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safe course, and that no one liked to be the first to bruit about the news of such a disaster. When the newspapers arrived, they merely stated in a short paragraph, that the palace had unfortunately been destroyed by fire; they entered into no details, and only made their account of the misfortune the vehicle for a little flattery of the Emperor and the Imperial family.
I will conclude my letter with the account which I heard lately of a most extraordinary occurrence which took place three years ago at Petersburg. Incredible as the story appears, I am assured, not only by the narrator, but by other people, that it is undoubtedly true.
About Christmas, masquerades are much in vogue in Russia, and even when an ordinary ball is given at this season, it is not unusual to place candles in the windows of the house as a signal that masks are admitted without invitation.
At the period to which this story refers, namely, the Christmas of 1834, a ball was given at a house at Petersburg, which was mentioned, but I have forgotten the name of the owner, and the ordinary signal was displayed for the admission of masks, several of whom arrived in the course of the evening, staid a short time as usual, and departed.
At length a party entered, dressed as Chinese, able to him, and that the less it was discussed in society, the better he should be pleased.
and bearing on a palanquin a person whom they called their chief, saying that it was his fête-day. They set him down very respectfully in the middle of the room, and commenced dancing what they said was their national dance around him. When this was concluded, they separated, and mingled with the general company, speaking French very well, and making themselves extremely agreeable. After a while they began gradually to disappear unnoticed, slipping out of the room one or two at a time, till at last they were all gone, leaving their chief still sitting motionless in dignified silence in his palanquin in the middle of the room. The ball began to thin, and the attention of those who remained was wholly drawn to the grave figure of the Chinese mask.
The master of the house at length went up to him, and told him that his companions were all gone, politely begging him to take off his mask, that he and his guests might know to whom they were indebted for all the pleasure which the exhibition had afforded them. The Chinese, however, gave no reply by word or sign, and a feeling of uneasy curiosity gradually drew around him the guests who remained in the ball-room. The silent figure still took no notice of all that was passing around him, and the master of the house at length with his own hand took off the mask, and discovered to the horrified by-standers the face of a corpse.
The police were immediately sent for, and on a
surgical examination of the body, it appeared to be that of a man who had been strangled a few hours before. Nothing, however, could be discovered either at the time or afterwards which could lead to the identity of the murdered man, or the discovery of the actors in this extraordinary scene : it was found on enquiry that they arrived at the house where they deposited the dead body in a handsome equipage with masked servants.
If this story be true, as I am positively assured it is, the method by which the murderers disposed of the remains of their victim is certainly the most unaccountable which was ever planned or executed by human ingenuity. It is supposed to have been, in some way or other, the denouement of a gambling transaction.
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 Kibitha; 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