24 THE THREE WONDERFUL BEGGARS
loft we stand, and who wanted to drive us from his door.'
After a little more talk the three made themselves ready and crept softly away.
An astasia, who had heard every word, ran straight to her father, and told him all.
Mark was very much surprised; he thought, and thought, and in the morning he drove to the next village to try and find out if such a child really had been born. He went first to the priest, and asked him about the children in his parish.
' Yesterday,' said the priest, ' a boy was born in the poorest house in the village. I named the unlucky little thing " Vassili." He is the seventh son, and the eldest is only seven years old, and they,hardly have a mouthful' amongst them all. Who can be got to stand godfather to such a little beggar boy ?'
The merchant's heart beat fast, and his mind was full of bad thoughts about that poor little baby. He would be godfather himself, he said, and he ordered a fine christening feast; so the child was brought and christened, and Mark was very friendly to its father. After the ceremony was over he took Ivan aside and said:
' Look here, my friend, you are a poor man. How can you afford to bring up the boy ? Give him to me and I'll make something of him, and I'll give you a present of a thousand crowns. Is that a bargain?'
Ivan scratched his head, and thought, and thought, and then he agreed. Mark counted out the money, wrapped the baby up in a fox skin, laid it in the sledge beside him, and drove back towards home. When he had driven some miles he drew up, carried the child to the edge of a steep precipice and threw it over, muttering, ' There, now try to take my property!'
Very soon after this some foreign merchants travelled along that same road od the way to see Mark and to pay the twelve thousand crowns which they owed him.