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Twenty Miles and Hour, from the Harper's


It was the 6th of January, that great holiday in Russia, when the river Neva is consecrated with pomp and ceremony, when soldiers parade and priests say mass, and the Emperor is visible, and the cannon roar. And it was a gloriously bright and beautiful day; but Ivan and Olga, looking out on the broad street and the glittering pinnacles of the palace chapel, watching the sledges fly by with people all muffled in furs, were two very disconsolate children. They had an English governess—for Russian children have to study English as Americans do French—and they had been so unruly, so impatient, and indifferent to lessons, that Miss Stanley had forbidden their going out to see the sights. This was hard indeed, but it was needful: that the children could not understand, and they walked from the great porcelain stove, which reached to the ceiling, over to the double windows, all packed with sand, and having curious little paper cornucopias of salt stuck in it to keep the frost from making pictures on the glass, to and fro, to and fro, in great unhappiness. Outside, the thermometer was away below zero, but inside, thanks to the stoves and the great copper heaters, it was as warm as toast.

"Now, Olga," said Ivan, after an hour or two of this tiresome way of spending time, "I am not going to stand this any longer; if I can not go to the Neva, I am going to have a ride on one of the ice mountains, and if you want to, you may go with me."

"Oh, Ivan, how would you dare? You know we are not allowed to go alone, and Marie is at church, and we have no sledges."

"Tut, tut! have I not fifty kopeks [about fifty cents], and can I not hire an isvochtchik [driver] to take us? and we can be home again before they come from chapel. Come, Olga, let us have some fun."

Olga's conscience said "no," but the temptation was overpowering, and after repeated urging from Ivan they both crept down softly to the little apartment in the large hall where were kept their fur cloaks and bashlyks, or cloth hoods, which are put over hats and ears. No one saw them. Every one was at church, and the dvornik, or porter who guarded the front door, was snoozing soundly, wrapped up in his sheep-skins, near the heater. They got their fur mittens and tippets and cloaks down from the pegs where they were hanging in the heated air, and put them on in silence. In silence, too, they lifted the huge bolts, and slipped out into the street. It was too cold to speak, for the air would have frozen on their lips, and they hurried to a corner where usually there were to be found sledges, whose drivers can endure any amount of cold, and who even sleep out at night at theatre and opera while waiting for their masters. Here Ivan found what he wanted, though the man's dull gaze seemed to question the propriety of taking two children to the pleasure-garden which Ivan indicated. The kopeks, however, were forth-coming, and that was all he cared about; so in they jumped, and tucked the furs about them, and away they went over the broad street, flying past troiskas, with their three horses, and gay little sledges of every description. Their route took them away from the Neva, where was the greatest crowd, and they soon reached the entrance of the pleasure-garden, climbed the great flight of wooden stairs to the pavilion on top, where Ivan hired a sled, and paid for a glass of tea hot from the big brass samovar, which is always boiling and ready for use. Olga had scarcely time to think what she was about before she was seated behind Ivan, and away they flew down the side of the frozen mountain, all as hard as glass. But now it began to snow fast, thick, and furious, and the people could not keep it off the ice. Ivan was getting tired, too, and his hands were cold. This fun of going twenty miles an hour had filled him with glee; but Olga lost her bashlyk, and he found it hard to guide his sled. Suddenly he made a swerve to the left, and, with a fearful jerk, over they went. It was a dreadful blow, and had it not been for the kindness of the people in charge, both might have been badly injured; but they were picked up and carried to the pavilion, rubbed with snow on their noses and ears, and finally packed in a sledge and driven home. How differently they looked at the glittering crowd, and watched the animated scene! They had gone out full of excitement and daring; resolved as Ivan was to resist authority, he now was full of shame that he had gotten himself into a scrape. His fingers ached, and Olga was crying and complaining of her ears. As they neared their home a troiska drove up with ladies wrapped in sables, and their mother and Miss Stanley alighted.

"Ivan! Olga! where have you been? what have you been doing?"

They told their story when they got in-doors, and Ivan had begged some kopeks with which to pay the waiting isvochtchik—for his money had been exhausted; and it was settled that they had been sufficiently punished when it was discovered that Ivan's fingers and Olga's ears were frost-bitten.

Both were sent to bed for fear of further harm from the cold, which is considered by Russians the root of all evil in the way of disease; and as they sipped their hot tea again, and nibbled the slice of lemon which floated on the surface, Ivan said to Olga: "It is great fun to go twenty miles an hour, but it don't pay to be bad. I'm going to work to-morrow at those old English verbs, and I'll conquer or die."