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From this moment, the despondency by which the girl had been afflicted since her mother's illness disappeared, and her parents were charmed to perceive her natural health and gaiety return. This happy change was solely caused by the strong presentiment which she felt that she would obtain the passport, as soon as time enough elapsed to expect a reply. She often loitered on the road, in the hope of meeting the courier charged with the letters for Ishim. After enduring the pangs of hope deferred for six months, the post brought at length a sealed packet addressed to Lopouloff. It was eagerly opened, and Prascovie's delight scarcely knew bounds when it was found to contain her long-wished passport. To Lopouloff's petition, however, there was no answer ; and all the hopes of favour which for a moment possessed his mind on seeing the passport, were instantly changed to disappointment when he saw his own petition was disregarded. In the first moment of ill-humour, he threatened to withdraw his consent from the perilous enterprise on which his daughter's mind was set.
But no discouragement daunted our heroine. She continued praying to the Almighty, and hoping on, without allowing the smallest doubt of His protection, or of the success of her undertaking, to damp her ardour ; and a few days after the receipt of the passport
, a little incident occurred which gave new life to her hopes. Her mother, though a person of strictly religious principles, put faith in certain superstitions existing in the Greek Church, whose tenets are universal in Russia. When, for instance, in any little perplexity, it was her practice to seek, in certain trifling events, prognostics of the future. One means which she employed for this purpose cannot be contemplated without censure ; she would take the Bible, and opening it at hazard, endeavour to extract from the passage which first caught her eye, something analogous to her situation, from which a sort of prophecy might be drawn.* Every evening it was Lopouloff's practice to read a chapter of Holy Writ aloud to his family; propounding, as he went on the meaning of difficult passages, and explaining such Slavonic words as Prascovie did not understand. At the end of a wretched evening which had been thus partly employed, there was a mournful silence amongst the three solitary beings, when Prascovie, addressing her mother with scarcely any other intention than to commence a conversation, said : ‘Please, mother, to open the Bible and read the eleventh line on the right-hand page. Madame Lopouloff took the sacred volume with eagerness, and opened it with a pin. She counted the lines, and in an unusually loud and impressive voice read these words : 'Now the angel of God called
* This superstitious custom is not peculiar to Russia. Mohammedans, especially those of Egypt, perform the same sort of ceremony with the Koran. Even in Scotland--a country in which Holy Writ is more venerated, perhaps, than in any other-the custom of 'picking for texts' for the purposes of augury, was common up to the present century.
to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not.'
This passage offered a striking analogy to Prascovie's project, and her mother, looking stedfastly at Lopouloff
, spoke concerning the extraordinary appositeness of the text. But he never favoured such unreasonable divinations, and said: “Think you that you possess the power to interrogate the Deity by opening His holy word with a pin, and that He will deign to answer your foolish and presumptuous demand ? Prascovie replied by declaring that her trust was in the Almighty, and while that continued faithful and unimpaired, there was nothing which she might not accomplish. Lopouloff, though astonished at her perseverance, was so reluctant to consent to her departure, that he kept the passport locked away, lest she should go clandestinely
At length he found that her health was visibly giving way, and that he must either consent to her extraordinary undertaking, or perchance lose her altogether. On a certain day, after one of her most touching and eloquent solicitations, he was overcome by her devotion, and exclaimed to his wife : What is to be done with this child? We must, I suppose, let her go after all.'
Prascovie, transported with joy, threw herself on her father's neck. * Be sure,' she exclaimed, 'that you will never repent having listened to me. I will go to St Petersburg, will throw myself at our sovereign's feet; and that Providence which inspired me with the desire to undertake the journey, and who has touched your heart to consent to my going, will assuredly dispose the emperor in our favour
Alas !' replied Lopouloff, 'do you suppose, poor child, that you will be able to speak to the emperor as easily as you talk to me? No, no ; sentinels guard every avenue of his palace, and they will not allow you to pass the threshold. Poor, and in rags, without influence or any sort of protection, who will dare to present you to his notice?' Prascovie felt the force of these observations without being discouraged. The strong presentiment of success which she felt, overcame the most startling objections. She pressed more earnestly than ever the folly of further delay, and began to prepare for her departure.
The entire fortune of the family was found to amount to no more than a silver rouble, and all Lopouloff's endeavours to augment this small sum were fruitless. The day of the cruel separation was fixed for the Feast of the Holy Virgin. The evening before, as soon as the news spread throughout the village that Prascovie was really about to start on her perilous errand, all
the acquaintances of the Lopouloffs crowded to their cottage. In place, however, of assisting or encouraging Prascovie in her enterprise, they said everything they
*Genesis, xxi. 17.
could think of to dissuade her from it, with the exception of two. These, who were amongst the poorest and most obscure of the prisoners, had been more intimate with Lopouloff than his natural pride allowed others to be. They had long looked with interest on Prascovie's design, and disagreed with all their neighbours about the probable result of it. We have seen things accomplished apparently far more impossible, against all hope, one of them remarked. She is sure to find in her way protectors, who, if they once know her, will love her as dearly as we do, and will aid her with all their might.'
At daybreak on the following morning these two men returned to take leave of her. They found everything ready for the long journey. When Lopouloff handed to his daughter the silver rouble, the kind visitors endeavoured to add to her slender means ; one offering for her acceptance thirty copper kopecks, and the other a silver piece of twenty kopecks, which was all they had to live upon for many days. Prascovie, though she refused their generous offer, was much affected by it. “If Providence,' she told them, “bless my undertaking, and any favour be accorded to my parents, rest assured that you shall partake of its benefits. She had scarcely said this when the first rays of the sun entered the chamber in which they were seated.
‘The hour is come,' she continued ; 'we must now separate.' She then seated herself
, as did her parents and the two friends-a custom always observed in Russia on such occasions.*
Prascovie having received on her knees a benediction from her parents, tore herself courageously from them, and quitted the cottage which had been her home since infancy. Her two poor friends accompanied her for the first verst.f Her father and mother stood immovable on the threshold, and following her with their tear-filled eyes, motioned, when afar off, a last adieu ; but Prascovie looked not behind, and soon disappeared in the distance.
When her two friends had accompanied her as far as they durst, Prascovie fortunately fell in with a group of girls who were journeying to a village through which she was obliged to pass. After an unimportant adventure, she passed the first night of her journey in the isba, or cabin, of one of her new companions. The next day she continued her march. At the first moment she felt a short tremor of fear at being quite alone; but the history of Hagar in the desert returned to her memory, and gave her courage. Having walked for some hours, she became perplexed as to the right road, and, with a degree of simplicity which was natural to her, asked
* When a Russian is about to commence a long journey, he invariably seats himself just before the time for taking a last farewell. Whoever is present imitates him. After a short while spent in speaking of indifferent things, they all rise, and each embraces the traveller in turn before he departs.
1 The Russian verst is about five furlongs and a quarter, or a little more than five-cighths of a British mile.
some passengers the way to St Petersburg. Such a question from a person so many hundred miles from that capital caused a laugh at her expense. Which, then, she rejoined, 'is the way to Kiev ?'* This caused a second explosion of merriment, for the latter city is situated far out of the road to St Petersburg.
"Whichever way you please, my dear,' was the reply ; 'it is all the same ; every road leads either to Kiev, to Paris, or to Rome.' Chance, however, guided her correctly.
Some stages before arriving at Kamoüicheff, a violent storm overtook her. Though she had travelled far that day, she redoubled her speed; but all to no purpose. A violent gust of wind threw a tree directly across her path, so as to prevent further progress, and she found herself obliged to seek shelter in a neighbouring wood. Here, though suffering intensely from fatigue and cold, she remained till daylight; then to seek a better shelter. Happily, a peasant happening to pass that way in a sort of car, took pity on her, and drove her to the next village. But there she was mistaken for a person of bad character; for her clothes were muddy, and her features haggard, from long exposure to the recent storm. No one would afford her shelter, and at length she went to the church : 'At least, she said, they will not drive me thence.' The door, however, was closed, and she sat on the steps shivering with cold. A mob of children collected around her, denying repose by their insults and grimaces. After enduring this for two hours, Prascovie was accosted by a benevolent woman, who directed the attention of the starost (mayor of the village) to her situation. She told her tale, and he demanded to see her passport. This she produced. The starost pronounced it to be correct, and the good lady invited her to her house. In attempting, however, to rise from the steps, she found her legs so swollen that she could not stand. At the sight of her sore and naked feet (for she had lost her shoes in the storm), the insults of the crowd were changed to pity, and each vied with the other who should assist her. A vehicle was brought, and in it she was taken to the house of the lady who first accosted her, with whom she stayed several days.
Having been supplied with new shoes, Prascovie continued her journey, but more slowly than at first; for winter was fast approaching. She met with various kinds of treatment; but managed to travel several hundred versts with only one remarkable adventure, and that we shall relate. On arriving late one evening at a village, she sought a lodging in vain. At last an old man, who had previously repulsed her, followed and invited her into his hut. There she found an aged woman. Both these people had a bad expression of countenance, which alarmed their guest. The woman closed the
* This city stands on the right of the river Dnieper. In it is the cathedral of St Sophia, to which pilgrims of the Greek Church largely resort to view the nunerous relics it contains.
door securely and silently after Prascovie had seated herself. The cabin was lighted by burning splinters of pine-wood thrust into a hole in the wall, and by their lurid light she noticed the eyes of both her hosts fixed upon her. After a time, they asked whither she was going. She told them; on which the man remarked that she must have plenty of money about her, to be able to undertake so long a journey. She declared she had only a few kopecks; but they in a harsh manner accused her of lying. However, she was pressed to go to rest, which she did in the fireplace,* taking care to place her pocket and her wallet in such a position that her hosts might examine their contents, so as to prove that she had spoken truly. Sure enough, when they knew she was asleep, they commenced their search ; but to their manifest disappointment they found nothing worth stealing. The old woman climbed to where she lay; she awoke, and her blood ran cold. She begged hard for her life; and again protested that she had no more money than she had stated. But the old wretch, without replying, searched her dress, and making her take off her boots, looked even into them, her husband holding a light all the while. Finding all was in vain, they left her more dead than alive. At length fatigue soon had its effect, and she slept so soundly, that it was high day before she awoke. On descending to the floor of the hut, she was astonished at the change in the manner of her host and hostess : they were most kind and affable. She wished to get away at once, but they insisted on her stopping to eat something. The old woman instantly went to the fire, and filled a basin of stchi (soup made with sour cabbage and salt meat), whilst the husband drew a great cup of kvas, or beer, made from rye malt. Thus encouraged by their kindness, she partly answered their questions, and related her whole history.
When Prascovie was taking leave, the old woman begged her to forget what had happened. “Think,' she said, 'it was a dream. Your pitiable condition and goodness softened our hearts ; and you will find, when you next count your money, that we are not the people you take us for. Accordingly, when Prascovie had walked a couple of versts, she had the curiosity to look at her purse, and found to her astonishment that they had added forty kopecks to her stock, instead of depriving her of any. Thus her artless manner and affecting errand won the hearts even of professed robbers; which the wretched old couple, she afterwards learned, had the character of being.
Winter had now begun, and Prascovie was frequently detained for more than a week at a time, in consequence of the depth of the
At length she reached Ekaterinburg, and was received
*The Russian peasantry invariably sleep cither upon the benches which surround their cabins, or in the fireplaces, which are very spacious.