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the field of sport, for which we proposed to start when the storm should abate.
Our tea was at last ready, but the party who went shooting returned, to our great disappointment, without a single sparrow, after having expended all their ammunition, and pleaded a thousand reasons for their ill-luck, which we readily accepted. We kept up our spirits as well as we could, and drank our tea pretty cheerfully, in the hope that it would clear up: but we awaited this result in vain. - Our repast was over, and the hurricane still continued.
At length the night came on, and we could no longer think of pursuing our voyage; we were indeed obliged to remain for the night on the spot where we were ; and here, to make the most of the occasion, we resolved to spread our nets for the ducks. Those who professed to be expert in the sport looked for a place where they could be most advantageously extended and when they returned from their reconnoissance we collected all our baggage, and entering our bark, shoved off from the shore.
The water was smooth and calm, and we
fastened our boat to a willow, and set about spreading the nets.
We found the work by no means so easy as we had fancied. Even in that sheltered place the wind was too strong, blowing down the poles to which we tried to fasten our net, and causing us no small trouble. By perseverance, however, we succeeded in overcoming the difficulty, though it did not secure us success. There was indeed no want of ducks, as we saw numberless flocks of them ; but the night being as clear as the day, and the wind waving our net to and fro, made the cords too visible, and instead of catching, it frightened the ducks, and they flew away.
Having thus completely failed, and being benumbed with cold, we let the net flutter with the wind as it would, and sat down to warm ourselves at the fire. Meanwhile, we saw the sky on the eastern horizon assume a crimson tinge, betokening the approaching sunrise; but the storm was still unabated, and the wind blew and roared in a tremendous way, shaking the net as though it would tear it to shreds.
At length we saw the sun rising over the
horizon. We had been ardently longing for his advent, in the hope that, as frequently happens, it would allay the tempest; but our expectations were fallacious. The sun shone brightly, but the wind blew as furiously as ever, sweeping over the tops of the trees with a voice of thunder. We now began therefore to ponder seriously on our situation, and consider what was to be done.
The spot where we had bivouacked was on the opposite shore to that on which Berezov stood, and, owing to the lowness of the ground, was entirely uninhabited.
Had we gone fifty, or even a hundred versts, we should not have found a single human dwelling. The storm might last many days, and while it did last, it would have been madness to attempt to re-cross the river in so frail a bark; the more so, as our steersman was far from being an expert one. We had, however, no provisions, and all the gunpowder, which would have enabled us to procure supplies, was spent. What was most prudent to do in this conjuncture, we could not decide.
Patience and reliance on God were our watch
word. Seeing no possible means of extricating ourselves from the difficulty, some of our company sat down to warm themselves at the fire, others mechanically dropped on the ground close to the net, where they watched with wistful looks the flocks of ducks as they kept rising and flying by; and I myself, not knowing how to wile away my time, wandered about on the shores of the bay; but, at length, having gone a considerable distance, I felt a desire to proceed to the Soswa, thinking how grand a spectacle the great river would present, when its billows were lashed by the storm. Prompted by that impulse, I proceeded about a verst farther, and at last caught a glimpse, through the opening between the intervening willows, of its broad sheet of waters. I approached nearer the banks; and what was my surprise to find that, though the wind was blowing a hurricane, bending the tops of the trees to the earth, the whole surface of the Soswa was but slightly rippled, while on the previous day, when the wind was less violent, its waves ran exceedingly high.
I scarcely could credit the evidence of my own eyes, and asked myself whether I was not
mistaken, and was not looking on some sheltered bay instead of the great river. But surveying the locality more narrowly, I found there was no error, but that the sheet of water before me was really the Soswa. Glancing once more at the placid stream, and more firmly convinced that I was under no delusion, I hastened to communicate the agreeable intelligence to my companions. They received it with joy, and we lost no time in collecting our baggage, and preparing to return home. Nor were we wholly without spoil; for though night had been unpropitious, four ducks, blinded by the light of the sun, had fallen into our nets, and saved us from the humiliation of utter failure.
The real cause of the becalmed state of the river was, that the wind, which on the previous day blew from the north, and thus acted in opposition to the current of the river, causing the waves to rise to a considerable height, now came from the south, which, falling in with the current, had no effect on the water. *
* This is one of the many passages in the book by which a hit is made at the Government. Where authors are not allowed to express their thoughts freely and