« ForrigeFortsett »
sheepskin coats and boots, and they generally tie a handkerchief round their heads, so as to conceal the hair: they certainly are not very engaging specimens of womankind.
We travelled day and night without stopping, for we were anxious to make up for the time lost by our detention at Petersburg. Night journeying is, however, the ordinary practice in Russia, excepting for very weak and sickly people: every one is accustomed to it, and post-horses are obtained by night as readily as by day. There is little accommodation for sleeping at the inns; and where it is necessary to rest on the road, as in the case of bad health, or a very long journey, Russians always carry their own beds with them.
In point of view, we certainly lost little by travelling in the dark, for nothing can be more dreary or monotonous than the greatest part of the road from Petersburg to Torjok: after the first ten or twelve versts we entered a tract of forest, which stretched with few intervals for more than a hundred miles. The whole distance indeed exhibits little but a succession of bleak open country, and thick forest: the road runs generally in a straight line, and one proceeds for miles together along a dead flat, without seeing a human habitation; on each side, a boggy space of fifty or a hundred yards wide is kept clear of trees, and beyond that lies an impenetrable mass of birch and fir wood growing up so thickly that the produc
tion of fine timber is impossible; indeed I hardly saw a tree which appeared more than twenty or thirty years old : here and there, where the trees had been cut down, was a neglected space full of grey stumps, and long drawn-up saplings, bending or broken for want of their former support, and many of them black and charred by fire; and the general desolation of the scene was enhanced by heavy rain, which fell almost incessantly. A journey through these forests is like a sea-voyage; one spot resembles another so much, that the traveller seems always to remain in the same place. The only part of the country through which we passed where the view is at all attractive is in the immediate neighbourhood of Valdai, a small town about two hundred versts from Torjok, on the edge of a handsome lake, in which is an island containing a monastery, and around which is some pretty broken ground covered with wood. The only two other towns of any consideration, through which we passed, were Novogorod and Vishny Volotchok. The former, though its name, if literally translated, would be simply New-Town, is one of the most ancient places in Russia: it is situated about two hundred versts from Petersburg, on a fine navigable river, the Volchova, over which is thrown a new and handsome stone bridge. The fortifications of Novogorod were in former times considered impregnable; the place sustained many a siege, but I believe that it retained to the last its reputation as a
maiden fortress: there is in the town a ruined Kremlin, a name which seems to have been generally applied to the fortified palace or citadel of a Tartar prince. A few miles on this side of Novogorod, the road crosses another considerable river, by a bridge of boats, which will soon be replaced by a solid structure of stone. Here, the last time M
M-was in Russia, travelling with her brother, she narrowly escaped a somewhat serious adventure. They were in an open calêche, and their istvostchik drove them, as these men often do, at a gallop, down upon the bridge, without perceiving that it was open in the middle for a boat to pass. M-however, instantly remarked the danger, and pointing it out to her brother, they both called loudly to the driver to stop; but this, at the pace they were going, was not easy to effect, and carriage and horses would most probably have been precipitated into the river, had not the istvostchik contrived to run the pole into a load of hay, which was fortunately standing in the way, waiting for the closing of the bridge.
On the road, we met frequent droves of fine fat oxen on their way to Petersburg; they were mostly of a dun colour, and came from Little Russia and the southern provinces. The cattle of the country through which we passed were invariably small and poor, and the sheep and pigs long-legged and ugly. The sheep are of all colours, black, brown, and speckled, but seldom white.
An ordinary Russian village presents a dirty and cheerless aspect; but in some of those belonging to the crown, through which the high road passes, the wooden houses, especially if new, were really very pretty and picturesque. They are built with a gable facing the street, across the front runs a gallery with a neat balustrade, and the weather boards are very handsome, being carved in open work like lace: the windows have almost all outside shutters, which are gaily painted with flowers, and similar ornaments, in bright colours.
Near Novogorod is one of the military colonies established by the Emperor Alexander, who thus endeavoured, with doubtful success, to make the same instrument, both sword and sickle, spear and ploughshare.
The results of the system remain to be seen, but the organization of an armed and disciplined peasantry is considered by many to be an experiment which some day or other may prove hazardous to the tranquillity of the empire. This colony has once already felt its strength in a most ferocious revolt, which, after a great part of the officers had been most cruelly put to death, was suppressed only by the presence and commanding firmness of the Emperor Nicholas in person. All that we saw in passing was a very long line of cottages, lying parallel to the road. In the centre was a semi-circular space, containing the church and the officers'
houses: behind lie the fields, which are tilled by these soldier-husbandmen.
Torjok is famous for leather embroidered in gold and silver, and in various colours, for reticules, slippers and belts.
Since we were here to quit the Moscow road and the diligence, M— had written to her father, begging him to send a carriage to meet us, and we accordingly found that a coach and six, with another vehicle drawn by three horses, and called a tarantass, had been awaiting our arrival for some days. The tarantass was intended for our luggage, but it is generally used for the conveyance of servants, and is, I believe, very common in Russia; this, however, being the first specimen of such a vehicle which I ever saw, struck me as singular from its novelty: the best description which I can think of for it, is the body of an old cabriolet or small britschka, lashed on the middle part of a light timber carriage. It has no springs, but the elasticity of the long birch poles which connect the two axles, and on which the body is placed, renders the motion, as I am told, tolerably easy.
After a breakfast, which was preceded by the refreshment of a comfortable toilette at the inn where we stopped, we set out to perform the remaining part of our journey to this place, which is fifty versts, or about eight-and-thirty miles from Torjok. We now bade adieu, with regret, to the excellent macadamized chaussée, and enjoyed for the first time the luxury of