Part 4: St. Petersburg; First Journey to Western Europe, Section 7

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Part 4: St. Petersburg; First Journey to Western Europe, Section 7

This text was taken from the 1st edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1899.

MEMOIRS OF A REVOLUTIONIST

PART FOURTH

ST. PETERSBURG; FIRST JOURNEY TO WESTERN EUROPE

VII

    FOR the last few years the health of my father had been going from bad to worse, and when my brother Alexander and I came to see him, in the spring of 1871, we were told by the doctors that with the first frosts of autumn he would be gone. He had continued to live in the old style, in the Stáraya Konúshennaya, but around him everything in this aristocratic quarter had changed. The rich serf-owners, who once were so prominent there, had gone. After having spent in a reckless way the redemption money which they had received at the emancipation of the serfs, and after having mortgaged and remortgaged their estates in the new land banks which preyed upon their helplessness, they had withdrawn at last to the country or to provincial town, there to sink into oblivion. Their houses had been taken by "the intruders," --- rich merchants, railway builders, and the like, --- while in nearly every one of the old families which remained in the Old Equerries' Quarter a young life struggled to assert its rights upon the ruins of the old one. A couple of retired generals, who cursed the new ways, and relieved their griefs by predicting for Russia a certain and speedy ruin under the new order, or some relative occasionally dropping in, were all the company my father had now. Out of our many relatives, numbering nearly a score of alone in my childhood, two families only had remained in the capital, and these had joined the current of the new life, the mothers discussing with their girls and boys such matters as schools for the people and women's universities. My father looked upon them with contempt. My stepmother and my younger sister, Pauline, who had not changed, did their best to comfort him; but they themselves felt strange in their unwonted surroundings.

    My father had always been unkind and most unjust toward my brother Alexander, but Alexander was utterly incapable of holding a grudge against any one. When he entered our father's sick-room, with the deep, kind look of large blue eyes and with a smile revealing his infinite kindness, and when he immediately found out what could be done to render the sufferer more comfortable in his sickchair, and did it as naturally as if he had left the sick-room only an hour before, my father was simply bewildered; he stared at him without being able to understand. Our visit brought life into the dull, gloomy house; the nursing became brighter; my stepmother, Pauline, the servants themselves, grew more animated, and my father felt the change.

    One thing worried him, however. He had expected to see us come as repentant sons, imploring his support. But when he tried to direct conversation into that channel, we stopped him with such a cheerful " Don't bother about that; we get on very nicely," that he was still more bewildered. He looked for a scene in the old style,---his sons begging pardon---and money; perhaps he even regretted for a moment that this did not happen; but he regarded us with a greater esteem. We were all three affected at parting He seemed almost to dread returning to his gloomy loneliness amid the wreckage of a system he had lived to maintain. But Alexander had to go back to his service, and I was leaving for Finland.

    When I was called home again from Finland, I hurried to Moscow, to find the burial ceremony just beginning, in that same old red church where my father had been baptized, and where the last prayers had been said over his mother. As the funeral procession passed along the streets, of which every house was familiar to me in my childhood, I noticed that the houses had charged little, but I knew that in all of them a new life had begun.

    In the house which had formerly belonged to my father's mother and then to Princess Mírski, and which now was the property of General N---, an old inhabitant of the quarter, the only daughter of the family maintained for a couple of years a painful struggle against her good-natured but obstinate parents, who worshiped her, but would not allow her to study at the university courses which had been opened for ladies at Moscow. At last she was allowed to join these courses, but was taken to them in an elegant carriage, under the close supervision of her mother, who courageously sat for hours on the benches among the students, by the side of her beloved daughter; and yet, notwithstanding all this care and watchfulness, a couple of years later the daughter joined the revolutionary party, was arrested, and spent one year in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul.

    In the house opposite, the despotic heads of the family, Count and Countess Z---, were in a bitter struggle against their two daughters, who were sick of the idle and useless existence their parents forced them to lead, and wanted to join those other girls who, free and happy, flocked to the university courses. The struggle lasted for years; the parents did not yield in this case, and the result was that the elder girl ended her life by poisoning herself, whereupon her younger sister was allowed to follow her own inclinations.

    In the house next door, which bad been our family residence for a year, when I entered it with Tchaykóvsky to hold in it the first secret meeting of a circle which we founded at Moscow, I at once recognized the rooms which had been so familiar to me in such a different atmosphere in my childhood. It now belonged to the family of Nathalie Armfeld,---that highly sympathetic Kará "convict," whom George Kennan has so touchingly described in his book on Siberia. And in a house within a stone's throw of that in which my father had died, and only a few months after his death, and I received Stepniák, clothed as a peasant, he having escaped from a country village where he had been arrested for spreading socialist ideas among the peasants.

    Such were the changes which the Old Equerries' Quarter had undergone within the last fifteen years. The last stronghold of the old nobility was now invaded by the new spirit.

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January 21, 2017 17:26:58 :
Part 4: St. Petersburg; First Journey to Western Europe, Section 7 -- Added to http://www.RevoltLib.com.

September 23, 2017 17:39:42 :
Part 4: St. Petersburg; First Journey to Western Europe, Section 7 -- Last Updated on http://www.RevoltLib.com.

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