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mercy to prolong my life; but it cannot be so much longer.”
During a great part of September, the attention of all here was mainly engrossed, first with the sufferings, and lastly with the death, of a young and amiable lady, a merchant's wife, the object of envy to all the women of the place, not so much from her great wealth as from the affection she received from her husband. He loved her, indeed, most devotedly, more like a lover than a husband. She died in her confinement, a victim to prejudice and a murderous mode of treatment.
Neither midwives nor physicians are wanting at Berezov, practitioners being sent by government; but so deep-rooted are the ancient prejudices of the people, and so strictly are they adhered to, in the most critical periods of human life, that all the efforts made to eradicate them have hitherto proved ineffectual. Though a midwife or a physician may sometimes be called in, it is rather to tolerate their presence than to follow their advice.
Here, the tyrannical custom will have it, that the poor patient before giving birth to her infant,
must swallow several doses of a barbarous nostrum, prepared of soap, gunpowder, and the like disgusting mixtures ; and in addition, her body is violently pulled to and fro, and tortured into all imaginable positions, producing a total exhaustion of strength. If the woman is strong, she may pass through such a barbarous ordeal without danger, but not so a delicate constitution. Immediately after the child is born, the mother is fed with fish, prepared in a peculiar manner for the occasion, and then conducted to a steam-bath (laznia), whither the infant is also carried. In consequence
of such treatment, our young and beautiful friend, after several days' suffering, expired; I attended her funeral, which, as her husband was one of the wealthiest merchants at Berezov, was on a grand scale. The coffin was covered with crimson silk, ornamented with fringes of gold lace; and on arriving at the church, was placed on a bier in the nave. There her husband's family, which was very numerous, ranged in a circle round the coffin, and commenced their lament over the body. The strangers present now retired to some distance,
making room for this circle of mourners, who were to chaunt the funeral coronach.
This was commenced by the deceased motherin-law, who raised a lugubrious cry, and with sobs and moans enumerated all the virtues and accomplishments of the deceased, showing how every member of the family must suffer from her loss. This strain being finished, the subject was taken up by the husband's sisters, each of whom lamented the departed lady in her own way, with intonations and expressions peculiar to herself. Meanwhile the spectators commented on the manner in which each mourner performed her part, speaking with the greatest freedom and nonchalance.
“How beautifully Madame N— is lamenting !” said a woman behind me to her nearest neighbour. “None of her daughters can equal her. She is what
is what I call a matchless woman !”
What we witness to-day is nothing,” replied the other. “Had you but heard her at the funeral of her husband, you would have been delighted. Not only does she excel her daughters, but everybody in the whole town.'
The fact was, that the studied lament of Madame N—- produced quite a contrary effect from what should have been aimed at. The scene, so grave and mournful by itself, was deprived, by this performance, of all its solemnity, and sank into a mere theatrical representation. Such loud manifestations of grief, by sobbing, moaning, and cries, fell all the more discordant on the ear of those who heard them, as they indicated that the sorrow was feigned ; and in this case it was well known that the deceased, though so esteemed by her friends, was not at all liked by the members of her family, who had long felt aggrieved at the love which her husband entertained for her.
The husband's anguish was indeed poignant. His despair was really heart-rending. He was so sadly changed as to be scarcely recognised; and for three days after his wife's death he did not touch a morsel of food. Drooping, and ashy pale, he wandered about distracted and inconsolable. The three children of whom he was now the sole parent, and who were too young to comprehend their own or their father's loss,
formed a touching feature in the picture. They could not understand the cries of their grandmother and their aunts, the number of burning tapers which flashed around, and the other paraphernalia of the funeral; and they stood unconcerned, and almost benumbed, in the midst of the circle, with gaping mouths, and eyes straying from one object to another, wholly unable to fathom what was going forward.
The funeral ceremony completed, the body was carried to the Zarutchaï cemetery, to be buried in the husband's family vault; and as it left the church, I joined the mournful procession. On our arrival at the cemetery, the theatrical lament of the relatives was repeated by the same performers, and the coffin was then let down into the grave. At this moment several handfuls of earth were thrown on the coffin, and a great confusion arose. The bereaved husband was about to precipitate himself into the grave, and was only prevented by the interference of his friends, who drew him away by force, and the grave was filled up as expeditiously as possible.