« PreviousContinue »
The Czar Ivan, who reigned over Russia about the middle of the sixteenth century, frequently went out disguised, in order to discover the opinion which the people entertained of his administration. One day, in a solitary walk near Moscow, he entered a small village, and pretending to be overcome by fatigue, implored relief from several of the inbabitants. His dress was ragged; his appearance mean; and what ought to have excited the compassion of the villagers, and ensured his reception, was productive of refusal. Full of indignation at such inhuman treatment, he was just going to leave the place, when he perceived another habitation, to which he had not yet applied for assistance. It was the poorest cottage in the village. The emperor hastened to this, and knocking at the door, a péasant opened it, and asked him what he wanted. “I am almost dying with fatigue and hunger,” answered the czar, can you give me a lodging for one night ?”
“ Alas !" said the peasant, taking him by the hand," you will have but poor fare here: you are come at an unlucky time: my wife is in labour: her cries will not let you sleep: but come in, come in; you will at least be sheltered from the cold; and such as we have you shall be welcome to.'
The peasant then inade the czar enter a little room full of children ; in a cradle were two infants sleeping soundly; a girl, three years old, was sleeping on a rug near the cradle ; while her two sisters, the one five years old, the other seven, were on their knees, crying and praying to God for their mother, who was in a room adjoining, and whose piteous plaints and groans were distinctly heard.
Stay here," said the peasant to the emperor, I will go and get soinething for your supper.'
He went out, and soon returned with some black bread, eggs, and honey.
“ You see all I can give you," said the peasant; par; take of it with my children. I must go and assist my, wife." “Your charity, your hospitality,” said the czar, "must bring down blessings upon your house: I am sure God will reward your goodness.”
“ Pray 10 God, my good friend,” replied the peasant, a
pray to God Almighty, that she inay have a safe delivery; that'is all I wish for.'
“ And is that all you wish to make you happy ?" "Happy! judge for yourself; I have five fine children ; a dear wife ihat loves me; a father and nothër, both in good health; and my labour is sufficient to maintain them all.”
“ Do your father and mother live with you?" tainly; they are in the next room with my wife.”
“But your coltage here is so very smali!”. “It is large enongh; it can hold us all.”
The good peasant then went to bis wife, who an hour after was happily delivered. 'Her husband, in a transport of joy, brought the child to the czar; “ Look," said he, “ look ;'this is the sixth she has brought me! What a fine hearty child he is ! may God preserve him, as he has done iny others!
" The czar, sensibly affected at this scene, took the infant in his arms: " I know," said he, “from the physiognomy of this child, that he will be quite fortunate : he will arrive, I am certain, at great preferinent.”
The peasant smiled at this prediction; and at that instant, the two eldeșt girls came to kiss their new-born brother, and their grandmother came also to take bim back. The little ones followed her ; and the peasant, laying bimself down upon his bed of straw, invited the stranger to do the same. In a moment, the peasant was in a sound and peaceful sleep; but the czar, sitting up, looked around, and contemplated every thing with an eye of tenderness and emotion--the sleeping children, and their sleeping father. An undisturbed silence reigned in the cottage.
“What a happy calın! What delightful tranquillity!". said the emperor : « avarice and ambition, suspicion and remorse, never enter here. How sweet is the sleep of innocence!”
lo such reflections, and on such a bed, did the mighty Emperor of all the Russias spend the night! The peasant awoke at break of day, and his guest, taking leave of him, said, "I must return to Moscow, my friend : I am acquainted there with a very benevolent man, to whom I shall take care to mention your kind treatment of ine. I can prevail upon him to stand godfather to your child. Promise me, therefore, that you will wait for me, that I may be present at the christening: I will be back in three hours at farthest.”.
The peasant did not think much of this mighty promise ; but, in the good nature of his beart, he consented, however, to ihe stranger's request. The czar immediately took his Jeave: the three hours were soon gone, and nobody appeared. The peasant, therefore, followed by his family, was preparing to carry his child to church; bui as he was leaving his cottage, he heard, on a sudden, the trampling of
horses, and the rattling of many coaches. He looked out, and presently saw a multitude of horses, and a train of splendid carriages. He knew the imperial guards, and instantly called his family to come and see the ein peror go by. They all run out in a hurry, and stand before their door. The horsemen and carriages soon förmed a circular line; and at last the state coach of the czar stopped, opposite the good peasant's door. The guards kept back the crowd, which che hopes of seeing their sovereign had collected together. The coach-door was opened; the czar alighted; and, advancing to his host, thus addressed him : " I promised you a godfather; I am come to fulfil my promise ; give me your child, and follow me to church.
The peasant stood like a statue: now looking at the emperor, with the mingled emotions of astonishment avd joy; now observing his inagnificent robes, and the costly jewels with which they were adorned; and now turning to a crowd of nobles that surrounded him. In this profusion of pomp he could not discover the poor stranger who had lain all night with him upon the straw. The emperor, for some momenis, silently enjoyed his perplexity, and then addressed him thus : “ Yesterday you performed the duties of hunianity: to-day I am come to discharge the most delighfal duty of a sovereign, that of recompensing virtue. I shall not remove you from a situation to which you do so much honour, and the innocence and tranquillity of which I envy. But I will bestow upon you such ihings as may be useful to you. You shall bave numerous flocks, rich pastores, and a house that will enable you to exercise the duties of hospitality with pleasure. Your new-born child shall become my ward; for you may remember,"continued the emperor, smiling, ibat I prophesied he would be fortunate.”
The good peasant could not speak; but with tears of grateful sensibility in his eyes, he ran instantly to fetch the child, brought him to the emperor, and laid him respectfully at his fect.
This excellent sovereign was quite affected : be took the child in his arms and carried him himself to church; and after the ceremony was over, unwilling to deprive him of his mother's milk, he took hiin back to the cottage, and ordered that he should be sent to him as soon as he could, for weaned. • The czar faithfully observed his engagements, caused the boy to be educated in his palace, provided amply for his fotore settlement in life, and continued ever after to heap favours upon the virtuous peasant and his family.