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The Story Of Catherine
by [?]

Peter the Great, the emperor who, in a few years, changed Russia from a country of half-savage tribes into a great European nation, was one day visiting one of his officers, and saw in his house a young girl, who attracted his attention by her beauty and her graceful manners. This girl was a prisoner named Martha, and she was living as a sort of servant and housekeeper in the family of the Russian officer. She had been taken prisoner when the town she lived in was captured. Nobody knows, even to this day, exactly who she was, except that she was a poor orphan girl who had been brought up by a village clergyman; but it is generally believed that her father was a Livonian peasant.

Martha’s beauty and the brightness of her mind pleased the emperor so much that, after a while, he made up his mind to marry her, in spite of her humble origin. Peter was in the habit of doing pretty much as he pleased, whether his nobles liked it or not; but even he dared not make a captive peasant girl the Empress of Russia. He therefore married her privately, in the presence of a few of his nearest friends, who were charged to keep the secret. Before the marriage took place he had Martha baptized in the Russian Church, and changed her name to Catherine.

Now Peter had a bad habit of losing his temper, and getting so angry that he fell into fits. As he was an absolute monarch and could do whatever he liked, it was very dangerous for anybody to go near him when he was angry. He could have a head chopped off as easily as he could order his breakfast. But he was very fond of Catherine, and she was the only person who was not in the least afraid of him. She soon learned how to manage him, and even in his worst fits she could soothe and quiet the old bear.

Peter was nearly always at war, and in spite of the hardships and dangers of the camp and battle-field Catherine always marched with him at the head of the army. The soldiers wondered at her bravery, and learned to like her more than anybody else. If food was scarce, the roads rough, and the marches long, they remembered, that Catherine was with them, and were ashamed to grumble. If she could stand the hardships and face the dangers, they thought rough soldiers ought not to complain.

Catherine was a wise woman as well as a brave one. She soon learned as much of the art of war as Peter knew, and in every time of doubt or difficulty her advice was asked, and her opinion counted for as much as if she had been one of the generals. After she had thus shown how able a woman she was, and had won the friendship of everybody about her by her good temper and her pleasant ways, Peter publicly announced his marriage, and declared Catherine to be his wife and czarina. But still he did not crown her.

This was in the year 1711, and immediately afterwards Peter marched into the Turkish country at the head of forty thousand men. This army was not nearly large enough to meet the Turks, but Peter had other armies in different places, and had ordered all of them to meet him on the march. For various reasons all these armies failed to join him, and he found himself in a Turkish province with a very small number of troops. The danger was so great that he ordered Catherine and all the other women to go back to a place of safety. But Catherine would not go. She had made up her mind to stay with Peter at the head of the army, and was so obstinate about it that at last Peter gave her leave to remain. Then the wives of the generals, and, finally, of the lower officers, wanted to stay also. She persuaded Peter to let them do so, and the end of it was that the women all stayed with the army.