Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the mother, in spite of her long journey during the cold of an early winter, was looking as fresh and healthy as if no such event had happened. As they were not rich, the parents had some difficulty in finding sponsors for their child. Our landlord, therefore, an honest Cossack, offered his services for this Christian act, as godfather, and my servant stood as godmother.

I approached the infant, curious to see it, and to ascertain in what manner children are kept by the Ostiaks at that early period. The child was lying, not in a cradle, but in a hamper made of the bark of a tree. This receptacle was flat and narrow, so as scarcely to allow room for its occupant, and, in lieu of a mattress, was filled with dry powder from rotten trees. The pillow was formed of shavings of young willow. Over all was reindeer skin, on which the infant lay without any swaddles, or so much as a rag of linen, but merely wrapped over with this hairy coverlet.

To the top of this hamper, on both sides, were attached two folds of leather, which opened when the child was to be taken out, and closed over it when within, forming as it were a cover

to the interior. On the child being laid in, this folding cover is fastened with straps, which prevents the infant from falling out, or throwing off the reindeer skin in which it is enveloped. The face of the babe was uncovered, so as not to impede respiration.

During journeys, this hamper-cradle, with the child inside, is thrown over the shoulders of one of the parents, and secured by a leathern strap, in which way it is carried a great distance.

The willow shavings of the pillow are exceedingly soft. They are obtained by passing the edge of the knife lightly over the surface of young branches, so as to produce tiny threads or fibres, which, when collected in sufficient quantity, serve the Ostiaks as towels. With these they wipe their face and hands when they wash; and wipe their new-born children after bathing them in cold water in summer, or rubbing their tender limbs with snow in winter.

The Ostiak mothers are accustomed to nurture their children themselves, and do not imitate the example of Russian mothers, who, as I have before stated, feed them with cow's milk. In other parts, as in the colony at Irkutzk, the

new-born child of a Russian is given to a Takouta woman to nurse; and when old enough, learns to read and write, after which he is brought up to the fur trade, and his education is finished.

The days in October grew very short. At four o'clock it was completely dark. I felt this diminution of the light of day very much, and the more so from not being able to work on canvas by candle-light-a work of which I am extremely fond, and which was almost my sole amusement here.

Madame X—- brought us a hare which she said she had herself shot, that she might have the pleasure of presenting it to us. In the environs of Berezov there are immense numbers of hares, but the Russians do not eat them, as they hold the flesh of the hare to be unclean, and consequently this excellent game is never seen on their tables. Nobody kills them, and therefore they absolutely swarm.

On my giving the hare to our landlady to roast for our dinner, I saw her shrug her shoulders, at the same time making a wry face and spitting on the floor, as if a most disgusting

thing had been placed in her hand. This, however, did not make us enjoy our dinner the less when the hare was served.

When it grew perfectly dark, and our canvas work could no longer be continued, we laid it reluctantly aside, and went out for a walk. Josephine, however, discouraged partly by cold and partly by darkness, soon returned home; but as I wanted exercise, and solitude perhaps still more, I continued my walk further.

I went as far as the Zarutchaï Church, situated, as I formerly mentioned, beyond the precincts of the town, and separated from it by. a deep ravine. This is a most retired and lonely spot, with a cemetery, surrounded by a venerable wood of larch-trees, which having survived hundreds of years, a long epoch of importance and renown, and having once, as tradition says, formed a sacred grove of the Ostiaks, seemed not unlike mighty potentates when shorn of all their power and dignity, and with nothing around them but crumbling tombs, pensively musing over the vanity of worldly glory.

The living generation, as though from respect for the last resting-place of those who were

1

sleeping, and who were not to awake until the sound of the Archangel's trumpet, deemed it right to remove their own habitations to some distance, though raising here an edifice for prayer and contrition, to be, as it were, a solemn threshold, beyond which, through the medium of death, their mortal life entered on immortality.

Night, silence, solitude, and the rivulet with its indistinct murmuring at the foot of the hill, all appeared like a sombre veil of mourning over the snow-white garment of the place. The full moon, now above the horizon, bathing her orb in the dark-blue abyss, gleamed from on high on this secluded scenery of the nether world. The pale lunar light shed on every object, imparted to the picture an unusual and most solemn aspect, more particularly when its rays fell on the bare towering trunks and leafless branches of the ancient larch-trees-monuments of the past, amidst vestiges of a new civilisation, amidst tombs composed of stone, of marble, and of iron, with the church watching

The scene, at that solemn hour, seemed to open to me a glimpse of the secret

over all.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »