"The Petitioners for Pardon." by Charlotte M. Yonge (1823-1901)
No one in our own country has deserved warmer or more loving esteem than Helen Walker, the Scottish maiden who, though she would not utter a word of untruth to save her sister from being sentenced to death, yet came on foot from Edinburgh to London, made her way to the Duke of Argyle, and being introduced by him, by her entreaties obtained that sister's pardon from Queen Caroline, who was acting as Regent in the absence of George II. It is hard to say which was the more glorious, the God-fearing truth that strengthened this peasant girl to risk a life so dear to her, or the trustful courage and perseverance that carried her through a journey, which in the early part of the eighteenth century was both tedious and full of danger; and it is satisfactory to know that her after life, though simple and homely, by no means was unworthy of the high excellence of her youth. Her sister, Tibbie, for whom she had done so much, married and left her, and she lived on to be remembered by her neighbours as a religious, quiet old woman, gaining her living by knitting new feet to old stockings, teaching little children, and keeping chickens. Her neighbours respected her, and called her a "lofty body". They used to tell that in a thunderstorm, she used to move herself with her work and her Bible to the front of the house, saying that the Almighty could smite as well in the city as in the field. Sir Walter Scott made her the model of the most beautiful character he ever drew, and afterwards placed a monument to her honour in her own village church.
In the beginning of this century, a girl younger than Helen Walker was impelled to a journey beside which that from Edinburgh to London seems only like a summer stroll, and her motive was in like manner deep affection, love truly stronger than death. As Helen Walker served to suggest the Jeanie Deans of the Heart of Midlothian so Prascovia Lopouloff was the origin of Elizabeth, the heroine of Madame Cottin's Exiles of Siberia, but in both cases the real facts have been a good deal altered in the tales, and we may doubt whether the Russian lady appears to so much advantage, when dressed up by the French authoress, as does the Scottish lassie in the hands of her countryman.
Prascovia was the daughter of a captain in the Russian army, who for some unknown reason had undergone the sentence of exile to Siberia, from the capricious and insane Czar Paul I. The Russian government, being despotic, is naturally inclined to be suspicious, and it has long been the custom to send off persons supposed to be dangerous to the state, to live in the intensely cold and remote district of Siberia. Actual criminals are marched off in chains, and kept working in the mines; but political offenders are permitted to live with their families, have a weekly sum allowed for their support, and when it is insufficient, can eke it out by any form of labour they prefer, whether by hunting, or by such farming as the climate will allow.
The miseries of the exiles have been much mitigated in these later times, many more comforts are permitted them, and though closely watched, and suffering from many annoying regulations, those of higher rank receive a sufficient sum out of their own revenues to enable them to live in tolerable ease, and without actual drudgery; and at Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia, there is a highly educated and accomplished society of banished Poles and of Russians who have incurred suspicion.
Under the Czars who reigned before the kind-hearted Alexander I, the banishment was far more terrible. It was not only the being absent from home and friends, but it was a fall from all the luxuries of civilized life to the utmost poverty, and that in a climate of fearful severity, with a winter lasting nine months, and the sun unseen for many weeks of that time. Captain Lopouloff was condemned for life, was placed in the village of Ischim, far to the north of Tobolsk, and only obtained an allowance of ten kopeks a day. His wife, and their little girl of about three years old, accompanied him, and the former adapted herself patiently to her situation, working hard at the common domestic cares for which she had been used to trust to servants; and as the little Prascovia grew older, she not only helped her mother, but gained employment in the village, going out to assist in the late and scanty rye harvest, and obtaining a small bundle of the rye as her wages. She was very happy, even in this wild dreary home, amid all the deep snows, iron frosts, and long darkness, until she was nearly fifteen, when she began to understand how wretched her father was in his banishment. He had sent a petition to the Governor of Siberia, in the charge of an officer, who had promised to represent his case strongly, and the watching for the answer, and continued disappointment, whenever a courier arrived from Tobolsk, rendered him so restless, that he no longer tried to put on a cheerful countenance before his daughter, but openly lamented his hard 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 favourably. 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 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 least 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 would 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 go." 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. 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 kopeks and a silver twenty-kopek piece; and though she refused these, she affectionately promised that the kind givers should share in any favour 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 succoured 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. suspicious-looking 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 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 harboured 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 manner. 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 were terribly swollen; indeed, she never entirely recovered the effects of that dreadful night of exposure. The villagers were shocked at their own inhospitality, they fetched a cart and lodged her safely with the good woman, with whom she remained several days, and when she was again able to proceed, one of the villagers gave her a pair of boots. She was often obliged to rest for a day or two, according to the state of her strength, the weather, or the reception she met with, and she always endeavoured to requite the hospitality she received by little services, such as sweeping, washing, or sewing for her hosts. She found it wiser not to begin by telling her story, or people took her for an impostor; she generally began by begging for a morsel of food; then, if she met with a kind answer, she would talk of her weariness and obtain leave to rest, and when she was a little more at home with the people of the house, would tell them her story; and when, if nothing else would do, she was in urgent need, the sight of her passport secured attention to her from the petty authorities, since she was there described as the daughter of a captain in the army. But she always said that she did not, comparatively, often meet with rebuffs, whilst the acts of kindness she had received were beyond counting. "People fancy," she used afterwards to say, "that my journey was most disastrous, because I tell the troubles and adventures that befel me, and pass over the kind welcomes I received, because nobody cares to hear them."
Once she had a terrible fright. She had been refused an entrance at all the houses in the village street, when an old man, who had been very short and sharp in his rejection, came and called her back. She did not like his looks, but there was no help for it, and she turned back with him. His wife looked even more repulsive than himself, and no sooner had they entered the miserable one-roomed cottage, than she shut the door and fastened it with strong bolts, so that the only light in the place came from oak slips which were set on fire and stuck into a hole in the wall. By their flicker Prascovia thought she saw the old people staring at her most unpleasantly, and presently they asked her where she came from.
"From Ischim. I am going to Petersburg."
"And you have plenty of money for the journey?"
"Only eighty copper kopeks now," said Prascovia, very glad just then to have no more.
"That's a lie," shouted the old woman; "people don't go that distance without money."
She vainly declared it was all she had; they did not believe her, and she could hardly keep back her tears of indignation and terror. At last they gave her a few potatoes to eat, and told her to lie down on the great brick stove, the wide ledges of which are the favourite sleeping places of the poorer Russians. She laid aside her upper garments, and with them her pockets and her pack, hoping within herself that the smallness of the sum might at least make her not worth murdering; then praying with all her might, she lay down. As soon as they thought her asleep, they began whispering.
"She must have more money," they said; "she certainly has notes."
"I saw a string round her neck," said the old woman, "and a little bag hanging to it. The money must be there."
Then after some lower murmurs, they said, "No one saw her come in here. She is not known to be still in the village."
And next the horrified girl saw the old woman climbing up the stove. She again declared that she had no money, and entreated for her life, but the woman made no answer, only pulled the bag from off her neck, and felt her clothes all over, even taking off her boots, and opening her hands, while the man held the light; but, at last, finding nothing in the bag but the passport, they left her alone, and lay down themselves. She lay trembling for a good while, but at last she knew by their breathing that they were both asleep, and she, too, fell into a slumber, from which she did not waken till the old woman roused her at broad daylight. There was a plentiful breakfast of peasant fare prepared for her, and both spoke to her much more kindly, asking her questions, in reply to which she told them part of her story. They seemed interested, and assured her that they had only searched her because they thought she might be a dishonest wanderer, but that she would find that they were far from being robbers themselves. Prascovia was heartily glad to leave their house; but when she ventured to look into her little store, she found that her eighty kopeks had become 120. She always fully believed that these people had had the worst intentions, and thanked God for having turned their hearts. Her other greatest alarm was one morning, when she had set out from her night's lodging before anyone was up, and all the village dogs flew at her. Running and striking with her stick only made them more furious, and one of them was tearing at the bottom of her gown, when she flung herself on her face, recommending her soul to God, as she felt a cold nose upon her neck; but the beast was only smelling her, she was not even once bitten, and a peasant passing by drove them off.
Winter began to come on, and an eight days' snowstorm forced her to stop till it was over; but when she wanted to set off again, the peasants declared that to travel on foot alone in the snow would be certain death even to the strongest men, for the wind raises the drifts, and makes the way undistinguishable, and they detained her till the arrival of a convoy of sledges, which were taking provisions to Ekatherinenburg for the Christmas feasts. The drivers, on learning her story, offered her a seat in a sledge, but her garments were not adapted for winter travelling, and though they covered her with one of the wrappers of their goods, on the fourth day, when they arrived at the kharstina, or solitary posting-station, the intense cold had so affected her, that she was obliged to be lifted from the sledge, with one cheek frost-bitten. The good carriers rubbed it with snow, and took every possible care of her; but they said it was impossible to take her on without a sheepskin pelisse, since otherwise her death from the increasing cold was certain. She cried bitterly at the thought of missing this excellent escort, and on the other hand, the people of the kharstina would not keep her. The carriers then agreed to club together to buy her a sheepskin, but none could be had; no one at the station would spare theirs, as they were in a lonely place, and could not easily get another. Though the carriers even offered a sum beyond the cost to the maid of the inn, if she would part with hers, she still refused; but at last an expedient was found. "Let us lend her our pelisses by turns," said one of the carriers. "Or rather, let her always wear mine, and we will change about every verst." To this all agreed; Prascovia was well wrapped up in one of the sheepskin pelisses, whose owner rolled himself in the wrapper, curled his feet under him, and sung at the top of his lungs. Every verst-stone there was a shifting of sheepskins, and there was much merriment over the changes, while all the way Prascovia's silent prayers arose, that these kind men's health might suffer no injury from the cold to which they thus exposed themselves.
At the inn at which they put up at Ekatherinenburg, the hostess told Prascovia the names of the most charitable persons in the town, and so especially praised a certain Madame Milin, that Prascovia resolved to apply to her the next day for advice how to proceed farther. First, as it was Sunday, however, she went to church. Her worn travelling dress, as well as her fervent devotion, attracted attention, and as she came out, a lady asked her who she was. Prascovia gave her name, and further requested to be directed where to find Madame Milin, whose benevolence was everywhere talked of. "I am afraid," said the lady, "that this Madame Milin's beneficence is a good deal exaggerated; but come with me, and I will take care of you."
Prascovia did not much like this way of speaking; but the stranger pointed to Madame Milin's door, saying that if she were rejected there, she must return to her. Without answering, Prascovia asked the servants whether Madame Milin were at home, and only when they looked at their mistress in amazement, did she discover that she had been talking to Madame Milin herself all the time.
This good lady kept her as a guest all the rest of the winter, and strove to remedy the effects of the severe cold she had caught on the night of the tempest. At the same time, she taught Prascovia many of the common matters of education becoming her station. Captain Lopouloff and his wife had been either afraid to teach their daughter anything that would recall their former condition in life, or else had become too dispirited and indifferent for the exertion, and Prascovia had so entirely forgotten all she had known before her father's banishment, that she had to learn to read and write over again. She could never speak of Madame Milin's kindness without tears, but the comfort and ease in which she now lived, made her all the more distressed at the thought of her parents toiling alone among the privations of their snowy wilderness. Madame Milin, however, would not allow her to leave Ekatherinenburg till the spring, and then took a place for her in a barge upon the River Khama, a confluent of the Volga; and put her under the care of a man who was going to Nishni Novgorod, with a cargo of iron and salt.
Unfortunately this person fell sick, and was obliged to be left behind at a little village on the banks of the Khama, and Prascovia was again left unprotected. In ascending the Volga, the barge was towed along by horses on the bank, and in a short sharp storm, the boatmen, in endeavouring to keep the barge from running against the bank, pushed Prascovia and two other passengers overboard with a heavy oar. They were instantly rescued, but there was no privacy on the barge, and as Prascovia could not bear to undress herself in public, her wet clothes increased the former injury to her health. Madame Milin, trusting to the person to whom she had confided her young friend, to forward her on from Novgorod, had given her no introductions to anyone there, nor any directions how to proceed, and the poor girl was thus again cast upon the world alone, though, thanks to her kind friend, with rather more both in her purse and in her bundle than when she had left Ischim; but, on the other hand, with a far clearer knowledge of the difficulties that lay before her, and a much greater dread of cities.
The bargemen set her ashore at the foot of a bridge at the usual landing-place. She saw a church on a rising ground before her, and, according to her usual custom, she went up to pray there before going to seek a lodging. The building was empty, but behind a grating she heard the voices of women at their evening devotions. It was a nunnery, and these female tones refreshed and encouraged her. "If God grants my prayers," she thought, "I shall hide myself under such a veil as theirs, for I shall have nothing to do but to thank and praise Him." After the service, she lingered near the convent, dreading to expose herself to the rude remarks she might meet at an inn, and at last, reproaching herself for this failure in her trust, she returned into the church to renew her prayers for faith and courage. One of the nuns who had remained there told her it was time to close the doors, and Prascovia ventured to tell her of her repugnance to enter an inn alone, and to beg for a night's shelter in the convent. The sister replied that they did not receive travellers, but that the abbess might give her some assistance. Prascovia showed her purse, and explained that the kind friends at Ekatherinenburg had placed her above want, and that all she needed was a night's lodging; and the nun, pleased with her manner, took her to the abbess. Her artless story, supported by her passport, and by Madame Milin's letters, filled the good sisterhood with excitement and delight; the abbess made her sleep in her own room, and finding how severely she was suffering from the effects of her fall into the Volga, insisted on her remaining a few days to rest. Before those few days were over, Prascovia was seized with so dangerous an illness that the physicians themselves despaired of her life; but even at the worst she never gave herself up; "I do not believe my hour is come," she said. "I hope God will allow me to finish my work." And she did recover, though so slowly that all the summer passed by before she could continue her journey, and then she was too weak for rough posting vehicles, and could only wait among the nuns for the roads to be fit for sledges.
At last she set off again for Moscow in a covered sledge, with a letter from the abbess to a lady, who sent her on again to Petersburg, under the care of a merchant, with a letter to the Princess de T—, and thus at length she arrived at the end of her journey, eighteen months after she had set off from Ischim with her rouble and her staff. The merchant took her to his own house, but before he had found out the Princess, he was obliged to go to Riga, and his wife, though courteous and hospitable, did not exert herself to forward the cause of her guest. She tried to find one of the ladies to whom she had been recommended, but the house was on the other side of the Neva, and as it was now February, the ice was in so unsafe a state that no one was allowed to pass. A visitor at the merchant's advised her to get a petition to the Senate drawn up, begging for a revision of her father's trial, and offered to get it drawn up for her. Accordingly, day after day, for a whole fortnight, did the poor girl stand on the steps of the Senate-house, holding out her petition to everyone whom she fancied to be a senator, and being sometimes roughly spoken to, sometimes waved aside, sometimes offered a small coin as a beggar, but never attended to. Holy Week came on, and Prascovia's devotions and supplications were addressed entirely to her God. On Easter-day, that day of universal joy, she was unusually hopeful; she went out with her hostess in the carriage, and told her that she felt a certainty that another time she should meet with success.
"I would trouble myself no more with senates and senators," said the lady. "It is just as well worth while as it would be to offer your petition to yonder iron man," pointing to the famous statue of Peter the Great.
"Well," said Prascovia, "God is Almighty, and if He would, He could make that iron man stoop and take my petition." The lady laughed carelessly; but as they were looking at the statue, she observed that the bridge of boats over the Neva was restored, and offered to take Prascovia at once to leave her letter with Mde. de L—. They found this lady at home, and already prepared to expect her; she received her most kindly, and looked at the petition, which she found so ignorantly framed and addressed, that it was no wonder that it had not been attended to. She said that she had a relation high in office in the Senate who could have helped Prascovia, but that unfortunately they were not on good terms.
Easter-day, however, is the happy occasion when, in the Greek Church, all reconciliations are made. Families make a point of meeting with the glorious greeting, "Christ is risen," and the response, "He is risen indeed;" and the kiss exchanged at these glad tidings seals general pardon for all the bickerings of the year. And while Prascovia was at dinner with her friends, this very gentleman came in, with the accustomed words, and, without further delay, she was introduced to him, and her circumstances explained. He took great interest in her, but assured her that applications to the Senate were useless; for even if she should prevail to have the trial revised, it would be a tedious and protracted affair, and very uncertain; so that it would be far better to trust to the kind disposition of the Czar Alexander himself.
Prascovia went back to the merchant's greatly encouraged, and declaring that, after all, she owed something to the statue of Peter the Great, for but for him they might not have observed that the Neva was open! The merchant himself now returned from Riga, and was concerned at finding her affairs no forwarder. He took her at once to the Princess de T—, a very old lady, who received her kindly, and let her remain in her house; but it was full of grand company and card-playing, and the Princess herself was so aged and infirm, that she, as well as all her guests, forgot all about the young stranger, who, with a heart pining with hope deferred, meekly moved about the house-finding that every opening of promise led only to disappointment. Still she recollected that she had been advised to present a request to M. V—, one of the secretaries of the Empress Mary, widow of the last, and mother of the present Czar. With this, she went to his house. He had heard of her, but fancying hers a common case of poverty, had put out fifty roubles to be given to her. He was not at home when she called; but his wife saw her, was delighted with her, drew from her the whole history of her perseverance in her father's cause, and kept her to see M. V—. He, too, was warmly interested, and going at once to the Empress-mother, who was one of the most gentle and charitable women in the world, he brought back her orders that she should be presented to the Empress that very evening.
Poor child, she turned pale, and her eyes filled with tears at this sudden brightening of hope. Instead of thanking M. V—, her first exclamation was, "My God, not in vain have I put my trust in thee." Then kissing Mme. V—'s hands, she cried, "You, you alone can make my thanks acceptable to the good man who is saving my father!"
She never disturbed herself as to her dress, or any matter of court etiquette: her simple heart was wrapped up in its one strong purpose. Mme. V— merely arranged the dress she had on, and sent her off with the Secretary. When she really saw the palace before her, she said, "Oh, if my father could see me now, how glad he would be. My God, finish Thy work!"
The Empress Mary was a tender-hearted woman of the simplest manners. She received Prascovia in her private room, and listened most kindly to her story; then praised her self-devotion and filial love, and promised to speak in her behalf to the Emperor–giving her 300 roubles for her present needs. Prascovia was so much overcome by her kindness, that when afterwards Mme. V— asked how she had sped in her interview, she could only weep for gladness.
Two days after, the Empress-mother herself took her to a private audience of the Emperor himself and his wife, the Empress Elizabeth. No particulars are given of this meeting, except that Prascovia was most graciously received, and that she came away with a gift of 5000 roubles, and the promise that her father's trial should be at once revised.
And now all the persons who had scarcely attended to Prascovia vied with each other in making much of her: they admired her face, found out that she had the stamp of high birth, and invited her to their drawing-rooms. She was as quiet and unmoved as ever; she never thought of herself, nor of the effect she produced, but went on in her simplicity, enjoying all that was kindly meant. Two ladies took her to see the state apartments of the Imperial palace. When they pointed to the throne, she stopped short, exclaiming, "Is that the throne? Then that is what I dreaded so much in Siberia!" And as all her past hopes and fears, her dangers and terrors, rushed on her, she clasped her hands, and exclaiming, "The Emperor's throne!" she almost fainted. Then she begged leave to draw near, and, kneeling down, she kissed the steps, of which she had so often dreamt as the term of her labours, and she exclaimed aloud, "Father, father! see whither the Divine power has led me! My God, bless this throne–bless him who sits on it–make him as happy as he is making me!" The ladies could hardly get her away from it, and she was so much exhausted by the strength of her feelings, that she could not continue her course of sight-seeing all that day.
She did not forget the two fellow exiles who had been so kind to her; she mentioned them to everyone, but was always advised not to encumber her suit for her father by mentioning them. However, when, after some delay, she received notice that a ukase had been issued for the father's pardon, and was further told that His Majesty wished to know if she had anything to ask for herself, she replied, that he would overwhelm her with his favours if he would extend the same mercy that he had granted to her father to these two poor old banished gentlemen; and the Emperor, struck by this absence of all selfishness, readily pardoned them for their offence, which had been of a political nature, and many years old.
Prascovia had always intended to dedicate herself as a nun, believing that this would be her fullest thank-offering for her father's pardon, and her heart was drawn towards the convent at Nishnï, where she had been so tenderly nursed during her illness. First, however, she went to Kief, the place where the first Christian teaching in Russia had begun, and where the tombs of St. Olga, the pious queen, and Vladimir, the destroyer of idols, were objects of pilgrimage. There she took the monastic vows, a step which seems surprising in so dutiful a daughter, without her parents' consent; but she seems to have thought that only thus could her thankfulness be evinced, and to have supposed herself fulfilling the vows she had made in her distress. From Kief, she returned to Nishnï, where she hoped to meet her parents. She had reckoned that about the time of her arrival they might be on their way back from Siberia, and as soon as she met the abbess, she eagerly asked if there were no tidings of them. "Excellent tidings," said the abbess. "I will tell you in my rooms." Prascovia followed her in silence, until they reached the reception room, and there stood her father and mother! Their first impulse, on seeing the daughter who had done so much for them, was to fall on their knees; but she cried out with dismay, and herself kneeling, exclaimed, "What are you doing? It is God, God only, who worked for us. Thanks be to His providence for the wonders He has wrought in our favour."
For one week the parents and child were happy together; but then Captain Lopouloff and his wife were forced to proceed on their journey. The rest of Prascovia's life was one long decline, her health had been fatally injured by the sufferings that she had undergone; and though she lived some years, and saw her parents again, she was gently fading away all the time. She made one visit to Petersburg, and one of those who saw her there described her as having a fine oval face, extremely black eyes, an open brow, and a remarkable calmness of expression, though with a melancholy smile. It is curious that Scott has made this open-browed serenity of expression a characteristic of his Jeanie Deans.
Prascovia's illness ended suddenly on the 9th of December, 1809. She had been in church on that same morning, and was lying on her bed, with the sisters talking round her, when they observed that they were tiring her. They went away for one of their hours of prayer, leaving one who began to chant the devotions aloud, but Prascovia begged her to read instead of singing, as the voice disturbed her prayers. Still she did not complain, and they left her at night without alarm, but in the morning they found her in her last long sleep, her hands forming the sign of the cross.
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