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Renewal

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Dear Tatyana,

I hope you and your family are well. How is Vladimir? And of course Olga?

I wandered for a while and now I have come to St. Petersburg, where I propose to stay for a while. I know a number of people here. I am staying with my cousin Gremin, who is a general of some renown. I also have been spending a bit of time with a fellow I got to know when I was here before. He is an interesting individual, a writer. Not like our Vladimir, though -- Aleksandr is a cynical, humorous little fellow, who is always making jokes about love.

It amuses me to think about introducing him to Vladimir. I told Aleksandr about Vladimir, and he laughed and said the two of them would be like ice and flame. I concur.

What do they say about the duel? Or has gossip gone on to other matters?

Your friend,
Evgeni

*

Dear Evgeni,

I was very happy to hear from you. I hope you are continuing to do well.

You need not worry about gossip here. M. Zaretsky talked a little about the duel, but mostly about how appalled he was that Olga and I interrupted it. I suppose there was quite a bit of talk about me for a number of days. Vladimir actually put a stop to much of it by freezing out anyone who asked him about it -- you know the way he has. At least he did not challenge M. Zaretsky to a duel.

We are all well. Nanny is a bit poorly, with a persistent cough, but so far the rest of us have escaped whatever malady she has. Winters are starting to be hard for her, poor soul. Olga and Vladimir spend every minute possible together. They have pushed back the date of the wedding -- now it is in June. Will you be back then?

You did not say much about St. Petersburg -- I have never been there. What is it like?

Yours,
Tatyana

*

Dear Tatyana,

I wrote Vladimir and he responded. We have agreed that it is best if I am not at the wedding itself, but he wrote me a handsome note of forgiveness and reconciliation. Being a poet does seem to give one the skills to turn a phrase.

St. Petersburg is much the same as anywhere else, really. A lot of people, doing a lot of things. Different things than in the country, of course — more rushing about, more trade. More buildings.

I had not thought that the gossip would center on you. I am sorry. I hope that it has died out by now.

I have told Aleksandr the whole story of the duel. He listened attentively. He asked me if he thought I might change as a result of it. I said, how would I know?

I have done some thinking about it, especially since receiving Vladimir's note. (You are shocked, I know!) I find myself more and more appalled that I might have killed him. Somehow I do not find it nearly so appalling that he might have killed me -- but I suppose I never really thought of that as a possibility, his aim is so terrible. Even so, if he had killed me, what of that? Then I would be dead, and I should hardly have cared about anything at all. But if I had killed him, I would have had to live my whole life knowing that.

Now I can live my whole life without the bloodstained ghost of my friend following me.

You made that possible.

I hope you are staying well.

Yours,
Evgeni

*

Dear Evgeni,

I am glad you wrote Vladimir. He said nothing about it to Olga -- I'm sure I would have heard about it had he done so. I am sorry you will not be at the wedding. I understand, though.

In any case, no one is talking any longer about the duel, for that has been replaced by bustling about with all the preparations for the wedding, though I keep saying it is still some time away, there is plenty of time. Olga and Nanny have already been busily sewing and stitching household linens and bedding and clothing for what seems like months now, but now they and Mother have also become consumed by making sure we shall have enough space for the guests who are coming, as well as enough food for all of them. And then Vladimir has taken it in his head to write odes to all the most honored guests, so he is currently tearing out his hair about that.

I have been conscripted for various tasks. Some of them are more to my taste than others, of course. I am hopeless at needlework, but it turns out that I rather enjoy, of all things, carpentry. I have been helping with some of the woodwork that has to be put in before the wedding, and Vladimir says next winter he will teach me wood-carving as well, which he thinks I will like.

On the other hand, cataloging the animals that we keep on the estate and which of them can be spared for the wedding-feast — I was looking for one of our farmhands and was told he was in the chicken coop. Well, of course he was not, and again of course I did not close the door behind me, and the chickens all cheerfully wandered out. Then I noticed, and spent the rest of the afternoon chasing them back into the chicken-coop. Olga is going to do the rest of the animal-cataloging.

But perhaps these sorts of things are not interesting to you. I should not want to bore you with details you do not want to read. Not long ago I did not think they were that interesting myself. But I am trying to do better. I know they are important to Olga. And I think about how the wedding almost might not have been.

Yours,
Tatyana.

*
Dear Tatyana,

I will confess to you, since you know me, that I have never been taken with domestic details. But perhaps I should learn. I like hearing about them from you — I imagine you chasing the chickens, and it makes me smile.

Perhaps that is the clue. Perhaps it is not the tasks themselves, but who does them, and why.

It occurs to me that by the time you receive this letter, it will almost be time for the wedding. I hope everything goes smoothly.

I have been spending quite a bit of time with my cousin Gremin. You would like him, Tatyana. He is a bit melancholy, sometimes even a bit pompous, but with a good heart. I think I would like to be a bit more like Gremin. He is a very kind person, and one always feels that he is thinking of oneself more than he is thinking of himself. He likes everyone, and everyone likes him. I suppose I had always thought he was a bit of a simpleton I suppose I had always been jealous that everyone liked him, without thinking about why.

Do you find that it is hard to change the way you think about things? I am trying.

I also see Aleksandr on a regular basis. Aleksandr amuses me. He falls in love about once a week, and all I hear about is how beautiful the lady is, until next week when it is someone else. I was also very much like that when I last lived here There are some very beautiful women here, it is true. But somehow I find myself thinking of you instead.

Yours,
Evgeni.

P.S. Reading back through what I wrote, I feel I should also mention that Gremin is rather older than I, and not nearly as well dressed. I shouldn't want you getting ideas about him. (That was a joke, of course.)

*

Dear Evgeni,

Olga and Vladimir are married! It was a beautiful wedding. We were worried about the weather, for it rained torrents the day before, but their wedding day was crisp and clear, and if everyone's dresses got a little mud-stained at the bottom no one really cared at all.

Olga was the most beautiful I have ever seen her. I will not lie, there has been a great deal of work sometimes these past several weeks, with all the tasks for the wedding piling up, and tensions have run high occasionally in the family (I know I have gotten irritated at Olga multiple times myself), but it was all worth it to see her and Vladimir say their vows and the crowns being placed on their heads. They were radiant, both of them, with love and joy. Seeing the way Olga looked at Vladimir, and the way he looked back at her, full of adoration -- I wish I could describe it better. I fear you will find me excessively emotional and naive, and perhaps I am, but I will tell you anyway, because at this point why not be honest with you? -- I cried all through the ceremony.

Though I will say it is just as well you were not there. For one thing, there were easily five times as many people as were at my name day party, all gossiping like mad. You would have hated it. M. Zaretsky was there, had a bit much to drink afterwards, and started ranting about duels and the Code Duello and seeing the holy code of duels wantonly broken! And everyone of course knew exactly what he was talking about but tried to pretend that they did not. It was rather horribly embarrassing. Finally I found his sister, who took one look at him, made their excuses, and left. She was very gracious about it all.

I have been thinking about your letter... Evgeni, I too am trying to change the way I think about things. It is hard. I too have been trying to do better. I have been trying to be more patient with Olga these past months, especially as the wedding drew nearer — oh, we do not actually quarrel, we have always been good about that, but we are such different creatures that sometimes I find it hard to understand her, and she finds it hard to understand me. I am trying to understand her better. And Nanny as well — I have been trying to appreciate them both, and live in the world with them and who they really are, not in my dreams and who I wish they were.

Do you know, I realized, that evening before the duel, I had been living in a world of dreams, a world of the past, and while I dreamed, my own world was about to slip away from me… Oh, Evgeni, my blood runs cold to think of what might have happened, what might have been.

I think about you often as well. I will stop there before this letter becomes as embarrassing as the first one I sent you. I hope you are doing well. If you can say, what are you doing there in St. Petersburg?

Yours,
Tatyana

*
Dear Tatyana,

It was more moving to me than I expected to hear about Vladimir and Olga's wedding. I hope they are very happy. I do not find you excessively emotional or naive. There may have been a tear in my eye as well. I am also so sorry you were embarrassed, and through my fault as well. I do not know what I can do to make amends, besides try to answer your letter as best I can.

Gremin has a vast library, and although when I met you I was not much of a reader, that is something I am trying to pick up again as well. I suppose I am thinking there must be something relevant to explaining the things I wonder about, about changing, about what is possible... And Gremin has introduced me to some of his friends who know quite a lot about industrial and technological advances in farming; I am learning some new techniques that might increase the yield of the land and make it easier for the peasants farming it. I want to learn all I can before I come back.

I told you that St. Petersburg was much like any other place. But now I find myself looking at it through your eyes; I find myself thinking… what would Tatyana see here? I do not know how much you would like it, Tatyana. There are so many people here, everywhere. I go to balls, sometimes, and they are full of gilt and crystal, the men and women laughing, sparkling and shining but with no real substance. I think of you as belonging to your fields and woods, your hills and valleys, like a deer or a dryad, and cocking your head at the nobility and court, not understanding. But some of the buildings are beautiful; if you like carpentry, architecture, perhaps they would speak to you. But perhaps I am all wrong about how you think. At any rate it is much more interesting when I try to look at it through your eyes.

You will be amused to hear that Gremin wanted to hear all about why I had come to St. Petersburg — he said, "You didn't come here, at first, to hear me talk about plowing techniques!" — and I told him about your name day party. (I didn't tell him about the duel, as he very much does not approve of duels. Aleksandr, who happened to be visiting and who knows the whole story, gave me a rather strange look at that.) He said, "Well! I must say, that wasn't a kind thing to do, to flirt with your friend's fiancée." Of course that would be the point he would press on. Gremin himself would never do such a thing. He is a kind man, as I have told you.

Aleksandr said to Gremin with a wink, "Not even if she was very beautiful?" And that is just the kind of thing Aleksandr says. He doesn't mean anything by it, I've come to realize; he says it more to see what will happen than anything else. He has his own sort of integrity; he is the sort who might indeed flirt with a friend's fiancée, but be clear-eyed enough to apologize afterwards. As I was not

Gremin, who also knows this about Aleksandr by now, just shook his head at him. I said, "Tatyana is more beautiful, anyway." (And, well, what of it? You are!)

Aleksandr grinned at me. "Worse and worse! You flirted with the ugly sister?"

I told him that Olga was not ugly, and Gremin said severely, "You are missing the point, anyway." Gremin's integrity is of a more inflexible sort.

Tatyana, is that what I have been missing? Integrity? I do not know how to learn that, except by imitation. At least I know who has it, who to follow. Gremin, Vladimir, Aleksandr -- though in a different way -- and you, Tatyana. I think that is why I spoke so harshly to you, that time. And why you told me I was right. For someone with integrity to be yoked to someone without it would be monstrous.

You are my star, Tatyana. You are a guiding light to me.

I have been thinking about what you said in your last letter. I do find it hard to understand people, as well. I suppose I did not really understand poor Vladimir, until it was almost too late...

And yet, and yet, Tatyana. Did you see in me not who I was, a worthless ne'er-do-well, but rather who I could be? I remember, I will always remember, what you said that morning; it is burned in my heart: you knew my pride and honour. Did you? Did you see what I could be, that I did not know myself?

I decided that day that I wanted to be that person you saw, Tatyana. So I wonder, you see, if sometimes it is not so bad to see what could be, to see the ideal, rather than what is now.

One more thing before I close. Gremin also asked if I had apologized for ruining your name day party. I had to tell him I didn't think I had. I am truly sorry.

Yours,
Evgeni

*

Dear Evgeni,

My aunts and cousins from Moscow were here for the wedding, and since then my mother has been talking and talking to me about going to Moscow for several months, to see family, she says, but I am quite sure I know what is behind it: marrying me off. Although I am curious to see Moscow, and it would be interesting to see my cousins again, I fear it would become a series of ever-more-harried attempts to matchmake with the nearest eligible bachelor. And I love books of romance, I have dreamed for years of being married to the hero I love, especially after seeing Olga and Vladimir, how happy they are, how in love they are, but... that is another thing I am trying to do, to accept that life is not a novel of romance, that a lover or husband I might have will not be exactly like a hero of a book. For instance, you Is is possible to be happy all the same? Nanny told me of her marriage, and Mother's too; they were not in love, not allowed to be in love, but simply taken to the altar. Indeed Mother loved another but was made to marry Father all the same. They were both happy in their marriages, so I at least have some assurance that it is possible... but I do want a little more time, to understand how it works, to understand my feelings. I must learn to accept what is, rather than what I want to be

I am coming to understand who I am as well… I think you are right; I don't think I would be happy in a big city for a long period of time, away from my beloved woods and valleys, with so many people always there. I hope I do not have to go to a big city to find someone to marry. Olga did not, after all. You came here There is a hussar, Pykhtin, who pursues me as if he were a lion... But it would be hard to marry a hussar and have to leave this place.

To tell the truth, I am also a bit worried about Nanny and do not want to leave her this year. She is getting old, and never really shook that cough she had last winter. Hopefully this winter will be better for her and I will feel more comfortable leaving her next year, so at least I will go see my cousins. But not this year.

Evgeni, you will like this -- it seems that virtue is rewarded, just as in a novel, because my mother had noticed I had been more dreamy and melancholy for a while, but after the duel-- after I had resolved to try harder not to be lost in dreams -- she noticed that I had been, in her words, "not brooding nearly so much." (I happened to overhear her talking to one of the neighbors.) And then there was Olga. She and Mother usually agree. But when she and Vladimir were at dinner last week, Mother raised the question of Moscow.

"Oh!" said Olga. "That would be a lovely trip!"

"I would miss Nanny," I said, "and you too, Olga." I already do not see her as much as I once used to, and I miss her -- I had not expected to miss her, but we had been together every day until she was married. I do see her once a week for dinner, if not more, and I console myself with thinking that if she had married another, she might have moved away and I would never see her at all.

"Perhaps I should go too," said Olga, her eyes twinkling. I am sure she would, in fact, love to go to Moscow. Vladimir frowned. I think he prefers the country, but he said nothing; he loves Olga to distraction and would certainly take her wherever she wished if she wanted.

"Now, now," said Mother, giving Olga a meaningful look that was clearly meant to convey, "You are already married! And Tatyana is not!" as if she thinks I cannot understand it. She might as well say the words out loud.

Olga looked at me and her face stilled. She usually speaks immediately and cheerfully after she has a thought, but she was silent for a space. She said, "Tatyana, what would you like to do?"

I said, "Next year. I would be happy to go next year. But this year I think I would rather stay here."

Olga looked at Mother and shrugged her shoulders, smiling. "That sounds perfectly reasonable, don't you think?

"If I can hold you to going next year, then," Mother said weakly, but I knew then that I would be staying this winter at least.

Later Olga and I were walking together in the garden, Vladimir having stayed behind to talk to Mother about poetry or somesuch, and I told her I had expected her to side with Mother. She said slowly, "I remember... the night before the duel Vladimir and Onegin almost had, when you and I were both so unhappy and fearful, but you were the one who understood what to do about it. Well, cannot you decide how you want to live your life, rather than Mother doing it? It did not seem right to me. And in any case you were not saying you would never go, just not until next year." She frowned. "I am worried about Nanny too."

I had not realized she thought that way. I had not even realized she too had noticed Nanny's health. I still do not fully understand who she is, I think. Perhaps I should become reconciled to everyone being different than I had imagined in my head.

I have been thinking about what you said in your letter about integrity. Is that the issue? I have always known you were capable of so much, Evgeni. You have such gifts, so much that people are drawn to you, that I was drawn to you... And I know you can be kind, even if you are not always so... And you told me the truth, when you told me we were ill-suited, though it was not a truth I wanted to hear. But perhaps you do not admit the whole truth about yourself?

And, when you talk about seeing what could be -- it still seems to me that it is not right by itself, that it is too easy to only see what I want to see, to close my eyes to what is. Is there a halfway point? Is it possible to bear in mind what is, and also what could be? Is that the answer?

So: I will say it: you are the man who might have killed his best friend, the man who is now my brother. You are also the man who did not. And in you I see, as I told you once, an angel, a protector -- but I think you would say that those are things you are not. But perhaps they are things you want to be? And I see too in your letters, I like to think, glimpses of who you are, no longer quite the person you were. But so far away

I -- I am not a star or a light. I am only myself, simple Tatyana, not particularly accomplished or virtuous, trying the best I can. But perhaps someday I can shine as bright as you imagine me to do.

Yours,
Tatyana

*

Dear Tatyana,

I have thought much on your last letter. Perhaps that is the answer, perhaps you are right -- knowing what really is, and what could well be, and understanding them both, and striving to go from what is to what will be. But ah! Tatyana, Tatyana, when I think of you staring down my gun, braving harm both to your body and to your spirit because you would not see Vladimir and me harm each other -- I do not think anyone would quibble with me that who you are, who you are now, is beautiful and bright, inside and out. And yes, you are also the sweet girl who chases chickens back into the henhouse, but you are mistaken if you think I esteem you any less for that.

I expect I am closer to a devil than an angel, even now. But the difference between a devil and a person, I must believe, is that a person can change. It has been hard, this past year. Sometimes I wonder if I have made any progress at all. And yet -- and yet, when I look at what my life was, I recoil from it. Surely that is worth something.

I was glad to hear you would not be going to Moscow, my sweet one. Would I have to lose you I think you are right, that you would not enjoy being there, and especially not if you had to stay there. Though it is Gremin's loss; he is traveling there now and would have been there about the same time you were, and had expressed interest in meeting you.

I have not heard about this hussar before. I want to know everything about him; surely you are not serious about him? Surely he has no chance? I cannot believe he is worthy of you, my dear Is he still around?

Aleksandr shocked me the other day. I had mentioned the letter you wrote me so long ago -- and what a dear sweet letter it still seems to me; I still carry it with me, did you know? It reminds me of, oh, many things -- of course I did not tell him the contents, but I think perhaps he has guessed. He wanted to see it. Apparently he is writing a book, a novel in verse in Russian. (What an idea! French is the language for novels. But there, he is a progressive type.) He wanted to loosely base it on the story I told him about myself and Vladimir, and wanted to use your letter. I told him I would definitely not allow him to see it. He kept persisting, until I had to cuff him.

"I should fight a duel with you about that," he said, frowning at me. It was an unkind thing for him to say, knowing what he does about Vladimir and me, but I tried very hard to keep my temper.

"I'm sorry for getting upset with you," I said to him, "but really, Aleksandr!"

He rolled his eyes at me and laughed, and there the matter ended.

The horror of it is, I am fairly sure that the man I was before would have let him have the letter, too.

I also finally told Gremin about the duel before he left for Moscow. He had a few choice words for me, which I endured. I am afraid that his regard for me will never quite be the same again, and I know that it is my own fault, too. Ah well. I suppose that his regard for you has only increased, though he has never met you.

There are many balls here, filled with repetitive dancing and rather inane chatter. I have been to my share of them, and they are not usually pleasant experiences. Tonight Aleksandr and I instead dined with one of his friends who married not long ago, with two pleasant and well-bred children. His wife was charming, and the two of them looked much like I imagine Olga and Vladimir look now that they are married. I used to tease Vladimir about being in love and terribly boring with it, but I can now rather see the appeal. I had told you that I was not one for married or family life. Perhaps I was wrong. It does seem that there is something in it, after all. Ah, Tatyana, it seems the world is opening up... I had thought everything was stale and boring. Perhaps I was the one who was boring, after all.

I carry your smile with me always, in my heart.

Yours,
Evgeni

*
Dear Tatyana,

I have not heard from you in some time. I hope all is well there. I hope you are not ill and that your family is well. If not, is there anything I can do? Or, if there is a lover in your life, I understand that as well -- or if there is no lover, but you would prefer to cease exchanging letters. I have been gone a while, I know, and there is nothing tying you to me, except these letters. If you want me to stay away, then say the word and I will not come back. I will stop writing you if that is what you want. It will be so hard

I think of the way you smiled at me when I left. I will always remember that. I will always remember and admire and — yes — love — your courage and your strength and your dear beautiful face.

Oh Tatyana, I finally understand, finally I understand completely that I love you, I adore you, all I want is you, to be with you always! But now, now, is it too late

Your happiness is what I desire, Tatyana. I regret so much the pain I have caused you, through not realizing what a treasure you are, through my ill-done actions at your name day party. Ah! I faint, I weep, to think of how I responded to your letter, the one you sent me when we first met. Should I receive such a letter from you now, I would be the happiest of men, and would keep you close to my heart forever and ever I regret even more if it means losing you, dear one, but I will do it with a smile if it will make you even the tiniest bit happier.

If I can aid you in any way, ever, please tell me.

I hope that, whatever has happened, I may still call myself your friend always,
Evgeni

*

Dear Evgeni,

I write to you in great trouble and distress. Nanny has died. I have not written before because I have been spending every spare moment with her. She was ill for a while, but the very end was mercifully short. And at least she was able to see Olga and Vladimir married, which she had been looking forward to for years, and I am thankful every day that I did not go to Moscow and was able to be with her at the end. She was so dear to me — I will be honest with you, I find I cannot be other than honest with you — she was more than a mother to me, I grieve her more than I think I would grieve my own mother's death. I cannot imagine life without her, and yet here I am living it.

Her gravestone is on the top of the hill on our estate. I go there every day. Olga often goes with me. She was not as attached to Nanny as I was, but she has been such a comfort, a bulwark of strength. I never knew she was so strong, so loving. I feel guilty sometimes, though, taking her away from Vladimir, who of course wants to spend all his time with her as well. But he would never say so. He too has been wonderful not only to Olga but also to me in our time of grief. I am so glad to have both of them as my sister and brother. And yet my heart is sick and sad

Oh Evgeni, I cannot bear it
Sometimes I see Olga and Vladimir together and though I am happy for their happiness I am also unutterably lonely and bereft
Again I will be honest: I have never stopped loving you. If you could only just send me a word of comfort through the mail, it would be most welcome.

Love,
Tanya

*

My dearest love,

I am coming --

Love,
Evgeni

Chapter Text

Evegni had taken the first coach available from St. Petersburg, then paid an exorbitant amount of money for the fastest horse in the horsemaster's stables, which he rode to the Larin estate as fast as the horse could gallop. He dismounted, ran up the hill she had told him of.

He saw her sitting under the big oak tree at the top of the hill. There was a book spread out on her lap, but she was not reading it; she was gazing out over the valleys, golden with the drying grass, dotted here and there with trees run riotous with color.

She was noticeably older than when he had seen her last. Grief had given a new maturity to her. She looked like a princess, Evegni thought; he was almost frightened of her for a minute; this was not the young girl who had sent him a letter declaring her love. This was a woman, a woman grown who had seen death threatened and seen death through, unaffected and dignified, worthy of all honor and devotion.

After having hurried all this way, he stopped still for a moment, gazing at her, struck into immobility by her beauty, knowing then with a new fervor how desperately he loved her.

Some noise, or perhaps an intuition, made her turn her head, and she saw him. Her face was first unbelieving, then transformed with joy. He had not thought she could be any more beautiful, but she was.

He ran to her and fell to his knees at her feet, taking her hands in his. They were ice-cold. "Your poor hands," he murmured, chafing them, and then castigated himself silently -- he had wanted his first words to her to be more memorable, more declaratory of his passion and devotion. But looking into her eyes, he forgot all that; her eyes were luminous with rapture, and had he any doubt that she returned his love, it all vanished in that instant.

"Evgeni," she said tremulously, and he completely stilled, thrilling to the sound of her voice speaking his name. "You came! Oh, you came!"

"I came as soon as I read your letter, as fast as I could," he said, gazing wonderingly at her, the words tumbling over each other. "Oh Tatyana, my love, my dearest love --"

"My darling," she breathed. She raised one of her hands to lay it on his cheek, and an almost violent shiver ran through him at the caress of her dear hand. He closed his eyes, overcome by emotion, as she leaned forward to kiss him, as their lips found each other, touched and clung.

"Oh, Tatyana," he said against her mouth, "never leave me, I love you, I will always love you, my beloved --"

"Ah! Evgeni, I love you!" she said, and he embraced her, and she fell into his embrace; and they kissed again, both knowing it was a pledge to their union forever.