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SERFDOM AND PRETENDERS.
Now Ivan the Terrible had two sons. Feodor was the elder, Dmitri the younger. Feodor's name sounds soft and sweet, and not very strong. This Feodor was like his name.
But Feodor had a brother-in-law named Boris Godounov. And Boris was strong and clever and very ambitious. He had Tartar blood in his veins, and Tartar fierceness and cunning. So it came that he got the power into his hands. No one could approach the Czar except by the help of Boris. And it was Boris who sat in state in the great hall of the palace, and received the envoys of foreign kings.
Now Boris said in his mind, "I will be Czar after the death of Feodor." Three people stood in his way. One was Dmitri, Feodor's brother; the others a cousin of Feodor's and her daughter.
Then Boris looked at these with eyes full of evil and dark intent. And with soft words and gentle promises he prevailed on this cousin and her daughter
to come and live in Eussia. But presently when men asked, " Where is Feodor's cousin ?" they heard she was in a convent. Soon after her daughter died rather suddenly and was huried. Then men began to say dark things as to how she had met her death.
Now only Dmitri, the young prince, stood between Boris and the throne. One day the great alarm-bell of the palace rang out suddenly. Dmitri's mother and friends rushed out into the court. There lay Dmitri on the ground, dead, with his throat cut. At the sight Dmitri's friends grew full of rage and suspicion, and they seized Boris's friends who were there, and put them to death.
When Boris heard of that he sent his men down to find out, so he said, how Dmitri had met his death. These said boldly, "The prince has died a natural death, and has not been murdered." After that they put to death Dmitri's friends for killing the friends of Boris.
So the last hindrance was gone. Boris had only to wait for Feodor's death.
Boris ruled for Feodor well and wisely in many ways. He made war in Poland, and was victorious. But the people never loved him, for they whispered one to another, " It was by Boris's order that Dmitri was slain." So although Boris drove away with a mighty hand a great band of Tartars that came up to the gates of Moscow, yet the people hated him.
But one great thing which Boris did, not a good thing, but a very bad one, was that he made the Eussian peasants serfs. But though it was a deed that brought sorrow and misery on the land, yet in some ways it seemed good.
In the time of Ivan the Great, when he was trying to throw off the Tartar yoke, he got help from the nobles—help of money and men. Then to reward them he gave them land.
But this land was of no value unless it was dug and sown and planted. And for that the nobles needed peasants who would live on the land. And the more peasants there were to cultivate the land, the more valuable it was.
So the rich nobles began to try to have as many peasants on their lands as possible. And to persuade them to come, they promised them advantages of different sorts. Then the peasants left the smaller nobles, who were not able to promise them anything, and went to the rich ones.
So the small nobles found themselves very poor. Their land was of no use without labourers. And it became almost impossible for them to provide any soldiers in time of war, for they had neither men enough, nor money to arm them.
Boris Godounov saw this difficulty very plainly. He saw that the army suffered for it, and the small nobles suffered. So he began to think that he would solve the difficulty by settling the number of peasants for each estate, and then by making a law to forbid them to move from one master to another,—in short, by making them serfs. Another reason for his doing this was that he would by it gain the friendship of the small nobles. The rich boyards hated his power too much ever to be his friends.
So in the year 1590 the Eussian peasants became serfs. Eight years after that Feodor died. He was the last of the race of Ivan.
Who was to reign? Who but Boris Godounov.
At first he made as though he would not take the crown. That was his cunning. He waited till the whole nation should ask him, in order that when he was once king he might have nothing to fear. The nobles, who felt that no other could be king, said to the people, "Feodor wished Boris to be king, and hung a gold chain round his neck. Eemember, too, his good ruling and his skill in war."
Then the nation sent to beseech him to reign, and Boris reigned. He had gained his end at last. His heart swelled with pride, and he hoped to be the first of a long race of descendant kings. But though he knew it not, bloody hands were to wipe out the last trace of Boris's family, as Boris's bloody hands had wiped out Ivan's children.
His reign was glorious. He fought well with Poland and Turkey and the Khan of Siberia. His fame spread far and wide, till the European sovereigns tried to make friends with him.
Boris sent an envoy to England to ask for the help of Queen Elizabeth against Turkey, and to reprove her because she had already helped Turkey. "For," so ran Boris's message, "the Queen should help Christian kings, and not infidel Mohammedans." When Queen Elizabeth received his envoy she rose to listen to him. And when he had ended she bowed her head and asked after the health of Boris.
Boris invited many artists and generals and learned men to his Court. He built the tower of Ivan the Great, and had a bell cast for it, so large that it was called the Queen of Bells. He sent also young Eussians to Europe to learn arts and sciences there.
But a sorcerer had foretold that Boris should only reign for seven years; and the end of the seven years was drawing near. Great troubles came upon the land. There was a fierce revolt of the nobles, and much bloodshed. Then a frightful famine came upon the land, and after that a plague. And the hungry peasants and servants of the exiled nobles formed bands of brigands, and went about robbing and plundering.
And men said, "These are signs of great evil