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Rascazava, November 10th, 1837. We returned into the country, a few days ago, from Tamboff, where we spent a week, to see the fair, of which I made mention in my last letter, and which was instituted, it seems, in commemoration of the finding of an image of the Virgin, which is now at Veronish, and which, like the Palladium, was sent down from heaven, and at length discovered, after having been hid for many years on earth.
The fair is not held in the town, for fear of fire ; but on an extensive steppe or down, about three quarters of a mile off.
On this down a perfect village was erected of wooden booths, in which shops were opened for the sale of all kinds of goods, especially every article
necessary for winter clothing, which was at the time exceedingly attractive, as we had a hard frost during the whole week. There were several fur-shops, very handsomely provided with skins of all kinds, and of all prices; bear, fox, sable, beaver, wolf, and a variety of others, of which I do not know the names. Russians sometimes go to an enormous expence in fur; but a handsome fox-skin, for a lady's cloak, may be had for about eight pounds, and a beaver collar, which is the handsomest, and most agreeable fur for the purpose, for a lady or gentleman, will cost from eight to twelve pounds. A bear-skin pelisse, which is only fit for wearing in a sledge, or in travelling, costs about thirty pounds. There were also Tartar merchants, with shaven heads and skull-caps, who sold shawls, dressing-gowns, slippers, and all kinds of eastern manufactures; while close by them were drapers, silk-mercers, and all the tradesmen requisite to furnish a lady's toilette, with goods homemade, or imported from England or France. The shopkeepers were all wrapped up in furs, for the booths were bitterly cold.
Who would expect, at a country fair, to find church bells for sale! There were a number of all sizes, some being of a very considerable weight of metal. They were hung on wooden frames in an open space, so that a customer could easily ring them to judge of their tones. Whether many of these bells were sold,
I cannot tell; but I was told that there was always a certain demand for them at the fair.
A number of fire-engines were stationed round the booths, to be useful not only in the event of fire, but as assistants to the police in keeping order ; since, in case of a mob of drunken and disorderly people assembling at night, an engine playing into the midst of them speedily disperses the crowd.
The horse-fair, altogether, presented a most curious scene; a large space of the steppe was thickly covered with tilègas, or little waggons, behind which the horses for sale were tied; and the strange figures of the people in their sheep-skin coats and fur caps, with their long beards, had any thing but an European character. In one part of the fair were to be seen showy horses, covered with gaudy cloths, tied three or four together behind tilègas, and from time to time creating a disturbance by kicking and fighting with their companions or neighbours. In another quarter were Tartars bargaining for miserable worn-out animals, such as in England may be seen awaiting their time in the paddock adjoining a kennel; but which the Tartar purchases as food, not for his dogs, but himself; for horse-flesh is the principal fare of these Russian Mahometans, who are tolerably numerous in this neighbourhood.
In another part of the fair, again, were dealers from the Don, with large lots of Cossack and Bashkir horses. The Cossack horse is raw-boned and
spare, carrying little flesh, and apparently not equal to any great weight; but he is better than he looks, is hardy, active, and enduring: he is little used for harness, for his master is a horseman bred and born. The Bashkir horse is short and punchy, with a thick neck and a dull heavy head; but he will travel seventy miles without stopping or tiring. These animals, of both breeds, were chiefly wild unbroken colts, and were not haltered like the rest, and tied behind tilègas, but enclosed twenty or thirty together, in pens surrounded by a strong railing. In each pen was a lad with a whip, who kept the horses moving slowly round and round.
It was curious to see the process of showing them to purchasers. When a customer fixed his eye on a horse, and wished to examine him and see his action, the dealer, with the help of a long stick, threw a noose over the horse's head, and pulled it tight round his throat. The bar which closed the pen was then let down, and the lad inside, keeping the other horses away from the opening, drove out the one which had been selected. He, of course, on finding himself on the open plain, immediately tried to run away; his escape, however, was not to be effected, for his owner had a firm hand on the rope round his neck, and a vigorous pull tightened the noose, so as almost to strangle the horse. The assistant having closed the pen, now came to his master's aid; and having forced a bridle on the head
of the poor frightened brute, boldly jumped on his back. The colt, of course, resented this new aggression, by rearing, kicking, plunging, and doing all in his power to rid himself of his unceremonious rider; the Cossack, however, held fast by the mane, clung tightly with his legs, and kept a firm seat. Presently he urged on the horse, his master still holding the rope round the animal's neck. After a minute or two the colt became more tranquil; the end of the rope was given to the rider, and he was left to take care of himself. He immediately set off at full gallop across the steppe, and returned after a while at the same pace, pulling up with some difficulty when he reached the spot from which he had started.
This process, which I saw followed with two or three horses, reminded me of the account given by Sir Francis Head, in his “ Journey across the Pampas,” of the manner of breaking in wild horses in South America.
The Cossack dealers had their own horses, saddled and bridled, tied to the railings of the pens, and every now and then a couple of them would mount, and starting off at full gallop, have a wild race against one another across the steppe. The ground was hard and slippery from the frost, but these fellows appeared to fear neither for themselves nor their horses, though one of them, who was neither young nor light, met with rather an awkward tumble; however, he