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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHortus Inclusus - Chapter 16
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Hortus Inclusus - Chapter 16 Post by :indianahoosiers Category :Nonfictions Author :John Ruskin Date :May 2012 Read :2182

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Hortus Inclusus - Chapter 16


Cousin Giles meets an old Friend--Excursion into the Interior--Fine View on the Volga--Scenes on the Road--The Count's Estate--Welcomed with Bread and Salt--The Count's old-fashioned Mansion--A Fishing Excursion--Winter in Russia--Russian Stoves--Modes of keeping out Cold--Mode of Dressing in Winter--Result of a Snowless Winter.

"I know that man, I am certain," exclaimed Cousin Giles, as the travellers were on their way from their hotel to the busy part of the fair. Just before them was a tall, gentlemanly-looking man, dressed in a shooting-jacket, with a stout stick in his hand, and walking along with that free and independent air which generally distinguishes a seaman. "Hallo, old ship! Where are you bound to? Heave-to till I can come up with you, will you?" sung out Cousin Giles, in a loud, jovial voice, which instantly made the person who has been described turn his head. His countenance brightened as he did so, and with extended hands he came back, and heartily shook those of our friend.

"Well, Fairman, I am delighted to see you," he exclaimed heartily, "I am indeed; but what has brought you to this part of the world?"

"The love of travel, and the pleasure of showing a small portion of the globe we inhabit to these young lads," answered Cousin Giles. "But I assure you, Ivanovitch, I am equally delighted to meet you, though I should little have expected to find you acting the part of a country gentleman when last we parted on the deck of the _Asia_."

"I have been through a good deal since then, but we will talk of that another time," answered the Russian in English, without the slightest foreign accent. "Well, we have met most opportunely. I stopped a day at this place to see the humours of the fair, on my way to take possession of an estate which has lately been left me, and if I can induce you to accompany me, it will indeed be a satisfaction."

"The very thing I should like; and as I know you are sincere, I will accept your invitation; but I have several companions, and I fear we shall crowd you," said Cousin Giles.

The Russian laughed heartily.

"A dozen people, more or less, makes no difference in on? Of our houses," he answered; "I shall be delighted to see them, and any more you may like to ask."

"My present party, with a servant we engaged yesterday, are all I will bring," said Cousin Giles. "When are we to set off?"

"To-morrow morning, at daybreak, to enjoy as much cool air as can be obtained. We shall get there in two days without fatigue."

So it was all arranged. Nothing could be more pleasant or convenient. The travellers would thus see country life in Russia to great advantage, and be able to get back to Moscow in time for the coronation.

Alexis Ivanovitch, Cousin Giles' old friend, had been educated in England, and afterwards served for several years on board a British man-of-war, for the purpose of learning seamanship and navigation. Several Russians have been allowed by the British Government to study on board their ships; and they have, with perfect impartiality, allowed Turks, in the same way, to learn the art of naval warfare. It was while serving together afloat that Cousin Giles and Alexis Ivanovitch, now a Count, had formed their friendship.

Towards evening of the second day the carriages of the travellers reached a village standing on a height overlooking that father of European rivers, the Volga. The scene was a lovely one. The cloudless sky had a faint pinkish tint, while a rich mellow glow was cast over the landscape. Far in the east, across the river, were boundless steppes, their verdant hue depending entirely on the dews of heaven, there not being a well or water-spring throughout their whole extent. To make amends for the want, Nature has planted on them the juicy water-melon, which those only who have luxuriated on it, in a hot country, can appreciate. Here and there might be seen the camp-fires of troops of Cossacks, bivouacking for the night, or of herdsmen preparing to watch their cattle, or of haymakers, who go out there to prepare fodder for the winter food of their beasts; while in the west the eye wandered over ranges of hills, cultivated fields, and populous villages, with their grey wooden houses peeping out from among the trees.

The village before them contained several neat houses; the gable-ends of all, formed of wood, and often tastefully decorated with carved work, being turned towards the road.

On the river below them, gangs of bargemen, or _boorlaks_, were towing against the sluggish stream vast barges deeply laden with corn; the voices of the men, modulated by distance, rising in a pleasing chorus. Others, again, were dragging along immense rafts of timber, cut from far distant forests, destined to construct navies in widely scattered lands; while craft of all sorts were steering their course up the stream, laden with produce for the extensive market then taking place. No sooner had the carriages stopped than a troop of villagers were seen approaching along the street, some with garlands, others with banners, those leading bearing in their hands large dishes. In one dish was a large black loaf, in another a pile of salt, on a third a jug of water. The men had flowing beards of patriarchal length and thickness, and were habited in long sheepskin garments, which gave them a comfortable, substantial look. They all bowed low as they approached the Count, but he entreated them in a kind voice to rise and stand upright before him.

"We come, most noble _Goshod_, to offer you the congratulations of our village on your coming among us for the first time, and we beg to present you such poor food as we can supply, according to the ancient custom of our country," said the chief man of the party.

The Count having thanked them in a few kind words, cut some of the brown bread, which he dipped in the salt, and then drank a draught of the water, which was of delicious coolness. It was drawn, they told him, from a well celebrated for its purity, and which, even in the height of summer, had always ice on the shaft. This ceremony over, the Count and his friends drove on to his mansion, about a verst farther within the estate. A long avenue of lime-trees conducted them up to the house, which was of considerable size, and surrounded by all descriptions of out-houses, in anything but a flourishing condition. The mansion was built partly of brick and partly of wood, with verandahs and galleries, and steps running round outside it, and odd little projections, and bits of roofs apparently covering nothing, and for no other object than to serve as ornaments. The land-steward came down the steps, making many low bows, and followed by a troop of servants in faded blue liveries, all of them endeavouring to imitate his movements with very ridiculous ill success. The Count could scarcely restrain his laughter.

"I shall have plenty of work here to get things shipshape," said he, turning to Cousin Giles. "My uncle, from whom I inherited this property, was a noble of the old school. State with him was of the greatest importance. He loved to make a show--not that he really cared about it himself, or had any large amount of vanity, but that he considered it necessary to maintain the dignity of his order. Thus he kept up this useless troop of lazy varlets in faded liveries, when a good house-steward and two active footmen would have served him much better. I shall turn some of those fellows to the right-about very soon, and try to employ them in productive labour."

While the Count was talking they entered the house. Everything within betokened the old-fashioned taste of the former owner. Large sofas, numberless card-tables, high-backed chairs, huge, badly gilt picture-frames, enclosing daubs of most incomprehensible subjects, mirrors of all shapes and sizes, not one condescending to give a correct reflection of the human face. There was a large hall with a table down the centre, on which an ample meal was spread. At the upper end was a profusion of silver and glass, and two huge salt-cellars. Below the salt-cellars were plates and knives and forks of a far more humble description. The house-steward came forward with many a bow, and inquired when his lord would condescend to dine. "As soon as dinner can be ready," was the answer; "but come, gentlemen, we will go up to our rooms and shake off the dust of our journey."

The guests were shown by the house-steward to their bedrooms. They were very humbly furnished. All the grandeur had evidently been reserved for the public apartments. They came down to the dining-hall, when the Count took his seat at the head of the board, and his guests arranged themselves on either side. A number of other persons then came in, retainers of some sort,--persons of an inferior order, at all events: among them was a man in a long green gown, yellow boots, a dark vest, and light hair straggling over his shoulders. He bowed low, as did the others, to the Barin, the lord, and took his seat humbly below the salt.

They all ate with the gravity of judges about to condemn a fellow-mortal to death.

"I am glad that you have had an opportunity of seeing how Russians of the old school lived," observed the Count, turning to Cousin Giles. "I could not endure this sort of thing long, but it would not be wise to make too sudden changes. I shall in future only dine in state on great occasions, when it is politic to exhibit myself in public. We cannot all of a sudden introduce the freedom of the English. Ah! You should indeed value your institutions, both public and domestic."

The Count was busy all the next morning in seeing his overseers, and receiving deputations from the inhabitants of the various villages on his estate, who came to welcome him, and bring the accustomed offering of bread and salt. He arranged, however, ample amusement for his guests during the day, by supplying them with horses to ride, and boats on a lake a couple of versts away from the house, where they caught a large supply of fish in a very short time. In the afternoon several visitors, who had been invited to meet them, arrived. They were proprietors, large and small, of estates ten, twenty, and thirty versts away. The Count's own estate extended thirty versts in one direction, so that he had not many near neighbours. Some of these gentlemen spoke English fluently, and had seen the world. Fred and Harry were delighted with them, and so especially was Mr Evergreen, they were so polite and polished, and so full of information. Mr Evergreen declared that he should be proud to be a Russian, to be like them.

"Ah, my dear sirs, you should see Russia during the winter," exclaimed Baron Shakertoskey. "It is then we are most full of life and vivacity. Then nature kindly forms us roads, over which we are borne, gliding smoothly, at a rapid pace by quick-footed steeds; bridges are thrown across streams, by means which far surpass the art of man; and fresh fish, and flesh, and fowl are brought to market in the forms which they held when alive. Fish stand up on their tails, as if about to leap out of the baskets where they are placed. Sheep, oxen, and calves, rabbits and hares, look as if they could still run about, and fowls rear up their heads as if still denizens of the poultry-yard. A true Russian winter is only to be found at Moscow or in the interior. At Saint Petersburg, owing to the neighbourhood of the Baltic, the wind which blows over it frequently produces a thaw or a partial thaw, even in the middle of winter. Thus, as the wind shifts, so does the temperature rise and fall. With a west wind comes rain, and with a north-east a bitter cold; other winds bring fogs, and some, cheerful, bright frosty days, so that the inhabitants of that great city are liable to wind and rain in January, and frost and snow in April. Still the thermometer of Fahrenheit often falls to 55 degrees below zero, which it seldom reaches in Moscow. As in summer it often rises to 99 degrees, we may calculate a range of temperature of 150 degrees. This is a difference of temperature which would dreadfully try the constitution, did not people take very great precautions against it by the mode in which they warm their houses and clothe themselves. In Moscow, when the winter begins, it commences to freeze in right earnest, and does not leave off at the beck of any wind which may blow. We consider it to begin in October, and to end in May--a period of six months--long enough to please the greatest admirer of ice and snow. We then, once for all, don our fur cloaks, caps, and boots, without which we never show our noses out of doors till the beginning of spring. We then also light our stoves and paste up our windows. You have seen a Russian stove? It is worth examination. It is a vast mass of stone, which, though it takes a long time to warm, will keep warm for a much longer period without any additional fuel. The interior is like an oven, with a chimney, a long snake-like passage leading to it. As long as the wood continues to blaze the chimney is kept open, but as soon as it is reduced to ashes, the passage to it is closed, and the hot air is allowed to pass by numerous channels into the room. Sometimes the outer air is allowed to pass through pipes over hot plates in the stove, and in this way fresh air, properly charged with oxygen, is supplied to the inhabitants. In large houses the mouth of the stove is in an outer passage or in an ante-room, while the front is a mere mass of china, or concealed altogether by looking-glasses or other furniture. One or more servants in large houses have the entire charge of the stoves. They fill them with wood the last thing at night, and light them some hours before the family rise in the morning. In the sleeping-rooms they are kept in all night. In the houses of the poor, one stove of huge proportions serves for every purpose. It serves not only to heat the hut, but to bake their bread, and for all sorts of cookery, and to dry their clothes, articles of which are generally seen hung up round it. Benches are placed before it, where the inmates sit to warm themselves, while on a platform above it are placed beds, where, wrapped up in sheepskins, they indulge in idleness and heat--the greatest luxuries they are able to enjoy. To all our houses we have double windows: we paste paper over every crevice by which air may enter, and we fill up the lower part of the interval between the two windows with sand, into which we stick artificial flowers, to remind us that summer, with its varied-tinted beauties, will once again return. Two or three doors also must generally be passed before the inside of the house is reached. Thus, you see, in spite of the bitter cold in the outer world, we contrive to construct an inner one where we can make ourselves tolerably comfortable. We never venture out without being well wrapped up in furs, and then we move from house to house as fast as we can, so as to avoid being exposed any length of time to the cold. We have also large fires lighted in front of the places of amusement and the palaces of the Emperor and nobility, where the drivers and servants may warm themselves while waiting for their masters. Generally with great cold there is little wind; and people, as long as they are warmly clad and in motion, have no reason to fear its effects, but unhappy is the wretch who is overtaken by sleep while exposed to it. His death is certain. Death thus produced is said to be accompanied by no disagreeable sensations, at least so say those who have been partially frozen and recovered, but I would rather not try the experiment. When the thermometer falls to 50 or 55 degrees below zero, it is time to be cautious. No one shows his nose out of doors unless compelled by urgent necessity, and when he does, he moves along as fast as he can--keeping a watchful look-out after that prominent and important feature of the human countenance. As no unusual sensation accompanies the first attack of frost on the nose, it is difficult to guard against it. A warning is, however, given by the peculiar white hue which it assumes, and immediately this sign is observed by a passer-by, he gives notice to the person attacked. 'Oh, father! Father! Thy nose, thy nose!' he will cry, rushing up to him with a handful of snow, with which he will rub the feature attacked, if, on a nearer inspection, he sees that it is in danger. Of course people generally take the best possible care of their noses, so that the dreaded catastrophe does not often occur. We wrap up warmly, and leave only the eyes and mouth and nose exposed, so that nearly all the heat which escapes from the body has to pass through that channel, and thus effectually keeps it warm.

"We Russians are not so fond of violent exercise as are you English, and therefore we depend on the heat of our stoves and the thickness of our clothing to keep ourselves warm. We sometimes forget that our servants are not so substantially clad as ourselves, and while we are entertaining ourselves in-doors, they, foolish fellows, fall asleep, and get frozen to death outside the palace or theatre, or wherever we may happen to be. Every year, also, people lose their lives by getting drunk and falling asleep out of doors. They may try the experiment several times, but some night the thermometer sinks to zero, and they never wake again. In summer, travelling is all very well, but in winter it is enjoyable; no dust, no dirt, no scorching heat. Well covered up with warm skins, and with fur boots on our feet, away we glide, dragged rapidly on by our prancing steeds over the hard snow, fleet almost as the bird on the wing, and like the bird directly across the country, where in summer no road can be found. Mighty streams also are bridged over, and we journey along the bed of water-courses; which in spring are swept by foaming torrents. The thick mantle of ice and snow which clothes our country forms a superb highway, which the inhabitants of other lands may in vain desire. The snow, which seems so cold and inhospitable to the stranger, is our greatest and most valued friend. It is like a fur cloak; it keeps in the warmth generated in the bosom of the earth, and shelters the bulbs and roots and seeds from the biting cold, which would otherwise destroy them. More than anything else we have to dread a snowless winter; then truly the earth is shut up by an iron grasp, and tall trees, and shrubs, and plants wither and die under its malign influence. The earth, deprived of its usual covering, the ruthless cold deeply penetrates it, and man and beast and creeping things suffer from its effects. Oh, yes, we have reason to pray earnestly to be delivered from a snowless winter?"

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