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Everybody now went home, conversing on the way with his neighbours, as gaily as if returning from a dinner-party or a name’s-day féte. I joined some members of the family whom I had seen so despairingly lamenting over the remains of their relative, and found that, while so fresh from this melancholy scene, their conversation was carried on calmly, and referred to indifferent and every-day topics.
The Spaska Church is of brick, and is a large and stately edifice, which might even be called splendid, were it not for the hideous figures of saints which deface the interior. The heads of these worthies are monstrously large and of a faded ashy colour, and their bodies are shockingly lacerated and mangled. Fortunately the images are clad in dresses of silver and gold, decorated with precious stones, and thus a part at least of their horrible ugliness is concealed.
An occurrence took place in the church during the funeral, illustrative of the ideas and manners prevailing among the people of Berezov. There was a Russian woman residing in the town, who had been sent here a few years
previously, it is not known for what offence. Her dress was that of a Black Nun (tchernitza) of the Greek Church, and she affirmed that she had once belonged to that sisterhood. She was in the habit of talking a great deal of her pilgrimages to holy places and shrines, at some of which, according to her own account, she had even sojourned for years.
She had visited the petchery subterranean crypts of the city of Kiov, and been to Irkutzk to adore the miraculous image of the Holy Virgin in the cathedral of that town. There seemed to be no sacred place or shrine in the whole extent of the Russian empire which she had not visited in the performance of her acts of devotion. It will scarcely be credited that this devout nun picked up and secreted a shawl, which in the excitement of the funeral slipped off the shoulders of a young lady. A young man walking close behind them, saw her appropriate the garment, and as she was stealing out of the church, denounced her as a thief, and compelled her to restore the shawl to its lawful owner.
The spectators were so scandalized at the nefarious act, that they unanimously
forbade her ever entering again into the church, under pain of being forcibly ejected from it.
The sentence of the public was soon reported to the ecclesiastical authorities, who, however, could not be brought to concur in it, alleging that no one had a right to shut out a sinner from the means of supplicating God for pardon; and therefore it was wrong to close the doors of the church against this offender. These arguments, however, were far from allaying the irritation to which her conduct gave rise; and for several days it continued to be the only topic of conversation among all classes. Meanwhile the pretended nun thought it prudent not to stir from her room; and was even obliged to apply for protection to the police.
At Berezov, a theft is almost an unheard-of occurrence. Not one of the residents, either Ostiak or Russian, has ever been found guilty of such an offence. Whenever a theft has been committed, the guilty party has, on investigation, invariably proved to be a strangerone who, fostered amidst a higher civilization than the natives of this remote region can
boast, came here to disgrace it. Only such persons as have been banished from other parts have ever been detected in this crime, and they are not many in number. It is not only on this account that robberies are rare, but also from want of accomplices, and a place at which to dispose of stolen goods. Thus habits and circumstances combine to preserve the natives of Berezov from spoliation.
No measures are taken, indeed, to provide for the security of property; and if such were required at all, I doubt whether any legislature, even by the wisest enactments, could institute effective safeguards. But now all property is left under the protection of the public faith, insomuch that houses are void both of locks and bolts, and still are never plundered. The land is held almost in common.
As soon as the grass begins to spring up, all the cattle, oxen, and horses, are driven out for pasture into the forest, there to remain as long as summer lasts. Only cows are kept in the town, for the sake of their milk. The in
habitants do not see, nor care to see, the rest of their herds till the winter sets in, and the ground is covered with snow.
Then they scour the wood in search of them, and not unfrequently find them at twenty versts from the town. Nevertheless, there is no instance known of an Ostiak or Russian having ever committed the crime of cattle-stealing, though it might be done easily, and without the least danger. This is the more to be wondered at, as the Ostiaks are generally very remiss in accumulating provisions for winter; and it often happens, in seasons of failure in hunting and fishing, their only means of subsistence, that they are doomed to endure all the miseries of famine.
Here it would not, I think, be out of place to say a few words respecting the domestic animals of this portion of the globe, in so far as, being allowed a larger share of freedom, they may be said to excel our own domesticated cattle by the superiority of their instincts. I had many opportunities of observing whole herds of cattle, after they had consumed the pasture in one place, migrate in a body to