THE VILLAGE OF YAR, 45 VERSTS FROM TOMSK, May 14, 1890.
My glorious mother, my splendid Masha, my sweet Misha, and all my household! At Ekaterinburg I got my reply telegram from Tyumen. “The first steamer to Tomsk goes on the 18th May.” This meant that, whether I liked it or not, I must do the journey with horses. So I did. I drove out of Tyumen on the third of May after spending in Ekaterinburg two or three days, which I devoted to the repair of my coughing and haemorrhoidal person. Besides the public posting service, one can get private drivers that take one across Siberia. I chose the latter: it is just the same. They put me, the servant of God, into a basketwork chaise and drove me with two horses; one sits in the basket like a goldfinch, looking at God’s world and thinking of nothing. . . . The plain of Siberia begins, I think, from Ekaterinburg, and ends goodness knows where; I should say it is very like our South Russian Steppe, except for the little birch copses here and there and the cold wind that stings one’s cheeks. Spring has not begun yet. There is no green at all, the woods are bare, the snow has not thawed everywhere. There is opaque ice on the lakes. On the ninth of May there was a hard frost, and to-day, the fourteenth, snow has fallen to the depth of three or four inches. No one speaks of spring but the ducks. Ah, what masses of ducks! Never in my life have I seen such abundance. They fly over one’s head, they fly up close to the chaise, swim on the lakes and in the pools — in short, with the poorest sort of gun I could have shot a thousand in one day. One can hear the wild geese calling. . . . There are lots of them here too. One often comes upon a string of cranes or swans. . . . Snipe and woodcock flutter about in the birch copses. The hares which are not eaten or shot here, stand on their hindlegs, and, pricking up their ears, watch the passer-by with an inquisitive stare without the slightest misgiving. They are so often running across the road that to see them doing so is not considered a bad omen.
It’s cold driving . . .; I have my fur coat on. My body is all right, but my feet are freezing. I wrap them in the leather overcoat-but it is no use. . . . I have two pairs of breeches on. Well, one drives on and on. . . . Telegraph poles, pools, birch copses flash by. Here we overtake some emigrants, then an etape. . . . We meet tramps with pots on their back; these gentry promenade all over the plain of Siberia without hindrance. One time they will murder some poor old woman to take her petticoat for their leg-wrappers; at another they will strip from the verst post the metal plate with the number on it — it might be useful; at another will smash the head of some beggar or knock out the eyes of some brother exile; but they never touch travellers. Altogether, travelling here is absolutely safe as far as brigands are concerned. Neither the post-drivers nor the private ones from Tyumen to Tomsk remember an instance of any things being stolen from a traveller. When you reach a station you leave your things outside; if you ask whether they won’t be stolen, they merely smile in answer. It is not the thing even to speak of robbery and murder on the road. I believe, if I were to lose my money in the station or in the chaise, the driver would certainly give it me if he found it, and would not boast of having done so. Altogether the people here are good and kindly, and have excellent traditions. Their rooms are simply furnished but clean, with claims to luxury; the beds are soft, all feather mattresses and big pillows. The floors are painted or covered with home-made linen rugs. The explanation of this, of course, is their prosperity, the fact that a family has sixteen dessyatins [Footnote: I.e., about 48 acres.] of black earth, and that excellent wheat grows in this black earth. (Wheaten flour costs thirty kopecks a pood here. [Footnote: I.e., about 7-12d. for 36 lb.]) But it cannot all be put down to prosperity and being well fed. One must give some of the credit to their manner of life. When you go at night into a room where people are asleep, the nose is not aware of any stuffiness or “Russian smell.” It is true one old woman when she handed me a teaspoon wiped it on the back of her skirt; but they don’t set you down to drink tea without a tablecloth, and they don’t search in each other’s heads in your presence, they don’t put their fingers inside the glass when they hand you milk or water; the crockery is clean, the kvass is transparent as beer — in fact, there is a cleanliness of which our Little Russians can only dream, yet the Little Russians are far and away cleaner than the Great Russians! They make the most delicious bread here — I over-ate myself with it at first. The pies and pancakes and fritters and the fancy rolls, which remind one of the spongy Little Russian ring rolls, are very good too. . . . But all the rest is not for the European stomach. For instance, I am regaled everywhere with “duck broth.” It’s perfectly disgusting, a muddy-looking liquid with bits of wild duck and uncooked onion floating in it. . . . I once asked them to make me some soup from meat and to fry me some perch. They gave me soup too salt, dirty, with hard bits of skin instead of meat; and the perch was cooked with the scales on it. They make their cabbage soup from salt meat; they roast it too. They have just served me some salt meat roasted: it’s most repulsive; I chewed at it and gave it up. They drink brick tea. It is a decoction of sage and beetles — that’s what it is like in taste and appearance.
By the way, I brought from Ekaterinburg a quarter of a pound of tea, five pounds of sugar, and three lemons. It was not enough tea and there is nowhere to buy any. In these scurvy little towns even the government officials drink brick tea, and even the best shops don’t keep tea at more than one rouble fifty kopecks a pound. I have to drink the sage brew.
The distance apart of the posting stations depends on the distance of the nearest villages from each other — that is, 20 to 40 versts. The villages here are large, there are no little hamlets. There are churches and schools everywhere, the huts are of wood and there are some with two storeys.
Towards the evening the road and the puddles begin to freeze, and at night there is a regular frost, one wants an extra fur coat . . . Brrr! It’s jolting, for the mud is transformed into hard lumps. One’s soul is shaken inside out. . . . Towards daybreak one is fearfully exhausted by the cold, by the jolting and the jingle of the bells: one has a passionate longing for warmth and a bed. While they change horses one curls up in some corner and at once drops asleep, and a minute later the driver pulls at one’s sleeve and says: “Get up, friend, it is time to start.” On the second night I had acute toothache in my heels. It was unbearably painful. I wondered whether they were frostbitten.
I can’t write more though. The “president,” that is the district police inspector, has come. We have made acquaintance and are beginning to talk. Goodbye till to-morrow.
TOMSK, May 16.
It seems my strong boots were the cause, being too tight at the back. My sweet Misha, if you ever have any children, which I have no doubt you will, the advice I bequeath to them is not to run after cheap goods. Cheapness in Russian goods is the label of worthlessness. To my mind it is better to go barefoot than to wear cheap boots. Picture my agony! I keep getting out of the chaise, sitting down on damp ground and taking off my boots to rest my heels. So comfortable in the frost! I had to buy felt over-boots in Ishim. . . . So I drove in felt boots till they collapsed from the mud and the damp.
In the morning between five and six o’clock one drinks tea at a hut. Tea on a journey is a great blessing. I know its value now, and drink it with the fury of a Yanov. It warms one through and drives away sleep; one eats a lot of bread with it, and in the absence of other nourishment, bread has to be eaten in great quantities; that is why peasants eat so much bread and farinaceous food. One drinks tea and talks with the peasant women, who are sensible, tenderhearted, industrious, as well as being devoted mothers and more free than in European Russia; their husbands don’t abuse or beat them, because they are as tall, as strong, and as clever as their lords and masters are. They act as drivers when their husbands are away from home; they like making jokes. They are not severe with their children, they spoil them. The children sleep on soft beds and lie as long as they like, drink tea and eat with the men, and scold the latter when they laugh at them affectionately. There is no diphtheria. Malignant smallpox is prevalent here, but strange to say, it is less contagious than in other parts of the world; two or three catch it and die and that is the end of the epidemic. There are no hospitals or doctors. The doctoring is done by feldshers. Bleeding and cupping are done on a grandiose, brutal scale. I examined a Jew with cancer in the liver. The Jew was exhausted, hardly breathing, but that did not prevent the feldsher from cupping him twelve times. Apropos of the Jews. Here they till the land, work as drivers and ferry-men, trade and are called Krestyany, [Translator’s Note: I.e., Peasants, literally “Christians.” ] because they are de jure and de facto Krestyany. They enjoy universal respect, and according to the “president” they are not infrequently chosen as village elders. I saw a tall thin Jew who scowled with disgust and spat when the “president” told indecent stories: a chaste soul; his wife makes splendid fish-soup. The wife of the Jew who had cancer regaled me with pike caviare and with most delicious white bread. One hears nothing of exploitation by the Jews. And, by the way, about the Poles. There are a few exiles here, sent from Poland in 1864. They are good, hospitable, and very refined people. Some of them live in a very wealthy way; others are very poor, and serve as clerks at the stations. Upon the amnesty the former went back to their own country, but soon returned to Siberia again — here they are better off; the latter dream of their native land, though they are old and infirm. At Ishim a wealthy Pole, Pan Zalyessky, who has a daughter like Sasha Kiselyov, for a rouble gave me an excellent dinner and a room to sleep in; he keeps an inn and has become a money-grubber to the marrow of his bones; he fleeces everyone, but yet one feels the Polish gentleman in his manner, in the way the meals are served, in everything. He does not go back to Poland through greed, and through greed endures snow till St. Nikolay’s day; when he dies his daughter, who was born at Ishim, will remain here for ever and so will multiply the black eyes and soft features in Siberia! This casual intermixture of blood is to the good, for the Siberian people are not beautiful. There are no dark-haired people. Perhaps you would like me to write about the Tatars? Certainly. There are very few of them here. They are good people. In the province of Kazan everyone speaks well of them, even the priests, and in Siberia they are “better than the Russians” as the “president” said to me in the presence of Russians, who assented to this by their silence. My God, how rich Russia is in good people! If it were not for the cold which deprives Siberia of the summer, and if it were not for the officials who corrupt the peasants and the exiles, Siberia would be the richest and happiest of lands.
I have nothing for dinner. Sensible people usually take twenty pounds of provisions when they go to Tomsk. It seems I was a fool and so I have fed for a fortnight on nothing but milk and eggs, which are boiled so that the yolk is hard and the white is soft. One is sick of such fare in two days. I have only twice had dinner during the whole journey, not counting the Jewess’s fish-soup, which I swallowed after I had had enough to eat with my tea. I have not had any vodka: the Siberian vodka is disgusting, and indeed, I got out of the habit of taking it while I was on the way to Ekaterinburg. One ought to drink vodka: it stimulates the brain, dull and apathetic from travelling, which makes one stupid and feeble.
Stop! I can’t write: the editor of the Sibirsky Vyestnik, N., a local Nozdryov, a drunkard and a rake, has come to make my acquaintance.
N. has drunk some beer and gone away. I continue.
For the first three days of my journey my collarbones, my shoulders and my vertebrae ached from the shaking and jolting. I couldn’t stand or sit or lie. . . . But on the other hand, all pains in my head and chest have vanished, my appetite has developed incredibly, and my haemorrhoids have subsided completely. The overstrain, the constant worry with luggage and so on, and perhaps the farewell drinking parties in Moscow, had brought on spitting of blood in the mornings, which induced something like depression, arousing gloomy thoughts, but towards the end of the journey it has left off; now I haven’t even a cough. It is a long time since I have coughed so little as now, after being for a fortnight in the open air. After the first three days of travelling my body grew used to the jolting, and in time I did not notice the coming of midday and then of evening and night. The time flew by rapidly as it does in serious illness. You think it is scarcely midday when the peasants say —“You ought to put up for the night, sir, or we may lose our way in the dark”; you look at your watch, and it is actually eight o’clock.
They drive quickly, but the speed is nothing remarkable. Probably I have come upon the roads in bad condition, and in winter travelling would have been quicker. They dash uphill at a gallop, and before setting off and before the driver gets on the box, the horses need two or three men to hold them. The horses remind me of the fire brigade horses in Moscow. One day we nearly ran over an old woman, and another time almost dashed into an etape. Now, would you like an adventure for which I am indebted to Siberian driving? Only I beg mother not to wail and lament, for it all ended well. On the 6th of May towards daybreak I was being driven with two horses by a very nice old man. It was a little chaise, I was drowsy, and, to while away the time, watched the gleaming of zigzagging lights in the fields and birch copses — it was last year’s grass on fire; it is their habit here to burn it. Suddenly I hear the swift rattle of wheels, a post-cart at full speed comes flying towards us like a bird, my old man hastens to move to the right, the three horses dash by, and I see in the dusk a huge heavy post-cart with a driver for the return journey in it. It was followed by a second cart also going at full speed. We made haste to move aside to the right. To my great amazement and alarm the approaching cart moved not to its right, but its left . . . I hardly had time to think, “Good heavens! we shall run into each other,” when there was a desperate crash, the horses were mixed up in a dark blur, the yokes fell off, my chaise reared up into the air, and I flew to the ground, and my luggage on the top of me. But that was not all . . . A third cart was dashing upon us. This really ought to have smashed me and my luggage to atoms but, thank God! I was not asleep, I broke no bones in the fall, and managed to jump up so quickly that I was able to get out of the way. “Stop,” I bawled to the third cart, “Stop!” The third dashed up to the second and stopped. Of course if I were able to sleep in a chaise, or if the third cart had followed instantly on the second, I should certainly have come back a cripple or a headless horseman. The results of the collision were broken shafts, torn traces, yokes and luggage scattered on the ground, the horses scared and harassed, and the alarming feeling that we had just been in danger. It turned out that the first driver had lashed up the horses; while in the other two carts the drivers were asleep, and the horses followed the first team with no one controlling them. On recovering from the shock, my old man and the other three men fell to abusing each other ferociously. Oh, how they swore! I thought it would end in a fight. You can’t imagine the feeling of isolation in the middle of that savage swearing crew in the open country, just before dawn, in sight of the fires far and near consuming the grass, but not warming the cold night air! Oh, how heavy my heart was! One listened to the swearing, looked at the broken shafts and at one’s tormented luggage, and it seemed as though one were cast away in another world, as though one would be crushed in a moment. . . . After an hour’s abuse my old man began splicing together the shafts with cord and tying up the traces; my straps were forced into the service too. We got to the station somehow, crawling along and stopping from time to time.
After five or six days rain with high winds began. It rained day and night. The leather overcoat came to the rescue and kept me safe from rain and wind. It’s a wonderful coat. The mud was almost impassable, the drivers began to be unwilling to go on at night. But what was worst of all, and what I shall never forget, was crossing the rivers. One reaches a river at night. . . . One begins shouting and so does the driver. . . . Rain, wind, pieces of ice glide down the river, there is a sound of splashing. . . . And to add to our gaiety there is the cry of a heron. Herons live on the Siberian rivers, so it seems they don’t consider the climate but the geographical position. . . . Well, an hour later, in the darkness, a huge ferry-boat of the shape of a barge comes into sight with huge oars that look like the pincers of a crab. The ferry-men are a rowdy set, for the most part exiles banished here by the verdict of society for their vicious life. They use insufferably bad language, shout, and ask for money for vodka. . . . The ferrying across takes a long, long time . . . an agonizingly long time. The ferryboat crawls. Again the feeling of loneliness, and the heron seems calling on purpose, as though he means to say: “Don’t be frightened, old man, I am here, the Lintvaryovs have sent me here from the Psyol.”
On the 7th of May when I asked for horses the driver said the Irtysh had overflowed its banks and flooded the meadows, that Kuzma had set off the day before and had difficulty in getting back, and that I could not go, but must wait. . . . I asked: “Wait till when?” Answer: “The Lord only knows!” That was vague. Besides, I had taken a vow to get rid on the journey of two of my vices which were a source of considerable expense, trouble, and inconvenience; I mean my readiness to give in, and be overpersuaded. I am quick to agree, and so I have had to travel anyhow, sometimes to pay double and to wait for hours at a time. I had taken to refusing to agree and to believe — and my sides have ached less. For instance, they bring out not a proper carriage but a common, jolting cart. I refuse to travel in the jolting cart, I insist, and the carriage is sure to appear, though they may have declared that there was no such thing in the whole village, and so on. Well, I suspected that the Irtysh floods were invented simply to avoid driving me by night through the mud. I protested and told them to start. The peasant who had heard of the floods from Kuzma, and had not himself seen them, scratched himself and consented; the old men encouraged him, saying that when they were young and used to drive, they were afraid of nothing. We set off. Much rain, a vicious wind, cold . . . and felt boots on my feet. Do you know what felt boots are like when they are soaked? They are like boots of jelly. We drive on and on, and behold, there lies stretched before my eyes an immense lake from which the earth appears in patches here and there, and bushes stand out: these are the flooded meadows. In the distance stretches the steep bank of the Irtysh, on which there are white streaks of snow. . . . We begin driving through the lake. We might have turned back, but obstinacy prevented me, and an incomprehensible impulse of defiance mastered me — that impulse which made me bathe from the yacht in the middle of the Black Sea and has impelled me to not a few acts of folly . . . I suppose it is a special neurosis. We drive on and make for the little islands and strips of land. The direction is indicated by bridges and planks; they have been washed away. To cross by them we had to unharness the horses and lead them over one by one. . . . The driver unharnesses the horses, I jump out into the water in my felt boots and hold them. . . . A pleasant diversion! And the rain and wind. . . . Queen of Heaven! At last we get to a little island where there stands a hut without a roof. . . . Wet horses are wandering about in the wet dung. A peasant with a long stick comes out of the hut and undertakes to guide us. He measures the depth of the water with his stick, and tries the ground. He led us out — God bless him for it! — on to a long strip of ground which he called “the ridge.” He instructs us that we must keep to the right — or perhaps it was to the left, I don’t remember — and get on to another ridge. This we do. My felt boots are soaking and squelching, my socks are snuffling. The driver says nothing and clicks dejectedly to his horses. He would gladly turn back, but by now it was late, it was dark. . . . At last — oh, joy! — we reach the Irtysh. . . . The further bank is steep but the near bank is sloping. The near one is hollowed out, looks slippery, hateful, not a trace of vegetation. . . . The turbid water splashes upon it with crests of white foam, and dashes back again as though disgusted at touching the uncouth slippery bank on which it seems that none but toads and the souls of murderers could live. . . . The Irtysh makes no loud or roaring sound, but it sounds as though it were hammering on coffins in its depths. . . . A damnable impression! The further bank is steep, dark brown, desolate. . . .
There is a hut; the ferry-men live in it. One of them comes out and announces that it is impossible to work the ferry as a storm has come up. The river, they said, was wide, and the wind was strong. And so I had to stay the night at the hut. . . . I remember the night. The snoring of the ferry-men and my driver, the roar of the wind, the patter of the rain, the mutterings of the Irtysh. . . . Before going to sleep I wrote a letter to Marya Vladimirovna; I was reminded of the Bozharovsky pool.
In the morning they were unwilling to ferry me across: there was a high wind. We had to row across in the boat. I am rowed across the river, while the rain comes lashing down, the wind blows, my luggage is drenched and my felt boots, which had been dried overnight in the oven, become jelly again. Oh, the darling leather coat! If I did not catch cold I owe it entirely to that. When I come back you must reward it with an anointing of tallow or castor-oil. On the bank I sat for a whole hour on my portmanteau waiting for horses to come from the village. I remember it was very slippery clambering up the bank. In the village I warmed myself and had some tea. Some exiles came to beg for alms. Every family makes forty pounds of wheaten flour into bread for them every day. It’s a kind of forced tribute.
The exiles take the bread and sell it for drink at the tavern. One exile, a tattered, closely shaven old man, whose eyes had been knocked out in the tavern by his fellow-exiles, hearing that there was a traveller in the room and taking me for a merchant, began singing and repeating the prayers. He recited the prayer for health and for the rest of the soul, and sang the Easter hymn, “Let the Lord arise,” and “With thy Saints, O Lord”— goodness knows what he didn’t sing! Then he began telling lies, saying that he was a Moscow merchant. I noticed how this drunken creature despised the peasants upon whom he was living.
On the 11th I drove with posting horses. I read the books of complaints at the posting station in my boredom.
. . . On the 12th of May they would not give me horses, saying that I could not drive, because the River Ob had overflowed its banks and flooded all the meadows. They advised me to turn off the track as far as Krasny Yar; then go by boat twelve versts to Dubrovin, and at Dubrovin you can get posting horses. . . . I drove with private horses as far as Krasny Yar. I arrive in the morning; I am told there is a boat, but that I must wait a little as the grandfather had sent the workman to row the president’s secretary to Dubrovin in it. Very well, we will wait. . . . An hour passes, a second, a third. . . . Midday arrives, then evening. . . . Allah kerim, what a lot of tea I drank, what a lot of bread I ate, what a lot of thoughts I thought! And what a lot I slept! Night came on and still no boat. . . . Early morning came. . . . At last at nine o’clock the workmen returned. . . . Thank heaven, we are afloat at last! And how pleasant it is! The air is still, the oarsmen are good, the islands are beautiful. . . . The floods caught men and cattle unawares and I see peasant women rowing in boats to the islands to milk the cows. And the cows are lean and dejected. There is absolutely no grass for them, owing to the cold. I was rowed twelve versts. At the station of Dubrovin I had tea, and for tea they gave me, can you imagine! waffles. . . . I suppose the woman of the house was an exile or the wife of an exile. At the next station an old clerk, a Pole, to whom I gave some antipyrin for his headache, complained of his poverty, and said Count Sapyega, a Pole who was a gentleman-in-waiting at the Austrian Court, and who assisted his fellow-countrymen, had lately arrived there on his way to Siberia, “He stayed near the station,” said the clerk, “and I didn’t know it! Holy Mother! He would have helped me! I wrote to him at Vienna, but I got no answer, . . . ” and so on. Why am I not a Sapyega? I would send this poor fellow to his own country.
On the 14th of May again they would not give me horses. The Tom was flooded. How vexatious! It meant not mere vexation but despair! Fifty versts from Tomsk and how unexpected! A woman in my place would have sobbed. Some kind-hearted people found a solution for me. “Drive on, sir, as far as the Tom, it is only six versts from here; there they will row you across to Yar, and Ilya Markovitch will take you on from there to Tomsk.” I hired a horse and drove to the Tom, to the place where the boat was to be. I drove — there was no boat. They told me it had just set off with the post, and was hardly likely to return as there was such a wind. I began waiting. . . . The ground was covered with snow, it rained and hailed and the wind blew. . . . One hour passed, a second, and no boat. Fate was laughing at me. I returned to the station. There the driver of the mail with three posting horses was just setting off for the Tom. I told him there was no boat. He stayed. Fate rewarded me; the clerk in response to my hesitating inquiry whether there was anything to eat told me the woman of the house had some cabbage soup. Oh, rapture! Oh, radiant day! And the daughter of the house did in fact give me some excellent cabbage soup, with some capital meat with roast potatoes and cucumbers. I have not had such a dinner since I was at Pan Zalyessky’s. After the potatoes I let myself go, and made myself some coffee.
Towards evening the mail driver, an elderly man who had evidently endured a good deal in his day, and who did not venture to sit down in my presence, began preparing to set off to the Tom. I did the same. We drove off. As soon as we reached the river the boat came into sight — a long boat: I have never dreamed of a boat so long. While the post was being loaded on to the boat I witnessed a strange phenomenon — there was a peal of thunder, a queer thing in a cold wind, with snow on the ground. They loaded up and rowed off. My sweet Misha, forgive me for being so rejoiced that I did not bring you with me! How sensible it was of me not to take anyone with me! At first our boat floated over a meadow near willow-bushes. . . . As is common before a storm or during a storm, a violent wind suddenly sprang up on the water and stirred up the waves. The boatman who was sitting at the helm advised our waiting in the willow-bushes till the storm was over. They answered him that if the storm grew worse, they might stay in the willow-bushes till night and be drowned all the same. They proceeded to settle it by majority of votes, and decided to row on. An evil mocking fate is mine. Oh, why these jests? We rowed on in silence, concentrating our thoughts. . . . I remember the figure of the mail-driver, a man of varied experiences. I remember the little soldier who suddenly became as crimson as cherry juice. I thought, if the boat upsets I will fling off my fur coat and my leather coat . . . then my felt boots, then . . . and so on. . . . But the bank came nearer and nearer, one’s soul felt easier and easier, one’s heart throbbed with joy, one heaved deep sighs as though one could breathe freely at last, and leapt on the wet slippery bank. . . . Thank God!
At Ilya Markovitch’s, the converted Jew’s, I was told that I could not drive at night; the road was bad; that I must remain till next day. Very good, I stayed. After tea I sat down to write you this letter, interrupted by the visit of the “president.” The president is a rich mixture of Nozdryov, Hlestakov and a cur. A drunkard, a rake, a liar, a singer, a story-teller, and with all that a good-natured man. He had brought with him a big trunk stuffed full of business papers, a bedstead and mattress, a gun, and a secretary. The secretary is an excellent, well-educated man, a protesting liberal who has studied in Petersburg, and is free in his ideas; I don’t know how he came to Siberia, he is infected to the marrow of his bones with every sort of disease, and is taking to drink, thanks to his principal, who calls him Kolya. The representative of authority sends for a cordial. “Doctor,” he bawls, “drink another glass, I beseech you humbly!” Of course, I drink it. The representative of authority drinks soundly, lies outrageously, uses shameless language. We go to bed. In the morning a cordial is sent for again. They swill the cordial till ten o’clock and at last they go. The converted Jew, Ilya Markovitch, whom the peasants here idolize — so I was told — gave me horses to drive to Tomsk.
The “president,” the secretary and I got into the same conveyance. All the way the “president” told lies, drank out of the bottle, boasted that he did not take bribes, raved about the scenery, and shook his fist at the tramps that he met. We drove fifteen versts, then halt! The village of Brovkino. . . . We stop near a Jew’s shop and go to take “rest and refreshment.” The Jew runs to fetch us a cordial while his wife makes us some fish-soup, of which I have written to you already. The “president” gave orders that the sotsky, the desyatsky, and the road contractor should come to him, and in his drunkenness began reproving them, not the least restrained by my presence. He swore like a Tatar.
I soon parted from the “president,” and on the evening of the 15th of May by an appalling road reached Tomsk. During the last two days I have only done seventy versts; you can imagine what the roads are like!
In Tomsk the mud was almost impassable. Of the town and the manner of living here I will write in a day or two, but good-bye for now — I am tired of writing.
* * * * *
There are no poplars. The Kuvshinnikov General was lying. I have seen no nightingales. There are magpies and cuckoos.
I received a telegram of eighty words from Suvorin to-day.
Excuse this letter’s being like a hotch-potch. It’s incoherent, but I can’t help it. Sitting in an hotel room one can’t write better. Excuse its being long, It’s not my fault. My pen ran away with me — besides, I wanted to go on talking to you. It’s three o’clock in the night. My hand is tired. The wick of the candle wants snuffing, I can hardly see. Write to me at Sahalin every four or five days. It seems that the post goes there, not only by sea but across Siberia, so I shall get letters frequently.
* * * * *
All the Tomsk people tell me that there has not been a spring so cold and rainy as this one since 1842. Half Tomsk is under water. My luck!
I am eating sweets.
I shall have to stay at Tomsk till the rains are over. They say the road to Irkutsk is awful.
TOMSK, May 20.
It is Trinity Sunday with you, while with us even the willow has not yet come out, and there is still snow on the banks of the Tom. To-morrow I am starting for Irkutsk. I am rested. There is no need for hurry, as steam navigation on Lake Baikal does not begin till the 10th of June; but I shall go all the same.
I am alive and well, my money is safe; I have a slight pain in my right eye. It aches.
. . . Everyone advises me to go back across America, as they say one may die of boredom in the Volunteer Fleet; it’s all military discipline and red tape regulations, and they don’t often touch at a port.
To fill up my time I have been writing some impressions of my journey and sending them to Novoye Vremya; you will read them soon after the 10th of June. I write a little about everything, chit-chat. I don’t write for glory but from a financial point of view, and in consideration of the money I have had in advance.
Tomsk is a very dull town. To judge from the drunkards whose acquaintance I have made, and from the intellectual people who have come to the hotel to pay their respects to me, the inhabitants are very dull too.
* * * * *
In two and a half days I shall be in Krasnoyarsk, and in seven or eight in Irkutsk. It’s fifteen hundred versts to Irkutsk. I have made myself coffee and am just going to drink it.
. . . After Tomsk the Taiga begins. We shall see it.
My greeting to all the Lintvaryovs and to our old Maryushka. I beg mother not to worry and not to put faith in bad dreams. Have the radishes succeeded? There are none here at all.
Keep well, don’t worry about money — there will be plenty; don’t try to spend less and spoil the summer for yourselves.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07