Imágenes de páginas

innocence, would have been dishonour. I married her, but secretly, and have kept it secret even from you, partly for entanglements, that you know hampered me, partly because of my creditors, chiefly because, as you are aware, the knowledge of such a marriage would have ensured my certain disinheritance by Sir Arthur. She has lived at White Ladies, still under her father's name of de Vocqsal, and your almost constant absence on the Continent prevented your hearing whatever rumours might be afloat regarding our connexion. She is very dear to me; yet I have but ill recompensed such love as she has borne me. My death will leave Lucille and her child penniless and unprotected; what I would now ask of you is, as far as may lie in your power, to shield her from the bitterness she is so little fitted to brave. This, then, is the trust I leave you, Strathmore; you will let her find in you a sure and faithful friend; you will make to her, atonement for the wrong you have done to me; and if her child, now in its infancy, ever live to womanhood, I would wish that in years to come you should speak to her sometimes of her father, but never let her become aware that it is by your hand I fell. Should it be decreed that I die thus, I will not say, Know no remorse,' for that were to wish you devil, not man; but I do say to you, believe this, that Leither now nor in the most abhorred hours that your mad passion for the wanton adulteress who has parted us, ever caused me, have I felt bitterness to you. I would that it had been an open enemy who had done me this dishonour, and not thou, my brother, my guide, my own familiar friend;' but-since thus it has chanced-take my last words as you would take the oath of a dying man. I forgive you fully all that has already passed, all that may yet be to come. If I die, remember-it will be in peace with you.

This was the Message of the Dead.



Standing in the morning light, whose reddening sun-rays, streaming on the page, lit up each word till it seemed written in blood, Strathmore. read-read on to the last line.

Then a shrill, hoarse cry, shuddering rang through all the forest silence, greeting the early day as it uprose-the cry of a great agony-and throwing his arms above his head, he fell, like a drunken man, down upon the sodden earth.


THE Cossacks of the Ural, indubitably descended from the Cossacks of the Don, who several centuries ago discovered the mouth of the Ural during their predatory excursions, now constitute among the large population of Russia, a small, happy people, who possess an enormous territory, know neither want nor poverty, and live peaceably and obediently attached to their Czar and Holy Russia, as a self-contained military community. The free, unfettered life, the general prosperity and healthy climate have powerfully contributed to produce a handsome race. Many old customs as well as the democratic spirit of the community during former centuries, have certainly long ago yielded to a better order of things, but for all that a peculiar feeling of caste and an obstinate adherence to old fashions have been preserved from those dark ages.


The large extent of territory, the trade with the interior of Russia, and the barter with the Kirgises, certainly offer the Cossacks of the Ural large sources of profit, which will be immensely increased with the progress time. Still, the fishery of the Ural from the town of Uralsk (the residence of the Ataman and seat of the administration), as far as the Caspian Sea, for a distance of four hundred and seventy-five versts, is at the present day the true gold mine of the country. This fishery is an amusement, a species of chase, a sort of hazard-playing; for a simple Cossack, favoured by fortune, will frequently catch in a couple of hours a number of large fish worth one hundred and more roubles, while his next neighbour does not see a fin during the entire day. Hence it is, at the same time, a valuable branch of trade, open to thousands, and which brings a deal of money into the country. The fishery is at the same time very important, as supplying food for the Cossacks. The almost incredible number of all sorts of fish which live in the Ural and its affluents, and are continually reinforced from the Caspian Sea, are, next to plenty of meat, the ordinary food of the nation. Vegetables are rare, and but little cared for, and though meat and meal are excellent and remarkably cheap, no Cossack can live without fish and caviare. The quite fresh caviare just taken from the fish is a remarkable delicacy, especially the coarse-grained yellow sort called amber-caviare, which, however, being a rarity, is never exported. The delicate flavour of the freshly-taken fish-roe has something peculiar about it when eaten on the spot, which is entirely lost in caviare that is exported, and is generally much too salt. In 1847 a pound of fresh caviare cost from twenty to twenty-five copecks silver (84d. to 10d.), but since then the price has gone up considerably, as the exports grow larger annually. From all these reasons, then, fishing is an important affair for the Cossack, an eventful employment of the whole people. The children on the roads play at fish-catching, it is talked about in every company, and the Cossacks await longingly and with eyes sparkling with pleasure, the legally appointed opening of the general fishery. The latter is so remarkable, and so different from what takes place elsewhere, that we think a description of it from the pen of an eye-witness will prove agreeable to our readers. We have found it in a work* which describes in a most interesting and instructive manner Russian popular life from every

*Lebensbilder aus Russland. Von einem alten Veteranen. Riga.

side, and omitting a few immaterial passages, we will proceed to extract all that appears to us of a nature to offer a lively and distinct representation of this fishery.

The Caspian Sea contains an extraordinary wealth in plump, welltasted fish, which annually ascend the Volga and the Ural in order to deposit their spawn. Among these the genus Accipenser, represented by four varieties, with snout-shaped heads, is the one to which the large fish belong that produce the black caviare. The largest of these fish is the beluga, which, according to old persons, was formerly captured weighing from forty to fifty pouds,* and yielded from four to six pouds of caviare. At the present day, belugas a fathom long, and weighing from fifteen to twenty pouds, are considered a rarity. Next to this fish comes the sturgeon (stör), and its almost worthless variety the schipp: the stör caviare is considered the best. Then follows the sewrüga, and last of all comes the sterlet, which, when full-grown, does not exceed three feet in length, but when fresh is remarkably fat and pleasant eating, and is even conveyed alive to Petersburg, as a delicacy, at a great expense. In addition to the Accipensers, the Ural swarms with white trout, large shad, pike, flat fish, and many other sorts. As the fish always go up stream at certain seasons of the year, and the majority pass the winter in it, a fish weir has been built since the earliest period below the town of Uralsk, which is annually repaired, and dams the river right across so as to prevent the fish ascending farther. At this weir the fish, urged by the instinct of swimming against the stream, assemble in such masses that it seems alive with them, and they form regular layers one above the other. The oldest inhabitants declare, however, that the number and size of the fish have greatly decreased in comparison with earlier times. This may be partly produced by the colossal fisheries in the Volga and Ural, near Astrachan, and in the Caspian Sea, and partly by the annually increasing silting of the mouth of the Ural.

The author of the work under notice had an opportunity some years ago to witness an incident of the Ural mode of fishing. The ataman accompanied him to the weir, and, at a signal from the commanding officer, a powerful and active Cossack advanced, laid off his boots and upper clothing, took in his right hand an iron hook which was fastened to a long line the end of the latter was held by Cossacks on the weir – hurriedly crossed himself, stepped noiselessly into the river, and at once disappeared under water. There was a deadly silence, during which all eyes were fixed on the surface of the stream; at length, at the expiration of half a minute, the line was shaken-the signal to draw it up-the diver reappeared on the surface, hauling after him a struggling fish with the hook inserted in its gills, and both were dragged ashore amid the loud shouts of the Cossacks. This performance, however, is not so difficult as it seems. As an enormous number of fish are pressing against the beams of the weir, and thrusting each other out of the way, the man, slipping gently among them, is hardly noticed, and if the Cossack is thoroughly up to his work, he is able to inspect the swarming fish at his leisure, and select any one he pleases among them. Of course the diver must pass the iron hook through the fish's gills, but this is facilitated by the fish continually opening them to inhale water. The fish captured on this occa

* The Russian poud is equal to forty English pounds.

sion was accidentally full of roe: the ovary was, therefore, at once taken out of it, stirred up, then pressed through a sieve, in which the fibres and skin remained behind, after which the spawn was slightly salted, and the caviare was ready.

In the Ural at the present time only the large social fisheries take place, in which all the Cossacks take part, the time and place of the fishing, the size of the nets and mode of action being most carefully settled and carried out with military precision. Order is preserved at the fisheries by a fishing ataman, who, selected from the oldest general officers, has the supreme control, settles any disputes that may occur, and claims passive obedience to his regulations and decisions. The first is the spring fishery, at which belugas and sturgeon are rarely captured, but chiefly sewrügas and salmon. The second is the autumn fishery, which begins in October, about two hundred versts from Uralsk, and terminates at the Caspian Sea. In both a certain range of water is daily chosen for fishing, whose borders no one is allowed to pass. When the day's toil is ended the signal is given, and all proceed to the bivouac on the bank, where the horses and carts are standing, and the cooking is performed: here, too, many Russian traders are waiting for the purpose of buying the fish, salting them, and sending them off. The next morning a further range of water is fished, and so on. At these fisheries it is a pleasure to see how the whole river for a long distance is covered with human beings, and the active Cossacks in their light boats, in which, as a rule, only one man is seated, shoot with lightning speed across the stream, and avoid collision by remarkable rapid and bold turns. The determination, activity, and adaptability of the Cossacks for anything that displays danger or requires an enterprising spirit, are revealed on such occasions in their greatest brilliancy. These men, here amphibious, would become first-rate sailors if the Caspian Sea were not a mere lake. The third, and most interesting fishery of all, is the winter one on the ice with poles eight or ten fathoms in length-the most remarkable passage in the life of the Cossacks of the Ural. So soon as in autumn the Ural begins to be covered with a thin crust of ice, which is generally the case at the end of November, the fish seek deeper spots in the water, where they hybernate, as it were, in dense masses. As the bottom of the river is, however, annually altered by the currents, so that the deep holes cannot be always known, so soon as the river is going to be frozen the Cossacks mark the spots where the fish come to the surface to play, or else, so soon as the river is just frozen, they lie down on the thin transparent ice, cover their heads with a dark-coloured cloth, and are thus enabled to see the large fish quietly reposing on the bed of the river. This information they seek to learn to use it in the general winter fishery. The first and smaller fishery generally takes place early in December, when the ice is still very weak, and lasts rarely above a day. Only a certain number of Cossacks fish, for the chief object is, after an old and primitive custom, to send off the finest fish and best caviare as a present-so the Cossacks call it as speedily as possible to the Imperial Court. For this purpose an officer and nine three-horse carts are waiting in readiness on the bank. The fish and caviare are loaded, and away the train dashes day and night with post-horses to Petersburg, whence the deliverers always return with a handsome reward.

The second general fishery, or the little Bagrénie, always takes place before Christmas, only lasts eight days, and ends eighty versts below Uralsk. The third fishery, or great Bagrénie, begins eighty versts from the town, and terminates at a distance of one hundred and eighty or two hundred. Every Cossack fishes on his own account, as each receives a permit, though the officers and officials have several, according to their rank. The latter can hire men if they do not wish to enjoy the sport themselves; in addition, several Cossacks are allowed to form a company, and share the captured fish among themselves. As fishing instruments, every Cossack has the above-described long fish-poles, several small hooks fastened to short sticks, for the purpose of lifting the fish out of the water when captured, an iron crowbar to break the ice, and a shovel. In earlier times the winter fishery of the Ural was carried on in a very different way from the present. All the fishing-poles were laid on sledges, drawn by the handsomest and wildest horses. The thousands of sledges were drawn up in rows behind each other, and so soon as the signal was given, they raced to the spot where the fishing was to begin. The ice groaned under the pressure of this wild chase, in which one tried to get before the other, and the fish were scared from their resting-place. As, however, in this mode of fishing accidents were inevitable, and other unpleasantnesses took place, the wild race was abolished, and the fishing is now carried on in a different fashion.

So soon as the day arrives on which the fishing is to begin, and the ataman has been appointed, all are full of excitement and life. Many a Cossack cannot sleep during the previous night for joy, and long before daybreak they set to work eating and drinking. The first dawn is hardly visible on the horizon ere thousands of Cossacks are under way to the spot on the river where the fishing is to begin. They are followed by a number of Russians and Kirgises, who as hired labourers look after the horses, set up the tent or skin hut, make a fire of bushes, and generally perform all the jobs which are not immediately connected with fishing, for that is the Cossack's sole occupation. After the Russians come long trains of Russian traders from Uralsk and other places, with numerous carts and workmen, who buy the fish of the Cossacks directly they are taken out of the water, take out, salt, and pack the caviare in barrels, and either let the fish be frozen hard, or salt them after removing the isinglass, in order to send them off into the interior so soon as possible. A number of settlers or market people also follow the fishing, who put up their huts on the bank, and sell oats and hay, bread, biscuits, nuts, gingerbread, and other edibles, to be washed down by tea or vodki. When this great mass of men and animals has reached the river bank, the tents are temporarily erected, because their owners purpose to follow the fishermen down the stream. Everybody is busied, the banks swarm with people, and the whole scene resembles a great national emigration. At length all have found a place, the signal cannon is dragged up to the bank, and the artilleryman stands by it with his lighted match. The Cossacks now receive orders to form into long lines on both sides of the river, and wait for the signal for the beginning of the fishing. Each Cossack drags his fish-hook and crowbar after him, and takes up his post where he fancies he shall find a deep hole and any quantity of fish.

After all this has been arranged, and both banks of the river are lined

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »