Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

fate, in seeing her growing up untaught and working with her hands like the meanest serf.

His despair awoke Prascovia from her childish enjoyments. She daily prayed that he might be brought home and comforted, and, as she said herself, it one day darted into her mind like a flash of lightning, just as she finished saying her prayers, that she might go to Petersburg and obtain his pardon. Long did she dwell upon the thought, going alone among the pine-trees to dream over it, and to pray that

grace and strength might be given her for this great work, — this exceeding bliss

of restoring her father to his home. Still she durst not mention the project; it seemed so impossible, that it died away upon her lips whenever she tried to ask her father's permission, till at last she set herself a time, at which nothing should prevent her from speaking. The day came; she went out among the whispering pines, and again prayed for strength to make her proposal, and that her father might be led to listen to it favorably. But prayers are not always soon answered. Her father listened to her plan in silence, then called out to his wife : “Here is a fine patroness! Our daughter is going off to Petersburg to speak for us to the Emperor," and he related all the scheme that had been laid before him, with such a throbbing heart, in a tone of amusement.

“She ought to be attending to her work instead of talking nonsense,” said the wife; and when poor Prascovia, more mortified at derision than by anger, began to cry bitterly, her mother held out a cloth to her, saying in a kind, half-coaxing tone, “Here, my dear, dust the table for dinner, and then you may set off to Petersburg at your ease.”

Still day after day Prascovia returned to the charge, entreating that her scheme might at last be considered, till her father grew displeased, and severely forbade her to mention it again. She abstained; but for three whole years she never failed to add to her daily prayers a petition that his consent might be gained. During this time her mother had a long and serious illness, and Prascovia's care, as both nurse and housewife, gave her father and mother such confidence in her, that they no longer regarded her as a child; and when she again ventured to bring her plan before them, they did not laugh at her, but besought her not to leave them in their declining years to expose herself to danger on so wild a project. She answered by tears, but she could not lay it aside.

Another difficulty was, that without a passport she would have been immediately sent back to Ischim, and so many petitions from her father had been disregarded, that there was little chance that any paper sent by him to Tobolsk would be attended to. However, she found one of their fellow-exiles who drew up a request in due form for a passport for her, and after six months more of waiting the answer arrived. She was not herself a prisoner, she could leave Siberia whenever she pleased, and the passport was enclosed for her. Her father, however, seized upon it, and locked it up, declaring that he had only allowed the application to go in the certainty that it would be refused, and that nothing should induce him to let a girl of eighteen depart alone for such a journey.

Prascovia still persevered, and her disappointment worked upon her mother to promise not to prevent her from going, provided her father consented, and at last he yielded. “What shall we do with this child ?” he said : we shall have to let her

Still he said, “Do you think, poor child, that you can speak to the Emperor as you speak to your father in Siberia ? Sentinels guard every entrance to his palace, and you will never pass the threshold.

[ocr errors]

go.'

[ocr errors]

Poor even to beggary, without clothes or introductions, how could you appear, and who will deign to present you

?

However, Prascovia trusted that the same Providence that had brought her the passport would smooth other difficulties ; she had boundless confidence in the Power to whom she had committed herself, and her own earnest will made obstacles seem as nothing. That her undertaking should not be disobedient was all she desired. And at length the consent was won, and the 8th of September fixed for her day of departure.

At dawn she was dressed, with a little bag over her shoulder, and her father was trying to make her take the whole family store of wealth, one silver rouble, though, as she truly said, this was not enough to take her to Petersburg, and might do some good at home, and she only took it at last when he laid his strict commands on her. Two of the poorest of the exiles tried to force on her all the money they had, — thirty copper kopecks and a silver twentykopeck piece ; and though she refused these, she affectionately promised that the kind givers should share in any favor she should obtain.

When the first sunbeam shone into the room, there was, according to the beautiful old Russian custom, a short, solemn silence, for private prayer for the traveller. Then, after a few words, also customary, of indifferent conversation, there was a last embrace, and Prascovia, kneeling down, received her parents' blessing, rose up, and set her face upon her way, a girl of nineteen, with a single rouble in her pocket, to walk through vast expanses of forest, and make her way to the presence of her sovereign.

The two poor exiles did their utmost for her by escorting her as far as they were allowed to go from Ischim, and they did not leave her till she had joined a party of girls on their way to one of the villages

she had to pass. Once they had a fright from some half-tipsy lads ; but they shook them off, and reached the village, where Prascovia was known and hospitably lodged for the night. She was much tired in the morning, and when she first set forth on her way, the sense of terror at her loneliness was almost too much for her, till she thought of the angel who succored Hagar, and took courage; but she had mistaken the road, and by and by found herself at the last village she had passed the night before. Indeed, she often lost her way; and when she asked the road to Petersburg, she was only laughed at. She knew the names of no nearer places in the way, but fancied that the sacred town of Kief, where the Russian power had first begun, was on the route ; so if people did not know which was the road to Petersburg, she would ask for Kief. One day, when she came to a place where three roads branched off, she asked some travellers in a carriage that passed her, which of them led to Kief. “Whichever you please,' they answered, laughing; one leads as much as the other either to Kief, Paris, or Rome.” She chose the middle one, which was fortunately the right, but she was never able to give any exact account of the course she had taken, for she confused the names of the villages she passed, and only remembered certain incidents that had impressed themselves on her memory. In the lesser hamlets she was usually kindly received in the first cottage where she asked for shelter ; but in larger places, with houses of a superior order, she was often treated as a suspiciouslooking vagabond. For instance, when not far from a place called Kamouicheff, she was caught in a furious storm at the end of a long day's march. She hurried on in hopes of reaching the nearest houses; but a tree was blown down just before her, and she thought it safer to hasten into a thicket, the close bushes of which sheltered her a little against the

66

wind. Darkness came on before the storm abated enough for her to venture out, and there she stayed, without daring to move, though the rain at length made its way through the branches, and soaked her to the skin.” At dawn, she dragged herself to the road, and was there offered a place in a cart driven by a peasant, who set her down in the middle of the village at about eight o'clock in the morning. She fell down while getting out, and her clothes were not only wet through with the night's drenching, but covered with mire ; she was spent with cold and hunger, and felt herself such a deplorable object, that the neatness of the houses filled her with alarm. She, however, ventured to approach an open window, where she saw a woman shelling peas, and begged to be allowed to rest and dry herself, but the woman surveyed her scornfully, and ordered her off; and she met with no better welcome at any other house. At one, where she sat down at the door, the mistress drove her off, saying that she harbored neither thieves nor vagabonds. “ At least,” thought the poor wanderer, “they cannot hunt me from the church”; but she found the door locked, and when she sat down on its stone steps, the village boys came round her, hooting at her, and calling her a thief and runaway ; and thus she remained for two whole hours, ready to die with cold and hunger, but inwardly praying for strength to bear this terrible trial.

At last, however, a kinder woman came up through the rude little mob, and spoke to her in a gentle

Prascovia told what a terrible night she had spent in the wood, and the starost, or village magistrate, examined her passport, and found that it answered for her character. The good woman offered to take her home, but on trying to rise, she found her limbs so stiff that she could not move; she had lost one of her shoes, and her feet

manner.

« ZurückWeiter »