Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

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. other 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

In an

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

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

appeared to care nothing for it. He was coming at ful. speed down hill, and not having pulled up in time, was obliged to turn on one side to avoid the crowd; in so doing his horse slipped and fell flat on his side. I expected the rider to be considerably hurt, but he was instantly on his legs, urged up his horse, mounted, and set off again at full gallop across the plain. The Cossacks, who appear to be the only Russians much given to horsemanship, ride with snaffle bridles and upon a peaked saddle, with a leather cushion girthed upon it, so that they sit very high. They have a very peculiar seat, riding rather on one side, looking to the right, with the right toe and knee pointing out, and the left pressed closely to the horse. They wear no spurs, but carry a whip, seemingly of pig-skin, like a small flail, in their hands.

Adjoining the space which was occupied by the horse-fair, is a race-course for trotting matches, which are greatly in vogue in Russia at present. Great attention is paid, especially in this part of the country, to breeding these horses, which often command very high prices; they are many of them large and showy, like London cabriolet horses. We saw these horses training every evening on the racecourse; they are driven in light droschkas; the vehicle being simply a board about four or five feet long, covered with a cushion, and placed on four low wheels. On this bench the driver sits astride, with his feet resting on iron bars, which project on

either side for this purpose. When a trotter is in training, a boy on another horse generally gallops by his side to excite him: the art of driving them is studied as jockeyship is in England. In winter a place is marked out with branches of trees on the ice, for trotting-matches, and a light sledge is used instead of the droschka.

I have not much to say in praise of the beauty of Tamboff as a town; from the scarcity of stone, it consists chiefly of wooden houses, and only one or two of the principal streets are paved: in the others, the mud in wet weather is ploughed with ruts axledeep; and frost having now succeeded rain, these roads are as hard as stone, and in a condition to endanger breaking the wheels of any carriage which should venture upon them, or the legs of the horses that drew it.

Being a government town, Tamboff, of course, boasts an archbishop and a monastery; there is also a nunnery there, and a certain number of churches, none of them, however, are remarkable. The Government house has the dismal air of a county hospital ; and the only building in the place, of any pretension, is the Hall of Assembly of the nobles, which contains a fine room, with a gallery running round three sides, supported on Corinthian pillars. At the upper end is a marvellously bad portrait of the Emperor under a canopy. His Majesty's portrait is placed in all public rooms, sometimes well and some

« ForrigeFortsett »