« ForrigeFortsett »
The pleasures of sledging rather exaggerated—A vasok-A kibitka
- Cheapness of travelling—A fellow-countryman-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, and no doubt it is an excellent mode of travelling when the snow is in a good state, and the cold not so intense as to be painful, since the pace at which one may go is very great, and the risk of dangerous roads is avoided. I must confess, , however, that I am unable to appreciate the luxury, in which a Russian finds so much enjoyment, of driving about for amusement in the little traineaux which are used in towns; were there no other objection to this indolent pleasure, the coachman who sits in front is much too near one's face to be agreeable, and he entirely obstructs the view; while the horse, and especially the outrigger, if there are two, sends up a perpetual shower of snow from
his feet, which often compels one to close one's eyes. One of these sledges, however, with a well-dressed coachman and a fine horse, is a very pretty little equipage. The sledge is made of rose-wood, mahogany, or some other handsome wood, well varnished, and neatly relieved by a little gilding; the apron being made of cloth to match the seat, and lined and edged with bear-skin. 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, and his face ought to be decorated by a handsome and ample beard. Sledges are sometimes made for family parties capacious enough to hold ten or a dozen people, and are driven like carriages with 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. It is not, however, considered so safe when the roads are bad, and the snow worn into holes, as the ordinary winter vehicle called a Kibitka; these are of various kinds, according to the taste or means of the owner; the best sort being a species of calêche, 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 troika, 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 to the comfort of the traveller.
As an instance of the cheapness of Russian travelling, for those who know how to make a bargain; a gentleman who came here a short time ago on business from Kalouga, a distance of four hundred versts, or about three hundred miles, said 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 formed the whole distance in five days. Some of the Russian breeds of horses are wonderfully hardy and enduring, and I am told that they will travel, espe
cially in winter when the draught is light, sixty, eighty, and even a hundred versts without rest, and without being the worse for their exertions.
I have continued through the winter to take exercise on foot whenever I have been able to go out, although walking is not very agreeable, 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 been likely to find any promenading companion, 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 Arapoff. He is of an old Scotch family, has seen a good deal of the world, and was brought up to the bar. In consequence, however, of loss of property and adverse circumstances, he found himself obliged to enter his present profession, and chance brought him to exercise it in Russia. He and I have usually walked together, and you may imagine the pleasure which we have had in meeting with one another in this remote place, in talking English together, and in comparing the observations which we have made on the country
Mr. R— tells me, that two years ago, at Moscow, he met with an adventure which proved sufficiently serious, and which had very nearly cost him his life.
I believe I have already told you that there are no regular hackney coaches in Russia, but that instead there are licensed istvostchiks as they are called, who stand in the streets with droskhas in summer, and sledges in winter, wearing, attached to their necks, a tin plate with their number stamped, on it. These fellows abound here, and I believe in all other towns in this country, as well as in the capitals. 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, since robberies and murders have occasionally been perpetrated by these men, and a person wrapped up in a cloak is very defenceless 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 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 responsible to the police for the safety of his fare. 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 from behind, and he was dragged out upon his back on the snow: he was, however, disengaged from the