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Effects of charcoal vapour — The Russian stove - Colonel B
Warmth of houses—Fire-places-Death from charcoal vapourConvicts on their way to Siberia–Rural police-Punishment of a peasant-Of a noble - The knout — Martial law - Running the gauntlet — Erroneous penal system --A General degraded to the ranks—Prevalence of bribery-A lucrative Government—Want of public opinion-Inadequacy of legitimate emoluments.
Tamboff, December 23rd, 1837. In my last letter, I told you that the Emperor always sent one of his aide-de-camps into each province, at the period of the recruitment. The officer, who is at present charged with this duty at Tamboff, and who, by-the-bye, has the good fortune to be full colonel at the age of thirty-two, nearly lost his life the other day in a most ignoble manner, namely, from the effects of charcoal vapour in his lodgings. Fatal accidents of this kind are not very uncommon in this country, arising either from ill-constructed stoves, or from carelessness in those who have the charge of them.
The Russian stove is a sort of oven with a flue which can be opened or closed at pleasure, and with
valves to pour the warm air into the room which is to be heated. The fire is made entirely with wood, and when it is lighted, the flue of course is opened and the valves are closed; the fuel, as it burns out, is beaten small, and when it is entirely reduced to ashes, and all flame and smoke have quite disappeared, the flue is stopped, a handful of salt being first thrown on the cinders, and in a couple of hours afterwards the valves may be opened and the hot air allowed to circulate. If, however, the smallest bit of wood remains smouldering, after the chimney has been closed, the poisonous vapour from the charcoal penetrates into the rooms. Its presence is easily detected from its smell, especially by those who enter from the open air; sometimes, however, the first intimation which those who are in the apartments have of the existence of vapour is given by a sudden and racking head-ache, which is followed in time by stupor, and inability to move: if the vapour has been breathed for some time before it is detected, its effects are often felt for several days afterwards.
Colonel B-, (the mention of whose case introduced this subject) had lain down to sleep on a sofa after dinner; his servant awoke him, according to orders, at five o'clock, and he immediately got up, and as instantly fell flat on the floor; he did not hurt himself this time, but he felt a strange confusion in his head, and, as he says, hardly knew where he was. He managed to get on his legs, but he immediately
fell again, and rising up a second time and endeavouring to make his way to the door, he called out to his servant, who fortunately heard him and came to his master's assistance: not, however, until he had fallen down a third time and cut his face severely against the sharp corner of the door. A doctor was immediately sent for, who at once discovered the cause of the attack in the presence of charcoal vapour. He bathed his patient's head with spirits of wine, eau de Cologne, &c., and as soon as he recovered himself a little, sent him out in an open carriage, and made him drive about for a considerable time for the sake of air: he was, however, very unwell for some days, and his face is considerably marked by the bruises he sustained in his fall.
As soon as vapour is detected, the windows should be thrown open, and the rooms fumigated with burnt vinegar, the flue of the stove being of course at the same time unclosed.
When the stove, or peech, as it is called in Russian, is badly constructed, no care can preserve the rooms from vapour; since, in this case, the hot air, which, for some time after stopping the flue, is always pernicious, will find its way out, even before the valves are opened.
If it were not for the danger attending them, which exists chiefly in lodgings and other inferior houses, where small pains are taken in their construction, these Russian peeches would be most excellent
inventions, as they consume but little fuel, only requiring a fire to be kept up for about an hour every day, while the heat which they produce can be regulated at pleasure. The rooms are free from draughts, and all parts of the house are equally well warmed; there are no cold entrances or passages, and since the heat is retained all night, no cold room to dress in, on getting up in the morning.
The houses are in general thoroughly warm all winter, that is to say, from the beginning of October till April or May, because the stoves are regularly heated, and the double windows exclude entirely the outward air; a single pane, called a forteshka being left to open for the purposes of ventilation.
It is, however, in the chilly evenings or rainy days of summer, that one sits shivering in a Russian house, if it does not boast of open fire-places as well as stoves. Fire-places are daily increasing in fashion, and there are few good houses without them; they are not, however, by any means universal, and are regarded quite as luxuries, though they really make the greatest possible difference in the comfort and wholesomeness of the rooms where they are found. Without fire-places, the houses are constantly damp and chilly in summer, excepting in very hot weather, and there are no means of lighting an impromptu fire on a cold evening, since a peech requires some hours before its good effects are felt.
As for the peasants' houses, these are kept nearly
all the year round at the temperature of an oven; and the people are so inured, from childhood, to an atmosphere impregnated with charcoal vapour, that in general they feel no inconvenience from it, though of course they are not proof against its fatal effects when in overpowering quantities. Unhappily, a man and a boy, on my brother-in-law's estate, have, within the last month, fallen victims to this subtle poison from their own imprudence: they went, in spite of prohibition and caution, to enjoy the warmth of a stove which had been lighted to dry corn; they soon fell asleep, and they never woke.
Tamboff lies on the high road from Moscow into Siberia, and we see almost every week convicts passing through on their way thither. They travel on foot; some coupled together with handcuffs, and all with chains on their legs. They are guarded by foot-soldiers with loaded muskets, accompanied, according to a new regulation, by two or three mounted Cossacks armed with lances. They march about twelve miles a day, there being at that distance apart all along the road, places of security in which they are lodged at night. which consists on an average of about twenty prisoners, and eight or ten soldiers, is usually followed by two or three tilègas or sledges to convey those who may fall sick or lame upon the road; or to carry baggage.
The prisoners are always well wrapped up in