Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

fools have sawed away the prop of their house, and the roof falls in and crushes them.

I here snap the thread of my communication, and will resume it again should anything occur worthy the reading of my faithful ScxGΚΙΝ. .

At present there is a lull, a heaviness in the atmosphere, which I much fear portendeth a storm.

CHIN-SAN. LETTER III, “ The sound of the kettle-drum urges the boatmen to row." KWAN-FOOTSZE* has buckled on his shield and drawn his scimitar.

Bold as the five-clawed dragon, he has marched from the land to the sea, and-put his foot in it!

What hand can restrain the lion in his wrath when his eyes kindle like the flame of a furnace, and his mane bristles like a field of bamboos ?

The great guns of the Barbarians have awakened the slumbering tranquillity of our peaceful shores, and the courageous spirits of hundreds of our beloved citizens have flitted away in the volumes of rolling smoke!

The hearts of our women, even, are shrunk up to the size of stale and wrinkled dates with terror and dismay!

Reams of paper have been consumed in offerings to the departed heroes.t

And – But oh! HAN-YUH! the clear current of my thoughts is become so perturbed and muddy that I know not what I do, and am verily leading the pig by the tail instead of the snout-and begin. ning at the wrong end of my doleful history.

Learn, then, 0! Han-yuh, and cominunicate the sad tidings to all our loving kindred in Chow-Chow, that yesterday at the dawn of day, our noble admiral, who has descended in a direct line, without knots or twistings, or intermixture of baser blood, for two thousand years, from a fruitful branch of the house of KAN-TUN-TSWEN, placed his proud foot on the deck of his war-vessel, which undulated in the waters like a trained horse curvetting beneath its rider, and gave a signal to the whole fleet to precede him, that his unwinking eyes might view their conduct in the incomparable project formed in his sublime brains !

No sooner were his commands issued than a thousand oars divided the yielding waters, and they flew swiftly forth like so many whistling arrows loosed from the twanging bow-string.

Already had our undaunted and invincible war-men surrounded the big ships of the foe, and fired their blinding charges of charcoal powder into the round eyes of the tail-less Barbarians. Already had they climbed the lofty of these sea-monsters, and with their gleaming blades severed a thousand heads from their respective bodies.

The God of War. + On all occasions of worshipping departed spirits, paper offerings are invariably made use of, and generally accompanied with various articles, such as flesh, fowls, wine, &c. At funerals it is customary to burn paper representations of men, women, houses, sedanchairs, &c. and to pass them into the invisible state for the use of the departed.

Already had they blown into a thousand fragments those floating castles, and scattered them like dust before the wind.

Already, I say, Oh ! HAN-YUH, had they performed these feats of all-conquering valour-in imagination ! — when, approaching the slumbering vessels of the enemy, the Barbarians were seized with such a panic, that they accidentally, in their mortal terror, let off several of their great guns ! and bang ! bang ! rattle ! rattle ! they roared and boomed along the calm surface of the waters with the din and clamour of a thousand gongs !—and the next moment, lo ! several of the foremost of our junks, quite unprepared for the unforeseen consequences of the Barbarians' dismay, were pierced and battered, and quick ! dived into the sea like so many decoy-ducks !

Merciful as he is valiant, our nobly-descended admiral immediately commanded the remaining junks—not to remain,-anxious to prevent a greater effusion of blood. For, by the horse of Fun ! had he persisted in pursuing his exalted project, it is impossible to say what might have been the result ; for our brave fellow-citizens were to a man rendered so desperate, that they lost all command of them. selves and their oars, and pulled for the shore, when they intended, no doubt, to run down the opposing craft! It certainly appeared, however, to the penetration of a cool observer, that the Barbarians craft had got the better of our cunning !

Let this be as it may, the sight of so many of our countrymen dropping so suddenly into a watery grave was as distressing as if a nail had entered one's eye! May Lung* cherish their brave spirits ! If they are now doomed to wander at the bottom of the sea, it is at least plucking some of the thorns from the poignancy of our sorrow to know that, their vessels having gone with them, they will not starve for the want of salt JUNK!

Thus, alas ! " the bloom of the flower perishes in the falling shower, and the grass nipped by the hoar-frost loses its verdant hue !"

LEW-YEW-TSAE.

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

VISIT TO A SIBERIAN FAIR.

BY A RUSSIAN TRAVELLER.

THE TSHUKTSHI FAIR AT OSTROVNOÏE.

We started from Nishney Kolymsk on the 4th of March, 1820, in a couple of narti, drawn by excellent dogs, for the village of Ostrovnoïe, a distance of two hundred and fifty versts. My companions were the well-known pedestrian traveller, Captain Cochrane, a Cossack, and a Yakoot. The latter was acquainted with the Tshuktshi dialect, and was to act both as driver and interpreter.

The deep snow that covered the whole plain, and which had been drifted to an enormous height in those places exposed to the wind, made our first day's journey extremely fatiguing ; so that we found it impossible to reach the Poverna, forty versts from Nishney kolymsk. We spent the night in the open air, and chose a spot sheltered from the north wind by a small wood, on the edge of the elevated bank. The weather fortunately was warm and mild for the country (my thermometer showed only eight degrees of frost), so that we spent the night comfortably enough around a good fire.

On the following morning we proceeded on our journey, and got on much better, meeting here and there with a beaten track of considerable length, for which we were indebted to those of the neighbourhood, who had preceded us to Ostrovnoïe, with their stock of merchandise, composed of fish and furs. We soon reached the Little, or Dry Aniui, and followed its course nearly due east, cutting off as often as possible the long windings made by the river. We passed many of the villages and summer settlements of the Yukagires, scattered along the banks of the river ; but all were empty now—the inhabitants one and all having wandered away to the Fair of Ostrovnoïe.

On the 8th of March we reached Ostrovnoïe in safety. This place, which is honoured with the name of fortress, is situated on a small island formed by the Little Aniui, two hundred and fifty versts from Nishney Kolymsk. The fortress is nothing more than a worm-eaten paling surrounding a courtyard, which contains a few huts, pompously denominated barracks, and intended for the accommodation of the Commissary, his clerks, and his Cossacks; besides this, the place con. sists merely of a small dilapidated chapel, dedicated to St. Nicholas, and some twenty or thirty huts, that lie scattered about, without the slightest attempt at regularity. These huts we found as full as they could hold, but not affording accommodation for one half of those who come to visit the fair ; the remainder being obliged to bivouac among the sledges, &c. The Tshuktshi were somewhat better off in their tents of rein deer skin, which they pitched upon the small islands of the Aniui, at some distance from the market-place.

We found the whole place full of life and bustle ; and, though the spectacle was grotesque enough upon the whole, yet the effect was agreeable, and the picture original. The fortress and the surrounding huts had been cleared of the snow with no little trouble; nevertheless, with their flat, frozen roofs, they still looked little better than so many heaps of dirty snow. In the evening the scene was changed : nothing was then to be seen but the glimmer of the train-oil lamps

through the ice-panes of the windows; or the bivouac-fires of the strangers who had arrived to visit the fair, and who now lay encamp. ed under the canopy of heaven; or the column of smoke, intermingled with sparks, issuing from the tents of the Tshuktshi. Over this scene a yellow, red, or whitish green, aurora borealis, cast its beams in every-varying form along the horizon. All these negative illuminations, to which, every now and then, was joined the distant sound of a Shamaun's tambourine, produced a really magical effect, to which one should have been tempted to listen with pleasure, were it not for the severity of the cold, and the discordant chorus raised every now and then, at regular intervals, by some hundreds of howling dogs, that effectually prevented any kind of refined or contemplative indulgence.

Over the entrance to the so-called fortress there stands what was formerly a turret, but which now performs no other office than to do the honours of the house, by inclining its head respectfully to every one that passes by. Within resides the Commissary, who makes an annual visit

, with a few clerks and Cossacks, to collect the tribute, to exercise a kind of police superintendence, and to afford protection to the Russian merchants, in case of a hostile manifestation on the part of the Tshuktshi. Fortunately no occurrence of the kind has ever taken place; otherwise the wooden enclosure round the fortress, or the Commandant with his little ill-armed garrison, would be able to offer little resistance to so numerous a body of stout savages as compose the Tshuktshi caravan at Ostrovnoïe. In addition to the garrison, the fortress contains the priest from Nishney Kolymsk, who yearly visits the fair, bringing with him his saints and his church paraphernalia, and performing mass daily during his stay.

One day after us the Russian merchants arrived, with one hundred and twenty-five well-laden pack-horses. The Tshuktshi had been here for some time; they had located themselves in nine different encampments among the islands formed by the river, and were quite at home. Their migration to this place is a remarkable fact. They cross Behr. ing's Strait, and obtain, by barter from the North Americans, furs and sea-horse tusks; thence and from the extreme eastern extremity of Asia, they arrive with their wives, children, household furniture, arms, tents, and sledges.* Upon their way they visit two other places of barter, Anadyrsk and Kamennoïe ; and, for the sake of their reindeer, they are obliged to make a great round through the moss-heath.t They consequently spend five or six months upon a journey, which in a straight line is not more than one thousand versts. They set off generally in August, and arrive in Ostrovnoïe about the end of Jan. uary, or beginning of February, whence they start again after an interval of eight or ten days. The chief part of their lives is accordingly spent in travelling, but they make themselves at home wherever they come; for their customary dwelling, the reindeer-skin tent, with all its domestic equipments, is their inseparable companion in all their wanderings. One of these caravans of human snails, including women and children, consists, in general, of about three hundred, of whom one hundred to one hundred and fifty are armed men.

* Each sledge is usually drawn by two reindeer. + As it happens, nevertheless, that they have often to pass over large naked tracts of land, without coming to any pasturage, a number of sledges laden with moss usually follow the caravan to supply the reindeer with food.

Including the visit to America, and other preliminary arrangements, the journey to the fair occupies a party of Tshuktshi more than a year. When crossing Behring's Strait, they make use of a kind of leathern boats or baidares ; and the slender construction of these little vessels, together with the total ignorance of navigation on the part of the adventurous crews, render the passage one of considerable danger. On their journey overland they usually halt at the Tshaun Bay, exchange their tired reindeer for fresh ones, and fetch their own again on their return.

In their trade with the Americans, as well as with the Russians, the Tshuktshi are in reality only carriers; for they embark no capital of their own, nor, with the exception of reindeer-skins, and a few other trifles, do they offer for sale any article the produce of their own industry. From the Kargauls, and other inhabitants of the north-western coast of America, they purchase sea-horse tusks and furs, and pay for them with tobacco, ironware, glass beads, &c. which they obtain from the Russians, in exchange for the former description of mer. chandise. In this commerce all the parties concerned are great gain. ers. For half a pood of tobacco the Tshuktshi will obtain from the Americans a parcel of skins, for which the Russians cheerfully give two poods of the same tobacco; the Russian pays for these two poods of tobacco at most one hundred and sixty rubles, and he obtains for them a parcel of skins, which he is sure to dispose of for at least two hundred and sixty rubles.

The furs brought for sale by the Tshuktshi consist chiefly of black and silver-grey foxes, white or arctic foxes, lynxes, wolverenes, river. otters, beavers, and a remarkably beautiful kind of marten, never met with in Siberia, and very nearly approaching the sable in colour, as well as in the quality of the hair. In addition to these, they bring with them bear-skins, sea-horse leather, and the tusks of the same animal, the latter in very great quantities. All these articles they purchase from the Americans. The only articles of their own mana. facture are sledge-runners of whale-ribs, various articles of wearing apparel made of reindeer skins, and a kind of portmanteau of seal. skin, being nothing more than the entire skin of the animal, with a small opening in the belly through which the flesh and bones have been taken out, and the interior very neatly tanned.

The goods brought by the Russian merchants are precisely calculated for the wants and tastes of the Tshuktshi. The great article is tobacco: in addition to this, various iron tools, &c. such as ket. tles, axes, knives, fire-boxes, needles, copper, tin, and wooden ves. sels; and a number of coloured glass beads for the women. Fain would the Russian traders add brandy to the list of their commodities; but there exists a most wise and benevolent prohibition on this subject, which effectually prevents the open sale of spirits. A small quantity, however, still finds its way to the fair, and most extrava. gant prices are given for it by the Tshuktshi, who call it the Maddening Water.. Their passion for spirits is so great that when a Tshuktshi has tasted one glass, he will give unhesitatingly a fine black fox-skin, worth two hundred and fifty rubles, for a few bottles of wretched corn-brandy, that had been purchased at Yakutsk for a few rubles. The Russian merchants bring likewise tea, sugar, cloths, &c. for those of their own countrymen who visit the fair.

In addition to the Russians and Tshuktshi, the fair is visited by many of the native tribes within a circuit of a thousand or fifteen hun.

« ПредишнаНапред »