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where they take the oaths of allegiance and fidelity before a priest.
To return to the proceedings of the board,—we will suppose the business to begin with the examination of the conscripts furnished from the estate of a private individual.
At the president's order, one of the corporals in attendance opens the door into the ante-room, and calls out for the peasants of Ivan Petroitch Pashkoff to be in readiness: the president then reads out A. B., the first name on the list of conscripts sent by Mr. Pashkoff.
“A. B. come in,” shouts the corporal, and in walks A. B., stark naked. He is first placed under the standard, the corporal on each side taking care that he holds himself upright, which of course he is not very willing to do.
“Five feet four inches,"* says the corporal. The president enters the man's height opposite to his name in a book; the conscript is then handed over to the doctor who pronounces him sound and fit for service. The field officer then examines him, to ascertain that there is no peculiarity in his person, such as his being very much bandy-legged or knockkneed, or having an extraordinarily shaped head, which would interfere with his wearing uniform.
* This is expressed in Russian, in a manner which, if literally translated would be unintelligible in English. Five feet three inches, it will be remembered, is the minimum height for a soldier.
He pronounces his approval of the recruit; the president enters everything in his book, and simply calls out “ Lop” (forehead): the corporal instantly shoves A. B. out of the room shouting “ Lop.”—Lop, Lop, is repeated in the ante-room, and the man is taken straight into another apartment where his forehead is shaved, and he finds himself a soldier. In the meantime C. D. appears before the board: he is either too short, (if a sheet of paper can be passed between the man's head and the measure marking five feet three, he is rejected) or the doctor or inspecting officer find that he is physically unfit to be received. The president calls out “zatillac” (neck), C. D. is shoved out of the room, zatillac, zatillac is repeated in the ante-room, the back of the man's neck is shaved, and he is set at liberty. If a man declares himself labouring under any defect, or subject to any complaint unfitting him for a soldier, and the case is such that the truth cannot be ascertained on the spot, he is sent to the hospital for examination, and a report on his case is received the following day. Of course these poor men often counterfeit fits and other infirmities, in order to avoid being enlisted, but if they are discovered, they are liable to severe punishment, and their claim to a discharge after twenty-five years' service, is sometimes taken away.
When the turn of the crown peasants comes, three brothers perhaps enter together, one of whom is to
be selected. They are accompanied by their father and mother, and their wives and children, if they have any; decency being laid aside, for the three young men are stark naked. The board, after referring to the register, and hearing all that the men, as well as their father and mother have to urge in their excuse, decide that it is justly the turn of this family to furnish a conscript; the three brothers are therefore measured and examined, as in the case which I have described: and the result we will suppose is, that the eldest is tall and healthy, but he has a wife and three or four children; the second measures but five feet two inches; and the third brother is a fine tall lad of eighteen. Of the three, therefore, the youngest is under age, and the second is under size; they, therefore, are legally exempted from the conscription, and the eldest brother must be taken away from his wife and family and made a soldier, unless the lad of eighteen will voluntarily consent to serve in his stead.
A scene now ensues, which is at the same time both pathetic and ludicrous. The elder brother and his wife, the father and mother, and the little children, all throw themselves on the ground and prostrate themselves repeatedly at the feet of the young man, beseeching him to have pity on the family of his brother, and to consent to be enlisted in his place. The poor
lad looks with a bewildered air from one to another, not exactly knowing what to do, having no
fancy to be a soldier, and unable to make up his mind to refuse. However, he is urged on every side, for the members of the board add their exhortations to the entreaties of his family, some bidding him be a good christian and sacrifice himself for his relations, and others encouraging him with the promise of good treatment in the army. At last, completely overpowered, he musters up courage, crosses himself, and consents to be a soldier.
The conscription frequently gives rise to most pitiable scenes, where married men, or the sons of widows or aged parents are torn away from families, of which they were the chief prop and stay. The recruits often cry and lament bitterly their hard lot when they come before the board to be examined; but the moment they are enlisted and their fate decided, they generally cheer up and recover their spirits, as if they thought it useless to grieve over what could no longer be remedied or avoided.
The Russian peasants are extremely attached to one another in their families, and it rarely happens that there is any difficulty in persuading a young man to devote himself for a relation; on the contrary, they often persist in doing so, to save an elder brother, or an uncle, against the advice of all around them. The other day a lad under twenty, whose married brother was nominated as a conscript, insisted upon coming here with him, in order, as he said, to see his fate. The man was accepted as a
recruit, and the father coming out, said to his younger son, who was waiting in the street, “ they have taken your brother, Gabriel.” Gabriel, without answering, rushed into the house, pressed through the crowd in attendance, and hurried, breathless, into the board-room, fearful of being too late to offer himself as a substitute for his married brother; he was, however, in good time, and being a fine young man, was of course readily received in the place of the other.
The recruits, after being sworn in, receive a greatcoat and cap, a pair of boots, and some other necessaries; and they are then quartered in barracks, detachments being occasionally draughted off from this to the neighbouring towns. Their beards are immediately removed, the moustaches alone being left; and in this severe weather it is quite pitiable to see the raw chins of these poor fellows, who have just been shaved for the first time in their lives.