A Russian Summer Resort
THE spring was late and cold. I wore my fur-lined cloak (shúba) and wrapped up my ears, by Russian advice as well as by inclination, until late in May. But we were told that the summer heat would catch us suddenly, and that St. Petersburg would become malodorous and unhealthy. It was necessary, owing to circumstances. to find a healthy residence for the summer, which should not be too far removed from the capital. With a few exceptions, all the environs of St. Petersburg are damp. Unless one goes as far as Gátschina. or into the part of Finland adjacent to the city, Tzárskoe Seló presents the only dry locality. In the Finnish summer colonies, one must, perforce, keep house, for lack of hotels. In Tzárskoe, as in Peterhoff, villa life is the only variety recognized by polite society ; but there we had — or seemed to have — the choice between that and hotels. We decided in favor of Tzárskoe, as it is called in familiar conversation. As one approaches the Imperial Village, it rises like a. green oasis from the plain. It is hedged in, like a true Russian village, but with trees and bushes well trained instead of with a wattled fence.
During the reign of Alexander II. this inland village was the favorite court resort; not Peterhoff, on the Gulf of Finland, as at present. It is situated sixteen miles from St. Petersburg, on the line of the first railway built in Russia, which to this day extends only a couple of miles beyond, — for lack of the necessity of farther extension, it is just to add. It stands on land which is not perceptibly higher than St. Petersburg, and it took a great deal of demonstration before an Empress of the last century could be made to believe that it was, in reality, on a level with the top of the lofty Admiralty spire, and that she must continue her tiresome trips to and fro in her coach, in the impossibility of constructing a canal which should enable her to sail in comfort. Tzárskoe Soló, “ Imperial Village : ” well as the name fits the place, it is thought to have been corrupted from saari, the Finnish word for “ farm,” as a farm occupied the site when Peter the Great pitched upon it for one of his numerous summer resorts. He first enlarged the farmhouse, then built one of his simple wooden palaces, and a greenhouse for Catherine I. Eventually he erected a small part of the present Old Palace. It was at the dedication of the church here, celebrated in floods of liquor (after a fashion not unfamiliar in the annals of New England in earlier days), that Peter I. contracted the illness which, aggravated by a similar drinking-bout elsewhere immediately afterward, and a cold caused by a wetting while he was engaged in rescuing some people from drowning, carried him to his grave very promptly. His successors enlarged and beautified the place, which first became famous during the reign of Catherine II. At the present day, its broad macadamized streets are lighted by electricity ; its gostinny door (bazaar) is like that of a provincial city; many of its sidewalks, after the same provincial pattern, have made people prefer the middle of the street for their promenades. Naturally, only the lower classes were expected to walk when the court resided there.
Before making acquaintance with the famous palaces and parks, we undertook to settle ourselves for the time being, at least. It appeared that “ furnished ” villas are so called in Tzárskoe, as elsewhere, because they require to be almost completely furnished by the occupant on a foundation of barebones of furniture, consisting of a few bedsteads and tables. This was not convenient for travelers; neither did we wish to commit ourselves for the whole season to the cares of housekeeping, lest a change of air should be ordered suddenly: so we determined to try to live in another way.
Boarding-houses are as scarce here as in St. Petersburg, the whole town boasting but one, — advertised as a wonderful rarity, — which was very badly situated. There were plenty of traktíri, or lowclass eating-houses, some of which had “ numbers for arrivers ” — that is to say, rooms for guests — added to their gaudy signs. These were not to be thought of. But we had been told of an establishment which rejoiced in the proud t itle of gostínnitza, “hotel,” in city fashion. It looked fairly good, and there we took up our abode, after due and inevitable chaffering. This hotel was kept, over shops, on the first and part of the second floor of a building which had originally been destined for apartments. Its only recommendation was that it was situated near a very desirable gate into the Imperial Park. Our experience there was sufficient to slake all curiosity as to Russian summer resort hotels, or country hotels in provincial towns, since that was its character ; though it had, besides, some hindrances which were peculiar, I hope, to itself. The usual clean, large dining-room, with the polished floor, table decorated with plants, and lace curtains, was irresistibly attractive, especially to wedding parties of shopkeepers, who danced twelve hours at a stretch, and to breakfast parties after funerals, whose guests made rather more uproar on afternoons than did those of the wedding balls in the evening, as they sang the customary doleful chants, and then warmed up to the occasion with bottled consolation. The establishment, being short-handed for waiters, these entertainments interfered seriously with our meals, which we took in private ; and we were often forced to go hungry until long after the hour, because there was so much to eat in the house !
Our first experience of the place was characteristic. The waiter, who was also “ boots,” chambermaid, and clerk, on occasion, distributed two sheets, two pillows, one blanket, and one “ cold ” (cotton) coverlet between the two beds, and considered that ample, as no doubt it was according to some lights and according to the almanac, though the weather resembled November just then, and I saw snow a few days later. Having succeeded in getting this rectified, after some discussion, I asked for towels.
“ There is one,” answered Mikhéi (Micah), with his most fascinating smile.
The towel was very small, and was intended to serve for two persons ! Eventually it did not ; and we earned the name of being altogether too fastidious. The washstand had a tank of water attached to the top, which we pumped into the basin with a foot-treadle, after we became skillful, holding our hands under the stream the while. The basin had no stopper. “ Running water is cleaner to wash in,” was the serious explanation. Some other barbarian who had used that washstand before us must also have differed from that commonly accepted Russian opinion : when we plugged up the hole with a cork, and it disappeared, and we fished it out of the still clogged pipe, we found that six others had preceded it. It took a champagne cork and a cord to conquer the orifice.
Among our vulgar experiences at this place were — fleas. I remonstrated with Mikhéi, our typical waiter from the government of Yaroslávl, which furnishes restaurant gorçons in hordes as a regular industry. Mikhéi replied airily: —
“ Nitchevó ! It is nothing! You will soon learn to like them so much that you cannot do without them.”
I take the liberty of doubting whether even Russians ever reach that last state of mind, in a lifetime of endurance. Two rooms beyond us, in the same corridor, lodged a tall, thin, gray-haired Russian merchant, who was nearly a typical Yankee in appearance. Every morning, at four o’clock, when the fleas were at their worst and roused us regularly (the “ close season ” for mortals, in Russia, is between five and six A. M.), we heard this man emerge from his room, and shake, separately and violently, the four pieces of his bedclothing into the corridor ; not out of the window, as he should have done. So much for the modern native taste. It is recorded that the beauties of the last century, in St. Petersburg, always wore on their bosoms silver “ flea-catchers ” attached to a ribbon. These traps consisted of small tubes pierced with a great number of tiny holes, closed at the bottom, open at the top, and each containing a slender shaft smeared with honey or some other sticky substance. So much for the ancient native taste.
Again we had a disagreement with Mikhéi on the subject of the roast beef. More than once it was brought in having a peculiar blackish-crimson hue and stringy grain, with a sweetish flavor, and an odor which was singular but not tainted, and which required imperatively that either we or it should vacate the room instantly. Mikhéi stuck firmly to his assertion that it was a prime cut from a first-class ox. We discovered the truth later on, in Moscow, when we entered a Tatar horse-butcher’s shop — ornamented with the picture of a horse, as the law requires — out of curiosity, to inquire prices. We recognized the smell and other characteristics of our Tzárskoe Seló “ roast ox ” at a glance and a sniff, and remained only long enough to learn that the best cuts cost two and a half cents a pound. Afterward we went a block about to avoid passing that shop. The explanation of the affair was simple enough. In our hotel there was a traktir, run by our landlord, tucked away in a rear corner of the ground floor, and opening on what Thackeray would have called a “ tight but elegant ” little garden, for summer use. It was thronged from morning till night with Tatar oldclothes men and soldiers from the garrison, for whom it was the rendezvous. The horse beef had been provided for the Tatars, who considered it a special dainty, and had been palmed off upon us because it was cheap.
I may dismiss the subject of the genial Mikhéi here, with the remark that we met him the following summer at the Samson Inn. in Peterhoff, where he served our breakfast with an affectionate solicitude which somewhat alarmed us for his sobriety. He was very much injured in appearance by long hair thrown back in artistic fashion, and a livid gash which scored one side of his face down to his still unbrushed teeth, and nearly to his unwashed shirt, narrowly missing one eye. and suggesting possibilities of fight in him which, luckily for our peace of mind, we had not suspected the previous season.
Our chambermaid at first, at the Tzárskoe hostelry, was a lad fourteen years of age, who dusted in the most wonderfully conscientious way without being asked, like a veteran trained housekeeper. We supposed that male chambermaids were the fashion, judging from the offices which we had seen our St. Petersburg hotel “ boots ” perform, and we said nothing. A Russian friend who came to call on us. however, was shocked, and, without our knowledge, gave the landlord a lecture on the subject, the first intimation of which was conveyed to us by the appearance of a maid who had been engaged “ expressly for the service of our high nobilities ; ” price, five rubles a month (two dollars and a half ; she chanced to live in the attic lodgings), which they did not pay her, and which we gladly gave her. Her conversation alone was worth three times the money. Our “ boots ” in St. Petersburg got but four rubles a month, out of which he was obliged to clothe himself, and furnish the brushes, wax. and blacking for the boots; and he had not had a single day’s holiday in four years, when we made his acquaintance. I won his eternal devotion by “ placing a candle ” vicariously to the Saviour for him on Christmas Day, and added one for myself, to harmonize with the brotherly spirit of the season.
Andréi, the boy, never wholly recovered from the grief and resentment caused by being thus supplanted, and the imputation cast upon his powers of caring for us. He got even with us on at least two occasions, for the offense of which we were innocent. Once he told a fashionable visitor of ours that we dined daily in the traktír, with the Tatar clothes peddlers and the soldiers of the garrison, with the deliberate intention of shocking her. I suppose it soothed his feelings for having to serve our food in our own room. Again, being ordered to “ place the samovár,” A he withdrew to his chamber, the former kitchen of the apartment, and went to sleep on the cold range, which was his bed, where he was discovered after we had starved patiently for an hour and a half.
Andréi’s supplanter was named Katiúsha, but her angular charms corresponded so precisely with those of the character in the Mikado that we referred to her habitually as “ Katisha.” She had been a serf, a member of the serf aristocracy, which consisted of the house servants, and had served always as maid or nurse. She was now struggling on as a seamstress. Her sewing was wonderfully bad, and she found great difficulty in bringing up her two children, who demanded fashionable “ European ” clothing, and in eking out the starvation wages of her husband, a superannuated restaurant waiter, also a former serf, and belonging, like herself, to the class which received personal liberty, but no land, at the emancipation. Her view of the emancipation was not entirely favorable. In fact, all the ex-serfs with whom I talked retained a soft spot in their hearts for the comforts and irresponsibility of the good old days of serfdom.
Katiúsha could neither read nor write, but her naturally acute powers of observation, unconsciously trained by constant contact with her former owners, were of very creditable quality. She possessed a genuine talent for expressing herself neatly. For example, in describing a concert to which she had been taken, she praised the soprano singer’s voice with much discrimination, winding up with. “It was — how shall I say it? — round — as round — as round as — a cartwheel! ”
Her great delight consisted in being sent by me to purchase eggs and fruit at the market, or in accompanying me to carry them home, when I went myself to enjoy the scene and her methods. In her I was able to study Russian bargaining tactics in their finest flower. She would haggle for half an hour over a quarter of a cent on very small purchases, and then would carry whatever she bought into one of the neighboring shops to be reweighed. To my surprise, the good-natured venders seemed never to take offense at this significant act; and she never discovered any dishonesty. When wearied out by this sort, of thing, I took charge of the proceedings, that I might escape from her agonized groans and grimaces at my extravagance. After choking down her emotion in gulps all the way home, she would at last clasp her hands, and moan in a wheedling voice :
“ Please, bárynya,1 how much did you pay that robber ? ”
“ Two kopeks 2 apiece for the eggs. They are fine, large, and fresh, as you see. Twenty kopeks a pound for the strawberries, also of the first quality.”
Then would follow a scene which never varied, even if my indiscretion had been confined to raspberries at five cents a pound, or currants at a cent less. She would wring her hands, long and fleshless as fan handles, and, her great green eyes phosphorescent with distress above her hollow cheeks and projecting hones, she would cry: —
“ Oh, bárynya, they have cheated you, cheated you shamefully! You must let me protect you.”
“ Come, don’t you think it is worth a few kopeks to be called ‘ a pearl,’ ‘ a diamond,’ ‘ an emerald ’ ? ”
“ Is that all they called you? ” she inquired, with a disdainful sniff.
“No; they said that I was ‘a real general-ess.’ They knew their business, you see. And they said ‘ madame ’ instead of ‘ sudárynya.’ 3 Was there any other title which they could have bestowed on me for the money ? ”
She confessed, with a pitying sigh, that there was not, but returned to her plaint over the sinfully wasted kopeks. Once I offered her some “ tea money ” in the shape of a basket of raspberries, which she wished to preserve and drink in her tea, with the privilege of purchasing them herself. As an experiment to determine whether bargaining is the outcome of thrift and economy alone, or a distinct pleasure in itself, it was a success. I followed her from vender to vender, and waited with exemplary patience while she scrutinized their wares and beat down prices with feverish eagerness, despite the fact that she was not to pay the bill. I put an end to the matter when she tried to persuade a pretty peasant girl, who had walked eight miles, to accept less than four cents a pound for superb berries. I think it really spoiled my gift to her that I insisted on making the girl happy with five cents a pound. After that, I was not surprised to find Russian merchants catering to the taste of their customers by refusing to adopt the oneprice system.
It was vulgar to go to market, of course. Even the great mastiff who acted as yard dog at the bazaar made me aware of that fact. He always greeted me politely, like a host, when he met mein the court at market hours. But nothing could induce him even to look at me when he met me outside. I tried to explain to him that my motives were scientific, not economical, and I introduced Katiúsha to him as the family bargainer and scapegoat for his scorn. He declined to relent. After that I understood that there was nothing for it but to shoulder the responsibility myself, and I never attempted to palliate my unpardonable conduct in the eyes of the servants of my friends whom I occasionally encountered there.
The market was held in the inner courtyard of the gostínny dvor, near the chapel, which always occupies a conspicuous position in such places. While the shops under the arcade, facing on the street, sold everything, from “ gallantry wares ” (dry goods and small wares) to nails, the inner booths were all devoted to edibles. On the rubble pavement of the court squatted peasants from the villages for many versts round about, both Russian and Finnish, hedged in by their wares, vegetables, flowers, fruit, and live poultry. The Russians exhibited no beautiful costumes; their proximity to the capital had done away with all that. At first I was inexperienced, and went unprovided with receptacles for my marketing. The market women looked up in surprise.
“ What, have you no kerchief? ’’ they asked, as though I were a peasant or petty merchant’s wife, and could remove the typical piece of gayly colored cloth from my head or neck. When I objected to transporting eggs and berries in my only resource, my handkerchief. they reluctantly produced scraps of dirty newspaper, or of ledgers scrawled over with queer accounts. I soon grew wise, and hoarded up the splint strawberry baskets provided by the male venders, which are put to multifarious uses in Russia.
After being asked for a kerchief in the markets, and a sheet when I went to get my fur cloak from its summer storage at a fashionable city shop, and after making divers notes on journeys, I was obliged to conclude that the ancient merchant fashion in Russia had been to seize the nearest fabric at hand,—the sheet from the bed. the cloth from the table, — and use it as a traveling trunk.
The Finns at the market were not to be mistaken for Russians. Their features were wooden ; their expression was far less intelligent than that of the Russians. The women were addicted to wonderful patterns in aprons and silver ornaments, and wore, under a white headkerchief, a stiff glazed white circlet which seemed to wear away their blond hair. These women arrived regularly every morning, before five o’clock, at the shops of the baker and the grocer opposite our windows. The shops opened at that hour, after having kept open until eleven o’clock at night, or later. After refreshing themselves with a roll and a bunch of young onions, of which the green tops appeared to be the most relished, the women made their town toilet by lowering the very much reefed skirt of their single garment, drawing on footless stockings, and donning shoes. At ten o’clock, or even earlier, they came back to fill the sacks of coarse white linen, borne over their shoulders, with necessaries for their households, purchased with the proceeds of their sales, and to reverse their toilet operations, preparatory to the long tramp homeward. I sometimes caught them buying articles which seemed extravagant luxuries, all things considered, such as raisins. One of their specialties was the sale of lilies of the valley, which grow wild in the Russian forests. Their peculiar little trottrot, and the indescribable semi - tones and quarter - tones in which they cried, “Lánd-dy-y-y-shée ! ” were unmistakably Finnish at any distance.
The scene at the market was always entertaining. Tzárskoe is surrounded by market gardens, where vegetables and fruits are raised in highly manured and excessively hilled-up beds. It sends tons of its products to the capital as well as to the local market. Everything was cheap and delicious. Eggs were dear when they reached a cent and a half apiece. Strawberries, huge and luscious, were dear at ten cents a pound, since in warm seasons they cost but five. Another berry, sister to the strawberry, but differing from it utterly in taste, was the klubníka, of which there were two varieties, the white and the bluish-red, both delicious in their peculiar flavor, but less decorative in size and aspect than the strawberry.
The native cherries, small and sour, make excellent preserves, with a spicy flavor, which are much liked by Russians in their tea. The only objection to this use of them is that both tea and cherries are spoiled. Raspberries, plums, gooseberries, and currants were plentiful and cheap. A vegetable delicacy of high order, according to Katiúsha, who introduced it to my notice, was a sort of radish with an extremely fine, hard grain, and biting qualities much developed, which attains enormous size, and is eaten in thin slices salted and buttered. I presented the solitary specimen which I bought, a ninepin in proportions, to the grateful Katiúsha. It was beyond my appreciation.
Pears do not thrive so far north, but in good years apples of fine sorts are raised, to a certain extent, in the vicinity of St. Petersburg. Really good specimens, however, come from Poland, the lower Volga, Little Russia, and other distant points, which renders them always rather dear. We saw few in our village that were worth buying, as the season was phenomenally cold, and a month or three weeks late, so that we got our strawberries in August, and our linden blossoms in September. Apples, plums, grapes, and honey are not eaten — in theory — until after they have been blessed at the feast of the Transfiguration, on August 18 (N.S.), — a very good scheme for giving them time to ripen fully for health. Before that day, however, hucksters bearing trays of honey on their heads are eagerly welcomed, and the peasant’s special dainty — fresh cucumbers thickly coated with honey — is indulged in unblessed. Honey is not so plentiful that one can afford to fling away a premature chance !
When the mushroom season came in, the market assumed an aspect of halfsubdued brilliancy with the many sombre and high-colored varieties of that fungus. The poorer people indulge in numerous kinds which the rich do not eat, and they furnish precious sustenance during fasts, when so many viands are forbidden by the Russian Church and by poverty. One of the really odd sights, daring the fast of SS. Peter and Paul (the first half of July), was that of people walking along the streets with bunches of pea-vines, from which they were plucking the peas, and eating them, pods and all, quite raw. It seemed a very summary and wasteful way of gathering them. This fashion of eating vegetables raw was imported, along with the liturgy, from the hot lands where the Eastern Church first flourished, and where raw food was suitable. These traditions, and probably also the economy of fuel, cause it to be still persisted in, in a climate to which it is wholly unsuitable. Near Tzárskoe I found one variety of pea growing to the altitude of nearly seven feet, and producing pods seven inches long and three wide. The stalks of the double poppies in the same garden were six and seven feet high, and the flowers were the size of peonies, while the pods of the single poppies were nine inches in circumference.
One of the great festivals of the Russian Church is Whitsunday, the seventh Sunday after Easter ; but it is called Trinity Sunday, and the next day is “ the Day of Spirits,” or Pentecost. On this Pentecost day a curious sight was formerly to be seen in St, Petersburg. Mothers belonging to the merchant class arrayed their marriageable daughters in their best attire ; hung about their necks not only all the jewels which formed a part of their dowries, but also, it is said, the silver ladles, forks, and spoons ; and took them to the Summer Garden, to be inspected and proposed for by the young men.
But the place where this spectacle can be seen in the most charming way is Tzárskoe Soló. We were favored with superb weather on both the festal days. On Sunday morning every one went to church, as usual. The small church behind the Lyceum, where Púshkin was educated, with its un-Russian spire, ranks as a court church; that in the Old Palace across the way being opened only on special occasions, now that the court is not in residence. Outside, the choir sat under the golden rain of acacia blossoms and the hedge of fragrant lilacs until the last moment, the sunshine throwing into relief their gold-laced black cloth vestments and crimson belts. They were singers from one of the regiments stationed in town, and crimson was the regimental color. The church is accessible to all classes, and it was crowded. As at Easter, every one was clad in white or light colors, even those who were in mourning having donned the bluish-gray which serves them for festive garb. In place of the Easter candle, each held a bouquet of flowers. In the corners of the church stood young birch-trees, with their satin bark and feathery foliage, and boughs of the same decked the walls. There is a law now which forbids this annual destruction of young trees at Pentecost, but the practice continues, and the tradition is that one must shed as many tears for his sins as there are dewdrops on the birch bough which he carries, if he has no flowers. Peasant women in clean cotton gowns elbowed members of the court in silks ; fat merchants, with well-greased, odorous hair and boots, in hot, long-skirted blue cloth coats, stood side by side with shabby invalid soldiers or smartly uniformed officers. Tiny peasant children seated themselves on the floor when their little legs refused further service, and imitated diligently all the low reverences and signs of the cross made by their parents. Those of larger growth stood with the preternatural repose and dignity of the adult Russian peasant, and followed the liturgy independently. One little girl of seven, self-possessed and serenely unconscious, slipped through the crowd to the large image of the Virgin near the altar, grasped the breast-high guard-rail, and kissed the holy picture in the middle of her agile vault. When some members of the imperial family arrived, the crowd pressed together still more closely, to make a narrow passage to the small space reserved for them opposite the choir. After the ever beautiful liturgy, finely expressed special prayers were offered, during which the priest also carried flowers.
Another church service on the following day — a day when public offices are closed and business ceases — completed the religious duties of the festival. In the afternoon the whole town began to flock to the Imperial Park surrounding the Old Palace, people of the upper circles included. — the latter from motives of curiosity, of course. Three bands of the guards furnished music. On the great terrace, shaded by oak-trees hardly beyond the bronze-pink stage of their leafage, played the hussars. Near the breakfast gallery, with its bronze statues of Hercules and Flora, which the common people call “Adam and Eve” (the Ariadne on Naxos, in a neighboring grotto, is popularly believed to be “ a girl of seven years, who was bitten by a snake while roaming the Russian primeval forest, and died”), were the cuirassiers. The stryélki (sharpshooters) were stationed near the lake, the central point for meetings and promenades during the lovely “white nights;” where boats of every sort, from a sail-boat or a Chinese sampan to an Astrakhan fishing-boat or a snowshoe skiff, are furnished gratis all summer, with a sailor of the guard to row them, if desired. Round and round and round, unweariedly, paced the girls. They were bareheaded and in slippered feet, as usual, but had abandoned the favorite ulster, which too often accompanies extremities thus unclad, to display their gayest gowns. The young men gazed with intense interest. Here and there a young fellow in “ European clothes ” was to be seen conversing with the more conservative young merchants, who retained the wrinkled boots confining full trousers, the shirt worn outside the trousers, the cloth vest, and the blue cloth long coat of traditional cut.
It was like a scene from the theatre. Across the lake, dotted with boating parties, stretched lawns planted with trees chosen for their variety of foliage, from the silver willow to the darkest evergreens, while the banks were diversified with a boat-house, a terraced grotto, a Turkish kiosk with a bath, bridges, and so on. Of the immense palace which stood so near at hand the graceful breakfast gallery alone was visible, while high above the waving crests of the trees the five cupolas of the palace church, in the shape of imperial crowns, seemed to float in the clear blue sky like golden bubbles. The lawns within the acacia-hedged compartments were dazzling with campanulas, harebells, rose campions, and crimson and yellow columbine, or gleamed with the pale turquoise of forget-me-nots. We had only to enter the adjoining park surrounding the Alexander Palace, built for Alexander I. by his grandmother, Catherine II., to find the Field of the Cloth of Gold realized by acres of tall double Siberian buttercups, as large and as fragrant as yellow roses.
Soldiers of the garrison strolled about quietly, as usual. The pet of the hussars was in great form, and his escort of admiring comrades was larger than ever. They thrust upon him half of their tidbits and sunflower seeds, — what masses of sunflower seeds and handbill cigarettes were consumed that day, not to mention squash seeds, by the more opulent! —and waited eagerly for his dimpled smile as their reward. When the bands were weary, the regimental singers ranged themselves in a circle, and struck up songs of love, of battle, and of mirth, amid the applause and laughter of the crowd. Now and then a soldier would step into the middle of the circle and dance. The slight, agile, square-capped stryélki spun round until their full-plaited black tunics stood out from their tightly belted waists like the skirts of ballet dancers. The slender, graceful hussars, with their yellow - laced scarlet jackets and tight blue trousers, flitted to and fro like gay birds. The best performer of all was a cuirassier, a big blond fellow, with ruddy cheeks and dazzling teeth. Planting his peakless white cloth cap with its yellow band firmly on his head, he Stepped forward, grasping in each hand a serried pyramid of brass bells, which chimed merrily as he squatted, leaped, and executed eccentric steps with his feet, while his arms beat time and his fine voice rolled out the solo of a rollicking ballad, to which the rest of the company furnished the chorus as well as their laughter and delighted applause of his efforts permitted. His tightly fitting dark green trousers, tall boots, and jacket of white cloth trimmed with yellow set off his muscular form to great advantage. A comrade stood by shaking the buntchúk, an ornamental combination of brass half-moons, gay horsetails, and bells,—the Turkish staff of command, which is carried as a special privilege by several Russian cavalry regiments. There is nothing that a company of Russians likes better than a spirited performance of their national dances, whether it be high-class Russians at a Russian opera in the Imperial Theatre, or the masses on informal occasions like the present. This soldier, who danced with joy in every fibre, was quite willing to oblige them indefinitely, and seemed to be made of steel springs, He stopped with great reluctance, and that only when his company was ordered peremptorily to march off to barracks at the appointed hour.
How many weddings resulted from that day’s dress parade I know not. But I presume the traditional “ matchmakers ” did their duty, if the young men were sufficiently impressed by the girls’ outfits to commission these professional proposers to lay their hearts and hands at the feet of the parents on the following day. They certainly could not have been hopelessly bewitched by any beauty which was on show. The presence of the soldiers, the singing, music, and dancing framed in that exquisite park, combined to create a scene the impression of which is far beyond comparison with that of the same parade in the Summer Garden at St. Petersburg.
This grand terrace of the Old Palace is a favorite resort for mothers and children. especially when the different bands of the guards’regiments stationed in the town furnish music. But not far away, in the less stately, more natural park surrounding the Alexander Palace, the property of the Crown Prince, lies the real paradise of the children of all classes. There is the playground, provided with gymnastic apparatus, laid out at the foot of a picturesque tower, one of the line of signal towers, now mostly demolished, which, before the introduction of the telegraph, flashed news from Warsaw to St. Petersburg in the then phenomenally short space of twenty-four hours. The children’s favorite amusement is the “ net.” Sailors of the guard set up a fullrigged ship’s mast, surrounded, about two feet from the ground, by a wide sweep of close-meshed rope netting well tarred. Boys and girls of ambition climb the rigging, swing, and drop into the net. The little ones never weary of dancing about on its yielding surface. A stalwart, gentle giant of a sailor watches over the safety of the merrymakers, and warns, teaches, or helps them, if they wish it.
Their nurses, with pendent bosoms and fat shoulders peeping through the transparent muslin of their chemises, make a bouquet of colors, with their gay sarafáni, their many-hued cashmere caps attached to pearl-embroidered, coronetshaped kokóshniki, and terminating in ribbons which descend to their heels, and are outshone in color only by the motley assemblage of beads on their throats.
Here, round the gymnastic apparatus and the net, one is able for the first time to believe solidly in the existence of Russian children. In town, in the winter, one has doubted it, despite occasional coveys of boys in military greatcoats, bookknapsacks of sealskin strapped to their shoulders to keep their backs straight, and officer-like caps. The summer garb of the lads from the gymnasia and other institutes consists of thin, dark woolen material or of coarse gray linen, made in the blouse or Russian shirt form, which portraits of Count Lyeff Nikolaevitch Tolstóy, the author, have rendered familiar to foreigners. It must not be argued from this fact that Count Tolstóy set the fashion; far from it. It is the ordinary and sensible garment in common use, which he has adopted from others, not they from him. It can be seen on older students any day, even in winter, in the reading-room of the Imperial Public Library in St. Petersburg, on the imperial choir in the Winter Palace as undress uniform for week-day services, and elsewhere.
Some indulgent mothers make silk blouses for their sons, and embroider them with cross-stitch patterns in colored floss, as was the fashion a number of years ago, when a patriotic outburst of sentiment was expressed by the adoption of the “ national costume,” for house wear, by adults of both sexes. From this period dates also, no doubt, that style of “peasant dress” which can be seen occasionally, in unfashionable summer resorts, on girls not of the highest class by any means, and which the city shops furnish in abundance as genuine to misguided foreigners. Every one is familiar with these fantastic combinations of colored lace insertion with bands of blue cotton worked in high colors, and fashioned into blouses and aprons such as no peasant maid ever wore or beheld.
What strikes one very forcibly about Russian children, when one sees them at play in the parks, is their quiet, self-possessed manners and their lack of boisterousness. If they were inclined to scream, to fling themselves about wildly and be rude, they would assuredly be checked promptly and effectually, since the rights of grown people to peace, respect, and the pursuit of happiness are still recognized in that land. But, from my observation of the same qualities in untutored peasant children, I am inclined to think that Russian children are born more agreeable than Western children; yet they seem to be as cheerful and lively as is necessary, and in no way restricted. Whistling, howling, stamping, and kindred muscular exercises begin just over the Western frontier, and increase in violence as one proceeds westward, until Japan is reached, or possibly the Sandwich Islands, by which time, I am told, one enters the Orient and the realm of peace once more.
What noise we heard in Tzárskoe came from quite another quarter. As we were strolling in the park, one afternoon, we heard sounds of uproarious mirth proceeding from the little island in the private imperial garden, where the Duchess of Edinburgh, in her girlhood, had a pretty Russian cottage, cowstall, and so forth, with flower and potato beds. She and her brothers were in the habit of planting their pussy willows, received on Palm Sunday, on the bank of the stream, and these, duly labeled, have now grown into a hedge of trees. The screen is not perfect, however, and glimpses of the playground are open to the public across the narrow stream. On this summer afternoon there was a party of royalties on the island, swinging on the giant steps. The giant steps, I must explain, consist of a tall, stout mast firmly planted in the earth, bound with iron at the top, and upholding a thick iron ring to which are attached heavy cables which touch the ground. The game consists of a number of persons seizing hold of these cables, running round the mast until sufficient impetus is acquired, and then swinging through the air in a circle. The Tzarévitch, who had driven over from the great camp at Krásnoe Seló, and whom I had seen in the church of the Old Palace that morning at a special mass, with the angelic imperial choir and the priests from the Winter Palace sent down from Petersburg for the occasion, was now sailing through the air high up toward the apex of the mast. One of his imperial aunts, clad in a fleecy white gown, occupied a similar position on another cable. It was plain that they could not have done their own running to gain impetus, and that the gardeners must have towed them by the ends of the ropes. The other grand dukes and duchesses were managing their own cables in the usual manner. The party included the king and queen of Greece and other royal spectators. What interested me most was to hear them all shrieking and conversing in Russian, with only occasional lapses into French, instead of the reverse.
Although Tzárskoe Seló is not now the royal summer residence, it must not be supposed that there were not plenty of palaces, emperors, queens, courtiers, and the rest presented to our view during the summer, with festivities to match on occasion. But everything is not royal in the vicinity of these summer parks and palaces. For example, just outside of Tzárskoe Seló, on the Petersburg highway, lies a Russian village called Kúzmino, whose inhabitants are as genuine, unmodified peasants as though they lived a hundred miles from any provincial town. Here in the north, where timber is plentiful, cottages are raised from the ground by a half-story, without windows, which serves as a storeroom for carts, sledges, and farming implements. The entrance is through a door beside the large courtyard gate, which rears its heavy frame on the street line, adjoining the house, in Russian fashion. A rough staircase leads to the dwelling-rooms over the shed storeroom. Three tiny windows on the street front, with solid wooden shutters, are the ordinary allowance for light. In Kúzmino, many of the windows had delicate, clean white curtains, and all were filled with blooming plants. A single window, for symmetry, and a carved balcony fill in the sharp gable end of such houses, but open into nothing, and the window is not even glazed. Carved horses’ heads, rude but recognizable, tuft the peak, and lacelike wood carving droops from the eaves. The roofs also are of wood.
This was the style of the cottages in Kúzmino. The name of the owner was inscribed on the corner of each house ; and there appeared to be but two surnames, at most three, in the whole village. One new but unfinished house seemed to have been built from the ridgepole downward, instead of in the usual order. There were no doorways or stairs or apertures for communication between the stories, which were two in number. It was an architectural riddle.
As a Stroll to the village had consumed an unexpected amount of time, we found ourselves, at the breakfast hour, miles away from our hotel. We instituted a search for milk, and were directed at random, it seemed, until a withered little old peasant, who was evidently given to tippling, enlisted himself as our guide. He took us to the house of a woman who carried milk and cream to town twice a week, and introduced us with a comical flourish.
The family consisted of an old woman, as dried and colorless its as Russian codfish from Archangel, but very clean and active ; her son, a big, fresh-colored fellow, with a mop of dark brown curls, well set off by his scarlet cotton blouse ; his wife, a slender, red-cheeked brunette, with delicate, pretty features ; and their baby girl. They treated us like friends come to make a call ; refused to accept money for their cream ; begged us to allow them to prepare the samovár, as a favor to them, and send for white rolls, as they were sure we could not eat their sour black bread ; and expressed deep regret that their berries were all gone, as the season was past. They showed us over their house in the prettiest, simplest way, and introduced us to the dark storeroom where their spare clothing and stores of food for the winter, such as salted cucumbers in casks, and other property were packed away; to a narrow slip of a room on the front, where the meals for the family were prepared with remarkably few pots and no pans ; to the living-room, with its whitewashed stone-and-mud oven in one corner, for both cooking and heating, a bench running round the walls on three sides, and a clean pine table in the corner of honor, where hung the holy images. They had a fine collection of these images, which were a sign of prosperity as well as of devotion. The existence of another tiny room also bore witness to easy circumstances. In this room they slept ; and the baby, who was taking her noonday nap, was exhibited to us by the proud papa. Her cradle consisted of a splint market basket suspended from the ceiling by a stout wire spring, like the spring of a bird-cage, and rocked gently. The baby gazed at us with bright, birdlike eyes and smiled quietly when she woke, as though she had inherited her parents’ gentle ways. We believed them when they said that she never cried ; we had already discovered that this was the rule with Russian children of all classes.
They were much interested to learn from what country we came. I was prepared to find them unacquainted with the situation of America, after having been asked by an old soldier in the park, “ In what district of Russia is America ? ” and after having been told by an izvóstchik that the late Empress had come from my country, since “ Germany ” meant for him all the world which was not Russia, just as the adjective “ German ’ signifies anything foreign and not wholly approved.
“ Is America near Berlin ? ” asked our peasant hosts.
“ Farther than that,” I replied.
They laughed, and gave up the riddle after a few more equally wild guesses.
“ It is on the other side of the world,” I said.
“ Then you must be nearer God than we are ! ” they exclaimed, with a sort of reverence for people who came from the suburbs of heaven.
“ Surely,” I said, “ you do not think that the earth is flat, and that we live on the upper side, and you on the lower ? ”
But that was precisely what they did think, in their modesty, and, as it seemed a hopeless task to demonstrate to them the sphericity of the globe, I left them in that flattering delusion.
I asked the old woman to explain her holy pictures to me, as I always enjoyed the quaint expressions and elucidations of the peasants, and inquired whether she thought the ikóna of the Virgin was the Virgin herself. I had heard it asserted very often by overwise foreigners that this was the idea entertained by all Russians, without regard to class, and especially by the peasants.
“No,” she replied : “ but it shows the Virgin Mother to me, just as your picture would show you to me when you were on the other side of the world, and remind me of you. Only — how shall I say it ? — there is more power in a wonder-working ikóna like this.”
She handed me one which depicted the Virgin completely surrounded by a halo of starlike points shaded in red and yellow flames. It is called “ the Virgin-of-the-Bush-that-burned-but-was - notconsumed,” evidently a reminiscence of Moses. She attached particular value to it because of the aid rendered on the occasion which had demonstrated its “wonder-working” (miraculous) powers. It appeared that a dangerous fire had broken out in the neighborhood, and was rapidly consuming the close-set wooden village, as such fires generally do without, remedy. As the fire had been started by the lightning, on St. Ilyás Day (St. Elijah’s), no earthly power could quench it but the milk from a jet - black cow, which no one chanced to have on hand. Seeing the flames approach, my old woman, Dómna Nikolaevna T., seized the holy image, ran out, and held it facing the conflagration, uttering the proper prayer the while. Immediately a strong wind arose and drove the flames off in a safe direction, and the village was rescued. She had a thanksgiving service celebrated in the church, and placed I know not how many candles to the Virgin’s honor, as did the other villagers. Thus they had learned that there was divine power in this ikóna, although it was not, strictly speaking, “ wonder-working,” since it had not been officially recognized as such by the ecclesiastical authorities.
These people seemed happy and contented with their lot. Not one of them could read or write much, the old woman not at all. They cultivated berries for market as well as carried on the milk business : and when we rose to go, they entreated us to come out on their plot of land and see whether some could not be found. To their grief, only a few small cherries were to be discovered, — it was September, — and these they forced upon us. As we had hurt their feelings by leaving money on the table to pay for the cream, we accepted the cherries by way of compromise. The old woman chatted freely in her garden. She had been a serf, and, in her opinion, things were not much changed for the better, except in one respect. All the people in this village had been crown serfs, it seemed. The lot of the crown serfs was easier in every way than that of the ordinary private serfs, so that the emancipation only put a definite name to the practical freedom which they already enjoyed, and added a few minor privileges, with the ownership of a somewhat larger allotment of land than the serfs of the nobility received. I knew this: she was hardly capable of giving me so complete a summary of their condition. But — it was the usual but, I found — they had to work much harder now than before, in order to live. The only real improvement which she could think of, on the inspiration of the moment, was, that a certain irascible crown official, who had had charge of them in the olden days, and whose name she mentioned, who had been in the habit of distributing beatings with a lavish hand whenever the serfs displeased him or obeyed reluctantly, had been obliged to restrain his temper after the emancipation.
“ Nowadays, there is no one to order us about like that, or to thrash us,” she remarked.
We found our fuddled old peasant guide hanging about for “ tea money,” when we bade farewell to my friend Dómna, who, with her family, offered us her hand at parting. He was not too thoroughly soaked with “ tea ” already not to be able to draw the inference that our long stay with the milkwoman indicated pleasure, and he intimated that the introduction fee ought to be in proportion to our enjoyment. We responded so cheerfully to this demand that he immediately discovered the existence of a dozen historical monuments and points of interest in the tiny village, all invented on the spot: and when we dismissed him peremptorily, he took great care to impress his name and the position of his hut on our memories, for future use.
We had already seen the only object of any interest, the large church far away down the mile-long street. We had found a festival mass in progress, as it happened to be one of the noted holidays of the year. As we stood a little to one side, listening to the sweet but unsophisticated chanting of the village lads, who had had no training beyond that given in the village school, a woman approached us with a tiny coffin tucked under one arm. Trestles were brought; she set it down on them, beside us. It was very plain in form, made of the commonest wood, and stained a bright yellow with a kind of thin wash, instead of the vivid pink which seems to be the favorite hue for children’s coffins in town. The baby’s father removed the lid, which comprised exactly half the depth, the mother smoothed out the draperies, and they took their stand near by. Several strips of the coarsest pink tarlatan were draped across the little waxen brow and along the edges of the coffin. On these lay such poor flowers as the lateness of the season and the poverty of the parents could afford, — small, half - withered or frost - bitten dahlias, poppies, and one stray cornflower. The parents looked gently resigned, patient, sorrowful but tearless, as is the Russian manner. After the liturgy and special prayers for the day, the funeral service was begun; but we went out into the graveyard surrounding the church, and ran the gauntlet of the beggars at the door, — beggars in the midst of poverty, to whom the poor gave their mites with gentle sympathy.
Russian graveyards are not, us a rule, like the sunny, cheerful homes of the dead to which we are accustomed. This one was especially melancholy, with its narrow, tortuous paths, uncared-for plots, and crosses of unpainted wood blackened by the weather. The most elaborate monuments did not rise above tin crosses painted to simulate birch boughs. It was strictly a peasant cemetery, utterly lacking in graves of the higher classes, or even of the well to do.
On its outskirts, where the flat, treeless plain began again, we found a peasant sexton engaged in digging a grave. His conversation was depressing, not because he dwelt unduly upon death and kindred subjects, but because his views of life were so pessimistic. Why, for example, did it enter his brain to warn me that the Finnish women of the neighboring villages, — all the country round about is the old Finnish Ingermannland, — in company with the women of his own village, were in the habit of buying stale eggs at the Tzárskoe Seló shops to mix with their fresh eggs, which they sold in the market, the same with intent to deceive? A stale egg explains itself as promptly and as thoroughly as anything I am acquainted with, not excepting Limburger cheese, and Katiúsha and I had had no severe experiences with the women whom he thus unflatteringly described. He seemed a thoroughly disillusioned man, and we left him at last, with an involuntary burden of misanthropic ideas, though he addressed me persistently as galúbtchik,— “ dear little dove,” literally translated.
If I were to undertake to chronicle the inner life of Tzárskoe, the characteristics of the inhabitants from whom I received favors and kind deeds without number, information, and whatever else they could think of to bestow or I could ask, I should never have done. But there is much that is instructive in all ranks of life to be gathered from a prolonged sojourn in this “ Imperial Village,” where world-famed palaces have their echoes aroused at seven in the morning by a gentle shepherd like the shepherd of the remotest provincial hamlets, a strapping peasant in a scarlet cotton blouse and blue homespun linen trousers tucked into tall wrinkled boots, and armed with a fish-horn, which he toots at the intersection of the macadamized streets to assemble the village cattle; where the strawberry peddler, recognizable by the red cloth spread over the tray borne upon his head, and the herring vender, and rival ice-cream dealers deafen one with their cries, in true city fashion; where the fire department alarms one by setting fire to the baker’s chimneys opposite, and then playing upon them, by way of cleaning them; where Tatars, soldiers, goats, cows, pet herons, rude peasant carts, policemen, and inhabitants share the middle of the road with the liveried equipages of royalty and courtiers ; where the crows and pigeons assert rights equal to those of man, except that they go to roost at eight o’clock on the nightless “ white nights; ” and where one never knows whether one will encounter the Emperor of all the Russias or a barefooted Finn when one turns a corner.
Isabel F. Hapgood.