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Russian Rambles
by Isabel F. Hapgood
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In spite of this weakness, Piotr was a very well-to-do peasant. We inspected his establishment and tasted his cream, while he was exhausting his stock of language. His house was like all others of that region in plan, and everything was clean and orderly. It had an air about it as if no one ever ate or really did any work there, which was decidedly deceptive, and his living-room contained the nearest approach to a bed and bedding which we had seen: a platform supported by two legs and the wall, and spread with a small piece of heavy gray and black felt.

Finding that Piotr's eloquence had received lengthy inspiration, we bore him off, in the middle of his peroration, to the river, where we took possession of a boat with a chronic leak, and a prow the exact shape of a sterlet's nose reversed. But Piotr swore that it was the stanchest craft between Astrakhan and Rybinsk, and intrepidly took command, steering with a long paddle, while four alert young peasants plied the oars. Piotr's costume consisted of a cotton shirt and brief trousers. The others added caps, which, however, they wore only spasmodically.

A picnic without singing was not to be thought of, and we requested the men to favor us with some folk-songs. No bashful schoolgirls could have resisted our entreaties with more tortuous graces than did those untutored peasants. One of them was such an exact blond copy of a pretty brunette American, whom we had always regarded as the most affected of her sex, that we fairly stared him out of countenance, in our amazement; and we made mental apologies to the American on the spot.

"Please sing 'Adown dear Mother Volga,'" the conversation ran.

"We can't sing." "We don't know it." "You sing it and show us how, and we will join in."

The Affected One capped the climax with "It's not in the mo-o-o-ode now, that song!" with a delicate assumption of languor which made his comrades explode in suppressed convulsions of mirth. Finally they supplied the key, but not the keynote.

"Give us some vodka, and we may, perhaps, remember something."

Promises of vodka at the end of the voyage, when the danger was over, were rejected without hesitation. We reached our breakfast-ground in profound silence.

Fortunately, the catch of sterlet at this stand had been good. The fishermen grilled some "in their own fat," by salting them and spitting them alive on peeled willow wands, which they thrust into the ground, in a slanting position, over a bed of glowing coals. Anything more delicious it would be difficult to imagine; and we began to revise our opinion of the sterlet. In the mean time our boatmen had discovered some small, sour ground blackberries, which they gallantly presented to us in their caps. Their feelings were so deeply wounded by our attempts to refuse this delicacy that we accepted and actually ate them, to the great satisfaction of the songless rogues who stood over us.

Our own fishing with a line resulted in nothing but the sport and sunburn. We bought a quantity of sterlet, lest the fishermen at the camp where we had planned to dine should have been unlucky, placed them in a net such as is used in towns for carrying fish from market, and trailed them in the water behind our boat.

We were destined to experience all possible aspects of a Volga excursion, that day, short of absolute shipwreck. As we floated down the mighty stream, a violent thunderstorm broke over our heads with the suddenness characteristic of the country. We were wet to the skin before we could get at the rain-cloaks on which we were sitting, but our boatmen remained as dry as ever, to our mystification. In the middle of the storm, our unworthy vessel sprung a fresh leak, the water poured in, and we were forced to run aground on a sand-bank for repairs. These were speedily effected, with a wad of paper, by Piotr, who, with a towel cast about his head and shoulders, looked more like an apostle than ever.

It appeared that our fishing-camp had moved away; but we found it, at last, several miles downstream, on a sand-spit backed with willow bushes. It was temporarily deserted, save for a man who was repairing a net, and who assured us that his comrades would soon return from their trip, for supplies, to the small town which we could discern on the slope of the hillshore opposite. There was nothing to explore on our sand-reef except the fishermen's primitive shelter, composed of a bit of sail-cloth and a few boards, furnished with simple cooking utensils, and superintended by a couple of frolicsome kittens, who took an unfeline delight in wading along in the edge of the water. So we spread ourselves out to dry on the clean sand, in the rays of the now glowing sun, and watched the merchandise, chiefly fish, stacked like cord wood, being towed up from Astrakhan in great barges.

At last our fisher hosts arrived, and greeted us with grave courtesy and lack of surprise. They began their preparations by scouring out their big camp kettle with beach sand, and building a fire at the water's edge to facilitate the cleaning of the fish. We followed their proceedings with deep interest, being curious to learn the secret of the genuine "amber sterlet soup." This was what we discovered.

The fish must be alive. They remain so after the slight preliminaries, and are plunged into the simmering water, heads and all, the heads and the parts adjacent being esteemed a delicacy. No other fish are necessary, no spices or ingredients except a little salt, the cookery-books to the contrary notwithstanding. The sterlet is expensive in regions where the cook-book flourishes, and the other fish are merely a cheat of town economy. The scum is not removed,—this is the capital point,—but stirred in as fast as it rises. If the ukha be skimmed, after the manner of professional cooks, the whole flavor and richness are lost.

While the soup was boiling and more sterlet were being grilled in their own fat, as a second course, our men pitched our tent and ran up our flag, and the butler set the table on our big rug. It was lucky that we had purchased fish at our breakfast-place, as no sterlet had been caught at this camp. When the soup made its appearance, we comprehended the epithet "amber" and its fame. Of a deep gold, almost orange color, with the rich fat, and clear as a topaz, it was utterly unlike anything we had ever tasted. We understood the despair of Parisian gourmets and cooks, and we confirmed the verdict, provisionally announced at breakfast, that the sterlet is the king of all fish. As it is indescribable, I may be excused for not attempting to do justice to it in words.

While we feasted, the fishermen cooked themselves a kettle of less dainty fish, as a treat from us, since the fish belong to the contractor who farms the ground, not to the men. Their meal ended, the regulation cross and prayer executed, they amiably consented to anticipate the usual hour for casting their net, in order that we might see the operation. The net, two hundred and fifty fathoms in length, was manoeuvred down the long beach well out in the stream by one man in a boat, and by five men on shore, who harnessed themselves to a long cable by halters woven from the soft inner bark of the linden-tree. We grasped the rope and helped them pull. We might not have been of much real assistance, but we learned, at least, how heavy is this toil, repeated many times a day, even when the pouch reveals so slender a catch as in the present instance. There was nothing very valuable in it, though there was variety enough, and we were deceived, for a moment, by several false sterlet.

The small samovar which we had brought gave us a steaming welcome, on our return to camp. Perched on the fishermen's seatless chair and stool, and on boxes, we drank our tea and began our preparations for departure, bestowing a reward on the men, who had acted their parts as impromptu hosts to perfection. It was late; but our men burst into song, when their oars dipped in the waves, as spontaneously as the nightingales which people these shores in springtime,—inspired probably by the full moon, which they melodiously apostrophized as "the size of a twenty-kopek bit." They sang of Stenka Razin, the bandit chief, who kept the Volga and the Caspian Sea in a state of terror during the reign of Peter the Great's father; of his "poor people, good youths, fugitives, who were no thieves nor brigands, but only Stenka Razin's workmen." They declared, in all seriousness, that he had been wont to navigate upon a felt rug, like the one we had seen in Piotr's cottage; and they disputed over the exact shade of meaning contained in the words which he was in the habit of using when he summoned a rich merchant vessel to surrender as his prize. Evidently, Stenka was no semi-epic, mythical hero to them, but a living reality.

"Adown dear Mother Volga, Adown her mighty sweep,"

they sang; and suddenly ran the boat aground, and fled up the steep slope like deer, carrying with them their tall winter boots of gray felt, which had lain under the thwarts all day. We waited, shivering in the keen night air, and wondering whether we were deserted on this lonely reach of the river at midnight. If the apostle Peter understood the manoeuvre, he was loyal and kept their counsel. He gave no comfort beyond the oracular saytchas, which we were intended to construe as meaning that they would be back in no time.

When they did return, after a long absence, their feet were as bare as they had been all day. Their boots were borne tenderly in their arms, and were distended to their utmost capacity with apples! In answer to our remonstrances, they replied cheerfully that the night was very warm, and that the apples came from "their garden, over yonder on the bank." On further questioning, their village being miles distant, they retorted, with a laugh, that they had gardens all along the river; and they offered to share their plunder with us. The Affected One tossed an apple past my head, with the cry, "Catch, Sasha!" to our host, of whose familiar name he had taken note during the day. After this and other experiences, we were prepared to credit an anecdote which had been related to us of a peasant in that neighborhood, to illustrate the democratic notions of his class which prevailed even during the days of serfdom. One of the provincial assemblies, to which nobles and peasants have been equally eligible for election since the emancipation, met for the first time, thus newly constituted. One of the nobles, desirous of making the peasants feel at home, rose and began:—

"We bid you welcome, our younger brothers, to this "—

"We are nobody's inferiors or younger brothers any more," interrupted a peasant member, "and we will not allow you to call us so."

The nobles took the hint, and made no further unnecessary advances. Yes, these Volga peasants certainly possess as strong a sense of democratic equality as any one could wish. But the soft ingenuousness of their manners and their tact disarm wrath at the rare little liberties which they take. Even their way of addressing their former masters by the familiar "thou" betokens respectful affection, not impertinence.

Our men soon wearied of pulling against the powerful current, dodging the steamers and the tug-boats with their strings of barks signaled by constellations of colored lanterns high in air. Perhaps they would have borne up better had we been able to obtain some Astrakhan watermelons from the steamer wharves, which we besieged in turn as we passed. They proposed to tow us. On Piotr's assurance that it would be a far swifter mode of locomotion, and that they would pay no more visits to "their gardens," we consented. They set up a mast through an opening in one of the thwarts, passed through a hole in its top a cord the size of a cod-line, fastened this to the stern of the boat, and leaped ashore with the free end. Off they darted, galloping like horses along the old tow-path, and singing vigorously. Piotr remained on board to steer. As we dashed rapidly through the water, we gained practical knowledge of the manner in which every pound of merchandise was hauled to the great Fair from Astrakhan, fourteen hundred and forty miles, before the introduction of steamers, except in the comparatively rare cases where oxen were made to wind windlasses on the deck of a bark. It would have required hours of hard rowing to reach our goal; but by this means we were soon walking across the yielding sands to Piotr's cottage. Our cunning rogues of boatmen took advantage of our scattered march to obtain from us separately such installments of tea-money as must, in the aggregate, have rendered them hilarious for days to come, if they paid themselves for their minstrelsy in the coin which they had suggested to us before breakfast.

Piotr's smiling wife, who was small, like most Russian peasant women, had baked us some half-rye, half-wheat bread, to our order; she made it remarkably well, much better than Osip. We secured a more lasting memento of her handiwork in the form of some towel ends, which she had spun, woven, drawn, and worked very prettily. Some long-haired heads were thrust over the oven-top to inspect us, but the bodies did not follow. They were better engaged in enjoying the heat left from the baking.

It was two o'clock in the morning when we drove through the village flock of sheep, that lay asleep on the grassy street. With hand on pistol, to guard against a possible stray wolf, we dashed past the shadowy chalk hills; past the nodding sunflowers, whose sleepy eyes were still turned to the east: past the grainfields, transmuted from gold to silver by the moonlight; past the newly plowed land, which looked like velvet billows in its depths of brown, as the moon sank lower and lower beyond in a mantle of flame.

By this time practice had rendered us expert in retaining our seats in the low, springless lineika; fortunately, for we were all three quarters asleep at intervals, with excess of fresh air. Even when the moon had gone down, and a space of darkness intervened before the day, our headlong pace was not slackened for a moment. As we drove up to the door, in the pearl-pink dawn, Tulip, the huge yellow mastiff with tawny eyes, the guardian of the courtyard, received us with his usual ceremony, through which pierced a petition for a caress. We heeded him not. By six o'clock we were fast asleep. Not even a packet of letters from home could keep our eyes open after that four-and-twenty hours' picnic, which had been unmarred by a single fault, but which had contained all the "experiences" and "local color" which we could have desired.

How can I present a picture of all the variations in those sweet, busy-idle days? They vanished all too swiftly. But now the rick-yard was heaped high with golden sheaves; the carts came in steady lines, creaking under endless loads, from those fields which, two years later, lay scorched with drought, and over which famine brooded. The peasant girls tossed the grain, with forked boughs, to the threshing-machine, tended by other girls. The village boys had a fine frolic dragging the straw away in bundles laid artfully on the ends of two long poles fastened shaft-wise to the horse's flanks. We had seen the harvesting, the plowing with the primitive wooden plow, the harrowing with equally simple contrivances, and the new grain was beginning to clothe the soil with a delicate veil of green. It was time for us to go. During our whole visit, not a moment had hung heavy on our hands, here in the depths of the country, where visitors were comparatively few and neighbors distant, such had been the unwearied attention and kindness of our hosts.

We set out for the river once more. This time we had a landau, and a cart for our luggage. As we halted to drink milk in the Tchuvash village, the inhabitants who chanced to be at home thronged about our carriage. We espied several women arrayed in their native costume, which has been almost entirely abandoned for the Russian dress, and is fast becoming a precious rarity. The men have already discarded their dress completely for the Russian. We sent one of the women home to fetch her Sunday gown, and purchased it on the spot. Such a wonderful piece of work! The woman had spun, woven, and sewed it; she had embroidered it in beautiful Turanian, not Russian, patterns, with silks,—dull red, pale green, relieved by touches of dark blue; she had striped it lengthwise with bands of red cotton and embroidery, and crosswise with fancy ribbons and gay calicoes; she had made a mosaic of the back which must have delighted her rear neighbors in church; and she had used the gown with such care that, although it had never been washed, it was not badly soiled. One piece for the body, two for the head, a sham pocket,—that was all. The footgear consisted of crash bands, bast slippers, rope cross-garters. The artists to whom I showed the costume, later on, pronounced it an ethnographical prize.

These Tchuvashi are a small, gray-eyed, olive-skinned race, with cheek-bones and other features like the Tatars, but less well preserved than with the latter, in spite of their always marrying among themselves. There must have been dilution of the race at some time, if the characteristics were as strongly marked as with the Tatars, in their original ancestors from Asia. Most of them are baptized into the Russian faith, and their villages have Russian churches. Nevertheless, along with their native tongue they are believed to retain many of their ancient pagan customs and superstitions, although baptism is in no sense compulsory. The priest in our friends' village, who had lived among them, had told us that such is the case. But he had also declared that they possess many estimable traits of character, and that their family life is deserving of imitation in more than one particular. This village of theirs looked prosperous and clean. The men, being brought more into contact with outsiders than the women, speak Russian better than the latter, and more generally. It is not exactly a case which proves woman's conservative tendencies.

On reaching the river, and finding that no steamer was likely to arrive for several hours, we put up at the cottage of a prosperous peasant, which was patronized by many of the neighboring nobles, in preference to the wretched inns of that suburb of the wharves. The "best room" had a citified air, with its white curtains, leaf plants, pretty china tea service, and photographs of the family on the wall. These last seemed to us in keeping with the sewing-machine which we had seen a peasant woman operating in a shop of the little posting-town inland. They denoted progress, since many peasants cherish religious scruples or superstitions about having their portraits taken in any form.

The athletic sons, clad only in shirts and trousers of sprigged print, with fine chestnut hair, which compensated for their bare feet, vacated the room for our use. They and the house were as clean as possible. Outside, near the entrance door, hung the family washstand, a double-spouted teapot of bronze suspended by chains. But it was plain that they did not pin their faith wholly to it, and that they took the weekly steam bath which is customary with the peasants. Not everything was citified in the matter of sanitary arrangements. But these people seemed to thrive, as our ancestors all did, and probably regarded us as over-particular.

To fill in the interval of waiting, we made an excursion to the heart of the town, and visited the pretty public garden overhanging the river, and noteworthy for its superb dahlias. As we observed the types of young people who were strolling there, we recognized them, with slight alterations only, which the lapse of time explained, from the types which we had seen on the stage in Ostrovsky's famous play "The Thunderstorm." The scene of that play is laid on the banks of the Volga, in just such a garden; why should it not have been on this spot?

All peasant izbui are so bewilderingly alike that we found our special cottage again with some difficulty, by the light of the young moon. By this time "the oldest inhabitant" had hazarded a guess as to the line whose steamer would arrive first. Accordingly, we gathered up our small luggage and our Tchuvash costume, and fairly rolled down the steep, pathless declivity of slippery turf, groping our way to the right wharf. How the luggage cart got down was a puzzle. Here we ordered in the samovar, and feasted until far into the night on the country dainties which we had brought with us, supplemented by one of the first watermelons from Astrakhan, which we had purchased from a belated dealer in the deserted town market. The boat was late, as a matter of course; but we understood the situation now, and asked no questions. When it arrived, we and our charming hosts, whose society we were to enjoy for a few days longer, embarked for Samara, to visit the famous kumys establishments on the steppes.

Russian harvest-tide was over for us, leaving behind a store of memories as golden as the grain, fitly framed on either hand by Mother Volga.



XI.

THE RUSSIAN KUMYS CURE.

It is not many years since every pound of freight, every human being, bound to Astrakhan from the interior of Russia simply floated down the river Volga with the current. The return journey was made slowly and painfully, in tow of those human beasts of burden, the burlaki. The traces of their towpath along the shores may still be seen, and the system itself may even be observed at times, when light barks have to be forced upstream for short distances.

Then some enterprising individual set up a line of steamers, in the face of the usual predictions from the wiseacres that he would ruin himself and all his kin. The undertaking proved so fabulously successful and profitable that a wild rush of competition ensued. But the competition seems to have consisted chiefly in the establishment of rival lines of steamers, and there are some peculiarities of river travel which still exist in consequence. One of these curious features is that each navigation company appears to have adopted a certain type of steamer at the outset, and not to have improved on that original idea to any marked degree. There are some honorable exceptions, it is true, and I certainly have a very definite opinion concerning the line which I would patronize on a second trip. Another idea, to which they have clung with equal obstinacy, though it is far from making amends for the other, is that a journey is worth a certain fixed sum per verst, utterly regardless of the vast difference in the accommodations offered.

Possibly it is a natural consequence of having been born in America, and of having heard the American boast of independence and progress and the foreign boast of conservatism contrasted ever since I learned my alphabet, not to exaggerate unduly, that I should take particular notice of all illustrations of these conflicting systems. Generally speaking, I advocate a judicious mixture of the two, in varying proportions to suit my taste on each special occasion. But there are times when I distinctly favor the broadest independence and progress. These Volga steamers had afforded me a subject for meditations on this point, at a distance, even before I was obliged to undergo personal experience of the defects of conservatism. Before I had sailed four and twenty hours on the broad bosom of Matushka Volga, I was able to pick out the steamers of all the rival lines at sight with the accuracy of a veteran river pilot. There was no great cleverness in that, I hasten to add; anybody but a blind man could have done as much; but that only makes my point the more forcible. It was when we set out for Samara that we realized most keenly the beauties of enterprise in this direction.

We had, nominally, a wide latitude of choice, as all the lines made a stop at our landing. But when we got tired of waiting for the steamer of our preference,—the boats of all the lines being long overdue, as usual, owing to low water in the river,—and took the first which presented itself, we found that the latitude in choice, so far as accommodations were concerned, was even greater than had been apparent at first sight.

Fate allotted us one of the smaller steamers, the more commodious boats having probably "sat down on a sand-bar," as the local expression goes. The one on which we embarked had only a small dining-room and saloon, one first-class cabin for men and one for women, all nearly on a level with the water, instead of high aloft, as in the steamers which we had hitherto patronized, and devoid of deck-room for promenading. The third-class cabin was on the forward deck. The second-class cabin was down a pair of steep, narrow stairs, whose existence we did not discover when we went on board at midnight, and which did not tempt us to investigation even when we arose the next morning. Fortunately, there were no candidates except ourselves and a Russian friend for the six red velvet divans ranged round the walls of the tiny "ladies' cabin," and the adjoining toilet-room, and the man of the party enjoyed complete seclusion in the men's cabin. In the large boats, for the same price, we should have had separate staterooms, each accommodating two persons. However, everything was beautifully clean, as usual on Russian steamers so far as my experience goes, and it made no difference for one night. The experience was merely of interest as a warning.

The city of Samara, as it presented itself to our eyes the next morning, was the liveliest place on the river Volga next to Nizhni Novgorod. While it really is of importance commercially, owing to its position on the Volga and on the railway from central Russia, as a depot for the great Siberian trade through Orenburg, the impression of alertness which it produces is undoubtedly due to the fact that it presents itself to full view in the foreground, instead of lying at a distance from the wharves, or entirely concealed. An American, who is accustomed to see railways and steamers run through the very heart of the cities which they serve, never gets thoroughly inured to the Russian trick of taking important towns on faith, because it has happened to be convenient to place the stations out of sight and hearing, sometimes miles out of the city. Another striking point about Samara is the abundance of red brick buildings, which is very unusual, not to say unprecedented, in most of the older Russian towns, which revel in stucco washed with white, blue, and yellow.

But the immediate foreground was occupied with something more attractive than this. The wharves, the space between them, and all the ground round about were fairly heaped with fruit: apples in bewildering variety, ranging from the pink-and-whiteskinned "golden seeds" through the whole gamut of apple hues; round striped watermelons and oval cantaloupes with perfumed orange-colored flesh, from Astrakhan; plums and grapes. After wrestling with these fascinations and with the merry izvostchiki, we set out on a little voyage of discovery, preparatory to driving out to the famous kumys establishments, where we had decided to stay instead of in the town itself.

Much of Samara is too new in its architecture, and too closely resembles the simple, thrifty builders' designs of a mushroom American settlement, to require special description. Although it is said to have been founded at the close of the sixteenth century, to protect the Russians from the incursions of the Kalmucks, Bashkirs, and Nogai Tatars, four disastrous conflagrations within the last forty-five years have made way for "improvements" and entailed the loss of characteristic features, while its rank as one of the chief marts for the great Siberian trade has caused a rapid increase in population, which now numbers between seventy-five and eighty thousand.

One modern feature fully compensates, however, by its originality, for a good many commonplace antiquities. Near the wharves, on our way out of the town, we passed a lumber-yard, which dealt wholly in ready-made log houses. There stood a large assortment of cottages, in the brilliant yellow of the barked logs, of all sizes and at all prices, from fifteen to one hundred dollars, forming a small suburb of samples. The lumber is floated down the Volga and her tributaries from the great forests of Ufa, and made up in Samara. The peasant purchaser disjoints his house, floats it to a point near his village, drags it piecemeal to its proper site, sets it up, roofs it, builds an oven and a chimney of stones, clay, and whitewash, plugs the interstices with rope or moss, smears them with clay if he feels inclined, and his house is ready for occupancy. Although such houses are cheap and warm, it would be a great improvement if the people could afford to build with brick, so immense is the annual loss by fire in the villages. Brick buildings are, however, far beyond the means of most peasants, let them have the best will in the world, and the ready-made cottages are a blessing, though every peasant is capable of constructing one for himself on very brief notice, if he has access to a forest. But forests are not so common nowadays along the Volga, and, as the advertisements say, this novel lumber-yard "meets a real want." When the Samarcand railway was opened, a number of these cottages, in the one-room size, were placed on platform cars, and to each guest invited to the ceremony was assigned one of these unique drawing-room-car coupes.

About four miles from the town proper, on the steppe, lie two noted kumys establishments; one of them being the first resort of that kind ever set up, at a time when the only other choice for invalids who wished to take the cure was to share the hardships, dirt, bad food, and carelessly prepared kumys of the tented nomads of the steppes. The grounds of the one which we had elected to patronize extended to the very brink of the Volga. In accordance with the admonitions of the specialist physicians to avoid many-storied, ill-ventilated buildings with long corridors, the hotel consists of numerous wooden structures, of moderate size, chiefly in Moorish style, and painted in light colors, scattered about a great inclosure which comprises groves of pines and deciduous trees,—"red forest" and "black forest," as Russians would express it,—lawns, arbors, shady walks, flower-beds, and other things pleasing to the eye, and conducive to comfort and very mild amusement. One of the buildings even contains a hall, where dancing, concerts, and theatricals can be and are indulged in, in the height of the season, although such violent and crowded affairs as balls are, in theory, discountenanced by the physicians. All these points we took in at one curious glance, as we were being conducted to the different buildings to inspect rooms. I am afraid that we pretended to be very difficult to please, in order to gain a more extensive insight into the arrangements. As the height of the season (which is May and June) was past, we had a great choice offered us, and I suppose that this made a difference in the price, also. It certainly was not unreasonable. We selected some rooms which opened on a small private corridor. The furniture consisted of the usual narrow iron bedstead (with linen and pillows thrown in gratis, for a wonder), a tiny table which disagreeably recalled American ideas as to that article, an apology for a bureau, two armchairs, and no washstand. The chairs were in their primitive stuffing-and-burlap state, loose gray linen covers being added when the rooms were prepared for us. Any one who has ever struggled with his temper and the slack-fitting shift of a tufted armchair will require no explanation as to what took place between me and my share of those untufted receptacles before I deposited its garment under my bed, and announced that burlap and tacks were luxurious enough for me. That one item contained enough irritation and excitement to ruin any "cure."

The washstand problem was even more complicated. A small, tapering brass tank, holding about two quarts of water, with a faucet which dripped into a diminutive cup with an unstoppered waste-pipe, was screwed to the wall in our little corridor. We asked for a washstand, and this arrangement was introduced to our notice, the chambermaid being evidently surprised at the ignorance of barbarians who had never seen a washstand before. We objected that a mixed party of men and women could not use that decently, even if two quarts of water were sufficient for three women and a man. After much argument and insistence, we obtained, piecemeal: item, one low stool; item, one basin; item, one pitcher. There were no fastenings on the doors, except a hasp and staple to the door of the corridor, to which, after due entreaty, we secured an oblong padlock.

The next morning, the chambermaid came to the door of our room opening on the private corridor while we were dressing, and demanded the basin and pitcher. "Some one else wants them!" she shouted through the door. We had discovered her to be a person of so much decision of character, in the course of our dealings with her on the preceding day, that we were too wary to admit her, lest she should simply capture the utensils and march off with them. As I was the heaviest of the party, it fell to my lot to brace myself against the unfastened door and parley with her. Three times that woman returned to the attack; thrice we refused to surrender our hard-won trophies, and asked her pointedly, "What do you do for materials when the house is full, pray?" Afterwards, while we were drinking our coffee on the delightful half-covered veranda below, which had stuffed seats running round the walls, and a flower-crowned circular divan in the centre, a lively testimony to the dryness of the atmosphere, we learned that the person who had wanted the basin and pitcher was the man of our party. He begged us not to inquire into the mysteries of his toilet, and refused to help us solve the riddle of the guests' cleanliness when the hotel was full. I assume, on reflection, however, that they were expected to take Russian or plain baths every two or three days, to rid themselves of the odor of the kumys, which exudes copiously through the pores of the skin and scents the garments. On other days a "lick and a promise" were supposed to suffice, so that their journals must have resembled that of the man who wrote: "Monday, washed myself. Tuesday, washed hands and face. Wednesday, washed hands only." That explanation is not wholly satisfactory, either, because the Russians are clean people.

As coffee is one of the articles of food which are forbidden to kumys patients, though they may drink tea without lemon or milk, we had difficulty in getting it at all. It was long in coming; bad and high-priced when it did make its appearance. As we were waiting, an invalid lady and the novice nun who was in attendance upon her began to sing in a room near by. They had no instrument. What it was that they sang, I do not know. It was gentle as a breath, melting as a sigh, soft and slow like a conventional chant, and sweet as the songs of the Russian Church or of the angels. There are not many strains in this world upon which one hangs entranced, in breathless eagerness, and the memory of which haunts one ever after. But this song was one of that sort, and it lingers in my memory as a pure delight; in company with certain other fragments of church music heard in that land, as among the most beautiful upon earth.

I may as well tell at once the whole story of the food, so far as we explored its intricate mysteries. We were asked if we wished to take the table d'hote breakfast in the establishment. We said "yes," and presented ourselves promptly. We were served with beefsteak, in small, round, thick pieces.

"What queer beefsteak!" said one of our Russian friends. "Is there no other meat?"

"No, madam."

We all looked at it for several minutes. We said it was natural, when invalids drank from three to five bottles of the nourishing kumys a day, that they should not require much extra food, and that the management provided what variety was healthy and advisable, no doubt; only we would have liked a choice; and—what queer steak!

The first sniff, the first glance at that steak, of peculiar grain and dark red hue, had revealed the truth to us. But we saw that our Russian friends were not initiated, and we knew that their stomachs were delicate. We exchanged signals, took a mouthful, declared it excellent, and ate bravely through our portions. The Russians followed our example. Well—it was much tenderer and better than the last horseflesh to which we had been treated surreptitiously; but I do not crave horseflesh as a regular diet. It really was not surprising at a kumys establishment, where the horse is worshiped, alive or dead, apparently, in Tatar fashion.

That afternoon we made it convenient to take our dinner in town, on the veranda of a restaurant which overlooked the busy Volga, with its mobile moods of sunset and thunderstorm, where we compensated ourselves for our unsatisfactory breakfast by a characteristically Russian dinner, of which I will omit details, except as regards the soup. This soup was botvinya. A Russian once obligingly furnished me with a description of a foreigner's probable views on this national delicacy: "a slimy pool with a rock in the middle, and creatures floating round about." The rock is a lump of ice (botvinya being a cold soup) in the tureen of strained kvas or sour cabbage. Kvas is the sour, fermented liquor made from black bread. In this liquid portion of the soup, which is colored with strained spinach, floated small cubes of fresh cucumber and bits of the green tops from young onions. The solid part of the soup, served on a platter, so that each person might mix the ingredients according to his taste, consisted of cold boiled sterlet, raw ham, more cubes of cucumber, more bits of green onion tops, lettuce, crayfish, grated horseradish, and granulated sugar. The first time I encountered this really delectable dish, it was served with salmon, the pale, insipid northern salmon. I supposed that the lazy waiter had brought the soup and fish courses together, to save himself trouble, and I ate them separately, while I meditated a rebuke to the waiter and a strong description of the weak soup. The tables were turned on me, however, when Mikhei appeared and grinned, as broadly as his not overstrict sense of propriety permitted, at my unparalleled ignorance, while he gave me a lesson in the composition of botvinya. That botvinya was not good, but this edition of it on the banks of the Volga, with sterlet, was delicious.

We shirked our meals at the establishment with great regularity, with the exception of morning coffee, which was unavoidable, but we did justice to its kumys, which was superb. Theoretically, the mares should have had the advantage of better pasturage, at a greater distance from town; but, as they cannot be driven far to milk without detriment, that plan involves making the kumys at a distance, and transporting it to the "cure." There is another famous establishment, situated a mile beyond ours, where this plan is pursued. Ten miles away the mares pasture, and the kumys is made at a subsidiary cure, where cheap quarters are provided for poorer patients. But, either on account of the transportation under the hot sun, or because the professional "taster" is lacking in delicacy of perception, we found the kumys at this rival establishment coarse in both flavor and smell, in comparison with that at our hostelry.

Our mares, on the contrary, were kept close by, and the kumys was prepared on the spot. It is the first article of faith in the creed of the kumys expert that no one can prepare this milk wine properly except Tatars. Hence, when any one wishes to drink it at home, a Tatar is sent for, the necessary mares are set aside for him, and he makes what is required. But the second article of faith is that kumys is much better when made in large quantities. The third is that a kumys specialist, or doctor, is as indispensable for the regulation of the cure as he is at mineral springs. The fourth article in the creed is that mares grazing on the rich plume-grass of the steppe produce milk which is particularly rich in sugar, very poor in fat, and similar to woman's milk in its proportion of albumen, though better furnished: all which facts combine to give kumys whose chemical proportions differ greatly from those of kumys prepared elsewhere. Moreover, on private estates it is not always possible to observe all the conditions regarding the choice and care of the mares.

At our establishment there were several Tatars to milk the mares and make the kumys. The wife of one of them, a Tatar beauty, was the professional taster, who issued her orders like an autocrat on that delicate point. She never condescended to work, and it was our opinion that she ought to devote herself to dress, in her many leisure hours, instead of lounging about in ugly calico sacks and petticoats, as hideous as though they had originated in a backwoods farm in New England. She explained, however, that she was in a sort of mourning. Her husband was absent, and she could not make herself beautiful for any one until his return, which she was expecting every moment. She spent most of her time in gazing, from a balcony on the cliff, up the river, toward the bend backed by beautiful hills, to espy her husband on the steamer. As he did not come, we persuaded her, by arguments couched in silver speech, to adorn herself on the sly for us. Then she was afraid that the missing treasure might make his appearance too soon, and she made such undue haste that she faithlessly omitted the finishing touch,— blacking her pretty teeth. I gathered from her remarks that something particularly awful would result should she be caught with those pearls obscured in the presence of any other man when her husband was not present; but she may have been using a little diplomacy to soothe us. Though she was not a beauty in the ordinary sense of the Occident, she certainly was when dressed in her national garb, as I had found to be the case with the Russian peasant girls. Her loose sack, of a medium but brilliant blue woolen material, fell low over a petticoat of the same terminating in a single flounce. Her long black hair was carefully braided, and fell from beneath an embroidered cap of crimson velvet with a rounded end which hung on one side in a coquettish way. Her neck was completely covered with a necklace which descended to her waist like a breast-plate, and consisted of gold coins, some of them very ancient and valuable, medals, red beads, and a variety of brilliant objects harmoniously combined. Her heavy gold bracelets had been made to order in Kazan after a pure Tatar model, and her soft-soled boots of rose-pink leather, with conventional designs in many-colored moroccos, sewed together with rainbow-hued silks, reached nearly to her knees. Her complexion was fresh and not very sallow, her nose rather less like a button than is usual; her high cheek-bones were well covered, and her small dark eyes made up by their brilliancy for the slight upward slant of their outer corners.

Tatar girls, who made no pretensions to beauty in dress or features, did the milking, and were aided in that and the other real work connected with kumys-making by Tatar men. According to the official programme, the mares might be milked six or eight times a day, and the yield was from a half to a whole bottle apiece each time. Milk is always reckoned by the bottle in Russia. I presume the custom arose from the habit of sending the muzhik ("Boots") to the dairy-shop with an empty wine-bottle to fetch the milk and cream for "tea," which sometimes means coffee in the morning. The mare's milk has a sweetish, almond-like flavor, and is very thin and bluish in hue.

At three o'clock in the morning, the mares are taken from the colts and shut up in a long shed which is not especially weather-proof. In fact, there is not much "weather" except wind to be guarded against on the steppe. In about two hours, when the milk has collected, the colts follow them voluntarily, and are admitted and allowed to suck for a few seconds. Halters are then thrown about their necks, and they are led forward where the mothers can nose them over and lick them. The milkmaid's second assistant then puts a halter on the neck of a mare and holds her, or ties up one leg if she be restive. In the mean time the foolish creature continues to let down milk for her foal. The milkmaid kneels on one knee and holds her pail on the other, after having washed her hands carefully and wiped off the teats with a clean, damp cloth. If the mare resists at first, the milk obtained must not be used for kumys, as her agitation affects the milk unfavorably. Roan, gray, and chestnut mares are preferred, and in order to obtain the best milk great care must be exercised in the choice of pasture and the management of the horses, as well as in all the minor details of preparation.

The milking-pails are of tin or of oak wood, and, like the oaken kumys churn, have been boiled in strong lye to extract the acid, and well dried and aired. In addition to the daily washing they are well smoked with rotten birch trunks, in order to destroy all particles of kumys which may cling to them.

The next step after the milk is obtained is to ferment it. The ferment, or yeast, is obtained by collecting the sediment of the kumys which has already germinated, and washing it off thoroughly with milk or water. It is then pressed and dried in the sun, the result being a reddish-brown mass composed of the micro-organisms contained in kumys ferment, casein, and a small quantity of fat. Twenty grains of this yeast are ground up in a small quantity of freshly drawn milk in a clean porcelain mortar, and shaken in a quart bottle with one pound of fresh milk,—all mare's milk, naturally,—after which it is lightly corked with a bit of wadding and set away in a temperature of +22 degrees to +26 degrees Reaumur. In about twenty-four hours small bubbles begin to make their appearance, accompanied by the sour odor of kumys. The bottle is then shaken from time to time, and the air admitted, until it is in a condition to be used as a ferment with fresh milk. Sometimes this ferment fails, in which case an artificial ferment is prepared.

One pint of ferment is allowed to every five pints of fresh milk in the cask or churn, and the whole is beaten with the dasher for about an hour, when it is set aside in a temperature of +18 degrees to +26 degrees Reaumur. When, at the expiration of a few hours, the milk turns sour and begins to ferment vigorously, it is beaten again several times for about fifteen minutes, with intervals, with a dasher which terminates in a perforated disk, after which it is left undisturbed for several hours at the same temperature as before, until the liquid begins to exhale an odor of spirits of wine. The delicate offices of our Tatar beauty, the taster, come in at this point to determine how much freshly drawn and cooled milk is to be added in order rightly to temper the sour taste. After standing over night it is ready for use, and is put up in seltzer or champagne bottles, and kept at a temperature of +8 degrees to +12 degrees Reaumur. At a lower temperature vinegar fermentation sets in and spoils the kumys, while too high a temperature brings about equally disastrous results of another sort. Kumys has a different chemical composition according to whether it has stood only a few hours or several days, and consequently its action differs, also.

The weak kumys is ready for use at the expiration of six hours after fermentation has been excited in the mare's milk, and must be put into the strongest bottles. The medium quality is obtained after from twelve to fourteen hours of fermentation, and, if well corked, will keep two or three days in a cool atmosphere. The third and strongest quality is the product of diligent daily churning during twenty-four to thirty-six hours, and is thinner than the medium quality, even watery. When bottled, it soon separates into three layers, with the fatty particles on top, the whey in the middle, and the casein at the bottom. Strong kumys can be kept for a very long time, but it must be shaken before it is used. It is very easy for a person unaccustomed to kumys to become intoxicated on this strong quality of milk wine.

The nourishing effects of this spirituous beverage are argued, primarily, from the example of the Bashkirs and the Kirghiz, who are gaunt and worn by the hunger and cold of winter, but who blossom into rounded outlines and freshness of complexion three or four days after the spring pasturage for their mares begins. Some persons argue that life with these Bashkirs and an exclusive diet of kumys will effect a speedy cure of their ailments. Hence they join one of the nomad hordes. This course, however, not only deprives them of medical advice and the comforts to which they have been accustomed, but often gives them kumys which is difficult to take because of its rank taste and smell, due to the lack of that scrupulous cleanliness which its proper preparation demands.

There are establishments near St. Petersburg and Moscow where kumys may be obtained by those who do not care to make the long journey to the steppe; but the quality and chemical constituents are very different from those of the steppe kumys, especially at the best period, May and June, when the plumegrass and wild strawberry are at their finest development for food, and before the excessive heats of midsummer have begun.

As I have said, when people wish to make the cure on their own estates, the indispensable Tatar is sent for, and the requisite number of middle-aged mares, of which no work is required, are set aside for the purpose. But from all I have heard, I am inclined to think that benefit is rarely derived from these private cures, and this for several reasons. Not only is the kumys said to be inferior when prepared in such small quantities, but no specialist or any other doctor can be constantly on hand to regulate the functional disorders which this diet frequently occasions. Moreover, the air of the steppe plays an important part in the cure. When a person drinks from five to fifteen or more bottles a day, and sometimes adds the proper amount of fatty, starchy, and saccharine elements, some other means than the stomach are indispensable for disposing of the refuse. As a matter of fact, in the hot, dry, even temperature of the steppe, where patients are encouraged to remain out-of-doors all day and drink slowly, they perspire kumys. When the system becomes thoroughly saturated with this food-drink, catarrh often makes its appearance, but disappears at the close of the cure. Colic, constipation, diarrhoea, nose-bleed, and bleeding from the lungs are also present at times, as well as sleeplessness, toothache, and other disorders. The effects of kumys are considered of especial value in cases of weak lungs, anaemia, general debility caused by any wasting illness, ailments of the digestive organs, and scurvy, for which it is taken by many naval officers.

In short, although it is not a cure for all earthly ills, it is of value in many which proceed from imperfect nutrition producing exhaustion of the patient. There are some conditions of the lungs in which it cannot be used, as well as in organic diseases of the brain and heart, epilepsy, certain disorders of the liver, and when gallstones are present. It is drunk at the temperature of the air which surrounds the patient, but must be warmed with hot water, not in the sun, and sipped slowly, with pauses, not drunk down in haste; and generally exercise must be taken. Turn where we would in those kumys establishments, we encountered a patient engaged in assiduous promenading, with a bottle of kumys suspended from his arm and a glassful in his hand.

Coffee, chocolate, and wine are some of the luxuries which must be renounced during a kumys cure, and though black tea (occasionally with lemon) is allowed, no milk or cream can be permitted to contend with the action of the mare's milk unless by express permission of the physician. "Cream kumys," which is advertised as a delicacy in America, is a contradiction in terms, it will be seen, as it is made of cow's milk, and cream would be contrary to the nature of kumys, even if the mare's milk produced anything which could rightly pass as such. Fish and fruits are also forbidden, with the exception of klubniki, which accord well with kumys. Klubnika is a berry similar to the strawberry in appearance, but with an entirely different taste. Patients who violate these dietary rules are said to suffer for it,—in which case there must have been a good deal of agony inside the tall fence of our establishment, judging by the thriving trade in fruits driven by the old women, who did not confine themselves to the outside of the gate, as the rules required, but slipped past the porter and guardians to the house itself.

We found the kumys a very agreeable beverage, and could readily perceive that the patients might come to have a very strong taste for it. We even sympathized with the thorough-going patient of whom we were told that he set oft regularly every morning to lose himself for the day on the steppe, armed with an umbrella against possible cooling breezes, and with a basket containing sixteen bottles of kumys, his allowance of food and medicine until sundown. The programme consisted of a walk in the sun, a drink, a walk, a drink, with umbrella interludes, until darkness drove him home to bed and to his base of supplies.

We did not remain long enough, or drink enough kumys, to observe any particular effects on our own persons. As I have said, we ate in town, chiefly, after that breakfast of kumys-mare beefsteak and potatoes of the size and consistency of bullets. During our food and shopping excursions we found that Samara was a decidedly wide-awake and driving town, though it seemed to possess no specialties in buildings, curiosities, or manufactures, and the statue to Alexander II., which now adorns one of its squares, was then swathed in canvas awaiting its unveiling. It is merely a sort of grand junction, through which other cities and provinces sift their products. In kumys alone does Samara possess a characteristic unique throughout Russia. Consequently, it is for kumys that multitudes of Russians flock thither every spring.

The soil of the steppe, on which grows the nutritious plume-grass requisite for the food of the kumys mares, is very fertile, and immense crops of rye, wheat, buckwheat, oats, and so forth are raised whenever the rainfall is not too meagre. Unfortunately, the rainfall is frequently insufficient, and the province of Samara often comes to the attention of Russia, or even of the world, as during the dearth in 1891, because of scarcity of food, or even famine, which is no novelty in the government. In a district where the average of rain is twenty inches, there is not much margin of superfluity which can be spared without peril. Wheat grows here better than in the government just north of it, and many peasants are attracted from the "black-bread governments" to Samara by the white bread which is there given them as rations when they hire out for the harvest.

But such a singular combination of conditions prevails there, as elsewhere in Russia, that an abundant harvest is often more disastrous than a scanty harvest. The price of grain falls so low that the cost of gathering it is greater than the market value, and it is often left to fall unreaped in the fields. When the price falls very low, complaints arise that there is no place to send it, since, when the ruble stands high, as it invariably does at the prospect of large crops, the demand from abroad is stopped. The result is that those people who are situated near a market sell as much grain and leave as little at home as possible in order to meet their bills. The price rises; the unreaped surplus of the districts lying far from markets cannot fill the ensuing demand. The income from estates falls, and the discouraged owners who have nothing to live on resolve to plant a smaller area thereafter. Estates are mortgaged and sold by auction; prices are very low, and often there are no buyers.

The immediate result of an over-abundant harvest in far-off Samara is that the peasants who have come hither to earn a little money at reaping return home penniless, or worse, to their suffering families. Some of them are legitimate seekers after work; that is to say, they have no grain of their own to attend to, or they reap their own a little earlier or a little later, and go away to earn the ready money to meet taxes and indispensable expenditures of the household, such as oil, and so on. "Pri khlyeby bez khlyeby" is their own way of expressing the situation, which we may translate freely as "starvation in the midst of plenty." Thus the extremes of famine-harvest and the harvest which is an embarrassment of riches are equally disastrous to the poor peasant.

Samara offers a curious illustration of several agricultural problems, and a proof of some peculiar paradoxes. The peasants of the neighboring governments, which are not populated to a particularly dense degree,— twenty male inhabitants to a square verst (two thirds of a mile), and not all engaged in agriculture,—have long been accustomed to look upon Samara as a sort of promised land. They still regard it in that light, and endeavor to emigrate thither, for the sake of obtaining grants of state land, and certain immunities and privileges which are accorded to colonists. This action is the result of the paradox that overproduction exists hand in hand with too small a parcel of land for each peasant!

Volumes have been written, and more volumes might still be written, on this subject. But I must content myself here with saying that I believe there is no province which illustrates so thoroughly all the distressing features of these manifold and complicated problems of colonization, of permanent settlements, with the old evils of both landlords and peasants cropping up afresh, abundant and scanty harvests equally associated with famine, and all the troubles which follow in their train, as Samara. Hence it is that I can never recall the kumys, which is so intimately connected with the name of Samara, without also recalling the famine, which is, alas, almost as intimately bound up with it.



XII.

MOSCOW MEMORIES.

St. Petersburg is handsome, grand, impressive. Moscow is beautiful, poetic, sympathetic, and pervaded by an atmosphere of ancient Russia, which is indescribable, though it penetrates to the marrow of one's bones if he tarry long within her walls. Emperor Peter's new capital will not bear comparison, for originality, individuality, and picturesqueness with Tzar Peter's Heart of Holy Russia, to which the heart of one who loves her must, perforce, often return with longing in after days,—"white-stoned golden-domed, Holy Mother Moscow."

But a volume of guide-book details, highly colored impressionist sketches, and dainty miniature painting combined would not do justice to Moscow. Therefore, I shall confine myself to a few random reminiscences which may serve to illustrate habits or traits in the character of the city or the people.

"'Eography," says Mrs. Booby, in one of the famous old Russian comedies which we were so fortunate as to witness on the Moscow stage: "Ah! good heavens! And what are cabmen for, then? That's their business. It's not a genteel branch of learning. A gentleman merely says: 'Take me to such or such a place,' and the cabman drives him wherever he pleases."

Nowadays, it is advisable to be vulgar and know the geography of Moscow, if one is really enjoying it independently. It is a trifle less complicated than the geography of the Balkan Principalities, and, unlike that of the Balkan Principalities, it has its humorous side, which affords alleviation. The Moscow cabby has now, as in the time of Mrs. Booby, the reputation of being a very hard customer to deal with. He is not often so ingenuous, even in appearance, as the man who drove close to the sidewalk and entreated our custom by warbling, sweetly: "We must have work or we can't have bread." He is only to be dreaded, however, if one be genteelly ignorant, after Mrs. Booby's plan. I cannot say that I ever had any difficulty in finding any place I wanted, either with the aid (or hindrance) of an izvostchik, or on foot, in Moscow or other Russian towns. But for this and other similar reasons I acquired a nickname among the natives,—molodyetz, that is to say, a dashing, enterprising young fellow, the feminine form of the word being nonexistent. A Russian view of the matter is amusing, however.

"I never saw such a town in which to hunt up any one," said a St. Petersburg man in Moscow to me. "They give you an address: 'Such and such a street, such a house.' For instance, 'Green Street, house of Mr. Black.' You go. First you get hold of the street in general, and discover that the special name applies only to one block or so, two or three versts away from the part where you chance to have landed. Moscow is even more a city of magnificent distances, you know, than St. Petersburg. Next you discover that there is no 'house of Mr. Black.' Mr. Black died, respected and beloved, God be with him! a hundred years ago or less, and the house has changed owners three times since. So far, it is tolerably plain sailing. Then it appears that the house you are in search of is not in the street at all, but tucked in behind it, on a parallel lane, round several corners and elbows." (I will explain, in parenthesis, that the old system of designating a house by the name of the owner, which prevailed before the introduction of numbers, still survives extensively, even in Petersburg.)

"The next time you set out on a search expedition," continued my informant, after a cup of tea and a cigarette to subdue his emotions, "you insist on having the number of the house. Do you get it? Oh yes! and with a safeguard added, 'Inquire of the laundress.' [This was a parody on, "Inquire of the Swiss," or "of the yard-porter."] You start off in high feather; number and guide are provided, only a fool could fail to find it, and you know that you are a person who is considered rather above the average in cleverness. But that is in Petersburg, and I may as well tell you at once that clever Petersburgers are fools compared to the Moscow men, in a good many points, such as driving a hard bargain. Well, suppose that the house you want is No. 29. You find No. 27 or No. 28, and begin to crow over your cleverness. But the next house on one side is No. 319, and the house on the other side is No. 15; the one opposite is No. 211, or No. 7, or something idiotic like that, and all because the city authorities permit people to retain the old district number of the house, to affix the new street number, or to post up both at their own sweet will! As you cannot find the laundress to question, under the circumstances, you interview every Swiss [hall-porter], yard-porter, policeman, and peasant for a verst round about; and all the satisfaction you get is, 'In whose house? That is Mr. Green's and this is Mr. Bareboaster's, and yonder are Count Thingumbob's and Prince Whatyoumaycall's.' So you retreat once more, baffled." Fortifying himself with more tea and cigarettes, the victim of Moscow went on:—

"But there is still another plan. [A groan.] The favorite way to give an address is, 'In the parish of Saint So-and-So.' It does n't pin you down to any special house, street, or number, which is, of course, a decided advantage when you are hunting for a needle in a haystack. And the Moscow saints and parishes have such names!" Here the narrator's feelings overcame him, and when I asked for some of the parochial titles he was too limp to reply. I had already noticed the peculiar designations of many churches, and had begun to suspect myself of stupidity or my cabman and other informants of malicious jesting. Now, however, I investigated the subject, and made a collection of specimens. These extraordinary names are all derived—with one or two exceptions for which I can find no explanation—from the peculiarities of the soil in the parish, the former use to which the site of the church was put, or the avocations of the inhabitants of its neighborhood in the olden times, when most of the space outside of the Kremlin and China Town was devoted to the purveyors and servants of the Tzars of Muscovy.

St. Nicholas, a very popular saint, heads the list, as usual. "St. Nicholas on Chips" occupies the spot where a woodyard stood. "St. Nicholas on the Well," "St. Nicholas Fine Chime," are easily understood. "St. Nicholas White-Collar" is in the ancient district of the court laundresses. "St. Nicholas in the Bell-Ringers" is comprehensible; but "St. Nicholas the Blockhead" is so called because in this quarter dwelt the imperial hatmakers, who prepared "blockheads" for shaping their wares. "St. Nicholas Louse's Misery" is, probably, a corruption of two somewhat similar words meaning Muddy Hill. "St. Nicholas on Chickens' Legs" belonged to the poulterers, and was so named because it was raised from the ground on supports resembling stilts. "St. Nicholas of the Interpreters" is in the quarter where the Court interpreters lived, and where the Tatar mosque now stands. Then we have: "The Life-Giving Trinity in the Mud," "St. John the Warrior" and "St. John the Theologian in the Armory," "The Birth of Christ on Broadswords," "St. George the Martyr in the Old Jails," "The Nine Holy Martyrs on Cabbage-Stalks," on the site of a former market garden, and the inexplicable "Church of the Resurrection on the Marmot," besides many others, some of which, I was told, bear quite unrepeatable names, probably perverted, like the last and like "St. Nicholas Louse's Misery," from words having originally some slight resemblance in sound, but which are now unrecognizable.

Great stress is laid, in hasty books of travel, on the contrasts presented by the Moscow streets, the "palace of a prince standing by the side of the squalid log hut of a peasant," and so forth. That may, perhaps, have been true of the Moscow of twenty or thirty years ago. In very few quarters is there even a semblance of truth in that description at the present day. The clusters of Irish hovels in upper New York among the towering new buildings are much more picturesque and noticeable. The most characteristic part of the town, as to domestic architecture, the part to which the old statements are most applicable, lies between the two lines of boulevards, which are, in themselves, good places to study some Russian tastes. For example, a line of open horse-cars is run all winter on the outer boulevard, and appreciated. Another line has the centre of its cars inclosed, and uninclosed seats at the ends. The latter are the most popular, at the same price, and as for heating a street-car, the idea could never be got into a Russian brain. A certain section of the inner boulevard, which forms a sort of slightly elevated garden, is not only a favorite resort in summer, but is thronged every winter afternoon with people promenading or sitting under the snow-powdered trees in an arctic fairyland, while the mercury in the thermometer is at a very low ebb indeed. It is fashionable in Russia to grumble at the cold, but unfashionable to convert the grumbling into action. On the contrary, they really enjoy sitting for five hours at a stretch, in a temperature of 25 degrees below zero, to watch the fascinating horse races on the ice.

In the districts between the boulevards, one can get an idea of the town as it used to be. In this "Earth Town" typical streets are still to be found, but the chances are greatly against a traveler finding them. They are alleys in width and irregularity, paved with cobblestones which seem to have been selected for their angles, and with intermittent sidewalks consisting of narrow, carelessly joined flagstones. The front steps of the more pretentious houses must be skirted or mounted, the street must be crossed when the family carriage stands at the door, like the most characteristic streets in Nantucket. Some of the doorplates—which are large squares of tin fastened over the porte cochere, or on the gate of the courtyard—bear titles. Next door, perhaps, stands a log house, flush with the sidewalk, its moss calking plainly visible between the huge ribs, its steeply sloping roof rising, almost within reach, above a single story; and its serpent-mouthed eave-spouts ingeniously arranged to pour a stream of water over the vulgar pedestrian. The windows, on a level with the eyes of the passer-by, are draped with cheap lace curtains. The broad expanse of cotton wadding between the double windows is decorated, in middle-class taste, with tufts of dyed grasses, colored paper, and other execrable ornaments. Here, as everywhere else in Moscow, one can never get out of eye-shot of several churches; white with brilliant external frescoes, or the favorite mixture of crushed strawberry and white, all with green roofs and surmounted with domes of ever-varying and original forms and colors, crowned with golden crosses of elaborate and beautiful designs. Ask a resident, whether prince or peasant, "How many churches are there in 'Holy Moscow town'?" The answer invariably is, "Who knows? A forty of forties," which is the old equivalent, in the Epic Songs, of incalculable numbers. After a while one really begins to feel that sixteen hundred is not an exaggerated estimate.

Very few of the streets in any part of the town are broad; all of them seem like lanes to a Petersburger, and "they are forever going up and down," as a Petersburg cabman described the Moscow hills to me, in serious disapproval. He had found the ground too excitingly uneven and the inhabitants too evenly dull to live with for more than a fortnight, he confessed to me. Many of the old mansions in the centre of the town have been converted into shops, offices, and lodgings; and huge, modern business buildings have taken the places formerly occupied, I presume, by the picturesque "hovels" of the travelers' tales.

One of the most interesting places in the White Town to me was the huge foundling asylum, established by Katherine II., immediately after her accession to the throne. There are other institutions connected with it, such as a school for orphan girls. But the hospital for the babies is the centre of interest. There are about six hundred nurses always on hand. Very few of them have more than one nursling to care for, and a number of babies who enter life below par, so to speak, are accommodated with incubators. The nurses stand in battalions in the various large halls, all clad alike, with the exception of the woolen kokoshnik,— the coronet-shaped headdress with its cap for the hair,—which is of a different color in each room. It requires cords of "cartwheels"—the big round loaves of black bread—to feed this army of nurses. If they are not fed on their ordinary peasant food, cabbage soup and sour black bread, they fall ill and the babies suffer, as no bottles are used.

The fact that the babies are washed every day was impressed on my mind by the behavior of the little creatures while undergoing the operation. They protested a little in gentle squeaks when the water touched them, but quieted down instantly when they were wiped. It is my belief that Russian children never cry except during their bath. I heard no infantile wailing except in this asylum, and very little there. Many Russian mothers of all ranks still tie up their babies tightly in swaddling clothes, on the old-fashioned theory that it makes their limbs straight. But these foundlings are not swaddled. After its bath, the baby is laid on a fresh, warm, linen cloth, which is then wrapped around it in a particular manner, so that it is securely fastened without the use of a single pin. Two other cloths, similarly wrapped, complete the simple, comfortable toilet. This and another Russian habit, that of allowing a baby to kick about in its crib clad only in its birthday suit, I commend to the consideration of American mothers.

The last thing in the asylum which is shown to visitors is the manner in which the babies are received, washed, weighed, and numbered. It was early in December when I was there, but the numbers on the ivory disks suspended from the new arrivals' necks were a good many hundred above seventeen thousand. As they begin each year with No. 1, I think the whole number of foundlings for that particular year must have been between eighteen and nineteen thousand. The children are put out to board, after a short stay at the asylum, in peasant families, which receive a small sum per month for taking care of them. When the boys grow up they count as members of the family in a question of army service, and the sons of the family can escape their turn, I was told, if matters are rightly managed. The girls become uniformed servants in the government institutions for the education of girls of the higher classes, or marry peasants.

The most famous of the gates which lead from the White Town through the white, machicolated walls into China Town* is the Iversky, or gate of the Iberian Virgin. The gate has two entrances, and between these tower-crowned openings stands a chapel of malachite and marble, gilded bronze and painting. The Iversky Virgin who inhabits the chapel, though "wonder-working," is only a copy of one in the monastery on Mount Athos. She was brought to Russia in 1666, and this particular chapel was built for her by Katherine II. Her garment and crown of gold weigh between twenty-seven and twenty-eight pounds, and are studded with splendid jewels. But the Virgin whom one sees in the chapel is not even this copy, but a copy of the copy. The original Virgin, as we may call the first copy for convenience, is in such great demand for visits to convents and monasteries, to private houses and the shops of wealthy and devout merchants, that she is never at home from early morn till late at night, and the second copy represents her to the thousands of prayerful people of all classes, literally, who stop to place a candle or utter a petition. The original Virgin travels about the town, meanwhile, in a blue coach adorned with her special device, like a coat of arms, and drawn by six horses; and the persons whom she honors with a visit offer liberal gifts. The heads of her coachman, postilions, and footman are supposed to be respectfully bared in all weathers, but when it is very cold these men wind woolen shawls, of the nondescript, dirt color, which characterizes the hair of most peasants, adroitly round their heads, allowing the fringe to hang and simulate long locks. The large image of the Virgin, in its massive frame, occupies the seat of honor. A priest and a deacon, clad in crimson velvet and gold vestments, their heads unprotected, even in the most severe weather, by anything but their own thick hair, sit respectfully with their backs to the horses. When the Virgin drives along, passers-by pause, salute, and cross themselves. Evidently, under these circumstances, it is difficult for a foreigner to get a view of the original Virgin. We were fortunate, however. Our first invitation in Moscow was from the Abbess of an important convent to be present at one of the services which I have mentioned,—a sort of invocation of the Virgin's blessing,—in her cell, and at the conclusion of the service we were asked if we would not like to "salute the Virgin" and take a sip of the holy water "for health." Of course we did both, as courtesy demanded. Some time after that, as we were driving along the principal street of China Town, I saw an imposing equipage approaching, and remarked, "Here comes the Iversky Virgin."

* Ancient Moscow, lying in a walled semicircle just outside the walls of the Kremlin. All the trading was done on the "Red Square," where the Gostinny Dvor now stands, and all Oriental merchants were known by the common designation of "Chinese." At the present day "Chinese" has been replaced by "German," to designate foreigners in general.

"Excuse me, madam," said my cabman,—I had not addressed him, but as I had spoken involuntarily in Russian he thought I had,—"it is not the Virgin, it is only the Saviour. Don't you see that there are only four horses?"

"Very true; and St. Sergius drives with three, and St. Pantaleimon with two,—do they not? Tell me, which of them all would you ask to visit you, if you wished a blessing?"

"St. Pantaleimon is a good, all-round saint, who helps well in most cases," he replied thoughtfully. This seemed a good opportunity to get a popular explanation of a point which had puzzled me.

"Which," I asked, "is the real miraculous Iversky Virgin?—the one in the chapel, the one who rides in the carriage, or the original on Mount Athos?"

"It is plain that you don't understand in the least," answered my izvostchik, turning round in his seat and imperiling our lives by his driving, while he plunged into the subject with profound earnestness. "None of them is the Virgin, and all of them are the Virgin. All the different Virgins are merely different manifestations of the Virgin to men. The Virgin herself is in heaven, and communicates her power where she wills. It is like the Life-giving Trinity." Assuming that as a foreigner, and consequently a heretic, I did not understand the doctrine of the Trinity, he proceeded to expound it, and did it extremely well. I lent half an ear in amazement to him, and half an ear I reserved for the objurgations of the drivers who were so good as to spare our lives in that crowded thoroughfare while my theological lesson was in progress.

While I am speaking of this unusual cabman, I may mention some unusual private coachmen in Moscow who use their masters' sledges and carriages for public conveyances while their owners are safely engaged in theatre or restaurant. I do not think that trick could be played in Petersburg. I found it out by receiving an amazingly reasonable offer from a very well-dressed man with a superb gray horse and a fine sledge. As we dashed along at lightning speed, I asked the man whether he owned that fine turnout or worked on wages. "I own it myself," he said curtly. Therefore, when I alighted, I slipped round behind the sledge and scrutinized it thoroughly under the gaslight. The back was decorated with a monogram and a count's coronet in silver! After that I never asked questions, but I always knew what had happened when I picked up very comfortable equipages at very reasonable rates in places which were between gas lanterns and near theatres and so forth.

I should not be doing my duty by a very important factor in Russian life if I omitted an illustration of the all-pervading influence of "official" rank, and the prestige which acquaintance with officialdom lends even to modest travelers like ourselves. It was, most appropriately, in the Kremlin, the heart of Russia, that we were favored with the most amusing of the many manifestations of it which came within our experience. We were looking at the objects of interest in the Treasury, when I noticed a large, handsomely bound book, flanked by pen and ink, on a side table. I opened the book, but before I could read a word an attendant pounced upon me.

"Don't touch that," he said peremptorily.

"Why not? If you do not wish people to look at this collection of ancient documents,—I suppose that is what it is,—you should lock it up, or label it 'Hands off!'"

"It is n't ancient documents, and you are not to touch it," he said, taking the book out of my hands. "It is strictly reserved for the signatures of distinguished visitors,—crowned heads, royal princes, ambassadors, and the like."

"Then it does not interest me in the least, and if you would label it to that effect, no one would care to disturb it," I said.

Very soon afterwards we were joined by one of the powerful officials of the Kremlin. He had made an appointment to show us about, but was detained for a few moments, and we had come on alone and were waiting for him. As we went about with him the attendants hovered respectfully in the rear, evidently much impressed with the friendly, unofficial tone of the conversation. When we had made the round with much deliberation, we excused our official friend to his duties, saying that we wished to take another look at several objects.

No sooner was he gone than the guardian of the autograph album pounced upon us again, and invited us to add our "illustrious" names to the list. I refused; he entreated and argued. It ended in his fairly dragging us to the table and standing guard over us while we signed the sacred book. I did not condescend to examine the book, though I should have been permitted then; but—I know which three royal princes immediately preceded us.

As I am very much attached to the Russian Church, anything connected with it always interested me deeply. One of the prominent features of Moscow is the number of monasteries and convents. The Russian idea of monastic life is prayer and contemplation, not activity in good works. The ideal of devout secular life is much the same. To meet the wants in that direction of people who do not care to join the community, many of the convents have small houses within their inclosures, which they let out to applicants, of whom there is always an abundance. The occupants of these houses are under no restrictions whatever, except as to observing the hours of entry and exit fixed by the opening and closing of the convent gates; but, naturally, it is rather expected of them that they will attend more church services than the busy people of "the world." The sight of these little houses always oppressed me with a sense of my inferiority in the matter of devoutness. I could not imagine myself living in one of them, until I came across a group of their occupants engaged in discussing some racy gossip with the nuns on one of the doorsteps. Gossip is not my besetting weakness, but I felt relieved. Convents are not aristocratic institutions in Russia as they are in Roman Catholic countries, and very few ladies by birth and education enter them. Those who do are apt to rise to the post of abbess, influential connections not being superfluous in any calling in Russia any more than in other countries.

If I were a nun I should prefer activity. I think that contemplation, except in small doses, is calculated to produce stupidity. Illustration: I was passing along a street in Moscow when my eye fell upon an elderly nun seated at the gate of a convent, with a little table whereon stood a lighted taper. Beside the taper, on a threadbare piece of black velvet, decorated with the customary cross in gold braid, lay a few copper coins before a dark and ancient ikona. Evidently, the public was solicited to contribute in the name of the saint there portrayed, though I could not recollect that the day was devoted to a saint of sufficient importance to warrant the intrusion of that table on the narrow sidewalk. I halted and asked the nun what day it was, and who was the saint depicted in the image. She said she did not know. This seemed incredible, and I persisted in my inquiry. She called a policeman from the middle of the street, where he was regulating traffic as usual, and asked him about the ikona and the day, with the air of a helpless child. Church and State set to work guessing with great heartiness and good-will, but so awkwardly that it was the easiest thing in the world for me to refute each successive guess. When we tired of that, I gave the nun a kopek for the entertainment she had unconsciously afforded, and thanked the policeman, after which the policeman and I left the good nun sitting stolidly at the receipt of custom.

Quite at the opposite pole was my experience one hot summer day in the Cathedral of the Assumption, where the emperors have been crowned for centuries; or, to speak more accurately, the two poles met and embraced in that church, the heart of the heart of Holy Russia. The early Patriarchs and Metropolitans are buried in this cathedral in superb silver-gilt coffins. Of these, the tomb and shrine of Metropolitan Jona seems to be the goal of the most numerous pilgrimages. I stood near it, in the rear corner of the church, one Sunday morning, while mass was in progress. An unbroken stream of people, probably all of them pilgrims to the Holy City, her saints and shrines, passed me, crossed themselves, knelt in a "ground reverence," kissed the saint's coffin, then the hand of the priest, who stood by to preserve order and bless each person as he or she turned away. To my surprise, I heard many of them inquire the name of the shrine's occupant after they had finished their prayers. After the service and a little chat with this priest, who seemed a very sensible man, we went forward to take another look at the Vladimir Virgin, the most famous and historical in all Russia, in her golden case. A gray-haired old army colonel, who wore the Vladimir cross, perceiving from our speech that we were foreigners, politely began to explain to us the noteworthy points about the church and the Virgin. It soon appeared, however, that we were far more familiar with them all than he was, and we fell into conversation.

"I am stationed in Poland," he said, "and I have never been in Moscow before. I am come on a pilgrimage to the Holy City, but everything is so dear here that I must deny myself the pleasure of visiting many of the shrines in the neighborhood. It is a great happiness to me to be present thus at the mass in my own pravoslavny church, and in Moscow."

"But there are Orthodox churches in Poland, surely," I said.

"Yes," he replied, "there are a few; and I go whenever I get a chance."

"What do you do when you have not the chance?"

"I go to whatever church there is,—the Roman Catholic, the Lutheran, the Synagogue."

"Is that allowed?" I asked. I knew very well that Russians attend Roman Catholic and Protestant churches when abroad, as a matter of course, though I had not before heard of the Synagogue in the list, and I wished to hear what the earnest old colonel would say.

"Why not? why should n't I?" he replied. "We all go to church to worship God and to pray to Him. Does it matter about the form or the language? A man has as much as he can do to be a Christian and an honest man,— which are two very different things nowadays, apparently,—without troubling himself about those petty details."

It is almost superfluous to say that we swore friendship with the colonel on the spot, on those foundations. Our acquaintance ended with our long talk there in the cathedral, since we could not well stop in Poland to accept the delightful old officer's invitation to visit him and his wife. But the friendship remains, I hope.

When he left us, a young fellow about seventeen years of age, who had been standing near us and listening to the last part of our conversation with an air of profound and respectful interest which obviated all trace of impertinence, stepped up and said:—

"May I have the pleasure of showing you about the cathedral? You seem to appreciate our Russian ways and thoughts. I have taken a good deal of interest in studying the history and antiquities of my native city, and I may be able to point out a few things to you here."

He was a pleasant-faced young fellow, with modest, engaging manners; a student in one of the government institutions, it appeared. He looked very cool and comfortable in a suit of coarse gray linen. He proved to be an admirable cicerone, and we let him escort us about for the pleasure of listening, though we had seen everything many times already. I commented on his knowledge, and on the evident pride which he took in his country, and especially in his church, remarking that he seemed to be very well informed on many points concerning the latter, and able to explain the reasons for things in an unusual way.

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