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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 is, I believe, the last letter which I shall send you
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 we have had a good deal of snow lately, which no doubt is worn into considerable holes in this mild weather, the thermometer having been above the freezing point both yesterday and to-day. Until very lately, the roads have been
* This proved a groundless alarm, as the frost returned with great severity, and lasted till the 10th of April.
remarkably good for travelling, owing to the severity of the frost, and the small quantity of snow on the ground; it is now, however, become very deep in this part of the country. I have already had a little specimen of a winter journey, in an expedition which I made a few days ago with General Arapoff 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 belong- . ing 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, sleep as he meant to do at his sister's house, called Bonderry, between fifty and sixty versts hence, and return home the next 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 vehicle with a head which I have already described to you, and R-followed close behind in a large open sledge extremely comfortable and well built, and in which we both returned the next day. The first part of the road was pronounced on the whole to be not amiss, though we certainly 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 all the way. When we proceeded, after changing horses, we found the road much worse ; and occasionally, when we were going along at a great pace, we were thrown on our beam-ends in so formidable a manner, that I once or twice thought it impossible that the kibitka could right itself again, which however it always did, being largely possessed of the quality of stable equilibrium.
The night came on 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, but 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, and we did not even know whether it lay to our right or left. The servants and drivers were now obliged to get down, and 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 was then by no means improbable. At length, however, the people hit on the beaten track, which was not 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, which by great caution we did not again lose; and the direction of the wind having been observed at first, to prevent the chance of our unwittingly retracing our steps, we at length had the satisfaction of seeing the lights of the village to which we were going, and soon afterwards we found ourselves comfortably installed in Madame L-'s house, which was large and handsome, and where every thing was prepared for our reception; a messenger having preceded us with the necssary orders.
The following morning we went with the General over a great part of the manufactory, which is for the supply of cloth for soldiers' uniforms, and 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 seems rather an extraordinary undertaking for a woman; but certainly, in Russia, where every landed proprietor almost is a manufacturer, ladies often exhibit business-like tastes and talents, which I should imagine are not often developed among us.
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 General Arapoff and
R—, and I set off to return to this town. 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: and as we approached the boundary of the plain, the trees and other objects, which indistinctly presented them
the idea of a shore for which we were steering across the sea; and the road not being particularly good, our sledge pitched up and down, and from side to side, like a boat in rough water, only that our bones bore but too undeniable testimony to the solidity of the surface which we were traversing. 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 verstpost, and sometimes of the black railing of a bridge, of which there are several over hollow water-courses, we got safely to the end of our journey without much delay. Till I went on this expedition, I had never been in a kibitka: it certainly is a very comfortable carriage to sit in, and the motion of a sledge is highly agreeable when one is going fast, and the road is not too bad; but the jolts when the kibitka lights on the ground, after a sort of jump, which a hard ridge