The Household of a Russian Prince
THE STORY OF EMILY PUDAN.
LIFE in the English colony at Moscow, as I saw it thirty-five years since, was very much like that of our English corner in St. Petersburg. My married sisters were quite contented with its small pleasurings, its petty gossip, and their efforts to help in sensible English ways the singing, pitiful beggars who came to their kitchens. But after a year of all this, and of indefatigable peeping and peering on fête days into all the places open to me, besides enthusiastic study of the Oriental magnificence of the churches, I longed for something more of Russian life than I could see from my window, or from a corner at the nobility balls, where I was still a rather dull looker-on. To be sure, our good physician and his wife gave us glimpses into the home life of this pleasure-loving, musical people, festive almost to prodigality, even amid the grave, unsolved problems of their land ; and yet I felt, with a vague discontent, that I still had slight knowledge of the land of the White Czar.
One day, when I came in with a friend from a visit to “ God’s people,” as we called our poor, I found the good rector of our English church in earnest conversation with my sister Patty. Prince G——, who lived in Kharkov, Little Russia, desired an English governess for his only daughter, the Princess Vavara. “ Just your opportunity to see Russian high life,” said the rector to me, as I entered the room. Looking me over comprehensively, he added, with a satisfied air, “ You could be trusted in any environment, my little Briton.” That afternoon’s mail bore an eager letter to the old home in Somersetshire, begging my father’s permission to enter this open door into a Russian palace. Promptly there came a summons to immediate return to the bosom of my family, where, it was more than hinted, there was much displeasure that a daughter of the house should have so forgotten herself and her family as to think of such a heresy to its traditions as taking the position of a governess. But the very day after the rector’s proposition the charming princess had called, and, with delightful finesse, quite won my sister to the project; and Patty’s letter, which made peace at Lyde House, had followed mine directly.
The G——s were a very old family, and for many generations had been prominent in court and government circles. The present prince was cousin to the reigning Emperor, Alexander II. The families thus allied were on the closest terms of intimacy, and this association with the imperial house was skillfully used by my sister to flatter the pride of a stern old gentleman in Somersetshire, whose response to her letter was amusing (though I kissed it with a moisture in my eyes) : “ My daughter may take this position if it can be arranged that she shall be treated as one of the family, — a social equal.” A request to one of the most aristocratic families of Europe, sufficiently self - assertive and English, from a country gentleman whose pride in his Norman name was not clearly substantiated (so far as I could ever learn) by any accurate knowledge of the station of the ancestor “ who came over with the Conqueror ” — or after him.
My heart fluttered when it had its desire. The rector made exceptional arrangements for me, and these kind and truly noble people received me generously, never placing me “ below the salt,” at table or in spirit. They were indefatigable and united in their efforts to amuse and gratify me, and took me everywhere with them, in society or en voyage, — a most remarkable thing in Russia. My sister was never so dear as on the morning of my departure. Even the grayness of life in the English colony at Moscow was attractive. As a grand cavalcade of outriders, escorting an immense carriage drawn by six horses, with two footmen and two postilions, in a livery of gray and silver, swept through our lodge gate and filled the courtyard of our modest house, my courage faltered. The great earth seemed all at once to revolve very rapidly upon its axis, and to swing me off into space. And then pride put my feet upon terra firma again, and I stepped into the fine equipage through the door with the prince’s crest; though I should have been very glad, at that moment, if it could have been on to the terrace at Lyde House, and into the arms of a proud Englishman, who might be wiser than his rather willful daughter, after all.
As we rolled out of Moscow upon the fine imperial road, the princess, who was full of sweet kindness, told me that we were to take in the festivities at the wedding of the daughter of her cousin, a baroness living in the interior, nearly one thousand versts from Moscow. This meant for us a journey of nearly three weeks in our traveling carriage. We generally kept to the imperial road, because it had safer bridges and was less exposed to banditti but the most interesting part of the journey was off from this highway, where we passed small farmhouses with most primitive ways, and saw the shepherds tending their flocks in the dress and manner of Bible times. Oxen, unmuzzled, were treading out the corn, and gray-haired old men were throwing up the wheat from wooden bowls, for the breeze to winnow. In these detours we needed twelve or fourteen horses, and there were four postilions instead of two. We slept in our great carriage, drawn up in the court of the post stations ; for it was arranged for comfortable beds, and the poor little inns were not to be thought of, because of vermin.
We peeped into one of them, a most uninviting interior. Turning down the bright lights burning before the icons in the corners, my maid begged us to listen. A low buzz and whir of crisp wings startled us. “ It is the stir of the tarrakhaus, or cockroaches,” said Feodor. “ They move on the ceiling in the darkness, which suits their habits.” With a scream we rushed from the door, for a mouse ran across the floor, and the bright eyes of a toad in a dusky corner gleamed from his wrinkled, spotted skin. In the cities we could rest at a good hotel. Often the way led us through wolf-haunted forests, and we sometimes heard their cry : —
The hound’s deep hate, the hunter’s fire.”
“ Wolves do no harm,” said one of our servants to our maids ; “ only once they ate a nun ; ” and by way of further assurance he added, “ And here is a stone to mark the place where they ate a man.” The eyes of Feodor gleamed like animated agates, and she fluttered about like a little brown sparrow. But we passed safely on.
Often we saw two or three hundred women together in the fields, reaping wheat without the vaunted masculine leadership. Along by the roadside horses were tethered. Babies in rude cradles were tied to the tops of young trees, which bent with their weight, and left the dimpled, rosy darlings rocking by their own motions or by the wandering wind. Yet this is not the paradise of babies, even when the sun is not too friendly, or the clouds do not send down a shower bath. The dress of a Russian peasant baby is certainly not perfection. From the Arctic to the Caspian, it consists of a piece of coarse crash, folded over the head, after the manner of the impromptu dolls made of shawls, which were never quite satisfactory to our childhood. The corners are brought together in a way to inclose the little body, and three or four yards of narrow cloth or of rope are wrapped round them.
“ It keeps them straight,” says the poor mother, who has no time for tender care or watchfulness ; and there is rarely a misshapen Russian child.
To solace the hours upon the treetop, this “ baby bunting ” has a bit of black bread, tied in a soft cloth, just within its reach, and secured for further use by being fastened to a strong piece of string hanging above its head.
As the pleasure of novelty wore off in the journey, the princess chatted brightly in French, with an evident desire to make her small and rather pale English companion quite at ease.
But oh, misericordia! she reveled in stories of banditti! Now, the one terror of my childhood which had fixed a nervous fear in my ordinarily stout heart was that of a noted highwayman, of the Dick Turpin order, who had left the ghosts of his evil deeds to wander about Lyde House. Perhaps it was this nervousness, with the awful tales of the princess and the dense wolf-haunted forests through which we passed, that drove sleep from my eyes, the last days of the journey. In spite of kindest attentions, I was quite prostrated, indulged in a swoon, while my wide-open, sleepless eyes gave an uncanny look to my pale face in the glass. But my weakness was to emphasize Russian hospitality.
One of our outriders had been dispatched to the palace of the baroness, from which an escort came out to meet us, anti joined our own guard. We were a very imposing cavalcade, as we swept through the gates and the avenue lined with waiting attendants. To my surprise, I was lifted by strong hands ; placed on a litter ; borne to a perfumed bath ; rubbed, and soothed, and wrapped in a soft gown ; served with white wine and toasted bread ; carried to a couch of down to sleep, and sleep deliciously, in a beautiful quiet room, under hangings of gray satin embroidered and lined with pale rose, while a maid waited patiently in a little alcove for my waking, and then robed me for dinner. Yet there were perhaps three hundred guests in the palace, beside myself.
The wealth of the Baroness Vmade it possible for her to keep up the same state in her household as before the emancipation of the serfs, — an unusual thing even among the wealthy nobility. Her beautiful daughter of sixteen was to marry a nephew of the Princess G-, who belonged to the imperial family. The festivities were almost incessant. Lords and ladies danced in the pavilions or rowed on the artificial lake every day. In immense rooms, the glitter of gold upon green baize fascinated the older pleasure seekers. Quiet, controlled faces were full of well-bred composure, but eager, nervous hands showed that the stake was large. In the park, more than a thousand peasants from the baron’s different estates, wearing the costumes which distinguished their duties, feasted, where an ox and sheep and pigs were roasted whole for them, or danced Russian dances, in which the grandees sometimes joined.
Among the guests in the palace were the Grand Dukes Constantine and Vladimir, brothers of Alexander II., and the crown prince, the present Czar’s father. They represented the Emperor and Empress, and were accompanied by aidesde-camp.
The hostess gave thirteen dancing parties within two weeks ; and ladies sometimes changed their dresses five times in one evening, in compliment to the different parts of Russia represented among them. Twelve pages, in their livery of light blue and silver, flashed about in service of the fair dames.
The wedding ceremony was solemn and beautiful, in the church on the estate. At the door of the palace stood the mother of the bride, to greet her return from the ceremony with the blessing, “ May you always have bread and salt,” as she served her from a loaf of black bread with a salt cellar in the centre, as is the Russian custom for prince and peasant. Just at this dramatic moment a courier dashed up with a telegram from the Czar and Czarina, and their gifts for the bride, — a magnificent tiara and necklace of diamonds. The other presents were already displayed in a magnificent room ; but we saw their splendor through the glass of locked cases, — a precaution surprising to an Englishwoman. The large swan of forcemeat was the only reminder of boyar customs at the rather Parisian feast. Wine was served between the courses, with a toast; while guests in turn left their seats to express their sentiments to bride and groom, who stood to receive them.
Prince G—’s house in Kharkov was of stone, with the imperial coat of arms carved over the front entrance, the double-headed eagle, I think, exactly like that of the Emperor.
Prince G— had not the wealth of the Baroness V—, yet, with its fifty liveried house servants, grand halls with malachite, alabaster, jasper, exquisite mosaics, and rare marbles and paintings, the establishment presented a fine and well-ordered appearance. In the town house, each person had a suite of three rooms. My own were accessible only through those of the wife of the prince, — an arrangement due to my rector’s knowledge of the immorality of the Russian aristocracy, and his stipulation for protection for the daughter of his friend. Every member of the family had personal attendants. Mine consisted of a maid and a coachman; and because of the tyrant, custom, I must needs have a flunky in gorgeous livery to strut behind me as I walked abroad. I had a coupé with two spirited horses, and a tall Arabian for the saddle, as fine as that of the princess, was placed at my disposal. The display of silver and china at the table was very elaborate, for guests of distinction. For the imperial family was reserved the gold plate. The higher the rank of the guest, the older the vintage of the wine. With the French dishes were many excellent ones which were purely Russian. Black bread was as much relished by the Czar as by the poorest peasant, and a dinner, however elaborate, was never served without it.
Before partaking of dinner, and immediately after entering the dining room, the gentlemen conducted the ladies to a side table, on which was laid out the zakooska, various kinds of liquors, accompanied by caviare, sandwiches, smoked herring cut in small pieces and dressed in oil and vinegar, cheese, radishes, and such relishes as are supposed to create an appetite for dinner. Host and hostess left the table at the close of the meal and stood near the door, and guests as well as members of the family shook hands with them and thanked them for their refreshment.
Vocal music always enlivened the dinner, though conversation was never interrupted by it, unless national airs moved patriotism to listening silence, followed by enthusiastic applause. The singers were in a gallery between the large and small dining rooms. During the opening and closing pieces, which were sacred, the Russians crossed themselves and thanked God silently, the music taking the place of audible grace.
One season, at the summer palace, my heart was deeply moved at the trials and sorrows of the housekeeper and her assistants with the Russian breakfast. It was customary for all the household to take their coffee and rolls according to their own sweet wills, — and there were so many wills. It might be in bed; or in the billiard room or the ninepin court; or in a hall in the garden, where the choir met for practice; or somewhere in the pleasure grounds, or on the lake ; in fact, anywhere on the premises except in the church. It was not unusual for guests to send word to the housekeeper that they would take their coffee in the Roman pavilion, at the other end of the gardens, certainly more than three versts from the house. Frequently the gong sounded for luncheon before all had received their coffee; though all the morning distracted servants had been running in every direction with their bright silver or copper coffee pots, scalded cream, and bread. Everything must be served hot, or it was returned without scruple. I proposed to the princess that an English breakfast should be instituted. She laughingly discredited the practicability or possibility of the thing, but gave me full permission to try it. Then followed many and long consultations with butler and housekeeper, who had never heard of such a thing, and thought I was getting them into fine trouble. It was at last announced at dinner time that an English breakfast would be served every morning at nine o’clock, in the small dining room. It was a success. No more coffee in the romantic regions of the lake for that season, at least; and the weary servants were quite ready to set up my image as an icon, at the earliest opportunity.
In a bright, pleasant room the princess always kept twelve girls engaged in most delicate embroidery. One thought of Penelope and her maidens, as they sang sweet Russian songs and plied their swift needles. This Penelope did not work with them, but wore their dainty stitches on her own apparel, whieh was of such exquisite fineness that she could draw one of her linen garments through her wedding ring. They were busy, too, upon the trousseau of Vavara, which had been in progress since her birth or baptism.
Vavara, the young daughter of Prince G-, was only thirteen and a half when I went to her, yet taller than I. Two years and four months later, when X left her, she was five feet seven inches in height, and grace itself ; every inch a princess, and having the beautiful hands and feet which distinguish all Russians. Her hair, coiled round her pretty head, was like a golden crown ; the violet eyes were shaded by dark eyebrows and eyelashes ; and the faultless oval of her face, the regular features, the proud, sweet lips, the clear skin with its softly changing color, made up a picture of loveliness very dear to my memory. It was my earnest desire to give her my English ideas as well as my language ; for one is appalled too often at the immorality in Russian high life. I longed to have her sweetness and purity match her beauty, and her love for me was a strong power to aid my influence. One of the happiest moments of my life was when, after a long separation from Vavara, I visited Kharkov. She rushed from her carriage to meet me, loosening the clasps of her ermine-lined cloak, which fell to the floor as I took her in my arms. “ Oh, my friend,” she said, “ I must thank you. They laugh at me and call me an Anglichina, but I walk the clean paths you marked for me.” The fairest flower in all the world, a Russian with European culture, had kept its fragrance, and I was glad.
While I was at Kharkov, Vavara spent only one hour a day with her English. Besides myself, she had a French governess, an Italian, a German, and a Russian, and she soon spoke all these languages fluently, and in six months she had quite mastered English. Our American girls will believe she was not idle, for she rose at six, and had twelve lessons a day. After luncheon she drove with me ; the princess, her mother, accompanying us, to talk English.
The summer palace of the G——s was about thirty versts from the town house, and much finer and larger. Each member of the family had here a suite of five rooms. Large drays could drive directly through the wine cellars under the house. The gardens had the beauty of a dream, with little Greek temples here and there, and an artificial lake with cascades amid greenery, made by a succession of steps. There were fully five versts of flowers, cared for by thirty pretty Russian peasant girls, wearing bright kerchiefs on their heads, their beautiful blonde hair in a Gretchen braid, often reaching the knees. The simple crash dress, made like a chemise, showed unconscious grace and beauty, even in their bare feet.
A pretty and unique summer dining hall in the park had white marble walls, arranged the whole length with niches, in which delicate ferns grew luxuriantly, giving out a faint thymy sweetness. Branches of overhanging trees, interlaced with festoons of living vines, made the ceiling, and cast loving, flickering shadows on the tiled floor of cool green and white. Plashing, jeweled, limpid water of fountains added to the delicious coolness, and freshened the leaves of lilies in their clear, trembling depths. The loveliest room in the summer palace was copied in pink and white marble from one in the Alhambra, — a fountain of perfumed water in the centre, and soft silken cushions all about it.
There were no studied lessons during the five months at the summer palace, and no restrictions upon gayety. Sometimes Demetrius, the younger son of the prince, who was under instruction at the University of Kharkov, would invite for one week forty of his friends, quite like the students at home, who carry switch canes and wear little caps; quite like them, too, in their roaring, rollicking fun. Once they desired a lesson in English, in a demure row, and made havoc of the long sentences I gave them. They told stories and sang songs, lying on the meadow softness and sweetness of the green lawn, and filled the place with healthy life.
In a mad mood, seven young students proposed to row over the cascades in the lake. Madder yet, they vowed ladies must accompany them. Little boats were placed at each cascade to prepare for emergencies. Yet only one lady was brave enough for the attempt, and I accompanied her in a dainty little craft with silken hangings which might have rivaled those of Cleopatra’s barge. There were no banditti to fear, and my English heart quailed before nothing else. We started amid storms of applause. Carriages rushed round to meet us on the other side. High-born guests did not consider it in bad taste to bet upon our undertaking. The princess wondered why I did not also bet, and win thousands of rubles ; she did not hesitate to do so herself.
The twenty-first birthday of Sergius, the older son, saw Russian festivity at its height. Thousands of Japanese lanterns made a fairyland of park and gardens. The glass-covered orangery was cleared for dancing. A large hall was arranged for theatricals. The green baize tables glittered with gold, and had always their eager devotees. A plot of ground was rolled to the last degree of hardness, and I had the pleasure of teaching the (then new) English game of croquet. One prince lost his yearly income and half his horses with the mallet and balls. Alas for the Russian mania for gambling!
The fête is like a splendid, bewildering dream in my memory ; everywhere the bonny heir, with his manly grace, the hero of the hour. I like to think of him in his picturesque hunting costume, — something like the old Norse dress: broad-brimmed hat with long plume, many-buttoned waistcoat, and dark green doublet, the high tops of the boots rolled over jauntily, and not quite reaching the full breeches. His trained hawks and falcons added to the beauty of the start for the chase, with other young nobles as picturesque in dress as he.
The Russian horn music, entrancing when near, in the distance faint and far, made one feel that the god Pan had taken possession of the woods and filled them with divine silvery music. There were often twenty or thirty horns, each producing one tone, and varying like the pipes of an organ. One of them sounded only C, another every D throughout the tune, and so on. The peasants play very skillfully, each one giving his note with the greatest accuracy, so that the tones of the different horns seem to proceed from one instrument, and piano and crescendo are marked with exquisite effect.
Like all Russians, the G——s were very musical. Prince G—— brought the most celebrated artists to his home. Rubinstein was the instructor of Vavara, and gave us often in enchanted sound our dreams, our aspirations, the joy and pain of life, as we listened, entranced. Nicolini and Ole Bull made their violins speak to us passion, joy and peace, and infinite sorrow.
I learned the meaning of princely hospitality in this noble house. With the exception of a few days in Lent we were never without company to dinner, and during our stay in the country the house was full of guests, who came on long visits, accompanied by retinues of servants. In Oriental manner, the younger members of the household looked for expected guests from the housetop; clouds of dust proclaimed their approach in carriages. So the most distinguished people in Russia came to us.
Once the Empress Marie Alexandrovna, daughter of the Grand Duke of Darmstadt, wife of Alexander II., and grandmother of the present Czar, paid us a visit, and she was accompanied by four maids of honor, who were all of noble birth. Simple and unaffected, the Empress won all hearts. Evidently pleased to use her excellent English, she delighted me with several conversations upon my native land. She certainly had the test of true greatness, humility, and in a vague way I felt that she was in some sense sorrowful. She talked to me much of Madame Petumpkin, wife of the famous general, whom she was to visit, and whose country house was within a day’s journey of the G——s’ palace. A few days later we ourselves visited Madame Petumpkin, who abides in my mind as a beautiful lady of eighty years, in long loose white silk gown, with exquisite laces on cap and shawl, and the loveliest hands. We found the Empress in her château, enjoying retirement and the pleasant society of this distinguished woman. The plain gray traveling dress of the Czarina, with the long gray circular to match, and the little bonnet of the same modest color, became very familiar in Russia ; for the Empress never wore anything else on a journey.
The Czarina was beloved by all her subjects, especially by the peasants, many of whom thought she was the direct cause of their emancipation from slavery; and some aver that she consented to marry the Emperor on condition that he would free the serfs. After my marriage, when I had a house of my own in Russia, I found one of my servants kneeling before a picture of the Empress, devoutly crossing herself, and addressing to her tender words of endearment.
“ It is you,” she said, “ O mother of us all, who have brought this happiness upon me.” “ It is you who moved your husband to set us free, O my sweet queen! ” Tears of thankfulness streamed from her eyes as she asked blessings for the Empress and all the imperial family, as well as upon me and my household. I am sure that simple, loving womanly queen would have felt the prayer from a grateful, loyal, humble heart more precious than any jewel of her crown.
Amongst the most constant visitors at the house was Prince Dolgorouki (brother of the notorious Princess Dolgorouki, who was the morganatic wife of Alexander II., and very unpopular with the people, who loved the good Empress). The proverbial Russian politeness seemed exemplified in this delightful man. I am grateful, too, to the beautiful Princess Troubitzkoie, who always had a sweet little anxiety lest I should be homesick, and pine, in all the French and Russian talk about me, for my native tongue, — which, by the way, the charming lady spoke wonderfully well.
But the glory of all the festivities paled before the splendor and enthusiasm of our reception to the Emperor Alexander II., who visited the G——s in 1868. It was in the autumn, and after we had gone into the city for the winter. Everything was gay with flowers and festoons, banners and bunting, though the well known character of the Emperor made the festivities of a more serious and dignified nature than usual. Unlike his imperious father, Nicholas, in the assertion of the imperial dignity, Alexander felt perhaps more than any other monarch the weight of life, in a consciousness of enormous responsibility. He dreamed of freeing the serfs when only nine years of age ; and, kind - hearted and wise, when he used the power in his hands so nobly to accomplish this great act, he tried, too, to deal justly with his nobles, feeling the sacrifices involved for them, and apparently ignored the fact that he also gave up twenty millions of dollars from his own annual income. The seriousness of our festive atmosphere reminded us that this imperial guest was an earnest man, the father of his people, who belonged not to us alone, but to all Kharkov, although he honored our house with his presence.
When the time of his arrival was known, crowds went to the outskirts of the city to meet him, the party from the palace of Prince G—— foremost. The Prin-
cess Vavara and I were driving a pair of ponies in a small open carriage, and by some means we found ourselves in advance of the others, and the first to greet him. Not quite so tall as his father, “ the Iron Czar,” he presented a finer appearance, with his perfect proportions and elegant bearing. We saw only the Emperor when he called a halt; for, magnetic, imperial, he quite eclipsed the long lines of soldiers in splendid uniforms, with shining brass and gleaming steel, and the grandees by whom he was surrounded, a glittering guard, upon magnificent horses. Right royal he seemed among them. Alighting from his carriage as he recognized the young princess, and coming toward us, he kissed her on both cheeks, while she blushed painfully. “ Those roses are very charming,” exclaimed the Emperor in French, “ but you should not blush at your cousin’s kisses ! ” “ Ah ! ” she answered sweetly, raising the long lashes of her violet eyes, “ my cousin — but — my Emperor.” When she introduced me to him, he greeted me very cordially. Was it the glamour of his rank that made his words as precious as fine gold to me, though he only said, “ I always enjoy shaking hands with an Englishwoman ; she gives her hand so good-naturedly ” ? It was raining, and he added, “ This is real English weather, is it not ? ” I smile to record words so simple, yet the graciousness of an emperor is pleasant.
There was a grand ball that evening ; and the next morning, when Vavara and I stood upon the terrace, he stopped in passing, drew her toward him, and, after a little playful talk, remarked to me, “You are giving the princess English ways ; that is well.” Years after, when the story of Alexander’s tragic death flashed across the seas, I recalled him as he stood that morning in the sunlight, with gentleness and strength in his kingly face. An atmosphere of kindness surrounded him. Strange that the stern old autocrat Nicholas escaped such a fate, and this man, who began his reign with acts of mercy, who went among his people with happy courage, who accomplished reforms in the army, and who freed sixty millions of serfs without bloodshed, should die this death. But in all the ages, have not those who would right the old wrongs swelled the list of martyrs ?
But sorrow came one day to that bright household. Death had taken the father of the princess, and all gayeties were lost in deepest mourning. Very ceremonious it was. While the princess was robed in most sombre sable, the rest of us wore black lightened by white ribbons. There were services in the church upon the estate every morning at ten, for sixty days. We were all preparing for a religious pilgrimage to Kiev, the Canterbury of Russia. When the eventful morning came, everybody was stirring earlier than usual ; and when we had partaken of “ fast coffee ” — that is, coffee served with almond milk instead of cow’s milk or cream (for it was during the autumn fast) — the priest and his deacons arrived. The whole household had been summoned, and prayers were offered, that we might be spiritually benefited, that no accident might befall us on the way, and that we might return in safety.
After kissing and commending one another to God, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we set off from Kharkov in three large family carriages, each like the memorable one in which I left Moscow. We were provided with wraps for beds and for daytime, and with tea, sugar, hard-boiled eggs, and salt for the inner man, trusting to get plenty of black bread by the way. On such an errand as a pilgrimage to the holy city of Kiev, one must not even think of eating fish or white bread.
The party consisted of the prince and princess, their two sons and their daughter Vavara, and the sister of the princess. The little Englishwoman from Somersetshire considered it a great honor to be invited to accompany these distinguished people on such a journey. Among us all we had a dozen servants, and we were only ten days on the way, changing our horses every ten versts, — sending a courier before us, to have them ready at every post station. The weather was charming for southern Russia. In the outskirts of the towns and villages, girls with bright - colored kerchiefs and bleached crash chemises sat by the roadside or in the cottage doors, making lace upon pillows, their spools or shuttles of linen thread, some of it beautifully fine, keeping time to their songs.
Often we saw the flax in all stages, growing in the fields, and acres of linen exposed for bleaching. Stretching away like a limitless sea, the level steppe was not so wearisome in its monotony as you would imagine, though sometimes only the hum of insect life, and occasionally the song of a bird, enlivened it.
One would suppose that on a pilgrimage the pilgrims would talk of spiritual things, — each admonish the other and give ghostly counsel; but these pilgrims to the holy city of Kiev indulged in every conversational device imaginable, to while away the long hours of the journey.
Glad indeed were we to reach our destination and relieve our cramped limbs ; and greater still was my rejoicing at the liberty accorded to wash off the versts of dust and dirt, which, in my ignorance, I feared might be considered a necessary adjunct to a proper reception of the apostolic benediction! For many miles before reaching the holy city the roads were lined with pilgrims of all ages, footsore and weary, many having spent years on this journey to the shrines of St. Anthony and St. Theodosius. Throngs of them lingered near the city, where the road crosses the Dnieper by a beautiful suspension bridge, which at the time of its erection, in 1851, was the finest of its kind in Europe. It is estimated that three hundred and fifty thousand pilgrims come here yearly, and the government feeds and shelters one hundred and fifty thousand.
After refreshing ourselves we proceeded to the monastery of Kievo-Petcherskaya, the oldest in Russia, — the thirteen churches within its inclosure full of the barbaric magnificence of flashing jewels, gleaming gold, and splendid vestments always to be found in the Russian Greek Church ; while in gloomy cells, sometimes underground, the penitents, who have contributed all their worldly goods to its treasure, drag out a noisome, ghastly existence, supported by fanaticism and the reverence of the faithful for their sanctity, and much dreaded for their foul odors by an unappreciative Englishwoman.
By previous appointment we were received by the Right Reverend Metropolite of Kiev, who was to administer the eucharist to my fellow pilgrims. We walked from the hotel, on one of the high bluffs of the town, to the shrine, down many flights of steps. Pilgrims lined the way, kneeling, praying ; the city was full of the solemnity of the season. All the pathos of the yearning and the need of the human heart was here. Surely the Father in heaven has a benediction for all who come with this dumb cry, though it rises to him out of the darkness of blinded eyes.
The shrine of St. Anthony is approached by a flight of nine steps, leading down from a vestibule on the ground floor to a small oratory, from which, again, a second flight conducts to the crypt chapel, where the saintly relics are displayed for the veneration of the faithful.
On our arrival at the vestibule, which is filled with stalls for the sale of relics and charms, we were met by monks, who directly escorted our party to the crypt, where the service for which we had come was to take place at once ; the Church would decree no weary waiting to pilgrims of such distinguished rank. To wide-awake, unaccustomed English eyes everything was of interest, and as our party was hurried forward through the throng of kneeling pilgrims I lingered to take in the picturesque scene, and so found myself separated from my friends. As I started to follow them down the renowned sacred nine steps to the first chapel, I saw a poor old white-haired man crouching on the floor at the bottom of the steps, vainly attempting to reach the altar, which stood at the other side. He wore the simple robe of the Russian peasant, of unbleached crash, a clean one, which he had brought for the occasion. He held two small candles in his shaking hands, and these, of the very cheapest description, costing about one cent, were to be his offering at the shrine. Seeing his inability to reach the altar, I asked him, in as good Russian as I could use at that time, if I should present his offering for him. With a grateful look, which touched my heart, he assented ; and taking the candles from his poor withered hands, I lighted them from others before the altar, and placed them on the screen for him. I shall never forget the ecstasy that shone through the thin, wrinkled face, above which the soft silver hair seemed a crown of glory. In answer to my questions, he told me, with great trouble (I could scarcely hear his voice), that he had been three years upon the journey ; and at the nine steps found, after all the weary way, that he was unable to reach the goal of his devotion and hopes, because of his weakness, resulting from privation and fatigue. Alarmed that his lips still moved on, but with no audible sound, and seeing that he was trying to remove his small pack from his back, I loosened the strap and took it from him, placing it where he could lean upon it. He was too faint to move, and, still more alarmed, I bent over him, as he crouched on the floor, and endeavored to support him ; but he grew too heavy, and as gently as possible I laid him down. Just then, the servants of my own people, who had missed me, came to look for me, and I left him to their care, and went down the remaining steps to the lower crypt, pale with a nameless feeling, in which was an uplifting of my soul to the Father of us all. When I returned, I learned that the old man had actually died in my arms; and in my memory the foot of the nine steps is really sacred, with the blessing of a passing soul.
On my arrival in the lower chapel I found that my friends were already in their position before the altar, room being left for me at the end of the line. We were alone in the chapel, the service held entirely for us. By the time I had taken my place the hidden choir had commenced chanting the opening part of the service, which was the communion office, or mass, and the Metropolite came out from behind the screen, in cloth-of-gold vestments, attended by his rector and deacons, and was himself the celebrant. The service was much like the English, but given in the Slavonic language, and the ritual was very elaborate. His Holiness coming to me at the time of the administration, I drew back, and quietly explained that I was not a member of the Russian Church, but an Englishwoman, whom he would not consider of the true faith. The princess then came to my side and introduced me ; and he smilingly replied, in most excellent English, that as long as I was a member of the Church of England I was of the “true faith.” After the service was over, he told me to go back to England and tell Archibald Campbell Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Dean Stanley, that the Metropolite of Kiev had administered to me the rites of the Russian Church ; adding, “ It will not hurt you.”
The service concluded in the usual way, and afterwards we accepted the archbishop’s hospitality to dinner. During our stay at Kiev I had frequent opportunities of meeting the good man, and found him anything but the uneducated specimen of humanity a Russian Church dignitary has been reported.
Very divided in heart was the little Englishwoman who left Kharkov, after more than two years there ; heartstrings holding to the household of the Russian prince, and heartstrings pulling toward home and kin. My maid Feodor was lying prone upon the stairs in the front of the palace, that my last steps might be upon her as I passed out of the house, — a Russian servant’s strongest expression of devotion.
Vavara, my pretty princess, my sweet child-woman, with a supply of dainty handkerchiefs, went with me to the nearest post station. She stood by the door of her carriage as I slowly passed from her sight, and every one of the little squares of cambric, wet with her tears, was wafted after me by a graceful motion of her pretty hands.
Mary Louise Dunbar.