Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. N. Pleshtcheyev.

IRKUTSK, June 5, 1890.

A thousand greetings to you, dear Alexey Nikolaevitch. At last I have vanquished the most difficult three thousand versts; I am sitting in a decent hotel and can write. I have rigged myself out all in new things and, as far as possible, smart ones, for you cannot imagine how sick I was of my big muddy boots, of my sheepskin smelling of tar, of my overcoat covered with bits of hay, of dust and crumbs in my pockets, and of my extremely dirty linen. I looked such a ragamuffin on the journey that even the tramps eyed me askance; and then, as ill luck would have it, the cold winds and rain chapped my face and made it scaly like a fish. Now at last I am a European again, and I am conscious of it all over.

Well, what am I to write to you? It’s all so long and so vast that one doesn’t know where to begin. All my experiences in Siberia I divide into three periods. (1) From Tyumen to Tomsk, fifteen hundred versts, terrible cold, day and night, sheepskin, felt boots, cold rains, winds and a desperate life-and-death struggle with the flooded rivers. The rivers had flooded the meadows and roads, and I was constantly exchanging my trap for a boat and floating like a Venetian on a gondola; the boats, the waiting on the bank for them, the rowing across, etc., all that took up so much time that during the last two days before reaching Tomsk, in spite of all my efforts, I only did seventy versts instead of four or five hundred. There were, moreover, some very uneasy and unpleasant moments, especially when the wind rose and began to buffet the boat. (2) From Tomsk to Krasnoyarsk, five hundred versts, impassable mud, my chaise and I stuck in the mud like flies in thick jam. How many times I broke my chaise (it’s my own property!) how many versts I walked! how bespattered my countenance and my clothes were! It was not driving but wading through mud. How I swore at it all! My brain would not work, I could do nothing but swear. I was utterly exhausted, and was very glad to reach the posting station at Krasnoyarsk. (3) From Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk, fifteen hundred and sixty-six versts, heat, smoke from the burning woods, and dust — dust in one’s mouth, in one’s nose, in one’s pockets; when you look at yourself in the glass, you think your face has been painted. When, on reaching Irkutsk, I washed at the baths, the soapsuds off my head were not white but of an ashen brown colour, as though I were washing a horse.

When I get home I will tell you about the Yenissey and the Taiga — very interesting and curious, for it is something quite new to a European; everything else is ordinary and monotonous. Roughly speaking, the scenery of Siberia is not very different from that of European Russia; there are differences, but they are not very noticeable. Travelling is perfectly safe.

Robbers and highwaymen are all nonsense and fairy tales. A revolver is utterly unnecessary, and you are as safe at night in the forest as you are by day on the Nevsky Prospect. It’s different for anyone travelling on foot. . . .

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