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upon the subject.* The fact, I suppose, was, that silence was the safe course, and that no one liked to be the first to bruit about the news of such a disaster. When the newspapers arrived, they merely stated in a short paragraph that the palace had unfortunately been destroyed by fire. They entered into no details, and they only made their account of the misfortune the vehicle for a little flattery of the Emperor and the Imperial family.
I will conclude my letter with an account which the Emperor's aide-de-camp, Colonel Boutourlin, lately gave us of a very singular occurrence which took place three years ago at Petersburg. Strange as the story appears, I am assured that it is undeniably true.
About the time of Christmas, masquerades are much in vogue in Russia, and even when an ordinary hall is given at this season, it is not unusual to place candles in the windows of the house as a well-understood signal that masks may enter without special invitation.
At the period to which this story refers, namely the Christmas of 1834, a ball was given at a house at Petersburg (the name of the owner was mentioned, but I have forgotten it), and the ordinary signal was displayed for the admission of masks. Several masks arrived in the course of the evening, staid but a short time, as is usual, and departed.
At length a party entered dressed as Chinese, and bearing on a palanquin a person whom they called their chief; saying that it was his fête-day. They set him down very respectfully in the middle of the room, and commenced dancing what they called their national dance around him. When this was concluded, they separated and mingled with the general company, speaking French fluently (the universal language at a Russian masquerade), and making themselves extremely agreeable. After a while they began gradually to disappear unnoticed, slipping out of the room one or two at a time. At last they were all gone, but their chief still remained
* I have since been informed that the Emperor caused it to be understood at Petersburg that the subject of the fire was not agreeable to him, and that the less it was discussed in society, the better he should be pleased.
sitting motionless in dignified silence in his palanquin in the middle of the room. The ball began to thin, and the attention of those who remained was wholly drawn to the silent figure of the Chinese mask.
The master of the house at length went up to him, and told him that his companions were all gone ; politely begging him at the same time to take off his mask, that he and his guests might know to whom they were indebted for all the pleasure which the exhibition had afforded them. The Chinaman, however, gave no reply by word or sign, and a feeling of uneasy curiosity gradually drew around him the guests who remained in the ball-room. He still took no notice of all that was passing around him, and the master of the house at length, with his own hand, took off the mask, and discovered to the horrified by-standers the face of a corpse.
The police were immediately sent for, and on a surgical examination of the body it appeared to be that of a man who had been strangled a few hours before. Nothing could be discovered either at the time or afterwards which could lead to the identifying of the dead man, or to the discovery of the actors in this extraordinary scene, and no clue has ever been obtained. It was found on inquiry, that they arrived at the house where they deposited the dead body in a handsome equipage with masked servants.
If this story be true, and Colonel Boutourlin spoke of it as a well-known and undoubted fact, an assurance which I have since heard confirmed on good authority, the method by which the murderers disposed of the remains of their victim is one of the most unaccountable which was ever planned or executed by human ingenuity. It is surmised to have been, in some way or other, the dénouement of a gambling transaction.
It does not perhaps argue much acuteness in the detective powers of the police that the body should never have been identified; but the proper use of the proper amount of roubles may very possibly have suppressed inconvenient discoveries.
The pleasures of sledging rather exaggerated — A vasok - A kibitka
Cheapness of travelling - A fellow-countryınan — An adventure which befell him at Moscow — Character of sledge-drivers — A General and a jeweller — A Polish swindler of the fair sex.
Tamboff, February 2nd, 1838. The delights of sledging have always been cried up to me in the most exalted terms since I have been in this country. No doubt it is an excellent mode of travelling, when the snow is in a good state, and when the cold is not too intense ; since the pace is usually very rapid, and the risk of dangerous roads is avoided. I am, however, unable to appreciate the luxury, in which a Russian finds so much enjoyment, of driving about for amusement in the little sledges which are used in towns. Were there no other objection to this indolent pleasure, the coachman himself is a great hindrance to one's enjoyment, as he is too near to be agreeable, and his person entirely obstructs the view. Moreover the horse, and especially the outrigger, if there are two, sends up a perpetual shower of snow from his hoofs, which often compels one to close one's eyes. Still it must be owned that one of these sledges, with a well-dressed coachman to drive it, and a fine horse in the shafts, is a very pretty little equipage. The sledge is made of rosewood, mahogany, or some other handsome wood, well varnished, and neatly relieved by a little gilding; the apron being of cloth lined and edged with bearskin. The coachman wears a cloth caftan, edged with fur, and fastened round his waist by a gay-coloured sash. On his head he has a warm cap of crimson or blue velvet, with a fur band; while an ample and handsome beard is an essential ornament to his face. Sledges for family parties are made capacious enough to hold ten or a dozen people, being fitted like carriages with a pole, and drawn by four or even six horses. A close carriage, placed on runners instead of wheels, is called a vasok. It is a very convenient vehicle for town use, and it is preferred by many people for winter travelling on account of its warmth. A vasok adapted for this purpose has no springs; but it is not considered so safe for a journey when the roads are bad, and the snow is worn into holes, as the ordinary winter vehicle called a kibitka. Kibitkas are of various kinds, according to the taste or means of the owner ; the best sort being a species of calèche, warmly fitted up, and placed on runners. The kibitka is closed with leather curtains instead of glass; and on each side near the ground projects a strong wooden elbow, so that the vehicle cannot easily be upset; the elbow being a necessary appendage for this purpose to all sledges intended for country use. The kibitka has shafts, and is driven tröjka ; that is, with three horses abreast. The traveller inside is able either to sit up or to lie down, stretching himself out as if he were in bed, the vehicle being built long for this purpose. The price of a first-rate kibitka is from twenty to five-and-twenty pounds..
The winter-roads in Russia were never known to be better than this year up to the present time, since the frost has been hard, and the quantity of snow on the ground moderate, both of which are necessary conditions for the comfort of the traveller.
Russian travelling is not very expensive, even to strangers ; but for those who know how to make a bargain its cheapness is almost fabulous. A gentleman who arrived here a short time ago on business from Kalouga, a distance of four hundred versts, or about three hundred miles, told us that instead of taking post-horses he had hired an istvostchik with a very good kibitka and three horses, for the period of his absence from home, at the rate of twenty-five roubles, or about a guinea, a week, the man undertaking to feed himself and his horses. On these terms the gentleman said that he was driven on his journey sixty miles a-day; that is to say, that he performed the whole distance in five days. Some of the Russian breeds of horses are wonderfully hardy and enduring; and I am told they will travel, especially in winter when the draught is light, sixty, eighty, and even a hundred versts, without more than a bait, and without being the worse for their exertions.
I have continued throughout the winter to take exercise on foot whenever I have been able to go out of doors, but walking is very fatiguing and disagreeable, owing to the slippery state of the footpath, and the necessary impediments of a heavy cloak and goloshes lined with fur. Few Russians like to use their feet when they can find any other mode of conveyance, and I should not have had any companion in my walks, had I not been fortunate enough to meet with a countryman who has been four years in Russia, and who was established here not long ago as tutor in the family of General A— Mr. R— and I have very often walked together, and we have enjoyed much pleasure in meeting with one another in this remote place, in talking together, and in comparing the observations which we have each made on the country.
Mr. R— tells me that two years ago at Moscow he met with an adventure which proved sufficiently serious, while it very nearly cost him his life.
I believe I have already told you that there are in all considerable towns in Russia licensed istvostchiks, as they are called, who stand in the streets with droschkas for hire in summer, and sledges in winter. For the purpose of identification these men wear, attached to their necks, a tin plate with a number stamped on it. They do not in general bear a very high character, and in large towns it is not considered altogether safe at night to take an unknown istvostchik in the street, especially in the winter. Robberies and murders have occasionally been perpetrated by these men, and a person wrapped up in a cloak is in a very defenceless position against an unexpected attack.
To return to my friend's story: he came one night out of a coffee-house at Moscow, stepped into a hack sledge, of which there were two or three waiting at the door, and directed the istvostchik to drive him to his lodgings. Unfortunately he neglected to make the porter of the house take down the number of the driver, who in that case would have known that he would be made responsible by the police for the safety of his fare, neither did he notice the man's number as he drove along. The night was bitterly cold, and R--- was wrapped up in a fur pelisse with the collar put up round his head. Presently, as he was gliding quietly along, something was thrown over his head