« VorigeDoorgaan »
will note a little dovecot raised on Although they extend a considera pole, surmounted by a branch of able length from north to south, birch. This welcome home is for and their breadth is fully borne in blackbirds and the sparrows in the upon our minds by the slowness of winter-time. Nor is this all, for the train, it is a remarkable fact on the extreme border of the small that the highest peak only scales community, separated by a trench 5200 feet. Languidly the train from the outer world, is an unkept ascends 100 feet of thickly wooded square extent of land dotted with hill-country. Geological inquiry crosses, blue, black, or white, some- discloses the fact that we are times of iron, or, again, reduced traversing two folds in the earth's to a short wooden post: thus does crust. Occasionally we pass through the peasant reverence his dead. deeper dynamite-blown cuttings,
The rate of speed of our naphtha- and issue out of them only to look stoked train is 30 versts an hour, up to pine- and fir-clad heights. and in process of time we leave We strike a muddy river-YarovSamara too behind us. The "ele- ka-born in these cooler latitudes. vators” form an important feature We follow it, and on either side at at the stations in this neighbour- times the beetling brows give way hood. These are large metal gra- to meadow-land, in which are set naries, in which the produce of at intervals quiet hamlets. The the surrounding country is stored. tiny stations have a desolate apThey are often of great height, pearance, and towards the evening and in them the grain is tossed a sublime silence reigns, which is about and mechanically sifted, so only broken by the tinkling of as to prevent over-heating. Beyond faint cow - bells, the plaintive Samara we pass through gently cuckoo's cry, or the occasional undulating country, which now hum of human voices.
Thus we and again opens out on broader pursue our way over varying areas of damp reedy ground, which heights, now riding through a is occasionally monopolised by cloud of butterflies that were restcopses of stunted willow, birch, ing by the wayside, now raising and oak. The only signs of habi- frightened wild-duck from some tation over long stretches are the part of Yarovka's shaded banks. lone cabins of the surfacemen. It was early morning when we Sunk in the soil, with low roof steamed into Tcheliabinsk. The sloping backwards, their tiny country had now reverted to the walls buttressed on every side flatness that characterised the westby plank-imprisoned earth, these ern side of the Urals. Birch and humble homes strangely testify to beech were still the prominent the advance of civilisation. Ufa trees. It was this town that saw proclaims that we are nearing the worst features of the emigraAsia. As on the Volga, one sees tion fever; but now, in the middle on the river Ufa many house-rafts, of June, scarcely three hundred capable of supporting a large float- remained as witnesses to the past. ing population. Here and else
Here and else. The platform presented a motley where we pass trainfuls of return- group of interested human beings : ing disappointed settlers.
swarthy Tartars, sallow Russians, At length we come in sight of brisk Siberians, Bashkirs, Kirthe Ural Mountains, which figure ghese, and, to employ another so largely on our maps. The first category, the everlasting officer sense is that of disappointment. and sundry other petty tchinovniks. The Bashkirs, like the Kir- sian time is not money, still less to ghese, were originally a nomadic the Siberian. You might for that people, but have now somewhat matter partake of a lengthy repast settled down, and make excellent at every station if there was the agricultural labourers.
wherewithal; but only at special Leaving Tcheliabinsk, we pass points is provision made, an ominthrough country that indicates ous diagrammatic wine-glass beconsiderable population. Much fore the name of a station in the has been reclaimed ; much is time-table indicates the presence under cultivation. Still more of a buffet there. At such a place is level steppe, occasionally bro- one is commonly allowed twenty ken by strips of shrubby copse minutes; while elsewhere you will or statelier trees. Short posts in notice a line of tables at a fixed black and white, with the im- distance from the railroad, behind perial eagle, help to mark out the which stand a number of peasant boundaries of the land reserved women in picturesque attire, with on either side for the railways. milk, quass, bread, butter, and The soil, where it is exposed, pro- other viands for sale. claims itself to be the far-famed Omsk is situated in a bare plain, tchernozem or black earth; beneath on two rivers, the Irtish and the it in section one makes out the Om. As a result the town can be widespreading loess. The villages descried from a great way off : at are of course at a considerable dis- this distance the barracks, Cadet tance from the line: this is the Corps College, and the Church of genius of all Russian railways. St Nicholas are the most promiEverything becomes simpler as nent objects.
nent objects. The bridge across we move farther east. Soon the the Irtish is of the type commonly stations resolve themselves into met with along the line - iron plain log - houses, surrounded by girders supported on stone piers. many square yards of birch, that The embankment at this point is serve as fuel for the locomotives. , between 35 and 40 feet high ; even
Kurgan is the first town at which yet a staff of men is almost conwe stop in Siberia proper. From stantly at work keeping it in rewhat one can see of it from the pair. This was also found to be station, it has the appearance of the case over great lengths of the being mainly composed of wooden line farther to the east; the heavy houses; but, characteristically, two rains are continually washing away white churches with their green in part these huge structures. It domes and roofs obtrude upon one's is obvious that, in addition to what notice. Here we witnessed the we may call the temporary demand first meeting after ten years of a for workmen, such an immense well-known political exile with his railway will require a permanent parents and a younger brother, contingent of labourers to clear whom he now saw for the first away snowdrifts and repair the time. A man selling models of line. To secure this object, it was convicts at work also reminds us proposed to introduce navvies from of the peculiar associations that European Russia : steps have been this country has for the civilised already taken in this direction, and world. We have opportunity to are being carried out successfully. stroll about and look around, for The only distinguishing feature the train lingers an indefinite about Omsk station, which was in period at each point. To the Rus- process of building, is that here one sees half-a-dozen lines of rail- which occasionally alter very conway. This is, of course, a pro- siderably over quite short ranges. vision for the future; the three Also at extremely short intervals trains weekly in either direction are posted the usual men in charge scarcely require them meantime. of the line, green flag in hand, to For the moment, except on the signify that their section at least is main line, all was in possession of clear. The railway embankment is a crowd of settlers.
continually followed on either side . We have already noticed the by excavations of varying size, numbers of men who are engaged from which the soil was taken for on this vast undertaking. In the its construction. At those points heat of the mid-day sun it was where over long distances the emassuredly hard work, and one was bankment remains a considerable not surprised to see the somewhat height, these trenches increase deliberate fashion in which any par- greatly in breadth, but not so ticular task was carried through. much in depth. The cause of this The great majority of the labourers is simply that the ground is frozen were toiling in white (or what at about 6 feet below the surface were once white) cotton shirts and till towards the end of July, so that pantaloons, barefoot, bareheaded. the upper stratum only is workSome of their tools and imple- able. These broad ditches fill with ments were primitive-e.g., the water, and become the spacious wheelless barrow shoved along a nurseries of myriads of mosquitoes plank. One saw the evolution of and other objectionable forms of the spade in a single party, for insect life. Beyond these lie imwhile some were employing long. mense expanses of verdant plain, handled wooden shovels, all of whose uniformity is rudely interone piece, others had the edge of rupted at intervals by irregularly the blade protected with a thin set thickets of stunted birch. Occabinding of tin, while yet others sionally some Kirghese boy reveals had the ordinary one with iron our laboured progress by forging blade. Another tool looked like ahead of the train on his hardy pony. half a pick, with the back of the Shaggy, sure-footed, speedy, they head flattened hammer-wise. They are the true Siberian travellers ; also made use of giant sledge- shrewd also, for when the sun has hammers of wood - a vast bole dipped below the western horizon with a stout handle driven into it, and the evening air seems to exist making a very formidable weapon. for nothing but mischief-making Utilising a thick beam as lever, mosquitoes and their inhuman clan, they would prise up great lengths mark how by yonder small encampof rail attached to the
sleepers, and ment in the lee of a birch coppice so fill in more ballast. One noticed the patient burden-bearers stand also the absence of what are com- beside the fire, facing the wind, and monly known as “chairs”: the holding their heads in the smoke broad-based rails are simply laid on to be relieved from their pestiferthe notched sleepers, and held in ous associates. Animal life is position there by a small species otherwise not much in evidence. of clamp on the inside only. Great Occasionally a startled hare dashes care is being exercised in the
regu- from his haunt too near the track lation of this railway. Every of progressive man. Perhaps a hundred yards or so appear white mallard rises from some weeded boards indicating the gradients, brake, and overhead a towering hawk recks not but for his prey: on which heavy baggage may be save for these, we are alone. settled : it is an embryonic taran
In time we come to Krivosche- tass without the hood. The wheels kovo: we are now 2058 versts have a run of 6 inches on the axle, from Moscow, 1323 from Tchelia- which is so long as to prevent all binsk. The river Ob is at this chance of capsizal ; along this they point to be spanned by a bridge; perpetually wobble. The shafts but as the wooden scaffolding was are two young birch-trees, with the burned down, the construction of unlopped stumps of the branches it has fallen much behind that of still much in evidence. Between bridges farther on, and as yet them is a small unshod Siberian only one girder unites two of pony, of a dun shade, in size and the stone piers. Here again we appearance not unlike a Shetnotice a gathering of settlers, who lander: the traces are two halfare, however, not allowed within inch ropes. It is supported by an the imaginary precincts of the outrunner trotting abreast, and station. A goodly number of log retained by two as slender ropes, cabins may be seen in the vicinity, while a strap attaching his apolbut these do not form the village, ogy for a bridle to that of his which is 4 versts off across the neighbour hinders
him from river. What one sees is simply running at an angle of more than the natural upgrowth of two years 45° to the line of progression. of railway labour. It follows that We start, how ? The driver the original Krivoschekovo will de- simply whistles to his pair, and cline in importance, and its place off they bound. It is early be taken by this upstart village : morning, but here many of the thus does the railway make and un- people are already astir.
The make places. To drive to the river baker's shanty is thronged by the only available conveyance is simple hungry peasants. Already a country vozok: the first impres- in
an open shed the butcher sion is that of a large basket quarters
lamb supported on four wheels. More before an eager assemblage. careful inspection discloses two Now we are off, but how the dust stout axle-trees connected by six Alies ! The little outrunner holds poles-branches unhewn and lying his head out to the left and runs in the horizontal : a seventh, for dear life. Such a rough track : stronger than the rest, finds place holes every few minutes, into which below the other six. On this ar- we shoot and are as quickly jerked rangement, only well forward, is out. Soon we reach the brown perched the wicker basket, across turgid Ob. On its farther bank which is set a board held in its the red rubashki (shirts) of the place by ropes, and on this two men men and the brightly coloured may sit with fear and trembling. dresses of the women stand out Straw lines the bottom. A smaller against the dull yellow huts that board, most wonderfully balanced crowd the bank, and against the on the front edge of the basket, dark pine-trees behind. We arrive and also held in place by ropes, at the ferry-boat and board it; but accommodates the driver. Bebind
Bebind notice its primitive simplicity. the coble there remain about 3 Two barge-like boats are joined by feet of the horizontal framework, a large platform deck that is com
1 It will, however, be completed this year.
mon to them both. At one end of the oscillating basket. The back this platform a wooden cogged seat is no longer tenanted; it wheel works on a goodly beam to simply serves as something to which the tiller is attached. More which to cling. We pass two telecomplicated is the contrivance by gas (wooden cart) filled with variwhich this paddle-boat is made to ous household stuffs : behind them move by a literal three-horse-power. are walking three barefooted peasOn the outside of either boat is a ant women
with bright merry paddle-wheel with wooden blades; faces, a little girl with a handful these are connected also with a of wild flowers, and four or five large cogged wheel which lies in the men. My companion salutes them; horizontal. Outside this wheel is they are from Periyaslaff in South a trotting-ground, where the three Russia, and are proceeding to ponies perform perpetual circles, their new home, some forty miles being attached by horizontal poles away. Still we go on; and then to one large vertical axle leading another turn of the road brings us through the centre wheel. The face to face with a second slow upper end of this axle turns in procession. In the first wicker another thick beam that stretches cart sit two young men clad in across over all, being supported on grey, with bare heads and cleaneither side outside the pony-track shaven faces; on their knees is by a wooden pillar. Two of the the coffin of a little child, dressed ponies had attendant boys, who out in pink and wild-flowers. In continually walked behind them the second cart rides the father, and kept them moving. The third with haggard downcast look, weardriver was a tall fine - looking ing the unbleached cotton coat peasant, with a mop of curly yellow that proclaims him to be something hair and a bushy unkempt beard. more than a peasant; by his side In his magenta shirt and much- is a young boy. The third cart patched black velveteen panta- contains two women. One is the loons, whose ends were buried in mother—you see it in her face. tall boots, he looked an imposing At last we come to the station in figure ; and it seemed a pity that a the wood; it is called Ob. A man who had to stoop each time cluster of buildings is growing up; he passed under the high cross- it looks as if some day it will be a beam already alluded to, should place of importance. As yet, howhave to spend his days doing such ever, nothing is open save a waitmenial service.
the ticket office is in a The clayey road creeps irregu- fourth-class waggon on the train, larly up the bank through the and still there are settlers, still straggling huts that comprise the the crowd of interested peasants. village. A tributary of the Ob But now the country changes ; has cut deeply into the bank, and up to the Ob, plain had predothe wooden bridge with its loose minated. What seems rather like planks shakes and rattles an unending park, planted with inously as we fly across, to bury silver birch, the beauty of the ourselves in the sweet pine-woods. Siberian forest, now supervenes. The dusty road winds and twists The orange-tinted Trollius asiatithrough verst after verst of placid cus, so expressively called in Ruspine and trembling aspen: its sian what we might render as roughness causes us to make ac- "little fire,” colours the open ground quaintance with every corner of in part, growing more plentifully,