« ForrigeFortsæt »
JNE of the most popular stories ever written, is that
entitled Elizabeth, or the Exiles of Siberia. It was the production of Madame Cottin, a French authoress, and has been translated into every European language,
the English version having been constantly read for more than half a century with the most eager interest, especially by young persons. It has passed through numberless editions, and still enjoys unabated popularity. Though published by Madame Cottin as a fiction, the tale is well known to have been founded on an incident which occurred during the reign of Paul I., emperor of Russia, who died in 1801. We propose, from authentic sources, to narrate. the interesting incident as it actually occurred.
The real name of the young heroine was Prascovie Lopouloff. Her father, who belonged to a noble family originally from the Ukraine, was born in Hungary, where the chances of life had induced his parents to settle. Early in life, Lopouloff entered the Austrian service as an officer of the Black Hussars, but afterwards marrying a Russian lady, adopted her country as his own. He lived, however, but a short time in retirement; and once more taking up arms, served for many years in the Russian army, making several campaigns against the Turks. He so distinguished himself at the sieges of Ismaïl and Otchakoff, that he obtained the special commendations of his superiors.
Some time after his return from these campaigns, Lopouloff was arrested, tried, and condemned to exile in Siberia for life. His imputed crime has never transpired; for his trial by an inferior tribunal, as well as its revision in the superior Russian courts, was conducted in profound secrecy, and its record has been since lost. His appeals for a mitigation of this harsh sentence were disregarded, and he, his wife, and infant daughter, were summarily driven with other prisoners to the district selected for his penal residence.
Siberia, as most of our readers may have learned, comprehends not only a vast proportion of the immense Russian empire, but more than a third of Asia.* It is the coldest and least agreeable region in the world ; hence parts of it have been selected by succeeding Russian autocrats as penal settlements for criminals, who, according as their offences are great or small, are sent to the most frigid or to the most genial of its localities. To mark different degrees of punishment, the prisoners are also condemned to work in the mines with which Siberia abounds, to till the ground for the benefit of the state, or simply to suffer banishment from home and kindred without being obliged to partake in forced labours. All are allowed a pension from the government, which, though it varies as much in amount as the degrees of punishment, yet is never more than sufficient to keep body and soul together. In some rare cases the emperors have permitted the friends of the condemned, who happen to be affluent enough, to send them occasional assistance ; but this is never allowed to exceed one thousand roubles per annum.† Again, the wives and families of some of those condemned for lesser crimes are allowed to live with them in the places of banishment.
Whatever Lopouloff's offence may have been, it is clear that it was of no great enormity, for the whole of the indulgences were extended to him. In the first place, he was sent to the most genial district of the vast wilderness, namely, a village called Ishim, in a province of the same name which joins the southern boundary of the Tobolsk province, the chief town of which (also called Tobolsk) is the capital of all Siberia. Ishim may be generally described as consisting of arid plains, divided by lakes of stagnant and unwholesome water, separating it from the country of the Kirghis, a wandering people. It is bounded on the east by the river Irtish, and on the west by the Tobol, the naked and barren shores of which present to the eye fragments of rocks promiscuously heaped together, with here and there a solitary fir-tree rearing its head. Nevertheless there are, towards the banks of the Irtish, woods of some extent. Yet, despite its unpromising character, Ishim is so universally considered the best part of the territory, that it has received the appellation of the
• Siberia extends 3500 miles from east to west, and 1200 miles from north to south.
7 At the time to which this history refers, most of the currency of Russia was in paper, and a rouble equalled about 10 d. sterling. The silver roubles—then rarely, but now universally current--are equal to 35. 1}d. sterling.
Italy of Siberia. But this is chiefly owing to the four months' summer which it enjoys, though the rest of the year is intensely cold. A heavy snow generally covers the earth in September, and seldom disappears till May; but during the intervening season, nature loses no time in her operations. The celerity with which the trees are covered with verdure and the fields with crops, is scarcely credible. The operations of the husbandman are of course obliged to be equally rapid ; and from this circumstance many prisoners not condemned to forced labour-together with their relatives, if they have any-find a term of active and not unprofitable employment during the short agricultural season.
When Lopouloff arrived at Ishim, he was informed that the emperor had apportioned him the miserable pittance of ten kopecks* a day to subsist upon. This is the sum invariably allotted to prisoners who, like Lopouloff, are not condemned to labour in the public works. It was fortunate that when his heavy misfortune fell upon him, Lopouloff's family consisted only of his wife and infant daughter, and the solace which they afforded him very much softened the rigour of his altered situation. Prascovie, the daughter, was too young to feel the full force of the punishment inflicted on her parents, and as she grew up, seemed happy and contented with her lot, because she had known no other. Before she was twelve years old, she was able, by the labour of her own little hands, to add a few comforts to her parents' bare subsistence. Sometimes she assisted the laundresses of the village ; at others, she helped the farmers by doing such work as her strength permitted, at harvest-time working with the reapers. In payment for such assistance she occasionally received money, but more frequently eggs, vegetables, and sometimes corn. Her mother occupied herself entirely in the affairs of their poor and meagre household, and seemed to bear her deplorable fate with patience. Lopouloff, on the contrary, accustomed from his earliest youth to affluence and an active military life, was less resigned to his fate, and seemed at intervals plunged into a depth of despondency which his misfortunes, great as they were, hardly justified.
Some years of his exile had passed over when he addressed a petition for a modification of his sentence through the governor of Siberia to the emperor, which was conveyed by an officer who happened to pass through Ishim on the business of the state, and who promised to support its prayer with all the court influence he possessed. Years, however, passed without any reply arriving; and the appearance of any government courier or traveller in Ishimwhich was a very rare event-added to the torment of deferred hope to which Lopouloff was a prey.
During one of these wretched moments Prascovie, returning from
* A kopeck is the one-hundredth part of a silver rouble, or about two-thirds of a farthing.
the harvest-field, found her mother bathed in tears, and her father with a countenance so pale and so full of desperation, that she trembled with dread. She threw herself into her father's arms, entreating him to tell her the cause of his extreme wretchedness; and he, touched by her affection and her tears, told her that a court messenger had again arrived, and his petition still remained unheeded. For the hundredth time he bewailed the hard fate by which, for his fault, she and her mother were condemned to continue with him, for the rest of their lives, the miserable existence they now dragged on. Prascovie was deeply affected by this information. Till now her father-absorbed in inwardly bewailing his fate—had never openly avowed his real situation, to which he forbade his wife ever to make allusion ; so that up to this moment Prascovie was not fully aware that her father was an exile.
It was at this epoch that Prascovie Lopouloff first entertained the idea of travelling on foot to St Petersburg, to demand from the emperor in person her father's pardon. She was about fifteen years old; and from the day she conceived this romantic project, a degree of animation was infused into her character for which her parents could not account. She kept her resolution a profound secret, not having courage to reveal so wild and apparently impossible a scheme. Near the cottage was a wood, to which she retired when leisure permitted, and there, in the deepest solitude, she prayed to God to give her strength of mind, first to acquaint her father of her intentions, and next to carry them into effect. After much hesitation, she at last found herself strong enough to tell her father. Having gone as usual to the wood, and prayed to be inspired with persuasive words, she returned towards the cottage, intending to tell her mother first, so that her project might be communicated through the more sympathising and approachable of her parents. She perceived her father seated at the door smoking his pipe, and immediately decided not to lose that opportunity. Courageously standing before him, she began to explain her plan, and asked with the most ardent importunity permission to depart for St Petersburg. Lopouloff listened with attention, and did not interrupt her with a single word. When she had finished, he rose with the utmost gravity, took her by the hand, and led her into the cottage, where his wife was preparing the dinner. "Wife!' cried Lopouloff
, 'I bring you good news, and with it a powerful protector. Prascovie has made up her mind to leave us immediately, go to St Petersburg, and ask the emperor to be so good as to give me a free pardon, without more ado!' He then, in a more merry mood than his daughter had ever seen him, repeated all Prascovie had advanced. She would do better to mind 'her work,' replied the wife, 'than filling her mind with such nonsense.'
Poor Prascovie had fortified herself with strong arguments against the anger or the serious objections of her parents, but their ridicule
seemed to annihilate her hopes. She cried bitterly; and her father, the moment his unusual gaiety had passed away, resumed the ordinary severity of his character ; but Madame Lopouloff soothed her distress by embracing her. Come, daughter,' she said, handing her the table-cloth, 'be a good girl ; prepare the table, and you shall depart for St Petersburg when you have more leisure. This scene was better calculated to disgust the girl with her project than the severest reproaches. The humiliation, however, which she felt at being thus treated like a child soon passed away,
At least one point had been gained—the ice was broken, and now that her parents were aware of her desires, she returned to the charge whenever opportunity offered. Her entreaties to be allowed to go were so importunate, and so often repeated, that at length her father losing patience, scolded her seriously, and forbade her to speak on the subject again. Her mother, with more kindness, endeavoured to persuade her that she was too young to think of such an enterprise.
In this manner three years passed away, during which Madame Lopouloff suffered from a dangerous illness, and Prascovie was obliged to be silent on her favourite subject till more favourable times. But she never failed to join to her ordinary prayers an earnest supplication that the Almighty would put it into her father's heart to allow of her pious mission. During the last three years, the illness of her mother, and her own growing experience, gave greater weight to her character in her father's eyes ; and she was able at length boldly to discuss her project when opportunity served. Lopouloff and his wife still considered it as one of those childish ideas which often remain in the mind after the character has been formed : still, the extraordinary frequency of her entreaties, and the energy with which they were urged, had their effect; the more so as her health and spirits manifestly suffered by their repeated refusals. They no longer treated her project as a wild pleasantry, but tried to dissuade her from it with tears and caresses. We are old,' they would say, 'with neither fortune nor a friend in the whole of Russia; have you then the courage to abandon, in this desert, the parents of whom you are the sole consolation ?' Prascovie could in such cases only reply with tears ; but her resolution was, nevertheless, not in the smallest degree shaken.
During her unceasing meditations, a difficulty presented itself far more real than her parents' opposition. She could not travel without a passport, and it was by no means likely that the governor of Tobolsk would grant one. However, she determined to make the attempt, and applied to a person in the village who was in the habit of drawing up petitions for such purposes. Her father's signature was necessary, and when the document was drawn up, Prascovie entreated Lopouloff's consent to send it away, to which he, after some resistance, consented, adding to the despatch a new letter regarding his own personal affairs.