In the winter night of 1826, Princess Ekaterina Trubetskaya went after her decembrist husband to Siberia. The old Count, the father of Catherine Ivanovna, with tears strews a bearish cavity into the carriage, which must be taken away for ever from the house by his daughter. Princess mentally says goodbye not only to her family, but also to her native Petersburg, who loved more than any of the cities she saw, in which her youth happily passed away. After the arrest of her husband, Petersburg became a fatal city for her.
Despite the fact that at each station the princess generously rewards the Yamskaya servants, the journey to Tyumen takes twenty days. On the way, she recalls her childhood, a carefree youth, balls in her father’s house, to which all the fashionable lights gathered. These memories are replaced by pictures of a wedding trip around Italy, walks and conversations with a beloved husband.
Road impressions make a heavy contrast with her happy memories: in
reality the Princess sees the kingdom of beggars and slaves. In Siberia, for three hundred versts, one miserable town finds itself, whose inhabitants sit at home because of the terrible frost. “Why, damn country, did you find Ermak?” – Trubetskoy thinks desperately. She understands that she is doomed to end her days in Siberia, and recollects the events that preceded her journey: the Decembrist uprising, the meeting with the arrested husband. Horror melts her heart when she hears the piercing moan of a hungry wolf, the roar of the wind along the banks of the Yenisei, the insulting song of a foreigner, and realizes that he can not reach the goal.
However, after two months of traveling, after parting with the ill-used companion, Trubetskoi nevertheless arrives in Irkutsk. The Irkutsk governor, from whom she asks horses to Nerchinsk, hypocritically assures her of her perfect devotion, recalls the princess’s father, under whose guidance he served for seven years. He persuades the princess to return, appealing to her children’s feelings, – she refuses, recalling the sanctity of her conjugal
duty. The governor frightens Trubetskoi with the horrors of Siberia, where “people are rare without stigma, and those souls are hard.” He explains that she will not have to live together with her husband, but in a common barracks, among the convicts, but the princess repeats that she wants to share all the horrors of her husband’s life and die next to him. The governor demands that the princess sign a renunciation of all her rights – she without hesitation agrees to be in the position of a beggarly commoner.
Last week, while holding Trubetskoy in Nerchinsk, the governor declares that he can not give her horses: she must follow the footstep, with the convoy, along with the convicts. But, hearing her answer: “I’m going! I do not care!” – the old general with tears refuses to tyrannize the princess more. He claims that he did this on the personal orders of the king, and orders to harness the horses.
Wanting to leave her grandchildren memories of her life, the old princess Maria Nikolaevna Volkonskaya writes the story of her life.
She was born near Kiev, in the quiet estate of her father, the hero of the war with Napoleon, General Raevsky. Masha was the favorite of the family, she learned everything that was necessary for a young noblewoman, and after lessons she sang lightly in the garden. Old General Rayevsky wrote memoirs, read magazines and asked balls to which his former comrades gathered. The queen of the ball was always Masha – a blue-eyed, black-haired beauty with a dense blush and a proud trot. The girl easily captivated the hearts of hussars and lancers, standing with regiments near the Raevsky estate, but none of them touched her heart.
As soon as Masha was eighteen years old, her father found her the bridegroom, the hero of the war of 1812, wounded near Leipzig, beloved by the sovereign, General Sergei Volkonsky. The girl was embarrassed that the groom was much older than her and she did not know him at all. But my father said sternly: “You will be happy with him!” – and she did not dare to object. The wedding took place in two weeks. Masha rarely saw her husband after the wedding: he was constantly on official trips, and even from Odessa, where he finally went to have a rest with his pregnant wife, Prince Volkonsky suddenly had to take Masha to his father. The departure was alarming: the Volkonskie left at night, burning some papers before it. To see with his wife and first-born son Volkonsky happened already not under a native roof…
The birth was difficult, for two months Masha could not recover. Soon after recovering, she realized that the home was hiding her husband’s fate from her. The fact that Prince Volkonsky was a conspirator and was preparing the overthrow of the authorities, Masha learned only from the verdict – and immediately decided that she would go after her husband to Siberia. Her decision only strengthened after meeting her husband in the gloomy hall of the Peter and Paul Fortress, when she saw a quiet sadness in the eyes of her Sergei and felt how much he loved him.
All efforts to mitigate the fate of Volkonsky were in vain; he was sent to Siberia. But in order to follow him, Masha had to withstand the resistance of her entire family. Father begged her to spare an unhappy child, parents, to think coldly about her own future. After spending the night in prayer, without sleep, Masha realized that until now she had never had to think: all the decisions were taken for her by her father, and when she went to the court at eighteen she “did not think much either.” Now the image of the tortured husband of the prison stood before her, awakening in her soul previously unknown passions. She experienced a cruel feeling of her own powerlessness, the anguish of separation – and her heart told her the only solution. Leaving the child without hope to ever see him, Maria Volkonskaya understood: it is better to lie down alive in the grave than to deprive the husband of consolation, and then for this to incur the contempt of the son. She believes that the old General Rayevsky, who, during the war, was taking his sons under bullets, will understand her decision.
Soon Maria Nikolaevna received a letter from the tsar, in which he politely admired her determination, gave permission to leave for her husband and hinted that the return was hopeless. In three days gathering on the road, Volkonskaya spent the last night at the cradle of her son.
Saying goodbye, his father, under threat of a curse, told her to return in a year.
For three days, staying in Moscow with her sister Zinaida, Princess Volkonskaya became the “heroine of the day”, she was admired by poets, artists, all know Moscow. At the farewell party she met Pushkin, whom she had known since her maiden age. In those old years they met in Gurzuf, and Pushkin even seemed in love with Masha Rayevskaya – although to whom he was not then in love! After that, he dedicated to her wonderful lines in “Onegin”. Now, at the meeting on the eve of Maria Nikolayevna’s departure for Siberia, Pushkin was sad and depressed, but admired the feat of Volkonskaya and blessed him.
On the way the princess met convoys, crowds of mantis, state wagons, recruit soldiers; I watched the usual scenes of station fights. After leaving the first halt from Kazan, she fell into a blizzard, spent the night in a guardhouse of foresters, the door of which was crushed with stones – from bears. In Nerchinsk, Volkonskaya overtook Princess Trubetskaya for her joy and learned from her that their husbands were kept in Blagodatsk. On the way there, the coachman told the women that he had taken prisoners to work, that they joked, mixed each other-evidently, they felt easy.
While waiting for permission to visit her husband, Maria Nikolaevna found out where the prisoners were taken to work, and went to the mine. The sentry gave in to the sobbing of the woman and let her into the mine. Fate took care of her: past pits and holes she reached the mine, where the Decembrists worked among other convicts. The first to see her was Trubetskoi, then Artamon Muravyov, Borisov, Prince Obolensky ran up; tears streamed down their faces. Finally the princess saw her husband – and at the sound of a sweet voice, at the sight of the chains on his hands, I realized how much he suffered. On her knees, she put her fetters to her lips – and the whole mine froze, in holy silence, sharing with the Volkonsk Mountains and the happiness of the meeting.
The officer who was waiting for Volkonsky cursed her in Russian, and her husband said to her in French: “I’ll see you, Masha, in the prison!”