Punin and Baburin, by Ivan Turgenev

IV

1861

Twelve more years passed by. . . . Every one in Russia knows, and will ever remember, what passed between the years 1849 and 1861. In my personal life, too, many changes took place, on which, however, there is no need to enlarge. New interests came into it, new cares. . . . The Baburin couple first fell into the background, then passed out of my mind altogether. Yet I kept up a correspondence with Musa — at very long intervals, however. Sometimes more than a year passed without any tidings of her or of her husband. I heard that soon after 1855 he received permission to return to Russia; but that he preferred to remain in the little Siberian town, where he had been flung by destiny, and where he had apparently made himself a home, and found a haven and a sphere of activity. . . .

And, lo and behold! towards the end of March in 1861, I received the following letter from Musa:—

‘It is so long since I have written to you, most honoured Piotr Petrovitch, that I do not even know whether you are still living; and if you are living, have you not forgotten our existence? But no matter; I cannot resist writing to you today. Everything till now has gone on with us in the same old way: Paramon Semyonitch and I have been always busy with our schools, which are gradually making good progress; besides that, Paramon Semyonitch was taken up with reading and correspondence and his usual discussions with the Old-believers, members of the clergy, and Polish exiles; his health has been fairly good. . . . So has mine. But yesterday! the manifesto of the 19th of February reached us! We had long been on the look-out for it. Rumours had reached us long before of what was being done among you in Petersburg, . . . but yet I can’t describe what it was! You know my husband well; he was not in the least changed by his misfortune; on the contrary, he has grown even stronger and more energetic, and has a will as strong as iron, but at this he could not restrain himself! His hands shook as he read it; then he embraced me three times, and three times he kissed me, tried to say something — but no! he could not! and ended by bursting into tears, which was very astounding to see, and suddenly he shouted, “Hurrah! hurrah! God save the Tsar!” Yes, Piotr Petrovitch, those were his very words! Then he went on: “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart” . . . and again: “This is the first step, others are bound to follow it”; and, just as he was, bareheaded, ran to tell the great news to our friends. There was a bitter frost, and even a snowstorm coming on. I tried to prevent him, but he would not listen to me. And when he came home, he was all covered with snow, his hair, his face, and his beard — he has a beard right down to his chest now — and the tears were positively frozen on his cheeks! But he was very lively and cheerful, and told me to uncork a bottle of home-made champagne, and he drank with our friends that he had brought back with him, to the health of the Tsar and of Russia, and all free Russians; and taking the glass, and fixing his eyes on the ground, he said: “Nikander, Nikander, do you hear? There are no slaves in Russia any more! Rejoice in the grave, old comrade!” And much more he said; to the effect that his “expectations were fulfilled!” He said, too, that now there could be no turning back; that this was in its way a pledge or promise. . . . I don’t remember everything, but it is long since I have seen him so happy. And so I made up my mind to write to you, so that you might know how we have been rejoicing and exulting in the remote Siberian wilds, so that you might rejoice with us. . . . ’

This letter I received at the end of March. At the beginning of May another very brief letter arrived from Musa. She informed me that her husband, Paramon Semyonitch Baburin, had taken cold on the very day of the arrival of the manifesto, and died on the 12th of April of inflammation of the lungs, in the 67th year of his age. She added that she intended to remain where his body lay at rest, and to go on with the work he had bequeathed her, since such was the last wish of Paramon Semyonitch, and that was her only law.

Since then I have heard no more of Musa.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05