A Journey in Southern Siberia, by Jeremiah Curtin, , at sacred-texts.com
AFTER annoying delays the day for starting on the journey came at last (August 6); but only at one o'clock were we ready for the road. A few moments before leaving I witnessed an interesting ceremony. Eight men with Vassya seated themselves in a circle on the ground, then one of the eight rose and with a glass of vodka in his extended hand implored the gods, as he sprinkled the vodka on the ground, to grant Vassya a prosperous journey.
From Usturdi I drove directly to Lazareff's house, whence we were to set out on the journey together. The two men had proposed to start alone at two o'clock, but I preferred to have them with me, if possible.
On arrival I found that Lazareff was "not quite ready"; he needed an hour at least, and he and Vassya wished to stop a short time at a near-by village where there was a wedding in progress,—a friend of theirs was celebrating a part of his marriage. Lazareff promised faithfully to overtake me on the road, or at Olzoni, the next station.
I drove on, and at the first village, which was a short distance from the highway, I saw a large assembly of people. The inhabitants had no work on that day, nothing to think of but the marriage. The young people were dancing most vigorously; the old men and women were sitting around in groups, laughing and talking, taking refreshments, solid and fluid.
That afternoon in the first half of August was delightful, sunny and bright, but not too warm. The road was excellent, being the highway between the capital of eastern Siberia, Irkutsk, and Yakutsk, which has been for so many years the city of exile. Along the road on the left there are many good winter houses.
The places chosen for these buildings are in most cases well sheltered by high hills from winds of the north and northwest.
There is nothing in which Russian influence on the Buriats is shown more emphatically than in the matter of winter homes. Before Russian times the Buriat house was always an eight-sided log structure, with a hole in the middle of its earth-covered roof to let smoke out. A fire of sticks was made on the ground under this smoke-hole. How cold those places were in such a climate we can imagine very easily. The winter house now, with its great stove made of brick, is in use among the better class, and often it has double windows.
Though there were many dwellings along the way, people were living elsewhere for the summer months. There was perfect quiet, no man or woman was to be seen, no horses or cattle were grazing in the pastures.
Twenty-four hours before there had been rain, hence the road was clean, with no trace of dust on it. Rarely have I traveled with such pleasure as on that clear sunny day in August. There was no racing of horses this time, the carriage moved on at an easy, good pace, very comfortably. Only once did we meet an equipage. It seemed as though the whole world was at home sleeping.
About seven o'clock we rolled into Olzoni, a pleasant-looking village in a narrow valley. Along the middle of the village runs the single street, which is also the highway.
On the left hand, at the entrance to the village and just out-side the first buildings, is an ostrog, or palisaded prison enclosure, which has a suggestive and sinister look, mainly because we know why it is there and what it is used for. It was the first of the kind I had ever seen.
At the other end of Olzoni the valley turns to the right quite abruptly, and the street seems to end in a hill. On this hill is a small wooden church, beyond which there are no houses. The church at one end, the prison at the other; narrow fields at the right as we enter, and wooded hills beyond them. On the left green fields and a rolling country, perhaps fifty feet above the highway.
At Olzoni there is an excellent post station. Tea was in order,
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V. HORSE SACRIFICE.
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VI. HORSE SACRIFICE.
and then preparations were made for a supper, which came about two hours later. On the street there was considerable activity. I met two children who were playing horse, and I discovered that the horse was Timofei and the driver Andrei. I had to remonstrate with Andrei for using his whip too freely, though Timofei explained that he was whipped because he was a horse and did not want to work. A man sitting on an ox and going for water with his cart and barrel furnished a good picture of domestic life. The ox was well trained and walked off briskly.
To add to my stock of provisions, and to find out something of possible interest regarding the inhabitants of the village, I went into the principal shop, where I made the acquaintance of the merchant Pan Tembovski, a Pole, who told me very interesting things touching the Buriats. He was exiled many years ago for political reasons; after serving out his sentence he went back to Russia, but returned soon, because "there is more money and life in Siberia." To me it seemed that all the powers of a financier would be needed to make even a meagre living in Olzoni.
At ten o'clock Lazareff and Vassya made their appearance. They had not left the wedding till six in the evening. There had been an immense consumption of food and drink, and the merry-making, they assured me, "was great."
Fresh horses were brought, and I set out at eleven o'clock. Olzoni is a place of some interest, and for a post station really very pleasant. When returning from the island I remained four days in the village.
About three o'clock in the morning I arrived at Baiandai (pronounced Buy-and-die), the next station, but saw nothing of that broad, straggling village with which later on I became quite familiar. There was no delay for horses, and soon the carriage was moving toward the, station, Hogotskaya, where I arrived at five o'clock in the morning, and slept on a hard bed till seven. The night ride had been very pleasant, for the weather was perfect. Lazareff and Vassya came an hour later, in time for a short sleep.
About nine o'clock we set out for a visit to the brothers Alexandroff, who are numbered among the wealthiest and most
influential of the Buriats; their estate is about five miles from Hogotskaya. It was warmer that morning than the day before—it was hot, in fact.
The country about Hogotskaya is a fine rolling region of good grass-land and black soil of sufficient depth. Hay and grain are abundant, with culture. Between ten and eleven o'clock we were at the Alexandroffs'. The three brothers live in one neighborhood; their houses are near one another, and form a whole town, if considered together.
As these brothers are good friends of Andrei Mihailoff, they received us very cordially. We were conducted to a pleasant sitting-room fitted up in Russian fashion, and while we were conversing there with one brother another set servants to work in the kitchen and elsewhere. In half an hour they had ready in the dining-room a zakuska, or "bite," the collection of preliminary tidbits which, in all parts of Russia, precedes each considerable meal, and are taken to rouse appetite and also to nourish. In great houses these "bites" are elaborate and enticing.
Invited to the dining-room we found there two tables; on one of these stood bottles containing vodka and two kinds of wine, sherry and claret. On the other were things to be eaten,—boiled eggs, brown bread, smoked fish, pickled herrings, sardines, cheese, fish, eggs, and other rich "appetite rousers."
The zakuska is always taken standing. The first thing is a small glass of vodka, kummel, or some other liquid of similar quality, "to increase appetite and induce cheerfulness." Then comes the eating, which bears somewhat the relation to dinner that a skirmish does to a murderous battle.
After the zakuska, as our mid-day meal was not ready yet, we went again to the sitting-room and talked for a time.
We spoke of the country, the Buriat methods of managing land, of rearing cattle and horses, of moving from one place to another in summer, and back to the first one in winter.
While the brothers were explaining these customs to me carefully a servant declared that the "guest meal" was ready and waiting. There were two tables, at one of these, which was square, sat the master of the house, with my wife, Vassya,
and me; at the second table was his brother, with Lazareff and persons of the family,—a dozen at least in the company.
One cause of the delay in the dinner was that a lamb had been slaughtered and cooked for our nourishment. The great dish of honor at our table was the boiled head of that lamb, with the wool on. There was also a species of soup made of blood and kidneys, which seemed much like diluted blood pudding. It was relished by the Buriats, but strive as I might I could only make a very scant trial of its qualities. There was an abundance of other food, however, hence I could let these Mongol dainties pass.
The Alexandroffs are the most Russianized of Buriats in their style of living, and manners; though they, too, live a double life in some measure. They are of the rich and small class which builds at least three houses. The winter house is like that in use throughout Russia; it has brick stoves and chimneys. The old-fashioned Buriat house is modelled on a tent. In summer these houses are cool and agreeable, but in winter it is impossible, in a cold country, to heat them sufficiently for modern comfort. When well improved they are delightful from May to October. Should a chilly hour happen at any time, or a cool evening come at the beginning or at the end of the season, a fire is made quickly, and people sit around it to enjoy the warmth and to talk. To rouse conviviality tarasun is drunk; it is brought in a jug holding one or two gallons. This jug, which always has a wooden cup in it, is moved around the circle, and when emptied of liquor is filled again straightway.
All Buriats, without any exception, prefer the style of house used by their forefathers, and are attached to it greatly. Pagan Buriats must have this house, if they are to be married according to the rites of their people, since the last act in the ceremony of marriage is performed at the central quadrangle of bare earth, where the fire is made, when the new wife takes her place at the milk barrel which stands there, and becomes house mistress. Her special office is to make the tarasun, always distilled at this fireplace. Beside its good qualities, the old house is strong through its hold on the ancient religion, the needs of the people, and their habits and customs.
The Alexandroff dinner, as to food, was peculiar only by the sudden slaughter of the lamb, to show honor to strangers, and the special preparation of its head for the table. Otherwise the dinner might have been given by a Russian. The flesh of the poor little victim was cooked in the ordinary fashion, by boiling.
When the meal was ended the masculine part of the company retired to the summer house, and sat smoking and conversing for an hour or so.
This summer house was very well built. The floor was higher than usual above the bare earth in the center, and thus afforded a more comfortable seat for the company; chairs also were in use, so that whoso preferred one might sit on one. The smoke-escape was better constructed,—wider at the roof than in other houses.
The Alexandroffs' summer and winter establishments are different from any among Buriats in this that they are adjoining; only a road lies between the two places. The houses stand almost opposite each other and not more than half a mile apart. The difference between the two places is remarkable, however. The summer land is level or slightly rolling, and is exposed at every point of the compass, open to winds from north, south, east, and west, so that whenever the air moves men and animals feel it. On the right of the road, where the winter place lies, all is changed. The land slopes away toward the east and the south; on the north is a large and dense forest, which wards off the north wind effectively.
Some distance from the highway there are well-watered meadows and splendid pastures. A great deal of hay is produced on this land; I counted fourteen immense ricks in one part of the meadow. The wealth of the Alexandroffs comes chiefly from the breeding of cattle and horses, and from lending money at a high rate of interest.
Since we had planned to continue our journey that same day we soon bade good-bye to our host, who strove to persuade us to remain at his house till the morrow in every case.
An easy life is that of those three brothers. Every year they sell many horses and cattle. Whether the price falls or rises
they have a good income. Thus far they are free of political problems. They have had their own way under Russia up to this time. At present, however, they fear that their land supply is about to be lessened.
At Hogotskaya there is a "narodni dom," or people's house, in which travelers may find a room and a samovar. That room we had made our headquarters. Near this narodni dom is the home of the chief of the district. We returned at four o'clock, sent for post horses, drank tea, and were soon ready to start for the island. In the morning, before going to the Alexandroffs', I had called on the district chief, and now he came to wish me a prosperous journey. Though I did not know it at that time, he had sent forward word to officials to help me in every way needed. I thanked him heartily for his kind wishes, and promised to explain my success, if I had any, and tell him all my adventures when I came back from Olkhon and Lake Baikal.
I was off at exactly five o'clock, Vassya and Lazareff a few minutes later. Each carriage was drawn by three horses. We intended to travel all night. The weather was perfect, the road dry and in fairly good condition. I thought we might reach the third station about daybreak, or at least very early in the morning.
After leaving Hogotskaya, which was our last station on the Yakuts road, we passed a mile of level road, and then traveled over land gently rising till we came to the base of a ridge. This ridge was perhaps eight hundred feet high where the road lay, and much higher on either side. On reaching the highest point of the road it was seen that the ridge, which was wooded for the greater part, turned more and more from the highway till its direction was at a right angle, then it turned backward gradually and formed a great ellipse. Into the picturesque valley formed by this elliptical ridge we now descended, and through it, and a valley adjoining, we traveled till midnight.
The whole region around was either woodland or meadow. People were cutting hay and making stacks as we passed along through it that evening. Places like this are very frequent in
[paragraph continues] Siberia. Warded well against winds and surrounded in great part with dense forests, they are sheltered marvelously from cold, and cattle are driven to them for the winter.
At nine o'clock we reached the first station; at midnight we arrived at the second, where, after some waiting, a samovar was set up, and we ate a bountiful lunch which I had brought with me. The station furnished hot water for the tea and boiled eggs; I had sweet bread, brown bread, and ham of good quality ready cooked.
Roughing it on the road is delightful at times, and at times very dreary. Good health, good weather, wholesome food, and pleasant people make traveling a holiday, and joyous. Bad weather, vile food, hostile people, take away the best charm even from scenery, since they weaken power and mental vision in the traveler.
If one is working for a purpose, however, all hardships grow easy, they become even pleasant if devotion be strong enough in the mind of the worker.
Of all hardships in traveling, and there are many, the greatest and most bitter, in fact the only serious ones are those caused by people. The deceit, opposition, and active harmfulness of mankind create the only troubles worth mentioning as we move on examining the crust of this earth ball, striving to discover what is on it, and under it, and above it. If men were as good as they are evil,—and they are evil through ignorance and weakness,—it would be easier and much pleasanter to travel than it now is. It would also be easier to do those good deeds of which each man is capable. I thought thus as I supped at that station, which was poor and not very clean, but the people in it were obliging and courteous.
When supper was eaten three horses were attached to my carriage, but Vassya and Lazareff had to wait for horses which were out in the pasture. Men had gone to search for them, hence my companions might have to remain long at the station or only some minutes. I resolved to set out at once, promising to wait at Kosaya.
It was one o'clock when I started. No moon was visible; the night was one of stars only, the most impressive of all nights,
and that means the most impressive sight possible to man during earthly existence.
The majestic and marvelous dark night of stars, that face of infinity looking down at us in silence, affects every serious man deeply by its presence. In days past that presence, though the same in its features as to-day, was not the same in meaning. It was looked on variously by different people in different ages. To all men the sky seemed in old times dome-shaped and solid, the greatest single thing visible to any one. By some it was revered as a deity, and is so revered even to the present; by others it was esteemed to be a dwelling-place. Whether a deity or a dwelling-place, it was closely connected with the earth, to which it was in great part subservient. I was thinking of this as I looked on that beautiful night from the swiftly moving carriage, when it occurred to me on a sudden that if I were to credit my own eyesight I should believe myself to be just in the center of all things. The horizon in front, behind, and on both sides was equidistant; the highest point in the sky was directly above me; I held the center, apparently. Eye-sight, the first simple witness, uncorrected by examination and afterthought, formed the basis of current belief and philosophy touching everything in existence till Copernican teaching destroyed it.
How self-satisfied were men in the old time, how contented and happy. They believed that this earth was the center of the universe, that it was fixed and immovable, that the sun went around it, that all things existent came and vanished because of it. The sun rose and set just to serve man.
All that belief and philosophy has gone from us. That which seemed to be the great fact was found non-existent and illusive, that which is has proved so stupendous that no one is able to grasp it. Man's home in the sky, the heavenly house just above, has been rent from him. His yearning remains, or at least in most cases, and he is like the poet who never had a home, but who sang of home, that sweet home, as no man ever sang of it before him or afterward.
As the carriage rolled on I recalled how a man in London, three months earlier, had spoken to me very earnestly as follows:
[paragraph continues] "This earth is no longer the center of the universe. People now do not think that in the sky straight above them is a heavenly city, where they will live through endless ages in happiness. Science, which is encroaching on ancient beliefs, and destroying old systems, is taking away every basis of earnest conviction, and so far has given nothing in the sense of assuring a future existence, by showing where or how that existence could be realized. My father died," continued my acquaintance, "with the firmest conviction that he would live soul and body hereafter. I believe in nothing. I should be glad to believe, but I cannot. Some scientists tell me that at death I shall die altogether, that my conscious I, which is talking this moment, will vanish forever. Others tell me that if for individuals there be a hereafter, no man can prove it. The majority of men hope and wish for a life in the future, hope and wish for that which the old beliefs promised. I should like wonderfully to have such a belief, but how am I to get it? Who can help me? This is for me the great question."
The horses had passed half the road, perhaps, when I dropped asleep while pondering over the words of my London friend. I woke soon, for we had come to rough places and the harsh jolting roused me. After that we were in an open region. The whole sky was visible, and the carriage moved smoothly. Again I fell to thinking, and my friend's words came back to me:
"Can Science find eternal life possible in the same human being? Science finds eternal life everywhere, but not in the same form.
"To be permanent and undying a material body must either not change, or must receive the equivalent exactly of that which goes from it, and, besides, it must retain all its life vigor. There must be no loss to it in exchanging.
"Given the immortal body, where is its home to be? The heaven is gone, that solid region, that firmament, as men once considered it. There is nothing now overhead save expanse. Where shall we look for the home of undying individual existence? Not on this earth, since on earth there is no place for an endless and happy hereafter. Is there in infinite space out beyond us a place where immortal existence might have a fit
dwelling? If there is, how can we find it? From the various groups of men who ponder over the mystery of existence three may be chosen to illustrate the problem before us, and how men relate themselves to it.
"The first group is made up of persons who declare that there is no spirit whatever save what is inseparable from and connected with matter, and which inheres in it. There is in this way a spirit in everything various in each case; from that in the atom, which is, perhaps, the most restricted, to that in man, which on earth is the most comprehensive and intricate.
"Whenever an organism, such as man, comes to dissolution, or death, the spirit which inheres in it must vanish; and when that organism is resolved finally into elements or atoms, there is simply a myriad of atomic spirits, but no spirit of a man to consider, because there is no man in existence, and so with all other living creatures and organized existences.
"There is nothing immortal save the atom in any place. From atoms all things are aggregated, and from atomic spirit is built up all the mind in the universe. Since the organisms are transient, the spirit is transient.
"For thinkers of this group the question just raised has no interest whatever.
"The second group is formed of all Christian believers, and also of those who, though they may not be Christians, believe in a spirit, or soul, as distinct from each body. For this group the question cannot be without interest.
"The first and the second group have no common ground of agreement.
"The third group ascribes enormous, nay, unbounded, importance to the atom, but only in conjunction with that all-pervading substance which men for the moment call ether, but which in reality is spirit.
"What is the atom, and what is ether? The atom is deathless; no one can seize it, no one can injure it, fire cannot burn it. In the raging heat of the sun or on Sirius the dog-star, in the maximum of cold where life would cease suddenly, in a dew-drop, in a tempest, in a blizzard, or in Niagara the atom is there. Invincible, eternal, equally contented in the highest heaven
and the pit of the inferno, infinitely obedient; inconceivably flexible it enters into beauty as readily as into the vilest deformity. Equally at home in the diamond and the dung-heap, the atom is everywhere present and constitutes all things material. There is no existence possible without it.
"What may we say of the ether? The atom is everywhere, but the atom is always embraced by the ether, always upheld and kept down by it. Wherever the atom, which constitutes all things, has an office, and it has one in every place, the ether is present.
"In the scheme of the first set of thinkers among the three to which I have referred, the atom alone is important; in fact, there is nothing to begin with, the atom which is so small that no human eye can behold it is the first unit, the starting-point. By an infinite accretion of atoms effected through impulse or love which atoms have for one another, all the forms in the universe are constituted gradually; all the beauty and intellect in existence are thus evolved; all the millions of suns, stars, and other heavenly bodies, as well as the various kinds of living creatures, man, and everything that has life on our planet.
"By this scheme all physical forms and all degrees of mentality come from the association of atoms, which, increasing in certain lines, always growing in number, cause with each increase a higher mentality and a more varied physical development.
"The statement of the third group is this substantially: When an accretion of atoms has happened, an inflow or pressure of ether takes place with this growth, simultaneously, and at every phase of it. For instance, if two atoms unite, a mind to grasp this situation is needed; the ether is present, and the mind is immediately. The association of atoms increases to a hundred for example, the association is vastly more complex with that number than it was with two atoms. The great point being that from an aggregation of atomic mind it is quite possible to reach a cosmic mind, or one even that embraces a solar system, and finally the universe.
"With change effected by new atomic accretions there was always an inflowing of ether and an increase of mentality sufficient to dominate the situation. If there was not, the new association
failed and went to pieces, fell back into atoms, to begin anew and continue till success came at that or another time.
"The impulse to accretion is indestructible in the atom, and is active unceasingly. The ether is everywhere present, going through each accretion, embracing and testing it. The ether finds every joint, seam, or line of union between atoms, inserts itself and breaks up the union, unless it be suitable and strong enough. If it be suitable, the ether stays with it, gives the mentality needed in the new combination while it is fit to continue. When not fit, its mentality withdraws and it perishes, that is, drops apart and reverts to its atoms. In this way from the beginning of ages, from the time when atoms began first to seek one another, that is, as soon as atoms were divided from ether, from the time that one became two and the Son was sent forth from the bosom or personality of the Father, creation began and continues to the present, and will continue while existence endures, or, in other words, while there is force in the universe, or still in other words, while there are atoms and ether in existence.
"We have now this point. From the time of the first dissolution of atomic aggregation to this moment there is a continuous going out and returning of ether, each return bringing with it a life history beginning with the first failure of two atoms to associate beyond a certain period, and ending with the latest dissolution of some structure in the universe. Each one of these returns has its memory, and each one of them is deathless. Each temporary aggregation reverts to its atoms, which begin new adventures, while the ether returns to the source whence it started.
"According to the thought inherent in the scheme of this third group of thinkers there was a period when ether and atoms were indifferentiated, merged in one. At the end of a period, beyond calculation in length, a period which might be called an eternity without a beginning, one became two, atoms and ether became segregated and each was indestructible for opposite reasons. The atom because it stands alone, the ether because it is infinitely yielding, no power can separate it, and it pervades all things no matter how closely their particles are
compacted. Out of atoms all forms may be created. Ether knows everything, because it is in all places, and is never separated or interrupted. The Great Ether knows all that the small parts experience, but the small parts know only by observation, reasoning, and inference anything of the Great Ether.
"We have thus two forms of immortality at present, existent in all places, the ether and the atom. The aggregation of atoms is perishable, and an individual made up of atoms and ether would be immortal and safe only in a place secure from invasion, safe from every external shock and collision, and from chemical action which would destroy the adhesive force of its atoms. Is there such a safe dwelling, and where is it?"
The reasoning of my friend which I give here was in my mind, unexpressed, as I dropped asleep thinking: Is there a real heaven in existence instead of that one up there which is lost to us? I had been looking straight into the wonderful night sky, my mind filled with that awful reality before me; my eyes closed now, and I was dreaming,
I seemed still to see everything around me, and all grew in size, gradually; next I saw nothing, and rested, I know not how long, and then again I was dreaming. I opened my eyes, as I thought, and found myself standing near a telescope enormous in size and far better than any I had ever used or seen thus far. "Will you look in?" asked a person, as I stood there in wonder. "If you look you will see the great center of all things, the place of repose amidst all the action in existence. You will see clearly through this telescope the storm center of the universe, where there is a perfect balance of forces, and where there is peace kept by infinite power and knowledge. There is no decay there, and there will never be. It is the great result of all the toil, suffering, death, and anguish in every other place, and only beings who are perfect can ever reach it."
"But will the balance not be lost?" I asked. "Will not trouble come to it, as to all other places?"
"As long as force and matter last this region which I show you will be as calm and happy as it now is." He moved to go before me, but that moment something happened; I was
pushed and jolted, my driver shouted and whipped his horses, and I woke and asked:
"Where are we, what 's the matter?"
"Kosaya Steppe!" (Crooked Prairie) called out the driver.
And he rushed into the village, Crooked Prairie, made half a turn in front of a church, so as to face a large gate before which he stopped, slipped down from his seat, rang a bell, and then waited. The gate was opened after some minutes and we drove into the yard of the "People's House." The woman, who had charge of the building and all that pertained to it, appeared at a porch, and the gate-keeper came out and took from the carriage some things for my use.
The house, which was of good size, had apparently not been occupied much in recent days. The windows had not been opened, the air was close and unpleasant in odor. The first thing was to open the windows, and then, pure air secured, to have breakfast made ready.
A boiling samovar was brought about half an hour later. In Russia tea is the greatest, the best drink of the country. So far as my experience goes Russian tea is the most refreshing drink in the world and when there are suhari (rusks) to go with it food and drink are at hand for a good meal in the morning.
After drinking tea I slept till seven, that is one hour, then I went to the courtyard and there in the middle of the open space was a carriage and in it Vassya and Lazareff sleeping soundly. I had engaged my horses for half past seven, hoping thus to have them in season. A little before eight the two men woke, and the horses were brought in. Vassya wished to remain two or three hours at Crooked Prairie, so I went on to Elantsin, the next station, where I arrived only at two o'clock after some delay on the road and slow traveling.
At Elantsin I was informed that it would be impossible to get horses that day; I must wait till the morrow in every case. No help for it. This station, which is about a verst from the town, is one of the best on the road. It is a large building with fairly clean rooms and an immense kitchen. Just across the road is a small house, and near by a small church with dome
and bell tower. Behind the church is a high mountain. The place reminded us of Ragats, Switzerland.
The station master, a young married man, had provisions in plenty, and treated us well. Toward evening Vassya appeared and we had the promise of horses for an early hour on the morrow. But in spite of every exertion it was almost noon when we started. The road was rough and dusty. As one approaches the lake there are low, unwooded hills with stony summits that look in places as if altars had been set up, or as though covered with the ruins of ancient fortresses.
When within a few versts of the Kutul Vassya and Lazareff turned off to go to a village where a man lived to whom, as they said, Andrei Mihailovitch had sent a letter asking him for assistance in our work. I never saw the man, however, and later I discovered that the letter was about private business, and had nothing whatever to do with my work.
We reached Kutul in the evening. This station is well kept and spacious. There is a large room in it where the Buriats hold their public meetings and discuss questions touching interests in the district. The mistress of the house, a Russian, was not at home, having gone to a town a hundred versts away to send a telegram to her husband, who was in the army.
The journey from Kutul to Olkhon, though a short one, required considerable exertion and patience. To all appearances there was much difficulty in obtaining horses. There was delay for other reasons also. When I was in the greatest doubt as to what to do the chief of the district arrived at the station, to be present at a Buriat meeting, and he gave me willing assistance; without his aid I should have had a good deal of trouble. He advised me to hire an additional man, one who knew the Olkhon people, and also informed me that the road to the lake was so rough as to necessitate leaving my carriage at Kutul and taking wagons.
The master of post horses at Kutul is a stripling named Muravieff. This man, half Russian, half Buriat, is tremendously bent on making money, and in his dealings is quite as crooked as the world-renowned ram's horn. His father was a full-blooded Buriat. When Count Muravieff Amoorski was
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CONVICT PRISON AT A POST STATION.
What looks in this photograph to be a board fence is a square enclosure at least twelve feet high
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BURIAT WOMEN IN FULL DRESS.
governor of Eastern Siberia he took a fancy to this Buriat. Through his influence the young man became a Christian, and at baptism received the name Muravieff; in this way bettering his condition in a worldly sense. Some time after that a Russian girl, deceived by a man, who in due time deserted her, was alone, without a friend or money, and not far from childbirth; the Buriat Muravieff married her; the child, which was a son, he adopted. Later she had a son by Muravieff; this is the half-Buriat stripling whom I have mentioned as being so fond of money.
On the island of Olkhon there is only one store; this store is owned by Muravieff, the Russian, the half brother of the half-blooded Buriat; both are sons of the erstwhile deceived Madame Muravieff.
After annoying delays I obtained four horses and two small springless wagons for the continuation of our journey to the island. My extra man was Protopotoff, "the official inoculator for small-pox." Starting about ten o'clock in the forenoon, we had a most interesting day. Between Kutul and Lake Baikal there are two villages, Kuchulga and Togot; the first contains about fifty houses, the other is much smaller.
The region from Kutul to the lake is in the main rugged and rocky. From the brow of the last elevation to the edge of the water, a distance of two miles, the road we went over is remarkable; it is not the one taken generally; the road for laden wagons is at least a third longer. By this shorter route we crossed a broad stretch of smooth grassland which slopes toward the lake; the descent is not abrupt enough to be dangerous, but is sufficient for swift driving. When well started we went along at a pace like that of tobogganing in Canada. It seemed like coasting on wheels in summer time. The land is so even, its surface yielding the least trifle under the wheels, that the sensation which comes of swift motion was wonderfully pleasant, almost equal to sliding down hill in those days which are now in eternity.
We halted at a house near the water, but still half a mile from the Olkhon Island ferry. At the house, or rather directly in front of it, was a Shaman; around him were five or six bark and
iron dishes containing sour milk, sweet milk, and tarasun. He was performing some function of his office. Just before we stopped he made a libation, throwing tarasun up, and chanting a prayer.
The Shaman was a very strange person in visage and action. To a dark, sweating face and bright eyes he added a large round lump or knob on his nose just under and halfway between his eyebrows. He swayed gently from side to side as he chanted and then made a few steps which were short and spasmodic, a kind of twitching. Soon he halted, made another libation, chanted again, sprinkled with tarasun and milk the bushes growing near the house, took a few more spasmodic steps, and finished.
All I could learn was that these offerings had been made to drive sickness away.
The Shaman sprinkled my men with tarasun, muttering a prayer meanwhile, and then he treated them to the liquor with such liberality that it was only after much delay and great urging that I at last got them started again.
The passage to the island, which is rather more than a mile, should be made in good weather, since the lake is very rough at times, and the boats are far from reliable. Our chance for safety was good, as in August the weather is excellent, usually. Two boats, all there are in service, were needed for our company, as we had four horses and two wagons. One of the boats was at the mainland, the other was returning from the island, and we waited for it, wishing to set out together.
The wagons were lifted into the boats. The horses sprang on board very nimbly, showing that they were accustomed to this way of traveling. Each boat carried two horses and one wagon. On my boat there were six rowers, men, women, and children; on the other boat there were four. It took thirty-five minutes to cross.
I felt very curious on approaching the island which the Buriats call "sacred." On one side of the small bay toward which we were sailing a lofty cliff juts out boldly. On the front of that cliff are two immense faces, so distinct that all people note them. One of these looks at the mountains on the
mainland; the other on the water in front of it. One as if watching the great world outside to see who might come from it to examine the island and its secrets, the other as if watching the visitors whom the men ferry across.
I drew attention to the faces and learned that they are called "The Watchers." There they gaze, watching night and day, never sleeping; looking, waiting, as waits the great sphynx near the pyramid of Ghizeh.
We landed without any trouble or adventure, and now I was on the sacred island of the Baikal. There are no houses near the landing. The first village is about three miles from the lake. At that place, which bears the name Nur, young Muravieff showed his high qualities and quite a comedy was presented.
I had supposed when we started from Kutul that we should be taken to Sem Sosen (Seven Pines), the chief village of the island, and the only one where there is a store and a possible stopping place. Muravieff, knowing that we were all going there, and that we expected him to take us, made his own plans, but he hid them from us carefully, until we reached Nur. There to our surprise he demanded a change of horses, though we were only a few miles from Seven Pines, our destination. He drove into the village and stopped in front of the house of the elder, the official who is obliged to furnish horses if they are demanded by travelers. The elder's wife, who was quick enough to see what was wanted, declared that her husband was off fishing some twenty versts away and that she did not know when he would return. At that moment he came from an out-house, where he had evidently been sleeping, and thus unwittingly gave a lie to her words, but she was not embarrassed in the least.
As soon as he appeared Muravieff demanded a relay of horses. The elder had no horses to give. All beasts trained to draw wagons were far from the village at pasture.
It was the bounden duty of the elder to find us four horses—they were not to be had, and he could not create them. There were only two or three miles to the end of the journey, and the horses we had were well able to make it, but Muravieff very bluntly refused to drive them farther.
At last, through his friends, he informed the elder that he would take us to Sevens Pines for ten rubles. The elder's claim was less than a ruble; government allowed him to receive but three copecks a verst for each horse. He paid the money, however, and Muravieff drove on.
I told Muravieff what I thought of him, but he only smiled with satisfaction. He had gained his point and saw no reason to be ashamed. To him success in any form was a thing to be proud of.
We arrived at Seven Pines about nightfall. The evening was warm and pleasant. The first move, of course, was to find lodgings. There was only one row of buildings in that part of Seven Pines where the store was. The first of these buildings was the storekeeper's dwelling, a house with but one large room; the second building was his store. This proved to be very small, and closely packed with groceries and dry-goods. The third was a shed and could be of no use to me. The fourth belonged to a Russian who was absent. I went to the fifth house, but the woman who lived there told me that there were billions of fleas in her house, and she could not with a clear conscience let any one try to pass a night in it. She felt obliged to refuse me. My search for a place in which to spend the night proving fruitless, I went back to the storekeeper and asked him what I could do. He suggested that I might sleep in the church, or Molitvenny dom (the prayer house). I agreed to this, and my things were transferred to the little prayer house.
Vassya and Lazareff were to sleep under the shed, in their wagon.
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HOUSE WHERE WE BOARDED ON OLKHON ISLAND.
The building with the white sign is the Russian store
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THE ONLY RUSSIAN CHURCH IN OLKHON.
The author spent three nights in the building