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Herds of reindeer-Capture of a horse-Scarcity of
water-Novel employment for dogs — Freezing of rivers—Excursion in sledges—Wave-like surface of the ice-An encounter.
As October advanced, the frost increased in intensity. Herds of reindeer returned from their summer pasture in the Uralian mountains, stalking with stately gait along the banks of the Soswa, the hard, frozen soil serving them for a highway It was a charming sight to look upon large herds of these useful animals, bearing, as it were, a forest of antlers over their heads, and moving on through the woodlands like a compact army.
One morning our landlord, after much trouble, protracted through several days, per
formed a great task-he succeeded in catching one of his horses in the forest, where a great number had been at pasture the whole summer. During this interval they wander freely in the woods, without any restraint, and commonly turn wild to such a degree, that, when the winter sets in, their owners have the greatest possible difficulty in catching them, and even when caught it is hard to bring them to anything like subjection.
The successful capture of the horse filled the whole house with joy, and this not without sufficient reason.
The river Soswa had now retreated to its narrowest bed, and the minor streams near the town, were either frozen or dried up; consequently, not a drop of water could be got anywhere, except at a distance of a verst; and, in the absence of a horse, all the water had to be fetched from that distance in buckets. I must here observe, that the town does not boast a single well. The inconvenience arising from want of water is not so much felt during summer, as the river, inundating widely all the low ground, and overflowing all the ravines, brings it nearly to the door of
every house; but in winter, the inhabitants are exceedingly distressed from this cause, and in case of fire there appears no hope whatever of
The great fire of 1817, which caused so much destruction at Berezov, is well remembered by the inhabitants; and even in the current year, the town ran great risk of being entirely burnt down. Fortunately, it was saved; but several government offices and public archives, and the Russo-Greek monastery, became one heap of ashes.
In my opinion, wells might easily be dug at Berezov, the water being usually found not very deep beneath the surface of the earth. What, however, I doubt is, whether means could be found to prevent their waters freezing in winter.
Those Berezovians who have no horses—and they are many in number—employ dogs to bring their supply of water to their houses. Indeed, it is painful to reflect to what an extent man is apt to tax the physical power of these faithful and obedient guardians of his household. The dog, on such occasions, is put to the sledge, and has to draw a huge cask of
water, often up-hill, for a considerable distance. The poor animal, though he may be of the larger breed, exerts himself to his utmost, stretching forth the whole length of his body in dragging the load along. I saw some people cruel enough, when the dog was thus loaded, to add the weight of their own bodies, and while sitting on the sledge, flog the sinking animal in the most merciless manner. Our house, which was situated on a hill, not far from the river, overlooked the sloping ground below; and I often had the misfortune to witness with my own eyes, from my window, these revolting exhibitions.
As the frost increased in intensity, smaller rivers were entirely frozen over. The Soswa, too, began to be covered with ice. This river, from the excessive rapidity and volume of its waters, did not freeze, I was told, till the cold was at least seventeen degrees below the freezing point. The interval before the complete freezing of the river I found most irksome, interrupting, as it did from five to six weeks, all communication by the post. The reason of this long interruption is that the different rivers do not
freeze simultaneously, and all intercourse by water is cut off, and there is no road by land. The deprivation is the greater, as writing affords a sweet consolation. The heart in the course of time becomes habituated to the fortnightly intervals during which the post goes and returns. Human nature thus, gradually, adapts itself to circumstances.
As the frost increased, the people of Berezov repaired with great curiosity to the river side, to see the water freeze ; the period, which intervenes between their transition from the fluid state into that of solidity, being regarded with great interest.
The only road, which had previously led to and from Berezov, is then destroyed, and the town is thenceforth cut off for some time from all communication with the rest of the world.
Though the bulletin of the state of the river was circulated every moment through the town with the utmost accuracy, and with as great expedition, and though there was nothing known of which I could not have made myself cognizant, still I could not help directing my steps, like the rest, to the banks of the