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THERE were sounds of merriment in the village, and a chorus of song murmured, stream-like, through its single street. It was the hour when lads and lasses, after their hard day's work, meet in the mellow gloaming to express their feelings in melodies which, though glad, are never without a strain of sadness. The pensive eventide was dreamily embracing the blue heaven, and transforming every visible object into something vague, shadowy, and ghost-like. The brooding gloom settled into night, and still the stream of song flowed on without surcease.
Guitar in hand, the eldest son of the village headman steals away from his comrades, and makes toward a house that is half hidden by a screen of pink-blossomed cherry-trees. As he walks, the young Cossack strikes a few notes on the instrument, and steps a measure to his own music. When he reaches the house, he stops, and, after a short pause, touches his guitar again, and sings a song of love, soft and low:
"The sun is low, the night is near,
Come, oh, come to me, sweetheart, dear!"
"No use," murmured the Cossack when he had finished his song, at the same time drawing near to the window. "My darling is asleep. Hahn! Hahn! A pet diminutive for Hanna are you asleep, or don't you like to expose your pretty face to the cold? Or maybe you won't come out for fear we may be seen together. But there is nothing to fear. The night is warm, and there is nobody near. And if anybody does come, I will hide you in my arms, and none shall see you. And if the wind blows cold, I will press you to my heart, warm you with kisses, and put my cap on your tiny feet, my darling. Only look out for one moment: put your hand out of the window that I may touch your rosy fingers.
"No, you're not asleep!" he adds, passionately, after waiting in vain for an answer. "You are laughing at me. Well, laugh if it pleases you. Good-bye!"
He turns round, throws back his cap, and, still gently touching his guitar, draws a few paces away. Almost at the same moment the wooden handle of the door begins to stir, the door opens with a squeak, and a girl in the spring of seventeen appears on the threshold, and, still holding the handle, she looks furtively around. Her eyes shine in the dusk like little stars, and even the pink flush on her cheeks is not unobserved by the young Cossack.
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