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Even the pope himself rattled over her name, when he read the prayer for the dead, as though he had no recollection of the family to which she belonged.
Sophia Petrovitch sighed a little as she thought of the prospect before her.
The snow was falling steadily now, in small close flakes. In a few hours the roads would be impassable and dangerous if the wind rose and drove it into drifts before the frost froze it to an even surface. If old Marcova Marcovitch was to come to her, as the pope in his hurry had suggested-rather out of a desire to leave himself more free than from any special solicitude about his wife-Alexander must fetch her at once, before nightfall and the increasing snowfall rendered her coming impossible. But to catch Alexander, and to coerce him into doing anything that might be of use to anybody else, was a task beyond the feeble power of the popadia. Perhaps Boris, the third boy, might be amenable to her wishes, provided his elder brothers did not jeer him out of countenance; and old Marcova had better come-at once if this weakness were— "Dear Virgin, Holy Mother, and blessed St Joseph, thou protector of all poor women on whom the burden of housekeeping falls heavily, keep this deadly faintness back until old Marcova comes!" Boris, who was lurking in the region of the wood-stack behind the house, agreed in his happy-golucky fashion to fetch the old nurse as soon as he had completed the sparrow-trap which he was constructing out of forked twigs and bits of slate, to take advantage of the imminent snowfall; and his mother, creeping back to the living room, where the twins were roaring lustily from
their cradle-box, felt a little comforted that her weakness had been a passing indisposition, and that Marcova would be with her before night was far advanced. It was only three hours later, when Boris and his brethren straggled in to supper, wrangling over their ryebread and cabbage soup like a flock of shrieking starlings, that it transpired that the boy had forgotten the popadia's message altogether in the enthusiasm of his afternoon's sport. It was too late then to do anything; indeed no one thought of repairing the omission, any more than of apologising for it. Only the popadia felt as if some prop on which she had been leaning had snapped under her; but she said nothing, for there was none to listen.
Presently, when all the boys were asleep, even the twins quiet for a brief interval, the popadia crept to bed, missing with unwonted feeling of tenderness the hearty snores of her consort, which generally gave evidence of his unruffled conscience and undisturbable digestion for an hour or so before the house-mother managed to slip into her place beside him. To-night the tired woman feli into a broken sleep, disturbed by dreams of confusion and distracting cross-purposes: that long broken strap which kept slipping, slipping through her numbed fingers had the pope's little wallet at the end of it; but when at last she drew it up, she found nothing but a crying infant dangling just out of reach, and some one shrieked with high-bred company laughter, like the Countess, and cried in her ear with shrill importunity, "How can you make up the dozen, if there are really thirteen?" was repeating the word "thirteen," fateful out of very meaninglessness to all Russians, that the popadia
woke at last, to find that a new morning had come, in outward appearance very much like the old night, but filled to the brim afresh with work and responsibilities, care and toil and pain.
"Ah, the thirteenth!" murmured Sophia Petrovitch, stuffing back her tumbled hair into her woollen cap and tying it more firmly under her chin, so as to cover her ears; "it is the thirteenth child that often steals away the life of the mother. For me, I should not complain but for the pope." She had reached this point before in the same train of thought, and had stopped short; it was one that she Idared not pursue. For the Russian pope there is no second marriage permissible in the event of the popadia's death, and very few parish priests can afford to keep a servant in place of a wife, who requires no wages. Heaven help the family where the wife and mother is cut off untimely!
Up at the Castle time was passing joyously. There was some skat-playing; but the Count had made this easy for the pope by handing him an envelope with notes in it, which the priest had been delighted to pocket. There had been a visit to the horse-fair too, where the stranger guests had listened with amusement to the pope's cautious chaffering in their interest; and from time to time there had been adjournments to immense meals of game and meat, and sweets and wine, very different from the parsonage fare-a fixed quantity of black bread, and unsavoury vegetable soup, which had to be stretched round to meet the requirements of the pope's increasing family. The Countess's sharp impertinent eyes watched the poor parson's shamefaced greediness of appreciation with scarcely veiled insolence. Yet,
in her way, she liked him, wished him to enjoy his stay, and gave him the advantage of any tit-bits and warm corners that she could— partly out of careless good-nature, and partly to satisfy the superstitious disquiet of a thoroughly irreligious character brought into proximity with what, in Russia, passes for a spiritual power. It salved the Countess's conscience to fill the pope's plate and glass: in a day or two the wrinkles in his furrowed cheeks would be perceptibly lessened, and such a result would go to the credit side of her ladyship's moral account, debited, to her occasional mental inconvenience, with many a neglected mass and scamped confession. It was not often that the lady of the Castle did anything for anybody besides herself, but the comfortable assurance that the priest was having a good time diffused a glow of satisfaction through her which was eminently pleasing.
It was late in the evening of the second day that a message came from Nitchvorad to summon the pope to the village. Somehow the Countess received it first, sitting in her easy-chair in the yellow drawing-room after dinner; while the gentlemen, in the inner room, were cutting for partners at cards. The lady's face was rather white and scared as she whispered to her husband, and they both glanced anxiously at the pope, who, overcome with the warmth and the pleasant after-effects of an excellent meal, had fallen asleep in a corner of the sofa, waiting his turn to cut in when required. Some orders were given, and a carriage hastily prepared. The pope was roused, and his host hurriedly informed him of the summons that had come: one of his parishioners, a woman, was very ill, and desired
the last consolations of Holy Church. They almost pushed him across the hall to the carriage door, in their eagerness to get him off; for, puzzled with the sudden awakening and the but half-explained recall to duty, he was fain to linger, rubbing his eyes and asking a dozen questions which no one seemed inclined to answer. It was the Count himself who wrapped him in a big fur cloak and shut the carriage door. The footman, looking frightened and sulky, took his place on the boxseat, with a last word of direction from his master. Then the carriage rolled heavily away in the snowy darkness, and the Castle party looked at each other with sighs of relief.
"It was the best thing to do," averred the Countess, picking up her novel, which had fallen on the floor. "There would have been a scene and all that, and he will find it out fast enough."
"Was he fond of her?" some one asked a stupid question enough, had he stopped for a moment to consider; but one often says these sort of things to make conversation when matters are for a moment a little uncomfortable.
"Oh, it will be a real misfortune, poor fellow!" replied the Count, snuffing the wax candles on the card-table. "He may not remarry, as you know; and there are, of course, about twenty children. Baron, will you deal?"
"A dozen-a dozen exactly; do not exaggerate," murmured the Countess in the next room.
Two or three of the villagers, and some of the pope's boys, were hanging about the doorway as the Count's carriage drove up. poor shamefaced young footman got down from the box, and
muttered his explanation at the window. Ere it was half-way through, the pope, with starting eyes, had flung himself out of the carriage and into the house, crashing against an open door and overturning a stool as he rushed through the living-room to the bedroom beyond. But the noise did not startle the popadia, where she lay white and still on the bed, her long, long day's work over at last. A peasant woman—not old Marcova, but a neighbour summoned in terrified haste by Alexander-pushed a little shabby bundle of flannel at him, with a vague instinct of consolation. The twins from their box shouted lustily; the whispering group about the door crept nearer to have a glimpse of the death-chamber; even the young footman from the Castle, who felt he had played a somewhat important rôle in the catastrophe, determined to have just one peep, so as to report to the maidservants at supper how the popadia had looked.
But the pope saw nothing: with a terrible cry he flung himself across the bed where his wife lay. "Oh, little mother! little mother who will care for us now that thou art gone?"
There was no voice, nor any that answered, for the question was indeed unanswerable. Byand-by they brought the pope the vodka-bottle, and he drank, and fell into an uneasy slumber, while the women creaked about the room, attending to the puling infant, and whispering with suppressed enjoyment of the situation; but the popadia lay white and unmoved in their midst, for to her neither husband, children, nor neighbours mattered any longer.
G. B. STUART.
THE LOSS OF H.M.S. VICTORIA.
AN ANNIVERSARY LAMENT, JUNE 22, 1894.
DEEP, buried deep,
In calm untroubled sleep,
Beneath the waves they loved, our brothers lie.
Each severed from his own,
They rest in peace, whose duty was to die.
Shall we forget,
While graves with tears are wet,
The men who filled for us an ocean grave?
The Chief who died with them,
And sacrificed the life he would not save;
Pronounced his own death-word,
Are poets gone?
Shall Lycidas1 alone
Deserve the poet-shroud of Milton's tears:
Sunk low with England's pride 2
Share Cowper's fame, and cheat the jealous years?
-The months have sped:
What prophet-voice has said
In living words, their memory shall not die?
A worthy tribute pay
To England's loss, and England's bitter cry;
Words into music roll,
And utter forth a dirge, for all, for aye?
1 Drowned in the Irish Channel.
2 The Royal George.
O fatal skill
Devising ways to kill!
Too sure that ram to strike through steel and all! More hope had they
On whom in battle-fray
The dreaded phalanx of the Greeks might fall.
All forms of death
Cut short the struggling breath
Of those brave souls, who, as in stress of fight,
By whirling engines torn,
Or dragged in darkness down, from life and light. Yet short their pain:
And till they rise again
The sea shall guard the curtain of their night.
They sank to rest;
For in their death their name
Shall ever stand with England's honoured great.
Where Solitude and Gloom,
Twin-spectres, fill the spaces dim and vast,
Nor careless hand upraise
To stir the sleeping forms whence life has pastThere close they lie,
With all their panoply,
In peaceful glory wreathed, while earth shall last.
The storms may rave
Above that lonely grave,
The waves may roar and lash themselves, in vain;
For far below,
The wrecks of long ago
Rest undisturbed where night and stillness reign.
Above their head,
Men think not of the dead,
But toil and danger face, the ocean o'er,
When each must pass away,
As passed those brothers, to the unknown shore, Where all is peace,
Where surface-discords cease,
And silence broods, till time is known no more.