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Intention of leaving Tamboff - State of the weather - Expedition to Bonderry - Ouchabas – Night-travelling on a Steppe - Losing the way
A cloth manufactory in a lady's hands — Return to Tamboff.
Tamboff, March 1st, 1838. This will, I think, be my last letter from Tamboff, for we have already dispatched a great part of our luggage by a carrier, and we mean to set out for Moscow ourselves in a few days. Indeed, from the present state of the weather, it seems that we have no time to lose, * for the frost is giving way, and, if the thaw continues, the ice on the rivers will become unsafe, and the winter roads be altogether spoiled. Indeed, I am afraid that they will at any rate be very indifferent, as a good deal of snow has fallen lately, and the weather has become mild, the thermometer having been above the freezingpoint both yesterday and to-day. Until very lately the roads have been remarkably good this winter for travelling, owing to the severity of the frost, and the comparatively small quantity of snow on the ground. It has now, however, become very deep in this part of the country, and the surface is doubtless much cut up by the incessant traffic of the arbozes. I have already had a little specimen of a winter journey, in an expedition which I made a few days ago with General A- and Mr. R-, the English gentleman who, as I have already told you, is residing in his house. The General was setting off on a long journey, intending on his way to visit a large cloth manufactory belonging to a widowed sister, which he superintends in her absence; and he kindly proposed to R- and myself to accompany him so far on his road, sleeping as he meant to do himself at his sister's house, called Bonderry, between fifty and sixty versts hence, and returning home the next
* This proved a groundless alarm, as the frost returned with great severity, and lasted till the 10th of April.
day, while he proceeded on his journey. We accepted the invitation, and set off in a heavy fall of snow, about four o'clock on Sunday evening, Monday being a day on which a Russian will seldom, if he can avoid it, commence a journey. The General and I travelled in a kibitka, a low vehicle with a hood which I have already described to you; and R— followed close behind us in a large open sledge, extremely comfortable and well built, and in which we both returned home the next day. The first part of the road was pronounced on the whole to be not amiss, though we met with some tolerably deep holes, or ouchabas, as they are termed. Each vehicle had three horses, and we performed a stage of three-and-thirty versts, nearly five-and-twenty miles, in two hours and five minutes, our shaft horse trotting the whole way. When we proceeded, after changing horses, we found the road much worse ; and occasionally, when travelling at a fast pace, we were thrown so decidedly on our beam-ends, that until I became somewhat used to the thing I thought it impossible that the kibitka could right itself again. This, however, it always did, thanks to its projecting elbow.
The night became exceedingly dark; the last ten versts of our journey lay across an open steppe; and the snow, which had now been falling heavily for some hours, had completely obliterated the discoloured line which would otherwise have marked the road, which was now as white as the rest of the plain. It was not, therefore, surprising that in a few minutes we found, from the horses sinking up to their knees in the soft snow, that we were off the beaten track, while we did not even know whether it lay to the right or to the left. The servants and drivers were now obliged to get down, and to walk about, stamping with their feet, to find the hard line of road. It was a good while before they succeeded in their search, and we had quite time enough to meditate on the prospect of passing the night where we were, an event which seemed by no means improbable. At length, however, the people hit on the beaten track, which was not in reality many yards from us, and we were once more in motion; one of the men walking before us for some distance to feel the way. We did not again lose our road, and, the direction of the wind having been observed, to prevent the chance of our unwittingly turning back and retracing our steps, we at length had the satisfaction of seeing the lights of the village to which we were going Soon afterwards we found ourselves comfortably installed in Madame L—'s house, which was large and handsome, and where everything was prepared for our reception.
The following morning we went with the General over a great part of the manufactory, which is established for the supply of soldiers' cloth. It is one of the largest establishments of the kind in Russia, the number of persons employed amounting to nearly three thousand. There is a Frenchman at the head of the concern; but Madame L-, the proprietress, superintends it herself when at home. This may seem rather an unusual undertaking for a woman; but in Russia, where nearly every landed proprietor is a manufacturer, ladies often exhibit a taste and a capacity for conducting business which is not often developed among our own countrywomen.
After going over the manufactory, which I need not describe, but which seemed well and systematically conducted, we had an early dinner; and I then took leave of my kind friend the General, and set off with Mr. R— on our return to Tamboff. The day was most disagreeable; we had a high wind, with a driving sleet; and nothing could be more dismal than our view as we crossed the steppe in which we had lost our road the night before. A flat waste, covered with snow, surrounded us on every side, the horizon being obscured by the falling sleet. As we approached the boundary of the plain, the trees and other objects which indistinctly presented themselves gave the idea of a shore for which we were steering across the sea. The road abounded in ouchabas, and our sledge pitched up and down, and from side to side, like a boat in rough water. At the same time our battered persons bore undeniable testimony to the hard solidity of the surface over which we were travelling. It grew dark before we reached Tamboff; and we missed our way more than once in a plain four or five miles wide which skirts the town. The lights, however, which were visible before us, marked our direction; and by sometimes catching sight of a verst-post, and sometimes of the black railing of a bridge, of which there are several over hollow watercourses, our driver managed to steer across the waste, and to bring us safely to our journey's end. A kibitka is a very comfortable carriage to recline in, and the motion is highly agreeable at a rapid pace on a fair road; but the jolt, when the kibitka plunges through an ouchaba, will make the fire flash out of the eyes. I have seen quite enough in this little trip to convince me that a long journey at this moment will not be pleasant; for the best season for winter travelling is now past, and we must expect bad roads and changeable weather. We shall therefore be doubtless very happy when we can look back upon the nine hundred miles of snow which we must traverse between Tamboff and Petersburg. We do not mean to stay long among our friends at Moscow, for fear the winter should break up and detain us. Travelling at that moment is in every way inconvenient; and it is difficult, if not impossible, to cross the rivers during the floods produced by the melting of the snow in spring. We shall travel to Moscow in a kibitka, and we shall then hire a diligence to take us to Petersburg, whence I hope to date my next letter,
Arrival at St. Petersburg — Appearance of thaw at Tamboff - Departure
- Increase of cold - The first halt - Motion of kibitka — A long stage - Journeying along rivers — Arrival at Moscow – A winter scene Stay at Moscow - Character of the hotels – A winter-diligence A snow-storm — Slow progress Deep holes in the snow – Small quantity of snow further north – Prince Serge Galitzin Visitors not announced in Russia A party at Prince Serge's — The Prince of Georgia
- The Cheremetieff and Galitzin hospitals at Moscow - Scanty population of that city.
St. Petersburg, March 27th, 1898. You will perceive by the date of this letter that we have completed the journey which we were about to undertake when I last wrote; and you will be glad to find that we have made so long a stride on our way homewards ; for, in point of time, Petersburg will be as near to England as to Tamboff when the navigation of the Gulf of Finland is open. This, however, will not be the case for some weeks to come. The Baltic steamboats will not begin to ply till the second week in May at the earliest.
We arrived here on Saturday last, having spent ten days in Moscow on our way; and before I give you any account of our journey, I may as well say, that, although Petersburg is now so full that it is difficult to meet with lodgings, we have been fortunate enough to engage an excellent set of rooms, clean and well-furnished, in one of the best situations in the town—the Little Million—at the Hôtel de la Bourse, kept by a French
Here we established ourselves yesterday, and, having also provided ourselves with a servant, we are comfortably settled for the remainder of our stay in this country.
last letter from Tamboff I told you that the state of the weather caused us some fear that the ice on the rivers might become unsafe, and the roads be unfit for sledge travelling. The thaw which excited our alarm continued for