The Baroness Buxhoeveden once shared with me from her passionate memory an extravagant anecdote. She was a child, and still living with her grandfather in the country near the Volga.
“I often rode the pony that my grandfather gave to me. He was incredibly fast. One autumn day, when I was only six years old, I was riding the pony along the main road. It had rained heavily and the deep ravines were full of thick brown mud. The groom suggested that we take a shortcut through a garden. I accepted this plan and we proceeded slowly through the gates, making our way carefully along a thick carpet of dead leaves hoping to avoid the hidden mole holes. We went single file through the brush, the branches of the wild shrubs lashing our mounts.
Suddenly, from the dense vegetation a silhouette appeared. It was a young boy with dark hair and a very pale face, he was wearing the cap of a schoolboy and a red shirt with an embroidered collar. He grabbed my bridle. ‘You’re on my land!’ he cried in a surprisingly high-pitched voice. ‘This is private property! Get out of my garden, you and your tousled head!’
I was scared. I had never been spoken to so harshly. I was hurt by the insult about my curly hair, curls that I had previously been so proud of. The groom became indignant. “This is the young baroness! The young daughter of Piotr Gavrilovitch! She is too small to ride her pony through the thick mud! We have to take the shortcut. Anyway, the gate was open!’
“Little or not, out!” he screamed ferociously. He then grabbed the head of my horse and turned it back towards the gate, pushing me out. The groom was forced to follow, deeply insulted.
Back home, my mother scolded the groom for having brought me on their land. ‘Stay away from those people.’”
And yet, the young baroness had already gotten close to them.
“Not far from our home, there was a small, miserable village, Kokoushkino. The thatched cottages were run down, and the peasants were extremely impoverished. In the middle of the village there was one of those small manor houses Turgenev loved to describe. It had a veranda and a portico supported by white pillars with flaking and chipping paint. Many of the windows were broken and vines were growing through the floorboards of the veranda. A small calf tied to a post in the abandoned courtyard was the only sign that the home was inhabited.
I passed by there frequently. One or two times during my childhood, I saw an old woman with white hair dressed in an ugly black robe, erring around like a ghost. The groom, a round-faced boy from the village told me she was ‘the old Barina Ulyanov’. The name meant nothing to me. (“Barina” signifies “wife of a lord” in Russian). However, in time it would become quite notorious. The Ulyanovs were part of the local, provincial aristocracy. The father was dead and his widow, along with her young son, lived there during the first years of the last decade of the 19th century. Their older son had been hanged for his participation in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander III.
The young son of the impoverished widow, the young boy who chased the young Baroness Buxhoeveden from his garden, Vladimir Ulyanov, in his childhood a righteous defender of private property, would become famous after taking the surname “Lenin”.
Photographs by Justin Creedy Smith