lördag 18 december 2010
ne day, in Russia, there was a heavy snowstorm. The snow was deep on the ground; and in the forest the branches of the trees bent under its weight.
In this forest a little girl was struggling along. There was no path for her to follow, for the snow covered all the paths. The little girl's name was Paulina. She was dressed in a long fur coat, and she wore a cap and mittens and gaiters of fur, so that she looked more like a little furry animal than a little girl. She kept tramping along, not a bit afraid, when suddenly she heard a call for help.
"Help! Help!" the call came.
"Coming, coming!" she called back. She went in the direction of the voice and soon she saw a man making his way toward her. His dress was that of a peasant.
"Will you please direct me out of this forest, little one?" he asked. "You probably know the paths about."
"No, I am a stranger here," Paulina answered. "I live in Kief—that is, I did live there; but I am on my way to my father."
"Where is your father?" asked the man.
"He is in Siberia. They banished him."
"But, little one," said the stranger, "that is a terrible place for a child to go to. That frozen country, where wicked people are sent!"
"O, yes,—but my father is there, you know," said Paulina.
"Who is your father?" the man asked.
The little girl was about to tell him, when she noticed a look of interest on the stranger's face, so she said,
"Did you say that you had lost your way in the forest? Do you live far from here?"
"Yes, very far. I am lost, and am nearly perishing from hunger and cold. How far is it to the next village?"
"They told me it was some miles on," said the child. "But I will take you back to the woodsman's cottage where I spent the night. The woman is a kind-hearted person, and I am sure she will give you shelter."
"That is kind of you, little one," said the stranger, "but you will be hindering your own journey if you do that."
"I know that my father would want me to show a kindness, even though it did put me back some," Paulina said.
"You must have a good father, to give you such training. Why did the Emperor send him into exile?" the stranger asked her.
"O, my father had enemies who lied to the Emperor—and there was no chance given to my father to explain. So the Emperor sent him away to Siberia,—and I am trying to find my way there to him."
While they walked through the forest, the stranger told Paulina about his own little daughter who was expecting him to spend Christmas with her. At last they reached the woodsman's hut. The woman greeted them kindly, and while Paulina went into another room to help her prepare the evening meal, the stranger was left warming himself by the fire, and rocking the cradle.
Once Paulina thought she heard voices, as if the stranger were talking to someone; but when she went back, she found him alone, still warming his hands and rocking the cradle with his foot.
That night the stranger slept on the floor in front of the fire—there was no other place for him; but he was glad to be safe from the storm outside.
Early in the morning, the two started out through the forest again. They must hurry, if they were to reach the next village before darkness fell. The storm had passed over, and the day was cold and clear. A beautiful winter's day. The little girl and the stranger reached the village on the other side of the forest early in the afternoon, and there before them they saw a beautiful sleigh drawn by four horses. There were four servants standing near.
"What a lovely sleigh!" exclaimed Paulina.
"Yes, I wonder where they are going. I will ask them," the stranger said. He went nearer the men and spoke to them.
"We are driving for our master to Igorhof," they said.
"Why, that is where my daughter is. If I might only ride with you, I could spend Christmas with her. Tomorrow is Christmas day, you know. And, little one, you could spend Christmas with us, too."
"O, no," said Paulina. "I could not take the time. I must hurry on to my father. But it would be lovely if we could only ride in this beautiful sleigh."
"You could spend the night with us, and then we could set you on your way, because you have been so kind to me," the man told her.
The servants were willing to let them ride in the beautiful sleigh, and soon they were speeding over the snow toward the great city. Once, the stranger took a scarf from a pocket on the side of the sleigh and threw it about his neck. Paulina frowned, and promptly placed it back in the pocket.
"It isn't right for you to touch anything in the sleigh. It belongs to someone else. I am beginning to fear that you may not be an honest man," she said gravely.
The stranger laughed at her, but he did not take the scarf again. They sped on over the snow until, as darkness fell, they reached the city. Soon they entered a large courtyard, and the stranger took Paulina's hand and led her into a narrow passageway, and up a small winding stairway.
"Where are you taking me?" asked Paulina. "I feel almost sure now, that you are not an honest man. I think that you may even be a thief!"
The man laughed again.
"No, I am an honest man. You will believe me when you see my little daughter. I trusted you in the forest. Now you trust me."
He led her into a large room, and they sat down upon a sofa.
"We will wait here until my daughter comes," he said.
Soon the door opened, and a beautiful little girl, about as large as Paulina, came toward them. She looked puzzled when she saw the rough-looking man with the little girl. She went close to the stranger and looked into his face.
"It is my father!" she cried, and threw her arms around his neck.
"But why are you dressed like a peasant? Has there been an accident? And who is this little stranger?"
The man took her on his lap and told her how his sleigh had been overturned in the storm, and how he had found his way to a peasant's hut, where they had given him dry clothes to put on, and how he had started out alone to find his way through the forest; and how he was nearly perishing with cold and hunger when this little girl had rescued him, and how, if it had not been for her, he would have died in the snow in the forest. He told her how little Paulina was on her way to Siberia to find her father, and how they went to the woodsman's hut where a servant had found him, and how he had planned for the sleigh to meet them on the other side of the forest.
"O," Paulina interrupted him, "then there was somebody talking with you when we were preparing the evening meal?"
"Yes, and everything came out just as I had planned. And do you know, little daughter, this Paulina would not let me put my own scarf around my neck. She thought that I was a thief. She is an honest little girl. But she will not tell me her name. She does not trust me."
"But why should I trust you, when you will not tell me who you are, or anything about yourself?" Paulina asked.
"Do trust my father, Paulina. I'm sure he can help you. He will tell you who he is soon, I know," the beautiful little girl said.
"Yes, little one," the stranger said. "I know someone who could speak to the Emperor about your father, and perhaps he could be pardoned. Please tell me your name; and then before you go away I will answer any questions about myself you may ask me."
"Do tell my father, Paulina," the little girl urged.
Paulina threw her arms about the stranger's knees.
"O, if you could only get the Emperor to pardon him.—But I do not ask for a pardon—he has done nothing to be pardoned for. All that I ask is that he may have justice done him. My father is Vladimir Betzkoi."
The stranger frowned, and then he whispered,
"There must be some mistake. He must be a good man to have such an honest little daughter." Then he said to Paulina,
"Do you believe now that I am an honest man, since you have seen my daughter?"
"O, yes, indeed I do. You couldn't help being good and honest. She is so beautiful. I think her face is like what a queen's should be," Paulina answered eagerly.
The stranger and his little daughter smiled, and the man said,
"Well, I believe that your father is an honest man since I have seen you. And I can tell you now, I know he will be pardoned."
"Tell her, father, tell the little Paulina who you are," his daughter whispered.
"Until your father returns to you, little one, you must stay here and I will be a father to you—as I am father to all the people of Russia, for I am the Emperor!"
Just then the bells began ringing, and voices outside began singing,—for it was the beginning of Christmas morning. And Paulina said,
"This is the happiest Christmas morning I have ever known."
A Story of Russian Life. Adapted from Anna Robinson's Little Paulina, 1912