"Yes," he answered, "I am proud and fond of my country and my church. We Russians do not study them as we should, I am ashamed to say. There, for instance, is my cousin, Princess——, who is considered a very well-informed young woman on all necessary points. She was to make her communion, and so some one brought her to the church while the Hours were being read, as is proper, though she usually comes very much later. She had not been there ten minutes before she began to ask: 'When does the Sacrament come? Is n't it pretty soon?' and she kept that up at short intervals, despite all I could do to stop her. I am quite sure," he added, "that I need not explain to you, though you are a foreigner, where the Hours and the Sacrament come in the service?"
"No: the Hours precede the Liturgy, and the administration of the Sacrament comes very nearly at the end of all."
"Exactly. You understand what a disgrace such ignorance was on my cousin's part."
He was charming, amusingly frank on many points which I had supposed to be rather delicate with members of the "Orthodox" (as I must call it for the lack of a possible English equivalent for pravoslavny) Russian Church, but so well-bred and intelligent, withal, that we were sincerely sorry to say good-by to him at the door of our hotel.
THE NIZHNI NOVGOROD FAIR AND THE VOLGA.
The most picturesque and appropriate way of reaching Nizhni Novgorod is by the Volga, with which its life is so intimately connected, and the most characteristic time to see the Volga steamers is on the way upstream during the Fair.
What an assortment of people we had on board! To begin with, our boat was commanded by a Vice-Admiral in full uniform. His family was with him, spending the summer on board sailing up and down the river between Nizhni Novgorod and Astrakhan.
The passengers over whom the vice-admiral ruled were delightfully varied. There were Russians from every quarter of the empire, and of as many races, including Armenians. One of the latter, an old man with a physiognomy not to be distinguished, even by our Russian friends who were traveling with us, from that of a Jew, seemed to take no interest in anything except in telling over a short rosary of amber beads, and standing guard at all stopping-places over his cabin, which he was determined to occupy alone, though he had paid but one fare. After he had done this successfully at several landing-places and had consigned several men to the second cabin, an energetic man appealed to the admiral. It required some vigorous language and a threat to break open the door if the key were not forthcoming, before the admiral could overcome the resistance of the obstinate old Armenian, who protested, in very bad Russian, that he was very ill indeed, and should certainly die if any one entered his cabin. He was still alive when we reached the end of our voyage, and had cleverly made his cabin-mate pay for all his food.
Among the second-class passengers was a party of students returning to the University of Kazan. They exhibited all degrees of shabbiness, but this was only the modest plumage of the nightingale, apparently. For hours they sang songs, all beautiful, all strange to us, and we listened entranced until tea, cigarettes, and songs came to an end in time to permit them a few hours of sleep before we reached their landing. The third-class passengers, who were also lodged on the upper deck, aft, included Tatars and other Mohammedans from the Orient, who spread their prayer-rugs at sundown and went through their complicated devotions with an air of being quite oblivious to spectators. Several got permission from the admiral to ascend to the hurricane deck. But this, while unnecessary as a precaution against crowding or interference from their numerous Russian fellow-passengers, rendered them more conspicuous; and even this was not sufficient to make the instinctively courteous Russians stare at or notice them.
The fourth-class passengers were on the lower deck. Among them was a company of soldiers in very shabby uniforms, who had been far down the river earning a little money by working in the harvest fields, where hands are always too few, and who were returning to garrison at Kazan. Some enterprising passengers from Astrakhan had laid in a large stock of the delicious round watermelons and luscious cantaloupe melons. By the time we reached Kazan, there were not many melons left in that improvised shop on the lower deck, Russians are as fond of watermelons as are the American negroes.
At Samara we had seen enormous bales of camel's-hair, weighing upwards of eight hundred pounds, in picturesque mats of red, yellow, and brown, taken on board for the Fair. The porters seemed to find it easy to carry them on their backs, aided only by a sort of small chair-back, with a narrow, seat-like projection at the lower end, which was fastened by straps passing over the shoulders and under the arms. When we left Kazan, I noticed that a huge open barge was being towed upstream alongside us, that it was being filled with these bales, to lighten the steamer for the sand-bars and shallows of the upper river, and that a monotonous but very musical cadence was being repeated at intervals, in muffled tones, somewhere on board. I went down to the cargo department of the lower deck and found the singers,—the herculean porters. One after another they bent their backs, and two mates hoisted the huge bales, chanting a refrain which enabled them to move and lift in unison. The words were to the following effect: "If all don't grasp together, we cannot lift the weight." The music was sad, but irresistibly sweet and fascinating, and I stood listening and watching until the great barge was filled and dropped behind, for the company's tug to pick up and tow to Nizhni with a string of other barges.
It is probably a vulgar detail, but I must chronicle the fact that the cooking on these Volga steamers—on the line we patronized, at least —is among the very best to be found in Russia, in my experience. On the voyage upstream, when they are well supplied with sterlet and other fish, all alive, from Astrakhan, the dinners are treats for which one may sigh in vain in the capitals of St. Petersburg and Moscow, with their mongrel German-French-Russian cookery. The dishes are very Russian, but they are very good.
I remember one particularly delicious concoction was composed of fresh sterlet and sour cabbage, with white grapes on top, baked to a brown crispness.
We arrived at our wharf on the Volga front of the old town of Nizhni Novgorod about five o'clock in the afternoon. Above us rose the steep green hills on whose crest stood the Kremlin, containing several ancient churches, the governor's house, and so forth. On a lower terrace, to right and left, stood monasteries and churches intermingled with shops and mediocre dwellings. The only noteworthy church was that in front of us, with its picturesque but un-Russian rococo plaster decoration on red brick, crowned by genuine Russian domes and crosses of elaborately beautiful patterns.
But we did not pause long to admire this part of the view, which was already familiar to us. What a change had come over the scene since we had bidden it farewell on our way downstream! Then everything was dead, or slumbering, except the old town, the city proper; and that had not seemed to be any too much awake or alive. The Fair town, situated on the sand-spit between the Volga and the mouth of the Oka, stood locked up and deserted, as it had stood since the close of last year's Fair. Now, as we gazed over the prow of the steamer, we could see the bridge across the Oka black with the swarming masses of pedestrians and equipages.
The steamer company allows its patrons to sleep (but not to eat) on board the night after arrival and the night before starting, and we availed ourselves of the privilege, having heard that it was often no easy matter to secure accommodations in the Fair, and having no intention of returning to our former hotel, miles from all the fun, in the upper town, if we could help it.
The only vacant rooms in the Fair seemed to be at the "best hotel," to which we had been recommended, with a smile of amusement which had puzzled us, by a Moscow friend, an officer in the army. Prices were very high at this hotel, which, like American summer hotels, is forced to make its hay for the year during the season of six weeks, after which it is locked up. Our room was small; the floor, of rough boards, was bare; the beds were not comfortable. For the same price, in Petersburg or Moscow, we should have had a spacious room on the bel etage, handsomely furnished, with rugs on an inlaid floor.
Across one corner of the dining-room was built a low platform, on which stood a piano. We soon discovered its use. Coming in about nine o'clock in the evening, we ordered our samovar for tea in the dining-room,— a most unusual place. The proper place was our own room. But we had found a peculiar code of etiquette prevailing here, governed by excessive modesty and propriety, no doubt, but an obstructionist etiquette, nevertheless. The hall-waiter, whose business it is to serve the samovar and coffee, was not allowed to enter our room, though his fellows had served us throughout the country, after the fashion of the land. Here we were compelled to wait upon the leisure of the chambermaid, a busy and capricious person, who would certainly not be on hand in the evening if she was not in the morning. Accordingly, we ordered our tea in the dining-room, as I have said. Presently, a chorus of girls, dressed all alike, mounted the platform, and sang three songs to an accompaniment banged upon the piano by a man. Being violently applauded by a long table-full of young merchants who sat near, at whom they had been singing and staring, without any attempt at disguise, and with whom they had even been exchanging remarks, they sang two songs more. They were followed by another set of girls, also in a sort of uniform costume, who sang five songs at the young merchants. It appeared that one party was called "Russian singers," and the other "German singers." We found out afterwards, by watching operations on another evening, that these five songs formed the extent of their respective repertories.
A woman about forty-five years of age accompanied them into the room, then planted herself with her back against the wall near us, which was as far away from her charges as space permitted. She was the "sheep-dog," and we soon saw that, while discreetly oblivious of the smiles, glances, and behavior of her lambs,—as all well-trained society sheep-dogs are,—she kept darting sharp looks at us as though we were doing something quite out of the way and improper. By that time we had begun to suspect, for various reasons, that the Nizhni Fair is intended for men, not for—ladies. But we were determined quietly to convince ourselves of the state of affairs, so we stood our ground, dallied with our tea, drank an enormous quantity of it, and kept our eyes diligently in the direction where those of the sheep-dog should have been, but never were.
Their very bad singing over, the lambs disappeared to the adjoining veranda. The young merchants slipped out, one by one. The waiters began to carry great dishes of peaches, and other dainty fruits,—all worth their weight in gold in Russia, and especially at Nizhni,—together with bottles of champagne, out to the veranda. When we were satisfied, we went to bed, but not to sleep. The peaches kept that party on the veranda and in the rooms below exhilarated until nearly daylight. I suppose the duenna did her duty and sat out the revel in the distant security of the dining-room. Several of her charges added a number of points to our store of information the next day, at the noon breakfast hour, when the duenna was not present.
We began to think that we understood our Moscow friend's enigmatic smile, and to regret that we had not met him and his wife at the Fair, as we had originally arranged to do.
The far-famed Fair of Nizhni Novgorod—"Makary," the Russians call it, from the town and monastery of St. Makary, sixty miles farther down the Volga, where it was held from 1624 until the present location was adopted in 1824—was a disappointment to us. There is no denying that. Until railways and steamers were introduced into these parts, and facilitated the distribution of goods, and of commonplaceness and monotony, it probably merited all the extravagant praises of its picturesqueness and variety which have been lavished upon it. The traveler arrives there with indefinite but vast expectations. A fancy dress ball on an enormous scale, combined with an International Exposition, would seem to be the nearest approach possible to a description of his confused anticipations. That is, in a measure, what one sees; and, on the other hand, it is exactly the reverse of what he sees. I must confess that I think our disappointment was partly our own fault. Had we, like most travelers who have written extravagantly about the Fair, come to it fresh from a stay of (at most) three weeks in St. Petersburg and Moscow only, we should have been much impressed by the variety of types and goods, I have no doubt. But we had spent nearly two years in the land, and were familiar with the types and goods of the capitals and of other places, so that there was little that was new to us. Consequently, though we found the Fair very interesting, we were not able to excite ourselves to any extravagant degree of amazement or rapture.
The Fair proper consists of a mass of two-story "stone" (brick and cement) buildings, inclosed on three sides by a canal in the shape of a horseshoe. Through the centre runs a broad boulevard planted with trees, ending at the open point of the horseshoe in the residence occupied by the governor during the Fair (he usually lives in the Kremlin of the Upper Town), the post-office, and other public buildings. Across the other end of the boulevard and "rows" of the Gostinny Dvor, with their arcades full of benches occupied by fat merchants or indolent visitors, and serving as a chord to the arc of the horseshoe, run the "Chinese rows," which derive their name from the style of their curving iron roofs and their ornaments, not from the nationality of the merchants, or of the goods sold there. It is, probably, a mere accident that the wholesale shops for overland tea are situated in the Chinese rows. It is a good place to see the great bales of "Kiakhta tea," still in their wrappings of rawhides, with the hair inside and the hieroglyphical addresses, weights, and so forth, cut into the skins, instead of being painted on them, just as they have been brought overland from Kiakhta on the Chinese border of Siberia. Here, also, rises the great Makary Cathedral, which towers conspicuously above the low-roofed town. Inside the boundary formed by this Belt Canal, no smoking is allowed in the streets, under penalty of twenty-five rubles for each offense. The drainage system is flushed from the river every night; and from the ventilation towers, which are placed at short intervals, the blue smoke of purifying fires curls reassuringly. Great care is necessary in this department, and the sanitary conditions, though as good as possible, are never very secure. The whole low sandspit is often submerged during the spring floods, and the retreating waters leave a deposit of slime and debris behind them, which must be cleared away, besides doing much damage to the buildings.
The peculiarity of this Makary Fair is that nothing is sold by sample, in modern fashion; the whole stock of goods is on hand, and is delivered at once to purchasers. The taciturn, easy-going merchants in those insignificant-looking shops of the Gostinny Dvor "rows," and, to a small extent, in the supplementary town which has sprung up outside the canal, set the prices for tea and goods of all sorts all over Russia and Siberia for the ensuing year. Contracts for the future are dated, and last year's bills fall due, at "Makary." It is hard to realize.
All the firms with whose shops we had been familiar in Petersburg and Moscow had establishments here, and, at first, it seemed not worth while to inspect their stocks, with which we felt perfectly acquainted. But we soon discovered that our previous familiarity enabled us to distinguish certain articles which are manufactured for the "Fair" trade exclusively, and which are never even shown in the capitals. For example, the great porcelain houses of St. Petersburg manufacture large pipe-bowls, ewers (with basins to match) of the Oriental shape familiar to the world in silver and brass, and other things, all decorated with a deep crimson bordering on magenta, and with gold. The great silk houses of Moscow prepare very rich and very costly brocades of this same deep crimson hue, besprinkled with gold and with tiny bouquets of bright flowers, or in which the crimson is prominent. They even copy the large, elaborate patterns from the robes of ancient Doges of Venice. All these, like the pipes and ewers, are made to suit the taste of customers in Bokhara and other Eastern countries, where a man's rank is, to a certain degree, to be recognized by the number and richness of the khalati which he can afford to wear at one time. This is one of the points in which the civilization of the East coincides very nearly with the civilization of the West. The khalat is a sort of dressing-gown, with wide sleeves, which is girt about the waist with a handsome shawl; but it would strike a European that eight or ten of these, worn one on top of the other, might conduce to the preservation of vanity, but not to comfort, in the hot countries where the custom prevails. The Bokhariots bring to the Fair khalati of their own thin, strong silk, in hues more gaudy than those of the rainbow and the peacock combined, which are always lined with pretty green and white chintz, and can be bought for a very reasonable price in the Oriental shops, together with jeweled arms and ornaments, rugs, and a great variety of fascinating wares.
The choicest "overland" tea—the true name is "Kiakhta tea"—can be had only by wholesale, alas! and it is the same with very many things. There are shops full of rolls of sarpinka, a fine, changeable gingham in pink and blue, green and yellow, and a score of other combinations, which washes perfectly, and is made by the peasants far down the Volga, in the season when agricultural labor is impossible. There are furs of more sorts than the foreign visitor is likely ever to have seen before; iron from the Ural mines by the ton, on a detached sand-spit in the Oka River; dried and salted fish by the cord, in a distant, too odorous spot; goldsmiths' shops; old-clothes shops, where quaint and beautiful old costumes of Russia abound; Tatar shops, filled with fine, multi-colored leather work and other Tatar goods, presided over by the stately Tatars from whom we had bought at Kazan; shops piled with every variety of dried fruit, where prime Sultana raisins cost forty cents for a box of one hundred and twenty pounds. Altogether, it is a varied and instructive medley.
We learned several trade tricks. For example, we came upon the agency of a Moscow factory, which makes a woolen imitation of an Oriental silken fabric, known as termalama. The agent acknowledged that it was an imitation, and said that the price by the piece was twenty-five cents a yard. In the Moscow Oriental shops the dealers sell it for eight times that price, and swear that it is genuine from the East. A Russian friend of ours had been cheated in this way, and the dealers attempted to cheat us also,—in vain, after our Nizhni investigations.
Every one seemed to be absorbed in business, to the exclusion of every other thought. But sometimes, as we wandered along the boulevard, and among the rows, we found the ground of the Gostinny Dvor strewn with fresh sprays of fragrant fir, which we took at first to be a token that a funeral had occurred among some of the merchants' clerks who lived over the shops. However, it appeared that a holy picture had been carried along the rows, and into the shops of those who desired its blessing on their trade, and a short service had been held. The "zeal" of these numerous devout persons must have enriched the church where the ikona dwelt, judging from the number, of times during our five days' stay that we came upon these freshly strewn paths.
The part of the Fair which is most interesting to foreigners in general, I think, is the great glass gallery filled with retail booths, where Russians sell embroidery and laces and the handiwork of the peasants in general; where Caucasians deal in the beautiful gold and silver work of their native mountains; where swarthy Bokhariots sit cross-legged, with imperturbable dignity, among their gay wares, while the band plays, and the motley crowd bargains and gazes even in the evening when all the other shops are closed.
I learned here an extra lesson in the small value attached by Russians to titles in themselves. It was at the Ekaterinburg booth, where precious and semi-precious stones from the Ural and Siberia, in great variety and beauty, were for sale. A Russian of the higher classes, and, evidently, not poor, inquired the price of a rosary of amethysts, with a cross of assorted gems fit for a bishop. The attendant mentioned the price. It did not seem excessive, but the bargainer exclaimed, in a bantering tone,—
"Come now, prince, that's the fancy price. Tell me the real price."
But the "prince" would not make any reduction, and his customer walked away. I thought I would try the effect of the title on the Caucasians and Bokhariots. I had already dropped into the habit of addressing Tatars as "prince," except in the case of hotel waiters,—and I might as well have included them. I found to my amusement that, instead of resenting it as an impertinence, they reduced the price of the article for which I was bargaining by five kopeks (about two and a half cents) every time I used the title, though no sign of gratification disturbed the serene gravity of their countenances any more than if they had been Americans and I had addressed them as "colonel" or "judge," at haphazard. Truly, human nature varies little under different skies! But I know now, authoritatively, that the market value of the title of "prince" is exactly two and a half cents.
One evening we drove across the bridge to take tea at a garden on the "Atkos," or slope,—the crest of the green hill on which stands the Kremlin. In this Atkos quarter of the town there are some really fine houses of wealthy merchants, mingled with the curious old dwellings of the merely well-to-do and the poor. In the garden the tea was not very good, and the weedy-looking chorus of women, the inevitable adjunct to every eating establishment at the Fair, as we had learned, sang wretchedly, and were rewarded accordingly when one of their number came round to take up a collection. But the view! Far below, at our feet, swept broad "Matushka Volga." The wharves were crowded with vessels. Steamers and great barges lay anchored in the stream in battalions. Though the activity of the day was practically over, tugs and small boats were darting about and lending life to the scene. We were on the "Hills" side of the river. Far away, in dreamy dimness, lay the flat, blue-green line of the "Forests" shore. On our left was the mouth of the Oka, and the Fair beyond, which seemed to be swarming with ants, lay flat on the water level. The setting sun tinged the scene with pale rose and amber in a mild glow for a while, and then the myriad lights shone out from the city and river with even more charming effect.
Our next visit to the old town was in search of a writer who had published a couple of volumes of agreeable sketches. It was raining hard, so we engaged an izvostchik who was the fortunate possessor of an antiquated covered carriage, with a queer little drapery of scarlet cotton curtains hanging from the front of the hood, as though to screen the modesty of "the young person" from the manners, customs, and sights of the Fair,—about which, to tell the truth, the less that is said in detail the better. Certainly, more queer, old-fashioned carriages and cabmen's costumes are to be seen at the Fair than anywhere else in the country. As we were about to enter our antique conveyance, my mother's foot caught in the braid on the bottom of her dress, and a long strip gave way.
"I must go upstairs and sew this on before we start," said she, reentering the hotel.
The izvostchik ran after us. "Let me sew it on, Your High Well-born," he cried. Seeing our surprise, he added, "God is my witness,—yay Bogu! I am a tailor by trade."
His rent and faded coat did not seem to indicate anything of the sort, but I thought I would try him, as I happened to have a needleful of silk and a thimble in my pocket. I gave them to him accordingly. He knelt down and sewed on the braid very neatly and strongly in no time. His simple, friendly manner was irresistibly charming. I cannot imagine accepting such an offer from a New York cabby,—or his offering to do such a job.
When we reached the old town, I asked a policeman where to find my author. I thought he might be able to tell me at once, as the town is not densely populated, especially with authors;—and for other reasons. He did not know.
"Then where is the police office or the address office?" I asked. (There is no such thing as a directory in Russian cities, even in St. Petersburg. But there is an address office where the names and residences on passports are filed, and where one can obtain the address wanted by paying a small fee, and filling out a form. But he must know the baptismal name and the patronymic as well as the surname, and, if the person wanted be not "noble," his profession or trade in addition!)
"There is no address office," he answered, "and the police office is closed. It is after four o'clock. Besides, if it were open, you could not find out there. We keep no record here, except of soldiers and strangers."
I thought the man was jesting, but after questioning him further, I was forced to conclude that it might be true, thought it certainly was amazing. As the author in question had been sent to Siberia once or twice, on the charge of complicity in some revolutionary proceedings, it did seem as though the police ought to be able to give his address, if Russia meant to live up to the reputation for strict surveillance of every soul within her borders which foreigners have kindly bestowed upon her.
As a house-to-house visitation was impossible, I abandoned the quest, and drove to a photographer's to buy some views of the town. The photographer proved to be a chatty, vivacious man, and full of information. I mentioned my dilemma to him. He said that the policeman had told the exact truth, but that my author, to his positive knowledge, was in the Crimea, "looking up material." Then he questioned me as to what we had seen at the Fair, mentioning one or two places of evening entertainment. I replied that we had not been to those places. I had understood that they were not likely to suit my taste. Had I been rightly informed, or ought I to have gone to them in spite of warning?
"No," he replied frankly, after a momentary hesitation, "you ought not to see them. But all the American women do go to them. There was a party here last year. O-o-o-oh, how they went on! They were told, as you have been, that they ought not to go to certain places; so of course they went, and took the men in the party with them,—which was just as well. I'd have given something to see their faces at the time, or even afterwards! An Englishman, who had traveled everywhere, and had seen everything, told me that nowhere, even in India, had he seen the like of the doings at this Fair; and he was greatly shocked." He added that an officer could not appear at these places in uniform.
I begged the photographer to remember in future that there were several sorts of American women, and that not all of them worked by the law of contraries. In my own mind I wondered what those particular women had done, and wished, for the hundredth time, that American women abroad would behave themselves properly, and not earn such a reputation for their country-people.
On Sunday we went to the Armenian church, to see the service and to meet some Armenian acquaintances. We found the service both like and unlike the Russian, in many points approaching more nearly to the Greek form. The music was astonishing. An undercurrent of sound, alternating between a few notes, was kept up throughout the service, almost without a break. At times, this undercurrent harmonized with the main current of intoning and chanting, but quite as often the discord was positively distressing. Perceiving that we were strangers, the Armenians showed their hospitality in an original way. First, when one of the congregation went forward to the chancel railing and received from the priest the triple kiss of peace, which he then proceeded to communicate to another person, who passed it on in dumb show, and so on through the whole assembly, neither men nor women would run the risk of offending us by offering the simulated kiss. Secondly, and more peculiar, besides throwing light on their motives in omitting the kiss, they deliberately passed us by when they brought round the plate for the collection! This was decidedly novel! A visit to the Armenian church in St. Petersburg convinced us that the discordant music was not an accident due to bad training, but deliberate and habitual. I noticed also that the men and women, though they stood on opposite sides of the church, as with the Russian Old Ritualists, with the women on the left,—in the State Church, at Court, the women stand on the right,—they crossed themselves from left to right, like Roman Catholics, instead of the other way about, as do the Russians.
As we were exploring the Tatar shops at noon, we heard the muezzin calling to prayer from the minaret of the mosque close by, and we set off to attend the service. If we had only happened to have on our galoshes, we might have complied with etiquette by removing them, I suppose, and could have entered in our shoes. At least, the Russian policeman said so, and that is very nearly what the Tatars did. They kicked off the stiff leather slippers in which they scuff about, and entered in their tall boots, with the inset of frosted green pebbled horsehide in the heel, and soft soles, like socks. As it was, we did not care to try the experiment of removing our shoes, and so we were obliged to stand in the vestibule, and look on from the threshold. Each Tatar, as he entered, pulled out the end of his turban, and let it float down his back. Where the turban came from for the prayers, I do not know. None of the Tatars had worn a turban in the shops from which they had just come in large numbers, abandoning the pressing engagements of the busy noontide. Several individuals arrived very late, and decided not to enter. All of these late comers, one after the other, beckoned me mysteriously out of sight of the congregation and the mollah, and whispered eagerly:—
"How do you like it?"
"Very much," I answered emphatically; whereupon they exhibited signs of delight which were surprising in such grave people, and even made a motion to kiss my hand.
At least, that is what the motion would have meant from a Russian. Next to the magnificent ceremonial of the Russian Church, the opposite extreme, this simplicity of the congregational Mussulman worship is the most impressive I have ever seen.
The manner of our departure from Nizhni Novgorod was characteristically Russian,—but not by our own choice. We decided to go on up the Volga by steamer, see the river and a few of the towns, and return from some point, by rail, to Moscow.
The boat was advertised to start from the wharf, in the old town, at six o'clock in the evening. We went aboard in good season, and discovered that there were but three first-class staterooms, the best of which (the only good one, as it afterwards appeared) had been captured by some friends of the captain. We installed ourselves in the best we could get, and congratulated each other when the steamer started on time. We had hardly finished the congratulations when it drew up at another wharf and made fast. Then it was explained to us that it was to load at this wharf, at the "Siberian Landing," a point on the Volga shore of the Fair sand-spit, miles nearer our hotel than the one to which we had driven through torrents of rain. We were to make our real start at ten o'clock that night! The cold was piercing. We wrapped ourselves up in our wadded cloaks and in a big down quilt which we had with us, and tried to sleep, amid the deliberate bang-bang-bang of loading. When the cargo was in we slept. When we woke in the morning we began to exchange remarks, being still in that half comatose condition which follows heavy slumber.
"What a delightfully easy boat!" "Who would have expected such smoothness of motion from such an inferior-looking old craft?" "It must be very swift to have no motion at all perceptible. Whereabouts are we, and how much have we missed?"
I rose and raised the blind. The low shore opposite and far away, the sandy islet near at hand, the river,—all looked suspiciously like what our eyes had rested upon when we went to bed the night before. We would not believe it at first, but it was true, that we had not moved a foot, but were still tied up at the Siberian Landing. Thence we returned to the town wharf, no apologies or explanations being forthcoming or to be extracted, whence we made a final start at about nine o'clock, only fifteen hours late! And the company professed to be "American"!
Progress up the river was slow. The cold rain and wind prevented our availing ourselves of the tiny deck. The little saloon had no outlook, being placed in the middle of the boat. The shores and villages were not of striking interest, after our acquaintance with the lower Volga. For hours all the other passengers (chiefly second-class) were abed, apparently. I returned to my cabin to kill time with reading, and presently found the divan and even the floor and partition walls becoming intolerably hot, and exhaling a disagreeable smell of charred wood. I set out on a tour of investigation. In the next compartment to us, which had the outward appearance of a stateroom, but was inclosed on the outside only by a lattice-work, was the smoke-pipe. The whistle was just over our heads, and the pipe almost touched the partition wall of our cabin. That partly explained the deadly chill of the night before, and the present suffocating heat. I descended to the lower deck. There stood the engine, almost as rudimentary as a parlor stove, in full sight and directly under our cabin; also close to the woodwork. It burned wood, and at every station the men brought a supply on board; the sticks, laid across two poles in primitive but adequate fashion, being deposited by the simple process of widening the space between the poles, and letting the wood fall on the deck with a noise like thunder. The halts and "wooding up" seemed especially frequent at night, and there was not much opportunity for sleep between them. Our fear of being burned alive also deprived us of the desire to sleep. We were nearly roasted, as it was, and had to go out on the deck in the wind and rain at short intervals, to cool off.
There was nothing especially worthy of note at any of the landings, beyond the peculiar windmills, except at Gorodetz, which is renowned for the manufacture of spice-cakes, so the guide-book said. I watched anxiously for Gorodetz, went ashore, and bought the biggest "spice-cake" I could find from an old woman on the wharf. All the other passengers landed for the same purpose, and the old woman did a rushing business. After taking a couple of mouthfuls, I decided that I was unable to appreciate the merits of my cake, as I had been, after repeated efforts, to appreciate those of a somewhat similar concoction known under the name of "Vyazemsky." So I gave the cake to the grateful stewardess, and went out on deck to look at a ray of sunlight.
"Where's your cake?" asked a stern voice at my elbow. The speaker was a man with long hair and beard, dressed like a peasant, in a conical fur cap and a sheepskin coat, though his voice, manner, and general appearance showed that he belonged to the higher classes. Perhaps he was an "adept" of Count Tolstoy, and was merely masquerading in that costume, which was very comfortable, though it was only September.
"I gave it to the stewardess," I answered meekly, being taken by surprise.
"What! Didn't you eat it? Don't you know, madam, that these spice-cakes are renowned for their qualities all over Russia, and are even carried to the remotest parts of Siberia and of China, also, I believe, in great quantities? [He had got ahead of the guide-book in that last particular!] Why didn't you eat it?"
"It did not taste good; and besides, I was afraid of indigestion. It seemed never to have been cooked, unless by exposure to the sun, and it was soggy and heavy as lead. You know there has been a great deal of rain lately, and what sun we have even now is very pale and weak, hardly adapted to baking purposes."
This seemed to enrage my hairy mentor, and he poured out a volume of indignant criticism, reproach, and ejaculations, all tangled up with fragments of cookery receipts, though evidently not the receipt for the Gorodetz cakes, which is a secret. The other passengers listened in amazement and delight. When he paused for breath, I remarked:—
"Well, I don't see any harm in having bestowed such a delicate luxury on the poor stewardess. Did any of you think to buy a cake for her? And why not? I denied myself to give her pleasure. Look at it in that light for a while, sir, if my bad taste offends you. And, in the mean while, tell me what has inspired you with the taste to dress like a peasant?"
That settled him, and he retreated. That evening he and the friend with whom he seemed to be traveling talked most entertainingly in the little saloon, after supper. The friend, a round, rosy, jolly man, dressed in ordinary European clothes, was evidently proud of his flow of language, and liked to hear himself talk. Actors, actresses, and theatres in Russia, from the middle of the last century down to the present day, were his favorite topic, on which he declaimed with appropriate gestures and very noticeable management of several dimples in his cheeks. As a matter of course, he considered the present day degenerate, and lauded the old times and dead actors and actresses only. It seemed that the longer they had been dead, the higher were their merits. He talked very well, also, about books and social conditions.
The progress of the weak-kneed steamer against wind and current was very slow and uncertain, and we never knew when we should reach any given point. Even the mouths of the rivers were not so exciting or important in nature as they used to look to me when I studied geography. I imparted to the captain my opinion that his engine was no better than a samovar. He tried hard to be angry, but a glance at that ridiculous machine convinced him of the justice of my comparison, and he broke into a laugh.
We left the steamer at Yaroslavl (it was bound for Rybinsk), two hundred and forty-one miles above Nizhni-Novgorod, and got our first view of the town at daybreak. It stands on the high west bank of the river, but is not so picturesque as Nizhni. Access to the town is had only through half a dozen cuts and ravines, as at Nizhni; and what a singular town it is! With only a little over thirty thousand inhabitants, it has seventy-seven churches, besides monasteries and other ecclesiastical buildings. There are streets which seem to be made up chiefly of churches,—churches of all sizes and colors, crowned with beautiful and fantastic domes, which, in turn, are surmounted by crosses of the most charming and original designs.
Yaroslavl, founded in 1030, claims the honor of having had the first Russian theatre, and to have sheltered Biron, the favorite of the Empress Anna Ioannovna (a doubtful honor this), with his family, during nineteen years of exile. But its architectural hints and revelations of ancient fashions, forms, and customs, are its chief glory, not to be obscured even by its modern renown for linen woven by hand and by machinery. For a person who really understands Russian architecture,— not the architecture of St. Petersburg, which is chiefly the invention of foreigners,—Yaroslavl and other places on the northern Volga in this neighborhood, widely construed, are mines of information and delight. However, as there are no books wherewith a foreigner can inform himself on this subject, any attempt at details would not only seem pedantic, but would be incomprehensible without tiresome explanations and many illustrations, which are not possible here. I may remark, however, that Viollet-le-Duc and Fergusson do not understand the subject of Russian architecture, and that their few observations on the matter are nearly all as erroneous as they well can be. I believe that very few Russians even know much scientifically about the development of their national architecture from the Byzantine style. Yaroslavl is a good place to study it, and has given its name to one epoch of that development.
With the exception of the churches, Yaroslavl has not much to show to the visitor; but the bazaar was a delight to us, with its queer pottery, its baskets for moulding bread, its bread-trays for washtubs, and a dozen other things in demand by the peasants as to which we had to ask explanations.
Breezy, picturesque Yaroslavl, with its dainty, independent cabbies, who object to the mud which must have been their portion all their lives, and reject rare customers rather than drive through it; with its churches never to be forgotten; its view of the Volga, and its typical Russian features! It was a fitting end to our Volga trip, and fully repaid us for our hot-cold voyage with the samovar steamer against the stream, though I had not believed, during the voyage, that anything could make up for the tedium. If I were to visit it again, I would approach it from the railway side and leave it to descend the river. But I would not advise any foreigner to tackle it at all, unless he be as well prepared as we were to appreciate its remarkable merits in certain directions.
A night's journey landed us in Moscow. But even the glories of Moscow cannot make us forget the city of Yaroslaff the Great and Nizhni Novgorod.