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A Prince Who Would Not Stay Dead
by [?]

Dmitri was now out of the way, or, rather, he would have been if he had had an ordinary capacity for staying comfortably killed; and Boris redoubled his efforts to prepare the way for his own elevation to the throne, as Feodor’s successor, when that prince should chance to let the sceptre fall from his grasp.

To secure the influence of the Church in his behalf, he bought of a Greek bishop the right to appoint the successor of the patriarch (a sort of Greek Church pope); and that office presently becoming vacant, he appointed a creature of his own as head of the Church. He succeeded in winning the favor of the inferior nobility, who were very numerous, and made himself strong in many other ways.

Boris was a fellow of infinite good-luck; and so it fell out that, at the precise moment when all his plans were complete, the Czar Feodor obligingly died. So opportunely did this event happen, that grave historians have been inclined to suspect Boris of having procured it in some way; but of this there is no positive evidence.

Feodor dead, there was no heir to the throne. With him ended the line of Rurik, which alone the Russians recognized as legitimately entitled to rule the empire; and now a new czar must be chosen. The nobles quarrelled, of course. They agreed in thinking that one of their order should be elevated to the throne; but they could by no means agree which one it should be. Each resented the pretensions of all the others, and it speedily became manifest that the patriarch’s nomination, upon whomsoever it might fall, would turn the scale and elect a czar. The patriarch was Boris’s own creature, appointed for the sole purpose of forwarding that minister’s plans; and he promptly nominated Boris to the vacant throne. The election was a prearranged affair; and presently Boris was waited upon–in the convent to which he had retired with the declared purpose of leading a monastic life in future–and informed of his selection by the people as Czar of all the Russias. He modestly declined, of course; and, equally of course, his modesty only made the people the more clamorous. After some weeks of petty dalliance Boris finally allowed himself to be persuaded, and was crowned czar, in due form, in the year 1598.

He was not long in discovering that his position was insecure, and incapable of being made safe. Whatever policy he might adopt–and he was disposed, it appears, to govern wisely and well–was sure to displease some of his subjects; and in the hands of a hostile faction, his want of hereditary claim upon the throne was a powerful weapon. What he had seized by crime he must keep by tyranny and violence, and a three years’ famine added greatly to his embarrassments. Whatever he did excited discontent; and to make his wretchedness complete, he fancied himself haunted by the ghost of the murdered Dmitri. There were symptoms of mutiny everywhere, which daily threatened to culminate in open revolt. It needed only a match to fire the mine.

In 1603, when matters were at their worst, there appeared in Poland a young man who claimed to be the murdered Dmitri. His story was that, by means of an adroit substitution, another boy had been killed in his place; that he had escaped; and he claimed the throne of the Ruriks. He strongly resembled the prince he claimed to be, and his identity seemed to be established, also, by other evidence than mere personal resemblance. There was no “strawberry mark on his left arm,” but both he and the dead prince, if, indeed, they were two distinct persons, had a wart on the forehead, and another under the right eye, and in both one arm was slightly longer than the other. The pretender, or real prince, as the case may be, had also a valuable jewel which had belonged to Dmitri; and so he was not long in winning credence for his story, both in Poland and in Russia. Boris gave out that the young man was the monk Otrafief, who had appeared in the army as his advocate and emissary; and some historians–Karamsin and Bell among the number–have accepted this theory; but a careful comparison of dates seems to contradict it. Whoever the man was, he was an able and accomplished diplomatist as well as a singularly bold warrior; and he succeeded presently in winning the recognition of Sigismund, King of Poland, and putting himself at the head of an army with which he invaded Russia. He had privately abjured the Greek faith, and undertaken to convert Russia into a Catholic power; and, in addition to the many other favors promised the Poles, he had engaged to marry Marina, the daughter of a Polish nobleman.