« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
that, although the favourite season of these hellish spirits was past, they were unwilling to abandon the society of man, with whom they had been fraternising; and they were in the habit, when the festivities were over, of secreting themselves in corners, whence they occasionally emerged to play off their pranks, causing a good deal of mischief. She assured us, however, that we had now nothing to fear on this score, as she had taken care to penetrate every nook, even to the smallest chink, so that they could find no refuge in the house. This speech she ended with a hearty laugh at the discomfiture of the infernal imps.
On the following night there was a violent storm, and the wind beat against the window-shutters in such a manner that we could not sleep. In the morning our landlady came in, and asked us how we had passed the night. On giving her a favourable account, as we did not wish to distress her, she was extremely rejoiced, and attributed our quiet slumbers to the precaution she had taken ; assuring us, at the same time, that the storm and the knocking at the windowshutters were simply owing to the malignant
spirits. These gentry, we found, having been expelled by the power of the holy water, had been attempting to come back through the window, but not finding the smallest chink unconsecrated, they were obliged to give up the project, and in revenge endeavoured to beat down the window-shutters.
The Berezovians may be said to be still moving within the precincts of the invisible world, where their excessive credulity keeps their minds enthralled ; and those who should endeavour by the force of reason to emancipate them from these superstitions, would, I fear, destroy the most poetical element of their existence.
I was told by a young and jovial wag here, that having exhausted all imaginable means for disguise during the previous season, he had conceived the absurd idea of besmearing his face with soot, and putting on a black costume, with a tail attached behind, according to the popular conception of the Evil One. In this disguise he waited till the masks visited his house. Soon a numerous party of them arrived in sledges, and not wishing to be seen, he concealed himself in the lobby, till they were departing, when he
mixed with the crowd, and then took his seat in one of the sledges.
They halted before another house, and were all alighting, when he was perceived, and their consternation and fright may be more easily imagined than described. Before many minutes elapsed all the sledges were deserted. The maskers flew in different directions, and spread terror among the inhabitants in whose houses they took refuge, and the whole town was soon filled with consternation. The young man who was the cause of the panic, afraid of incurring a censure from the party whom he had so frightened, himself flew home as fast as he could, threw off his obnoxious disguise, and took good care to keep the secret of the wild prank he had played. An incident like this, of course, was not forgotten, and went far to confirm the people in their belief that devils often mixed in the masquerades.
Soon after Christmas our society here received a most agreeable accession, by the arrival of Dr. Wakulinski who had been long expected, having been appointed by the Government a physician at Berezov. He had been educated at
the University of Wilna, at the expense of the Government, and was sent to this distant place to complete the period of public service assigned to the alumni of that class. This welcome incident was followed by the fair of Berezov, of which I had previously heard so much, that I had great expectations of it. I imagined, indeed, that it would be something like our own fairs, and expected to see more people, more movement, than is usual in ordinary life. But in this I was disappointed. A few merchants of Tobolsk and Sargat, in their way home from the Obdorsk fair, lingered awhile at Berezov, and were lodged in the houses of their old acquaintances. During their sojourn, they employed themselves in reloading the skins they had brought from the Obdorsk fair, and dispatching the cargoes to Irbit. The remainder of these goods was disposed of by wholesale among the mercantile houses in town trading with the Ostiaks, and also in small portions to the Ostiaks themselves, settled in the vicinity of Berezov. These mercantile operations, however, are transacted in the various offices, and in so quiet a way as to be scarcely perceptible out of doors.
The little stir that pervades at Berezov fair, is excited by traders from Suzdal on their return from Obdorsk. This class of pedlars carry about boxes of sundry commodities, such as needles which are as thick as spikes, pens as blunt and clumsy as nails, ribands, tape, incense, &c., and sell them in retail. Canvas for worsted work and designs of gorgeous colours, however tasteless and bizarre, find a ready market at Berezov. Some of the rich amateurs have the walls of their apartments adorned with this sort of tapestry, and women take them as patterns for their beadwork. During the fair the wholesale merchants of Berezov buy up all kinds -of fur from the small dealers, who may have acquired them from the Ostiaks and Samoieds. These articles they pack on sledges, and go with them direct to the Irbit fair. In this way considerable quantities of furs are dispatched yearly from this place, consisting of the skins of white reindeer, squirrel, ermine, fox, young reindeer (nepluye), and norniki.* These skins form the basis of the fur trade. The value fixed on them
* Norniki, animals little known elsewhere, and living in subterranean holes-nora, in Slavonic, meaning a hole.