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On taking our seats in the narta, I experienced, when we started, a disagreeable sensation, a sort of giddiness, such as is felt in a swing. The deer set off as if they strove to outstrip the winds, which, in so far, might not have been unpleasant, had it not been accompanied by a sense of fear; for we could not forget that we were entirely at the mercy of these animals, with nothing like a rational control to direct their course.
After proceeding some distance, and seeing that, though cast to and fro, and up and down, the narta was not overturned, I began to recover confidence, and my fears subsided. way, however, we came up with a sledge that had been upset.
It was that of the police master's wife, who had been enjoying a similar airing. But our valiant conductor confidently assured us that we should not meet with any such misadventure—and he spoke truth.
Upsets indeed are, on the whole, rare; and this may be accounted for by the extraordinary length and breadth of the base of the narta, the latter of which is equal to the dimensions of the upper portion. Still, considering the nature of the ground on which they are used, it is
impossible not to expect some accidents; but even when overturned, the narta, in consequence of its peculiar construction, usually rights itself without any aid on the part of the traveller. If, however, any one loses his seat on the narta, he must employ all his agility to regain it before the reindeer sets off; for should he fail to do So, he will have to make his weary journey home on foot.
The food of the reindeer is moss, similar to the Icelandic moss. No provision whatever is made for their maintenance, but they go in herds to browse on the moss wherever they can find it in the forest. The persons owning them keep regular shepherds to attend them. These shepherds have their tchoums, or tents, on the spot where they graze, and remove from place to place as the herds change their pastureground. The reindeer is gifted with a peculiar instinct for the discovery of localities abounding in moss; and whatever may be the depth of overlying snow, they scrape it away till they reach the moss, and thus depend for their subsistence, not on man, but entirely on themselves. A herd having found some tract of moss and scraped off the snow, makes no
farther explorations, but remains there till the moss entirely fails. This, however, does not often happen, the moss-pasture being found most everywhere in abundance.
An owner of reindeer, intending to proceed on a journey, orders as many as are needed to be brought to him from the forest; and on returning home, sends them back to the herd. It is considered an utter impossibility to keep them in stables. They receive nothing at the hand of
Even during a journey no fodder is carried, but when hungry, they are unharnessed, and driven to some place where pasture may be found. To prevent their being lost in the wood, they are tied with a long rope to a post, and the traveller waits till their hunger is appeased.
This mode of travelling is extremely tiresome, as the baiting of the deer often occupies several hours. In order to obviate this loss of time and the discomfort arising from it, those who possess herds are accustomed, before they set out, to dispatch previously a troop of deer, as relays, to different stations; and those who have not a sufficient number of their own, hire some
for this purpose.
The reindeer can endure hunger and fatigue
very long, and commonly run from twenty to thirty versts without stopping ; but no sooner do they find their strength failing, or their driver exacting more than they can perform, than they fall flat on the snow for rest. No amount of castigation will induce them to rise until they have sufficiently recruited their strength, but then they voluntarily get up. Travellers may, however, without much over-tasking their powers, go as far as a hundred versts before stopping to bait them; but no considerate person will oblige them to run more than about fifty versts.
The reindeer is, from his nature, born, as it were, expressly for these northern regions. He cannot bear any degree of heat ; and hence at the close of April
, or the beginning of May, before the spring comes on, or the snow thaws, the owners of herds make out a list of the old and young ones, and having marked each, send them in charge of their shepherds to the Ural Mountains. Amid these mountains, more particularly on the chain bordering the Frozen Ocean, the snow never disappears, and intense cold prevails throughout the year. Here there are no mosquitoes, which the reindeer cannot bear; and the herds remain on the mountains
until the return of autumn, when the rivers and swamps have frozen over, and the snow is covering the ground. Then they return to their former winter quarters, where their services render them invaluable.
The reindeer may be said to be the greatest boon conferred on Siberia. The fur is used by the inhabitants instead of linen, clothing and bedding; it is also made into boots and caps. The skin of the young reindeer, which is in common use, and in commerce is known by the name pieshki, excels far the softness and the lustre of the fur, and forms lighter and more elegant garments. With this, ladies' mantles and cloaks are lined, and men use it for caps and trioushki (three-eared hoods). The skin of a reindeer, a year old, known by the name of neplouyé, is used for making wide touloubs, or shoubas, called also yagi.
The neplouyé skins have a short and lustrous hair. The chestnut-coloured alone are used for yagi, as an upper covering. The hair is turned outwards, and the inside is commonly lined with flannel, and sometimes also with some other inferior fur. There is a great demand for this sort of fur at the fairs of Irbit and Tobolsk.