THE CHRISTENING IN THE VILLAGE
 THIS chapter is not one of old Peter's stories, though there are,
doubtless, some stories in it. It tells how Vanya and Maroosia drove
to the village to see a new baby.
Old Peter had a sister who lived in the village not so very far away
from the forest. And she had a plump daughter, and the daughter was
called Nastasia, and she was married to a handsome peasant called
Sergie, who had three cows, a lot of pigs, and a flock of fat geese.
And one day when old Peter had gone to the village to buy tobacco and
sugar and sunflower seeds, he came back in the evening, and said to
"There's something new in the village."
"What sort of a something?" asked Vanya.
 "Alive," said old Peter.
"Is there a lot of it?" asked Vanya.
"No, only one."
"Then it can't be pigs," said Vanya, in a melancholy voice. "I thought
it was pigs."
"Perhaps it is a little calf," said Maroosia.
"I know what it is," said Vanya.
"It's a foal. It's brown all over with white on its nose, and a lot of
white hairs in its tail."
"What is it then, grandfather?"
"I'll tell you, little pigeons. It's small and red, and it's got a
bumpy head with hair on it like the fluff of a duckling. It has blue
eyes, and ten fingers to its fore paws, and ten toes to its hind
feet—five to each."
"It's a baby," said Maroosia.
"Yes. Nastasia has got a little son, Aunt Sofia has got a grandson,
you have got a new cousin, and I have got a new great-nephew. Think of
that! Already it's a son, and a cousin, and a grandson, and a
great-nephew, and he's only been alive twelve hours. He lost no time
in taking a position for himself. He'll be a great man one of these
days if he goes on as fast as that."
 The children had jumped up as soon as they knew it was a baby.
"When is the christening?"
"The day after to-morrow."
"Who is going to the christening?"
"The baby, of course."
"Yes; but other people?"
"All the village."
"I have to go, and I suppose there'll be room in the cart for two
little bear cubs like you."
And so it was settled that Vanya and Maroosia were to go to the
christening of their new cousin, who was only twelve hours old. All
the next day they could think of nothing else, and early on the
morning of the christening they were up and about, Maroosia seeing
that Vanya had on a clean shirt, and herself putting a green ribbon in
her hair. The sun shone, and the leaves on the trees were all new and
bright, and the sky was pale blue through the flickering green leaves.
Old Peter was up early too, harnessing the little yellow horse into
the old cart. The cart was of rough wood, without springs, like a big
box fixed on long larch poles between two pairs of wheels.
 The larch
poles did instead of springs, bending and creaking, as the cart moved
over the forest track. The shafts came from the front wheels upwards
to the horse's shoulders, and between the ends of them there was a
tall strong hoop of wood, called a douga, which rose high over the
shoulders of the horse, above his collar, and had two little bells
hanging from it at the top. The wooden hoop was painted green with
little red flowers. The harness was mostly of ropes, but that did not
matter so long as it held together. The horse had a long tail and
mane, and looked as untidy as a little boy; but he had a green ribbon
in his forelock in honour of the christening, and he could go like
anything, and never got tired.
When all was ready, old Peter arranged a lot of soft fresh hay in the
cart for the children to sit in. Hay is the best thing in the world to
sit in when you drive in a jolting Russian cart. Old Peter put in a
tremendous lot, so that the horse could eat some of it while waiting
in the village, and yet leave them enough to make them comfortable on
the journey back. Finally, old Peter took a gun that he had spent all
the evening before in cleaning, and laid it carefully in the hay.
"What is the gun for?" asked Vanya.
"I am to be a godparent," said old Peter, "and
 I want to give him a
present. I could not give him a better present than a gun, for he
shall be a forester, and a good shot, and you cannot begin too early."
Presently Vanya and Maroosia were tucked into the hay, and old Peter
climbed in with the plaited reins, and away they went along the narrow
forest track, where the wheels followed the ruts and splashed through
the deep holes; for the spring was young, and the roads had not yet
dried. Some of the deepest holes had a few pine branches laid in them,
but that was the only road-mending that ever was done. Overhead were
the tall firs and silver birches with their little pale round leaves;
and somewhere, not far away, a cuckoo was calling, while the murmur of
the wild pigeons never stopped for a moment.
They drove on and on through the forest, and at last came out from
among the trees into the open country, a broad, flat plain stretching
to the river. Far away they could see the big square sail of a boat,
swelled out in the light wind, and they knew that there was the river,
on the banks of which stood the village. They could see a small clump
of trees, and, as they came nearer, the pale green cupolas of the
white village church rising above the tops of the birches.
 Presently they came to a rough wooden bridge, and crossed over a
little stream that was on its way to join the big river.
Vanya looked at it.
"Grandfather," he asked, "when the frost went, which was water
first—the big river or the little river?"
"Why, the little river, of course," said old Peter. "It's always the
little streams that wake first in the spring, and running down to the
big river make it swell and flood and break up the ice. It's always
been so ever since the quarrel between the Vazouza and the Volga."
"What was that?" said Vanya.
"It was like this," said old Peter.
The Vazouza and the Volga flow for a long way side by side, and then
they join and flow together. And the Vazouza is a little river; but
the Volga is the mother of all Russia, and the greatest river in the
And the little Vazouza was jealous of the Volga.
"You are big and noisy," she says to the Volga, "and terribly strong;
but as for brains," says she, "why, I have more brains in a single
ripple than you in all that lump of water."
 Of course the Volga told her not to be so rude, and said that little
rivers should know their place and not argue with the great.
But the Vazouza would not keep quiet, and at last she said to the
Volga: "Look here, we will lie down and sleep, and we will agree that
the one of us who wakes first and comes first to the sea is the wiser
of the two."
And the Volga said, "Very well, if only you will stop talking."
So the little Vazouza and the big Volga lay and slept, white and
still, all through the winter. And when the spring came, the little
Vazouza woke first, brisk and laughing and hurrying, and rushed away
as hard as she could go towards the sea. When the Volga woke the
little Vazouza was already far ahead. But the Volga did not hurry. She
woke slowly and shook the ice from herself, and then came roaring
after the Vazouza, a huge foaming flood of angry water.
And the little Vazouza listened as she ran, and she heard the Volga
coming after her; and when the Volga caught her up—a tremendous
foaming river, whirling along trees and blocks of ice—she was
frightened, and she said,—
"O Volga, let me be your little sister. I will never argue with you
any more. You are
 wiser than I and stronger than I. Only take me by
the hand and bring me with you to the sea."
And the Volga forgave the little Vazouza, and took her by the hand and
brought her safely to the sea. And they have never quarrelled again.
But all the same, it is always the little Vazouza that gets up first
in the spring, and tugs at the white blankets of ice and snow, and
wakes her big sister from her winter sleep.
They drove on over the flat open country, with no hedges, but only
ditches to drain off the floods, and very often not even ditches to
divide one field from another. And huge crows, with gray hoods and
shawls, pecked about in the grass at the roadside or flew heavily in
the sunshine. They passed a little girl with a flock of geese, and
another little girl lying in the grass holding a long rope which was
fastened to the horns of a brown cow. And the little girl lay on her
face and slept among the flowers, while the cow walked slowly round
her, step by step, chewing the grass and thinking about nothing at
And at last they came to the village, where the road was wider; and
instead of one pair of ruts there were dozens, and the cart bumped
worse than ever. The broad earthy road had no stones
 in it; and in
places where the puddles would have been deeper than the axles of the
wheels, it had been mended by laying down fir logs and small branches
in the puddles, and putting a few spadefuls of earth on the top of
The road ran right through the village. On either side of it were
little wooden huts. The ends of the timbers crossed outside at the
four corners of the huts. They fitted neatly into each other, and some
of them were carved. And there were no slates or tiles on the roofs,
but little thin slips of wood overlapping each other. There was not a
single stone hut or cottage in the village. Only the church was partly
brick, whitewashed, with bright green cupolas up in the air, and thin
gold crosses on the tops of the cupolas, shining in the clear sky.
Outside the church were rows of short posts, with long rough fir
timbers nailed on the top of them, to which the country people tied
their horses when they came to church. There were several carts there
already, with bright-coloured rugs lying on the hay in them; and the
horses were eating hay or biting the logs. Always, except when the
logs are quite new, you can tell the favourite places for tying up
horses to them, because the timbers will have deep holes in them,
 where they have been gnawed away by the horses' teeth. They bite the
timbers, while their masters eat sunflower seeds, not for food, but to
pass the time.
"Now then," said old Peter, as he got down from the cart, tied the
horse, gave him an armful of hay from the cart, and lifted the
children out. "Be quick. We shall be late if we don't take care. I
believe we are late already.—Good health to you, Fedor," he said to
an old peasant; "and has the baby gone in?"
"He has, Peter. And my health is not so bad; and how is yours?"
"Good also, Fedor, thanks be to God. And will you see to these two?
for I am a godparent, and must be near the priest."
"Willingly," said the old peasant Fedor. "How they do grow, to be
sure, like young birch trees. Come along then, little pigeons."
Old Peter hurried into the church, followed by Fedor with Vanya and
Maroosia. They all crossed themselves and said a prayer as they went
The ceremony was just beginning.
The priest, in his silk robes, was standing before the gold and
painted screen at the end of the church, and there were the basin of
 and old Peter's sister, and the nurse Babka Tanya, very
proud, holding the baby in a roll of white linen, and rocking it to
and fro. There were coloured pictures of saints all over the screen,
which stretches from one side of the church to the other. Some of the
pictures were framed in gilt frames under glass, and were partly
painted and partly metal. The faces and hands of the saints were
painted, and their clothes were glittering silver or gold. Little
lamps were burning in front of them, and candles.
A Russian christening is very different from an English one. For one
thing, the baby goes right into the water, not once, but three times.
Babka Tanya unrolled the baby, and the priest covered its face with
his hand, and down it went under the water, once, twice, and again.
Then he took some of the sacred ointment on his finger and anointed
the baby's forehead, and feet, and hands, and little round stomach.
Then, with a pair of scissors, he cut a little pinch of fluff from the
baby's head, and rolled it into a pellet with the ointment, and threw
the pellet into the holy water. And after that the baby was carried
solemnly three times round the holy water. The priest blessed it and
prayed for it; and there it was, a little true Russian, ready to be
 to its mother, Nastasia, who lay at home in her cottage
waiting for it.
When they got outside the church, they all went to Nastasia's cottage
to congratulate her on her baby, and to tell her what good lungs it
had, and what a handsome face, and how it was exactly like its father.
Nastasia smiled at Vanya and Maroosia; but they had no eyes except for
the baby, and for all that belonged to it, especially its cradle. Now
a Russian baby has a very much finer cradle than an English baby. A
long fir pole is fastened in the middle and at one end to the beams in
the ceiling of the hut, so that the other end swings free, just below
the rafters. From this end is hung a big basket, and on the ropes by
which the basket hangs are fastened shawls of bright colours. The baby
is tucked in the basket, the shawls closed round it; and as the mother
or the nurse sits at her spinning, she just kicks the basket gently
now and again, and it swings up and down from the end of the pole, as
if it were hung from the branch of a tree.
This baby had a fine new basket and a larch pole, newly fixed, white
and shining, under the dark beams of the ceiling. It had presents
besides old Peter's gun. It had a fine wooden spoon
 with a picture on
it of a cottage and a fish. It had a wooden bowl and a painted mug,
bought from one of the peddling barges that go up and down the rivers
selling chairs and crockery, just like the caravans that travel our
English roads. And also, although it was so young, it had a little
sacred picture, made of metal, a picture of St. Nikolai; because this
was St. Nikolai's day, and the baby was called Nikolai.
There was a samovar already steaming in the cottage, and a great cake
of pastry, and cabbage and egg and fish. And there were cabbage soup
with sour cream, and black bread and a little white bread, and red
kisel jelly and a huge jug of milk.
And everybody ate and drank and talked as if they were never going to
stop. The sun was warm, and presently the men went outside and sat on
a log, leaning their backs against the wall of the hut and making
cigarettes and smoking, or eating sunflower seeds, cracking the husks
with their teeth, taking out the white kernels, and blowing the husks
away. And the women sat in the hut, and now and then brought out
glasses of hot tea to the men, and then went back again to talk of
what a fine man the baby would be, and to remember other babies. And
the old women looked at the young mothers and laughed,
 and said that
they could remember the days when they were christened—when they were
babies themselves, no bigger than the little Nikolai who swung in the
basket and squalled, or slept proudly, just as if he knew that all the
world belonged to him because he was so very young. And Vanya and
Maroosia ate sunflower seeds too, and sometimes played outside the
cottage and sometimes inside; but mostly stood very quiet close to the
swinging cradle, waiting till old Babka Tanya, the nurse, should pull
the shawls a little way aside and let them see the pink, crumpled
face of the little Nikolai, and the yellow fluff, just like a
duckling's, which covered his bumpy pink head.
At last, towards evening, old Peter packed what was left of the hay
into the cart, and packed Vanya and Maroosia in with the hay.
Everybody said good-byes all round, and Peter climbed in and took up
the rope reins.
"He'll be a fine man," he shouted through the door to Nastasia, "a
fine man; and God grant he'll be as healthy as he is good.—Till we
meet again," he cried out merrily to the villagers; and Vanya and
Maroosia waved their hands, and off they drove, back again to the hut
in the forest.
They were very much quieter on the way back than they had been when
they drove to the village
 in the morning. And the early summer day was
quiet as it came to its end. There was a corncrake rattling in the
fields, and more than once they saw frogs hop out of the road as they
drove by in the twilight. A hare ran before them through the dusk and
disappeared. And when they came to the wooden bridge over the stream,
a tall gray bird with a long beak rose up from the bank and flew
slowly away, carrying his long legs, like a thin pair of crutches,
straight out behind him.
"Who is that?" asked Vanya sleepily from his nest in the hay.
"That is Mr. Crane," said old Peter. "Perhaps he is on his way to
visit Miss Heron and tell her that this time he has really made up his
mind, and to ask her to let bygones be bygones."
"What bygones?" said Vanya.
Old Peter watched the crane's slow, steady flight above the low marshy
ground on either side of the stream, and then he said,—
"Why, surely you know all about that. It is an old story, little one,
and I must have told it you a dozen times."
"No, never, grandfather," said Maroosia. She was nearly as sleepy as
Vanya after the day in the village, and the fuss and pleasure of the
 "Oh, well," said old Peter; and he told the tale of Mr. Crane and Miss
Heron as the cart bumped slowly along the rough road, while Vanya and
Maroosia looked out with sleepy eyes from their nest of hay and
listened, and the sky turned green, and the trees grew dim, and the
frogs croaked in the ditches.
Mr. Crane and Miss Heron lived in a marsh five miles across from end to
end. They lived there, and fed on the frogs which they caught in their
long bills, and held up in the air for a moment, and then swallowed,
standing on one leg. The marsh was always damp, and there were always
plenty of frogs, and life went well for them, except that they saw
very little company. They had no one to pass the time of day with. For
Mr. Crane had built his little hut on one side of the marsh, and Miss
Heron had built hers on the other.
So it came into the head of Mr. Crane that it was dull work living
alone. If only I were married, he thought, there would be two of us to
drink our tea beside the samovar at night, and I should not spend my
evenings in melancholy, thinking only of frogs. I will go to see Miss
Heron, and I will offer to marry her.
So off he flew to the other side of the marsh,
 flap, flap, with his
legs hanging out behind, just as we saw him to-night. He came to the
other side of the marsh, and flew down to the hut of Miss Heron. He
tapped on the door with his long beak.
"Is Miss Heron at home?"
"At home," said Miss Heron.
"Will you marry me?" said Mr. Crane.
"Of course I won't," said Miss Heron; "your legs are long and
ill-shaped, and your coat is short, and you fly awkwardly, and you are
not even rich. You would have no dainties to feed me with. Off with
you, long-bodied one, and don't come bothering me."
She shut the door in his face.
Mr. Crane looked the fool he thought himself, and went off home,
wishing he had never made the journey.
But as soon as he was gone, Miss Heron, sitting alone in her hut,
began to think things over and to be sorry she had spoken in such a
"After all," thinks she, "it is poor work living alone. And Mr. Crane,
in spite of what I said about his looks, is really a handsome enough
young fellow. Indeed at evening, when he stands on one leg, he is very
handsome indeed. Yes, I will go and marry him."
 So off flew Miss Heron, flap, flap, over five miles of marsh, and came
to the hut of Mr. Crane.
"Is the master at home?"
"At home," said Mr. Crane.
"Ah, Mr. Crane," said Miss Heron, "I was chaffing you just now. When
shall we be married?"
"No, Miss Heron," said Mr. Crane; "I have no need of you at all. I do
not wish to marry, and I would not take you for my wife even if I
did. Clear out, and let me see the last of you." He shut the door.
Miss Heron wept tears of shame, that ran from her eyes down her long
bill and dropped one by one to the ground. Then she flew away home,
wishing she had not come.
As soon as she was gone Mr. Crane began to think, and he said to
himself, "What a fool I was to be so short with Miss Heron! It's dull
living alone. Since she wants it, I will marry her." And he flew off
after Miss Heron. He came to her hut, and told her,—
"Miss Heron, I have thought things over. I have decided to marry you."
"Mr. Crane," said Miss Heron, "I, too, have thought things over. I
would not marry you, not for ten thousand young frogs."
 Off flew Mr. Crane.
As soon as he was gone Miss Heron thought, "Why didn't I agree to
marry Mr. Crane? It's dull alone. I will go at once and tell him I
have changed my mind."
She flew off to betroth herself; but Mr. Crane would have none of her,
and she flew back again.
And so they go on to this day—first one and then the other flying
across the marsh with an offer of marriage, and flying back with
shame. They have never married, and never will.
"Grandfather," whispered Maroosia, tugging at old Peter's sleeve,
"Vanya is asleep."
They drove on through the forest silently, except for the creaking of
the cart and the loud singing of the nightingales in the tops of the
tall firs. They came at last to their hut.
"Ah!" said old Peter, as he lifted them out, first one and then the
other; "it isn't only Vanya who's asleep." And he carried them in, and
put them to bed without waking them.
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