Read CHAPTER II of Catharine's Peril / The Little Russian Girl Lost in a Forest And Other Stories, free online book, by M. E. Bewsher, on

In spite of all obstacles, Catharine managed to cross over one of the bridges to the opposite side of the Beresina, and then the poor child came on with a detachment of the French army as far as Poland. Many of her companions perished of exposure and want; others were lost on the way; some lay down from sheer exhaustion, or to try to sleep, and, ignorant of the hour of march, on awaking found themselves in the power of the enemy.

The sick and the wounded anxiously looked around for some humane friend to help them, but their cries were lost in the air. No one had leisure to attend to his dearest friend self-preservation, the first law of nature, absorbed every thought.

Under these distressing circumstances, it so happened that the friendless little Russian girl found herself quite alone, forsaken in the midst of a large forest, where wolves and even bears were frequently seen.

The poor child, half-dead with cold, hunger, and fear, the snow nearly up to her knees, saw ere long, to her intense horror, a savage bear approaching; and Catharine, making a frantic effort to escape, found her limbs so benumbed and her weakness so great that she could not move.

The bear was coming nearer, preparing to attack her, when Catharine, in mortal fright, uttered a piercing scream, imploring help.

Thanks to a merciful Providence, at the precise moment that the savage bear was preparing to attack her, a shot was fired, and the bear fell dead at the feet of the astonished child.

The stranger, when he came to the spot where Catharine was still cowering, trembling with fright, looked with an eye of pity on the lonely little creature whose safety had been so wonderfully entrusted to him.

He proved to be a Polish lord named Barezewski, and taking some bread, cold meat, and wine out of his hunting-pouch, he gave them to Catharine, who soon felt better for the refreshment she so much needed, and cheered by the unexpected kindness of the gentleman, who now took her hand to lead her to his castle, at some little distance.

The countess received the poor outcast with much tenderness, and in a short time the young Muscovite was able to relate all she knew of her interesting and eventful history. The noble Pole and his lady were moved to tears by Catharine’s recital of her sufferings and the horrors she had witnessed on the road; but, thanks to their compassionate sympathy and kindness, she soon ceased to think of what she had undergone, and was capable of appreciating the comforts and blessings now surrounding her.

Several years passed, bringing no intelligence of Catharine’s parents; meanwhile, she grew in wisdom and in loveliness of mind and person, and no expense was spared to make her an elegant and accomplished young lady. She had attained her sixteenth year when an important event took place.

On the anniversary of the Russian child’s wonderful and providential deliverance from a frightful death, it was customary each year to have a grand feast at the Castle, when the gentle and beloved Catharine Somoff would relate anew her thrilling history, and review the kindness shown her by her generous protectors, who looked upon her in every respect as their own child.

The season had come round once again, and she was in the middle of her tale, when a gun was heard at a short distance from the Castle. The weather was very stormy; the wind blew violently, the snow fell in large flakes, darkening the sky; it was almost impossible to see a yard before one.

’Doubtless it is some lost traveller imploring assistance, or perhaps being attacked by wild beasts, so numerous in the forest. It is impossible to be hunting or shooting merely for pleasure in this dreadful weather,’ exclaimed Count Barezewski, giving orders for his men to provide torches and other needful apparatus, and come with him to find out what was amiss. They set off in the direction of the forest whence the report of the gun had proceeded the identical spot where Catharine Somoff had been threatened by the bear some years ago. Great anxiety was felt at the Castle during the hour that passed before the brave Barezewski appeared, followed by his men, who bore the body of a bleeding Russian on a litter.

Catharine hastened to look at her fellow-countryman, and then expressed a wish to dress his wound. The stranger was soon restored to consciousness by the humane attentions of his hosts, and able to express his gratitude, as well as mention a few particulars of his adventures on this wintry day.

He said: ’I am a Muscovite merchant on my way to Warsaw. Before leaving this part, I wished to go and see a friend living at some little distance. I took my gun, and walked to his castle, where I was belated. The snow fell in large flakes; I lost my path. In vain I sought the proper road, when, noticing two men coming in my direction, I hastened to ask them to put me in the right way. I did not mistrust them the least in the world, and was patiently awaiting their reply, when suddenly both these rascals rushed upon me, throwing me to the ground, and robbed me of the small sum of money I had in my purse. I uttered a cry; then one of them, evidently intending to kill me, pointed his gun at my heart, and fired.’

All this time Catharine had kept her eyes intently fixed upon the stranger’s countenance; she seemed to recall some well-known features, without being able to remember where she had seen them. Her heart beat violently, and her interest in the new-comer became greater every moment; indeed, her feelings appeared to be excited in an unaccountable manner. Count Barezewski begged his guest to give him a few details of the terrible fire at Moscow, which had caused so much misery and distress to both Russians and French. The Russian seemed to feel a very great disinclination to comply with his host’s request; however, when he reflected upon the hospitality and kindness he was receiving, he knew not how to refuse. His voice betrayed excessive emotion as he described the sad sight of this immense conflagration; but as soon as he came to his own private misfortunes, he burst into tears, and with a deep-drawn sigh exclaimed:

’Alas! this awful fire not only deprived us of a great part of our fortune, but, far worse, of her who formed our chief joy, our cherished daughter. Amid the frightful panic that prevailed, whilst my wife and I endeavoured to save some of our most valuable effects from the rage of the devouring element, we lost our only child, then in her seventh year. Her nurse had taken her for safety to a house situated in a by-street occupied by a friend of ours, where the fire had not yet reached; but both the child and the nurse disappeared, and since this melancholy catastrophe all our numerous and anxious inquiries respecting them have proved utterly fruitless. Probably they were killed by a falling edifice, and so buried in its ruins; at least, this is my opinion, for my dear wife still has the hope of again beholding our long-lost but dearly cherished child.’

Catharine, who had listened with the most heartfelt interest to this touching recital, could not restrain her emotions any longer. She threw herself on the stranger’s neck, exclaiming,

‘My father, my dear father!’

It was a most affecting moment. We will not attempt to depict the joy and the thankfulness that filled the hearts of both parent and child. Let our young readers try to imagine themselves in Catharine’s situation, or else in her father’s; then only can they enter into the real sentiments that overpowered them both. How pleasure and pain are intermingled in this life!

Catharine’s delight at being re-united to her dear father was undoubtedly great, but sorrow at the prospect of leaving friends like the Count and Countess proved a trial to the affectionate and grateful girl.

’Then happy those, since each must draw
His share of pleasure, share of pain;
Then happy those, belov’d of Heaven,
To whom the mingled cup is given,
Whose lenient sorrows find relief,
Whose joys are chastened by their grief.’