Siberia and the Exile System/Volume 1/Chapter I
SIBERIA AND THE EXILE SYSTEM
FROM ST. PETERSBURG TO PERM
The Siberian expedition of The Century Magazine sailed from New York for Liverpool on the second day of May, 1885. It consisted of Mr. George A. Frost, an artist of Boston, and the author of this book. We both spoke Russian, both had been in Siberia before, and I was making to the empire my fourth journey. Previous association in the service of the Russian-American Telegraph Company had acquainted us with each other, and long experience in sub-arctic Asia had familiarized us with the hardships and privations of Siberian travel. Our plan of operations had been approved by The Century; we had the amplest discretionary power in the matter of ways and means; and although fully aware of the serious nature of the work in hand, we were hopeful, if not sanguine, of success. We arrived in London on Sunday, May 10, and on Wednesday, the 13th, proceeded to St. Petersburg by rail, via Dover, Ostend, Cologne, Hanover, Berlin, and Eydkuhnen. As the season was already advanced, and as it was important that we should reach Siberia in time to make the most of the summer weather and the good roads, I decided to remain in the Russian capital only five days; but we were unfortunate enough to arrive there just at the beginning of a long series of church holidays, and were able to utilize in the transaction of business only four days out of ten.
As soon as I could obtain an interview with Mr. Vlangálli, the assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, I presented my letters of introduction and told him frankly and candidly what we desired to do. I said that in my judgment Siberia and the exile system had been greatly misrepresented by prejudiced writers; that a truthful description of the country, the prisons and the mines would, I thought, be advantageous rather than detrimental to the interests of the Russian Government; and that, inasmuch as I had already committed myself publicly to a defense of that Government, I could hardly be suspected of an intention to seek in Siberia for facts with which to undermine my own position. This statement, in which there was not the least diplomacy or insincerity, seemed to impress Mr. Vlangálli favorably; and after twenty minutes' conversation he informed me that we should undoubtedly be permitted to go to Siberia, and that he would aid us as far as possible by giving us an open letter to the governors of the Siberian provinces, and by procuring for us a similar letter from the Minister of the Interior. Upon being asked whether these letters would admit us to Siberian prisons, Mr. Vlangálli replied that they would not; that permission to inspect prisons must in all cases be obtained from provincial governors. As to the further question whether such permission would probably be granted, he declined to express an opinion. This, of course, was equivalent to saying that the Government would not give us carte-blanche, but would follow us with friendly observation, and grant or refuse permission to visit prisons as might, from time to time, seem expedient. I foresaw that this would greatly increase our difficulties, but I did not deem it prudent to urge any further concession; and after expressing my thanks for the courtesy and kindness with which we had been received I withdrew.
At another interview, a few days later, Mr. Vlangálli gave me the promised letters and, at the same time, said that he would like to have me stop in Moscow on my way to Siberia and make the acquaintance of Mr. Katkóff, the well-known editor of the Moscow Gazette. He handed me a sealed note of introduction to Baron Búhler, keeper of the imperial archives in Moscow, and said that he had requested the latter to present me to Mr. Katkóff, and that he hoped I would not leave Moscow without seeing him. I was not unfamiliar with the character and the career of the great Russian champion of autocracy, and was glad, of course, to have an opportunity of meeting him; but I more than suspected that the underlying motive of Mr. Vlangálli's request was a desire to bring me into contact with a man of strong personality and great ability, who would impress me with his own views of Russian policy, confirm my favorable opinion of the Russian Government, and guard me from the danger of being led astray by the specious misrepresentations of exiled nihilists, whom I might possibly meet in the course of my Siberian journey. This precaution—if precaution it was—seemed to me wholly unnecessary, since my opinion of the nihilists was already as unfavorable as the Government itself could desire. I assured Mr. Vlangálli, however, that I would see Mr. Katkóff if possible; and after thanking him again for his assistance I bade him good-by.
In reviewing now the representations that I made to high Russian officials before leaving St. Petersburg I have not to reproach myself with a single act of duplicity or insincerity. I did not obtain permission to go to Siberia by means of false pretenses, nor did I at any time assume a deceptive attitude for the sake of furthering my plans. If the opinions that I now hold differ from those that I expressed to Mr. Vlangálli in 1885, it is not because I was then insincere, but because my views have since been changed by an overwhelming mass of evidence.On the afternoon of May 31, having selected and purchased photographic apparatus, obtained all necessary books and maps, and provided ourselves with about fifty letters of introduction to teachers, mining engineers, and Government officials in all parts of Siberia, we left St. Petersburg by rail for Moscow. The distance from the Russian capital to the Siberian frontier is about 1600 miles; and the route usually taken by travelers, and always by exiles, is that which passes through the cities of Moscow, Nízhni Nóvgorod, Kazán, Perm, and Ekaterínburg. The eastern terminus of the Russian railway system is at Nízhni Nóvgorod, but, in summer, steamers ply constantly between that city and Perm on the rivers Vólga and Káma; and Perm is connected with Ekaterínburg by an isolated piece of railroad about 180 miles in length, which crosses the mountain chain of the Urál, and is intended to unite the navigable waters of the Vólga with those of the Ob.
Upon our arrival in Moscow I presented my sealed note of introduction to Baron Búhler, and called with him at the office of the Moscow Gazette for the purpose of making the acquaintance of its editor. We were disappointed, however, to find that Mr. Katkóff had just left the city and probably would be absent for two or three weeks. As we could not await his return, and as there was no other business to detain us in Moscow, we proceeded by rail to Nízhni Nóvgorod, reaching that city early on the morning of Thursday, June 4.
To a traveler visiting Nízhni Nóvgorod for the first time there is something surprising, and almost startling, in the appearance of what he supposes to be the city, and in the scene presented to him as he emerges from the railway station and walks away from the low bank of the Óka River in the direction of the Vólga. The clean, well-paved streets; the long rows of substantial buildings; the spacious boulevard, shaded by leafy birches and poplars; the canal, spanned at intervals by graceful bridges; the picturesque tower of the water-works; the enormous cathedral of Alexánder Névski; the Bourse; the theaters; the hotels; the market places—all seem to indicate a great populous center of life and commercial activity; but of living inhabitants there is not a sign. Grass and weeds are growing in the middle of the empty streets and in the chinks of the travel-worn sidewalks; birds are singing fearlessly in the trees that shade the lonely and deserted boulevard; the countless shops and warehouses are all closed, barred, and padlocked; the bells are silent in the gilded belfries of the churches; and the astonished stranger may perhaps wander for a mile between solid blocks of buildings without seeing an open door, a vehicle, or a single human being. The city appears to have been stricken by a pestilence and deserted. If the new-comer remembers for what Nízhni Nóvgorod is celebrated, he is not long, of course, in coming to the conclusion that he is on the site of the famous fair; but the first realization of the fact that the fair is in itself a separate and independent city, and a city that during nine months of every year stands empty and deserted, comes to him with the shock of a great surprise.The fair-city of Nízhni Nóvgorod is situated on a low peninsula between the rivers Óka and Vólga, just above their junction, very much as New York City is situated on Manhattan Island between East River and the Hudson. In geographical position it bears the same relation to the old town of Nízhni Nóvgorod that New York would bear to Jersey City if the latter were elevated on a steep, terraced bluff four hundred feet above the level of the Hudson. The Russian fair-city, however, differs from New York City in that it is a mere temporary market—a huge commercial caravansarái where 500,000 traders assemble every year to buy and to sell commodities. In September it has
frequently a population of more than 100,000 souls, and contains merchandise valued at $75,000,000; while in January, February, or March all of its inhabitants might be fed and sheltered in the smallest of its hotels, and all of its goods might be put into a single one of its innumerable shops. Its life, therefore, is a sort of intermittent commercial fever, in which an annual paroxysm of intense and unnatural activity is followed by a long interval of torpor and stagnation.
It seems almost incredible at first that a city of such magnitude—a city that contains churches, mosques, theaters, markets, banks, hotels, a merchants' exchange, and nearly seven thousand shops and inhabitable buildings, should have so ephemeral a life, and should be so completely abandoned every year after it has served the purpose for which it was created. When I saw this unique city for the first time, on a clear frosty night in January, 1868, it presented an extraordinary picture of loneliness and desolation. The moonlight streamed down into its long empty streets where the unbroken snow lay two feet deep upon the sidewalks; it touched with silver the white walls and swelling domes of the old fair-cathedral, from whose towers there came no clangor of bells; it sparkled on great snowdrifts heaped up against the doors of the empty houses, and poured a flood of pale light over thousands of snow-covered roofs; but it did not reveal anywhere a sign of a human being. The city seemed to be not only uninhabited, but wholly abandoned to the arctic spirits of solitude and frost. When I saw it next, at the height of the annual fair in the autumn of 1870, it was so changed as to be almost unrecognizable. It was then surrounded by a great forest of shipping; its hot, dusty atmosphere thrilled with the incessant whistling of steamers; merchandise to the value of 125,000,000 rubles lay on its shores or was packed into its 6000 shops; every building within its limit was crowded; 60,000 people were crossing every day the pontoon bridge that connected it with the old town; a military band was playing airs from Offenbach's operas on the great boulevard in front of the governor's house; and through all the streets of the reanimated and reawakened city poured a great tumultuous flood of human life.
I did not see the fair-city again until June, 1885, when I found it almost as completely deserted as on the occasion of my first visit, but in other ways greatly changed and improved. Substantial brick buildings had taken the place of the long rows of inflammable wooden shops and sheds; the streets in many parts of the city had been neatly paved; the number of stores and warehouses had largely increased; and the lower end of the peninsula had been improved and dignified by the erection of the great Alexánder Névski cathedral, which is shown in the center of the illustration on page 7, and which now forms the most prominent and striking architectural feature of the fair.
It was supposed that, with the gradual extension of the Russian railway system, and the facilities afforded by it for the distribution of merchandise throughout the empire in small quantities, the fair of Nízhni Nóvgorod would lose most of its importance; but no such result has yet become apparent. During the most active period of railway construction in Russia, from 1868 to 1881, the value of the merchandise brought annually to the fair rose steadily from 126,000,000 to 246,000,000 rúbles, and the number of shops and stores in the fair-city increased from 5738 to 6298. At the present time the volume of business transacted during the two fair-months amounts to something like 225,000,000 rúbles, and the number of shops and stores in the fair exceeds 7000.
The station of the Moscow and Nízhni Nóvgorod railway is situated within the limits of the fair-city, on the left bank of the river Óka, and communication between it and the old town on the other side is maintained in summer by means of a steam ferry, or a long floating bridge consisting of a roadway supported by pontoons. As the bridge, at the time of our arrival, had not been put in position for the season, we crossed the river on a low, flat barge in tow of a small steamer.
The view that one gets of the old fortified city of Nízhni Nóvgorod while crossing the Óka from the fair is both striking and picturesque. The long steep bluff upon which it is situated rises abruptly almost from the water's edge to the height of four hundred feet, notched at intervals by deep V-shaped cuts through which run the ascending roads to the upper plateau, and broken here and there by narrow terraces upon which stand white-walled and golden-domed cathedrals and monasteries half buried in groves of trees. In the warm, bright sunshine of a June day the snowy walls of the Byzantine churches scattered along the crest of the bluff; the countless domes of blue, green, silver, and gold rising out of dark masses of foliage on the terraces; the smooth, grassy slopes which descend here and there almost to the water's edge; and the river front, lined with steamers and bright with flags—all make up a picture that is hardly surpassed in northern Russia. Fronting the Vólga, near what seems to he the eastern end of the ridge, stands the ancient krémlin, or stronghold of the city, whose high, crenelated walls descend the steep face of the bluff toward the river in a series of titanic steps, and whose arched gateways and massive round towers carry the imagination back to the Middle Ages. Three hundred and fifty years ago this great walled enclosure was regarded as an absolutely impregnable fortress, and for more than a century it served as a secure place of refuge for the people of the city when the fierce Tatárs of Kazán invaded the territories of the Grand Dukes. With the complete subjugation of the Tatár khanate, however, in the sixteenth century, it lost its importance as a defensive fortification, and soon began to fall into decay. Its thirteen towers, which were originally almost a hundred feet in height, are now half in ruins; and its walls, which have a circuit of about a mile and a quarter, would probably have fallen long ago had they not been extraordinarily thick, massive, and deeply founded. They make upon one an impression of even greater solidity and strength than do the walls of the famous krémlin in Moscow.Upon landing from the ferry-boat in the old town of Nízhni Nóvgorod, we drove to a hotel in the upper part of the city, and after securing rooms and sending our passports to the chief of police, we walked down past the krémlin to the river front. Under the long bluff upon which the city and the krémlin stand, and between the steep escarpment and the river, there is a narrow strip of level ground which is now given up almost wholly to commerce and is known as the "lower bazar." Upon this strip of land are huddled together in picturesque confusion a multitude of buildings of the most heterogeneous character and appearance. Pretentious modern stores, with gilded signs and plate-glass windows, stand in neighborly proximity to wretched hucksters' stalls of rough, unpainted boards; banks, hotels, and steamship offices are sandwiched in among ship-chandlers' shops, old-clothes stalls, and traktírs; fantastic, highly colored churches of the last century appear in the most unexpected places, and give an air of sanctity to the most disreputable neighborhoods; and the entire region, from the river to the bluff, is crowded with wholesale, retail, and second-hand shops, where one can buy anything and everything—from a paper of pins, a wooden comb, or a string of dried mushrooms, to a ship's anchor, a church bell, or a steam-engine. In a single shop of the lower bazar I saw exposed for sale a set of parlor chairs, two wicker-work baby-carriages, a rustic garden seat, two cross-cut log saws, half a dozen battered samovárs, a child's cradle, a steam-engine, one half of a pair of elk horns, three old boilers, a collection of telescopes, an iron church-cross four feet in height, six or eight watches, a dilapidated carriage-top, feather dusters, opera-glasses, log chains, watch charms, two blacksmith's anvils, measuring tapes, old boots, stove covers, a Caucasian dagger, turning lathes, sleigh bells, pulleys and blocks from a ship's rigging, fire-engine nozzles, horse collars, an officer's sword, axe helves, carriage cushions, gilt bracelets, iron barrel-hoops, trunks, accordions, three or four soup plates filled with old nails and screws, carving-knives, vises, hinges, revolvers, old harnesses, half a dozen odd lengths of rusty stove-pipe, a tin can of "mixed biscuits" from London, and a six-foot bath tub. This list of articles, which I made on the spot, did not comprise more than a third part of the dealer's heterogeneous stock in trade; but I had not time for a careful and exhaustive enumeration. In a certain way this shop was illustrative and typical of the whole lower bazar, since nothing, perhaps, in that quarter of the city is more striking than the heterogeneity of buildings, people, and trades. The whole river front is lined with landing-stages and steamers; it is generally crowded with people from all parts of the empire, and it always presents a scene of great commercial activity. Steamers are departing almost hourly for the lower Vólga, the frontier of Siberia, and the far-away Caspian; huge black barges, which lie here and there at the landing-stages, are being loaded or unloaded by gangs of swarthy Tatár stevedores; small, unpainted one-horse telégas, which look like longitudinal halves of barrels mounted on four wheels, are carrying away bags, boxes, and crates from the piles of merchandise on the shore; and the broad, dusty street is thronged all day with traders, peddlers, peasants, longshoremen, pilgrims, beggars, and tramps.
Even the children seem to feel the spirit of trade that controls the city; and as I stood watching the scene on the river front, a ragged boy, not more than eight or nine years of age, whose whole stock in trade consisted of a few strings of dried mushrooms, elbowed his way through the crowd with all the assurance of an experienced peddler, shouting in a thin, childish treble, "Mushrooms! Fine mushrooms! Sustain commerce, gentlemen! Buy my mushrooms and sustain commerce!"
The diversity of popular types in the lower bazar is not perhaps so great in June as it is in September, during the fair, but the peculiarities of dress are such as to make almost every figure in the throng interesting and noteworthy to a foreign observer. There are swarthy Tatárs in round sknll caps and long, loose khaláts; Russian peasants in greasy sheepskin coats and huge wicker-work shoes, with their legs swathed in dirty bandages of coarse linen cloth and cross-gartered with hempen cords; disreputable-looking long-haired, long-bearded monks, who solicit alms for hospitals or churches, receiving contributions on small boards covered with black velvet and transferring the money deposited thereon to big tin boxes hung from their necks and secured with enormous iron padlocks; strolling dealers in kvas, mead, sherbet, and other seductive bright-colored drinks; brazen-throated peddlers proclaiming aloud the virtues of brass jewelry, salted cucumbers, strings of dried mushrooms, and cotton handkerchiefs stamped with railroad maps of Russia; and, finally, a surging crowd of wholesale and retail traders from all parts of the Vólga River basin.
The first thing that strikes the traveler on the threshold of southeastern Russia is the greatness of the country—that is, the enormous extent of its material resources, and the intense commercial activity manifested along its principal lines of communication. The average American thinks of southeastern Russia as a rather quiet, semi-pastoral, semi-agricultural country, which produces enough for the maintenance of its own half-civilized and not very numerous population, but which, in point of commercial activity, cannot bear comparison for a moment with even the most backward of our States. He is not a little astonished, therefore, at Nízhni Nóvgorod, to find the shipping of the Vólga occupying six or eight miles of river front; to learn that for its regulation there is in the city a shipping court with special jurisdiction; that the prístan, or, as a Western steamboatman would say, the levee, is under control of an officer appointed by the Minister of Ways and Communications and aided by a large staff of subordinates; that the number of steamers plying on the Vólga and its tributaries is greater than the number on the Mississippi; that $15,000,000 worth of products come annually down a single tributary of the Vólga—namely, the Káma, a stream of which few Americans have ever heard; and, finally, that the waters of the Vólga River system float annually nearly 5,000,000 tons of merchandise, and furnish employment to 7000 vessels and nearly 200,000 boatmen. It may be that an ordinarily well-educated American ought to know all these things; but I certainly did not know them, and they came to me with the shock of a complete surprise.
On the morning of Saturday, June 6, after having visited the fair-city and the krémlin and made as thorough a study of Nízhni Nóvgorod as the time at our disposal would permit, we embarked on one of the Kámenski Brothers' steamers for a voyage of nearly a thousand miles down the Vólga and up the Káma to Perm.
It has been said that Egypt is the creation of the Nile. In a different sense, but with equal truth, it may be said that eastern Russia is the creation of the Vólga. The ethnological composition of its population was mainly determined by that river; the whole history of the country has been intimately connected with it for more than a thousand years; the character and pursuits of all the east-Russian tribes have been greatly modified by it; and upon it now depend, directly or indirectly, the welfare and prosperity of more than 10,000,000 people. From any point of view, the Vólga must be regarded as one of the great rivers of the world. Its length, from the Váldai hills to the Caspian Sea, is nearly 2300 miles; its width below Tsarítsin, in time of high water, exceeds 30 miles, so that a boatman, in crossing it, loses sight entirely of its low banks and is virtually at sea; it washes the borders of nine provinces, or administrative divisions of the empire, and on its banks stand 39 cities and more than 1000 villages and settlements. The most important part of the river, commercially, is that lying between Nízhni Nóvgorod and the month of the Káma, where there ply, during the season of navigation, about 450 steamers. As far down as the so-called "Samára bend," the river presents almost everywhere a picture of busy life and activity, and is full of steamers, barges, and great hulks, like magnified canal-boats, loaded with goods from eastern Russia, Siberia, and Central Asia. The amount of
merchandise produced, even in the strip of country directly tributary to the Vólga itself, is enormous. Many of the agricultural villages, such as Lískovo, which the steamer swiftly passes between Nízhni Nóvgorod and Kazán, and which seem, from a distance, to be insignificant clusters of unpainted wooden houses, load with grain 700 vessels a year.
The scenery of the upper Vólga is much more varied and picturesque than one would expect to find along a river running through a flat and monotonous country. The left bank, it is true, is generally low and uninteresting; but on the other side the land rises abruptly from the water's edge to a height of 400 or 500 feet, and its boldly projecting promontories, at intervals of two or three miles, break up the majestic river into long, still reaches, like a series of placid lakes opening into one another and reflecting in their tranquil depths the dense foliage of the virgin forest on one side and the bold outlines of the half-mountainous shore on the other. White-walled churches with silver domes appear here and there on the hills, surrounded by little villages of unpainted wooden houses, with elaborately carved and decorated gables; deep valleys, shaggy with hazel bushes, break through the wall of bluffs on the right at intervals, and afford glimpses of a rich farming country in the interior; and now and then, in sheltered nooks half up the mountain-side overlooking the river, appear the cream-white walls and gilded domes of secluded monasteries, rising out of masses of dark-green foliage. Sometimes, for half an hour together, the steamer plows her way steadily down the middle of the stream, and the picturesque right bank glides past like a magnificent panorama with a field of vision ten miles wide; and then suddenly, to avoid a bar, the vessel sweeps in towards the land, until the wide panorama narrows to a single vivid picture of a quaint Russian hamlet which looks like an artistically contrived scene in a theater. It is so near that you can distinguish the features of the laughing peasant girls who run down into the foreground to wave their handkerchiefs at the passing steamer; or you can talk in an ordinary tone of voice with the muzhíks in red shirts and black velvet trousers who are lying on the grassy bluff in front of the green-domed village church. But it lasts only a moment. Before you have fairly grasped the details of the strange Russian picture it has vanished, and the steamer glides swiftly into a new reach of the river, where there is not a sign of human habitation, and where the cliffs on one side and the forest on the other seem to be parts of a vast primeval wilderness.
Fascinated by the picturesque beauty of the majestic Vólga and the ever-changing novelty of the scenes successively presented to us as we crossed from side to side, or swept around great bends into new landscapes and new reaches of tranquil water, we could not bear to leave the hurricane deck until long after dark.
The fresh, cool air was then filled with the blended fragrance of flowery meadows and damp forest glens; the river lay like an expanse of shining steel between banks whose impenetrable blackness was intensified rather than relieved by a few scattered spangles of light; and from some point far away in the distance came the faint voice of a timber rafter, or a floating fisherman, singing that song dear to the heart of every Russian boatman—V'nis po mátushke po Vólge [Down the Mother Vólga].
After drinking a few tumblers of fragrant tea at the little center-table in the steamer's small but cozy cabin, we unrolled the blankets and pillows with which we had provided ourselves in anticipation of the absence of beds, and bivouacked, as Russian travelers are accustomed to do, on the long leather-covered couches that occupy most of the floor space in a Russian steamer, and that make the cabin look a little like an English railway carriage with all the partitions removed.
About five o'clock in the morning I was awakened by the persistent blowing of the steamer's whistle, followed by the stoppage of the machinery, the jar of falling gang-planks, and the confused trampling of a multitude of feet over my head. Presuming that we had arrived at Kazán, I went on deck. The sun was about an hour high and the river lay like a quivering mass of liquid silver between our steamer and the smooth, vividly green slopes of the high western bank. On the eastern side, and close at hand, was a line of the black hulls with yellow roofs and deck-houses that serve along the Vólga as landing-stages, and beside them lay half a dozen passenger steamers, blowing their whistles at intervals and flying all their holiday flags. Beyond them and just above high-water mark on the barren, sandy shore was a row of heterogeneous wooden shops and lodging-houses, which, but for a lavish display of color in walls and roofs, would have suggested a street of a mining settlement in Idaho or Montana. There were in the immediate foreground no other buildings; but on a low bluff far away in the distance, across a flat stretch of marshy land, there could be seen a mass of walls, towers, minarets, and shining domes, which recalled to my mind in some obscure way the impression made upon me as a child by a quaint picture of "Vanity Fair" in an illustrated copy of the "Pilgrim's Progress." It was the famous old Tatár city of Kazán. At one time, centuries ago, the bluff upon which the krémlin of Kazán stands was washed by the waters of the Vólga; but it has been left four or five miles inland by the slow shifting of the river's bed to the westward; and the distant view of the city which one now gets from the shore is only just enough to stimulate the imagination and to excite, without gratifying, the curiosity.
The prístan or steamer-landing of Kazán, however, is quite as remarkable in its way as the city itself. The builders of the shops, hotels, and "rooms for arrivers" on the river bank, finding themselves unable, with the scanty materials at their command, to render their architecture striking and admirable in form, resolved to make it at least dazzling and attractive in color; and the result is a sort of materialized architectural aurora borealis, which astounds if it does not gratify the beholder. While our steamer was lying at the landing I noted a chocolate-brown house with yellow window shutters and a green roof; a lavender house with a shining tin roof; a crimson house with an emerald roof; a sky-blue house with a red roof; an orange house with an olive roof; a house painted a bright metallic green all over; a house diversified with dark-blue, light-blue, red, green, and chocolate-brown; and, finally, a most extraordinary building which displayed the whole chromatic scale within the compass of three stories and an attic. What permanent effect, if any, is produced upon the optic nerves of the inhabitants by the habitual contemplation of their brilliantly colored and sharply contrasted dwellings I am unable to say; but I no longer wonder that prekrásni, the Russian word for "beautiful," means literally "very red"; nor that a Russian singer imagines himself to be using a highly complimentary phrase when he describes a pretty girl as krásnaya dévitsa [a red maiden]. When I think of that steamboat-landing at Kazán I am only surprised that the Russian language has not produced such forms of metaphorical expression as "a red-and-green maiden," "a purple scarlet-and-blue melody," or "a crimson-yellow-chocolate-brown poem." It would be, so to speak, a red-white-and-blue convenience if one could express admiration in terms of color, and use the whole chromatic scale to give force to a superlative.
About seven o'clock passengers began to arrive in carriages and droshkies from the city of Kazán, and before eight o'clock all were on board, the last warning whistle had sounded, the lines had been cast off, and we were again under way. It was Sunday morning, and as the weather was clear and warm we spent nearly the whole day on the hurricane deck, enjoying the sunshine and the exhilarating sense of swift movement, drinking in the odorous air that came to us from the forest-clad hills on the western bank, and making notes or sketches of strange forms of boats, barges, and rafts which presented themselves from time to time, and which would have been enough to identify the Vólga as a Russian river even had we been unable to see its shores. First came a long, stately "caravan" of eight or ten huge black barges, like dismantled ocean steamers, ascending the river slowly in single file behind a powerful tug; then followed a curious kedging barge, with high bow and stern and a horse-power windlass amidships, pulling itself slowly up-stream by winding in cables attached to kedge anchors which were carried ahead and dropped in turn by two or three boats' crews; and finally we passed a little Russian hamlet of ready-made houses, with elaborately carved gables, standing on an enormous timber raft 100 feet in width by 500 in length, and intended for sale in the treeless region along the lower Vólga and around the Caspian Sea. The bareheaded, red-shirted, and blue-gowned population of this floating settlement were gathered in a picturesque group around a blazing camp-fire near one end of the raft, drinking tea; and I could not help fancying that I was looking at a fragment of a peasant village which had in some way gotten adrift in a freshet and was miraculously floating down the river with all its surviving inhabitants. Now and then there came to us faintly across the water the musical chiming of bells from the golden-domed churches here and there on the right bank, and every few moments we passed a large six-oared lódka full of men and women in bright-colored costumes, on their way to church service.
About eleven o'clock Sunday morning we left the broad, tranquil Vólga and turned into the swifter and muddier Káma, a river which rises in the mountains of the Urál on the Siberian frontier, and pursues a southwesterly course to its junction with the Vólga, fifty or sixty miles below Kazán. In going from one river to the other we noticed a marked change, not only in the appearance of the people, villages, boats, and landing-stages, but in the aspect of the whole country. Everything seemed stranger, more primitive, and, in a certain sense, wilder. The banks of the Káma were less thickly inhabited and more generally covered with forests than those of the Vólga; the white-walled monasteries which had given picturesqueness and human interest to so many landscapes between Nízhni Nóvgorod and Kazán were no longer to be seen; the barges were of a ruder, more primitive type, with carved railings and spirally striped red-and-blue masts surmounted by gilded suns; and the crowds of peasants on the landing-stages were dressed in costumes whose originality of design and crude brightness of color showed that they had been little affected by the sobering and conventionalizing influence of Western civilization. The bright colors of the peasant costumes were attributable perhaps, in part, to the fact that, as it was Sunday, the youths and maidens came down to the steamer in holiday attire; but we certainly had not before seen in any part of Russia young men arrayed in blue, crimson, purple, pink, and violet shirts, nor young women dressed in lemon-yellow gowns, scarlet aprons, short pink over-jackets, and lilac head-kerchiefs.
Our four days' journey up the river Káma was not marked by any particularly noteworthy incident, but it was, nevertheless, a novel and a delightful experience. The weather was as perfect as June weather can anywhere be; the scenery was always varied and attractive, and sometimes beautifully wild and picturesque; the foliage of the poplars, aspens, and silver-birches that clothed the steep river-banks, and in places overhung the water so as almost to sweep the hurricane deck, had the first exquisite greenness and freshness of early summer; and the open glades and meadows, which the steamer frequently skirted at a distance of not more than fifteen or twenty feet, were blue with forget-me-nots or yellow with the large double flowers of the European trollius. At every landing-place peasant children offered for sale great bunches of lilies-of-the-valley, and vases of these fragrant flowers, provided by the steward, kept our little dining-saloon constantly filled with delicate perfume. Neither in the weather, nor in the scenery, nor in the vegetation was there anything to suggest an approach to the frontier of Siberia. The climate seemed almost Californian in its clearness and warmth; flowers blossomed everywhere in the greatest profusion and luxuriance; every evening we heard nightingales singing in the forests beside the river; and after sunset, when the wind was fair, many of the passengers caused samovárs to be brought up and tables to be spread on the hurricane deck, and sat drinking tea and smoking cigarettes in the odorous night air until the glow of the strange northern twilight faded away over the hills. So comfortable, pleasant, and care-free had been our voyage up the Káma that when, on Wednesday, June 10, it ended at the city of Perm, we bade the little steamer Alexander good-by with a feeling of sincere regret.
- ↑ During our stay in Siberia this railroad was extended to Tiumén, on one of the tributaries of the Ob, so that St. Petersburg is now in communication, by rail or steamer, with points in Siberia as remote as Semipalátinsk and Tomsk, the former 2600 and the latter 2700 miles away.
- ↑ The value of the Russian rúble is about half a dollar.
- ↑ A krémlin, or, to use the Russian form of the word, a kreml, is merely a walled enclosure with towers at the corners, situated in a commanding position near the center of a city, and intended to serve as a stronghold, or place of refuge, for the inhabitants in time of war. It differs from a castle or fortress in that it generally incloses a larger area, and contains a number of buildings, such as churches, palaces, treasuries, etc., which are merely protected by it. It is popularly supposed that the only krémlin in Russia is that of Moscow; but this is a mistake. Nízhni Nóvgorod, Kazán, and several other towns in the part of Russia that was subject to Tatár invasion, had strongholds of this kind.
- ↑ A traktír is a public tea-house.
- ↑ A loose, waistless coat resembling a dressing-gown.
- ↑ A drink made by fermenting rye flour in water.
- ↑ In 1880 there were on the upper and the lower Mississippi 681 steamers. The number on the Vólga and its tributaries is about 700.