“Little?” cried the young Cossack. “Why, do you know what our little horses can do? There are not many armies in Europe that they have not ridden down, at one time or another. Why, the church at Tcherkask is hung all round with Colors we have taken from our enemies. There’s the Swede—didn’t Charles XII. get the worst of it when he came in his big boots after the Cossack?—ay, and the Turk, and the Austrian, and the French? Ah! doesn’t my Grandfather tell how he rode his good little horse all the way from the Volga to the Seine, and the good Czar Alexander himself gave him the medal with “Not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the praise’? Our father the Czar does not think so little of us and our horses as you do, young lady.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Lucy; “I did not know what your horses could do.”
“Oh, you did not! That is some excuse for you. I’ll show you.”
And in one moment he was on the back of his little horse, leaning down on its neck, and galloping off over the green plain like the wind; but it seemed to Lucy as if she had only just watched him out of sight on one side before he was close to her on the other, having whirled round and cantered close up to her while she was looking the other way. “Come up with me,” he said; and in one moment she had been swept up before him on the little horse’s neck, and was flying so wildly over the Steppes that her breath and sense failed her, and she knew no more till she was safe by Mrs. Bunker’s fireside again.
“Suppose now I go to sleep again; what should I like to see next? A sunny place, I think, where there is sea to look at. Shall it be Spain, and shall it be among the poor people? Well, I think I should be where there is a little lady girl. I hope they are not all as lazy and conceited as the Chinese and the Turk.”
So Lucy awoke in a large, cool room with a marble floor and heavy curtains, but with little furniture except one table, and a row of chairs ranged along the wall. It had two windows, one looking out into a garden,—such a garden!—orange-trees with shining leaves and green and golden fruit and white flowers, and jasmines, and great lilies standing round about a marble court. In the midst of this court was a basin of red marble, where a fountain was playing, making a delicious splashing; and out beyond these sparkled in the sun the loveliest and most delicious of blue seas—the same blue sea, indeed, that Lucy had seen in her Italian visit.
That window was empty; but the other, which looked out into the street, had cushions laid on the sill, an open-work stone ledge beyond, and little looking-glasses on either side. Leaning over this sill there was seated a little maiden in a white frock, but with a black lace veil fastened by a rose into her jet-black hair, and the daintiest, prettiest-shaped little feet imaginable in white satin shoes, which could be plainly seen as she knelt on the window-seat.