

For what actually happened I was by no means prepared.

My first visit on my return was to the house of Panief, the father of
fair Olga, and one of the seniors among the Cossack colonels.

But, to my astonishment, the Panief mansion was closed, and the family,
evidently, were out of town.

Then I went to Mazeppa, for my thoughts and suspicions turned as
naturally to him as a man would look up at the clouds when rain fell.

On the way to Mazeppa’s house I met Sotsky, of whom I inquired what had
become of the Paniefs.

‘Oh, that is a little bit of our friend Mazeppa’s handiwork,’ he
laughed. ‘Mazeppa took advantage of the absence of someone to lay
violent siege in a certain quarter. He had no success, and this is the
result.’

‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘Where are the Paniefs? What can Mazeppa
have to do with their disappearance?’

‘Oh, ask Mazeppa himself; it is not my business!’ Sotsky laughed, and he
went upon his way without further explanation.

Sotsky’s words and manner entirely puzzled me, and I scarcely knew how
to approach Mazeppa, whether with sword in hand and accusations in mouth
or as one who knows nothing.

Of what, indeed, could I accuse him?

Mazeppa betrayed no agitation. ‘He will play the fox,’ thought I, and I
determined that I too would act both cautiously and with cunning equal
to his own. But Mazeppa was frank, and disarmed me at once.

‘Your first question will be “Where is Olga?”’ he said, laughing. ‘And
my answer is prepared, “She is in Moscow!”’

‘In Moscow!’ I replied, astonished. ‘What does she there?’

‘I do not wonder that you are surprised. If you had visited a dozen
other houses in which dwell maidens of rank and good appearance, you
would have found them also deserted, like the Paniefs’. During your
absence there came a messenger from the Grand Duchess, the Regent. Do
you remember when we were last in Moscow that you played the prophet and
declared how one day they would cause the Tsar Ivan to take a wife? You
were right, and I--who laughed the idea to scorn--was wrong. The word
has gone out for the maidens to assemble in Moscow for the Tsar’s
inspection.’

‘And to whom,’ I asked angrily, ‘was the selection entrusted in this
district? To you, Mazeppa, I’ll be bound!’

‘You may see the letter of her Highness,’ said Mazeppa, producing the
document and handing it to me. ‘If you are angry that Olga Panief was
sent, you are wrong; for go she would, whether you or I willed it or
willed it not!’

‘I think that is a lie, Mazeppa,’ I said fiercely. ‘I will tell you what
has happened. In my absence you have sought to reap in my field, but
Olga would have none of you, and in return you have included her name
with those from among whom the Tsar is to make his choice.’

‘Not so,’ said Mazeppa; ‘you are angry and make unjust accusations.
Olga, as I have said, was determined to go; she would take her chance
like the rest, she declared, and when I said, “What of Chelminsky,
Olga?” she replied that both Chelminsky and I and any other Cossack
lover might go hang if the Tsar would have her, even a Tsar that
spluttered when he spoke and played with a child’s toys. I swear that
what I say is true. Go to Moscow and see for yourself, if you will.’

Knowing Olga as I did, I was aware that it might well be as Mazeppa
said.

‘It would serve the minx right,’ I replied angrily, ‘if the Tsar should
choose her; but of that there is little chance, for I think his choice
is already made, and this assembling of the maidens is a formality, a
concession to ancient customs, and no more.’

Mazeppa winced at this, by which I knew that he had not yet forgotten
his infatuation for Vera Kurbatof.

‘I know not to what choice of the Tsar’s you refer,’ he said. ‘They
would scarcely assemble the maidens if it were as you say.’

‘If, as you admit, I was a good prophet on one occasion, why should I
not prove all a prophet, and not only half?’ I laughed. ‘You remember
well enough that I bade you see how the Tsar watched the face of Vera
Kurbatof; be sure that his choice began and will end with her, even
though a Mazeppa should woo in rivalry.’

‘I think not,’ said Mazeppa. ‘She would never----;’ he paused, and
paced the floor awhile in thought.

I read the Regent’s letter: it was short, and merely made known that it
had been decreed that the elder Tsar should take a wife. Maidens of the
desired age--about seventeen--would assemble at the Kremlin Palace by
the day fixed for their arrival, and those agents appointed in the
various districts would be answerable for the despatch of all such
maidens, of suitable rank and age, as were to be found in their
locality. Mazeppa, being known to her Highness, was by her appointed
agent for the Ukraine towns and district.

‘You have acted unfriendly, Mazeppa,’ I said. ‘You should have reflected
that being, in a measure, affianced to myself, Olga might be exempted
from this formality. The power is in your hands to send or to exempt a
maiden.’

‘I tell you, my friend, that the girl would take no denial: she would
go. She spoke of you and of me in a breath, declaring that neither for
your sake nor for mine would she surrender so great a chance of
advancement. “I am no more Chelminsky’s than yours”--those were her
words--“and I hope to heaven that I shall be neither his nor yours, but
the Tsar’s!”’

‘I know not whether to believe you or not,’ I said, and Mazeppa replied
with a laugh that in that case I had better go to Moscow and ask the
lady for myself. ‘She is a saucy minx,’ he said, ‘and will not withhold
the truth to save your feelings. As the agent of her Highness in this
matter I am bound to be in Moscow on the day appointed, in order to see
that the maidens from my district are duly assembled. The day appointed
is but a week hence: travel with me if you will. I shall be glad of your
company, and perhaps also of your assistance in----”

Mazeppa did not finish his speech, but relapsed into thoughtful silence.
I did not think twice upon his broken sentence, imagining that he meant
he would need help in collecting and marshalling the army of Cossack
maidens, which would be his duty.

As for me, I felt aggrieved and angry that Olga Panief should have
spoken and acted thus. I suppose my love for the girl could have been no
more strong or real than hers for myself, however, for certainly I was
more offended than heartbroken; and if any one feeling predominated in
my mind over the rest it was an ardent hope that she might be
disappointed of her ambition, and that the Tsar would not so much as
glance at her.

Nevertheless, I determined to travel to Moscow with Mazeppa. The
ceremony of choosing a bride for the Tsar--and especially such a Tsar
as this one--must be of overwhelming interest. Moreover, I felt certain
that the Tsar would choose Vera Kurbatof, and I was curious to see what
would then happen; what Vera would do or say, and what Mazeppa would do.
I even found out now, for the first time, that I myself began to feel a
strange interest in this girl, and in the crisis which might now be
before her.



CHAPTER IX


Meanwhile a significant thing happened with regard to her who was
generally believed to be as good as chosen beforehand to be Tsaritsa.

A sight to make angels weep and devils smile was it, men said, when Vera
Kurbatof--before the great choosing, and I think before the assemblage
even of the maidens--was summoned to the palace in order that the
bridegroom Tsar (forsooth!) might first see her at his leisure and
without the excitement of a throng around him.

There were two or three other maidens besides Vera who were thus, like
her, subjected to a preliminary and private inspection by Ivan. These
were the daughters of Boyars whose position at Court brought them
constantly into the presence of the Tsar, and whom he therefore knew
well and could meet and speak to without overmuch timidity and shyness.
These Boyars, by Sophia’s decree, should have the first chance for their
daughters; for it was hoped that Ivan might more readily take a fancy
to the child of one whom he already knew than to some stranger.

‘He will never take a fancy,’ some said, laughing, ‘for there is nothing
of a man in him.’

But others declared that he had gazed twice at this maiden or that, and
some knew--among whom was I--that his eyes had rested in a peculiar
manner upon the face of Vera on a certain occasion--in a manner, indeed,
which would seem to indicate more of the man in Ivan that some believed
to exist.

The question was, did he remember his old-time fancy for her face, or
was it so passing and passionless a sentiment that he had forgotten it
during the score of months that had gone by since that day on which I
had observed it?

I have heard from those who were present that his most gracious and most
unmanlike Highness took no notice whatever of the daughters of those
faithful Boyars who lived about the Court, excepting to curse this one
and strike and spit at that one, and to burst into tears and upbraid his
sister when brought in to see and consider a third.

But the interview with Vera was a different matter and a thing to be
spoken of by itself. Here is a description of her visit, as told to me
by one who saw it with his own eyes!--a scene, as I have said, to make
angels weep!

Vera was sent for without notice and without information as to the
object of her visit.

‘I have sent for you, child,’ said the Regent very kindly, ‘because I am
favourably impressed by your appearance: you are certainly as fair as
any of the maidens yet arrived, and it is possible that a great, a
supreme honour may be in store for you.’

Vera hung her head, abashed: she would have renounced all claim to the
honour implied, but she durst not.

‘I see you are overcome by the thought of this greatness,’ continued
Sophia, taking the girl’s hand and patting it within her own. ‘Take
heart, child, for indeed you would make as fair a Tsaritsa as we could
wish to see.’

‘Oh, I dare not, I cannot, Highness,’ murmured poor Vera. ‘I am not the
stuff of which Tsaritsas should be made: I have no ambition.’

‘Then begin now to take a larger view of life. Listen, it has been
whispered me that his Highness my brother looks kindlier upon you than
upon any other maiden that he has yet seen: there, sweet one, does not
that awaken thy slumbering fancy? He is a great king--remember
this--though, to say truth, but an afflicted youth. Do not lose sight
of the greater issue by foolishly magnifying the lesser. The Tsar is the
Tsar, whether he be lusty or afflicted; a handsome youth or, by the will
of God, a pale invalid. Tell me, are you great enough to love the Tsar
for his greatness, which you would share as Tsaritsa?’

Vera hung her head and remained silent.

‘Speak, girl!’ said Sophia, a little less kindly than before.

‘Madam, having seen so little of the Tsar and--and oh, Madam, how should
I love him? I revere him, as Tsar and head of the Boyars, but to love is
different.’

‘Well, well, fool; in order to marry wisely it is not always necessary
to love. Love yourself, that is the first thing; if you truly love
yourself you should seek your own good: is not that fair logic? What
better thing can a maiden have than to be chosen Tsaritsa? I say there
is no better destiny for a maiden under Heaven!’

‘To love and to be loved is the best, Madam, for some,’ said Vera,
hesitating.

‘Tut, fool!--love does not wear for long. A high position and
power--these are the lasting blessings, and they carry love with
them--yes, and every other good thing besides. Moreover, if to love and
to be loved is for you the be-all and end-all, let him love you, for
his part, say I; and as for you--if you cannot love him, love whom you
will!’

‘Madam!’ exclaimed Vera, and was about to say I know not what indiscreet
thing, when the laughter of the two or three who were present, in which
Sophia herself joined, interrupted her. Vera flushed deeply, but
remained silent.

‘Well, child, speak,’ said the Regent; ‘why are you dumb?’

‘I have nothing to say, Highness. I have been used to see things
otherwise than as your Highness would now teach me!’

‘The way of wisdom, little fool, is to accept thankfully the gifts which
the gods provide,’ said Sophia, ‘whether it be a lover or position or
anything else that is good. Here you have greatness offered you: that
is, it might be offered you if you should play your cards wisely; also
love, of a kind!’ she ended with a quick glance at Galitsin and the
others.

Galitsin laughed aloud, but turned aside to hide it.

‘I wish for neither, Madam,’ said Vera boldly.

‘Well, Lord bless us, little fool!’ exclaimed Sophia, waxing impatient.
‘We are all subjects, both you and I and all of us, and as such bound
to obey the Tsar whether we will or not: you admit that much, I doubt
not. What if the Tsar desires thee--is he not to be obeyed because thou
art a fool? Dear Saints! beware what you do, girl! To stand against the
Tsar himself and to resist his will is the worst of all foolishness!’

‘Madam, have pity!’ said Vera, falling on her knees.

The Regent bustled her quickly to her feet. ‘I,’ she exclaimed, ‘what
have I to do with the matter? It is not I that choose a bride, but the
Tsar. If he choose thee, it is thou that art greatly honoured, not I!
Stand upon thy feet, and shame not thyself before these men. Send for
the Tsar, Galitsin, and let us have this comedy played and done with.’
Poor Vera fell a second time to her knees.

‘Madam, he will not make his choice here and now? You would not permit
it--he must see all--there are many fairer than I and more fitted to be
Tsaritsa---- Oh, do not let him come near me now!’

‘Peace, raver, and let me speak!’ replied Sophia grimly. ‘His Highness
will not make his final choice here and now; but he shall see thee
because it is said that he has shown a preference for thee. It is
necessary that he take a wife, understand it or understand it not; it is
necessary for the dynasty. Very well, if he will choose for himself, so
much the better for all parties; if he will not, so much the worse; but
in any case he will marry, and, if necessary, the choosing shall be done
for him.’

Then in came Galitsin, and with him--angry to be disturbed, and asking
querulously the reason--Ivan the Tsar. The Prince was in full speech
when he entered the room, but when his eye fell upon Vera he became
suddenly silent. He gazed at her fixedly for a moment, opening his mouth
and shutting it again. Then be turned to his sister.

‘Why have you sent for me? it is not a reception,’ he said. ‘I will not
see strangers without Peter; Peter is not here.’ Then his eyes sought
Vera’s face once more and remained fixed there.

‘There are no strangers, Ivashka,’ said Sophia; ‘and there is no
reception; only this beautiful maiden is come to show thee how fair she
is--look well at her.’

‘She is fair enough,’ said Ivan; ‘but I care for no woman. I will not
marry, Sophia; do not worry me.’

‘Ah, but how different is this one from the rest, only see,
Ivashka--what eyes, what hair! had ever maiden such a form?--mark it
well! She should sit at thy side when foreigners come, and should speak
to them instead of thee! A fair thing to have for ever about one! Happy
the man who may, if he will, possess her to gaze upon and to fondle for
his own. Come, take her hand, Ivashka, and kiss it. She shall be thine
own if thou wilt have her.’

The Tsar’s face had flushed during this speech. At the end of it he
actually took the girl’s hand in his own, smiling in her face, or
leering, as perhaps it might more accurately be called. He even began to
raise her fingers as though to bring them to his lips, but at his touch
Vera paled, staggered, and would have fallen fainting to the ground or
into the Tsar’s arms, but that Galitsin caught her and laid her
senseless form upon a divan.

‘See!’ said Sophia triumphantly: ‘she is overcome, brother, by the
honour and the happiness thou hast done her in thus noticing her beauty
above the others. Thou hast chosen well, my soul----’

‘I have not chosen her--I have not, I say,’ cried Ivan, stamping his
foot and turning upon the Regent. ‘Why do you speak foolishness? I want
no woman. She is afraid of me; do you think I do not see it? She might
have suited, if I must marry, but she is afraid of me and hates me.’

‘Not so, not so, brother: only think, for a maiden to be chosen Tsaritsa
is no small thing; no wonder that she has fainted in the sudden joy----
’

‘Sister, you are sometimes a fool, though generally very wise,’ said
Ivan. ‘Be silent, I say, and speak no more foolishness!’ With which
words he turned and left the room, glancing back for a moment at Vera
lying unconscious upon her divan.

Thereupon Sophia stamped and swore first, and then laughed, while
Galitsin only laughed, and the two other witnesses--being
courtiers--knew not whether to laugh or to look grave, and so the comedy
ended.

A sight indeed to make angels weep!



CHAPTER X


One would suppose that with so comprehensive an order published
throughout Russia, namely, that the fairest maidens from every part
should be despatched to the city for the convenience of the Tsar in his
choice of a bride, the whole of Moscow would be full of young women. And
so, doubtless, would it have been but that a wise discretion had been
left in the hands of those agents in each district to whom had been
entrusted the duty of selecting and despatching the maidens. Not all who
would fain have come were permitted to make the journey. Many were first
weeded out as unfit before the final few, the very cream and perfection
of Russian maidenhood, were despatched to the capital.

Indeed, there were no more than two hundred, in all, that now awaited in
the _terem_ of the palace in the Kremlin the verdict of the Tsar or of
those who would choose for him.

I spoke with many of those who, like Mazeppa, had been entrusted with
the duty of selection. Of these some made very merry over their
commission.

‘One would suppose that every maiden in my district,’ said one, ‘was of
the age of seventeen, and beautiful, and virtuous, and healthy. I had
crowds to deal with and none would take “no” for an answer. Believe me
if you will, of the thousand or more that offered themselves from
Novgorod, I am here at last with five maidens. I know not how I shall
dare return to my home, for I have now nearly one thousand inveterate
enemies, ready, I doubt not, to tear me to pieces!’

‘How is a man to say this one is beautiful or that one?’ said another.
‘As for me, I brought all who offered themselves, which was luckily only
eight girls, my district being a narrow one. How should I say whom the
Grand Duchess might think handsome, and whom plain? It is her affair,
not mine; her eyes are the judges.’

‘What! is the Tsar to have no word in the choice?’ I asked, laughing.

‘Lord--as if he could say yea or nay for himself! He would weep and ask
to be taken back to his play-room. “I desire none of them,” he would
say. “Why should I marry any of these strangers?”’

All present laughed at this, but one said:

‘It is of the maidens I think. Were I one of them I should pray to God
from this moment until the last hour of the choice that the Tsar might
choose any one of the maidens rather than myself. Imagine, my brothers,
the being mated with such a thing! A Tsar that dribbles at the mouth and
chatters to himself, but will speak to no other if he can avoid it. A
Tsar that falls in a fit if startled or loudly spoken to; a creature
that--if he were not a Tsar--must be laughed at, or wept over; a thing
to be hidden from the eyes of his fellows! Yet here is this frolic of
nature paraded as though he were a man like another, in order that he
may condemn one of God’s fairest creatures to the unspeakable horror of
marrying him!’

‘That is foolish talk, Katkof,’ said another. ‘These young women come to
marry the crown, or the throne, or the sceptre--what you will. What
matter who it is that sits arrayed as king? Moreover, what signifies a
marriage with such as Ivan? It is to be another nurse, another
attendant, and there is the end; only that she will be called Tsaritsa,
and will sit higher than every other woman in the land!’

I suppose that both opinions were right and both wrong. Some maidens
there be, the majority I doubt not, who would accept all things if only
they might have the title and position of Tsaritsa. A few would pray to
God with tears night and day that the Tsar, in making choice, would pass
them over. They would grimace, or develop a weary look by keeping awake
at nights, or they would cry their noses red and their eyes swollen!
Anything to escape so hateful a destiny as to be chosen Tsaritsa to such
a Tsar!

Vera Kurbatof was not among those who were obliged to live during the
days of selection within the _terem_ of the palace. This did not mean
that she was exempt from competition: on the contrary, it was told me
that she stood at the present moment first in order of probability. That
is, the Tsar was supposed to regard her already with favour; and this
final assemblage of maidens had been brought about merely in deference
to old customs, and in order that it might be seen, before a final
decision were made, whether this Vera were really supreme among her
peers, or whether there might not possibly come one whose superiority
was so marked that even Ivan must observe it.

For the Tsar must have the very best; that was the central idea.

By a lucky chance I happened to meet Vera Kurbatof on the very day after
our arrival in Moscow. She was walking with the old nurse who was ever
her companion out of doors, and she was strictly veiled, in the fashion
of the time; for until the Tsar Peter afterwards changed this and many
other things after his own drastic, autocratic fashion, women in Russia
were, like their sisters in Eastern countries, discouraged from showing
their faces in public.

I recognised her by her voice, which was a peculiarly sweet one, and as
we met I spoke to her, making my profoundest reverence in order to atone
for the boldness of addressing her without permission.

‘I think you are the _Barishnya_ Vera Kurbatof,’ I said. ‘If I am right,
let your voice bear the blame of betraying your incognito.’

She started. ‘Yes, I am she!’ she said, ‘and you--yes--I remember, you
are the friend of the Cossack Mazeppa.’

‘May I not stand on my own feet as the Cossack Chelminsky?’ I said,
making a show of laughing, though I felt somewhat aggrieved that she, of
all others, should have remembered me not for myself, but in virtue of
my connection with Mazeppa.

‘Forgive me, sir,’ she said, ‘I do, indeed, remember both you and your
name, but it happened that I was thinking of Mazeppa. I have thought
more than once lately of your friend, for--for a reason.’

‘Worse and worse!’ I said. ‘Now I am jealous, indeed! May I know why
Mazeppa is so fortunate as to have been the subject of your thoughts?’

‘Forgive me, I am distracted at present; I scarcely know what I am
saying. I desire very much to see your friend. I have longed day and
night to see him, because--I cannot tell you why, excepting that I am in
great trouble and danger and I need his assistance, which he once placed
at my disposal.’

‘May I not be upon an equality with him by doing the same? All my wit
and all my power are at your service. I am sure that I am as ready to
serve you as he.’

‘I do not doubt it, and--and if it were ordinary service I should accept
your offer most gladly, but that which Mazeppa suggested was a
particular service and must not be spoken of, excepting to himself.’

‘What then would you wish me to do?’ I asked, feeling much mortified.

‘I would have you tell him that the time has nearly come when he must
redeem his promise, if it is ever to be redeemed,’ she said. ‘Soon it
will be too late; the danger I feared, or rather the danger which I
refused to recognise, has proved a real one. It was he that pointed it
out, half in jest and half in earnest, but it has come true.’

‘I will tell you that the secret is no secret for me!’ I laughed. ‘The
danger you are in is this, that the Tsar Ivan desires to make a Tsaritsa
of you and you desire it not. Am I right?’

‘Did Mazeppa tell you this?’ she asked. ‘Oh! did he send any
message--that he would come to help me--to do that which he promised in
case of imminent danger?’

‘Mazeppa gave me no message. As for the Tsar, it was I that showed
Mazeppa which way the wind blew, not Mazeppa me. I saw how Ivan gazed at
you, and bade Mazeppa look also. He feigned to think nothing of the
matter; but I perceive that he thought badly enough of it to warn you
and to promise assistance.’

‘Alas! what am I to do? Supposing that among these maidens there is none
that happens to please his fancy--then I am lost!’

‘Think whether I cannot help you as well as Mazeppa, whom, as you told
me, you fear or dislike.’

‘Hush! do not say that! It was thoughtful and kind of him to foresee
danger and to suggest a remedy. I should be ungracious if I accepted
your offer while his own still holds. Is he in Moscow?’

‘He is in Moscow,’ I said grimly. ‘I will tell him that you expect
certain services from him which he promised in case of danger.’

‘Yes, tell him that. Do not think me ungrateful, my friend. I am under
promise to apply for help to Mazeppa in case of need; I am none the less
grateful to you for your offer.’

‘Will not your father take your side in this matter?’

‘Alas! he regards it from a different standpoint. For him, the crown is
the crown, the man nothing. He thinks of the glory that would be mine
and his if I were to become Tsaritsa. He glories in the prospect
already, for, indeed, many say that the Tsar’s mind is made up, and that
he will marry me or none. Now you understand how imminent is my need of
escape. I would die a hundred times rather than mate with that loathsome
thing.’

‘Well, I will tell Mazeppa,’ I said, feeling strangely mortified and
somewhat heavy at heart besides. Vera Kurbatof had drawn me within the
hall of her father’s house, and we sat before the stove and conversed.
The old nurse sat with us, muttering occasionally, and crossing
herself.

The old woman followed me as I rose to depart.

‘Do nothing she asks you!’ she whispered, taking me aside. ‘To be
Tsaritsa elect, and to desire to escape! Who ever heard such things! Say
nothing to Mazeppa of this. Do you know what he has promised her? I will
tell you. He will carry her off to the Ukraine and hide her there so
that none shall find her again. He is a devil, this Mazeppa; I can see
it in his eyes. He would bring her to no good. He is not to be trusted.’

‘Maybe you are right, Matushka,’ I said. ‘I will keep your warning in
mind.’

I told Mazeppa, nevertheless, as in duty bound, what Vera had said.

‘Aha!’ cried Mazeppa, visibly delighted. ‘So she remembers, and would
have my assistance! Well, she shall have it, tell her. Let her be
patient for a few days while we watch how matters go. She shall not be
deserted, but I will not go near her at present, lest I should be
suspected afterwards!’



CHAPTER XI


It was at this time I first became intimate with a certain young lion
cub destined before many years were passed--though few guessed it as
yet--to become a very great and uncouth beast, and to startle the world
with very loud roarings. Let me draw a picture of the said beast, whose
name was Peter Alexeyevitch, the younger son of the Tsar Alexis.

‘You shall come and show my fellows how to ride,’ he had said to me, and
to Preobrajensky I went, little dreaming how curious and suggestive a
state of affairs I should find there. At Preobrajensky, but a few miles
from Moscow, the younger Tsar lived with his mother, the Tsaritsa
Nathalia, whose authority, since the Streltsi insurrection, had declined
to zero, having given place to that of the Regent Sophia and her lover,
Vassili Galitsin.

In this retreat mother and son lived almost undisturbed by the duties of
young Peter’s high position, for it was the policy of Sophia to keep
the Tsar in the background, causing him to visit Moscow only on those
rare occasions of ceremony when the presence of the nominal heads of the
realm was absolutely necessary. Peter was allowed to live as he
would--his vices to have free run, his follies to remain unchecked, in
the hope that his subjects might thus behold him develop into an
unworthy prince, on whose behalf it would be foolish to overturn a
better if less legitimate order of things.

And, indeed, there were few at this time who watched the growth of this
prince with any particular interest, as of one destined to great things.
Whether he himself guessed his own greatness or no I cannot tell, though
it is certain that it was possible to gather from an occasional remark
from his lips that he was at least awake, and that the present position
of politics and its possible development in his favour had not
altogether escaped him.

I found him among grooms and cook boys, a motley company of his chosen
companions, the base lump being leavened by the presence of a few sons
of well-known Boyars. These were one and all members of the ‘Pleasure
Regiment’ which it was Peter’s delight at this time to keep and to
train: an odd assortment indeed of young moujiks, servants upon the
estate, young Boyars and _dvoryanins_, and every lad with a taste for
soldiering or for wild living who had happened to hear of and be
attracted by the half-serious, all-boyish activity of the young Tsar at
Preobrajensky.

I found him drinking beer among the stable lads and moujiks who formed
his chosen circle of friends and officers, and though assuredly Peter
Alexeyevitch gave at that time scarcely a hint of the greatness that was
in him, being as yet but in his sixteenth or seventeenth year, and with
apparently little seriousness of thought about him, yet I felt
marvellously attracted by the youth, believing that I saw in him more
than I had been taught at Moscow to credit him withal, where it was the
fashion to cry him down as a prince of little promise, given to excess
of every kind, but possessing no solidity of character, no ambition, no
sense of the responsibility of his position and of its duties. ‘He is a
fool!’ Galitsin had said in my hearing, ‘a fool with many vices; one
who, without the wisdom of the Regent to restrain him, might be a danger
to the State.’

As to his personal appearance, this was most striking. Tall beyond
belief, lanky, somewhat round in the shoulder, long-armed, dark-haired,
large-eyed, round-faced, pleasant in expression until the moment when
some word or action of his companion’s or even some thought of his own
aroused a feeling of anger, when at once his eyes became harsh and cruel
like a savage beast’s, and his brow would knit and his mouth scowl. At
such a moment too, his head would turn with a spasmodic jerk over his
shoulder as though he would look at his heel, and sometimes he would
grasp the nearest object with his hands--whether a man or a piece of
furniture--as if to steady himself.

During these paroxysms Peter Alexeyevitch was a dangerous neighbour,
having little control over himself. I have heard it said at the Russian
Court that he is not to be blamed for such attacks, which were the
simple result of those scenes of horror and carnage to which he was
condemned at the age of ten by the excesses of the Streltsi, when his
young feet were dragged by them through the blood of his uncles, his
mother’s brothers, the Naryshkins, and when he was a personal witness of
the murders of Dolgorouki, Matveyeff, and other victims.

For myself I have rarely seen him in a fit of passion, for it happened
that he was pleased to take a fancy for me from our first acquaintance,
and was ever kind and gracious towards me.

‘Sit, Chelminsky, and drink with us,’ he now cried, as I entered the
large and dirty barrack room in which the company were assembled. ‘You
are welcome; brothers, this is the prince of Cossacks, Chelminsky, who
shall teach us all to ride presently. Meanwhile, give him the biggest
tankard, and stand, all, while he drinks. There is beer and mead,
Chelminsky; choose your stuff and drink till you’re drunk--it is our
rule.’

‘Then I must ride before I drink,’ I laughed, ‘or I shall only teach
your fellows how to fall off.’

I was allowed to postpone my drinking upon this plea, for which I must
thank the youth of the Tsar, for assuredly but a year or two later, and
ever afterwards, he would have listened to no excuse from any whom it
pleased him to bid drink with him. To drink with the Tsar meant certain
intoxication--for the guest, at least, if not for the Tsar also; but,
being liberally gifted by nature in this as in most other respects,
Peter was sometimes able to withstand when all around had succumbed.
Yet, so robust was he that, however late he may have lingered over his
wine cups by night, he was invariably able and ready to begin a long
day’s work so soon as morning arrived, and to go through with it as no
other man in the realm could have done.

I rode for an hour before this motley crew, showing them many Cossack
tricks, to the great delight of the Tsar himself and of his
companions--such as picking up a sword from the ground while passing at
full gallop; vaulting into the saddle as the horse flew round in a
circle; standing, kneeling, lying when in full career, and so forth.

Both the Tsar himself and many of his half-drunken companions must needs
emulate my performances, one of the fellows breaking an arm and another
his head, and the Tsar himself twisting his ankle in a fashion that
caused him to walk lamely for several days afterwards. Meanwhile Peter
expressed to me his satisfaction after his own manner. He smote me
violently upon the shoulder:

‘By the saints, Chelminsky, a troop of horsemen like yourself should
make themselves felt in a battle; one day, maybe, we shall fight
together. Why should I not add fifty Cossacks to this regiment of mine?
I will speak with you again of the matter, when I am sober.’

But since the Tsar was far from sober at this time, and for the rest of
the day, I had no opportunity to discuss the matter.

But I met young Boutourlin in Moscow a day or two later, and spoke with
him. The young Tsar was delighted with me, he said: ‘And that may prove
a wonderful thing for you, Chelminsky; for, believe me, this lion cub
that yawns to-day and plays with bones shall hunt for himself to-morrow;
and those who are his playmates now will presently become his princes
and ministers.’

‘What! these grooms and moujiks?’ I laughed.

But Boutourlin wagged his head solemnly. ‘Both they and we,’ he said.
‘As, for instance, why should you not become Hetman of the Cossacks?’

‘Peter has first to become somebody before I can become anybody,’ I
said; ‘the Regent and Galitsin have taken a good grip, and are not
likely to let go.’

‘The deadliest grip can be loosened if you press tightly enough upon the
gripper’s throat,’ said Boutourlin, laughing. ‘Our man is scarcely yet
sixteen. Let him grow and think quietly, and big things may yet come of
his thinking and growing. You, too, go home and think, but do not talk.
Remember that we shall want the Cossacks, and when the Government
changes in Moscow a new Hetman will have to be found at Batourin.
Remember also that we others are wide awake, even though the lion cub
should yawn. All this drilling is not for nothing.’

These words caused me to reflect, as they were meant to do, and I
decided that, since Mazeppa was already the Regent’s man, I would be
Peter’s; for I could lose nothing and might gain much by entering into
an understanding with the young Tsar. If he should come to the front I
should certainly profit; in any case, I should be no worse off.

I therefore rode daily to Preobrajensky, and became each day more
familiar with the young lion who, as Boutourlin expressed it, lay and
yawned there, waiting upon time and opportunity.

Certainly the Tsar could not be said to hold himself timidly towards the
Regent, his sister, as some declare that he was too much wont to do; for
during the short while that I was in Moscow at this time I saw him twice
defy her authority, taking the law into his own hands after a fashion
that a timid youth could not have imitated.

The first time that this happened was in consequence of a freak which
originated upon the parade ground when I was myself present.

The ‘Pleasure Regiment’ marched past in silence, and someone remarked
that there should be a band of drums and whistles (or fifes) to play the
men into good step. This would make the parade more lively.

‘The Poutyátine regiment of Streltsi has them,’ laughed one of those who
stood by.

‘Oh, oh!’ cried Peter, ‘we will raid them. Come, volunteers! who will
help carry off these fifes and drums?’

There were many offers of assistance, and that evening the entire set of
drums and fifes used by the Poutyátine regiment of Streltsi found their
way in some mysterious fashion to the barracks of the ‘Pleasure
Regiment’ at Preobrajensky.



CHAPTER XII


This affair of the fifes and drums was a notable one, because it led to
the first revolt of young Peter against the authority of his sister and
her minister and lover, Galitsin.

For the young Tsar was summoned to the Kremlin to answer for his
misdeeds and to be made to promise that the drums and fifes of the
Streltsi fellows should be restored to their original owners.

To the Regent’s angry command that he should explain forthwith his
conduct, Peter replied somewhat haughtily.

‘You forget, sister,’ he said, ‘that I grow with the years; I am not
forever to remain in swaddle clothes--a helpless thing to be fed with
spoon meat!’

‘At any rate for the present thou art no more than a child, and as a
child thou shalt be treated,’ said the Grand Duchess, flushing,
nevertheless, and surprised; ‘for the present also it is I that am set
above thee, and I that am to be obeyed.’

‘Thy voice, but that fellow’s counsel!’ said Peter, laughing and tilting
his chin at Galitsin.

Galitsin flushed angrily, and asked Peter how he dared speak thus to his
sister.

‘And thou,’ said the young Tsar, haughtily enough. ‘Who art thou,
Galitsin, to be present when the Tsar takes counsel with the Regent? Go
forth, sir, into the ante-room and wait until thou art summoned!’

Galitsin looked bewildered and knew not what to do: he glanced at the
Regent.

‘Go, Liubyézny,’ she whispered. ‘I will bring the young fool to reason.’

Galitsin still lingered, and was about to speak.

‘Do you not hear, fool?’ cried young Peter, stamping his foot and
actually taking a step towards Galitsin, over whom he towered by half an
arm’s length. ‘Lord, sister, I will have better obedience from my
servants when I am master!’

This--which was overheard by some who listened in the ante-room--was
said to be the first roaring of the young lion who was soon to tear old
Russia into shreds.

What passed between brother and sister after Galitsin had gone--pale and
trembling--from the room, shutting the door of the ante-room after him,
I cannot tell; but it is certain that the drums and fifes remained at
Preobrajensky, and that the conduct of young Peter grew bolder from this
day, instead of conforming more strictly to the wishes of the Regent,
who would have had the Tsar sink ever more helplessly under her control.

For instance, Peter now set up a recruiting office at his mother’s
palace, and here the names of many distinguished Russian families were
to be found represented by the younger sons of the Boyars, youths who
discerned in the service of Peter hopes of future advancement which
could never be expected under Sophia’s rule. It was these young Boyars,
more than Peter himself, who worked silently for the revolution in
Peter’s favour which was to take place within two years of this time.
For men say the Tsar recruited and drilled his men, and fortified his
camp, and armed and mounted his troops, all for pastime, not seriously
realising his strength or theirs, or his by reason of them; but they
worked deliberately and with the full intention to make of Peter’s
pleasure regiment a grim and warlike reality, by means of which one day
the Tsar of their choice should be placed in power.

And Peter, having now found--perhaps to his surprise, but certainly to
his great delight--that he had gained much by asserting himself, began
to take more liberty and to ignore his sister the Regent when her wishes
clashed with his own.

Were horses required for his pleasure army? A detachment is sent to the
_Konyúshannui Prikaz_, or cavalry department, in Moscow, and the
required number of animals is driven out to Preobrajensky.

By the saints, any fool with a pair of eyes in his head might have
foreseen which way matters tended!

Yet Mazeppa, who was no fool, and whose eyes were as good as most, made
or appeared to make a mistake in this matter.

Peter the Tsar had observed Mazeppa in Moscow, and asked me of him. I
did not praise him too highly, for I was anxious to stand higher with
this young giant than he, Mazeppa having undoubtedly an understanding
with the party in power, Sophia and her satellites. I had now begun to
play a part in life--to have my own ambitious ends in view, in gaining
which Mazeppa would be an obstruction. For our object, both his and
mine, was the Hetmanate, to obtain which he would play Sophia and I
should play Peter.

Therefore, desiring to keep my place in the young Tsar’s regard, I did
not speak too highly of Mazeppa, though I allowed him to be a shrewd
and capable person, of clerkly rather than military attainments.

‘Can he not ride, then, like thee?’ asked Peter; and I replied that all
Cossacks are at home on horseback, as young ducks are in water.

‘Devil take it,’ said the young Tsar. ‘Bring him down here, Chelminsky,
and we shall see which of you two ducklings swims best!’

I was glad of this, for I knew that in fancy riding I was a better
horseman than Mazeppa. Mazeppa knew this also, and was not anxious to
accept the Tsar’s invitation.

‘Why should I take this trouble for the pleasure of a young fool that
herds with grooms and moujiks and swills beer with his own cook boys?’
he said. And I replied that this young fool, as Mazeppa was pleased to
call him, was nevertheless joint-Tsar of Russia, and must therefore be
obeyed.

‘A Tsar in name, but without authority!’ he laughed. ‘Do you not know
that Sophia is the mare that draws the chariot, and will draw it to the
end?’

‘That may very well be true,’ said I, not willing to argue the matter,
lest Mazeppa should become impressed with my own conviction that Peter
was destined one day to assert his strength. For at present Mazeppa,
being an adherent of Sophia and accustomed to the cant of the Regent and
her companions as to Peter’s foolishness and worthlessness, was disposed
to think little of this lion-cub, and misdoubted his strength and
valour.

‘Continue in that opinion, my friend,’ thought I, ‘for therein may lie
my advantage if I have any luck!’

Nevertheless Mazeppa did come with me to Preobrajensky, being too much
of a courtier, I suppose, to disobey the will of a Tsar, even though he
looked upon that Tsar without much respect.

Peter constrained us to drink with his boon companions and would take no
denial, and after these libations to the drunken god Bacchus he must
needs set us, first to race and afterwards to exhibit our skill in
Cossack feats and tricks of horsemanship.

The race was more a matter for our horses than for ourselves, and
Mazeppa being the lighter man, I had fears that he might win. We
galloped three times round the exercising ground of the ‘Pleasure
Regiment,’ and at one hundred yards from the winning post were still
neck and neck, I urging my good beast both with whip and spur, Mazeppa
doing the same. Within a stone’s throw of the post his horse fell from
exhaustion, leaving mine to gallop in alone.

‘That is a good race,’ shouted the Tsar, ‘and well ridden by both, but
he wins a race who rides the best horse. Let us judge which is the
better Cossack--you, Chelminsky, or Mazeppa; show your skill, both, and
you shall be judged by the votes of us who look on!’

Mazeppa would rather not have engaged in this competition, for in our
own home I was accounted a better horseman than he, and Mazeppa was one
who loved to excel and hated to be worsted.

In the tricks we essayed I showed my superiority, the Tsar and his
companions clapping their hands vigorously and shouting my name; but the
culmination of my triumph came when, at last, Mazeppa fell from his
saddle in an attempt to pick up a pistol from the ground while passing
at full gallop.

Mazeppa’s misfortune set the Tsar shouting with delight and laughing
boisterously.

Mazeppa was angry, first by reason of his failure, but still more on
account of the bad manners of the Tsar and his satellites.

‘He rides better than you, Mazeppa!’ cried the Tsar. ‘Well done,
Chelminsky; it was well done indeed; it may be that thou shalt be the
Hetman for this one day, when I am master!’

I wished the Tsar had not said this. I saw Mazeppa flush and start and
look quickly at the Tsar and at myself.

‘Many things must happen before Chelminsky is Hetman of the Cossacks!’
he said, and the Tsar laughed.

Presently, when a group of Peter’s men stood about me, I observed that
Mazeppa and the Tsar spoke together apart, and I was consumed with the
desire to know what was said, for I trusted Mazeppa not at all, and I
judged that he would not allow so good an opportunity to go by without
stabbing me in the dark.

In this opinion of Mazeppa I did him no injustice, for the Tsar, in
speaking with me alone a little later, informed me of his own accord of
what had passed.

‘Mazeppa is furious with you,’ said his Highness, laughing, ‘else he
would scarcely give you so bad a character. You are too great a fool,
Chelminsky, to become Hetman. So says Mazeppa. For Hetman a leader of
men is needed, not a mere trick-rider of horses!’

‘Better one that can ride than one who falls off,’ said I. The Tsar
laughed, after his manner, very loudly.

‘Mazeppa will not shed tears for thy unkindness, Tsar,’ I continued,
‘for to say truth he pins his faith upon the Regent, not thee. “She will
for ever sit in the highest place,” says Mazeppa, “though the little
Tsar Peter shall wear fine clothes and be called by a great title.”’

Peter flushed and looked angry. ‘Why said Mazeppa this, and why do you
tell me of it?’ he asked.

‘Concerning what your Highness said of the Hetmanate,’ I replied.
‘Mazeppa would be Hetman, and doubtless the Regent will support him--has
already so promised him, as I believe. Thus he is not alarmed by the
threat of your Highness that I shall be Hetman, because, says Mazeppa,
it is her Highness the Regent who shall appoint to the office, and not
the Tsar Peter.’

‘Oh!’ said the Tsar, flushing, ‘he said this, did he? Well, my friend,
when we see, then we shall know!’

Riding back to Moscow Mazeppa was coldly disposed towards me. He spoke
little, but said suddenly when we neared the city, ‘If thou art wise,
Chelminsky, forget what this youth said of the Hetmanate, for be sure
that before Peter is Tsar Mazeppa will be Hetman; wherefore build no
hopes and suffer no disappointment!’

‘As to that,’ said I, ‘I may forget and I may remember!’

‘Do as you please, my friend,’ Mazeppa said, laughing grimly, ‘but I
think I shall win.’

Thinking all this over and knowing Mazeppa as I did, I determined that
the safest plan in dealing with this fox would be to be a fox also.



CHAPTER XIII


I met at this time with two adventures which I will now relate, since
the first resulted in a friendship which was afterwards--and indeed very
soon--of great use to me, and both are essential to the further
understanding of Ivan’s bride-choosing.

I was wandering near the Diévitchy monastery, which is the convent for
the ‘Devoted of the Female Sex,’ and it occurred to me that here,
indeed, was a good refuge for any who, like Vera Kurbatof, would escape
the chance of being mated with Tsar Ivan against her will. My thoughts
continually ran upon Vera at this time: her sweet though firm character
attracted me much, and I began to think that I was not far from being in
love with her. But if I suspected myself of this weakness, I suspected
Mazeppa yet more of the very same, and perhaps it was this that, at the
first, drew me towards Vera more strongly than even her own charm; for
it had come to this, that I now felt my principal rule of life to be
opposition to and rivalry with Mazeppa. I must both obstruct him and
oust him; he had offended me more than once, and the Cossacks do not
easily forget offence. Moreover, he it was that stood in my way,
therefore I should make him feel that I stood also in his.

As to Vera, I knew as well as if he had told me in words that he had
determined to make the girl his prey, whether honestly as his wife or in
some other way. Therefore, above all things, he must not suspect that I,
too, had an eye upon Vera. I would move stealthily; he should neither
see nor hear anything that would put him upon his guard in this matter.
Mazeppa was a better fox than I; he thought me a fool, however, which
should give me an advantage.

Firstly, then, he should be led to believe that I was indifferent to
Vera, and that might put him off his guard in speaking to me of the
girl. We were still upon friendly terms, he and I, and went as dear
companions; but he had deceived and offended me more than once, and I
felt not towards him now as I did in the old days.

A youth drove up to the monastery as I passed the door: this was a young
Boyar, by his dress, though I did not know him. He clanged the great
bell, and I heard him give his name as Rachmanof, and demand to see his
sister. There was a parley at the door, and presently he was admitted
up some steps and into a little ante-room that lay outside the great
doors leading in to the convent.

I lingered--I know not why--wondering whether anything of interest would
happen, and almost immediately my curiosity was rewarded, for there came
a medley of angry female voices, a piercing shriek or two, a curse and a
scuffle, and then appeared young Rachmanof carrying the body of a young
nun or postulant (for her hair, I observed, was not shorn), and followed
by an old nun and two or three younger ones, who scolded and cried, and
called aloud upon all and sundry for assistance.

‘Help! help!’ cried the elder woman. ‘All good people prevent this
sacrilege! Here is a villain would carry off one of God’s devoted women.
Help her, all who would serve Christ!’

The fellow took no notice of what was said or shrieked behind him, but
dragged his struggling burden grimly on towards his _troika_, a
three-horsed carriage, which stood in the road.

Then I stepped forward and took up a position in front of the carriage
so that approach to it was barred by my body.

Rachmanof cursed and bade me get out of the way.

‘I will let you pass when you have assured me of your right to take away
this lady!’ I said.

‘She is my sister,’ he cried, ‘and as for right, who in the devil’s name
are you that question me?’

‘I am one who will at any rate have an answer when I ask for
information,’ I said. ‘Put the girl down and let us hear what you have
to say.’

The older nun, shivering on the doorstep, cried out: ‘Well done, good
Cossack; be brave, for you act in God’s service. This fellow would carry
his sister to the Tsar’s _terem_ that she may be inspected among those
who are candidates in the bride-choosing, she being one who has entered
the exclusive service of Christ, having withdrawn from the world and its
wickedness.’

‘It’s a lie!’ cried Rachmanof. ‘She escaped from home but a week since
in order to avoid her duty as a Russian maiden--namely, to offer herself
for the Tsar’s consideration. She is no nun, her hair is unshorn; she is
but a postulant, and has no rights such as this old hag claims for her.
Therefore you, sir, whosoever you may be, move yourself out of my way,
or it may be that you shall go back among your Cossacks limping.’

‘Put her down,’ I said, ‘and let her go back whence she came. Shame upon
you to use force with her! It is an accursed thing to tear a maiden
from the service of Christ, if she would so devote herself.’

‘At any rate, it is not your business, but mine; she is not your sister.
This is a family matter: it is my father’s wish that she should return
to her home, and the Regent’s command that she should attend the
bride-choosing, though why I take the trouble to tell thee, Heaven
knows. Come, out of my way! I grow weary of carrying this fool of a
girl.’

A crowd began to collect, and though some cried, ‘Let him pass with
her,’ a greater number shouted, ‘It is a sacrilege; God’s curse will
follow those who offend one of His devoted. Take her from him, Cossack;
we will support you.’

‘You hear?’ I said; ‘better put her down and make off quickly, for the
people are against you.’

Rachmanof cursed and blasphemed, bidding me in the devil’s name move out
of his way, but I laughed and stood where I was. Suddenly he dropped his
burden, and, grabbing at his sword, attacked me furiously.

The girl doubled back like a startled hare and quickly disappeared, she
and her companions, including the old nun, shutting all the doors behind
them.

I was ready for Rachmanof, for I expected his onslaught, but his attack
was so violent and at the same time so skilful that he almost bore me
down at the first rush.

But I steadied myself in a moment or two, and for awhile our weapons
clashed without advantage to either side, while the crowd about us
shouted encouragement now to one and now to the other.

I hacked Rachmanof’s arm, drawing blood, but it was no worse than a
surface wound, though the sight of it roused the spectators to
excitement and sent the balance of sympathy decidedly to my side.

‘Smite, Cossack, and spit the bully!’ cried some; and a few replied,
‘For shame! let the Russian win, he is our brother--the Cossacks are
thieving rascals, one and all.’

Then suddenly something happened that sent me toppling over, and as I
fell a man brought a club down upon my head and I tumbled senseless in
the road.

I know now that the driver of Rachmanof’s carriage interfered in his
master’s interest and backed the horses in such a way that the carriage
came rolling into me from behind, knocking my legs from under me. Then a
sympathiser with Rachmanof suddenly ran in and smote me upon the head,
and so--for the moment--ended all interest in the matter for me.

When I regained consciousness I found myself in a small room within the
convent. This was the tiny ante-room, built out separately from the
parent building, a room in which the friends of the nuns might have
interviews with their acquaintances; and here I speedily became aware
that the old nun (who, I learned, was the Superior of the community) was
busily fastening bandages about my head, which--presumably--had been
somewhat roughly used.

‘How did I get here?’ I asked. ‘And who has broken my head for me? Was
it Rachmanof?’

‘You were overcome by treachery. Yet the victory was yours, as for ever
it has been and shall be on the side of those who espouse the cause of
right and fight as the champions of Christ; for see, Rachmanof is
wounded and has driven away worsted, and his sister is here and safe,
thanks to your intervention. Be sure the good nuns shall pray for you,
Cossack, for this service, and I also. The prayers of the righteous
travel far. You shall prosper in the world and shall have your desires.’

‘You would not promise so glibly if you knew what they are, Mother,’ I
laughed. ‘I am very ambitious.’

‘So long as your ambitions do not transgress the law of Christ who is
our Master, I shall pray that they may be fulfilled to your comfort.’

‘Oh, I mean no ill to any living soul,’ I said. ‘I would climb,
certainly, but that need not be over the backs of others! Pray for me,
Mother, that the deceitful may not triumph over me.’ I thought of
Mazeppa as I made this request, and when the Superior replied that both
she and her nuns would pray heartily that I might prevail in a just
cause, against devils, principalities, powers, and I know not what, I
felt that I had scored many points against my fox-friend, Mazeppa.

‘Moreover,’ said the good woman, ‘if there be any young maiden in whom
you are interested whom you would rather see in this sanctuary than
exposed to the degradation of the Tsar’s bride-choosing in the _terem_,
let her come here, in God’s name, and we will take her in and cherish
her for the sake of your service this day.’

I laughed and thanked the good soul--‘Though I am a stranger and
therefore not likely to desire sanctuary for any maiden consigned to the
_terem_’--yet when I left the convent, presently, to return to my
lodging, it occurred to me that the offer of the Superior might, after
all, prove useful in case matters should become urgently dangerous for
Vera Kurbatof.



CHAPTER XIV


And now for my second adventure.

On my way back from Preobrajensky one evening I met a man and a woman on
horseback, both scolding one another at full voice--so loudly, indeed,
that I could not fail to hear every word said as we met and passed.

It appeared that the man, who was the older, refused to permit the
woman, who seemed scarcely more than a young girl, to take some course
which she was resolved to pursue. When I had discovered this much their
voices became inaudible, and I should have forgotten all about the
matter but that I happened to find a lady in trouble in the forest next
day, and in conversation with her recognised her voice as that of the
scolding maiden of yesterday.

She was standing, when I first came upon her, in riding dress, and
disconsolately gazed through the trees as though looking for someone she
had lost, or whom she expected to arrive.

She started round when I rode softy up, and I now saw that I had to do
with a most beautiful woman, one of the most beautiful I had ever seen.
She asked me somewhat angrily whether I had seen her horse.

‘The fool shied at a hare that ran across his path,’ she said, ‘and as I
was thinking of other things I was surprised and thrown--for which he
shall feel my whip when I find him!’

‘A hare to cross your path is bad fortune,’ I laughed. ‘It is to be
hoped you are not engaged upon any enterprise in the success of which
you are greatly concerned, for, if so, it is likely to fail!’

‘Maybe I am,’ she replied, ‘but it shall not fail--that is, if the issue
depends upon myself.’

‘But maybe it depends upon the will of someone--a father or an uncle,’ I
hazarded, remembering the sobbing of the previous evening.

She started.

‘Are you a wizard or a guesser?’ she said.

‘Certainly not the first; as to the last, I guess that you are she whom
I overheard last night quarrelling with a man who might well be your
father, since he appeared to be endeavouring to exercise authority,
which you--with the licence of a daughter who is also a beautiful
girl--resisted.’

‘Well, you have made a close guess. My father and I--if it was really
ourselves you overheard--had disagreed. You remember voices well.’

‘Such a voice as yours, once heard, is no more to be forgotten than is
your face, once seen.’

‘Oh, by the saints, if you are of the flattering order of cavaliers, we
shall not long be friends. Come, have you seen my horse?’

‘No, I have not,’ I laughed; ‘but there is mine to be had for the
asking.’

‘You would not be best pleased if I accepted the offer--though I thank
you for making it. I was riding away--I know not whither, perhaps a very
long journey--when my horse threw me: if I took your horse you might not
see him again!’

‘That would be an irreparable loss only if he carried you away with him
beyond return.’

‘Well, I mean to return, and that is why I am escaping.’

‘A riddle!’ I exclaimed, laughing. ‘Why are you escaping, if I may use
the word--you who have only just arrived?’

‘How know you that?’ she asked sharply.

‘That requires little guessing! If you had been long in Moscow I should
have seen you. I can guess a little more if I be allowed.’

‘Guess on, then!’

‘You have come for the bride-choosing of the Tsar Ivan, but you have
seen him and taken fright; and in spite of your father’s commands or
desires, you are attempting to escape from the fate you fear. And,
indeed, if you do not wish to be Tsaritsa, either for this on another
reason, you are wise to escape, for by all the saints I think there is
only one among the maidens to equal you, and assuredly none to vanquish
you if the prize go by looks!’

She laughed merrily.

‘Bravo!’ she said. ‘You are wrong from beginning to end. In the first
place, it is my father who has seen the Tsar and who has taken fright;
in the second, I would give half my life to become Tsaritsa, even
Ivan’s; lastly, I am escaping from my father, not from the _terem_, to
which I long to obtain admission, though he has sworn I shall not.’

This was a surprising state of things, and quite the opposite of that
which was usual as between daughters and fathers--the fathers being, so
far as I had seen, for ever ambitious, while the maidens often preferred
love to ambition--love, that is, for some lover who was not the Tsar; or
perhaps even presumed to allow a sense of personal antipathy to stand
between themselves and their chance of high advancement.

‘If that is so,’ I said, ‘the matter should be easily arranged. Your
father dare not withstand the _ukase_ of the Regent. She need but be
told that you are here, and that your appearance is worthy of the Tsar’s
regard, and you shall soon find yourself among those assembled for his
inspection. Go home, if you are wise, and you shall be sent for.’

‘But my father threatens to leave Moscow with me this very day; that is
why I attempted to escape. I dare not go home to him, for in an hour I
should be on my way back to our own place, which I loathe. It has taken
us two months to journey from there to here, and I do not care if I
never see it again.’

‘Where, then, is this unloved home?’ I asked.

‘My father is Soltikof, Governor of Siberia. He is a good father, and
loves me. He saw this Tsar Ivan for the first time yesterday. The youth
became angry with someone and frothed at the mouth, afterwards bursting
into tears; lastly, he fell in a fit! Lord knows what ailed him. “No
daughter of mine,” said my father in telling me afterwards of what he
had seen at the palace of the Regent, “should marry such a creature as
this, not if he were Tsar of all Christendom. Tfu!” he said, “the thing
is a frog, not a man; fie upon her who should marry such a creature!”’

‘And you, you think differently?’ I asked. ‘You would marry this
frog-man for the sake of his Tsarship?’

‘Bah! it is the name Tsaritsa one marries, and the clothes, and the
beautiful jewels, and the power. What matter whether this man or that
calls himself your husband?’

‘Have you, then, seen him, that you speak so boldly?’

‘Not I! He cannot be more loathsome than my father has represented him:
whatever he may be I shall surely be agreeably surprised, for verily my
good parent, in his anxiety on my account, has drawn the sorriest
picture of a prince that fancy could devise. Is he indeed so bad? Can he
speak--can he be understood--can he stand upon his own feet--can he wear
a Tsar’s clothes and sit upon a Tsar’s chair?’

‘Oh, he can do that much,’ I laughed. ‘He is an invalid, and has fits,
but his brother Peter likes him well enough, and they talk and laugh
together. To speak truthfully, I fear he would make a sorry husband,
though his wife would have as much right to call herself Tsaritsa as the
wife of the handsomest prince that ever drew breath.’

‘Well, that is all that matters. Come, what meant you that my admission
to the _terem_ could be arranged? Did you mean anything? Who are you? A
Cossack, I see; that much is in your favour.’

‘Why?’ I laughed.

‘They are independent and the slaves of no man: I suppose that is what I
like in the Cossacks. If I were a man I would rather be Cossack than
Russian. But come, what about the _terem_--who are you that you say you
can get admission for me?’

‘Your face would open every door----’ I began, but she stamped her
foot. ‘Bah!’ she cried. ‘Enough fooling. I suppose, then, you meant
nothing; it is a pity you spoke as you did.’

‘I was going to say,’ I continued, looking at her with approval--for,
indeed, she appeared very beautiful in her indignation and
impatience--‘that though you would be admitted even if you presented
yourself with no introduction save your own good looks, I think I can
have you sent to the _terem_ under the best of introductions--if you
please to approve the suggestion: namely, that of the Tsar’s brother and
joint-Tsar, Peter, who is amiable enough to be my very good friend!’

‘You jest!’ she cried, flushing; but I disclaimed all idea of jesting.

‘You shall come with me to Preobrajensky now at once, if you will,’ I
said; ‘I ride from thence at this moment. The young Tsar will send you
forthwith to his brother’s palace.’

So I seated the girl--Praskovia Soltikof--upon my own horse and walked
by her side back to Preobrajensky; and as I gazed in her face and
listened to her animated talk, ‘By the Saints,’ I thought, ‘you would
make the best Tsaritsa of all the girls I have yet seen, for you have
spirit enough both for yourself and also for the frog who would call
himself your husband, and beauty that should make even his cold blood
run warmer in his veins!’

She prattled all the way, telling me how dull was life in her Siberian
fortress, and how she longed for change and for movement. She told me
she had never had a lover, at which assertion I raised my eyebrows.

‘You will have plenty, my friend,’ thought I, though I did not say it,
‘whether you marry Tsar Ivan or no; for the man who could be near thee
and not feel his pulses beat the quicker for it would be no man, but a
thing of wood or of stone!’

Even young Peter, when he saw her, for all that he numbered but sixteen
years, flushed up and laughed boisterously, crying that Ivashka would be
a fool, indeed, if he saw not here something that would change his mind
in the matter of his marriage. ‘By the saints,’ he said, ‘wench, thou
shalt bid them send up more of thy stock when it comes to my turn. How
old art thou?’

‘Seventeen,’ replied Praskovia, and Peter shook his head. ‘Thou’lt be a
hag before I am in middle life,’ he said. ‘Well, let Ivan see thee; I
will write him a letter--he will not look at thee else. Lord! I should
be a kind brother to thee,’ he ended with a second boisterous laugh, ‘if
Ivashka took thee!’



CHAPTER XV


Praskovia Soltikof passed that night in the Tsaritsa’s house at
Preobrajensky, for young Tsar Peter would write his promised letter to
Ivan, and that could not be done quickly, since at this time--though in
after years he became a notable letter-writer--the writing of letters
was a slow and laborious matter for him. In the morning I rode with her
to Moscow, Peter having bidden her God-speed at departing, addressing
her as ‘sister,’ to Praskovia’s delight, and bidding her--in case Ivan
should be fool enough to pass her by--return among the maidens who in
two years’ time would assemble for his own bride-choosing.

‘I owe thee much for this, Chelminsky,’ she said as we rode, ‘and if I
should become Tsaritsa I will not forget thy service to me.’

‘Do not forget it in any case,’ I laughed, ‘such as it is; moreover,
maybe I shall be privileged to add to it before many days are past!’

‘As how?’ she asked, surprised.

‘You have not yet seen Ivan,’ I replied. ‘Perhaps when you have seen him
you will take fright, like your father, or feel such an aversion towards
him as no sentiment of ambition can withstand: then you may wish to
escape the fate you now fancy so desirable, and in that case I shall be
at hand to assist you, if possible, out of the quandary into which you
have thrust yourself.’

‘I tell you he may be as ugly as the fiend, as repulsive as a leper,
what care I? It is the sceptre I marry, not the man. They say he marries
only because the Regent will have it so, and is incapable of preferring
one woman over another. Others will choose for him and will choose the
fairest, in the hope that he will afterwards develop so much manhood as
to be moved by her attractions; but once I have him safely I shall take
care that my attractiveness ends.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I tell you honestly that I am sorry for you, and that I
tremble to think what may be your fate if he should, by chance, take a
fancy for you. Imagine such a creature pressing amorous attentions upon
you--bah! could you withstand such a thing?’

‘I am content to leave such questions. Do not attempt to frighten me: I
desire to be called Tsaritsa; it is a prize for which I am prepared to
pay a price; yes, and I will pay it, though be sure I shall be a haggler
in the matter of payment!’

There was no difficulty in obtaining an entrance to the _terem_. I
stated her name and the object of her coming, and the door opened at
once. She gave me a smile as we parted, sweet enough to carry any man’s
affections by storm, and I left the palace with a heavy heart, feeling
as though I had caught a beautiful lamb and brought it for sacrifice.

Indeed, I found myself heartily praying that this poor child might even
yet escape the fate she courted. Maybe, after all, she would not be
chosen. There were many others who were beautiful: two or three,
certainly, might run her a close race. Olga Panief, in her own style,
was as fair as the Soltikof maiden, and my heart beat with a savage hope
that she might be preferred for the hideous destiny of becoming Tsaritsa
to such a Tsar. She had jilted me in the expectation of doing better for
herself at Court--let the Tsar have her and spare this other! Lord! how
I should laugh to see Olga mated with such a creature--she who had
presumed to throw over Chelminsky! It gave me pleasure to picture to
myself the awakening of Olga if she were chosen--awaking to the
knowledge that she had allied herself to this repulsive thing and that
the marriage was a reality!

For Olga to be so caught would be the merriest of jests; but for this
innocent, this child Praskovia, or--worse still--for Vera Kurbatof, who
deserved such a fate least of all, since she did not, like the others,
desire it!--for her to be thus offered a living sacrifice!--that would
indeed be a matter to make the gods weep!

As for Vera, she was at this time in great danger, as I have shown; for
it seemed to me and to many others well informed that the Regent Sophia
had set her heart on the poor girl as the Tsaritsa-to-be--dear saints!
she to be the life-companion of such a Tsar!

But though this were so, and I am still assured that it was, the Regent
was none the less determined that his Highness should have every
opportunity to choose for himself a better or fairer consort than Vera
Kurbatof, if such could be found; and for this reason she was most
strict and most severe in her dealings with the maidens brought to the
_terem_ for inspection and selection--that none should escape before
inspection, or should employ arts by which they might render themselves
less attractive in appearance than nature had made them. For there were
some who did not hesitate to disfigure themselves by staining their
teeth, scratching their faces, or affecting a limp, in order to escape
the being chosen. These back-holders were the minority, of course, and
very few at that; for the greater number were content to throw
everything else to the winds if only they might reach the highest place
and be called Tsaritsa. Doubtless those few who were unwilling to be
chosen were they whom Love had so securely entangled in his net that the
poor fluttering things had lost their heads and were unable to see
salvation except in struggling for freedom.

Thus some preferred, as I say, to disfigure themselves, and a few tried
to escape; and among these latter was a fair maiden, Doonya Meschersky,
who was so terribly in love with her lover, Kostromsky, that they could
not wait upon events, but must needs take destiny into their own hands
and attempt in clumsy fashion to shape their own ends.

This Kostromsky was a desperate and determined swain. Doonya, like other
unwilling candidates, had been forced by her father to enter into
competition with her peers; but Kostromsky swore by all the saints that
he would see to it the Tsar should not reap where he had tilled, and the
two devised a plan of escape which they endeavoured to carry out when
Doonya had been but two days a prisoner in the _terem_.

Doonya fell ill, or seemed to, having first bribed the old _nyanka_, or
nurse, who was in charge of her dormitory to declare that she had taken
an infectious malady, and was therefore a danger to all the rest. The
old nurse ran crying through the _terem_ that Doonya Meschersky had
taken the fever and must be removed at once, and away ran a messenger
for her own doctor, who was to be found, said Doonya, at a certain
address.

This leech was of course Kostromsky, who was impatiently awaiting the
summons, and accompanied the messenger back to the palace in hot haste.

‘The _nyanka_ is right,’ he said, upon seeing Doonya, who made a show of
raving and tossing upon her bed; ‘this is the first stage of the blood
fever--the _Barishnya_ must be removed immediately.’

Whereupon Doonya was wrapped in coverings and carried by the doctor
himself out of the dormitory and down the stairs which led to the
street. But unfortunately the Regent and Galitsin met the party upon the
stairs, and her Highness would know what ailed the girl and who was this
that carried her away.

The _nyanka_ replied that a calamity had happened: here was a poor
_Barishnya_ taken with fever of a dangerous and infectious kind and must
be moved, said this good doctor, before others were tainted with it.

‘And who is this good doctor, and why was not the Court physician
summoned?’ asked Sophia.

‘She would see no leech but her own!’ said the _nyanka_, weeping and
crossing herself. ‘Poor lamb, that might have been chosen Tsaritsa but
for this sad infection----’

‘Pooh!’ said Sophia, interrupting. ‘Lay her down here on the landing,
and go, someone, for Drury, the Court physician.’

When this Englishman came he soon pronounced Doonya well enough, looking
hard at Kostromsky the while, whereupon Galitsin, suspecting the family
doctor, pulled the wig from his head and revealed Kostromsky, whom both
he and the Regent knew well.

The issue of the matter was unfortunate for both the conspirators, for
her Highness treated them with severity, in order to deter other fools,
as she said, from behaving in a similar fashion. Poor Doonya was taken
straight to the flog-room, where she tasted of the knout and was then
thrust back into the _terem_, to be laughed at or pitied by her
companions, according to their dispositions.

But as for Kostromsky--whom, as it happened, Galitsin hated because he
was a _Petrofsky_, or follower of young Tsar Peter--a strange fate was
reserved for him.

‘Why have you done this thing, fool?’ Galitsin asked the poor youth,
when Doonya was led weeping away to her punishment.

‘She is my _nevéysta_ (fiancée),’ said Kostromsky boldly; ‘do not dare
to have her flogged, Galitsin, or I swear that one day I will have
revenge.’

‘What!’ exclaimed the Regent Sophia, ‘you would marry--is that it?’

‘I both would marry and will, Highness,’ said Kostromsky.

‘He speaks truth,’ laughed Sophia. ‘Here, one of you, go fetch a priest,
he shall be married at once: take the _nyanka_, some of you, and dress
her for bride. Lord, if the fool is anxious to be married, he shall have
his way!’

In vain did poor Kostromsky entreat, threaten, blaspheme--the Regent had
no reply but laughter; and sure enough, before the hour was out, this
youth--and a handsome youth, too--and this hag of seventy were man and
wife--so far, at least, as the ministrations of a priest of the Orthodox
Church could make them so.

Thus did her Highness endeavour to terrify those of the selected maidens
who would prefer to work out their own destinies rather than accord to
the Tsar the traditional privileges of Russian Tsarship.



CHAPTER XVI


Much of that which now must be described was not, of course, witnessed
by me in person, but--from one source or another--has been gradually
communicated to me. Nevertheless, of the accuracy of the version I now
place upon record I am completely satisfied.

There had been much scheming in various directions, so soon as it became
an accepted matter that the Tsar Ivan was to be married, whether he
would or no, for the dynasty’s sake. In the first place, it must be
communicated to the bridegroom himself that he should be led, presently,
to the altar, together with his bride, whomsoever he might choose.

But Ivan waxed very wroth at the communication, stamping his foot and
flushing, showing more spirit than was usual with him.

‘I have told you that I do not wish to reign,’ he cried. ‘My brother
Peter likes to be first and to speak loudly; therefore, I have told him
and I have told you also that he shall reign, not I. What is the
succession to me? Let Peter marry when he is old enough, and leave me
alone--you, sister, and you, Galitsin, and you, Miloslavsky. I have done
you no harm.’

‘But see, dear Ivan,’ said the Regent Sophia, ‘you have come to man’s
estate, and men should marry. It is the intention and the will of the
Almighty that they should do so; go not contrary to the laws of God.
Your life is dull and lonely; why should you not choose for yourself a
companion, as other men do, to comfort your days? You shall settle down
presently in your own palace, and if it be the pleasure of the Almighty
you shall be a happy husband and the happy father of children.’

‘As for whether you shall reign, or Peter Alexeyevitch, or both
together, that is another matter, and nothing to do with this,’ said
cunning Galitsin, who had no intention, however, to allow anyone to
govern the realm except his beloved mistress, the Grand Duchess Regent,
whether Peter should sit upon the throne, or Ivan, or both together.

And Miloslavsky, Ivan’s uncle, added that if the Tsar would but inspect
the assemblage of beautiful maidens already prepared for his regard he
would not long stand out against the wishes of the Regent, his sister,
who knew well what was best for his true interests.

But all their efforts failed to induce Ivan to look with favour upon the
idea of matrimony.

And for a week the great company of young maidens waited in the _terem_
of the palace, yawning and story-telling, and longing for an end one way
or another to this state of tension, and to the long dull period of
do-nothing.

It was whispered by some, gossiping with one another, as maidens would
naturally do, that Ivan had refused to be married, and this report gave
rise to some merriment and also to much bitter disappointing of
ambitious hopes.

Thus it was a surprise to all when one morning four persons entered the
_terem_, of whom three were men and one a woman. The men were Galitsin,
Mazeppa--prime favourite at this time, both of the Regent and her
admirer--and Ivan himself, the lady being, of course, the Grand Duchess
Sophia.

The maidens were engaged upon their dreary daily business of gossiping,
sewing, fortune-telling with cards, and so forth, and this incursion
into their sanctuary caused much agitation, much reddening of pale
cheeks and the paling of some rosy ones; much smoothing of skirts and
of unruly locks that had escaped the restraint of band or of ribbon.

It was obvious that Ivan came unwillingly, if not unwittingly, into the
midst of the maidens’ sanctuary. He started as he entered, and blushed,
half turning as though to retreat.

‘No, no, Vanushka; be a man and a Russian Tsar!’ said Sophia, pushing
him forward; and Ivan, with an angry look and a passionate word thrown
back at his sister, obeyed and went forward.

But though certain of the maidens sighed as he passed, and some made
audible whisper to one another, praising his beauty and what not--his
beauty! and he assuredly the most niggardly endowed of mortal men in all
that should make a man attractive to the opposite sex!--and though one
picked up his handkerchief which he dropped as he went by, restoring it
to the Tsar with a smile and a blush that suited her marvellously, he
never glanced either at this maiden or at her fellows, but walked
stolidly through the long chambers in which they stood and curtsied, his
eyes fixed upon the ground and wandering neither to right nor left, even
for a single instant.

Mazeppa’s eyes on this occasion were very busy, though Ivan’s were not.
I have it from him, who was ever a good authority when the fairness of
the ladies was the theme, that there were present that day some very
exquisite types of Russian beauty. Of our own Cossack maidens one at
least shone radiantly even in the midst of this constellation of
charming maidenhood, and that was the fair and haughty creature who had
preferred the distant chance of a very high seat, by the side of witless
Tsar Ivan, to the certainty of a moderately honourable position as my
own bride. Mazeppa laughed when he told me of this.

‘By the glory of love,’ he said, ‘Chelminsky, I believe she did wisely
enough after all to take the chances! for if ever this fool of a prince
opens his eyes and looks out among these young women, our fair Olga is
as likely as any to attract him.’

‘And that is no chance!’ I replied; ‘for it is well known that he will
not look out among them; and I think you know this as well as the rest.’

‘Why so? And what do you mean?’ said Mazeppa.

‘I mean Vera Kurbatof!’ I laughed. ‘You might have left my Olga at
Batourin for all the chance she has here. As it is, you have lost her a
moderate lover in me, and found her no better!’

‘Fear not for her, my friend,’ he laughed; ‘there are as good birds in
the nest at Batourin as have flown out of it. Olga will not lack for
lovers, even though Chelminsky should sulk! But I am not yet assured
that Tsar Ivan will not after all look beyond Vera for a bride. They say
he has forgotten her. Let not Vera be too sure of her advancement.’

‘Her advancement!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have you then forgotten that you
yourself are pledged to protect her rather than allow that very
advancement to take place?’

‘I have not forgotten, of course,’ he said; ‘but it would be a better
and a safer way if he should reject Vera by his own free will and prefer
another. Heaven knows there are some here that might tempt the very
saints themselves. There is Olga Panief, for one; then there is a
mysterious beauty whom none seem to know--Kozlof they call her, from
Novgorod; lastly, one whom to see is to love--Praskovia Soltikof, whose
father is the Governor of Siberia, which is as far away as heaven. Do
not let yourself behold her, my friend, for to see her is to lose your
heart.’

‘Then, what of your own, since you have gazed upon her already?’ I
laughed.

‘My heart is proof,’ he replied, laughing also, though not quite at his
ease. ‘I have already found food for my love to feast upon. Do not
question me now; the time comes when you shall know all, and maybe you
shall help me in a certain matter.’

This reply of Mazeppa’s caused me to reflect, and I now began to realise
that my friend intended to play a deeper game than I had guessed.

But I must return to the matter of the Tsar Ivan and his bride-choosing,
which indeed was somewhat pressing, for it was impossible to retain so
large an assemblage of maidens to wait upon Ivan’s conversion. For who
could tell how long this backward lover’s masculine spirit would require
ere it would take root and develop and mature--even so much spirit as
would suffice to lift his bashful eyes and see for himself the wonderful
sight presented for his delectation, and then to say, ‘This one is best,
or that, or another.’

Therefore, to the delight of many agitated, sanguine maiden hearts, it
was decided that the first choosing or weeding out of the maidens should
be done by others and not by Ivan himself, in the hope that, if no more
than a score, or perhaps even a smaller number, were left to choose
from, he might show himself less averse to inspect them; or at any rate
he might be induced to look upon them one at a time.

Therefore six men were named to assist the Regent in this first process
of weeding out, and again Mazeppa was of the number, the other five
being Galitsin, Miloslavsky, Shaklovity, and two whose names are
unimportant.

Then began much finessing by Mazeppa and certain others who had their
own games to play, and of these games we will first watch that of
Mazeppa.

Vera, be it remembered, Vera the beautiful, having already been seen by
Ivan, and, as many believed, approved by him, had been exempted from
living with the rest of the maidens within the _terem_ of the palace.

Now, when Mazeppa was chosen as one of the judges who should make the
first sweeping, he came in excitement to me.

‘Go, Chelminsky,’ he said, ‘and bid Vera come quickly to the palace.
Tell her that I ask this of her by design and for her advantage.’

‘For her advantage?’ I exclaimed. ‘Explain first how this should be, for
surely Ivan will see her and will immediately show his preference for
her, if only by fixing two pig-eyes upon her face, as heretofore.’

‘No,’ said Mazeppa; ‘let her come. I am chosen as one of those who are
to weed out the unsuitable, that they may be despatched to their homes.
Do you understand? I shall see that she is struck from the list this
very day: thus she shall receive a passport and may disappear. That
shall be the first move. I will see her at the palace and instruct her
further.’

This seemed a good plan, so far, and I went to tell Vera of it.



CHAPTER XVII


I took Mazeppa’s message to Vera Kurbatof, but Vera was agitated and
disinclined to accept the suggestion of my friend.

‘It is foolish,’ she said, ‘and dangerous. What if the Tsar should see
me and say something, or even look something? all would then be lost.
Remember, I would die rather than be chosen by him. Moreover, does
Mazeppa think that the Grand Duchess forgets so easily? Tell him that I
was sent for to the palace and that the Tsar kissed my hand. That was my
death warrant unless I escape. I tell you, as I myself was told by her
Highness, that I am kept in reserve as a kind of trump card: these other
maidens are a mere concession to the Tsarish custom and to the feared
expostulations of the Boyars, who are accustomed to enjoy the chance of
providing each Tsar with a bride. The Tsar will not look seriously at
them. It is mere foolishness to bring me into the lion’s den. How shall
I come forth again, think you?’

‘Mazeppa, I suppose, has some scheme for your salvation. It is he that
suggests it: he would scarcely place you in the lion’s den--he of all
others--unless he knew of a way to get you out again, and once for all!’

‘Why he of all others?’ asked Vera.

‘You seem to have left your fate in his hands: he will help you to
escape, but be sure that he intends to profit by your devotion to him!’

‘My devotion to him? You use a foolish term, sir. There is no
speculation in Mazeppa’s generosity. He has offered to help me from
motives of pure sympathy. He would not see me made a living sacrifice.’

‘Why think you so well of Mazeppa?’ I asked.

‘He has understood my position and has offered to save me from that
which would be worse than death to me. There has been no talk of reward.
He wishes for none and asks none. As for devotion, that--as I say--was a
foolish expression. There is no such thing on either side.’

‘So be it,’ I said; ‘only be sure that Mazeppa is not one to labour for
nothing.’

Vera was silent for a little while. At last she spoke.

‘I see that you imply more than you say. Do you then know so much of
Mazeppa that you mistrust his motives in offering to assist me?’

‘I know that Mazeppa admires a good-looking woman,’ I laughed, ‘and that
you are one; also that he admires you even more than other fair women;
and lastly, that what Mazeppa admires he covets, and what he covets he
generally obtains, by fair means or foul.’

‘You should need to know a man well indeed before you would speak thus
of him,’ Vera murmured. ‘Why do you suggest this of Mazeppa?’

‘To say truth, because I do not wish you to put yourself in his hands.
He is dangerous.’

‘But if I do not so, what else am I to do? to whom shall I go for help?
You are kind and appear to take an interest in me, but have you any
alternative plan if I refuse this of Mazeppa?’

‘I should be cruel indeed if I disadvised one plan and had no
alternative to suggest,’ I said. ‘As for “interest in you,” perhaps I,
too, know a beautiful woman when I see her!’

‘And, like him again, are not one to labour without reward, you would
say? Go away then, sir; I have no rewards such as you suggest, either
for yourself or for Mazeppa. I will find some way out of this danger
without your help or his. Fie, sir! are you not ashamed to speak so?’

‘You go too fast!’ I said, laughing. ‘It was your own suggestion, not
mine, that I expect a reward for serving. I expect none. I only said
that I am interested in you because you are beautiful: is that so great
a sin?’

‘It is enough to indicate that having served me you will afterwards ask
a reward. All men are alike.’

‘Well, see now, Vera Stepanovna,’ I said, ‘you do me injustice, for I
had been married ere this, but that my bride was carried off for the
Tsar’s choosing. A man thus used may surely be credited with
disinterestedness in offering service to a woman!’

‘If that is so,’ she said, after a short silence, ‘I will listen to your
proposal. Forgive me if I did you an injustice,’ she added; ‘it may be
that in my present terror and agitation I have lost my manners.’

‘I forgive everything at such a time,’ I replied, ‘for I understand that
you speak and act as one who stands at the edge of an abyss. I see no
way of escape for you excepting by disappearance. That is my view of the
matter. It you stay here, that is at your father’s house, you remain in
constant danger, almost as much so as though you were actually within
the _terem_----’

‘That is true,’ she said, sighing; ‘but your scheme, if that is the
whole of it, is but a barren one; for how is a maiden to disappear in
this city, more especially one who is well known and easily found?’

‘There is more in my scheme. I suggest that you go for sanctuary, but
secretly of course, to the Diévitchy monastery.’

‘And take the veil? Oh, no, no! I love life and freedom, and God’s air.
I could not be a nun with shorn head and a heart as bare of hope and the
joy of life!’

‘You need not be a nun. You shall seek refuge for awhile only, until the
Tsar is well married and all this is forgotten. Your hair may remain a
crown of glory to you as now. God forbid that it should be taken from
you!’

‘You speak impossibilities. You do not know how strict is this
community. Once lie in their clutches, and forever the world is shut out
to you, and joy and the delight of living and of loving--oh! there could
be but one thing worse: to be married to this prince. Oh! why am I so
plagued for my sins that I must choose one of two such horrible things?
Search your imagination, good Chelminsky, I pray you; think of a better
way!’

‘This is a good way, be assured. It so happens that I have done these
nuns and their Superior a service for which they have promised me a
return. I shall demand that they give you sanctuary, and they will
concede it. When you wish you shall come out, and with you shall come
your golden head all unshorn, and your heart no more dead to the joy of
living and loving than to-day--in short, you shall come forth, when the
Tsar is safely married, just as you now go in!’

‘Oh, Chelminsky, do not jest with me!’ she cried, her hands clasped
together, her eyes full of tears. ‘How could you obtain so great a
favour? What is the claim you have upon these holy women? Remember,
there is the curse of God for liars; more especially for such as lie to
the ruin and despair of helpless women!’

I told Vera the story of my encounter with Rachmanof, and of his
sister’s attempted abduction from the convent, and how the Superior had
expressed gratitude for the service I rendered this lady in preventing
her brother in his designs.

‘Oh, Chelminsky!’ exclaimed Vera, flushing and seizing me by the arm,
‘beware, I beseech you, after this. I know him, this Rachmanof: he is a
man of evil temper; he will kill you at sight. His sister is beautiful.
I do not wonder that you should have risked so much for her sake!’

‘Oh, believe me,’ I laughed, ‘I scarcely looked at her face. What I did
I should have done for any woman so situated. Come, is my offer a good
one? What say you?’

‘It is so good that I scarcely dare believe in it. Can I trust you? The
Cossacks, it is said, are a wild race, caring little for the rights of
others, or for the honour of women, so only they have their way. You
have shown me that Mazeppa is not to be trusted; how can I tell that you
are any better, who are his friend?’

‘You cannot tell, of course. Cossacks are said to be untrustworthy, and
you cannot be blamed for your doubting. Mazeppa is a fox whom I have
only lately caught in my own fowl-run: do not take him into account or
measure me by his standard. Let him be. For the matter of that, let me
be also if you will not trust me. I desire to serve you, that is all I
can say--believe it or not.’

Vera gazed for a little while into my face. ‘I do not think you are
altogether trustworthy,’ she said, a faint smile playing for an instant
about her mouth, ‘judging, I mean, by your face. I fear that you do not
consider it wrong or dishonourable to deceive others to your own
advantage; yet I am inclined to trust you now----’

‘Because you must, and there is no other way,’ I cried, laughing aloud.
‘Come, speak the full truth and I will do the same. Yes, I think little
of deception when it is necessary to my well-being; but I am a poor
deceiver compared with Mazeppa. In this I am not so good a Cossack as
he; in other ways I think I am a better. At this moment I am altogether
honest; I do desire to serve you----’

‘But why? If only I could understand your motive in this I should be
easier in my mind.’

‘Lord knows,’ I laughed. ‘If you will have my opinion, however, I
believe it is that, since I have discovered that Mazeppa admires you, I
have begun to admire you also. I have lately determined to get the
better of Mazeppa, or try to do so, in every matter in which our
destinies meet, throughout life. I suppose, therefore, that I wish you
to think better of me than of him.’

Vera was silent for a moment. Then she burst into a delightful torrent
of laughter, so that for a while she could not speak.

‘Come,’ she said at last, clapping her hands and coughing, ‘that is
truth, real naked truth. Oh! what a motive! But it is truth, and I will
trust you. Come, when shall we go?’

‘This moment, if you please,’ said I, gazing at the girl in a kind of
rapture. I had never seen her look so beautiful as now, with the colour
in her cheeks and the tears of mirth in her eyes. She was charming
indeed!



CHAPTER XVIII


The Superior was kind and cordial, and hesitated not a moment when asked
by me to receive Vera for a while under exemption from the strict rules
of the convent.

She took Vera’s hand and patted it, laying her own presently upon her
golden crown of hair.

‘Too fair, too fair,’ she smiled, ‘to be shorn! Are you in some danger,
my pretty?’

‘In great danger, mother,’ said Vera. ‘The Regent would have the Tsar
Ivan choose me, and indeed I would sooner die!’

‘There is no need for that,’ exclaimed the Superior, laughing kindly,
‘for in case of extreme danger you should be received here under full
vows, and who would dare to touch you then? That would be better than
death, child; believe me, we are not so terribly miserable here, though
we have withdrawn from the outside world. If we do not hear its
laughter, neither do its moans distress our ears.’

‘Nevertheless, good mother,’ said Vera, ‘I would sooner remain in the
world. God may be served without these walls as well as within them.’

‘That is both true and untrue. But remain in the world by all means,
pretty: who would prevent thee? Moreover, we are most of us disappointed
women--we have had our sorrows, our bereavements, our sins, many of us,
and therefore we are here. You, I doubt not, have reason enough for
desiring neither to be Tsaritsa nor to enter sanctuary; maybe, also, I
can guess the reason.’

The good old woman glanced in my direction, smiling very kindly. ‘Oh,
well, well,’ she ended, ‘we have all been young once. God send thee
happiness, my child, of the best that the world can give, and remember,
in case the world prove illusive and disappointing, that there is pure
happiness to be had here also, even though it is not that which the
world generally esteems highest.’ Vera blushed, but spoke up frankly.

‘Mother, it is right that I should undeceive you, for you are mistaken.
I am heart-free, and this good youth is in love with another maiden, who
is, alas! in the _terem_, as I should be also but for his kindness and
yours!’

‘Dear Mother of the Lord!’ exclaimed the old woman, raising her hands in
pious horror. ‘In the _terem_, and he loves her? Can you not save her,
good Cossack, and bring her to us? Heaven forfend that so good a youth
should be so ill-treated by fate! Bring her to me, my son, bring her to
me, as you have saved two already from the danger of loveless marriage.’

‘Let her be, mother, let her be!’ I cried, laughing; ‘she went of her
free will, deserting me for the chance of selection as Tsaritsa. I am
under no illusion: she is not one to be wept for. I have torn her from
my heart, and be sure I am none the worse!’

I saw Vera flush and listen as I said this, and the sight pleased me
well. The old lady sighed.

‘Poor youth, you have done wisely, yet you must have suffered much! Be
comforted, your heart will find its home; rest assured, so brave a one
will not go long a-begging. Now farewell, my son, for I have many duties
and the days are too short for those who toil in God’s service. Stay,
this pretty one will desire to hear news of the bride-choosing, and of
the Regent’s attitude when her disappearance is discovered. Come here,
if you will, from time to time: you shall see her in the ante-room which
is set apart for such meetings. By our rules another must be present,
but do not fret lest her secret should be known to others, for I myself
shall be that third party. Now come, my pretty, and you--good
Cossack--depart.’

‘If they send, mother, to seek her, what then?’ I asked, my hand upon
the door.

‘They may send, but they will not find her!’ smiled the good old woman.

And Vera, as I left the room, gave me a glance which I liked well--a
look which I analysed in my memory many times afterwards, and most
carefully, and from which at each recollection I derived satisfaction
and delight.

‘That is a girl who can love like another, in spite of her piety, and
her gentleness, and her honesty and other rare qualities,’ thought I,
‘and will love well. Happy he who gains that heart, for I think he will
find it true gold. Moreover, that man is not Mazeppa!’ This last
consideration afforded me wondrous comfort and delight, and I dwelt upon
it so long and so lovingly that I almost forgot to consider what was my
own chance of winning where he had certainly lost.

When I did take this matter into consideration and weighed it together
with the glance which Vera had thrown in my direction as I left the
convent--well, I felt a glow of renewed delight.

‘I will out-fox you in this, old fox Mazeppa,’ I thought, ‘or it shall
not be for want of trying.’

And when I had come to this determination I returned to the city in
order to acquaint Mazeppa with the disconcerting fact of Vera’s
mysterious disappearance, and to enjoy his surprise and probable anger
and disgust.

I found Mazeppa at his lodging.

‘Well?’ he asked, and waited with evident anxiety for my response.

‘Not so very well,’ I laughed. ‘That is, she is, I suppose, safe, but it
has not happened as you desired.’

‘It has not?’ he said, looking annoyed. ‘Wherefore not?’

‘She has disappeared. She is not at her home, and her father knows
nothing of her whereabouts.’

‘By all the devils!’ exclaimed Mazeppa, growing suddenly furious. ‘How
dare she disappear when I had promised to succour her and see to her
safety?’

‘Ask her that when you find her!’ I said haughtily. ‘How should I reply
to such a riddle?’ Mazeppa stamped his foot with anger, but controlled
himself.

‘But where do you suppose she has hidden herself? has she taken a horse,
servants, and so forth? Tell me the details, man, as you know them! Do
you not see that I am anxious about the girl and must know all you have
to tell?’

‘I have told all I have to tell. She has disappeared. If she is wise she
has gone a long way and will tell to no one where to seek her. You
should hope this as much as I. Do we not both desire that she should
escape from this loathsome marriage with the Tsar? If so, what matters
it to us where she is, so long as she is safe? The further the better,
say I!’

‘That is true, of course,’ said Mazeppa, with a quick glance at me. ‘My
own object, no less than yours, was to get her out of the way and into
safety; but I am interested in the girl, and would prefer to keep in
touch with her.’

‘Yet how awkward that would be, if it should occur to the Regent to
suspect you and to put certain awkward questions to you. As it is, you
can reply, if asked, that you know nothing. At any rate, I suppose you
do not hold me to blame because the girl has disappeared?’

Mazeppa glanced keenly at me and flushed.

‘I had not thought of it until you suggested it!’ he said. ‘If the girl
were anything to you I should certainly suspect you; but I believe she
is not.’

‘Anything to me--she, this yellow-haired chit? Oh, she is too pious and
gentle for us Cossacks, Mazeppa; she is not the stuff we look for, we
Cossacks. I think she is not much to either of us, though I confess that
I had imagined at one time you looked somewhat fondly upon the girl.’

‘You are a fool, Chelminsky,’ said Mazeppa. ‘Do you suppose I should
take so much trouble to help the girl out of her troubles if I took no
interest in her? I tell you she is a finer girl than I have seen in the
Ukraine!’

‘What, finer than Olga Panief, whom you tried to steal from me?’

‘Lord, man, she stole herself from both of us. Olga is a fine wench, but
she is not fit to lace this other’s bodice!’

‘Oh, is it so?’ I laughed. ‘Then, indeed, we must see whether she cannot
be found, this timid Vera of ours! Lord, Mazeppa, you should have told
me of this before.’

‘Well, now you know it: show your friendship by finding the wench,’ he
said. ‘You have nothing to do in Moscow: I am busy as an official at
this choosing. Exert yourself, Chelminsky, I beseech you, and find her,
or trace of her.’

‘Would you marry her, Mazeppa?’ I cried, ‘or would it be a mere
spiriting away of the girl?’

‘Oh, it is too soon to speak of such things,’ he replied, smiling;
‘first find her, my friend; earn my gratitude, for, seriously, I am
badly thrown by her disappearance.’

‘Well, I shall see what I can do!’ I replied; but I left Mazeppa with my
tongue in my cheek; for this time, for once, I had out-foxed him. I had
the wench under my thumb, and he had revealed his game. A good day’s
work, by the saints!



CHAPTER XIX


From this time things began to go somewhat contrariwise. There came
excitements and perils and failures, together with some successes and
certain moments of great joy; but the smoothness which had been my
portion in life during late years became changed, and I travelled over
rough and stony roads.

There was uproar in the Kurbatof mansion when it was discovered that
Vera the fair had fled without farewell. Old Kurbatof, that proud and
angry old Boyar, was furious with rage.

‘The minx has wrecked her own fortune,’ he cried; ‘she who might have
been the first woman in the land! I tell you the Tsar is sick with love
for the wench--dear saints in Heaven! and she must needs object to this
in him and to that, and disappear rather than share the throne with him.
Oh, the fool; the blind, senseless minx! As if the husband mattered when
a crown and sceptre go with him!’

‘Maybe she is in love with some young coxcomb, Boyar!’ ventured a
servant; but the Boyar fell upon him and struck him with his _dubina_ so
that the fellow lay for a week and groaned.

‘Let her be a hundred times in love, what matters?’ he roared. Then he
assembled the household and gave out that if any man dared whisper
outside the house that the _Barishnya_ Vera had disappeared he should be
punished with fifty blows of the knout and sent to the estate to work in
the fields. ‘Let her be found before the bride-choosing,’ he said, ‘and
there shall be one hundred roubles for the finder. Till she is found not
a word--remember, one and all, or I swear the devil shall be a gentler
master than I!’

Notwithstanding which threats, however, the secret did leak out--as
shall presently be seen--though Vera’s departure was fortunately not
known at the palace, where all were busy with the rest of the maidens,
of whom the whole number were by this time assembled.

As for me, I went boldly here and there as before, and there was no
suspicion that I knew anything about Vera and her disappearance. Whether
Mazeppa suspected or not I could not with certainty discover, for if so
he did not show it. Indeed, Mazeppa would be the very last person to go
to for any indication of Mazeppa’s own feelings on this or any matter,
supposing that he desired to preserve his sentiments to himself.

But two days after Vera’s admission into sanctuary I, guessing that she
would be anxious to know how matters went with regard to her
disappearance, determined to visit the Diévitchy monastery, in order to
assure her that all was so far well.

Now I was not easy in my mind with regard to Mazeppa and his suspicion
of me. Knowing him as I did, it was impossible to think that he would
not be suspicious: it was an equal wager that his spies were on the
watch in order to acquaint him with my doings, where I went and whom I
saw, and so forth.

Therefore I resolved to go most circumspectly, to walk half round the
city before bending my steps towards the monastery, and to keep my eyes
wide open the while on all four sides of me.

And thus I became aware, before I had gone far, that there followed in
my steps a man unknown to me. Wheresoever I went, there was he. As I
turned out of a street and glanced behind me, there he was entering it
at the further end; or if I stopped in the midst of a _pereoolok_ (lane)
and looked back, perhaps he was tying his shoe-lace, or he had turned
almost as quickly as I, as though he desired me to think that he walked
in the opposite direction.

‘Oho, my man,’ thought I, ‘it is well, and very well. We will go into a
quiet place I know of, you and I, and there we shall enjoy a little
private conversation!’

Having now made sure that my man was certainly dogging me, I looked
round no more lest I should alarm him; but taking a short way to an
outskirt of the city I brought him in safety to a lonely spot, where I
turned a corner and waited until he should come round and fall into my
arms.

This he did very quickly, and no sooner did his face appear than I
sprang upon him and had him pinned in an instant by the throat against
the wall.

‘Now, my friend,’ said I, fiercely enough, ‘before I choke your life out
at the mouth, who set you to dog me?’

‘Let go of me and I will tell you,’ he said, ‘if you will spare my life
afterwards.’

I let him go. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘who?’

He gazed up the street and down it, as though in search of help; but he
found none.

‘Quickly,’ I said. ‘Before I count three; one--two----’

‘Mazeppa the Cossack,’ he muttered. ‘But for the sake of all good saints
let him not know that I told thee.’

‘Thanks, friend,’ I said. ‘Be sure I shall not. You were to watch where
I went: is that it?’

‘Where you went and whom you spoke to and all you did.’

‘Did you follow me yesterday, then?’

‘All day long; it was yesterday early at morn that I took the Cossack’s
orders.’

‘Good. Well, I shall not tell of thee. Meanwhile here is a rouble; and
if thou art wise, continue in the pay of Mazeppa, for he shall know
nothing of this; only do not follow me; take his money but remain at
home: do you understand?’

The fellow laughed and thanked me and went his way: I had no fear that I
should see any more of him.

But it was now too late to carry out my intention of going to see Vera,
therefore I changed my mind and paid Mazeppa a visit instead.

We spoke of the bride-choosing, and I asked Mazeppa whether anything had
been heard of Vera.

‘Not a word,’ said he, ‘unless it was you that heard it!’

‘And wherefore I?’ I asked in assumed surprise.

‘Only that you have doubtless made inquiries, and I was in hopes you
might have heard something of her.’

‘Tell me, Mazeppa, do you suspect me of concealing anything from you in
this matter? Do you believe me to be less honest with you than you
are--I doubt not--towards me?’

‘Suspect you, my best of friends?’ exclaimed Mazeppa. ‘Heaven forbid!
Why do you ask so foolish a question?’

‘Well, I have a reason. You must know that as I walked out this day I
became aware that I was dogged by some unknown rascal, and I must
confess that the idea did occur to me that for some reason unguessed by
me you had set a watch upon my goings. Now that I reflect upon the
matter, I see that the suspicion was foolish and baseless. Yet who
should have set the rascal to spy upon me, and why?’

‘That is impossible to guess; but at any rate do not suspect your oldest
friend,’ said Mazeppa. ‘Could you not compel the fellow to declare
himself?’

‘A man must be caught before he is compelled,’ I laughed, ‘as a hare
must be trapped before he is stewed; and like a hare indeed the fellow
ran.’

I watched Mazeppa’s face as I spoke, expecting to see at least a look of
relief, but my fox gave no sign.

‘That is a misfortune,’ he said, ‘that you could not catch the rascal,
for I wager you would have found him no employed spy, but a very common
cutpurse with a better opinion of your purse’s weight than it deserves!’

‘True!’ I said, ‘I had not thought of it.’

‘For who in this city would desire to spy upon you, of all unlikely
people?’ he continued; ‘you, a poor Cossack, unknown to all, or near
it!’

‘Yes, it is true, I was a fool, I own it!’ said I, sighing. ‘Shall I
confess to the end, Mazeppa, and tell thee all I suspected?’

‘Say on!--confess, and it may be that I shall give thee absolution,’
said Mazeppa, laughing, ‘if thy sin is not too great, and thy repentance
is sincere!’

‘Well, believe it or not,’ said I, affecting confusion, ‘but alas! it is
true that I actually suspected that thou--being somewhat in love with
this Kurbatof maiden--wert, lover-like, apprehensive that all others
must see her with thine eyes, and therefore must needs suspect innocent
me of hiding the wench for my own purposes, having me watched, moreover,
in case I should thus reveal her private hiding-place by visiting her!’



CHAPTER XX


‘Oh, foolish Chelminsky!’ exclaimed Mazeppa, ‘that is going out of thy
way, indeed, to find cause of quarrel with an old friend. I am attracted
by the wench, true enough; but must all men sigh for the same woman?
Fear not, so little do I suspect thee that I entreat thee to show thy
friendship for me by finding this girl, or helping me to find her.’

‘And this fellow--the spy who followed me: you know nothing of him?’

‘Nothing, my friend--what should I know? I may have my opinion--namely,
that he was a robber and no spy; but as for knowing--what should I
know?’

‘Swear it by thy horse and lance!’

‘Oh, most suspicious and unfriendly of friends, I do so swear, if so it
must be!’

‘Good; there is no more need for suspicion. If I catch the fellow
following again, I shall kill him at sight for a mere cutpurse, or
rather for a would-be cutpurse.’

‘Do so, my friend,’ said Mazeppa; ‘he deserves his fate for having come,
in a manner, between old friends.’

‘Verily, Mazeppa,’ I thought, as I left my fox, ‘thou art a most
wondrously gifted liar!’ For indeed he had lied thoroughly, even taking
our Cossack oath in witness to his falsehood, without the twitching of
an eyelid.

This day I went out to visit Vera once again at her monastery, but
though I looked constantly and carefully for followers I observed none,
and it is certain that I was not watched. I reached the sanctuary in
safety, moreover, and was received first by the Superior, who was
pleased to see me.

‘For thy fair friend perishes to hear news of all that is happening at
home and at Court,’ she said; ‘and, if the truth must be known, I
believe she will not be averse to see her preserver and knight, being
somewhat anxious for his safety lest he be suspected of capturing and
concealing her.’

‘Let her come, good mother,’ I said, ‘for indeed I begin to think there
is no sight on earth that delights me more than her fair face.’

‘Ah--ah! said I not so?’ murmured the good soul, gently patting my arm
as she left the room to fetch Vera. ‘So the faithless maid who
preferred her chance at the _terem_ to thy assured love is already
forgotten? Oh, man, man! this Vera is too good for so faithless a
swain!’

‘It is not my fault, mother,’ I said; ‘do not speak me ill to Vera. I do
not fawn where I am beaten; I can show a true heart when I am shown
one.’

‘Well, well! hers is golden, my friend, little doubt of that: he who
wins it must prize it too highly to give her in exchange a thing of
dross.’

Vera entered, blushing and excited.

‘Is all well?’ she said. ‘Good Chelminsky, tell me quickly!’

‘Well, and very well,’ I replied; ‘though it almost went very ill, for I
was spied upon yesterday, being suspected of knowing your whereabouts.’

‘Suspected! and by whom?’

‘By a very cunning person, whose wiles are infinite, and whom I should
name “the father of lies” if that title had not already been
appropriated by an ally of his----’

‘But who--who?’ she cried.

‘Oh, who but Mazeppa!’ and when I told Vera the whole story of the spy
and his confession and Mazeppa’s denial, she agreed that this was indeed
a deceiver of whom it was necessary to beware.

‘But what of the palace and of my father?’ continued Vera. ‘Have I been
missed by the Regent, and what has my father done? for he, of course,
has long since discovered that I have left home.’

‘At the palace they are so busy weeding out the plainer blooms that the
fairest flowers are for the present neglected; therefore, you have not
been asked for. As for your father, I hear privately that he is most
distressed that you should attempt to evade the glorious destiny which
Providence and his own parental solicitude have opened to you. He has
forbidden any word to go out concerning your disappearance, lest it
should be known at the palace. He reckons upon finding you before your
disappearance is known to the Regent.’

‘Oh, for the love of Christ, good Chelminsky, he must not--he must not!
Were you careful in your going this day? Are you sure you were not spied
upon and your destination noted? My father is as cunning, maybe, as
Mazeppa himself.’

‘I am certain that my coming was not observed. I frightened my former
friend too well; he remained in safety at home, be sure, and there was
no other. I tell you I doubled and dissembled in my going as a bear does
at the first snowfall, when he chooses his winter’s lair and would put
trackers off the scent.’

Vera laughed for joy, her apprehension relieved. ‘Thank God if that is
so, and thank you also, good Chelminsky; be sure your kindness is not
forgotten. But what steps has my father taken to find me?’ she asked,
growing grave again suddenly.

‘He has sent word to your country estate. Your nurse declared that you
had threatened to go there if pressed.’

‘It is true, it is true!’ cried Vera, clapping her hands. ‘I did so. Oh,
Chelminsky, it is a four days’ ride at the quickest, and four back--that
is eight days. By the time they return the Tsar may have made his
choice, and I shall be safe.’

‘Good, and very good; let us hope it may be so. Meanwhile,’ I continued,
lowering my voice--for the good Mother Superior sat reading her holy
book at the other end of the room, being present according to the law of
the community--‘supposing it were suddenly suggested that you might be
here, and the place were searched, would you be safely concealed?’

‘I am told that it may be done, but I should be frightened, indeed, if
it came to that. Let us hope that such a danger may not arise.’

‘Yes, let us hope so,’ I said. ‘Nevertheless they hope best who have
assured the future; therefore decide beforehand what is to be done in
case of surprise. If there is a private chapel, hide in the Holy Place.’

‘How can I? No woman is admitted there.’

‘Well, I think our old friend here is not one to stand upon ceremony in
emergency. There is no resident priest; no one will prevent you. Think
of it. It is a good hiding place, and I am glad I thought of it. Suggest
it to the mother in the moment of danger, and you will see.’

A moment of danger came most unexpectedly, even as we sat there and
whispered together; indeed, a truly unfortunate and mistimed occurrence,
and one that must have had terrible consequences, but for the most
wonderful mercy of God, the protector of the innocent.

For even as we spoke of possible danger, there rang out a loud and
startling peal at the great bell which hung in the entrance hall.

The Superior started to her feet. ‘A visitor,’ she cried, ‘and oh, how
ill-chosen an hour! Be comforted,’ she added, seeing our frightened
faces, ‘I will tell the door-keeper to admit no one.’

She left the room. Vera clung to my arm, and I drew her to me.

‘Be not afraid, Vera; I will protect you though all the world rage at
the gates demanding you.’

‘Oh, Chelminsky, I am frightened!’ she said. ‘Do not let them take me to
the Tsar; I will not live to be his wife. I will tell him so. Oh, God
help me, God help me!’

‘He will help you, never fear,’ I said. ‘In this I shall be God’s
soldier; I shall fight the better knowing that the protecting of you is
the service of God!’

‘Give me your sword,’ she said suddenly; and, drawing it herself from
the scabbard, she first made the sign of the cross over it, and then
kissed it thrice.

‘Let it pass through my body rather than see me carried back to the
_terem_,’ she said. ‘I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of Sophia
and of Ivan: his touch is poison to me.’

‘Well, I will fight to the death first,’ I said.

Meanwhile the great door had been opened and I heard a parleying. There
were men’s voices and the voices of the Superior and the old woman who
kept the door. The voices grew louder, and there was one which seemed
familiar, though I did not as yet recognise it. This voice grew more
threatening, appearing to insist upon some point which the Superior
contested.

Suddenly I recognised that louder voice: it was that of the young fellow
Rachmanof, with whom I had had a set-to on behalf of his sister, whom he
attempted to carry off from this very sanctuary. The discovery filled me
with joy.

‘Be of good cheer, Vera,’ I whispered; ‘they come not for thee, but for
the sister of this young Rachmanof. We were frightened too soon, wench;
they are not thinking of thee; thou art safe!’

‘Oh, thanks to Him from whom are all mercies!’ she began; but at this
moment there came loud cries for help from the Mother Superior and the
other woman, and I could do nothing less than rush out to their succour.

On the single flight of steps that led to our ante-room, as well as to
the door which communicated with the main building, I saw a notable
spectacle, and one which has lingered in my memory.

First, near the top of the stairs, stood the tall, gaunt form of the
good mother, holding her great silver cross aloft as she cried for help.
A few steps below her stood Rachmanof, sword in hand. God knows whether
he had meant to strike the old woman down or merely to frighten her, but
there was the sword.

At the foot of the stairs were two other young fellows, dressed in the
uniform of the Streltsi regiments. These two held between them the form
of the old doorkeeper, having gagged her mouth to stop her crying.

Their lips had been opened to laugh, but at sight of me their faces
settled into a grim expression, and Rachmanof flushed and looked
furiously angry.

They had shut the outer door behind them, fearing, doubtless, that any
uproar might assemble a crowd whose attitude would be hostile to them.



CHAPTER XXI


Rachmanof glared at me for a moment.

‘So!’ he said. ‘You again! Well, it is bad luck for you, my friend, that
I have caught you, for this time you shall not escape me: you have a
reckoning unpaid!’

‘Oh, I will pay it twice over, friend!’ I said. ‘Here is my money-bag!’
I tapped my sword and laughed.

‘Let the old scarecrow run,’ said Rachmanof, half turning his head
towards his companions; ‘let her pass, Cossack, she will be in our way.
Disappear you also, shameless old hag,’ he continued, wagging his finger
at the Superior. ‘A fine mother of innocent maidens, you! Fie! A man in
the house, and of all men a filthy Cossack! Fie, I say!’

‘Rachmanof,’ I muttered, ‘for that speech you shall die if I can kill
you. Go, mother, go into the ante-room, and pray your hardest that I may
kill this beast.’

‘Yes, pray your hardest,’ laughed Rachmanof; ‘he will need it!’

‘Fight in God’s name,’ said the good old woman, disappearing into the
ante-room. ‘I will pray for God’s curse upon those who invade this holy
house.’

The old doorkeeper pushed past Rachmanof and disappeared also, crying
and muttering prayers or curses, or I know not what. The two Streltsi
fellows came several steps higher towards Rachmanof.

Then the fight began without further delay.

Rachmanof made a quick lunge at me with his sword, but the blow fell
short, and I laughed aloud at him.

‘You will have to come to closer quarters, Rachmanof; there is no help
for it,’ I said. ‘It is dangerous, I admit, and mighty unpleasant, but
it must be done!’

With a curse he ran three steps upwards and lunged again. This time it
was necessary to parry, and I replied with a counter thrust which he
just, but only just, contrived to turn aside.

Then the two others came nearer, in response to Rachmanof’s orders.
‘Seize your opportunity to rush in,’ he said, ‘as soon as you perceive
an opening.’

There was a slight pause while Rachmanof and his men took breath,
watching me, and thinking how best to overpower me by combination.
Luckily, the stairs were too narrow to admit of two men fighting
abreast, else I suppose I should have been overpowered, for they were
good men, all three.

During the pause I could distinctly hear the good Superior praying
fervently in the ante-room, of which the door was open.

Then suddenly Rachmanof rushed upon me, and after him another, whose
rush was useless, however, for he found himself obliged to wait at
Rachmanof’s heels, and when he tried to lunge at me his sword nearly
pierced his friend’s shoulder.

I had the best of it as to position, and of this I was determined to
take full advantage. His rush was easily stopped, and when I assumed the
attack it was not difficult to drive him downwards, since I smote at him
from above. Step by step he descended, and his supporter was obliged to
descend also, for Rachmanof would otherwise have trodden upon him.

Nevertheless, he fought well for his ground, and did not cease striking
and thrusting at me, defending himself at the same time with great
skill.

Then I tried a trick upon my man. I pretended to stagger backwards, in
order to draw him forward with a long thrust. This succeeded. He thrust
so vigorously that he was half overbalanced, and I brought my sword
down cleaverwise upon his skull.

Down he went backward into the arms of his friend, who, however, instead
of laying him down and giving me a moment of breathing time, held him up
with his left arm and lunged instantly at me with his right. The
movement was so rapid that I could not withdraw my foot in time, and I
received a nasty dig in the soft of my leg.

But my man found he had made a bad speculation, for, rushing quickly
upon him while he still stood hampered by his unconscious companion, I
easily passed through his scrambling defence, and he dropped Rachmanof
with a curse as my sword cut through his arm.

Then he stood and stamped his feet, cursing at the pain and shouting to
the third man, who stood at the foot of the stairs, to come forward and
help slay the filthy Cossack who had wounded both himself and Vassia.

‘Better leave me alone, friend, and take these fellows away, lest a
worse thing happen!’ I cried aloud, with a laugh. ‘See what an advantage
I have in this position!--be sure I shall spit you if you come nearer!’

The fellow seemed to consider for a moment, while Rachmanof lay and
groaned and the other sat and cursed. He came close to Rachmanof and
examined his wound, which was an ugly gash in the head, and did not look
likely to have a quick mending.

‘Can you fight any more, Gregorief?’ he asked of the other fellow, who
sat and cursed with a hole in his shoulder or arm.

‘How the devil can I fight with my sword arm pierced? A pretty coward
are you to hesitate: spit the jeering beast through the stomach, and
maybe I shall be able to help in sending him on towards hell.’

Almost before he had finished speaking, the third man, the unwounded
one, made a rush upwards as though to lunge at me with his sword, but
instead of doing so he suddenly ducked his head, and, spreading himself
forward on his face, very quickly and dexterously seized my ankle, and
with a violent tug upset me, so that I fell upon the back of my head on
the stairs. It was a mighty crash, and as I fell I heard a kind of
tumult on the landing above me; but from the moment my head touched the
floor I knew nothing until I regained consciousness in the ante-room,
and observed with surprise that I lay there with Vera weeping at my feet
and the good mother praying at my head, as though I were already a
corpse.

I felt pain in my leg and pain in my left arm, and a most racking pain
in my head, so that for the first few moments I could not for my life
remember what had happened to me. ‘What is the matter?’ I asked. ‘What
has happened? Why do you weep, Vera?’

‘You have fought a great fight for us, my son,’ said the mother, ‘and
have put to flight our enemies, for which the blessing of God shall rest
upon you. Vera weeps because she fears you are sorely hurt, but I think
there is no cause for fear. You have two flesh wounds, and a terrible
blow on the back of your head has sent your wits wandering; but you will
soon be better now that you know us and can speak. Do you remember
fighting young Rachmanof and two others on the stairs?’

‘I remember now,’ said I. ‘Where are they? They have not prevailed,
mother? Oh, surely I did not allow them to pass up?’

‘No, no, all is well, my son: they have departed, all three, and his
sister is safe within. She knows nothing of the danger she has been
through this day. Do your wounds pain you?’

‘Not much. I do not remember this one in the arm. How came I by that?
After I fell?’

‘I will tell you. There was a rush of your enemies upon you, and we
heard the scuffling and cursing. Vera was alarmed for your safety, and
ran out upon the landing just as you fell backwards. When you fell the
wounded man gashed you with his sword, which entered your arm; then
Vera----’

‘No, no, mother, have pity!’ cried Vera, closing her ears with her
hands. ‘Do not speak of it. I have killed a man, Chelminsky, and I am
accursed--there! I have said it. How should God or man love a woman who
has slain a fellow creature? I tell you it is an accursed thing for a
woman!’

‘Peace, Vera, you did not kill him, for he was alive enough to walk into
the street alone. Peace, I say, child. Listen, Chelminsky, and I will
tell you all. You may, I think, under a merciful Providence, thank Vera
for your life, which was nearly taken. Vera snatched your sword, which
had fallen from your hand, and with it attacked so furiously the fellow
who had struck at you as you lay that he cried for mercy and rolled down
the stairs out of the way. Meanwhile I dragged you, with Vera’s help,
into this room, locking the door behind us. Presently, hearing the
street door open, I looked cautiously forth, and lo! our three men were
departing. One was, I think, almost or quite untouched: he it was that
supported Rachmanof, who seemed badly wounded, though he stood upon his
feet. As for him whom Vera struck at, he walked out, as I say, by
himself. Nay, Vera, be comforted, child, for now I think of it, he was
alive enough to shake his fist at me, and curse me!’ The good old woman
laughed and patted Vera, who now stopped crying.

‘Curses do not lie upon such as thee, good mother,’ I said, laughing.
‘Cheer thee, Vera! Be sure thou art not accursed. I am glad indeed the
fellow carried away a beating from thee. Did the sword bite? Did blood
flow?’

‘Nay, leave the matter, it is painful to her,’ said the older woman.
‘Vera is gentle, and has seen no blood shed up to this day. Let her be,
Chelminsky.’

‘At any rate, be thanked, both, for your good service to me!’ said I;
‘for indeed I am glad to live. Oh that you had beaten that third fellow,
Vera, even more soundly! The rascal! he threw me by a trick. I will not
rest until I have made his head buzz for him as he has made mine!’

‘Nay, that you cannot,’ said the mother, ‘for you are not fit to move,
and shall not. Are you content to lie here for a day or two days? There
is an old sister within who is clever with herbs and plasters: she will
mend you as quickly as the best of leeches.’

‘It is not necessary,’ I said. ‘I would rather go. This fellow Rachmanof
and the others will tell all the world that I was here. I should soon be
chased out.’

‘If I know mankind, they will say nothing of this day’s work. What,
three men to one, and the beaten three to brag of it? Fear not, there
will be silence.’

‘And what of Vera? Do you know these men, Vera? Would they have
recognised you?’

‘I know not who the two Streltsi were. As for Rachmanof, he would know
me, but he was dazed or unconscious, and I think he did not see or
recognise me.’

‘At any rate, I will go,’ I determined; ‘for who knows what these
fellows will do or say? Better that I should be free to act how I will
from without.’

With the words I tried to stand upon my feet; but a mist came before my
eyes, my head swam, and I fell back fainting. And there on my back I lay
for a week, almost senseless for the first half of it, but quickly
recovering throughout the last four days.

During my weakness several things happened that I knew nothing of until
afterwards. The ante-room in which I lay was kept locked on the
outside, and the key remained in the good mother’s possession, so that
no visitors were allowed to enter the chamber occupied by me.

But visitors there were, and important ones, as I must now describe.



CHAPTER XXII


It appeared that Vera was recognised, and that one of the Streltsi
officers spoke of having seen her at the Diévitchy monastery, though he
said nothing of me or of the fight on the stairs and his own
discomfiture. The report quickly reached the ears of the Boyar Kurbatof,
who came in person and was received haughtily by the Mother Superior.

‘I have come for my daughter, who is detained by you without
permission,’ said the Boyar.

‘This house is a privileged sanctuary,’ replied the good mother. ‘No
man, not even a father, may exercise authority over those maidens who
have espoused the service of Christ, renouncing the world and its
vanities.’

‘But Vera has not done so. I am told that her hair is not yet shorn; she
has taken no vows; therefore I demand her instant release.’

‘And I refuse it,’ said the brave mother.

‘I will tell you, reverend mother, why I demand the wench,’ said the
Boyar, changing his attitude. ‘You, in your seclusion here, know little
of what passes without. The Tsar Ivan chooses a bride, according to the
customs and privileges of the Russian Tsars. Now, my daughter is
virtually already chosen Tsaritsa, if only she choose to accept the
honour. Think how great a position is this offered to her. Think only
what this means, to be Tsaritsa. What power, what wealth shall be hers;
how magnificently will she be able to reward those who have benefited
her; how--for instance--she may favour this establishment and its head,
multiplying your privileges and loading you with riches and every kind
of favour.’

‘We are content as we are, Boyar, and we do not desire such worldly
advancement as you describe. Touching this matter of the bride-choosing,
the maiden would sooner die than be married against her will to the
afflicted and unfortunate creature who, though less than a man, is
nevertheless called Tsar of Russia.’

‘It is well that foolish maidens do not have the making of their own
destiny: such things are left to those who have wisdom and experience.’

‘In this case a good choice has been made and cannot be unmade by force
or authority. Therefore return, Boyar, whence you came; for be sure you
shall not find Vera.’

The Boyar, finding that he could make no impression upon the mother by
entreaty and the promise of great rewards, next had recourse to
violence, threatening the wrath of the Regent--to whom he would now, he
said, carry this matter--and I know not what besides. But he gained no
more by threats than he had profited by promises, and in the end the
Boyar returned without his daughter.

But on the second day a worse thing happened than the visit of an angry
Boyar.

For the Regent Sophia arrived in person, bringing with her a bishop of
high degree and a guard of several soldiers.

Kurbatof had, it appeared, actually carried out his threat and had
complained at Court that his daughter Vera, the destined bride of the
Tsar, was a prisoner at the Diévitchy monastery. The Regent came in
anger and indignation.

‘What is this?’ she cried, storming at the good mother. ‘What is this I
hear of thee? To give sanctuary to one whom the Tsar would choose for
his wife, and against the will of her father? Thou takest too much upon
thee, woman. Art thou so great, being chief among many silly women, that
thou knowest not there are some greater than thou?’

‘All this I know and recognise, Highness,’ said the old woman, humbly.
‘Outside these walls thy brother the Tsar, together with thyself, is as
God; but within we render the first service to God and His Christ, even
though His will should be in opposition to that of the Tsar.’

‘_Vzdor_, nonsense! What knowest thou of the mind of God? thou knowest
it no more than I. A silly maiden is fearful of the splendid destiny
offered her, and thou must needs set down her timidity to the will of
God. Be sure it is better to obey the will of the Tsar, of which you may
be certain, than invent for thyself the interventions of the Almighty,
whose mind thou understandest no more than I. Come, where is this
wench?’

‘She has claimed sanctuary, Highness. I will not produce her except I be
compelled by force.’

‘So--then take her keys, men: you are a fool, woman, and should know
when it is wiser to yield than to be firm!’

‘While I am head in this place the only wisdom is to act according to my
conscience, since my simple desire is to serve God. You will not gain,
Madam, by using me thus. I foresee the day when you yourself shall flee
for refuge to this sanctuary.’

‘Indeed? Well, I will tell thee what I foresee, and the prophecy shall
not be long in the fulfilling. Thy rule shall end this day--nay, it has
ended now; have you the keys there? Open the great door, then; follow,
you; we shall set in your place a wiser, if we can find one in this
community of lack-wits!’

The procession then entered the monastery, where they found nuns and
postulants at their dinner in the refectory, and among them Vera, who
had expected no such visitors, or she would have hidden herself.

‘There she sits,’ said the Regent, kindly enough. ‘Come, little
frightened dove, that flew from the nest for fear of fowlers. Look not
so frightened, we are neither fowlers nor birds of prey; we wish thee no
evil, but great good. Come, the Tsar awaits thee and will choose thee
for Tsaritsa if thou put not on that scared look!’

Poor Vera glanced at the Superior, who followed behind her Highness, but
the old woman shook her head; tears were in her eyes, and she sobbed as
she said, ‘Nay, child, I can do no more for thee; they have broken into
this House of Peace. I am no longer in authority here.’

‘Mind not what this hag says,’ said Sophia. ‘She has forgotten that she
is no less a subject of the Tsar than any other in the land who would
also serve the Almighty; she has given thee evil counsel, but she shall
lead no others astray. Come--I weary of talking--get thee ready, for
thou shalt go with us to the Tsar.’

‘Madam,’ said Vera faintly, ‘I desire to remain here. I have no wish
to----’

‘Enough--take her up, men----’

And Vera was then and there seized and borne shrieking away to the
_terem_, where many notable things happened, which shall presently be
set down. But before she departed from the monastery the Regent chose a
new Superior, recognising one among the nuns whom she had known well
before-time. Her she placed in the old mother’s seat, compelling the
latter to take up a position at the bottom of the table, whereat sat
humbly the non-professed sisters and the postulants of the community, as
though she had only that day entered upon the religious life--the latest
of all those present, instead of the first and the most respected and
beloved.

And I lay senseless as a log while all this passed, little knowing or
guessing the perils which compassed me about. For what if the Regent had
sought Vera, first, in the little locked ante-room wherein I lay, and
had there found me--a hawk in this doves’ nest! But by the mercy of the
Highest and the wit of that good woman, the mother, I was spared this
misfortune. For I was afterwards told that when one of the Regent’s men
inquired of the Superior what room was this, and whether the escaped
maiden were here, the mother replied that this was the hospital room. ‘I
swear she is not there,’ she said, ‘and it is useless to disturb those
who are within the chamber; they are sick, and need repose.’

Be sure that when I returned to consciousness and learned all these
things I could lie no longer in peace. Very quickly my wounds
mended--for they were but flesh-cuts, and my banged head was the worst
matter of all!--and within a week of the fight I insisted upon going
forth once again, which I did in spite of the tears and entreaties of my
good old friend, the late Superior, and of another who had nursed me.

‘Let me go,’ I said, ‘for I shall recover the sooner when my mind is at
ease and I can see and hear for myself what is passing without.’

‘Promise thou wilt get into no more brawls until thou art well and
wholly recovered?’ said the mother. And this I promised, leaving the
good woman, however, in tears of distress. ‘For, said she, ‘thou art
pale and worn and not fit for fighting and for scheming, and yet how
else is Vera to be served?’

‘Dost think I shall attack the Tsar’s palace single-handed, good
mother?’ I asked, laughing. But she shook her head and answered nothing,
except to make over me the sign of the Cross and to mumble a prayer as I
left the chamber.



CHAPTER XXIII


Though I had laughed to ease the mind of the good woman, I felt indeed
but little disposed for mirth. My mind was full of Vera, for I had a
horrible dread that she would be forced against her will to submit to
marriage with the Tsar. I hastened therefore to Mazeppa’s lodging, for
well I knew that if there was anything to know, whether of Vera or of
anything else, Mazeppa would be the one to know the first news and the
last.

‘A ghost!’ he said, as I entered and greeted him; ‘one risen from the
tomb indeed, and limping, by the saints--what, wounded? Whom now hast
thou found to brawl with?’

‘It is true that I have fought: one day I will tell thee all there is to
tell. To-day thou must be narrator, for I long to hear news. First, what
has passed at the _terem_?’

‘Much, and many surprising things. Has Olga Panief found thee yet?’

‘Olga? surely not--why seeks she me--is she not in the _terem_?’

‘That is a part of what has happened, but there is much else. Vera
Kurbatof----’

‘Oh, she is found?’ I asked, feigning indifference, but failing utterly.

‘At the Diévitchy monastery, and brought to the _terem_, where she was
placed among those who had been reserved for the Tsar’s final
choice--six of them. But stay, I remember now that all this must be news
to thee. How long hast thou been absent wounded--a week? Then there is
much to be told, and I will tell from the beginning.’

Then Mazeppa began and told me the tale of that eventful week.

The Tsar having shown himself unwilling to go among so large a company
of maidens, it had been decided to weed out the greater number, and to
leave only those whose supreme beauty gave them particular claim to the
Tsar’s regard. Among these chosen six were the girl Soltikof, whom I had
brought to the palace with a message from young Peter. I was not
surprised that she should have been chosen to be among the selected, for
indeed she was both beautiful and vivacious, a maiden who might wring
admiration from a very stone. My chosen love of former days, the Cossack
maiden Olga Panief, was another of the six, the remaining four being no
less beautiful maidens, each in her own way, though their names are not
necessary to these records. To these six was added Vera Kurbatof, found
and brought to the _terem_ in the nick of time.

The seven were then paraded before the Tsar, who on the first occasion
was sulky, or timid, or what not, and refused to raise his head to look
at them, declaring that he would not marry; that they had assembled
these wenches in vain for him. ‘Let them go,’ he said. ‘Let who will
have them; I want none of them.’

Then the seven were returned to the _terem_, and for that day the farce
was over. But in the night, when all slept or were supposed to sleep in
the dormitory set apart for them, the Regent, with the Tsar at her side,
passed among the beds and examined carefully each sleeper’s face and any
part of the beautiful forms or limbs which might have escaped by
accident or design from the coverings. It was known well enough that it
was customary for the bridegroom Tsar thus to feast his eyes, before
finally choosing his bride, upon the most beautiful of his maidens,
rendered unconscious of his presence by sleep. Therefore, if one were
proud of a beautiful arm or neck, she was careful to fall asleep with
this exposed to view, that the Tsar might observe and admire.

Vera had cried herself to sleep, and lay--supremely beautiful--with the
tears still upon her cheek. The Tsar flushed as he glanced at her. ‘She
hates and fears me,’ he said, pointing at her with his chin, ‘and
therefore I fear her also.’

But when he came to the bed on which the Soltikof maiden lay modestly
covered, the flush of sleep upon her beautiful cheek, his breath came
and went.

‘Holy Mother!’ he exclaimed, ‘here is one I have not seen. What is her
name?’

The Regent named the girl, thanking her saints that Ivan seemed at last
to take an interest in one, at least, of the lovely models of womanhood
wasted upon him.

‘This one is well enough,’ said Ivan, passing on, ‘if she too does not
hate me, like that other!’

The nightly inspection was not the only trial through which these chosen
seven were compelled to pass. They were constantly questioned and
examined by the Court doctors and dentists and by experienced women
appointed for the purpose.

Besides this, one of the seven, being constantly among the rest and
taking part in all conversations, was instructed to act as spy upon her
companions, in order that their minds might be studied by those with
whom lay the choice of Tsaritsa, as well as their bodily constitutions.
This maiden, by name Maria Apraxin, reported all opinions uttered by the
rest, and all conversation bearing upon the subject of the afflicted
Tsar and his intended marriage.

In consequence of these reports three fair maids who had laughed at the
Tsar when alone with their companions, suspecting nothing, were informed
next day that their chance was gone, and the _terem_ doors were open to
them to pass out. There remained now only Olga Panief the Cossack girl,
Vera, and the Soltikof maiden, besides the spy, who was no longer a
candidate, but only the agent set to watch and observe the others.

Vera never spoke, or scarcely ever. She sat and mused and sometimes
wept, but took little part in conversations. It was Olga and the
Soltikof maiden who did the bulk of the talking, though the spy Maria
Apraxin began most of the discussions.

Then one day the Tsar passed through the _terem_; it was the morning
after his first sight of the sleeping maidens. There were now but these
four present. He strode past Maria without raising his eyes above her
feet. He passed Olga Panief with but a glance. Then he came to Vera, and
paused a moment as though he would speak; but Vera did not raise the
lids which concealed her lovely blue eyes, and the Tsar walked on.

Lastly he reached the place where the Soltikof stood and blushed,
waiting for him with every artful trick and captivating air ready, so to
say, to hand to be employed in the fascination of the Tsar.

Ivar paused and looked at her with admiration, and Praskovia Soltikof
returned the look with tenfold intensity. She smiled and blushed and
glanced from under her up-curled eyelashes. She knelt, and would have
kissed his hand, but he drew it back. Then she took up the edge of his
kaftan and kissed that instead.

‘By the saints,’ said Ivan, ‘you are as fair as any, unless it be Vera
Kurbatof, who is afraid of me and hates me.’

‘Hates you, Tsar? Oh! how can anyone do so?’

‘Yet she does, though I have never done her ill, nor would do so. What
is your name?’

‘Praskovia Soltikof, Highness. I have come all the way from Siberia to
give the Tsar of my best.’

‘Of your best? and what is that?’ said Ivan.

‘My heart, Tsar, my love, my duty and devotion--all that I have and
am--myself.’

‘Good! But you would be afraid of me, like this other.’

‘I swear I would not, Tsar.’

‘Well, see here, Praskovia Soltikof: ask this Vera whether she cannot
change her mind towards me, and if she cannot or will not, I know not
but what I will choose thee, since my sister will have me married
whether I desire it or no.’

Praskovia’s face underwent several changes during this speech: the
expression which remained the last upon it was one of triumphant
happiness.

‘Oh! Tsar,’ she said, most intensely; ‘I am not worthy!’ But Ivan passed
on and said no more, and when he had gone out of sight and hearing a
storm arose.

For Olga Panief, whose temper was never of the best, flew out and called
upon Vera to speak up and save the Tsar and the nation from having this
Praskovia Soltikof for Tsaritsa.

‘She is a toady and a liar,’ cried Olga. ‘Did you see her blush and cast
down her eyes when he spoke to her? Did you hear her vow she would love
him and honour him, and I know not what besides? Faugh--it sickens me to
hear her! Speak, Vera Kurbatof, and save us all from her: it is you the
Tsar would have, all the world knows that; it is you he loves, not this
toadying, fawning thing!’

‘Listen to her!’ laughed Praskovia. ‘Poor Olga, all her arts have
failed, therefore she cannot tolerate those of others! Liar, am I? What
of you, you hypocrite, who are ready to vow devotion to the Tsar if he
would but look at you--why, you have owned as much!--and yet in the next
breath you declared that if you should be chosen you would marry the
sceptre, not the man; and that if you had a lover before, your marriage
should make no difference, for he should be lover still!’

‘You lie, minx,’ said Olga. ‘Speak up, Vera, to-morrow, and give her the
lie; save the Tsar from her; he will believe what you say.’

‘Let anyone have the Tsar so long as it is not I,’ said Vera, ‘though it
seems to me that each of you is as bad as the other, for neither is
honest: you do not love the Tsar, yet you would have him believe that he
is adored by you! A sorry wife you would make, either of you!’

‘Will you not change your mind as to the Tsar, Vera?’ said Praskovia,
laughing. ‘Remember, he has bidden me ask you this; the choice lies
between you and me, for the Tsar will not look at Maria Apraxin; and as
for Olga Panief, neither he nor any other man would waste a glance at so
sorry a face as hers!’

At this Olga uttered a scream of rage, and, rushing at her enemy,
seized her hand and bit it furiously.

Praskovia cried aloud with the pain, and the blood flowed freely, but
Vera tied her handkerchief about the wound and comforted the aggrieved
one. ‘At any rate, thou art as good as chosen,’ she said, ‘for thou
shalt tell the Tsar that I will neither love him nor consent to marry
him; therefore thou art Tsaritsa already, if thou wilt have it so!’

A speech which caused Olga, fuming and panting in her chair, to curse
aloud both at Vera and at Praskovia, though she made no more violent
attacks upon them.



CHAPTER XXIV


It seems that the Regent Sophia, whom, indeed, some have pronounced to
be a wonderful woman for her ability in the management of affairs both
great and little--though for my part I give all the credit to Galitsin,
who was for ever at her right hand to advise, restrain, and even to
speak for her when her Highness lacked words--it seems that Sophia had
so far impressed her will upon the Tsar Ivan that he was now willing to
be married.

How she performed this magician’s trick I am not able to guess; neither
can I say whether any of the ordinary spirit of a man had begun to stir
in that poor creature at sight of all the womanly beauty which had been
placed before him during those last few days.

It may be that somewhere within him there lurked the unmatured embryo of
a man’s nature, which had at this time quickened into a kind of
half-life, so that he at last consented to gaze with interest upon those
fair maidens, and to accept the idea of matrimony without anger and
loathing.

I do not doubt that if Vera had not, in her wisdom, turned from him with
disgust, but had feigned admiration for him, and even love, as some of
the others did, she could have awakened in him a kind of mild
love-ardour which would have been a nearer approach to a man’s passion
for a woman than any that her sisters awakened in him; yet it is certain
that he accepted Vera’s attitude towards him with resignation and turned
from her to seek his bride elsewhere without any great show of
indignation or of regret.

The morning after Olga’s quarrel with Praskovia Soltikof was practically
the deciding hour in the matter of Ivan’s choice of a bride, and
doubtless that quarrel had something to do with the result, though for
my part I am persuaded that--Vera not being reckoned as available--he
would in any case have chosen as he did.

There entered the _terem_ that morning a little procession of three--the
Regent, the Tsar Ivan, and Galitsin.

Maria Apraxin was passed without a glance by the Tsar and by Sophia, but
Galitsin stopped and spoke with her. It was his duty to receive her
report, and this day I doubt not she had an interesting one to give.

Meanwhile the Tsar was passing Olga Panief, but Sophia drew him back.

‘Glance at this one, _Golúbchick_,’ she said; ‘she is one you have never
well examined, yet she is as beautiful as any, and has the very
appearance of a Tsaritsa.’

Ivan glanced at her. ‘She frightens me,’ he said; ‘she has a cruel
eye--I like her not. I would rather she were not here.’

‘Here is the minx, Vera Kurbatof,’ said the Regent, smiling nevertheless
kindly upon Vera, and shaking her finger at her; ‘she who shrinks from
us, Ivan. Dost know why she has done this? Because she knows that a
bride is the more valued the more difficult has been her wooing and her
winning. Doubt not she pines for thee, _Golúbchick_; she longs to be
Tsaritsa and to sit beside thee in the highest seat.’

Vera said not a word, but stood with her eyes upon the floor at her
feet.

‘Is it so, Vera?’ said the Tsar. ‘Speak truth and fear not. I would
rather choose thee than all the rest, but to me it seems that thou art
not willing, thou art afraid of me. When I touched thee thy head swam
and thy knees failed; was it not so?’

‘It is true, Tsar,’ said Vera; ‘I fear thee.’

‘And why?’

‘God knows! I shall always fear thee, and I can never love thee; believe
that I am speaking truth.’

‘I do believe----’ began the Tsar; but Sophia interrupted him.

‘See, Vera,’ she said, ‘it is possible that in knowing the Tsar better
and seeing him oftener, this feeling of thine may change for a gentler
one. He is kind of heart, believe me, and will make a more indulgent
husband than many a man to whom God has given better health and a
handsomer face. Ivan loves you the best of all--can you not see it?
Come, smile upon him, child, and give him thy hand, and by all the
saints of Heaven thou shalt be Tsaritsa in a month, and as fair and as
happy a one as ever sat beside a Tsar upon the highest seat.’

‘Madam, do not entreat me,’ said poor Vera. ‘It is the truth that I am
afraid of the Tsar; I could not sit beside him. If I were not afraid to
death of him I should not have hid myself from him. Do not press
me--Tsar, on my knee, I beseech thee. I should be a sorry Tsaritsa that
feared the touch and the very sight of thee. Let me go my way; there are
those here who long for thee to exalt them to thy side.’

‘Bah!’ said the Regent, tugging at his arm; ‘leave her then,
_Golúbchick_, if she insists upon being a fool. If she truly fears thee
she will hate thee if we marry thee to her; let her go, fool and minx
that she is.’

The Tsar obeyed. He followed his sister, though he turned and gazed at
Vera once more as he went.

Then they came to where Praskovia Soltikof stood and waited for them,
all blushes, and her splendid eyes ablaze as they sent a speaking glance
at the Tsar before screening themselves beneath her marvellous black
lashes, long and arched, and lying now upon her cheeks like two lovely
fringes of delicate feathered lacework.

Ivan stopped suddenly as his eyes fell upon this picture. He half turned
towards Vera as though he would compare the two; but the figure of
Praskovia seemed to have captured his gaze, and his eyes remained fixed
upon her.

“Holy Mother! there stands a Tsaritsa indeed!’ exclaimed Galitsin. ‘See,
Sophia, such loveliness is surely peerless!’

‘Yes, but----’ began the Regent, and drew Galitsin aside so that Maria
Apraxin (from whom Mazeppa received all that has been told of this
scene) could not hear what they said. If one may guess, it is probable
that Sophia would much have preferred Vera for Tsaritsa, partly because
the Tsar seemed more attracted by her than by the rest, but chiefly
because she fancied that Vera Tsaritsa would be more easily managed than
Praskovia Tsaritsa; for the Regent Sophia did not intend to see the
power go from her own hands, and the wife of Ivan should be one who
would consent to take the second place in the realm.

But Galitsin had ever the ruling word of these two, and doubtless he
persuaded the Regent that matters must go forward now as Ivan would,
having gone thus far, and that since Vera was obstinately determined
against marriage with him, and he seemed to have accepted her refusal
with resignation, the better way now was to encourage him in his obvious
admiration for Praskovia. Therefore the two soon returned to the spot
where Ivan still stood and gazed, speechless, at Praskovia Soltikof,
from whose figure he had not once withdrawn his eyes during these
moments of waiting.

‘See, her hand is bound up as though it were hurt,’ said the Tsar as
they joined him. ‘What ails her, think you, sister?’

‘Ask her, _Golúbchick_, for yourself. She is not an image of wax, she is
warm flesh and blood, made for love and for caresses; ask her, my
dove!’

‘What ails thee?’ stammered Ivan, blushing to the roots of his hair.

‘It is nothing, Tsar,’ said Praskovia, glancing at Olga and attempting
to hide her hand.

Here Maria Apraxin stepped forward.

‘There is a dog in the _terem_ that bites, Highness,’ she laughed; ‘poor
Praskovia has been bitten.’

‘A dog?’ exclaimed Ivan, recoiling--‘a dog that bites--he may be mad,
sister, let us depart!’

‘A dog on two legs was this, Tsar,’ said Maria; ‘one who is called Olga
Panief.’

‘What mean you, Maria?’ asked Sophia sternly. ‘Do you say her hand is
bitten, and by this Cossack minx?’

‘So it was, Highness. There was a quarrel, which Olga began and ended,
began with insult and ended with biting.’

‘Fie, Panief!’ cried the Regent. ‘Go forth, minx, we will have no biters
here. Was thy mother a wolf, that thou must tear thy companions with
tooth and claw? Shame, wench--go forth, I say!’

‘Drive her away quickly, Galitsin, I am afraid of her,’ said Ivan
whimpering. ‘Who can tell? she may turn and bite us all; let her go
quickly and return no more!’

Olga left the _terem_ in tears, but she turned at the door and shook
her fist at Praskovia and at Maria, neither of whom took any further
notice of her.

Then the Regent raised Praskovia’s wounded hand and looked at it.

‘See the poor wounded hand!’ she said. ‘See, Ivan, where the cruel teeth
went in! How shall we cure it for her?’

‘Kiss it with thy lips, Ivan Alexeyevitch!’ cried Galitsin with a laugh.
‘I warrant that will heal the wound better than all the herbs and
medicines the leech can give her!’

‘Yes, kiss it, _Golúbchik_!’ said Sophia.

And the Tsar obediently, though shyly withal, took the wounded hand and
kissed it.

‘Oh, Tsar, I am not worthy!’ exclaimed Praskovia, sinking on her knees
and catching at the edge of his kaftan to raise it to her lips.

But when the Regent bade Ivan kiss Praskovia’s forehead and tell her she
was the most beautiful of all his maidens, the Tsar’s eyes were fixed
upon Vera--and this is not to be wondered at, for indeed at this moment
she looked so radiantly lovely--in the light, I suppose, of happiness
secured--that those who observed her declared they never saw so much
beauty in any face as in hers at this moment.



CHAPTER XXV


Though Vera was not actually released from the _terem_ for two days
after this, there was little talk of any Tsaritsa but Praskovia
Soltikof.

The Tsar, though in his foolish, weak way he seemed to regret Vera,
grew--it is said--hourly fonder of Praskovia, and by degrees he began to
show something of the spirit of a man towards her. This circumstance
gave the greatest delight to Sophia, who, said Mazeppa, made no secret
of it that she had not expected such good fortune.

‘There is the succession to think of,’ she explained; ‘for you will
understand that it would please us better if Ivan should provide an heir
rather than that we should depend for succession upon such brats as the
young scapegrace at Preobrajensky may raise to himself.’

When Vera was at last allowed to go forth from the _terem_ she went
straight back to the Diévitchy monastery, but was not received by the
new Superior, who declared that she feared the anger of the Regent;
therefore she was obliged to return to her father’s house, where she
incurred the rage of the old Boyar, who, disappointed of his hopes in
her, did not receive her with the kindness of a parent, but rather with
the fury of a madman.

But Vera cared little for his rage, seeing that she had escaped the
great danger she had feared, and which indeed had at one moment
threatened to swamp for ever her happiness.

‘And there,’ said Mazeppa, ending his tale, ‘she is now, thanking God
daily for her escape; and Praskovia Soltikof is the chosen Tsaritsa,
announced to the people and accepted by the Tsar, who--if I mistake
not--will sometimes wish that he had chosen as his poor heart first
dictated; for if one thing is more certain than another in this world,
it is that his fancy--such as it is--went out to Vera rather than to her
who is to be his wife!’

When Mazeppa had finished his tale, I took my leave of him, and, going
straight to the Uspensky Cathedral, offered a candle at the shrine of
the Blessed Mother of the Lord for the mercy vouchsafed to Vera, and,
through her, to me. And on that same day I received a visitor whom I
certainly did not expect to see: Olga Panief.

This girl, be it remembered, had treated me very badly. Before my
absence upon the Azof campaign she had professed faithful love for me;
yet when I returned I found that she had thrown me over for the chance
of being chosen by the Tsar Ivan. This I might have forgiven, seeing
that for an ambitious girl the Tsar’s choice is not an opportunity to be
lightly put aside. But she had made love with Mazeppa during my absence,
upon his own showing, and though she had thrown him over no less than
myself, this was nevertheless a crime which I was not prepared to
forgive.

Therefore, when I learned that Olga Panief was waiting in the ante-room
to see me, I quickly made up my mind that if somehow I could become even
with her I would do so. She should yet weep for her treatment of me!

Olga greeted me cordially: we conversed, and she described to me, what I
knew already, her nearness to being chosen Tsaritsa.

‘If it had not been for the cat Soltikof,’ said Olga, ‘I should have
been chosen! Oh, the cringing, lying, deceitful minx that she is! Kill
her for me, Chelminsky; let your sword or your dagger bite well,
straight into her heart; or still better, kill her slowly and with much
suffering, curse her! I might have been Tsaritsa, but for her!’

‘You might also and more certainly have been the wife of Chelminsky and
saved yourself all this trouble and disappointment,’ said I. ‘From all I
hear, Olga Panief, you never had any real chance of being chosen by the
Tsar: it rested between Vera Kurbatof and Praskovia Soltikof, but you
were never so much as considered by the Tsar--oh! do not look so
crossly, for I know what I speak of!’

‘It is a lie; but for Soltikof I should have been chosen. Vera Kurbatof,
indeed! Even this fool of a Tsar would not marry so great a fool as
Vera!’

‘Well, I admit thou art a splendid woman, Olga. If my heart were of the
breaking kind, that would have been a deadly blow when thou didst leave
Batourin in my absence for the _terem_ of the Tsar, forgetting thy
plighted troth to me!’

‘What, the chance to be Tsaritsa, and abandon it because of a word to
thee? Thou must think me a fool indeed, Chelminsky!’

‘And what of certain courting with Mazeppa while the lover was away?’

‘Bah! Mazeppa! to dally with Mazeppa means nothing, for every woman is
the same to him; all are toys, to play with and to forget in a day! Now
see here, Chelminsky, kill me this detestable Praskovia and I am still
yours, only ten times more than before. I swear I will marry you at
once, and we will go where you please; there, I am serious.’

‘And why do you want her killed?’ I asked, with difficulty restraining
my laughter.

‘Because I hate her: is that reason enough? If you will have more,
because she has been chosen Tsaritsa over my head; and, last reason, she
is my enemy--she has insulted me before the Regent. Is that enough for
thee? Come, thy answer?’

‘But why should I kill the girl?’ I asked. ‘What harm has she ever done
me?’

‘Have I not said that I will marry you for doing me this service? I have
asked you to do it because of all men I know I think you are the most to
be trusted, and because I believe that you love me well enough to do my
will, seeing that the prize offered is one for which any man would
surely sell his soul--and that is myself!’

‘And thou wilt give thyself, then, to any man who will rid thee of this
enemy?’

‘I did not say that. I offer the prize to thee, and thee only. Come,
look at me well, Chelminsky--am not I worth winning?’

‘You may be that--I did not deny or assert anything. I have won thee
once and found the prize elusive. Once bitten, I am careful to avoid
dogs.’

‘This time I should keep my troth: I tell you the other was an
exceptional case. A maiden invited to the bride-choosing of the Tsar is
not her own mistress; she must go whether she will or no. Come,
Chelminsky, am I less to be loved than before? Are my eyes smaller or
dimmer? Am I shorter? Is my figure less shapely? Am I not still the kind
of maiden for whom a man would barter his soul?’

She came nearer to me and placed her face close to mine, so that I could
feel her breath as she spoke. ‘Come, Chelminsky, look at me well,’ she
said; ‘am I less than I was?’

‘I will tell thee what will surprise thee, Olga,’ I said. ‘It was none
other than I that brought Praskovia Soltikof to the _terem_ to
overshadow thee in the Tsar’s eyes. She is a dear friend of mine, and
thou comest to me, of all others, to have her killed!’

‘Stay--does she love thee, Chelminsky; art thou her lover?’

‘I did not say so. It may be and it may not.’

‘Nay, tell me--does she love thee? Oh, if she does, Chelminsky, if she
does, I see a better vengeance than her death; she shall live to be
jealous. Thou shalt love me again, as before, and marry me. Help me in
this, dear Chelminsky. She has robbed me of the Tsar and insulted me. I
shall die if I am not quickly avenged. Tell me, truly, does she love
thee?’

‘I think it may well be so,’ said I, for this farce amused me and I
would see how it should end. ‘For one who marries such a husband as
Ivan, it is no very great sin to keep a little affection for a handsome
lover from the old days!’

‘Make sure of her, Chelminsky; let her love thee madly, and when she is
at her maddest thou shalt marry me before her eyes. I will give thee my
very soul to do me this service!’



CHAPTER XXVI


I promised Olga to consider this matter, and so prevailed upon her to
leave me. When she had gone I gave vent to the laughter which I had with
difficulty restrained.

Here was a fury indeed! First she would have her rival killed, then
tortured with jealousy, and the prize for either service, herself. Now
during the conversation with this woman I had discovered one thing for
certain, namely, that I cared not one jot for her fascinations; she no
longer had power to move me. The only feeling of which I was conscious
in speaking with her was a great desire to give her as sore a heart as
she had once given me, could I but devise a way to do so. It was for
this reason that I left the decision as it were in doubt, as though I
would consider the matter; whereas all I wished was for time to see
whether there was any way of turning this new attitude of hers to
advantage.

I was not many hours older that day when of a sudden Mazeppa came raging
to my lodging, full of a grievance against me.

‘Thou hast played a double game, Chelminsky,’ said he, looking very
evilly at me. ‘Explain; for I trusted thee and thou hast played me
false!’

‘Explain, rather, thou,’ I replied, laughing, ‘for I know not how I have
offended.’

‘It has come to my knowledge,’ said Mazeppa, ‘that Vera Kurbatof was in
sanctuary at the Diévitchy monastery; that she was placed there by none
other than thyself, and that even when I set thee to find her, trusting
thee, her hiding place was all the while known to thee, though thou
didst make a show of ignorance. See! Chelminsky, a true friend should
not act thus.’

‘Bah!--it is nothing, Mazeppa; you do me injustice. It is true that I
placed her in sanctuary--could I have done better on your behalf? As for
keeping silence, I was persuaded by Vera to tell no living soul of her
hiding place. I had been dogged by some spy, remember, and this--though
the rascal came off second best--so alarmed the girl that she bade me
behave most cautiously.’

‘But you visited her there, my friend, more than once, and even
fought--as I am informed--to protect her----’

‘Dear Heaven, would you not have done the same, man? They came to carry
her to the _terem_, which was exactly what must at all costs be avoided!
I thought to have praise and thanks from you when I should have told my
tale, instead of which I am abused as though I had committed a great
crime! Truly, Mazeppa, thou art an ungrateful friend, and I am sorry I
toiled and bled for thy sake!’

Mazeppa gazed long and fixedly in my face. I knew well what passed in
his mind. He was trying to decide whether I was fool or deceiver;
whether in reality I had played a double game with Vera, or a simple one
as I declared. It was difficult to preserve an even countenance. At
length I could bear it no longer, and burst into laughter.

‘What ails thee this day, Mazeppa? Why dost thou gaze at me in this
solemn fashion? let us have an understanding. What is in thy mind
concerning me?’

‘I will tell thee what I have thought,’ he said. ‘I have greatly feared
that throughout this matter thy care for Vera Kurbatof has been more for
thy own sake than for mine. If it be so, Chelminsky, and thou desirest
this wench for thyself, beware what thou dost, for by the saints I shall
win in the end.’

‘To what purpose is all this talking,’ said I, most innocently; ‘what
do I gain by befriending this wench; what is she to me? If I have done
my best to save her from the _terem_, this has been done at thy own
request.’

‘Well, I have long suspected thee. Any man might well desire so fair a
creature, and it has seemed to me that she is more to thee than thou
wouldst have me think. I am determined that none shall possess this
maiden but I. Be sure, my friend, that when Mazeppa is resolved upon any
matter, that matter is in the end accomplished.’

‘Dear heart!’ I exclaimed, laughing aloud, ‘have the girl for thy own if
thou canst--what is she to me? Only I have done with serving thee in
this matter. To be treated thus, and threatened, and what not, after I
have toiled and bled in thy cause! This is ingratitude, Mazeppa, and thy
thanklessness shall serve thee ill; for be sure thou shalt need a friend
to help thee before Vera is thine and safely in thy hands!’

‘Well, if I have truly wronged you, I ask pardon. I am in love with the
wench, and a man in love is not his own master; forgive me if I have
suspected you foolishly. Continue to be my friend in this, I pray you.
You have done excellently, so far; so well, indeed, that it is your very
zeal that has caused me to suspect you of working for yourself and not
for me. But stay, why shall I need a friend now that she is safely out
of the _terem_? Are there difficulties that I know not of?’

‘There is the old Boyar, her father. Failing her marriage with the Tsar
he has, I know, other intentions for her. There is a rich and powerful
Boyar, their neighbour in the country, for whom he intends her--an old
man.’

‘Good, an old man. Ha! then the wench herself will be on our side; we
will devise a plan, Chelminsky, and thou shalt help me to carry her
away. By the saints, it seems I have wronged thee most foully! The
beauty of the girl is my excuse, for truly I do not even now understand
how any man can know her and not love her. Lord! when I think of it, I
suspect thee still!’

‘That is for ever the way of a man when he is fully in love; he must
needs suspect that all other men are of the same way of thinking as
himself! It is a good thing that men differ in their opinion of a woman.
This Vera is certainly fair enough, but to my eyes there are others as
fair and fairer. I doubt not my old love will come back to me, now that
she has failed to outdo Praskovia Soltikof in the regard of the Tsar. I
would punish her for her conduct in throwing me over, but, by the
saints, one must forgive her something for her good looks: she is as
splendid as the day, and that is plain truth.’

‘Olga Panief you speak of? Yes, she is splendid, and I doubt not she
would return to thee; but--shall I deal friendly with thee, Chelminsky?’

‘If you will; have I not deserved it?’

‘I fear thy anger; well, I will brave it for thy sake. Be careful with
this wench Olga, my friend. Do not trust her too much. I have told thee
of her violence within the _terem_ when she found that the Tsar would
choose Praskovia before her. She is a fiend, no less. She is mad with
rage and the desire of vengeance. This very day she has avowed her love
for me, or rather she has offered me her love upon conditions----’

‘Avowed her love for you!’ I exclaimed, starting to my feet, as though
in fury, though in truth I felt more inclined to laugh than to rage;
‘and you dare to tell me this, Mazeppa?’

‘Stay, I speak as your friend. “Kill this Praskovia for me,” said Olga,
“and I am yours,” or words to that effect. I bade her depart from me and
not speak as a fool and a mad woman. I tell you this for your advantage,
that you should not trust her too much.’

‘Does she love you, think you, Mazeppa? Would she have come to you thus
but for the hope of persuading you to avenge her?’

Now, Mazeppa was one who forever believed that every woman must of
necessity fall in love with him if he but raised his finger to encourage
her, and it is certain that he was generally a successful lover. Even at
this moment, when he was very desirous of my friendship and assistance,
he could not resist the delight of hinting that he had made a conquest
of Olga.

‘If she loves me it matters little, for I vow that she shall have no
encouragement from me, my friend, now that I know you still desire her.
I doubt not that you will win her, but, as I say, trust her not too
much. Now, as to Vera Kurbatof, of whom you have lately seen more than
I, have you spoken to her of me; is she inclined, think you, to my
suit?’

‘I have scarcely spoken of you. She is aware that you would have
befriended her. You have told me the truth as to Olga; shall I be
equally frank as to Vera?’

Mazeppa looked astonished, then somewhat angry; but he bade me speak on.

‘I have been so good a friend to her and served her so well,’ said I,
‘that it would be wonderful if so gentle a maid were not grateful----’

‘Grateful, well,’ interrupted Mazeppa; ‘but dare not tell me there is
more than gratitude. By heaven, Chelminsky, if, after all, you have
fooled me and have sought to gain this maiden’s love----’

‘Oh, oh! I have sought nothing; if she is grateful and her gratitude has
inclined her to bestow upon me a certain sweet friendly kindness which
might, I admit, one day develop into a warmer regard, am I to blame? I
speak as a friend. I have not wooed her back; take her and win her,
Mazeppa, if thou wilt, and if she will also!’

‘A pretty confession to make indeed!’ cried Mazeppa, striding angrily
about the room, too furious to perceive that his own admission had been
the very same. ‘By the saints, I know not whether to trust thee or no! I
know not whether thou art most fool or knave!’

Truly love had made of Mazeppa himself for the time being more fool than
knave! Never was this old fox less of a fox than on this day! Well, he
had called me fool before the Tsar Peter, assuring his Highness that I
was too great a fool to make a Cossack Hetman. We should see who was the
greater fool to-day, he or I; for indeed I had a plan in my mind to make
so great a fool of him that he should remember for evermore how he had
miscalled me!



CHAPTER XXVII


During the next two days I matured the plan which should give me the
laugh over both of those who had offended me. I am a bad forgiver, and
when I have a debt to pay, I like to return to the lender more rather
than less than I have received from him. I counted up my grievances
against Mazeppa and against Olga Panief. Mazeppa had called me fool
before the Tsar Peter, and had tried to set him against me. He had made
love to Olga, while I believed her to be true to me, and had allowed her
to go to the _terem_--all this during my absence; he had had me dogged
by a spy, and had lied to me; lastly, he would have Vera Kurbatof by
fair means or foul--a deadly grievance in my eyes, for none should have
her but I.

As for Olga’s sins against me--well, she had flouted me at Batourin; and
now--though she had come to offer herself to me, she had gone first to
Mazeppa--Lord! there was grievance enough against both; I should have no
pity.

Olga Panief came to see me again, and by her foolishness helped much to
carry forward that which I had in my mind.

She desired to know whether I had seen Praskovia Soltikof--the chosen
Tsaritsa--whether she had concealed her love for me or revealed it--was
I sure of her passion for me, and I know not what foolishness besides.
As for me, I thought it no wrong to deceive her. I answered her that
there could be little doubt of Praskovia’s love, for, though I had seen
her this day in the very presence of the Regent and of the Tsar Ivan, at
whom she scarcely glanced, she had not hesitated to send me more than
once a splendid flash from her eyes whose import was unmistakable.

This praise of her rival’s eyes infuriated Olga.

‘Fool that I was,’ she cried, ‘I should have poisoned the minx in the
_terem_ while I had the chance, before she could set the Regent and the
Tsar against me. How easily it might have been done--and I never thought
of it! Now there is only this way of revenge. You still love me,
Chelminsky--come, do you not? I am as fair as I ever was--is it not so?’

‘Oh, as fair, and fairer; that is not to be denied. You are a beautiful
woman, Olga; what man could gaze upon you and his pulses not beat the
faster?’

‘Well--well, I am yours, if you will. I have always preferred you above
the rest, at Batourin or elsewhere, though I have loved to live gaily
and to hear the flattery of men; come, you shall have me, you shall
marry me here in Moscow, when you will, and then you shall tell
Soltikof, or, better still, I shall tell her myself that I have carried
off her lover. Does the fool think she shall have the Tsar and thee
too?’

‘There is a difficulty, but only one,’ I said, as if perplexed. ‘I was
sent for this day by the Regent, not as an honoured guest, but in order
to be examined and threatened. Her Highness has discovered in some way
that it was I who concealed Vera Kurbatof in order that she might escape
the bride-choosing; for this I am in deep disgrace, and under orders to
leave Moscow immediately.’

‘Ah, never doubt it, this is not the true reason, this about Vera
Kurbatof! The Regent is a fox, and she has seen that Praskovia Soltikof
loves thee; this is the cause of thy disgrace. Oh, good, good!’

‘Well, it may be so,’ I said, adopting Olga’s idea, since it fitted well
enough into my own fiction. ‘At any rate, I must go or remain in
disguise. Therefore, if we marry we must marry in disguise, though,
indeed, I see no particular objection to that.’

‘Stay, let me think. No, it matters little. So it shall be. Afterwards I
will go to her and will bid her wish me joy of my marriage: she will ask
me the name of my lover, and oh! the telling her will atone for
much--how she will pale and gasp with rage! Well, then, so be it, dear
Chelminsky; fix the hour and the place, and so it shall be!’

So far and so good for my plan, which prospered well. Only let Mazeppa
behave as foolishly as Olga, which in his present state he seemed likely
to do, and the matter would go smoothly enough.

Mazeppa was sick with love at this time: a sick fox with all his
foxiness gone out of him!

When I told Mazeppa of the rich Boyar who was ready to marry Vera
Kurbatof if the Tsar should not choose her, I told him the truth as I
had heard it from Vera’s own lips. She would no more marry this man than
the Tsar, she had said; and I had promised to help her in this as in the
other matter. Now I determined this trouble of the Boyar should help me
in my present designs. I therefore visited Mazeppa, who had left me
yesterday in anger.

‘Mazeppa, I will not quarrel with thee, my friend,’ I said, ‘and to
prove my good will, listen to what I have to tell thee. Vera is in
trouble about this Boyar. She has asked me for help, but the only way
for her out of this quandary is by marrying. This I told her, when I
soon perceived that if I would she would be prepared to marry myself
rather than stay to be mated with this fat old Boyar. Then it occurred
to me that here was an opportunity sent by Providence itself for your
convenience. For since I do not desire to marry the wench, while you are
sick with love for her, what should be simpler than that you pass for
me, and so carry her conveniently away?’

‘Fool! she would know me,’ growled Mazeppa; ‘you speak foolishly for
jest.’

‘No, it is no jest, it is a good plan; nevertheless, if you like it not,
leave it and the girl also; what is it to me? I am sorry I took the
trouble to think out so good a scheme for a lover whose ardour is not
equal to the trouble of carrying it out.’

I made a show of departing, but Mazeppa called me back.

‘Stop,’ he said; ‘maybe I spoke hastily. I could, of course, wear
disguise----’

‘You must do that in any case, and she also, for safety’s sake,’ said
I. ‘She is well known, and might be recognised by the priest.’

‘She will hate me for deceiving her in this way; for, if what you say is
true, it is you she desired to wed.’

‘Bah! a woman soon forgives such things, especially when the other--that
is I in this case--has deceived her. Moreover, she would not marry me
for love, though we are good friends; it is rather the desire to escape
this fat Boyar than to gain me. The wench is driven distracted, first by
the danger at the _terem_, now by this. I have left the matter open in
case it should please you to do as I suggest, for I shall not do myself
as she wishes. If you agree, it is easy for me to return and tell her
that I have decided to marry her rather than let the Boyar have her.’

Mazeppa considered awhile.

‘I would rather she married me of her knowledge and free will, which no
doubt I should have gained with opportunity; but, as you know, I have
determined to possess this woman, and if she is not to be had one way,
she must be secured another way.’

‘That is wisdom,’ I said. ‘Do you know a priest who will not ask
questions, but will be ready to marry a disguised pair and pocket his
fee without desiring to know too much?’

‘I know the very man!’ exclaimed Mazeppa, growing obviously more in love
with my plan as it became more familiar to his imagination. ‘I will go
forth and settle with him at once, Chelminsky; why should we wait? The
girl is in danger. I have no more business in Moscow. By the saints, I
will wed her to-morrow and we shall travel together to the Ukraine!
After all, my son, you have done well by me!’



CHAPTER XXVIII


Mazeppa was of opinion next day that, since he must be married in
disguise, it would be well to have a witness both on his own side and
upon the lady’s. ‘And since you, naturally, will not do,’ he laughed,
‘it so happens that young Shedrine the Cossack is in town and will do
well for the office.’ Shedrine would do excellently, and since he had
come as the envoy of Samoilovitch, the Hetman, bidding Mazeppa return
quickly to his duties, the marriage was opportune indeed.

‘As to a witness for Vera,’ said Mazeppa; ‘has she one, or will Olga
Panief serve? Olga has not quarrelled with Vera, I believe, but with the
Soltikof maiden.’

With difficulty I restrained an exclamation.

‘You have not mentioned the matter to Olga?’ I said anxiously.

‘Not I--there is no soul who has learned of it from me.’

‘Good! I do not think Olga will do; she is not so discreet as some, and
might gabble.’

‘Well, find whom you will, and settle your time with her; then I can
tell the priest and my witness, and within twenty-four hours we shall be
married.’

So I settled with Olga for the evening, telling Mazeppa the time
arranged: and so I left my two innocents to their fate.

And since I had no desire to be suddenly fallen upon and perhaps
murdered in my sleep by the enraged pair when they should have awakened
to the true state of affairs and the pretty jumble they had made of
matters, I removed myself into a new lodging, nearer the house of the
Boyar Kurbatof; for now that my enemies were out of the way I intended
to lay a more definite siege to the heart of my most beautiful Vera.

Nevertheless I lay hid for two days, and when I did go forth I went
armed, and almost the first person I met in the street was the young
Cossack Shedrine whom Mazeppa had suggested as witness.

I hoped he would pass me by without recognition, but he saw me, and as
though involuntarily his hand went to his sword, but it wandered away
again.

‘Well, this is a pretty trick you have played,’ he said. ‘What was your
object, Chelminsky, may I be bold to inquire?’

‘A matter of high politics which you are too young to understand,
Shedrine; therefore I will not explain.’

‘As you will,’ he said, ‘but beware how you meet Mazeppa, and still more
be careful of Olga Panief: she is a mad woman, my friend. It was hard
upon Mazeppa to marry him to a wild, witless thing like Olga.’

‘Bah! She is sane enough, but she is angry. She is jealous of the
Tsaritsa-elect, by whose arts she imagines that she was forestalled. But
tell me, did the marriage pass off without interruption?’

‘Assuredly; they were married. I have seen many a quarrelsome pair, but
save me from such another married couple as this!’

‘Tell me, tell me, Shedrine!’ I exclaimed. ‘Tell me quickly: I perish to
hear all.’

‘Well, the ceremony was performed by the priest, I being witness and
bridegroom’s attendant--some old frump sent by you, I believe, was her
witness. It seems Mazeppa believed he was marrying one Vera Kurbatof,
and Olga thought that her disguised husband was yourself. It appears
also that you are the delinquent in this matter from first to last: at
any rate, both parties cursed you well, and it is you upon whom they
have vowed vengeance.’

‘But stay, Shedrine, you go too fast. Is Mazeppa in Moscow, and is she?
Are they together as man and wife? Do they recognise the rite performed
over them? How and when did they discover the mistake?’

‘Mazeppa is in Moscow, so is Olga: they are not together, nor have been
since the first half-hour of marriage. They both deny the marriage,
which is nevertheless a marriage, and they discovered the “mistake” as
soon as they were out of the church, when Olga threw off her disguise,
saying that Chelminsky might wear his if he chose, but for her there was
no reason. Then Mazeppa suddenly uttered a great curse, and, tearing his
own wraps from his face, glared at her and she back at him. Then Olga,
with a yell which may have been intended for spoken words, but was not
so understood by me, flew at her newly-won husband and struck at him so
fiercely that Mazeppa actually drew his sword.

‘“Do not kill her, Mazeppa,” cried I. “Do you not see that she has been
duped as well as you?”

‘“Let the shrieking fool keep her distance then and be quiet,” he said,
furious with rage, “or by all the devils I will spit her as she
deserves. Are you mad that you have played this trick upon me, you
she-devil?” he cried--never was man so furious--“Who bade you put your
pestilent self in place of the other wench?”

‘“What other wench?” she shrieked back. “It is you that shall be
spitted, you cheat and liar, for playing me this trick: be not deceived,
your sword shall not for ever protect you, as now!”

‘Then Mazeppa turned upon me. “What in the devil’s name does this mean,
Shedrine?” he said. “How did this she-devil come here? Is it a trick of
Chelminsky’s?”

‘“I know nothing,” said I. “I have not seen Chelminsky, and know not
what he may have or may not have to do with it.”

‘Then both cursed, and she shrieked, and the horrors of death and
judgment were heaped by both upon your head; and Olga Panief grew so mad
in her rage that I was obliged with Mazeppa’s help to gag her--no easy
matter, be sure: after which Mazeppa procured a _kibitka_ and had her
carried away, Heaven knows where. It is not for me to interfere between
man and wife, therefore I have not been near him since; and indeed I am
not anxious to meet either of them unless they shall have calmed down
into reasonable human beings. Olga will certainly kill you if she can,
my friend; and as for Mazeppa, you are rash to make an enemy of him, as
I thought you should have known!’

‘That is my affair, Shedrine: I am not afraid of Mazeppa. For the rest,
I do but pay old scores upon both. Thanks for the warning, however: I
shall go with open eyes and ears!’

This I did for several days, but ran into no danger that I knew of, and
at the end of the third day I saw her for whose sake I lingered in
Moscow, and ran unknown risks for the great desire to catch sight of her
face and to hear her voice--Vera.

I saw her come from the house in the charge of her old nurse; and when
Vera at the same instant caught sight of me she sent the old woman back
within doors upon some pretext, and while she was absent my beloved took
the opportunity to walk with me down the street, for, she said, ‘I have
much to say.’

Then Vera told me that she was in great trouble both with the old Boyar
and with Mazeppa, who, for the last three days, had been constantly in
the house proffering his suit against that of the rich Boyar Astashof.

‘_Mazeppa!_’ I exclaimed, ‘does he dare----’

‘He both dares and, I fear, he progresses well with his suit. He has
become very friendly with my father, declaring that as Hetman of the
Cossacks--which he vows he will be before many years, or perhaps months,
are out--he will rank but little below the kings of the earth;
therefore, says Mazeppa, he is not a suitor to be quickly denied.’

‘At any rate, I can prove that Mazeppa, whether Hetman or braggart, is
no fitting suitor for thy hand, Vera,’ I said, laughing, ‘for he is
married already!’

Then I told her the story of my trick upon these two; and at my manner
of paying off old scores Vera could not help laughing, though she
expressed herself alarmed on my account.

‘Both are dangerous enemies,’ she said, ‘and of a kind to hesitate at no
act of vengeance, however terrible. For the love of Christ, Chelminsky,
be careful,’ she ended, ‘how you go and how you meet either.’

‘If you care that I should be watchful, I will watch,’ said I; but Vera
did not reply, only dropping for a moment her eyes.

‘Now I understand,’ she continued presently, ‘why Mazeppa has spoken so
bitterly of you during these days. You are forbidden the house, you must
know. He has informed my father that it was none but you who concealed
and befriended me at the Diévitchy; who even fought and bled to prevent
my being taken to the _terem_. For this my father will no longer have
your name spoken.’

‘And meanwhile you are in danger once again. What can I do, Vera? How
shall I help you?’

‘Tell me quickly where I may find you. Here is the _nyanka_ returning;
she must not see me with you.’

I told Vera where I lodged, and we parted suddenly, for the old woman
came scolding up to meet her. From far down the road my charmer sent me
a wave of the hand, and I stood and cursed the old hag who had come too
soon between me and heaven!



CHAPTER XXIX


Vera’s news disquieted me much. To know that Mazeppa was daily at her
house poisoning her father’s mind against me was not pleasant knowledge.
And I was to be refused admittance! Well, I could scarcely expect the
Boyar, her father, to be greatly pleased with me since he had learned of
my conduct in taking Vera’s part against his commands.

As I came near my lodgings that evening someone suddenly ran out from
the shadow of a house and made a wild swoop at me with a knife. She was
muffled to the eyes, but I should have guessed it was Olga Panief even
if she had not spoken.

I easily avoided the blow, and, catching her wrist, compelled her to
drop the weapon.

‘Now, you fury,’ I said, ‘we are equals for the jilting at Batourin. In
future you will think twice before treating an honest love in such
fashion: I loved you and meant honestly by you. Will you promise that
you will leave me in peace henceforward?’

‘Not I; you are not fit to live, cheat and liar! I shall kill you at
sight at the first opportunity.’

‘There may be no opportunity. I have heard you say such things that if I
were to report them you should be knouted into your grave before you
were many hours older. Have you forgotten bidding me slay the
Tsaritsa-elect, your rival, for no better reason than jealousy?’

‘No one would believe such as you,’ she snapped; ‘you have no proofs.’

‘You made the same proposal to Mazeppa. He will be glad to witness you
out of the world; as his wife you are a tie to him.’

She struggled furiously at these words, but I would not let her go, and
upon her knife I placed my foot for safety.

Then she began to scream like a mad woman, calling me shameful and
dreadful names, and vowing that not only I should die, but also the
Tsaritsa-elect and Mazeppa, and I know not who else besides.

At the noise a body of Streltsi came up, ten men, to inquire what the
noise meant.

Olga was subdued at sight of them, and looked sullenly as they
approached; but she stopped her screaming and waited.

The leader asked me what in the fiend’s name was all the noise they had
heard.

‘It is my poor sister here,’ I explained, ‘who suffers from paroxysms of
madness, of which one has just passed over her.’

‘Then see that she behaves quietly, or she shall find there is authority
in Moscow.’

They withdrew laughing and talking among themselves.

‘I will tell them the truth next time, Olga,’ I said; ‘I swear
it!--therefore take heed what you do.’

‘Next time I may make a better stroke,’ said Olga sullenly. ‘I am
determined that you shall not live; you are not fit, neither is
Praskovia Soltikof. We shall see whether they who offend me shall laugh
or weep!’

With that she withdrew and disappeared, the poorer by her dagger, which
I carried away with me.

Afterwards I wished I had allowed the Streltsi to take the fool, for,
though I fear not the open assault of men, it is different to know that
there is a mad and furious woman at large who may rush out upon one at
any moment. Such knowledge is apt to make a coward of a brave man.

Soon after this a message reached me from Vera Kurbatof. It was
written, and I spelled it out with difficulty, being but a moderate
_gramatny_ or scholar. The message ran, ‘I am in danger again; come at
noon to-morrow.’

This message filled me with joy, for I longed hourly to see the maiden.
Never up to this day had woman taken such hold upon my heart; all other
loves of my life had been but surface scratches, but this time I was
sore wounded. I was in that foolish state when there is no rest except
the beloved is at hand.

I went disguised; for, since I was to be denied admittance in my own
name, it was useless, I thought, to attempt it or to force it. Therefore
I borrowed the dress of a _Raznóschick_, a fellow who carries a covered
tray of cakes for sale. Such dealers are admitted, I knew, into the
apartments of the ladies, who buy largely of their wares.

I spoke with the doorkeeper, bidding him obtain for me the permission of
the Barishnya to enter the ladies’ quarter with my cakes, since she and
her women were old customers of mine.

The man parleyed, and there was talking and arguing, and in the midst a
man entered from the street behind me. I took no notice, being intent
upon obtaining access to Vera, parleying and quarrelling with the
doorkeeper.

Suddenly the new arrival placed his arms tightly round my own from
behind, so that--being both held by him and hampered by my cake-tray, I
could not move.

‘A _Raznóschick’s_ dress does not conceal Chelminsky’s voice,’ said one,
whose tone I recognised in a moment for Mazeppa’s. ‘I have thee, my
friend, at last. Go quickly, you porter, and fetch others to help. Shout
for them to come!--this is a rascal in disguise, a cut-throat, a robber;
be sure he’s come for no good!’

With a cry of horror the doorkeeper flung himself to the end of the
hall, where he rang a bell and shouted names. I struggled, but could
obtain no purchase for my efforts, which were useless.

Four or five men were quickly upon the scene. Mazeppa addressed them
with authority.

‘Take this bad character and carry him to the flog-room. I will see the
Boyar and obtain permission for his knouting.’

‘Do not get me knouted, Mazeppa,’ I said; ‘take your sword, rather, and
run me through!’ Then I added, recovering dignity, ‘The Boyar will never
dare knout a free Cossack, of family as good as his own, and ten times
better than yours!’

Mazeppa replied not a word; but he bade the fellows tie me tight, for,
said he, ‘He is a desperate character, and the house is not safe with
him in it!’

So here was I locked up in the flog-room, and with the prospect of a
knouting before me: a terrible and intolerable disgrace for one of my
rank, and Vera as far off as ever, if not more hopelessly removed from
me than before.

I was bound hands and feet; if they came to knout me I could make no
resistance. I know not exactly how long I awaited my fate; the moments
crawled maggot-slow. If I were knouted and survived the shame, I told
myself, I should never speak to Mazeppa if we met face to face; I should
strike out at sight; neither should I take any rest until I had killed
him or he me.

I suppose but a few minutes had in reality passed by--though the
maggot-footed time seemed to be the beginning of Eternity--when at
length steps approached, and my heart stood still to await my doom.

There entered Mazeppa and one other--a burly, middle-aged man, a wealthy
Boyar by his furred and jewelled kaftan--Vera’s father, Kurbatof.

‘So this is the fellow that did his best to defeat my wishes by keeping
Vera from the _terem_? Why did you this, sir?’ said the Boyar.

I decided to speak boldly. ‘Because I desired her for myself, Boyar.
What manner of a husband would the Tsar be for such as your daughter?
She should marry a man, not a plaster figure!’

‘And who in the devil’s name are you, then?’ said old Kurbatof,
astonished at my boldness.

‘I own to as good a name as even your own--Chelminsky. It is one of the
best of our Cossack names; not like Mazeppa’s there, which he picked up
Heaven knows where--no Cossack knows it! I am a better suitor than he,
Boyar. He tells you doubtless that he will be Hetman; but it is also
possible that I shall be so, and not he; for I have a Tsar behind me,
and he a Regent. Moreover,’ I added, suddenly inspired, ‘Mazeppa is
already married: this I can prove.’

‘Oh--oh!’ exclaimed the Boyar.

‘It is so,’ I persisted, ‘even though he deny it.’

Mazeppa seemed too startled and astonished to speak. The Boyar looked to
him for an explanation.

‘It is a lie, Boyar!’ he stammered at length.

‘Bah!’ said Kurbatof, ‘lying is a sin and forbidden by God; which of you
is lying?’

‘At any rate, I can bring witnesses,’ said I. ‘Let me go, Boyar; I am no
common fellow to be kept bound in a knout-room; this is an indignity.’

‘Nevertheless, you have wronged this household, and ought to be
punished. A man of your rank may not be knouted, but I will consider
what should be done. Do you say Mazeppa is already married?’

‘As I can easily prove.’

‘Well, I will question you again. In the meantime you shall remain where
you are.’

With which the Boyar left me, beckoning Mazeppa after him, who--I doubt
not--flooded him with a torrent of fierce denials in contradiction of my
statement, so that I know not whether I should soon have escaped from my
prison, but that the door suddenly opened, and who but Vera should
appear.

She beckoned me to silence; then she removed my bonds and showed me a
way out of the house by a side door. When we stood safely without she
explained that she had sent for me because she greatly mistrusted
Mazeppa. Her father was inclined to let her marry the rich Russian Boyar
rather than the Cossack adventurer, and, said Vera, ‘if he so decides, I
do not trust Mazeppa.’

‘What do you fear?’ I asked.

‘He will not take no for an answer. If he cannot have me by fair means,
he will secure me by foul.’

Exactly the words Mazeppa himself had once used in speaking of his
intention with regard to Vera.

‘Then you would have me keep a watch upon him?’ said I, and Vera begged
me with brimming eyes to watch her father’s house as a cat listens at a
mouse-hole, closing never an eye.



CHAPTER XXX


The Kurbatof mansion lay in a suburb of the city: it was a large wooden
house, horse-shoe shaped, like most of the houses of the richer
inhabitants in the outskirts of Moscow. There was a gardener’s room or
hut at the great gate, and because it would be difficult to watch Vera’s
home from the street, since there was no house opposite, and only a road
deep in filth, without pavement to stand upon or any place behind in
which to shelter oneself, I thought it better to make a friend, if I
could, of the gardener or his wife--for the whole family of brats as
well as their parents herded in the little hut at the gate, the
atmosphere of which, within doors, was terrible to a Cossack nose and
lungs, accustomed to the fresh air and much exposure.

I therefore provided myself with _pränniki_ for the children and
presented myself at the gate at dusk. The good folks bowed low as to a
Barin, and were for opening the great gate to let me in; but I informed
them, to their surprise, that I only desired to see the Barishnya Vera
when she should pass this way upon her morning walk. My mission, I
said, was so private that I dare not go to the house to see her. ‘You
will find, when the Barishnya sets eyes upon me, that I am a welcome
guest!’ I added, smiling. ‘I desire her no harm, nor yet anyone, unless
it be her enemies.’

The man scratched his head.

‘Are you known to the Boyar?’ he asked.

‘I am known to the Boyar,’ I replied, ‘and I have, moreover, for those
who serve me kindly--this!’

I showed a silver rouble, at which he looked greedily.

‘And who are these enemies the Barin speaks of?’ the man asked
cautiously. ‘Can so beautiful, so adorable a Barishnya have enemies?’

‘You will see, if you allow me to abide a while here, that she both has
enemies and that if necessary her friends--as myself--should be
constantly on the watch at this time, lest they do her an injury.’

‘Do her an injury?’ squealed the gardener’s wife with fury. ‘The
rascals! The villains! Would you have her enemies do our Barishnya an
injury, Vaiseuk? Let this Barin do as he desires, I say; he will put her
upon her guard. Take the rouble and let him come in!’

‘Peace, Masha, fool!’ said Vaiseuk. ‘Well, give me the rouble,’ he
continued, holding out his hand. ‘The Barishnya shall see you from a
safe distance as she passes out, and we shall soon know if you are
friend or enemy!’

Thus I was able to take up the best of positions, and old Vaiseuk was
soon justified in his confidence in me; for when Vera passed out and
caught sight of me, she gave an exclamation of such joyful surprise that
he quickly found I was indeed the friend I had declared myself.

‘You see I am here, Vera, and here shall remain until you tell me I need
watch no longer,’ I said. ‘Tell my good friend Vaiseuk to let me be his
guest and to keep his mouth shut.’

Vera joyfully did so. ‘This is my best of friends,’ she explained, ‘who
has saved me from much misery already, and is now busy in my service.’

‘_Dooshinka_,’ exclaimed the man’s wife, ‘what enemies can you have? Do
not all people love you?’

‘Perhaps some whom she would rather unlove her, Matushka,’ I laughed.
‘Some there are who love her so well that they would carry her from her
home!’

‘Oh, oh!’ said the old woman. ‘Save her from such, Barin, and all the
saints will bless you!’

Thus I was established in my watch tower, and there for two whole days
and nights I lived, and a third day, and during all that time, though
many visitors came and went, I never saw Mazeppa.

‘Which means this,’ thought I: ‘he has given up hope of the fair means,
and will trust to the foul to effect his purpose, which of course is the
stealing of Vera!’ And, sure enough, on the evening of the third day I
saw Mazeppa. He came at dusk, and stayed but a few moments at the house;
then he returned and departed as stealthily as he had come.

Now I must watch indeed, thought I, for it may well be he came to make
his final arrangements, having friends or a friend within who will carry
out his designs, whatsoever they may be!

And when night fell, and the gardener and his family snored in concert,
I heard the rumble of some kind of light _dormése_ or travelling
carriage in the road without. The horses pulled up within twenty paces
of the great gates and there remained, impatiently pawing the mud,
shaking themselves, and making the usual noises of waiting horses.

No man spoke, excepting occasionally to utter a curse or a word when one
of the animals became fidgety. This was not Mazeppa’s voice; if he was
there he remained silent.

Half an hour passed, and another half, and at last I heard stealthy
sounds from the direction of the house. A door was softly opened, and
steps came towards the gate. Then in the dim light of the stars I
perceived two men carrying a burden; but since neither sound nor
movement came from it, this could not be Vera nor any other living
being; therefore, I thought, I must be mistaken by a coincidence, for
some thief or thieves within the household have chosen this night for
carrying away some of the Boyar’s property--a matter which concerns me
not at all so long as it be not his daughter.

I crept softly from the hut, keeping in the shadow, and watched the two
fellows place their bundle within the carriage that awaited them. In
this carriage there was but one man besides the driver: this fellow
received their burden from the other two, who then returned to the
house. The driver shook his reins and the horses started.

A common piece of night stealing and no more, and I had hoped for Heaven
knows what to happen--something by which I might exalt myself and abase
Mazeppa, and at the same time add another point to my credit with the
fair Vera, with whom I must stand ever higher and higher and Mazeppa
lower and lower.

Then this thought suddenly occurred to me: What if the fox Mazeppa
should have arranged this matter after some devil’s way of his own
devising? If this burden should, after all, be Vera herself, gagged or
drugged, or what not--and he, not desiring to run into danger himself,
be waiting somewhere to join the party, once the danger is over!

And now that this idea had entered my brain it speedily overmastered
every other thought.

Fool that I had been to be so easily gulled, and faithless watchman! Oh!
if Mazeppa had bettered me and had indeed carried Vera away!

The rumble of the carriage wheels was still audible, though now at some
distance away; at any rate, I might follow and note, at least, which
road was taken from the city; then I could run for my horse and pursue.

So off went I down the road at full run, and, going as I was at full
speed, I gained upon the horses, as I could tell by the sound.

Suddenly the rumble ceased--they had stopped; they were about, I
guessed, to pick up Mazeppa, who waited in safety while others undertook
the dangerous portion of his enterprise--the fox! If only I could
overtake the carriage before it recommenced its journey! I made
desperate efforts. I rushed into the street called Troitsky just in time
to come close to a large _dormése_ as the wheels began to move and the
horses to strain at the traces.

I almost shrieked aloud in Mazeppa’s name to stop, but remembered in
time that would be a false move; for assuredly, if he should hear me
call to him, he would drive the faster.

But I was in desperate straits, for my breath was almost spent, and,
though I followed still, I felt not only that I lost ground, but that I
must soon cease to move even as rapidly as now, for I was utterly
exhausted.



CHAPTER XXXI


One of the city gates lay in this direction: that which gave upon the
road leading to our own home, the Ukraine. I must at least make sure
that Mazeppa intended to take this road. That much ascertained I might
rest a little while, or even, perhaps, return for my horse.

Meanwhile the rumble of the wheels in front of me grew fainter with
distance; if it had not been night time, and this the only sound
audible, I should have lost it long since.

Suddenly I did lose it. Either they were already at the gate and had
stopped to be allowed to pass out by the sleepy custodian, or I had
fallen out of the range of earshot.

I made a last effort, using all my remaining strength to cover a few
hundred yards in case they should be delayed at the gate, and presently
I was rewarded by hearing the carriage wheels once more, this time much
nearer.

But I could run no further. I staggered forward at a walk and reached
the gate; the noise of the wheels had passed out of hearing.

A drowsy peasant in a cart drawn by a little horse which walked in its
sleep, according to the custom of these little Finnish or Russian
ponies, had just passed into the city. This man sulkily informed me that
some Barin had just passed out in his travelling carriage. To the
gatekeeper he had given his destination as Kief.

Then I stood and thought for a moment, and as the result of my
reflections I hastened homewards for my horse, old Boris, who would
carry me to the Ukraine at a gallop if I but shook the reins and laid
them upon his neck.

But my lodgings were a long way from this part of the city, and it was
nearly an hour before I was back again at the gate and after my quarry.
That would matter little if I could keep upon their track; but Mazeppa,
being a fox, would employ every device to set possible pursuers at their
wit’s end. Therefore I concluded that whichsoever of the many branching
roads he might have chosen for his flight it would not be the Kiefsky
road, since he had given that city as his destination.

Yet even in this Mazeppa showed wheels within wheels of subtlety, for it
proved in the end that he had actually done that which anyone knowing
him would suppose to be the most unlikely thing of all, having selected
the very road which he had named. And it must be confessed that he thus
completely outwitted me, for I spent all that first night in galloping
desperately down one road and then another, finding no trace of the
fugitives anywhere; and when, at morning, it was necessary to give Boris
a rest, I was no wiser as to their whereabouts than I had been when I
left the gates of Moscow last night.

But Boris and I were used to hard work together, and we rested but a few
hours before recommencing our search. Suffice to say that forty-eight
priceless hours had been wasted in fruitless ridings forward and
backward before I felt sure that we were at last upon the right track.

‘Now for a long and hard gallop, Boris, my friend,’ said I, patting his
neck, and away went the good horse upon a scent nearly two days old, and
lo! to my surprise and delight, on the third night I ran into the
quarry.

It was at midnight that we rode up to a post-house upon the Kiefsky
road. I did not expect more than news of the fugitives: they had passed,
I should be told, so many hours before; yet when the night groom came
forward to take my orders he began by telling me, if I desired the
_nochliog_, or night’s rest, I must sleep in the stable, for wonderful
things were happening here.

‘Never mind the wonderful things, fool; tell me quickly how long since
there passed a _dormése_ containing a man and a woman, besides the
driver?’

‘It has not passed at all,’ said the fellow, grinning and scratching his
head, ‘because it is still here!’

‘Come into the stable quickly!’ I said, fearful lest he should be heard,
supposing that this wondrous thing were really true. ‘Now,’ I continued,
when we had entered the horse-shed and closed the door, ‘tell me what
you were going to say at first.’

‘The man is sleeping in the travelling carriage because the woman has
barricaded herself in the post-room; this is the second night: the
postmaster argues and scolds all day, but it is useless. “If he tries to
come in here,” says the woman, “he shall be killed!” As for the man, he
laughs and says, “We shall see what will happen when her stomach craves
for food!” “God knows,” says the master, “how it will end!”’

‘That I will soon show you, my friend,’ said I, ‘for I have come to end
it!’

I hastened to the post-room. ‘If you don’t wish to be slit in two halves
or have your brains set flowing, go not near that mad thing,’ said the
groom. ‘Lord! you should hear her cry out at the other!’

Disregarding his warnings, to his great alarm I knocked at the door of
the post-room, saying it was I, Chelminsky, come to deliver her.

‘Ah,’ said Vera’s voice from within, ‘it is that devil, assuming
Chelminsky’s voice. I am not so easily deceived, Mazeppa!’

‘It is indeed I, Vera,’ said I joyously. ‘I have followed you with
difficulty, but I have found you at last.’

‘Oh!’ cried she from within, ‘it sounds like Chelminsky; but dare I open
and risk it? Remember, if it is you, Mazeppa, you devil, that if you
touch me you die--I swear it again and again.’

‘How shall I prove it to you that I am I?’ said I in despair. ‘I was
watching in Vaiseuk’s hut and saw you carried out by night. Is that
proof?’

Then Vera opened the door a little and peeped out, and with a cry of joy
she threw it open and fell upon me with tears and embraces, which latter
I returned with interest, being the first I had given or received from
this modest and splendid maiden.

‘Now, shut yourself up once again, for I shall first settle accounts
with Mazeppa,’ said I. ‘In case he should better me, you will be worse
off than before!’

‘No, I will see this account settled,’ she said; and when I bade her
take her sword or her pistol, or whatsoever it was she had had with her
in the room--that with which she threatened to take his life if he
should have attempted the door--she told me to my surprise that she had
nothing!

‘Threats are good weapons against some foes,’ she said, laughing!

Nevertheless I gave Vera my own dagger, for I liked not that she should
be unarmed, in case of accident, and bade her keep it in her bosom.

Then we went to find Mazeppa in his _dormése_, wherein he slept soundly.

‘Awake, Mazeppa,’ I cried, ‘for I am here!’

He opened his eyes and saw me, saw Vera also; yet he did not become
confused or show terror or surprise even in the moment of waking.

‘What, you, Chelminsky,’ he said, ‘and come so far after this baggage?
Well, take her, my friend, if you think her worth the having; as for me,
I have changed my opinion!’

‘I shall certainly take her,’ said I, ‘and that without your permission;
but first you shall fight me----’

‘What, for her sake? Dear man! believe me, she is not worth it: I have
spent three days in her company, and it is enough. If you are wise, let
the fat Russian Boyar have her. We were right to save her from the
puling little Tsar! They two would breed devils and idiots to rule
Russia withal!’

‘Fie, Mazeppa,’ said I, ‘a Cossack and a coward!’

‘Lord, man, you know better than that! I like you, Chelminsky; we are
old friends. I nearly got you knouted the other day, but I was angry; I
wanted the wench here, knowing no better. Now it is different. I will
not fight on her account--the she-devil! I have scratches upon me from
her nails, and kicks from her feet. Another day I will fight, if you
will, upon somewhat better pretext.’

‘Get out of the _dormése_, then,’ I said, ‘for I require it for this
lady.’

‘What!’ said he, climbing out nevertheless, ‘you will not be advised?
Let her go, man, and come back with me: I know her better than you. I
have had some experience with women.’

‘Mazeppa, the married man!’ Vera laughed suddenly.

‘True,’ said he, ‘there is that little affair, too, Chelminsky: some day
we may exchange a few passes, but not to-night. It is scarcely worth a
man’s while to be wakened--much less to be obliged to draw a sword--upon
so trifling a matter as the destination of a scolding woman. Take her,
man, or let her go to the devil: as for me, I shall sleep.’

With these words Mazeppa withdrew to the post-house, and we saw no more
of him. I ought, perhaps, to have chastised him or forced him to fight;
but his attitude surprised and silenced me, and I think I felt some
admiration for a man who could accept defeat so excellently.



CHAPTER XXXII


When I restored Vera to her father, which I did, be sure, not without
some pomp and posturing, he looked at me in astonishment.

‘Why,’ said he, ‘is not this the youth I was to have knouted? You are
the Cossack Chelminsky!’

‘Certainly I am,’ I admitted.

‘One Cossack takes her and the other brings her back! One Cossack
prevents her marrying with the Tsar, and the other entreats me for her
hand, saying he will be Hetman and the brother and equal of kings. When
I do not trust him, and will marry her to a great Russian Boyar, Mazeppa
runs away with her and Chelminsky brings her back! What is Mazeppa’s
next move?’

‘Oh, you have done with Mazeppa, Boyar, fear not: ask, if you will, what
is Chelminsky’s next move; that is different!’

‘Well,’ said the old man, ‘what is it?’

‘Chelminsky says,’ I replied, ‘that he too has been promised the
Hetmanate of the Cossacks, and that he would claim this Vera for his
own!’

‘A cool request, indeed!’ exclaimed the Boyar, laughing; ‘but I trust no
more Cossacks! What, will you both be Hetman of the same province at the
same time?’

‘If Mazeppa had the word of a Tsar to back his chance, so had I: there
are two Tsars in Russia.’

‘Oh, oh!’ laughed the Boyar, ‘and each Tsar will nominate one Hetman,
and the stronger of these shall cut the throat of the other. Is that how
the matter shall be? Or shall the greater liar or deceiver prevail over
the lesser, both being Cossacks?’

‘Well, I will bring you the Tsar Peter’s word,’ I said angrily, ‘and we
shall see whether you dare speak thus of him whom the Tsar has promised
to support.’

‘Now this grows interesting,’ said the Boyar. ‘What! are the joint Tsars
to unjoin in order that Chelminsky may oust Mazeppa, or Mazeppa
Chelminsky, in the headship of a few Cossack thieves? Leave the Tsar
alone, Chelminsky, and leave my girl alone also, and return among your
Cossacks. The wench shall marry a Russian. She might have called herself
Tsaritsa: maybe she still might, if she would! If she will not marry
the Tsar, she shall marry some Russian who lags not so very far behind
him in power and in wealth, but neither a Mazeppa nor a Chelminsky.’

I left Kurbatof in wrath, vowing that he should sing a different tune
when the Tsar Peter, that young lion, began to roar. Meanwhile I
presented myself at Preobrajensky, where I found the ‘Pleasure Regiment’
grown larger than ever, and its drilling busily proceeding; and though
the tall young Tsar himself played with the troops as though they were
no more realities than so many companies or squadrons of tin soldiers,
there were many officers, both young and old, who were much in earnest.

The Tsar was greatly diverted by my story of Vera, and of how Mazeppa
had nearly carried her away to the Ukraine and I had brought her back.

‘Is she so fair that she has made fools of two Cossacks?’ he laughed.

‘Ask his Highness Ivan Alexeyevitch whether she is fair,’ I said: ‘this
is she who so nearly was Tsaritsa!’

‘Hey, but our little Praskovia was not to be surpassed. What said we,
Chelminsky, eh? Who would have thought my poor Vanushka would prove
himself a man of such good taste, or went he solely on the advice I
sent him? My mother declared it would be all one to Ivan whether he
married this maid or that; but I say he knows one from another, and
some, I am told, would have given an eye to marry him!’

The Tsar Peter laughed much over this matter, namely, that Ivan should
have shown preference for a maiden and that some should have desired to
marry him. ‘Well, then,’ he ended, ‘as to this Vera Kurbatof, what would
you do?’

‘I have out-foxed Mazeppa,’ I said, ‘and would have the fruits of my
victory. Her father’s head is turned by her almost success at the
bride-choosing, and he will not hear of me.’

‘How would it be to tell the fool you may one day be Hetman?’ laughed
Peter; but when I declared I had done so, and that Mazeppa had made the
same boast, he looked grave.

‘If that be so, and he prefers to believe that the Regent’s word for
Mazeppa will prevail over my word for Chelminsky, how shall he be
persuaded except he wait to see the matter proved?’

‘Write me a word on paper, Tsar,’ I said; ‘maybe it is my word he
disbelieves, not yours.’

‘To be shown by him to the Regent, and she to be put upon her guard? You
speak like a fool, Chelminsky, and a dangerous fool! I wish your tongue
had not wagged of this. Will the fool blab to my sister that I have said
this and that?

‘Fear not, Tsar, for at present he thinks nothing of the matter,
misbelieving all that I have said and all that Mazeppa has said. We are,
he says, two Cossack liars, and there is an end of the matter.’

‘And a good end too!’ exclaimed Peter. ‘Well, when I come to town for
St. Ivan’s Day, which is early next week, it may be I shall go with you
to see this Kurbatof, and if we find that he is a discreet Boyar, and
one likely to be of service to me (supposing that certain things
presently happen which Boutourlin and some of the others think
possible), I will show him that you are my man, and that he might do
worse for this wench of his than let you have her.’

And thus, perforce, I was obliged to leave the matter for the present.

I went with Tsar Peter, or rather among those who accompanied his
Highness, to the Cathedral within the Kremlin, in Moscow, for the solemn
service of St. Ivan’s Day, and waited near him at the great entrance
until the Tsar Ivan with the Regent should arrive and be greeted by the
crowds who awaited him, for this was his name’s day.

And presently there came driving up the great state carriage of her
Highness, and in it the Regent herself, the Tsar Ivan, Galitsin, who sat
as high as the Tsar, or higher, and--smiling radiantly, most beautiful,
the darling of the shouting crowd--Praskovia Soltikof, the
Tsaritsa-elect.

Striking was the contrast this day between that lovely maiden and him
whom she must presently own for husband and life-mate!

Ivan sat, timid, cowering from the people, angry to have been brought
among them, and frightened, but half understanding what passed, hiding
as well as he could from the crowd that stared and pointed and bowed and
laughed and shouted around.

She, the very flower and queen among women, proud and radiant, loving
the applause of the people and drinking it in like strong wine, smiling
back upon them, winning all hearts: truly a beautiful picture!

Sophia the Regent smiled also, happy to have brought this bride-choosing
to so good an issue and to see that the people applauded the choice of
the Tsar. Galitsin sat proud and stiff, neither smiling nor frowning,
but having an eye for every face in the crowds near the carriage,
anxious to read the thoughts of the people and if possible to hear their
opinions, as well as might be in the din and babel of sound about him.

And it was well indeed that there sat one in the carriage whose eyes
were wide open this day, and his quick brain alert to perceive all that
passed in the crowd, for otherwise it would have gone ill with the
Tsar’s beautiful young bride!

I, too, had been in danger without being aware of it until a few moments
before the arrival of the Tsar and the Regent.

For as I stood watching the crowd at the great door of the Cathedral,
together with the Tsar Peter and a number of his own people, I had
suddenly perceived Olga Panief.

She stood below, at the bottom of the steps and among the crowd, shawled
and half disguised, looking for me, I doubted not, the poor mad thing,
and anxious to do me an injury if she could come close enough. She had
not seen me, and I placed myself in such a way that she should not
perceive my face, though she could not have reached me even though she
had caught sight of me.

Nevertheless I kept a watchful eye upon her, for I would rather have no
share in a brawl with a mad woman, in the face of all Moscow.

But I might have been quite at my ease, for--as soon appeared--Olga had
another object this day for her murderous ire, and I was forgotten for
the moment.



CHAPTER XXXIII


As the Regent’s carriage drew near, all eyes being fixed upon it, and
principally upon the beautiful young Tsaritsa-elect, I saw Olga push her
way so as to be at the very door of it when it should draw up at the
steps; and as the wheels stopped she darted forward. Scarcely conscious
of what I did, I called aloud, ‘Soltikova, beware!’

I did not suppose that anyone had heard my cry, for a thousand other
voices were raised at the time in greeting to the great persons; but
Galitsin stood up as Olga was about to strike, and seized the girl’s
wrist. In her hand was a Tartar dagger, which, but for Galitsin, would
certainly have found its sheath in Praskovia Soltikof’s breast.

Then there was commotion indeed! The Tsar Ivan awoke suddenly from his
lethargy and screamed.

‘It is the mad one,’ he cried; ‘take her away, cut her down, Streltsi,
kill her--kill her!’

Praskovia Soltikof had grown pale, but she kept her wits. ‘Fear
nothing, Ivan,’ she said. ‘This poor maiden would strike me, not thee;
she is mad for jealousy. Do not kill her, Streltsi. Bethink thyself,
Olga, only one can win; it is the will of God. I have done thee no
injury except to gain the prize before thee.’

‘Is not that enough, she-devil?’ shrieked Olga, struggling in the hands
of the Streltsi who had seized her. ‘You have gained the prize not by
merit but by wicked arts----’

‘I have won because the Tsar has chosen me,’ said Praskovia, and here
the Regent interrupted.

‘Listen, people,’ she cried to those who stood near, ‘and judge for
yourselves how wisely the Tsar has decided who it is that shall sit with
him in the highest place! This other is a rival whom the Tsar has
rejected, and for envy she would murder the bride of the Tsar; yet her
victim intercedes for her! Such mercy is Christ-like! What shall be done
with this mad thing?’

‘Kill her!’ cried the Tsar, and some of the people shouted the same.
‘Spare her and let her go, as the Soltikova has said,’ cried others; and
I found myself crying lustily with these. ‘Spare her--she is one of
God’s unfortunates--madness is no crime!’ and so forth.

‘It shall be as the bride of the Tsar has said,’ cried Sophia. ‘Take her
away, Streltsi, but do not hurt her: we will find a place for her
later. The new Tsaritsa has taught us all mercy, people; cry “Oora” for
the Tsar’s bride--let her have a place in your hearts!’

Now at first I was surprised at the clemency of the Regent, but when I
thought over it I discerned that her motives were not the simple
promptings of a Christian charity, but political. This marriage of
Ivan’s was the most important matter for her. If Ivan had refused to
marry, her regency must end with Peter’s awakening, which could not be
delayed for ever. But once Ivan should have set a Tsaritsa at his side
who should presently provide heirs to the elder male line, why, let
Peter awake or sleep, it was all the same. Sophia would continue in her
regency on behalf of Ivan and of the heirs of his body. Moreover, it was
most desirable that the wife of Ivan should be well liked by the people;
for though between Ivan and Peter, if it came to choice, there could
scarcely be room for doubt which would be the accepted of the nation,
yet if Ivan’s Tsaritsa were to become very popular the choice might go
the other way for her sake and her children’s. Therefore Sophia, for
whose headpiece even the wisest of her day were ever ready to show
respect, was quick to take advantage of Praskovia’s kindness on this
first occasion, by letting the people see and understand what had
passed in order that the new Tsaritsa might take good root in their
hearts.

As for Praskovia Soltikof, she could afford to be generous and merciful.
Moreover, it may be that she also had an eye this day to the people!

And for Olga Panief, she at least had cause to offer up thanks to her
saint, for I think there could scarcely have been a score present who
did not expect to see her cut in pieces by the swords of the Streltsi
when it was discovered how great a crime she would have committed.

Tsar Peter was greatly diverted by this episode. Presently, when the two
brothers were together in the portico of the Cathedral, I observed tall
Peter smite weakly Ivan upon the shoulder so that the elder youth winced
and screwed his face with the pain, though he smiled quickly back upon
Peter, from whom he would gladly bear anything, so great was his love
and admiration for him.

‘Tell me, brother, how near came that Tartar to being the Tsaritsa?’ the
big one asked, laughing.

‘She was one of three,’ said Ivan, not so softly but that I overheard,
though I knew not whether Praskovia Soltikof did so. ‘She was one of
three--Vera Kurbatof, whom I chose but who would have none of me; this
mad devil, whom Sophia would have chosen for her good presence; and
Praskovia here, who chose herself. She brought also a recommendation
from thee.’

Ivan would always converse with Peter, though rarely with others.

‘Lord, brother, she would have made a fine Tsaritsa, this mad one,’
laughed Peter. ‘What a choice was thine, Sophia!’

‘She looks a Tsaritsa,’ said Sophia, frowning; ‘how should I know a
devil lurked within her? Few wear their dispositions on their sleeves
that others may take a warning, though, Lord knows! there are such even
in our family!’

‘Which means, in plain words, that there is a devil in me for all to
see!’ laughed Peter.

And the saying pleased him so well that he went among his friends
telling what her Highness said and what he said, and so forth.

As for Olga Panief, she was sent to the Diévitchy monastery, and a
pretty handful--I should say--the new Superior there must have found
her; indeed, as I happen to know, Olga soon earned for herself the
misery of solitary confinement, as a punishment for wildness and
foolishness such as the rest of the nuns could not tolerate.

But I was all afire to make sure of my beautiful Vera Kurbatof, and
therefore I gave Tsar Peter no peace until he should have redeemed his
promise to set this matter in order, if he could do so, to my advantage.

Now Peter was as yet but in his seventeenth year, though a giant in
size, and Kurbatof--that wealthy Boyar--had hitherto scarcely given this
Prince a thought; for it was clear to all people that Ivan being the
elder, and Sophia being full sister to Ivan and but half-sister to
Peter, it was probable she would retain the Regency and Ivan the
Tsarship. Peter was _nil_; this joint Tsarship, indeed, had been a
concession to the strength of the Naryshkin faction, but the day would
come when its influence would die out and disappear in the strength of
the Regent’s faction.

Therefore Kurbatof was inclined to think little of Tsar Peter, and
though he received him with respect, he was determined to let the youth
see that he (Kurbatof) would be no man of his.

Now Vera’s suitor, the fat old Boyar of ten thousand souls, or
serfs--for the Russians measure their riches by the number of their
serfs--was in the house when Tsar Peter came with me to speak to the
Boyar, Vera’s father.

‘Who is this?’ asked Peter, before he had time to salute Kurbatof. ‘Is
this the old Boyar who is thy rival, Chelminsky? Go, sir, for shame! You
are too old and too fat to have so fair a bride as this Vera! Go, I say,
and leave room for thy youngers and betters!’

The Boyar was proud, being rich and powerful, and the young Tsar’s
outspoken manner offended him.

‘I am a suitor for her hand, Highness,’ he said; ‘if her father chooses
to----’

Peter strode towards the Boyar; he seized him by the collar and shook
him. ‘Wouldst thou feed upon the fairest flower in the garden, fat
slug?’ he said. ‘Go--crawl away and hide thyself--or I will crush thee
with my heel! She is too good for thee, swine, in spite of all thy money
bags!’

The Boyar panted with fear and surprise: he would have spoken, but he
gazed upon the Tsar’s face and dared not. Then he took his hat and cloak
and went out quickly.

‘Now, Boyar,’ said Peter, ‘show me this wench. I bring you a good suitor
for her! This fellow Chelminsky may one day be Hetman of the Cossacks
and call me brother; think of it!’

‘Let him come back when he is Hetman,’ growled old Kurbatof.

Whereat the Tsar laughed. ‘Well, Chelminsky,’ said he, ‘let that answer
suffice for thee. Maybe thou and the Hetmanate are not very far
apart----’ At this moment Vera herself entered the room, and the Tsar
ended his speech with a long-drawn ‘Oh!’



CHAPTER XXXIV


For the rest of the interview my patron, this Tsar of seventeen, made
barefaced love to Vera Kurbatof, ignoring my presence and the motive of
his visit, which had been to advance my suit with her father.

Vera--being the senior of the Tsar by nearly two years--received his
boyish homage with complacence. Being anxious to secure his goodwill,
she was amiable and animated, and the Tsar--as my jealous eyes could
perceive--thought well of her beauty and manners.

When we came forth, after a visit of an hour, he made no further
mention, either to Kurbatof or to Vera, of my suit: he had forgotten the
object of his coming in the delight of Vera’s presence.

‘That is the best wench I have yet seen,’ he said; ‘and if----,’ at this
point Peter paused and became thoughtful.

‘Your Highness wished to say,’ I suggested, ‘that if the _Boyarishnya_
Vera----’

‘If she were not older than I, she might do for me when it is my turn to
marry, next year.’

‘Say, rather, if she were not promised to another,’ said I, flushing.
Peter frowned.

‘Another? What other?’ he asked.

‘Your Highness came to arrange my suit,’ I said, angrily enough; ‘not to
seek a bride for your own marrying.’

‘Oh--oh! the Tsar must choose first! But, Lord, what a thundercloud is
in thy face! Cheer up, man! is thy happiness bound up in this wench?’

‘I did not look to have the Tsar for a rival,’ I blurted. ‘This is not
fair dealing, Peter Alexeyevitch!’

‘There is no rivalry yet. Fear not, she is too old for me. My mother
will have me take a wife of sixteen; this one is nineteen, or near it,
but she is handsome----’

‘Fear not, man,’ he suddenly continued, giving me a mighty slap upon the
back: ‘thou shalt be Hetman as soon as I am true Tsar, and then this old
fool shall let thee take his girl.’

‘Now the Tsar speaks,’ I said, relieved and gratified. ‘I knew not who
spoke in thy voice before.’

‘Oh, it was I, my friend,’ he laughed. ‘She is too old for me, or I
might yet take her out of thy hands.’

Nevertheless, Vera informed me to my surprise, when next I saw her, that
Peter had been each day, and that he had commanded the Boyar, under pain
of grievous punishment, to see that his daughter remained unbetrothed
for a year.

‘And what means that, Vera?’ I asked gloomily. ‘That he would preserve
thee in safety for me to wed when I am Hetman, or that he will think of
thee for himself when the time comes for his bride-choosing?’

‘At any rate, it will keep our fat Boyar away,’ she smiled. ‘For the
rest, save me from another Tsaritsa-choosing! Sooner let us----’ Vera
paused.

‘Let us what, my Vera?’ I insisted. ‘Speak and fear not.’

‘It is most sinful to marry without the consent of the parents,’ she
said; ‘and yet I can imagine that such a step might be necessary. My
father has been cruel in these matters, though I know well that he seeks
my advantage as he sees it.’

The end of this conversation was that we were quite agreed to take
matters into our own hands and do as we willed rather than as Tsars and
fathers ruled it. But destiny proved too hard for us.

For the Boyar Kurbatof, seeing great hope for his daughter’s advancement
in the behaviour of the Tsar Peter, who insisted that Vera should remain
unbetrothed for a year, now suddenly altered his attitude towards Vera;
and whereas she had hitherto enjoyed more freedom than was usual among
Russian maidens at that time, he now instituted the strictest _terem_
for her in his own house, placing her behind iron bars and silken
curtains, and forbidding and effectually preventing all access to her
except by her old nurse.

Thus it happened that the interview at which we had arranged to rebel
proved to be our last meeting for many a day; and to every application
made by me to the Boyar for a sight of his beloved daughter, I received
the reply: ‘Come at the end of a year if you are Hetman.’

The Tsar Peter was admitted several times before his return to
Preobrajensky, and this added much to my torture, which became so acute
that I gladly received, presently, the call to ride with my Cossacks
upon Galitsin’s new expedition against the Crimean Tartars, leaving Vera
to the care of the Highest and of her own discretion.

When I came to Batourin I saw Mazeppa for the first time since I had
taken Vera from him at the post station, and I came prepared for war;
for surely, I thought, I should be called to account.

But Mazeppa was inclined to treat the matter lightly.

‘What!’ he said. ‘You bring no wife? Where, then, is the fair, foolish
Vera?’

‘I have no wife. The Barishnya Kurbatof remains in Moscow. And why, I
pray, is she called foolish?’

‘Oh!’ he laughed, ‘it would not become me to say; but, tell me, has she
proved herself so wise that she has sent Chelminsky about his business?’

‘She is and remains wise,’ I replied, ‘since she both escaped Mazeppa
and prefers to tarry where she is, safe from false friends and
hypocrites.’

‘Come, Chelminsky, take not such matters too seriously: women are toys.
If she has played thee false, as she has served me and others also, it
is a matter to laugh at, not to weep for. She is not worth a tear, my
son, nor a frown--was there ever woman worth crying for?’

‘I will uphold the honour of Vera with my sword; therefore speak well of
her or not at all,’ I said angrily; and Mazeppa laughed and shrugged his
shoulders, though he looked annoyed. I have since thought all this
indifference was assumed to deceive me, and that he had not yet
forgotten his love for Vera, which was real enough at the beginning,
and when he would have stolen her from me.

After this we spoke of military matters, for Mazeppa was at this time
the Hetman’s chief minister for all that concerned warfare and the
arming and preparing for campaigns, and it was necessary to put fifty
thousand lances in the field very quickly to help Galitsin and his
Russians against the Tartar Khan in the Crimea.

Now Samoilovitch, the Hetman, took command of our troops, wishing for
military glory, and more especially to gain favour with Sophia, Regent
of Russia, by personally assisting her dearly-loved Galitsin--from whom
and from Sophia herself he had lately received little but coldness, for
which, had he but known it, there was none but Mazeppa to thank.
Mazeppa, preparing the ground for his own succession as Hetman, which is
a life office, or is held until deposal, had traitorously done and said
all he could to undermine the position of Samoilovitch, who suspected
nothing, but trusted Mazeppa absolutely.

Therefore, when the Crimean expedition failed, and it was necessary to
find a scapegoat in order that Galitsin, the favourite, should not
suffer blame, the responsibility was shifted from his shoulders upon
those of our poor Cossacks, and especially upon Samoilovitch, the
Hetman.

The result of which treachery was that Samoilovitch was arrested in his
tent and sent to Moscow, and thence to Siberia--a deposed, exiled, and
ruined man, without being permitted to visit his home before departure.

Now when rumours reached the army in the Crimea that Samoilovitch would
be deposed, it occurred to me immediately that Mazeppa must, in some
way, have a hand in this matter, and that the whole arrangement was,
likely enough, his handiwork, since--unless I could somehow checkmate
him--he would certainly be the one to profit by the Hetman’s deposal.

Therefore I awaited the discharge of the troops in a frenzy of
impatience, for I knew well that Mazeppa would not waste these precious
days and weeks which destiny compelled me to fritter away in idle
waiting.



CHAPTER XXXV


Mazeppa had wasted no time. I gave him credit for the cunning of a fox,
but no man could have expected that he would have done so much for
himself in so short a while.

When I returned to Batourin I found that the matter of a succession to
the Hetmanate was already settled, and the Hetman himself away in
Moscow.

‘And the Hetman is Mazeppa?’ I asked, sick and faint with
disappointment.

‘Who but he?’ said my informant; ‘there was little talk of any other. It
was two weeks ago. The order for deposal of Samoilovitch came from
Moscow, and was read out in full assembly by Mazeppa himself, amid
groans, for the orders stated that Samoilovitch had made Lord knows what
dismal blunders with our poor lances, and had been fooled both this way
and that by the Khan. Now Mazeppa had well packed the meeting both with
Russians from Moscow and his own people here, and when, presently, he
asked whom the assembly would like to nominate as the new Hetman,
subject to the approval of the Russian Tsars and Regent, someone called
out “Mazeppa.” Then another called his name, and then a hundred more. A
few cried “Chelminsky” and “Panief” and other names, but the Mazeppas
had the day by scores to one; and when the Russian delegate announced
that this was well, since he had the authority of the Regent to
nominate, in her name, this same Mazeppa, he was then and there elected,
and set out presently for Moscow to do homage on his promotion.’

In any case, I comforted myself, I should not have succeeded at present,
not until Peter should have asserted himself. My hopes must be fixed
upon that time: when Peter ousted the Regent, I should do the same by
Mazeppa.

Meanwhile, what devilry did he in Moscow? For it had come to this, that
I feared to turn my back upon this fox when he chanced to be within
reach of any fowl-yard of mine; and though he had ridiculed any further
interest in Vera, I was anxious lest he should have lied to me.

Nevertheless, it was necessary to possess myself in patience, for
Mazeppa’s absence might prove my opportunity to work out my own destiny
at Batourin, and I spent my time in diligently making a party for
myself, against the day of my advancement and his fall.

Mazeppa, I found, was not popular. There were hundreds who had
grievances against him, and most of these promised that if it should
come to another election Chelminsky’s name should be shouted as loud as
Mazeppa’s, or louder.

By the time Mazeppa returned I flattered myself that I had done well for
my cause. At any rate, I had out-foxed this cunning one who had stolen a
march upon me in my absence. He came, suspecting nothing, and meanwhile
I had prepared a powder mine beneath his feet, which should one day
explode and bring him toppling from the seat upon which I would sit.

Mazeppa was friendly. I was to occupy no less exalted a position under
him than I had enjoyed under Samoilovitch--I should find Mazeppa the
Hetman, said he, no less my firm friend than Mazeppa the secretary.

‘And a securer friendship that,’ he laughed, ‘be sure, than some of
thine in Moscow!’

‘What mean you by that?’ I asked, flushing.

‘Of all friends, beware of one especially,’ he said. ‘One who would have
made thee Hetman; who would have saved a certain wench for thee, should
other suitors claim her in thy absence; he who would--many folks
said--presently show himself the young lion awake, and would lustily
roar and go forth to kill for himself.’

‘Go on,’ I said hastily, ‘and explain how and in what has this
friendship failed me?’

‘In three ways,’ he laughed. ‘Nay, look not so grim: blame me not, for
how am I in fault? Did I believe in this young lion of thine? My faith
was in the Regent and her Galitsin; said I not so from the first? And
see how well my friends have served me! But this young Peter of
thine----’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘this Peter?’

‘Where is thy nomination as Hetman? Where is any power that he has? He
is still a cub, and looks not like roaring; he whines for others to
bring him his food; he gambols near his parent-nest, and thinks not of
going forth to kill.’

‘His day will come,’ I said, ‘though it has not yet dawned. As for the
Hetmanate, your friends have gained it for you, and it is yours. Do I
deny or dispute it? Keep it, Mazeppa, in the Lord’s name.’

‘That I shall do with all my heart, and my good friends--such as
thyself--shall help me so to do. I know whom I may trust, Chelminsky; we
are old friends, thou and I.’

‘So let us remain,’ said I, for I would play the fox with this fox, and
I did my utmost to seem very sincere in my friendship. ‘The wise man,
when he has lost the game, recognises that the luck is against him, and
so do I! But what is this you hint as to the Tsar Peter having failed,’
I added, as indifferently as I could, ‘in his promise to protect a
certain lady on my behalf?’

‘I dare not tell you,’ said Mazeppa, ‘lest you fly out upon me and swear
I lie to you for jealousy.’

‘Bah!’ I said, ‘I am learning to follow your philosophy, that women are
unworthy of a sigh.’

‘Oh, if that be so, I wish you joy of your wisdom!’ he said, laughing,
‘and I will tell you all. The Tsar Peter--well, he is young enough to
think differently of such things. He will marry before many months, and
meanwhile----’

‘Yes, meanwhile he teaches himself the art of love-making in advance,’ I
said, finishing his sentence when he paused. ‘What a tattered thing will
be the heart of Vera as I shall receive it!’

‘Be not so sure even of a tattered remnant!’ he laughed; ‘young Peter is
a more dangerous rival than his brother Ivan!’

‘Does all this mean,’ said I, ‘that Mazeppa has renewed his suit of
late, and with no more success than of old?’

‘What, I?’ he exclaimed, flushing nevertheless, in spite of his bravado.
‘No, Chelminsky; I have had sterner work to do in Moscow than
love-making, though indeed there was good reason to believe that if I
had raised a finger a certain bird would have sung!’

‘What, both for Mazeppa and for Peter?’ cried I, affecting to be vastly
amused. ‘By the saints, a pretty warbler is this that I have fed in my
bosom, that sings to all comers! Which was the favoured, Mazeppa, thou
or Tsar Peter?’

‘I will tell thee truth,’ said Mazeppa: ‘the Tsar Peter being seriously
in love, and I, as thou knowest, no more than toying with passion, he
desired to have the way clear for himself; therefore I acted the dutiful
vassal and left his Highness a straight course.’

‘So that I, for my part, have lost both patron and mistress?’ said I,
still affecting indifference, though actually I was near boiling over
with rage; ‘for it seems you would have me understand that whether Peter
wooed or Mazeppa, at any rate there was no remembrance of me.’

‘Chelminsky, the new-found philosopher, will not weep, I wager, even
though so it be!’ he said; ‘nor yet will he blame the fair Vera, who
takes her wooing where she finds it.’

‘Then, I say,’ cried I, firing up at last, ‘that Mazeppa is a liar,
Hetman or no Hetman--as great a liar as Hetman as he has been from the
beginning and will be to the end. Shall I beat thee with a stick now,
Hetman Mazeppa, or spit thee with a sword presently before witnesses?
Thou owest me a drubbing for the wedding I gave thee with Olga, and
another for spoiling thy villainy with Vera. Come, I am ready for it
now, and at the same time thou shalt answer to me for many lies, and for
a certain knouting which I did not get--no thanks to thee!’

‘Oh, if thou must have it so, meet me in the Krasinsky Wood at noon
to-morrow,’ he said, keeping cool while I raved. ‘Go cautiously and with
thy second only, for understand, as Hetman I must not be seen duelling
with my inferior. I meet thee as a favour, Chelminsky.’

‘Well, do not play the coward and stay away,’ I raved, ‘for Hetman or no
Hetman, and favour or no favour, I will make thee eat thy lies, fox
Mazeppa, and that I swear!’

‘If you will fight, fight you shall,’ he replied, ‘and let the best man
win!’

I ought to have felt some suspicion at this saying, for Mazeppa well
knew that he was not my match with the sword or rapier, but all that
buzzed in my head at this time--poor fool that I was--was the desire to
force his lies down his throat, and to make him suffer for his easy
triumph in the matter of the Hetmanate. Why, thought I, if I should kill
him to-morrow there must be another Hetman, and that shall surely be I!
But the greatest offence of all was the manner of his talk about Vera.

And full of this thought I went among my friends that night, bidding
them be prepared for a sudden new election, and one of them, young
Stanislaus Bedinsky, I chose to be my second.



CHAPTER XXXVI


All who have read thus far in my records must be already impressed by
the fact that I have told the varying tale of my destiny wheresoever it
crosses that of Mazeppa with strictest impartiality. One day I succeed
in having the better of him, another I am worsted by him; and on the
whole he out-foxes me, save, perhaps, in one important matter.

On this day of our appointed duel I must admit my utter defeat and
discomfiture. I was fooled, and worsted, and out-foxed, as, doubtless, I
deserved to be, for if I had acted in cold instead of hot blood I should
never have persuaded myself that Mazeppa would fight me.

When we came to the rendezvous in the place appointed, Bedinsky and I,
thinking--poor fools--to find our Mazeppa with one other, we found
Mazeppa, indeed, but attired as Hetman and attended by an escort of
fifty lances.

‘What is this fooling, Mazeppa?’ said I. ‘Send these fellows away, all
but one, and let us come to an issue.’

‘We shall come to an issue, Chelminsky, as soon--I doubt not--as will be
pleasing to you. Seize and disarm the rebels, officer.’

Then Bedinsky and I were suddenly pounced upon by a dozen men each and
overpowered. Our weapons were taken from us and we were bound to two
trees.

Then began a trial. An indictment was read: I, Chelminsky, had conspired
against the authority of the elected Hetman. I had formed a party of
revolution which should take the first opportunity to upset the
Government and elect a new Hetman, that Hetman to be Chelminsky.

Three witnesses were produced from Heaven knows where among the trees,
and these rascals, men whom I had believed to be on my side, described
how both I and Bedinsky and others--still to be arrested--had gone among
the people canvassing for supporters, promising reward and favour to all
those who would assist in ousting the Hetman last elected and in raising
another in his place.

‘Save yourself the trouble, Mazeppa,’ I cried, bitterly scornful, ‘all
these things are admitted. I am the culprit: Bedinsky and the others
named are but private friends of mine and not responsible for the
“revolution”--if so you must call it--which is the child of my own
brain.’

‘A fool-child, like its father,’ said Mazeppa. ‘Did I not say from the
first you were a fool, Chelminsky? Too great a fool to be Hetman, even
as I told Peter the Tsar! He believed me, my friend, and would not have
nominated thee in any case.’

‘That is a lie, Mazeppa,’ said I. ‘Maybe I shall yet prove it!’

‘That must be as the court wills,’ he replied. ‘The offence is admitted,
gentlemen of the court: the culprit Chelminsky has confessed his crime.
Proceed to judgment and sentence.’

The witnesses were put back and the judges--three colonels of Cossack
regiments, my equals in rank--deliberated. Their deliberations did not
last long--but five minutes at the most--and they presently announced
themselves agreed.

‘The prisoners are guilty,’ said the senior colonel, and it will
scarcely be believed, but both we and others who were named, but not
present, were then and there sentenced to death by beheading.

‘My God, Mazeppa!’ I cried. ‘Do I dream? Am I to be done to death by
thee because from first to last we have been rivals in love and
politics? Dost thou fear I shall win in the end? Keep thy Hetmanship and
let me go!’

Mazeppa held up his hand.

‘Let the sentence be executed,’ he said.

‘Thou devil, Mazeppa!’ I cried. ‘I would to heaven I had allowed the
wolves to gnaw thy naked carcass that day in Volhynia thou knowest of!’

Mazeppa flushed red and then grew pale.

‘The Hetman was set riding naked through his own country, brothers,’
said I, ‘for disgraceful conduct: he was bound to his horse and would
have starved but for me. It was then he bestowed the immeasurable favour
of his presence upon the Cossack nation, who have now made him their
Hetman. I am Chelminsky, whose father, under Hmelnisky, fought and beat
the Poles. I wish I had left this tyrant to the wolves: it is I that
should be Hetman--not Mazeppa!’

I must have been beside myself to speak these foolish words: to my shame
I record them.

‘Let the sentence go forward,’ said Mazeppa, white with rage; ‘Bedinsky
first.’

And then before my eyes they bound poor Bedinsky upon his knees to a
tree stump and beheaded him with a sword.

I commended my soul to Christ, praying even more heartily that Mazeppa’s
misdeeds might be remembered against him for this crowning sin.

And now came my turn. They came to remove me from the tree to which I
was bound in order that I might be re-bound to a stump more convenient
for beheading; but Mazeppa bade them pause.

‘Chelminsky, thou has proved once again how great a fool thou art,’ he
said. ‘Know that I had made up my mind to forgive in remembrance of our
old friendship and of a certain service thou didst me, and which I have
not forgotten. But since thou hast lied before all these people,
inventing some ridiculous adventure of which I have now heard for the
first time, maliciously desiring to injure me in the eyes of my faithful
people, I have thought better of my mercy. Thou must die for thy
foolishness.’

‘Mercy and Mazeppa!’ I exclaimed bitterly. ‘Mercy is a bastard child if
of thy begetting, Mazeppa; no wonder it is strangled at the very birth!’

‘Stay,’ he said; ‘thy invention has given me an idea. I will have thee
stripped and set riding; it is a pretty invention. Strip him, men.’

‘Or, stay,’ said Mazeppa, as the fellows began to unbind me in order to
divest me of my clothes. ‘My fool of a heart is soft for thee,
Chelminsky; thou shalt be given a chance. There is thy own horse; mount
him and ride like the devil. Thou shalt be pursued after an hour: thou
shalt have neither weapon nor money; there shall be a reward for thy
shooting; do you hear, men? Fifty gold pieces for Chelminsky’s head so
long as it is taken from his shoulders in Cossack territory.’

‘Good! I accept,’ I cried, ‘and I thank thee, Mazeppa. I will remember
this to thy credit!’

‘Well, mount and ride like the devil. Take his sword and his purse. Now
go.’

My heart bounded for joy. I could scarce believe that this good fortune
had befallen me--me who stood a moment before in the very shadow of
death! My horse was ready saddled: it was Shadrach, a splendid stallion
of Ukraine blood, somewhat heavily formed, but of spirit unmatched.

As I leaped away I half expected to hear a volley behind me and to be
toppled from my saddle in obedience to a signal from Mazeppa; but I did
him an injustice, for he intended me to have this chance of life.

I would ride straight for Moscow: Mazeppa and his men would know this
and would follow upon my heels without the trouble of finding my tracks;
but what cared I? My pursuers must have good horseflesh between their
knees if they would catch Shadrach.

I must ride fifty leagues before I should be safe: by then I should be
in Russian territory and beyond the reach of my pursuers.

Away we careered, we with our start of an hour, and at first Shadrach
went well; but before we had gone many leagues I realised that he was
not at his best. He sweated and foamed; his breath laboured, and the
exertion, which would have been a trifle to him on another day,
distressed him.

I dismounted and examined the beast. I was prepared for the discovery
which I now made: he had been tampered with. Some devil, inspired by a
worse devil, of course, must have doctored him in his stable this
morning.

‘Mazeppa,’ I said to myself, ‘this mercy of thine is a deep-laid scheme.
This chance of life, for which I thanked thee, is no chance!’

I sat down by the roadside and thought for my life. Shadrach stood by
with heaving flanks and head held low; his eyes dull, his mouth
distressed with foam. ‘You shall carry me to yonder wood,’ I said, ‘and
then farewell, old friend, for a while!’

The road, half a league further on, became a rutty forest track, dark
overhead, and running through dense rows of large trees.

I tied Shadrach to a stump, well off the road, first emptying my
saddle-bags. There was a coil of thin rope among other things. I never
went without this, in case I should require it, in emergency, for
halter, spare bridle, or for a thousand possible purposes. It should do
me a good turn this day!

I now took the rope and fastened it across the track at a few inches
above the ground, passing it from tree to tree so that the first horse
coming this way must inevitably trip and fall.

Then I hid myself behind a bush close at hand, and waited.



CHAPTER XXXVII


My advantage of an hour, if it had been honestly accorded me, must have
been greatly shortened by poor Shadrach’s malady, for before I had
waited half an hour I heard the sound of hoofs, and presently there came
in sight Kostigin, one of our Cossacks, mounted upon his splendid horse,
which I well knew as one of the few rivals of my Shadrach for speed and
endurance. I was sorry to see so fine an animal rushing down to possible
injury. If either must be seriously hurt, I would rather it were
Kostigin; but there was no help for it, and the beast must run the risk
to earn my safety.

Nearer came Kostigin, urging his horse. He rode as though he were riding
a great race, sitting firm and square and his eyes fixed upon a distant
point as though he hoped to catch sight each moment of my fleeting
figure.

Nearer they came, the good horse Ajax breathing audibly, but going
strongly. Then of a sudden he reached and tripped over my string-trap,
and in an instant Kostigin was flying among the trees and poor Ajax
rolling over and over among pine needles.

As for me I was up and upon Kostigin long before he had realised that a
calamity had overtaken him. I possessed myself of his sword and stood
with it at his throat, and in another moment his career would have
ended, for I could not afford to let him go.

‘Do not kill me, Chelminsky,’ he cried, ‘I should not have shot you:
there is something, besides, that I can tell you which will be of use to
you!’

‘That is an easy lie to invent,’ I replied grimly. ‘You would have shot
me, Kostigin, from behind.’

‘I swear I would not,’ he said; ‘the orders are not to shoot but to
chase you. You have been a dupe from the beginning. Mazeppa had planned
all this--do you think he did not know of your rebellion? There have
been many to keep him informed. The provocation leading to your
challenge yesterday and the comedy of this morning--all was prepared
beforehand.’

‘However that may be, my friend, I must take Ajax, by your kind
permission, and indeed I know not how I am to spare your life----’

‘There is another thing: let this buy my life for me. You are to be
chased as far as the frontier. Then you are to be taken. Arrangements
are already made: you will be surrounded and captured, kept for a year,
and then escorted to your own home in Volhynia.’

‘Why all this?’ I laughed. ‘Why chased and captured and kept? Why not
allowed to go to Moscow?’

‘As to that, only Mazeppa knows Mazeppa’s mind, but so it is. He is
jealous maybe, and would rather not have you bargaining with the Tsar
Peter against him. More than this I know not any more than yourself.’

The horse Ajax, meanwhile, had recovered his feet and stood shaking
himself at intervals, panting, but apparently unhurt. I felt him up and
down; there was nothing broken.

‘Well, take your life, Kostigin,’ I said. ‘Ride back and meet the next
man; tell him he were wiser to return with you. You will find Shadrach
yonder. Mazeppa shall yet hear of me again--tell him so, if you are bold
enough. I do not intend to be caught at the frontier. Give me your gun
and any money you have--so! Will Mazeppa murder those other fellows,
like poor Bedinsky?’

‘I do not think so. One had to die for example, he said; but, saving
your dignity, he does not regard this rebellion as very serious or
dangerous, once you are out of the way.’

‘Well, one day I may return. We shall for ever be rivals, Mazeppa and I;
to-day he wins--to-morrow it may be my turn. I think I hear galloping
hoofs. I am glad to have spared you, Kostigin, but I shall kill the next
that interferes with me. Ride back and tell him so; I do not mean to be
spied upon!’

I mounted Ajax, who was now well breathed. He moved a little stiffly at
first, but he was unhurt, and carried me well. A mile away I waited,
anxious to know whether I was still pursued; but I could hear no sound
of galloping hoofs, and presently I rode easily forward, convinced that
Kostigin had argued well, and that the pursuit was over.

Then I altered my course, and made through forest and waste until I
passed in safety into Russian territory.

But when I was nearing Moscow, riding easily through the forest near
Preobrajensky, I met with a very notable adventure, which I must here
relate.

It was very early in the morning of a beautiful summer’s day, and as I
approached within a league of the Tsar Peter’s house, the same at which
I had often visited him a year ago or more (when he had caused Mazeppa
to compete with me, and had promised that I should one day be Hetman in
virtue of the excellence of my horsemanship), I suddenly heard the
commotion of galloping hoofs, and looking out I spied furiously riding
towards me at frantic speed a half-naked youth, who seemed mad with
alarm, and rode blindly forward, scarcely seeing where he went or what
he did.

And to my boundless surprise I recognised this frantic rider for the
Tsar Peter himself--for him who is at this day known as Piotr Veleeki,
Peter the Great; whose slightest word or frown is feared or hailed by
millions of subjects; the conqueror of Charles of Sweden; a second
Alexander the Great; the maker of a new Russia; the greatest Russian
that God’s sun ever shone upon. Dear saints! when I think of all this
and then of that picture of the frightened rider, I console myself with
the thought that there are ups and downs for all men, and not only for
me!

Yes, it was the Tsar Peter himself, dressed in his night-shirt and
nothing more, frantic with terror, galloping he knew not whither.

‘Out of the way, there, or you are a dead man!’ he shrieked. ‘I will run
you through: I swear it--clear out of the way!’

I did as the Tsar bade me, but I cried out, ‘Highness, I am a
friend--Chelminsky the Cossack. Is there danger? I am on your side!’

He pulled up. ‘Yes, it is Chelminsky,’ he said, staring at me with wild
eyes; ‘but how know I that you are not for my accursed sister?’

‘I was always for thee, Tsar; my name is in the book at Preobrajensky. I
am a soldier of the Pleasure Army!’

‘True--I remember. Ride with me and I will tell you all. Are you only
arriving from Batourin? Then you know nothing. My sister, whom may the
devil claim for his own, has plotted against me. Last night the Kremlin
was full of villains assembled and paid by her to murder me. Two good
fellows deserted and warned me: by now the rest are skulking around the
house at Preobrajensky, unless my fellows have caught them. I should
have been murdered but for the warning, thanks and praise be to God the
Saviour!’ The Tsar crossed himself devoutly. It was a remarkable
sight--this panic-stricken young giant frightened into prayer, sitting
bare-legged upon his horse, in mid-forest.

I argued with him. I would go forward while he concealed himself. I
would fetch clothes for him--that was the first need, and bring back
word of what happened at the house, which, though fortified and
garrisoned very strongly, was not, said the Tsar, prepared for sudden
assault.

At first the Tsar would not tarry until I returned; but presently,
finding a portion of the forest which was so dense that he might safely
hide therein without fear of discovery, he consented to wait. Then I
rode quickly forward and reached Preobrajensky.

The garrison was in a tumult of preparation in case of attack: every
hand was busy, every face haggard and anxious; but the most anxious of
all was that of the Tsar’s mother, that good and gentle Tsaritsa
Nathalia, who was in distress because of her son’s disappearance.

‘He will go to the monastery at Troitsa,’ she said, ‘and there I shall
join him; but who shall protect him upon the way?’ Then I told the
Tsaritsa how I had seen the Tsar and had returned for clothes and for
news; but she informed me that the Tsar’s clothes had already followed
him, though probably the messenger had been so frightened that he had
turned aside from the road rather than meet me. ‘Go quickly, good
Chelminsky!’ she said, ‘and ride with him. Take others with you--I am in
dread for my poor boy!’

But when I sought the Tsar in the place where I had left him he was not
to be found, so great a coward had sudden terror made of this young
lion--he who should presently learn to roar so loudly that all the world
would be terrified at his voice!



CHAPTER XXXVIII


I rode straight to the monastery at Troitsa, hoping to find opportunity
for serving the Tsar Peter with distinction. This, it seemed to me,
might prove the hour of his destiny, unless indeed terror should have
rendered him unfit to assert himself. But I found matters went strongly
for Peter and against Sophia, for there flowed into Troitsa a constant
stream of soldiers, some from Preobrajensky, others Streltsi deserters,
some serf soldiers sent in hurriedly by the Boyars who were on Peter’s
side, and even the newly-enrolled men of Gordon’s and Lefort’s
regiments, upon whom the Regent had depended the most. There would be no
fighting, and no opportunity for distinction, for the weight all tilted
naturally to one side.

As for Tsar Peter, after hiding himself for a day or two in the forests,
the prey of helpless terror, he found heart of grace and came to
Troitsa, from which safe retreat he dictated terms to his sister the
Regent, which terms were no terms, indeed, since she herself was now
compelled to take the veil, while he possessed himself of the throne,
whence from this time he reigned as undisputed Tsar, though Ivan, for a
while, made a show of sitting conjointly with his brother upon the
highest seat.

Now that Peter reigned I had great hopes to turn the tables upon
Mazeppa. This time surely the luck was mine! for here was I in Moscow,
driven hither, moreover, by Mazeppa himself, just in the nick of time!
Destiny had dealt the good cards into my hands for once, and the old
fox, Mazeppa, should be smoked out of his hole!

Meanwhile I went, not without anxiety, to see my Vera. Mazeppa’s words,
even though I did not believe them, had been somewhat disquieting. Had
the Tsar stolen her from me? Not her heart, indeed--I felt sure that
that was my own--but her hand. If he should have announced his intention
to choose her for his bride, what could she have done, with none to help
her escape the undesired splendour of this betrothal?

I found the house of Boyar Kurbatof, like many another mansion in Moscow
during these days, in trouble and disorder--the Boyar himself under
arrest, Vera almost beside herself with helpless misery, knowing not
what she should do or where she should go.

If I had had any doubt of her good faith towards me, her reception of me
when I arrived unexpectedly would have dissipated such doubt. She flew
to meet me with a scream of delight and lay for a moment locked in my
arms, weeping tears of joy and relief.

‘Are you mine, Vera, are you mine?’ I murmured. ‘Tell me quickly!’

‘Oh, whose should I be?’ she whispered back. ‘Have I ever been other
than yours, dear Chelminsky?’

‘Not the Tsar’s?’ I said. ‘It was told me that he would have none but
you, and I feared--I know not what; for this Peter is not like that
Ivan!’

‘I stood well with his Highness,’ Vera laughed, ‘for three months after
you had gone. Then he wearied of me, and Olga Kostromsky was favourite.
Then Avdotia Lapouchine appeared, and he is betrothed to her: have you
not heard?’

The news relieved me greatly, though I did not tell Vera how much, lest
she should think me lacking in the virtue of trustfulness.

‘And what of Mazeppa?’ I asked.

Then Vera told me that though Mazeppa, upon receiving his nomination as
Hetman, had presumed to visit once again the home he had outraged, in
order to resume his suit for Vera’s hand, the old Boyar her father had
caused his servants to expel him from the house without deigning to
speak to him or give him any answer to his insolent advances.

Mazeppa’s words to me had conveyed a very different meaning.

As for the Boyar’s arrest, her father had been so indignant, said Vera,
over the conduct of Tsar Peter, who had seemed to choose Vera for his
bride and had afterwards passed her over for another, that he had
violently sided with the Regent so soon as differences arose, lending
her money and serf-levies from his estates, which conduct brought about
his arrest by Peter’s orders, as soon as the young Tsar heard of it.

Having thus made sure of my Vera, I hastened again to Troitsa in order
to push my interest with Tsar Peter; but his Highness was so busy that I
could not obtain his ear.

‘Wait,’ he said, ‘good Chelminsky; let us first see what I am; my
sister’s sins still hang about my neck!’

Therefore I waited a week, and a second week, the Tsar being now in
Moscow, and at the end of that time I obtained from Peter the saying
that there might soon be reason for making a change in the office of
Hetman, and that I should have the next nomination!

This was something, though not much.

Then suddenly, as I walked one day within the Kremlin walls, I met
Mazeppa.

He greeted me friendly, as though there had never been a difference
between us, thanking heaven that he had been able at our last meeting to
allow me to escape from Batourin:

‘My captains were all dead against mercy,’ said he. ‘I had no easy
matter, believe me, to bring them to an agreement concerning thee. Why
didst thou rebel against me, Chelminsky? Canst thou not be happy unless
thy head stands higher than my own?’

‘I shall conspire and rebel again, never fear!’ I laughed. ‘You have not
yet quite done with me, Mazeppa! As for thy mercy, I think it was a lie:
thou wouldst have had me shot or captured. Rather it was thy captains
that stayed thy hand!’

‘Believe as you will,’ he replied angrily; ‘what is it to me? Only
remember, the Ukraine is not safe for thee in future. Because of thy own
foolishness there is no longer room in our country for Mazeppa and for
Chelminsky also.’

‘Is Mazeppa among the prophets?’ I laughed. ‘Neither to me is it given
to know the future, my friend, nor to thee. I may yet stand very high
among the Cossacks!’

‘Think’st thou so? Hast thou spoken to his Highness as to this foolish
ambition of thine? No? Then understand that I have been before thee in
this matter, and that thou shalt henceforth whine and beg to him in
vain, for nothing will come of thy entreaties!’

And indeed, when I at last obtained the Tsar’s ear, I found that Mazeppa
had been before me, and that in his own mysterious fashion he had not
only pleased the Tsar by his manner and bearing (he whom the Tsar had
disliked up to now!), but also inspired confidence by his political
arguments.

So that when I spoke to the Tsar on the subject of the Hetmanate, he put
me somewhat brusquely aside, saying that the present Hetman’s attitude
was correct and pleasing, and that it would be unnecessary to make any
change.

‘But what of thy promises, Tsar?’ I said bitterly. ‘Instead of
fulfilling them to my advantage, thou has exalted my enemy over my
head!’

‘Not I, Chelminsky; thou art suffering, my man, for the deeds of my
sister and Galitsin, which should be a glory to thee, seeing that I have
suffered and am suffering the same. This Mazeppa has shown me, moreover,
that he will make as good a Hetman as thou. His speech is the very
incarnate genius of the Cossack race; learn from him awhile, my friend,
and in time thou shalt take his place!’

I was bitterly disappointed by the Tsar’s conduct, and I doubt not my
looks showed it, for he laughed and clapped me upon the shoulder. ‘Look
not so mournful, man!’ he said. ‘On the whole I have done well by thee,
for have I not left thee that wench of thine, Vera?’ The Tsar burst into
a roar of laughter, in the midst of which I bowed myself out of his
presence, hurt and indignant.

When I told Vera of my disappointment and of the Tsar’s boast that he
had left her to me as an act of friendliness, she flushed and told me
that he had left her, indeed, to me, but out of no friendliness. ‘Ask
him what befell when he grew more familiar than was pleasing to me?’ she
said. And though I did not ask his Highness, I know now that Vera
actually boxed the Tsar’s ears on one occasion, thereby immensely
raising his respect for her as well as his admiration, though not his
affection, which had already begun to wane in favour of others. The Tsar
Peter’s heart was ever of the butterfly nature, flitting from flower to
flower and remaining longest there where most honey is obtainable.

To which respect and admiration of the Tsar Vera added much when
presently she went with me to claim forgiveness for her father.

The Tsar grew angry when Vera proffered her request, but when he made a
show of refusing it Vera grew angry also.

‘A worthy Tsar, thou!’ she exclaimed, ‘that beginnest thy reign by
taking vengeance upon old men, and by breaking promises to those who
have well served thee!’

‘What mean you by that, minx?’ exclaimed Peter angrily. ‘May I not
punish those who have offended me? And as for promises, what promise
have I made that I will not one day redeem?’

‘My father was loyal to the Regent while her Highness claimed the
obedience of the Boyars. Is there offence in that? If _thou_ hadst been
reigning Tsar instead of a Tsar in leading-strings, and he had lent thee
treasure and men, would that have been a crime? Up to the moment of thy
proclamation the Boyars were her Highness’s men, not thine. To-day my
father would serve thee, even as he served the Regent.’

‘Well, we shall see; it may be that I shall test his loyalty through his
purse,’ said Peter, laughing. As to the broken promise--is this fellow
Chelminsky thy husband, that thou shouldst speak thus boldly for him?’

‘As forever he has been husband of my heart, let woo who would!’ said
Vera.

The Tsar flushed and looked for a moment as though he would reply
passionately; but though his face worked and his head jerked round in
the manner I have since learned to know as the forerunner of that cruel
mood into which he too frequently relapses now in middle age, he
recovered himself and laughed aloud.

‘By the Majesty of Saint Cyril, wench,’ he said, ‘thou art a bold one:
darest thou marry such a minx, Chelminsky?’

‘I must marry her or die, Tsar,’ I said, ‘wherefore I dare less to
marry.’

Vera laughed and pressed my arm. ‘Make him Hetman, Tsar,’ she said: ‘he
will serve thee better than the fox thou hast set up.’

But in this matter the young Tsar was immovable.

‘Good Lord, girl,’ he said, ‘must all things go as thou wouldst have
them? He shall be Hetman of all the Cossacks now in Moscow--does that
satisfy thee?--with reversion at Batourin when Mazeppa shall have proved
himself the fox you think him!’

And with this appointment, which was indeed an excellent one, I was
obliged to remain content, hoping ever that Mazeppa must one day show
himself for what I knew him to be. Yet though the Tsar received from far
and near almost daily complaints of Mazeppa’s deceitfulness--how he
misruled his Cossacks, coquetted with Pole, Swede and Tartar, and was
faithless to every friend he possessed--yet Peter, in this one instance,
mistook his man from first to last; believing his word, trusting him in
face of overwhelming evidence, and standing his friend and ally through
every attempt, whether political or private, to shake his faith in the
Hetman. The Tsar was usually a better judge of character than he showed
himself in Mazeppa’s case!

A fox among foxes, and certainly the most plausible liar the world has
ever seen, was this fox Mazeppa, with whose cunning my poor feeble wits
had lately essayed to cope. And will it be believed that the great and
wise Tsar himself was perhaps the only human being who was blind to the
real character of the man? Was he indeed blind? Rather men will say that
if Mazeppa was a fox, Peter was no less; and that he saw his advantage
in being served by such a Hetman!

Nevertheless there came a day, after many years, when at length the
scales fell from Peter’s eyes. For Mazeppa himself--at the first great
opportunity in his life when he must choose definitely a side--proved
that he was but a dabbler in politics, and that he no more understood
the greatness of his master than the rest of the world had then realised
it.

That day was one of those stirring ones which preceded the battle of
Pultowa.



CHAPTER XXXIX


By this time Vera and I were both middle-aged, and as happy a married
pair as were to be found in all Russia. The old Boyar Kurbatof was dead
long since, and Vera was a rich woman, possessor of three thousand
souls, or serfs, and the mother of five children. My place in the realm
and in the esteem of the Tsar was high, for I commanded almost more
Cossacks in Moscow than Mazeppa could assemble under arms at Batourin.

As for the Tsar Peter, none assuredly would have recognised him at this
time for the stripling of Preobrajensky--he who had once been wont to
take life no more seriously than as a long holiday, to be spent in
playing with pleasure armies and toy fleets, in the drinking of much
beer and honey-mead, and in rioting with stable youths, and perhaps also
with the other sex of that class.

For see him now the great Autocrat, the genius of a powerful nation,
whose incarnate spirit he is; the rival of Charles of Sweden, with whom
he will throw at Pultowa for an empire. Great he is to-day, and yet how
small! for the taste for debauchery and drunkenness, begun in boyhood,
has survived; and when the Tsar is not busy fashioning his empire within
and without, upsetting the old Russia and building up the new, showing
his greatness here, there, and everywhere, he is buffooning, drinking,
revealing all that is small and grotesque in his marvellous character,
without shame and without reserve, as though he neither knew nor cared
to know what is deemed seemly and expedient in civilised societies.

Yet, though Peter rarely showed the slightest respect for women, his
attitude towards Vera was ever most dignified and respectful. He had
soon wearied of Avdotia Lapouchine, the Tsaritsa, and had condemned her
to take the veil; but though from that time onwards his relations with
women had altogether lacked chivalry, an exception was always made in
Vera’s favour. As for Mazeppa, I saw him but rarely. And so the years
rolled on, until the great day of Pultowa.

Charles of Sweden had marched within a few days’ journey of Moscow,
which he might have sacked had he thrown himself immediately against the
city; but when about to do so he received a letter from Mazeppa which
caused him to sweep round through Batourin in the Ukraine, Mazeppa’s
capital, in order to pick up a contingent of fifty thousand lances
offered by the Hetman for use against his most faithful and indulgent
master, the Tsar.

For Mazeppa had made the fatal mistake of believing that the sun of the
Swede was in the ascendant, whereas the light now reddening in the sky
was the dawn of Russia’s great day: the day of her New Beginning.

Now Peter, ignorant of Mazeppa’s treachery, had meanwhile sent orders
that the Hetman and his fifty thousand men should hold themselves in
readiness to join the Russian army at a moment’s notice. Mazeppa replied
by letter that he was ill of the gout and unable to move. A second
missive on the following day, written by a secretary, explained that the
Hetman was dying, and had already received the last offices of the
Church. When he had despatched this last letter, Mazeppa left Batourin
with as many of his lances as he could persuade that treachery such as
his would prove the best policy--about two thousand men. Two thousand
dupes out of the promised fifty thousand!

‘Here is thy chance, Chelminsky,’ said Peter the Tsar. ‘Thou hast waited
long. Mazeppa is dead or dying; his lances want a leader: Menshikof
shall ride with thy Cossacks, and thou shalt be Hetman of the Ukraine.’

But I was devoted by this time to my own Cossacks, and preferred to
remain by the Tsar’s side.

‘Let me wait and see these Ukraine Cossacks--what Mazeppa has made of
them,’ said I. ‘Better my own, who are used to me, than his, Tsar, when
it comes to fighting! In any case, I will have only thee for master,
whether there or here!’

But when Peter with his army reached Batourin, he found that the old fox
had left his hole.

The rage of the Tsar when he learned that Mazeppa had proved a traitor
was dreadful to witness. He fell writhing in a fit, his head and limbs
jerking, his face contorted. When he recovered, he bade Menshikof and
his troops throw themselves upon city and castle, burning the place with
all it contained; then, having caused an effigy of Mazeppa to be
fashioned, he first hanged it in public and afterwards had it dragged
through the filth of the streets. Every year since that day Mazeppa’s
name is cursed throughout Russia upon the Day of Curses, which is the
first Sunday of the long Fast.

But the delay caused by Mazeppa’s adhesion cost the Swedish forces dear,
for it compelled them to winter in Russia, and by means of sundry small
successes the armies of Peter began to render their position dangerous.

Then Mazeppa actually wrote to the Tsar proposing to deliver both
Charles and his armies into his hands; but Peter would have none of him
and his promises, fearing more treachery. Instead, the Tsar replied to
Mazeppa with shameful words, saying that he would presently have both
Charles and Mazeppa also.

And in the summer came the great day, when Charles and his dwindled and
hungry army, and with him Mazeppa and his Cossacks--poor deluded
men--attacked the Tsar at Pultowa.

All the world knows of that great battle; how the star of Charles fell
for ever and that of Peter rose, never to set. How Charles fled with a
few men and with Mazeppa, who preserved his own skin intact and tried to
spirit away with him, moreover, two barrels of gold pieces which he had
taken care to secure.

Yet it must not be said that Mazeppa fought ill on that day. Never did
men fight more desperately than our good Cossack fools who had followed
the old fox into ruin. Once the Tsar, riding near me at the moment, bade
me watch the old Hetman charge with his fellows. By the saints, the
sight did one good, even though they were against us!

‘Curse him!’ cried Peter, ‘his lances kill three to every one of them
that falls. Take a thousand of our Cossacks, Chelminsky, and chase the
rascals into the Vorskla! Bring me Mazeppa alive, and by all the devils
I will make thee head over every Cossack that breathes!’

That was a notable fight. At the first charge, the numbers being in our
favour, not a man fell on either side, for neither were our fellows
willing to slay their brethren, nor they us; but ours, as they rode
through the others’ ranks, hurled reproaches and shameful names at them
and at Mazeppa for their treachery, so that when we turned to charge
back again Mazeppa’s men were furious and fought like devils, and many
scores of saddles were emptied on both sides.

As for me, I had a pass or two with Mazeppa in the crowd, but neither of
us struck his best.

‘Ride out of the crush, Mazeppa, and I will follow,’ I said. ‘I must
seem to pursue thee, but for God’s sake let me not bring thee alive into
the Tsar’s hands, as he would have me do, for thou shalt be torn limb
from limb.’

‘Kill me, then, if thou must, Chelminsky, for all is lost!’ he said.
‘Thou hast won in the end, but we have run a good race through life,
thou and I!’

‘Ride like the devil, man!’ I said. ‘I will not either kill thee or take
thee, but I must seem to strike at thee.’

‘Chelminsky,’ cried Mazeppa, as his horse galloped a few paces ahead of
my own, ‘I swear I have been a better friend to thee than to any living
soul on this earth. Three times I might have----’

But I interrupted him. ‘Ride, you fool,’ I said; ‘the Tsar watches!’

And at this moment, my horse stumbling over a fallen soldier, Mazeppa’s
took a good lead; and though I made a show of following out of sight, I
returned--to Peter’s anger and disappointment--without my quarry.



CHAPTER XL


But one more scene, and I have finished.

The Tsar’s anger against Mazeppa did not end with the victory of
Pultowa. Mazeppa had escaped into the territory of the Sultan, and the
Tsar actually sent a mission into Turkey offering an immense sum for the
surrender of his person, alive.

Now in this matter, as in my pursuit of Mazeppa on the battle-field, I
played the Tsar false; for, in spite of all I had suffered from the old
fox during the long years of our rivalry, I could not see him brought
living into the hands of this most ruthless, most savage, most
relentless of enemies, Piotr Alexeyevitch.

Therefore, breathing hatred and vengeance against my old rival, I
besought the Tsar to allow me to be of the mission, and easily obtained
his consent.

With me went a certain young Kotchubey, a deadly enemy of Mazeppa, and
another, Kozlof, who loved him no better.

We found Mazeppa in the old ruined mansion of a Pasha, lent to him by
the Sultan, who indignantly refused to listen to the offer of the Tsar.
Then we of the Tsar’s embassy took counsel together. ‘If the Sultan will
not let us have the rascal, we must persuade Mazeppa,’ said Kozlof,
‘that the Tsar will restore to him his favour and the office of Hetman
in return for certain secrets concerning the Swedish King which it is
necessary that the Tsar should know.’

I made a show of applauding this suggestion.

‘But who shall persuade him?’ I laughed. ‘I think he will suspect thee,
Kozlof, and certainly Kotchubey. He and I have been life-long enemies,
true, but I complimented him on his fighting at Pultowa, while smiting
at him, and it may be that he will believe in my good will.’

Thus I was allowed to undertake the mission.

I found Mazeppa old and broken down. He shed tears when he found it was
I that had come.

‘Thou wert like God to me on the battle-field, Chelminsky,’ he said.
‘This mission can be to no evil end, since thou art of it.’

‘Mazeppa,’ I said, ‘God knows why I befriend thee, unless it be that I
remember too well the old days, before thy turning against me. It may be
that my Vera has softened my heart----’

At her name Mazeppa wept and crossed himself.

‘That is a saint!’ he said. ‘Lord forgive me, I would have done her ill!
Thou hadst the best of me there, Chelminsky, and so much the happier am
I to-day! Dost know that, if it had been any but thou, I should have
killed thee three times?’ he added. ‘Therefore think not too ill of me.’

‘And why, then, was I spared,’ said I, with a laugh, ‘since thou hast
never lacked of thy will for fastidiousness?’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I will tell thee: I have called thee fool and
browbeaten thee, ay, and all but ruined and murdered thee. Nay, I have
from time to time hated thee with all my soul; yet, throughout I have
after a fashion liked thee too well to destroy thee, and in the end I
have always remembered that we two fought those three at Ivan Casimir’s
Court, and how thou didst ride after me when they stripped and bound me,
curse them!’

‘Then here I repay you with a last service,’ I said. ‘Be not deceived by
my companions, Mazeppa; our mission is to bring you alive to the Tsar.
They will persuade you, as I am now supposed to be persuading you, that
Peter will restore to you your office, if you will reveal certain
secrets as to the King of Sweden. Do not be persuaded.’

‘Am I a fool, Chelminsky?’ he laughed. ‘Thou hast called me fox many
times; be sure I have not changed my skin.’

Then, but a day later, Mazeppa lay dead within the Pasha’s mansion, and
Kozlof threw a phial into the stove in my presence.

‘The old devil would not believe my tale,’ he said, ‘but threatened to
spit me with his sword: that was last night. Some of the stuff from this
phial made a rare flavour to his sauce this morning! If the Tsar has
failed in his vengeance Kotchubey has not, neither have I.’

‘What have you done, Kozlof?’ said I, aghast. ‘Have you murdered him in
cold blood?’

‘Call it what you like!’ he laughed. ‘He betrayed Kotchubey’s sister and
executed her parents, and my father was beheaded by his orders.’

But the people say that Mazeppa died of a broken heart.

His body was brought to Galatz on the Danube, where he was buried--like
a true Cossack--within earshot of the rush of a great river. His bones
might not lie beside the Dnieper, beloved of Cossacks, because of his
treachery towards his Russian master, who became henceforward absolute
lord of all the Cossacks’ territory.

‘What shall I say of Mazeppa,’ I asked my Vera, ‘that shall end my
record both kindly and yet consistently?’ For it was Vera who bade me
write the tale of our friendship and rivalry, our hatred and our
reconciliation.

‘I would have you write,’ she laughed, ‘that Mazeppa was very plausible,
yet very transparent; hated by most men, adored by many women; that he
was brave and also cowardly; impassioned and fascinating, yet mean and
repulsive; he was half man and half devil. The Tsar Peter is also both
devil and man, but he is great. Mazeppa was only great while men did not
discern how small he was. Say,’ Vera ended, ‘as you are fond of saying,
that “he was a fox.”’


                                THE END


    _Spottiswoode & Co. Ltd., Printers, New-street Square, London_

                       [Illustration: colophon]





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