Fred Markham in Russia; or, The Boy Travellers in the Land of the Czar, by W H G Kingston.
Fred and his brother have an adult friend, Cousin Giles, who is a naval officer who had served under the boys' father, before injury had compelled his retirement. One day Cousin Giles asks the boys to come with him on a visit to Russia. This was 1856. The boys' mother is glad they are not going too far, such as to the Antipodes.
The little party arrive in Russia after some problems with their sea voyage. They tour Saint Petersburg, and then travel a little wider. Meeting various people with a knowledge of the land and its customs, they get some good first-hand information about Russia. Some of their new friends tell long stories about things that have happened to them, or to their own friends, and by this device we learn much more about Russia and its people, and their lives, often very difficult, under the Czars.
And the boys have some thrills of their own, for instance during an encounter with wolves.
Eventually it is time to return home, and the last two chapters are letters from Fred to his mother, recounting their adventures during the last few days of their holiday. But Fred must have been a remarkably well-educated boy to write in such an adult style!
This book was written just after a time when it had become possible to travel to Russia. Many people had availed themselves of this chance, and had written of their journeys. Kingston uses the device of telling us about Russia as seen by the two boys, embellished with the adventures of some of the friends they make.
FRED MARKHAM IN RUSSIA; OR, THE BOY TRAVELLERS IN THE LAND OF THE CZAR, BY W H G KINGSTON.
A Trip to Russia proposed—Cousin Giles and his History—Preparations for the Voyage—Journey to Hull—The Steamer described—The Voyage commenced—A Fog at Sea.
"Thank you, thank you; it will be very delightful," said Fred Markham.
"It will be jolly, that it will!" exclaimed his younger brother Harry; and home they ran as fast as their legs could carry them to find their father and mother.
"Oh, father, father!—mother, mother!—may we go? May we go?" they exclaimed in a breath together. "Cousin Giles has asked us, and he says that he will take very good care of us, and that he is not joking; that he is in real earnest, and that, if you will give us leave to go, he wishes to set off immediately."
"But you have not told us where you wish to go to," said Captain Markham. "If it should chance to be to Timbuctoo, to the Sandwich Islands, or to the antipodes, I fear that I must refuse your request."
"Even should Cousin Giles be answerable for your safe return, I could not part with you for so long a time as would be required to go to either of those regions of the world," added their mother, smiling.
"But it is not to Timbuctoo, nor to the Sandwich Islands, nor to any place near so far off that Cousin Giles wants to take us," replied Fred eagerly. "It is only to Russia, and that is no distance at all, he says."
"Only to Russia!" exclaimed Captain Markham, with an emphasis on the only. "That country used to be thought a long way off from England in my younger days; but railways and steamers have worked a great change in our notions of distances. We must, however, hear what Cousin Giles has to say before we decide on the subject."
The lads had not to endure their uncertainty very long before Cousin Giles made his appearance, his somewhat weather-beaten countenance beaming with a glow of benevolence and vivacity which seldom forsook it. Now it must be understood that Cousin Giles was not really the young Markhams' cousin, any more than he was that of several other families in the county who called him by the same affectionate name. He was a lieutenant in the navy, but, having received a severe wound in battle, which incapacitated him, he considered, from doing his duty properly, he retired from the service, though he ultimately recovered sufficiently to travel about without inconvenience. As in the course of his professional career he had visited the sea-coasts of nearly every part of the world, besides taking journeys inland from them, while he made his observations on what he saw, he possessed a large fund of information. What was also of great consequence, he had a considerable talent for describing what he had seen. Besides possessing these qualifications, being the life and spirit of every juvenile party, and the promoter of all sports and pastimes in-doors and out of doors, he was a welcome guest, both, with old and young, at every friend's house which he could find time to visit. More than all this, he was a religious, honourable, generous-hearted man. He could not, therefore, fail to be a most desirable travelling companion for his young friends. He had been several times to sea with their father, who was himself a captain in the navy, and who had the greatest confidence in him.
"What is all this, my dear fellow, the boys are saying about Russia?" asked Captain Markham as he entered the room.
"Why, that I have bethought me of paying a visit this summer to the land of the Czar; that I want companions; that I like young ones, who will follow my ways better than old ones, who won't; that I enjoy fresh ideas freshly expressed, and am tired of stale platitudes; in short, if you will entrust your youngsters to me, I will take charge of them, and point out what is mostly worth seeing and remembering at the places we visit."
"I cannot refuse you, Fairman," replied Captain Markham. "You offer is a very kind one, and the boys cannot fail to benefit by the excursion."
"Do not talk about that," said Cousin Giles, interrupting him. "Fred must undertake to keep a log, and note down all our adventures."
Fred, though somewhat diffident of his powers of composition, promised to do his best, and Mrs Markham begged that Harry might keep another note-book for her especial edification.
"All I bargain for," she added, "is to have descriptions of scenes written down as soon as visited, and ideas as soon as they occur."
"By all means, freshness is what we want," said Cousin Giles. "A short sketch made on the spot is worth a volume of after-recollections."
Thus the matter was speedily arranged. Before he left the house, their kind friend gave the young travellers a list of the things they would require. He would allow them only a small portmanteau apiece, which they could carry in their hands. He told them each to take a warm greatcoat, and a complete suit of waterproof clothing, including boots and hat. "Thus," said he, "you will be independent of the weather, and need never be kept in the house, however hard it may rain." He told them that, although the weather is frequently much hotter during the summer in Russia than in England, yet that at times it is as rainy, and cold, and variable as at that season of the year at home. Their Bibles, a history of Russia, and a volume of travels in that country were the only books he would let them take, advising them thoroughly to master the contents of the history and travels before they reached Saint Petersburg. He had got, he said, a good map of Russia, and a chart of the Baltic, which they were to study; as also a book called, What to Observe; or, The Traveller's Remembrancer, which is not only full of useful information, but also turns a travellers attention to what is most worth remarking abroad. Fred Markham was about fifteen; his brother, a year younger. Both of them were fine, intelligent lads. Cousin Giles was not far removed from fifty, thin and sinewy, though strongly built, and not tall, with large hard hands, which gave a warm, cordial grasp to a friend and a firm one to a rope; his heart was like them as to size, but a great contrast to them in hardness—a more thorough-going, honest sailor never existed.
No merrier party ever left London than the three travellers who started by the mail train for Hull a few nights after the above conversation. They put up at the Railway Hotel, which Cousin Giles said reminded him of a Spanish palace. In the centre is a large court glazed over, with an ottoman instead of a fountain in the centre, and broad flights of stairs on either side leading to the upper chambers. The younger travellers had never before been in so large and comfortable a hotel. Their first care in the morning was to visit the steamer Ladoga, in which they had taken their passage to Saint Petersburg. She was a gaily-painted, sharp-built, fast-looking screw.
"She'll carry us there quickly enough, if at all," muttered Cousin Giles. "But she's not the craft I should have chosen."
She had only a small part of her cargo on board, and yet the master promised to sail on the following morning. The boys were incredulous.
"Modern cranes, system, and activity will work wonders," said Cousin Giles; and he was right.
By nine o'clock the next morning the vessel was ready to sail. They spent the interim in walking about the docks, full of vessels of all nations,—sixteen steamers, they heard, ran between Hull and Saint Petersburg,—in looking at the quaint old houses of the town, and in visiting the monument raised to Wilberforce,—a lofty pillar, the first object which greets the mariner as he returns home. At the base is a simple inscription: "Negro Emancipation, 1832."
"How far more worthy was he of the pillar than most people who have monuments raised to them; and yet how he would have despised such an honour, unless it induces others to labour as he did for the benefit of their fellow-creatures," remarked Cousin Giles. "Remember, my lads, this monument, and endeavour to walk in that great man's footsteps."
A lovely morning found the voyagers on board the Ladoga, and, after much pulling and hauling, clear of the docks, and steaming down the Humber.
Cousin Giles face wore an expression of dissatisfaction as he found her deck crowded with huge, heavy iron machines and bales of cotton.
"This is nothing; we are often obliged to carry twice as much deck cargo," said the master. "Competition is so great, we must do everything to make the vessel pay."
"Were a heavy gale to spring up, it is your underwriters would have to pay, I suspect," answered. Cousin Giles.
"Oh, you don't know what this vessel would go through," replied the young master.
"Humph!" remarked the old lieutenant; "I know where she would go to if you did not heave all this deck lumber overboard."
"I presume you have been to sea before?" said the master.
"At times," answered Cousin Giles quietly.
England sends large quantities of machinery of all sorts to Russia. The cotton had come from America to Liverpool, had been thence sent across the country by railway to Hull, and was going to supply numerous manufactories of cotton goods which have been established in Russia, and fostered by high protective duties. They are chiefly managed by Englishmen, and the foremen are mostly English or German. Manual labour is cheaper than in England, as is the expense of erecting the buildings; but, as all other items cost much more, the Russians have to pay very dearly for the cotton goods they use. Even with the high duties imposed on them, they can buy English manufactures cheaper than their own.
In addition to the cargo on deck, there were twelve fine horses which an English groom was taking over for a Russian nobleman, who was to figure at the approaching coronation of the Emperor. The Russians set great value on English horses, and employ a considerable number of English grooms, many of whom raise themselves to respectable situations, as had the man who had charge of the horses in question.
There were several other passengers, some of whom were English merchants who had resided in Russia for many years, and from them the friends gained a considerable amount of valuable information. This Cousin Giles had particularly the art of eliciting from his companions, and Fred and Harry had abundance to do in noting it down. The cabins and saloon were both comfortable and handsome. The latter was lined with mahogany, had gilt mouldings, and the sofas which surrounded it were covered with cool, clean, antibilious-looking chintz, while in the centre there was a sociable table, with a skylight overhead. Everything, also, was provided by the young master to conduce to the comfort of his passengers.
On the afternoon of the day they sailed, the sky looked wildish, and the master prognosticated either wind or heavy rain. A thunder-storm played at a distance round the ship; the lightning flashed vividly, but scarcely a mutter of the clouds' artillery was heard; some heavy showers fell, then the weather cleared up. The stars shone forth brightly from the clear sky, and the waning moon arose and shed her silvery light on the calm water, over which the breeze played with just sufficient strength to crisp it into silvery wavelets. It was a night for meditation and prayer. Unhappy is the state of man who can look forth from the deck of a ship on such a scene and not feel gratitude to the Framer of the magnificent firmament above him,—whom it does not make more meditative, more prayerful, than his wont,—whom it does not cause to think of eternity.
The next day a bright silvery fog hung over the sea, yet so dense that no eye could pierce the bowsprit's length through it. The engines were therefore put at half their power, yet even then the vessel went nearly seven knots through the water.
The lads were delighted with the smooth, easy way in which the vessel glided on. They remarked it to Cousin Giles.
"You think it is very pleasant, because you see no danger, my dear boys," he answered. "Much the same aspect does vice bear to the young, while they shrink with fear from the storm of adversity. Now, 'a wise seaman dreads a calm near a coast where there are currents, and a fog far more than heavy gales of wind in the open ocean.' Put that down in your log,—it is worth remembering, as the lesson you have learned from a calm and a fog."
Cousin Giles finds an old Shipmate—Tom Puffing's Account of the Wreck of the Victoria—Miraculous Escape of Part of the Crew—God's merciful Providence displayed—Cousin Giles converses with the Crew— First Sight of Denmark, Elsinore, and its Castle—View of Copenhagen— Description of the Battle and its Cause—Sunday Service on board Ship—Voyage up the Baltic—The Gulf of Finland—Cronstadt and its Batteries—Why the British did not take them—The Czar's Mode of Manning a Ship in a Hurry—The Russian Fleet—Leave their Steamer and proceed towards Saint Petersburg.
Cousin Giles soon found his way forward, over the bales of cotton and piles of hay, followed by Fred and Harry, and entered into conversation with the crew. He had not been long there when an old weather-beaten seaman put his head up the fore hatchway. "Ah! Tom Pulling. I thought that I had caught sight of the face of an old shipmate," exclaimed Cousin Giles, stretching out his hand. "How fares it with you?"
The old man's countenance brightened as he returned the grasp warmly.
"Is it you, indeed? I am glad to see you—that I am," he answered. "I've a good berth now, though I've had knocking about enough since I sailed with you last in the Juno. I was cast away in these very parts some time back, and never had a narrower chance of losing my life, so to speak."
Cousin Giles asked old Tom how this had happened. The other seamen who were not on duty drew near to listen to the old man's oft-spun yarn, and our young friends stood by, eager to hear what he had got to say.
"Why, you see, sir," he replied, "after I was discharged from the old Melampus, I thought I'd try if a short-voyage steamer would suit me better than a man-of-war, seeing that I'd got a wife and family to look after; so I shipped on board the Victoria steamer, running from the port of Hull to Saint Petersburg. It was our last voyage that year. About the 6th of November, I think, we left the Humber; but we hoped to get to Cronstadt and away again before the ice set in. The weather was as fair as could be wished for, and with smooth water; so we all made up our minds that we were going to have a quick run of it. Howsomever, the wind breezed up a little on the second day, and by nightfall it blew pretty freshish, with a heavyish sea on. We had much the same sort of weather on the third day, and at night it came on so thick and dark that we could not see our hands held out before us. Still all seemed going on well. We supposed that we were steering a course through the Skaggerack, with a good offing from the land, when, just about the middle of the first watch, as the passengers were in the cabin, maybe thinking of turning in to their warm beds all snug, and talking of what they would do next day at Copenhagen, where we were to touch, without an instant's warning—bang! Crash!—loud shrieks and cries of terror were heard, the ship quivered from stem to stern as if her last moment was come. It was not far off, either; the sea came roaring up abaft and made a clean sweep over her. She had struck heavily on a rock of some sort, that was certain; but where we were, or how it had happened, no one could tell. Every one was running here and there, crying for help, when there was no one to help them; some took to praying, some to blaspheming; terror seemed to have taken away their senses. I did think that all of us had seen the sun rise for the last time, for it was too dark by far to allow us to try and help ourselves; and, from the way the sea kept striking the ship, I knew full well she could not long hold together.
"Well, Mr Fairman, I'm not ashamed to say I prayed as I never prayed before; and, you'll believe me, sir, I felt a comfort and an assurance of my Maker's protection which also I had never felt before. As my ears caught the sound of the dreadful oaths of the blasphemers, I thought of the Day of Judgment. When that awful time comes, and the world breaks up like the ship, how will such men and many others, amid the clouds and thick darkness which will surround them, be able to pray? No; they'll blaspheme on, as they are doing now, to the end. The captain, to do him but justice, behaved nobly. He did his best to keep order and discipline on board. He told the people that, if they would but remain by the ship, they all might be saved. He could not say, like Saint Paul, they would be saved. Few listened to him; some, however, stayed by his side and promised to support him. They had been on their knees asking support for themselves; whence only it can come, you know, sir. Others, on the contrary, got hold of one of the boats, and began to lower her into the water. The captain prayed and begged of them to desist, but they would not hearken to him. There were some of the crew and some of the passengers, and when he tried to prevent them they threatened to heave him overboard. At last they got the boat into the water, and eight of them jumped into her and shoved off from the ship's side. In an instant, as he had told them it would be, the boat was capsized, and all hands were thrown into the raging sea. One poor wretch had on a life-preserver—he thought, at all events, that he was all safe, and that he could not drown; the rest had nothing to float them. For half a minute their cries were heard, and then they sank nearly all together, and his voice alone struck our ears, shrieking out for help, but no help could be given him. He was striking out for the ship, I judged; sometimes by his voice he seemed to have got nearer, but that might have been my fancy; then a sea came rolling by, and drove him farther off again. It was very dreadful to hear that poor dying wretch, and not be able to help him. He was a strong man, and for long struggled on; nearly an hour perhaps passed, but his voice grew fainter and fainter, and at last was no longer heard.
"All this time the ship was striking heavily, hammering away on the rock as if she was pile-driving. We burned all the blue lights we had on board, in the hopes of drawing the attention of some fishermen or other passing craft; but they only enabled those on board to see the horrors of our situation. Nearly four hours had thus passed, when a shout from the cook, who said he saw a signal, made us fancy help was coming to us; but in another minute we found that it was only the moon rising through a gap in the clouds. We all earnestly longed for morning, for till daylight came we could do nothing. The moon only served to show us more clearly the horrors of our situation. Piece after piece of the vessel was washed away, but still all those who remained round the captain were safe. At last there was a faint light in the east; it grew stronger and stronger, and there was twilight enough to let us see to the distance of a mile or two. About a mile off appeared a rock high enough out of the water to serve us as a refuge. The captain at once ordered a boat to be lowered, and all the women and children to be put into her, with five men to pull her to the rock. It was a work of no little danger to the poor creatures, but we at last got them all safe off, and with many a prayer watched them till they reached the rock. We had another boat, and there were fourteen of us remaining on the wreck. We all got into her, but we instantly saw that thus crowded she would be swamped before she could reach the shore. 'Never mind, my fine fellows, I'll stay by the wreck!' exclaimed the captain, jumping on board again. 'Who'll follow me?'
"'I'll stay by you, captain,' said I; and five others said the same. The rest shoved off, and reached the rock in safety, but the sea was too high to allow the boat to return. Then we seven souls were left on the wreck, which was every moment breaking up beneath our feet. The after-part of the vessel was soon completely gone—then we retreated forward; then the forecastle—that soon began to break up, and we had to hold on amidships. We tried to keep up each other's spirits by telling how seamen had often been preserved in worse situations even than ours, and most of us did not cease to pray to God to save us. The sea, after we returned on board the wreck, got up even more than before.
"At last a sea, still heavier than the rest, came rolling towards us. 'Hold on! Hold on, my lads, for your lives!' shouted our brave captain; but in a minute there was scarcely anything to hold on to. He himself was carried away some fathoms from the wreck. Our situation was bad enough, but it did not make us forget our captain. We would have done anything to help him, but there was not a rope we could lay hold of to heave to him. By God's mercy he had on a life-belt, and he got hold of a piece of plank. Thus he kept afloat, and, working away with his feet, he was able once more to reach the wreck. His return—it seemed almost to life—cheered us up not a little. No long time, however, passed before another sea struck the fragments to which we clung, knocking them all to pieces, and sending us to float alone on the waves. One part only of the wreck remained above the water—it was the boiler. We all swam back to it, and clung on as well as we could; but we saw that, what with the cold and the sea, which kept breaking over us, we should soon be washed off again. 'If we could but get inside the boiler, we might find some shelter,' said the captain; but, try all we could, we could not make a hole big enough to get through. We were almost in despair. A fourth great sea came tumbling in on us. We all thought that it would prove our destruction; so did the captain. 'Good-bye, my lads, good-bye!' he exclaimed. 'God have mercy on us all!' On came the breaker, and for a moment we were all under it. When it cleared away, we were still holding on.
"Directly afterwards the engineer gave a shout of joy. 'See what Providence has sent us!' he cried out, as he held up a large pair of blacksmith's pincers which that very sea we thought would destroy us had washed on to the boiler. 'God intends us to save our lives,' he added; for he was a pious man, and always acknowledged whence all blessings come to us. We set to work manfully with the pincers, and soon forced off enough of the top of the boiler to let us all creep in. We felt that it was firmly fixed on the rock, and here we were much more sheltered than before from the sea. Hunger and cold next began to tell on us. We had not before had time to feel either. One of our men had an apple in his pocket. He handed it to the captain. 'There, captain,' said he, 'what is sent to one is sent to all. Serve it out, if you please, among us: if any one has a quid in his pouch, or a bit of biscuit, let him do the same!' We all felt in our pockets, but could find nothing to eat; so the captain took the apple, and, cutting it into seven bits, each took one, and munched away at it as long as it would stay in our mouths. All the time we were looking out anxiously for a sail, but nothing could we see but the dark, tumbling, foaming breakers around us. Not even the rock where our companions had got could we see. Noon passed, hour after hour crept by after it, the horrors of another night threatened us, and we began to give way to despair. Some of us talked of giving up, and dropping into the sea. The captain rebuked the grumblers sternly. 'You heard what the engineer said, my lads: "God intends to save our lives," and I feel now he was right.' Scarcely had he spoken when the engineer shouted out, 'A sail! A sail!' We all looked out eagerly. There was a fishing-boat standing towards us. In half an hour she had hove-to to leeward of the wreck. Her brave crew lowered their sail and pulled in towards us: but they could not venture very near, and it was no easy matter to get on board. All we could do was to wait till the seas washed over us, and then one by one we plunged in; and they carried us clear of the rocks, which would otherwise have knocked us to pieces. Thus we all got on board the little craft, and were carried safely on shore. The same fishing-boat had before taken off our companions from the rock, and they had then sent her to our assistance.
"Now you will like to know how the accident happened without any blame to the captain, or any one on board? The truth was that we had, as part of the cargo, a quantity of iron. This had set all our compasses wrong, making us twenty or thirty miles out of our course at least. I've often since thought, Mr Fairman, if we hadn't a true compass to steer by like the Bible, which of us would escape the rocks which lie in our course in life; and it's my opinion that those who do steer by it never get far wrong."
The young travellers thanked old Tom very much for his interesting narrative, and Cousin Giles spun a long yarn with him afterwards about old times. Cousin Giles had also a talk with each of the crew, and gave them some books and tracts, for which they were very thankful.
All Friday night the lead was kept going, for the master judged that they ought to have been in the very centre of the Skaggerack passage, which is very deep; but it told him that the ship was still in shallow water. The very same circumstance which caused the loss of the Victoria had happened to them. Their compasses, attracted by some of the iron in the ship, were not pointing truly. They had reason to be thankful that the error was discovered in time, or they might have suffered the same disasters they had lately heard described. When the fog cleared away, they found that they were off the coast of Jutland, twenty miles south of where they should have been. In the afternoon they sighted the Scaw lighthouse, built on a sandy point, with sand hills, and a ruined church on them—no very interesting object, except as being the first part they saw of Denmark.
Sunday morning, at five o'clock, the steward called to them to say that they were close to Elsinore. They hurried on deck, and found that they were passing that far-famed castle, where the ghost of Hamlet's father was wont to walk and tell its tale of horrors to any one it might chance to meet and had time to stop and listen to it. Seen in the bright glow of the morning sun, the castle had a pleasing, cheerful aspect, with nothing of the dark, gloomy, hobgoblin style of architecture about it, such as Mrs Radcliffe delighted to describe. It stands on a narrow neck of land a little to the north of the town, and is of a quadrangular form, with three Moorish-looking towers and a square one of modern style at the four corners. It is surrounded by a fosse and low ramparts, of a modern style of fortification. The royal family of Denmark came occasionally to the castle to enjoy sea-bathing for a few days. The Sound is here very narrow, the shore of Sweden being not more than three or foul miles off. It was crowded with shipping, the place serving as a roadstead for Copenhagen, which is about twenty miles distant. In the forenoon they came off Copenhagen, but did not touch there. The nearest point to them was the Trekroner, or Three-crown Battery, as an artificially-formed island directly in front of the city is called. This is the point which, in the attack under Nelson, gave the British so much trouble, and cost so many lives. Beyond it, within a mole, were seen the masts of some shipping, and behind them arose towers and spires and public edifices, and trees, and houses of various shapes, springing, as it seemed, out of the water.
Cousin Giles gave the lads a description of the battle of Copenhagen, which was fought on the 2nd of April 1801. The destruction of the Danish fleet was a sad necessity. The attack was made on our old allies and natural friends, to prevent their fleet from falling into the power of Napoleon, who would have employed it against us. The Danes have not yet forgotten that untoward event.
For most of the day they steamed on with the shores both of Sweden and Denmark in sight. The usual morning work of the ship having been got through, Cousin Giles asked the captain if he ever had service on board.
"When we have a clergyman," was the answer.
"How often is that?"
"Once I took one over; but, to be sure, he was sick, and had to cut it short."
"Then, how often are you in port on a Sunday?"
"Not often in England, and sometimes in foreign parts we are so pressed for time that we are obliged to be discharging or taking in cargo on a Sunday."
"I am sorry to hear that. Sailing-vessels used seldom to be so pressed. But why do not you hold service for your people at sea, at all events?" said Cousin Giles.
"I!—how should such an one as I hold service?" replied the master simply. "The men are accustomed to hear me swear at them and abuse them. They would laugh if I proposed to pray with them."
"Leave off swearing, and take to praying, then, my friend," said Cousin Giles solemnly. "Ask yourself which is the best of the two."
"I am afraid I should make but a bad hand at the prayers," said the master carelessly.
"Try," answered Cousin Giles earnestly. "But, my friend, if you will give me leave, I will hold a service on the sacred day of rest, and perhaps some of the passengers may join us."
"The passengers may, but I don't think you'll get many of my fellows to attend your service," was the reply.
"I will try, at all events, if I have your permission," said Cousin Giles.
"Oh, certainly, certainly," replied the master in a somewhat supercilious tone; but he was not a little puzzled to make out what sort of man Cousin Giles could be.
Cousin Giles on this went forward, and spoke to each of the men separately, in his own peculiar, kind way, and told them that he was anxious to thank his Maker and theirs for all the mercies they had so often received, and invited them to join him in that act of devotion in about an hour's time.
They all not only willingly but gladly assented to his proposal, and promised to go aft when they were summoned. Although the master had not discovered that Cousin Giles was a seaman, they had, and knew him to be a true man. He then returned aft, and spoke to the passengers in the same strain, and but very few refused to join the service. Two said they would think about it; one had an interesting book to finish; and another asked him if he was a parson, and said he only attended services held by properly ordained ministers.
At the appointed hour, to the surprise of the master, every seaman, engineer, and stoker who was not on duty came up to the wide deck over the engine, and most of the passengers assembled there likewise. Never was there a more attentive congregation. Cousin Giles read part of the Church of England Liturgy, and then spoke to them from the fifteenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel: "I am the true vine." Those who heard him said that he explained the subject well, and that what he said went to their hearts. The reason of this was, that he was deeply in earnest, and anxious about the souls of his hearers. The master began even to think that he was a parson in disguise.
The steamer passed several islands, and on Monday was running up the Baltic in a perfect calm, the hot sun striking down on her decks, with its shining brightness dazzling the eyes of the passengers, the numerous vessels they passed having their canvas hanging idly down against their masts.
On Tuesday morning they were at the entrance of the Gulf of Finland, and in the evening they were passing the island of Nargen, with the town of Revel, just rising out of the water, seen through their glasses beyond it on the starboard hand.
The morning of Wednesday broke cold and grey, but in the forenoon the sun burst forth and shone brightly; and the sea was rippled over by a westerly breeze, which increased every hour in strength, and carried before it numberless vessels of all nations and rigs, though the galliots of Holland undoubtedly predominated. About noon, in this numerous company, they passed the lighthouse on the island of Tolbuken, which was held by the English during the late war, and whence the British officers with their glasses could discover all that was going on behind the batteries of Cronstadt. At about half-past one, a gun fired across the bows of the steamer by the Russian guardship hinted to her that she must heave-to; which being done, some officers came on board to examine her papers and the passengers' passports, to drink the master's wine, or spirits, or bottled ale, and carry away any gunpowder or fireworks which might be on board. Ahead lay a large Russian fleet of line-of-battle ships, frigates, steamers, brigs, and schooners, now at length able to show their noses out of port; while a little way beyond rose those formidable batteries which had so lately, by their very appearance, been able to damp the ardour of some of England's naval chieftains. On the left side was the island of Cronstadt, with its fortifications, its town with its spires and domes, and its harbour, capable of sheltering a large man-of-war fleet; and on the right, opposite to it, were two circular batteries, which looked like huge white factories rising out of the water; only instead of windows, there were ports, while enormous guns in lieu of rainspouts crowned their summits, without even a parapet to hide their carriages. On the southern part of the chief island was a similar tower.
Most of the passengers had some favourite plan of their own for taking the fortress,—especially some commercial travellers, who were loud in their expressions of scorn at the want of success of Napier and Dundas, and the sad degeneracy of the British navy. Cousin Giles was much amused, and advised them to lay their plans before the English Government, and to offer their services as commanders-in-chief of her fleets and armies.
As the vessels steamed on, the travellers had on their left side the rocky and wood-covered heights of Finland, between which and the island of Cronstadt there is a narrow but tolerably deep passage. Through this passage, which was unknown to the Russians themselves, the English admiral proposed to send up a fleet of gun-boats and small steamers had the attack on the fortress been resolved on. On the right hand from this entrance into the Gulf of Finland they had had the province of Esthonia. They now had that of Saint Petersburg, the shores of which appeared high and well wooded. They by this time had reached what may be considered nearly the end of the Gulf of Finland; for, although above Cronstadt there is still a fine expanse of water, it is generally very shallow, there being only a narrow and intricate channel, worked by the strong current of the Neva.
Among the various craft they passed, they were much amused by the little Finnish schooners, which went careering on before the breeze, laden chiefly with firewood, or some other not very valuable cargo, for the Saint Petersburg markets. They were built of fir, with very little paint, very few ropes, and had very white canvas. Altogether they had, as Cousin Giles observed, an exceedingly fresh-water look about them. The Finns who manned them were, however, hardy fellows, and formed by far the best seamen on board the Russian men-of-war. The Russians are not good salt-water sailors; they have no taste for the sea, and are not likely to obtain it. Peter the Great tried to form a navy. He succeeded in building ships, but it was quite a different thing when he tried to find seamen to man them. A gentleman on board told the lads a story, and they much wished to know if he could vouch for its truth. The late Emperor Nicholas on some occasion wanted to send a line-of-battle ship in a hurry to sea. No men were to be found. The Emperor was indignant that anything should oppose his imperial will. He stormed and raged; but even to appease his wrath no men could be made to rise out of the earth. At last his eyes fell on a regiment of dragoons who were defiling slowly by.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, as a bright thought struck him, "why should not those tall fellows make good seamen?" He called the colonel to him. "Colonel," said he; "order your men to dismount, and do you and your officers lead them on board that ship, and get her under weigh immediately. There is no time to be lost. You'll have something to learn, probably; but that does not matter—it is my will—do it."
The poor colonel knew that there was no use expostulating. The men were ordered aloft—cocked hats, jack-boots, and spurs. Up they went, the upper ones with their dreadful spurs catching those following by eyes, or noses, or mouths; and the surprising thing was that any got up at all. There is, however, nothing that a Russian cannot do, in a way, when put to it. The topsails were at length loosed, the anchor was got up, and the ship was actually under weigh; but where she went to, or if she ever went anywhere at all, their friend could not exactly say.
All this time the steamer was passing among the Russian men-of-war. Some of them were huge, towering line-of-battle ships, and all of them, outwardly at least, were in prime order. At length the steamer ran in past a high white tower between two piers, the screw stopped, she was hauled alongside a wharf, and the voyage was ended. Instantly she was filled with men in grey and blue uniforms. They were custom-house officers, who came professedly to prevent smuggling, but in reality to collect any fees they could pick up.
The travellers now heard for the first time the incomprehensible sounds of the Russian language, while their eyes were amused with the various and strange costumes of the wild-looking shouting people who surrounded them. Some of the officers had shaven chins, but most of the people had long beards, and straggling hair flowing from beneath their caps; but, unattractive as were their countenances generally, they wore an aspect of good-nature and simplicity which made amends for their ugliness.
In a short time a little steamer came alongside the Ladoga, into which the passengers and their luggage were transferred, to be conveyed up to Saint Petersburg under charge of a party of the militarily-equipped custom-house officers. The little satellite shoved off from the side of the big steamer, the master stood on the taffrail with his hat in his hand, the passengers waved theirs; and thus they bade farewell, most of them for ever, to the ill-fated Ladoga. After leaving the mole, they passed along the wharves of the Imperial Dockyard, within which were collected a great number of line-of-battle ships and frigates laid up in ordinary, which, as Fred said, looked like idle sulky fellows shut up in a poor-house with nothing to do.
"Very fine ships," said Cousin Giles; "but without the men to handle them, in spite of their long guns, they are like dogs with broken legs: they may bark and howl, and gnash their teeth, but they can do no further harm. We should not despise Russia, but we need not be frightened at her."
Their helmsman, who stood with the tiller between his legs, with his hands crossed and hid in his "Bosom," was a picture in himself. A low cap covered a head of shaggy reddish hair, while his thick straggly beard was of the same hue. His upper man was clothed in a coarse white jersey, beneath which appeared the tail of a red-striped shirt, while his widish green cloth trousers were tucked in high leather black boots. He was a fine big fellow, and had a seaman's air about him, so that he might have served as a model of a Scandinavian rover ten centuries ago. There were a number of other, to the young travellers, strange-looking figures, helmeted, long-cloaked, thick-bearded and moustached beings, who, with piles of luggage, crowded the decks; and in this numerous company away they hurried towards the modern capital of the Czars.
Distant View of Saint Petersburg—How it is built—Enter the City of the Czar—Its Appearance at First Sight—Mount a Drosky—The Travellers reach their Hotel—Outline Sketch of Saint Petersburg—A Tour round the City—Its Palaces and Public Buildings.
"There it is! There it is! There's the city—Saint Petersburg itself!" exclaimed the young travellers, as, directly ahead, appeared rising out of the water a line of golden domes, and tall spires and towers, glittering brightly in the sun, like some magic city of ancient romance. Conspicuous above all was the superb pile of the Isaac Church, the most modern sacred edifice in the city, and by far the finest; and near it was seen the graceful tower of the Admiralty, tapering up like a golden needle into the blue sky. Soon other buildings—hospitals, and palaces, and houses, and towers, either not so lofty or farther off—rose to view; but no land could be discovered on which their bases might rest. This vast city, they learned, was built by the imperial will of Peter the Great on a marsh, he hoping to make it a great maritime port. Every house in it stands on a platform of piles, driven far down into the soft ground. Before a building can be erected, it is necessary thus to prepare its foundations, often at an enormous expense.
The shores of the lake-like expanse along which they were steering were covered with woods, from among which peeped the gilt domes of the Imperial Palace of Peterhoff, and many other golden cupolas and spires, and marble-white towers, and walls of churches and monasteries, and palaces and villas, and also some stables, larger than any other edifice in the neighbourhood, belonging to the Grand Duke Michael. On a hill above them, a little distance to the west, appeared the unpretending villa of the late Emperor. It is exactly like a second-class country house. Here he used to delight to retire with his family from the cares of state, and to throw aside completely all imperial grandeur.
"Ah! Notwithstanding his overpowering ambition, his towering pride and haughtiness, that villa alone shows that he was a man after all," observed a fellow-passenger to Cousin Giles.
The head of the gulf narrowed a little, but very little, as they advanced. A few buildings now appeared ahead, and their friend was pointing out to the young travellers the walls of some barracks burnt long ago, and the ancient galley mole which sheltered the Russian galleys in the war with the Swedes, when on a sudden they found themselves among vast warehouses and manufactories, and tanneries and granaries, and the magnificent foundry and private residence of Baron Baird, who is by birth and education an Englishman. All the buildings are on the banks of the Neva, close to its very mouth. The steamer making several sharp turns among crowds of steamers and shipping of all sorts, they speedily found themselves in a region of colleges, and palaces, and churches, and other public buildings, the houses, which anywhere else would be palaces, each vying with the other in size and magnificence, and forming a vast street, the clear, rapid Neva flowing down the centre, with superb granite quays on each side of it. Nowhere in the world is there a finer street, though the height of the houses is lost from its great expanse. Along the line on either side arise marble columns and golden spires and domes innumerable, the two sides being connected by one bridge of iron—massive it must be to stand the ice— and several bridges of boats, which can be removed at the approach of winter; while in the centre of the stream were men-of-war and other steamers, and numerous vessels which had brought articles for the Saint Petersburg market. On the right side was the English quay, with a handsome building at one end, used as an English hotel. Farther on was the English church; and extending far away beyond it was palace after palace, many in the Italian style, the mighty pile of the Winter Palace being conspicuous above all, though in the far distance; and yet numberless other proud edifices were to be seen reaching to the same distance from it on one side as they do on the other. The travellers had little time to observe these wonders before the steamer brought up at a floating white and gold temple-looking building mooted at a granite quay. Elegant as it looked, it was only the custom-house examining shed. Under a graceful arch, which united a little office on either side, the luggage was arranged, and bearded heroes in military costume dipped their hands amid the clean linen and clothes. Their behaviour, however, was civil; and, having taken possession of all the books they found, with the exception of Bibles, which they gave back, they made a sign that the boxes might be closed. The luggage was then turned out through a gateway into the clean wide road, where there stood, as eager and vociferous as any Irish carmen, ready to seize on it, a number of drosky drivers. There are two sorts of hack droskies in Saint Petersburg. One is somewhat like a small phaeton with wide wings; the other has what Cousin Giles called a fore-and-aft seat, on which people sit with their legs astraddle, the driver sitting perched on the end of it. The horses, which are harnessed with ropes in shafts, are wiry, shaggy-looking animals, and have high wooden bows arched over their heads, with the idea of keeping them from stumbling. The drivers are no less strange to English eyes than their vehicles. They are long-bearded, shaggy-haired, keen-eyed men, with low-crowned, broad-curling brimmed hats, wider at the top than at the head. They wear long blue cloth coats, crossed at the breast, and fastened round the waist with a red cotton sash. Their wide trousers are tucked into high boots, and at their back hangs a square brass plate with their number on it, serving the purpose of the London cabman's badge. They are, indeed, under very similar regulations.
Cousin Giles chartered three of these vehicles to carry themselves and their luggage, and the lads laughed heartily as they found themselves seated astride on one of them, rattling along the quays and over the bridge to the English hotel, among hundreds of similar vehicles and long-coated, bearded people, who looked as if they did not think there was anything strange in the matter at all.
The Miss Bensons, the kind-hearted landladies of the hotel, could just manage to accommodate the travellers; and they soon found themselves lodged in very clean rooms, and as comfortable as at any hotel in England. After the fresh sea air they found the heat very great, and the houses felt like stoves; indeed, they heard that the weather had been excessively hot for some days. They, however, had come up with a fresh breeze, which increased almost to a gale, and effectually cooled the air.
Cousin Giles was not a man to let the grass grow under his feet; so, as soon as dinner was over, he and his young companions sauntered out to take in, as he said, as much of Saint Petersburg as they could that evening. Just above the city the Neva divides itself into several branches, which form a number of marshy islands, on which islands Saint Petersburg is built. The streets have been laid out to accommodate themselves somewhat to the turnings of the river; so that they are not at right angles to each other, as might have been expected, though as much regularity as possible has been observed. The most central spot is the Admiralty Square, a vast, irregular, open space, with the river on one side of it; and near the river stands, on a vast block of granite, a colossal equestrian statue of Peter the Great, with his arm stretched out in an attitude of command. Forming the different sides of this vast open space are some of the finest public buildings in the city: the Admiralty with its golden spire, the beautiful Isaac Church with its superb granite columns, the Winter Palace with its long rows of richly ornamented windows, the War Office, the Senate House, and many others. At one end, with a crescent of fine buildings before it, which contain the War Office, stands a lofty column of polished granite, consisting only of two blocks of stone, it is said. It is called the Alexander Column, and is dedicated to him as "the Restorer of Peace to the World." He is so called by the Russians in consequence of the part he took in the overthrow of Napoleon. On its summit stands a green bronze statue of the Archangel Michael, holding the cross of peace in his hand. From the space before the Admiralty radiate off the three longest and widest streets in that city of wide and long streets. The centre one and longest is called the Nevkoi Prospekt, or the Neva Perspective. The names of other two may be translated Resurrection Perspective and Peas Street. The larger streets in the city are called Perspectives. Even the cross streets in Saint Petersburg are mostly wider than Bond Street, and often as wide and long as Regent Street. Many canals intersect the city, and enable bulky goods to be brought to within a short distance of all the houses by water; so that heavily-laden waggons are never seen ploughing their way through the streets, as in most cities. There are no narrow lanes or blind alleys either, the abode of poverty and pestilence, within the precincts of the palaces of the wealthy and great. Here, truly, poverty and rags are removed out of sight; but still they do not cease to dwell in the land. While our young travellers were standing looking at the Alexander Column, their fellow-voyager, Mr Henshaw, joined them. As he had been much in all parts of Russia, he was able to give them a great deal of interesting information.
"I would advise you first to get a general view of the city, and then study details," said he. "Get a knowledge of the plan of the city, and the mode in which it is constructed; then examine the outside of the more important buildings; and, lastly, visit their interiors when they contain anything worth seeing. The first thing you should do to-morrow morning is to ascend the Admiralty tower; the scene from thence, as you look down into the streets, teeming with their countless multitudes, is very interesting, while you will also obtain a perfect bird's-eye view of the whole city and surrounding land and water. We will now, if you please, take a stroll along the quay beyond the Winter Palace. There are many objects in that direction worth remarking."
Cousin Giles gladly assented to the proposal, and, returning to the river, they continued eastward along its banks, passing the front of the Winter Palace. Near to it they stopped to look at a magnificent pile, called the Hermitage, which is about as unlike the residence of a dweller in the wilderness as anything in nature can well be. Mr Henshaw promised them a sight of the interior another day, and told them it contained some of the most magnificent rooms in the world, and was full of fine pictures, rich articles of vertu, and numberless valuable curiosities.
"It was called the Hermitage by the Empress Catherine," said he, "because she, purposed to retire thither from the cares of state—not, however, to live the life of an anchorite, but to revel in that indulgence of all the objects of sense to which her inclinations prompted her."
"But come along," said Cousin Giles; "we agreed not to spend our time on details till we had mastered the geography of the city."
So they continued their walk along the quays. Next to the Hermitage, and joined to it by a passage over an arch which spans a canal,—like the Bridge of Sighs at Venice, only smaller,—they passed the Imperial Theatre, and then a succession of fine residences of nobles and private persons, and lastly the Marble Palace of the Grand Duke Michael. It is so called not because it is built of marble, but because it has marble pillars. Across a street, on the same line, stands a fine pile, which looks like another palace, but in reality contains only the stables and offices, residences of servants, etcetera, belonging to the Marble Palace. Among the palaces they passed was a huge white one, with a very ugly portico.
"That," said Mr Henshaw, "was presented by the Emperor Alexander to the Duke of Wellington, when he became a Russian field-marshal, that he might have a house to inhabit should he ever visit Russia. On his death it reverted to the Russian Government. Opposite to this row of palaces the Neva is very wide. A branch of it runs away in a more northerly direction, forming an island which has been covered with fortifications, and is called the citadel. In the centre stands a church with a lofty golden pinnacle. Beneath it lie buried the Russian Czars. Here is also a cottage, built by Peter the Great, where he used to reside while watching the progress of his navy and the uprearing of the now mighty city, called after his patron saint."
"From a history I have been reading, I find that Peter was not nearly so great a man as I fancied," observed Fred.
"Hush! Hush! That is treason here," answered Cousin Giles. "To his valet he certainly was not great, as Carlyle would say, though he was a very uncommon man. But we should not judge of people by what they appear, or even by what they are doing, so much as by the results produced by their doings. Now Peter contrived, certainly by no very romantic or refined means, to produce a great number of very wonderful results. He caused this great city to be erected, he built a large navy, he taught people to navigate it who had scarcely before seen a vessel bigger than a Finnish schooner, and he contributed to imbue a population sunk in barbarism with a desire to assimilate to the civilised nations of Europe, while he introduced many arts and sciences before unknown into his country. Considering his powers and the little support he could obtain from his countrymen, I must say I think he worked wonders. He was, therefore, certainly what the world calls a great man, though he had great faults, and many littlenesses and contemptibilities. I acknowledge, also, that many far greater men have lived, and are at present alive, and that there will be many more."
"You have defended Peter, and I think on the only grounds on which he can be defended," said Mr Henshaw; "his private character will not for a moment bear discussion."
"Certainly not," answered Cousin Giles; "remember, Fred, and Harry also, that I do not say that he ought properly to be called great, if he is to be judged by the law of Scripture, nor do I wish you to consider him so. Who is there, indeed, who can be so called? But he was great according to the received maxims of the world, by which maxims other men with as little desert have received the same title."
"Before we return, I must take you to the Summer Gardens, where you see the trees beyond the Marble Palace," said Mr Henshaw. "I wish to show you the statue of Kryloff, the Russian Aesop, as he is called."
The Summer Gardens are surrounded by an iron railing, and contain long rows of fine trees, and gravel walks, and seats, and statues, generally of a very antique form and taste, happily now exploded, with heathen deities' hideous faces, such as are to be seen in old prints. In the centre of a small open space, surrounded by trees, stands the statue of Kryloff, a fine, bronze, Johnsonian-looking, sitting figure, much larger than life, with a book and pencil in his hand. The pedestal on which he is placed has on each side figures of animals, in deep relief, illustrating his fables. There is the stork and the wolf, and there are bears and apes, and cats and dogs playing violins and violoncellos and other musical instruments. Several mujicks (peasants) were gazing at the figures with intense interest, apparently entering fully into the spirit of the artist.
On their return along the quays, they stopped to look at the long bridges of boats which cross the Neva in the summer. A portion of each can be removed to allow vessels to pass up or down the stream; but by a police regulation this can be only done with one bridge at a time, and at a certain fixed hour of the day, so that the traffic across the river receives no very material interruption. Near the end of one of them, on the opposite side of the river, they observed a handsome edifice with a fine portico before it, and two granite columns, ornamented with galleys carved in white stone. This building they found was the Exchange. Farther westward of it they observed other magnificent buildings, which they learned were the Corps of Cadets,—the name is applied to the building itself,—the Academy of Sciences, the University, the Academy of Arts, and several others,—all covering a vast extent of ground nearer the mouth of the river. By the time they reached their hotel they were tolerably tired, and, to their surprise, they found that it was nearly ten o'clock. Even then there was a bright twilight, though it was too dark to enable them to distinguish more than the grand outlines of the city.
The Russian Passport System—Baron Verysoft—Mr Tobias Evergreen—His Gratitude for the Baron's Politeness—The Difficulty of reading Russian—The Travellers at a Nonplus—Russian Signboard—Fred and Harry lose themselves—Meet with Tom Pulling—How Tom and his Messmates managed to find their Latitude and Longitude, and to steer a right Course for Port.
The next morning our travellers were reminded that they were not in a free country, in which a man may come and go as he lists without let or hindrance, but that certain very stringent regulations respecting passports must be conformed to before they could attempt to do anything else. Most condescending gentlemen, "commissionaires" they called themselves, undertook for certain considerations to get the work done for them; but Cousin Giles declined their services.
"I have no doubt that we shall be able to get through the business ourselves perfectly well, and we shall see something of the way the Russians manage these affairs," said he.
He intended to visit the mercantile house on whom he had a letter of credit, and he had also several letters of introduction which he wished to deliver as soon as possible. To his bankers, accordingly, they first drove, and they had no difficulty in finding the house. The merchant who acted in that capacity was very kind, and gave them all the information they could desire as to what they should do about their passports; he also wrote down for them a list of the names of the houses at which they had arranged to call. Their first duty was to visit the Alien Office, to take out their permission to reside or travel in Russia. It is in the south-eastern part of the city. The gentleman who presides over it goes by the name of Baron Verysoft among the English, from the peculiar suavity of his manners. Mounting a flight of stairs, they found the Baron at one end of a handsome room, more like a drawing-room than an office, with a number of persons seated round it, all waiting to undergo the ordeal of his friendly inquiries. Nearly all civilised nations were there represented,—English, Germans, French, and Spaniards. Among them they recognised some of their fellow-passengers. The simple, round, good-natured face of one of them they were glad to see. His name was Mr Tobias Evergreen. He was very civil to the lads on board, and seemed to take a great interest in them. Cousin Giles said he did not think he was quite the man to benefit by a journey in Russia; but one thing was certain, he was not likely to make the police very suspicious about his movements. Besides the strangers, there were two or three clerks in uniform, whose sharp, piercing eyes kept glancing round on the visitors, and narrowly scrutinising any fresh arrivals. They seemed to have little else to do beyond this, but to mend their pens, and to make occasional notes in some huge books before them. A number of people had to go up to the table of the Baron, and to reply to his questions; so our friends were compelled to exercise their patience till their turn came. Mr Evergreen spoke a few sentences, which he said was French. Cousin Giles also knew a little of that language, but Fred was able to understand it, and to speak it tolerably well. At last Mr Evergreen's turn came, and they followed him up to the table.
The Baron, in the blandest and most courteous way, inquired Mr Evergreen's name and country; whether he was married or single; what was his object in travelling; the name of his banker; how long he purposed remaining in the country,—to all of which questions he gave answers which seemed perfectly satisfactory to the Baron; and he then volunteered several particulars of his private history, at which the Baron bowed and smiled, as the lads observed he had bowed and smiled at several persons before, while he went on making notes in his book. Perhaps he did not understand a word Mr Evergreen said, or, what is very probable, he was not listening to what did not concern him, but was habitually too polite to let this be discovered. Mr Evergreen had then to sign his name several times in a book, and then the Baron bowed very politely, handed him his passport to take it to the passport office and various police offices, to be signed and countersigned again and again. Mr Evergreen on this bowed to the Baron, and the Baron bowed again. Mr Evergreen would have continued bowing before so great and benignant a personage had not the Baron summoned our friends to approach, Mr Evergreen meantime waiting for them.
They quickly got through the business, and the Baron gave a bow to Cousin Giles, which, if not so profound as those he gave to Mr Evergreen, was much more cordial, and seemed to say: "We understand each other; you are a man I can trust."
When they got outside the door, Mr Evergreen was loud in his praises of Baron Verysoft.
"Nice, charming man!" he exclaimed; "so civil, so kind to me. Don't you think I ought to ask him to dinner, now? It would be but a proper attention in return for his civility."
"He would have to fulfil a very large number of dinner engagements if all thought as you do; but I suspect few people are so grateful for his attentions," answered Cousin Giles.
It was some time before Mr Evergreen could be persuaded to give up his idea.
"The credit of our country is at stake," said he. "Well, well, I suppose I must do as you advise, and let the Baron form his own conclusions of us."
After all, the terrible passport work was got through with much less trouble and expense than Cousin Giles was led to believe would be the case. One of the head clerks at the passport office, a Dane, who spoke English perfectly, assured him that if he went himself he would get the documents signed at once without bribery. The Government fees were very low, and beyond these he paid nothing. He was afterwards told that the Government wished to produce a good impression on the foreigners who were expected in the country to be present at the coronation, and had therefore issued directions to expedite the delivery of passports.
About this time, certainly, new regulations were made with regard to the passports for natives, and many of the old and most obnoxious ones were altered. Till now, a Russian, if he wished to move from one town to another, could not do so without giving several days' notice to the police; and if he wished to leave the country he was compelled to beg permission to do so three months beforehand. Now, by getting any well-known person to be responsible for any debt he might leave unpaid, he was able to travel abroad at the notice of a day or two—indeed, as soon as the governor of his district would issue his passport. Of course it was a question how long this improved system was likely to last. Even now, both foreigners and natives could only get passports from one city to another; and thus Cousin Giles had taken out one for Moscow, but would be obliged then to take another to go farther into the interior. All the passport arrangements having been made, the travellers agreed to leave their letters of introduction, as a drizzling rain had come on, and would prevent them from enjoying the views presented by the city. When, however, Cousin Giles came to examine the paper of directions given by the banker, he found that they were written in the Russian character. Now as the Russian letters, although some of the capitals are somewhat alike in shape, have a totally different sound to the English, or indeed to any other European language, he could not read a word.
"Never mind," said he; "perhaps our drosky drivers, our ishvoshtsticks, can read it."
He showed it to the two men, who bent their heads with profound sagacity over the paper, letting the drops of rain from their shovel hats fall down on the document, nearly obliterating the writing; and then they called another of their profession to their council, but the united wisdom of all three apparently could make nothing of the inscription; for, at last returning it, they shook their heads very gravely, and shrugged their shoulders in a most significant manner.
"I daresay we shall fall in with some one or other who can speak English before long," said Cousin Giles, who was never long at a loss on an emergency.
He accordingly stopped one or two people, whom he addressed with a polite bow in English and French, but they shrugged their shoulders and passed on. At last they met a German who spoke English, and he very willingly directed the ishvoshtsticks where to drive.
While Cousin Giles was paying one of his visits, and as it was near the luncheon hour at the hotel, he advised Fred and Harry to return there, promising soon to follow them.
"We can find our way there easily enough!" they both exclaimed; "we know exactly what to say to the ishvoshtstick—Angliskoy Nabergenoy—that's it—the English Quay. Oh, we shall get along famously."
Saying this, they jumped up on their fore-and-aft drosky, and, giving their directions as well as could any Russian, they thought, away they drove.
They were then in the Vasiliefskoi Ostrof quarter, or on Basilius Island. This is the name given to the large island which is to the north of the main channel of the Neva. Here is the Exchange, and many public buildings before mentioned, and here most of the English merchants reside. They drove on, remarking a variety of novel and curious sights on their way; but, forgetting to take due note of the direction in which they were going, they passed along the quay, and over one of the floating bridges, and then through some fine wide streets. They were amused with the guards stationed at the corners of streets in every quarter of the city. They were mostly thin, tall, lank men, in long coats reaching to their heels, with huge battle-axes on long poles in their hands, and helmets on their heads. What use they were of it was difficult to say, for they certainly could not have run after a thief, much less have knocked one down. The signs, also, in front of the shops appeared very ridiculous. Instead of the display of articles made by an English tradesman in his windows, there were large boards over the doors and windows, and their sides, and under the windows, painted with gigantic designs representing the chief articles to be found within. Huge gloves and stockings, and cravats and pocket-handkerchiefs, and boots and shoes, and coats and trousers, and hats and caps, and knives and forks and spoons—indeed, it is impossible to enumerate all the articles thus represented.
"Those are what we may call Russian hieroglyphics, Harry," said Fred; "I daresay, now, that the Egyptians had something of the sort in their shop windows before they knew how to write."
"It is a capital sort of language," replied Harry, "because, you see, the mujicks, who do not know how to read, and we, who don't understand Russian, both understand it equally well."
"The best universal language," remarked Fred. "If something of the sort were established regularly in the world, it would save a great deal of trouble. But I say, Harry, where have we got to? I am sure we have never been here before."
They had been so amused that they had not remarked the change in the style of architecture of the streets through which they were passing. They were now in a region of low houses, although of considerable size, mostly on one floor, very few having two storeys.
"I am sure this is not the way to the English Quay."
Harry, who sat in front, on this began to pull the ishvoshtstick by his badge, and then by his sleeve, to make him stop. The fellow either would not or could not understand that they wanted to stop. At last he pulled up, and looked over his shoulder.
"I say, Harry, do you remember what they call the English Quay? For, on my word, I have forgotten it," exclaimed Fred in some little dismay, feeling very like Mustapha in the tale of The Forty Thieves, when he forgets the talismanic words, "Open sesame."
"I'm sure I don't know exactly, but I'll try and see if I can't make the fellow understand," answered Harry. "I say, you cabdrivowitch, cut away to the English Quayoi!"
The man shook his head and sat still, as much as to say, "I don't understand you, my masters."
"What's to be done? He doesn't seem to think my Russian very first-rate," said Harry.
"I say, old fellow, we are very hungry, and want to get back to our inn to luncheon," cried Fred, imitating the action of eating.
A bright idea seemed to have seized the ishvoshtstick, and, whipping on his horse, he drove rapidly onward. Harry thought that he had fully comprehended them. He pulled up, however, very soon before a door, over which were painted pieces of meat and sausages, and rolls, and bottles, and glasses. Evidently it was an eating-house, but the lads would not avail themselves of its accommodation, for two reasons—they did not know what to ask for, and they had no Russian money in their pockets; they therefore shook their heads, and signed to the driver to go on. The man evidently thought them very unreasonable and hard to please, but obeyed. It was soon clear to them that they were getting to the outskirts of the city, and they were about trying to make the man turn back when they saw three figures approaching, whom by their rolling walk and dress they recognised even at a distance as English seamen. When the men drew near, the lads were delighted to find that one was their shipmate, old Tom.
He hailed them with a cheerful voice, and told them that, having met two young friends belonging to a ship at Cronstadt, he had got leave for them to accompany him to see Saint Petersburg.
"But I say, Tom, can you tell us where we are?" said Fred.
"That's just what we were going to ask you," replied old Tom. "We've got out of our reckoning somehow, and we know no more where we are than if we had got into the Pacific without a chart or compass."
"What is to be done?" exclaimed Fred; "this stupid fellow does not understand a word we say, and though we have told him to drive back to our hotel he won't go."
For a long time all hands consulted together. One proposed one thing, one the other. By this time two or three other ishvoshtsticks had stopped with their vehicles near the strangers, but could no more than the first comprehend where they wanted to go.
"If we could but get back to the large square with the big statue in it of Peter on horseback on a rock, we could find our way to the inn easily enough," said Fred.
Old Tom thought a moment. "What, the chap who is holding out his hand?" he asked.
"The same," answered Fred.
"Then I have it!" he exclaimed with exultation. "Jem, just do you go down on all fours, and serve me for a horse for a minute, and we'll soon see what will happen."
"What! Do you want me to carry you there, Tom?" asked Jem. "I'd do it willingly if I knew the way, but I think we should get there faster if we all walked on our two legs."
"No, no!" answered Tom; "I want you to act the big horse, and I'll do the rider."
"Oh, ay, I see it all now, mate," said Jem, going down on all fours, while old Tom, who, though serious-minded, was very much of a wag at proper seasons, leaped on his back, and stuck out one arm as Peter's statue is doing.
"Now, Jem, rear up on your fore legs as the big horse is doing, and we shall come the statue to an affigraphy," he cried.
The representation of the statue of Peter was unmistakeable. In an instant the ishvoshtsticks comprehended what was required, and, clapping their hands with delight, while they burst into loud laughter, made signals to the seamen to jump into a drosky, and away they drove as fast as their horses could go, in the very direction from whence Fred and Harry had just come. In about a quarter of an hour they saw the tall golden spire of the Admiralty directly ahead of them, and shortly afterwards they rattled into the vast open space in which it stands, when the ishvoshtsticks pulled up close to the very statue of Peter.
"Now, starboard your helm, my lads, and steer a westerly course," sung out old Tom to the drivers. They did not understand what he said, but they saw the direction in which he pointed along the quay, so they all drove off again as rapidly as before. Harry pulled at their driver's badge to make him stop in front of the hotel, where they found Cousin Giles looking out for them. He had not been very anxious about their safety, for he guessed that they had lost their way, and would probably find it again before long, while, as he said, it would teach them to keep a better reckoning in future. Old Tom and his companions could not be persuaded to come in, for they said that they must make the best of their way back to Cronstadt. They made Cousin Giles laugh heartily by their description of the mode they had hit on for making the ishvoshtsticks understand the point to which they wished to be conveyed.
Bird's-eye View of Saint Petersburg from the Tower of the Admiralty— The Isaac Church—Politeness of a Russian Officer—The Hermitage Palace—Portraits of the Czars—Magnificent Hall—Superb View from it—Jewels—Relics of Peter the Great—The Winter and other Palaces— Bridge of Boats—Exchange—Church of Peter Paul—Tombs of the Czars.
Cousin Giles and his young companions had climbed up to the summit of the Admiralty tower on a fine bright morning, when they could enjoy the strange scene which this aerial position presented to their eyes.
"Let us take it in properly, and map it down in our memory," said Cousin Giles after they had looked round and round, then to a distance, and down into the open spaces and streets below them, with their moving crowd of men, and horses, and carriages, of high and low degree, dashing and tearing here and there as if the lives of monarchs and the fate of kingdoms depended on their speed. "First, look to the east; there we have the rapid, clear Neva, flowing out of Lake Ladoga, which in our mind's eye we can see in the distance, though it is too far off to be seen in reality. Then, in the same direction, near the outskirts of the city, the river branches off into several channels, making a delta like that of the Nile, and forming a number of islands of various dimensions—some so large that a considerable portion of the city to the north of us stands on them, others containing only a few gardens and villas. The country surrounding the city seems barren and desolate in the extreme, either an arid steppe or a stagnant marsh telling of the agues and fevers afflicting those dwelling near it. To the north, however, not many versts from the city, rise the hills and woods, and fields and orchards of Finland, inhabited by the finest peasantry of the Russian empire. To the west appear the shining waters of the head of the Gulf of Finland, with the fortifications of Cronstadt in the far distance, and a fleet of men-of-war before it; while higher up is a whole squadron of gun-boats, which were lately built and fitted out in a great hurry to meet those England had prepared to send into these waters. Across the head of the gulf, looking down on Cronstadt, peep forth amid a mass of green foliage the golden spires and domes, and white-walled palaces, and Swiss-looking villas of Peterhoff, beyond which, and far away as the eye can reach to the southward, and very, very much farther on, one great desolate steppe or plain, bearing for miles and miles scarcely a tree higher than a gooseberry bush, or a hill boasting a height of greater elevation than a molehill. Now let us bring our eyes nearer to our feet, to the mouth of the river. We see it crowded with steamers and every variety of craft of moderate size of all nations, and yet we know that the greater proportion of vessels which bade to the city do not come higher than Cronstadt. The large barges and lighters which we see moving up and down the river convey their cargoes to and from that place. High up the river, above the bridges, is another collection of vessels, and several are to be seen moving up and down the different channels; while the canals, which meander through the city in various directions, are literally jammed up with barges, chiefly unloading firewood. The canals pass down the middle of the broad streets, many of which are fringed with trees. At the mouth of the river, on the south side, is Mr Baird's iron factory, where steam-engines and iron machines of all sorts are made; near it is his private residence. He is now a Russian baron, and is much esteemed by the Emperor. A little higher up is the new naval arsenal, with long sheds, where gangs of workmen are employed in chains, and through which runs a canal. Some men-of-war steamers are moored off it. Others are seen in different parts of the river, their guns commanding the quays; so that, should an emeute ever take place, the communication between the various quarters of the city would speedily be cut off. Groups of shipping are visible at different parts of the quays; but no ugly warehouses or stores of any sort are in sight, and their cargoes are quickly spirited away to other unaristocratical parts of the city. Here the mansions of the noble and wealthy have taken possession of the whole length of the quays. The first building of importance on the north side, opposite Mr Baird's works, is the Corps of Mines. It is of great extent, and contains a museum stored with models, illustrating every branch of civil and military engineering, as well as some beautifully executed models of various descriptions of mines. Then come in succession, and nearly in the same line, the magnificent edifices containing the Academy of Arts, the University, the Academy of Sciences, the Corps of Cadets, and, lastly, the Exchange. Some of these buildings cover as much ground as many of the largest squares in London. Above the Exchange is Petersburg Island, which is covered with a strong fortification, called the Citadel. It contains a church called Peter Paul, built by Peter the Great, and which has a spire exactly like that of the Admiralty. On the island is also the cottage which Peter the Great inhabited while the foundations of his wondrous city were being laid. Beyond it, to the north and west, can be discerned some of the smaller channels of the silvery Neva, flowing among gardens and orchards, and green waving woods, with villas of every description of architecture, more suited apparently to the climate of the sunny south than to the cold atmosphere of this bleak region. Between the base of the building on which we stand and the northern portion of the city we have described, runs the main channel of the river. It is crossed by several broad bridges, resting on a chain of huge boats or barges, which can be removed when the approach of winter gives signs that, by means of the quick-forming ice, the inhabitants will be able to cross without their aid.
"We will now turn and face to the south. To the right is the long line of the English Quay, with its numerous handsome and substantial mansions, which in any other city would be called palaces. Then comes the great square or rather space below us, bordered by huge piles containing the chief public offices in the empire. Standing amid them, yet not pressed on too closely, rises the proud structure of the new Church of Saint Isaac, with its four granite-columned porticoes. Then radiating off directly before us are the three widest and longest streets perhaps in Europe: first in magnificence comes the Neva Perspective, and then comes Peas Street, and the Resurrection Perspective; but running out of them are also streets of great width, composed of houses of numerous storeys and undoubted pretensions to grandeur. The Neva Perspective is the most interesting. On the right side of it stands the Kazan Church, which it was intended should be like Saint Peter's at Rome; but, except that it has a wide-spreading portico with numerous columns, it is in no way to be compared to that magnificent structure. On the same side is a building, or rather a collection of buildings, which at a distance have no very imposing appearance. This is the great market of Saint Petersburg, or the Gostinnoi dvor. It consists of a series of arcades, in front of stores of two or more storeys, forming the outside boundary of an extensive region of squares, which have likewise arcades running round them, the area being filled with garden produce and rough wares not liable to be injured by weather. Here every article, either for use or consumption, which the lower orders can possibly require, is to be found, from a hat to a cucumber, or a pair of shoes to a leg of mutton; but, as our friends were about to visit the place, it need not now be further described.
"At the very end of the street could be seen the terminus of the Saint Petersburg and Moscow railway, the iron road itself running far, far away to the southward across the flat and marshy steppe. On either side of this prince of streets, the Neva Prospect, and in many streets branching from it, could be seen a number of lofty and magnificent palaces with here and there golden-domed churches, and many public buildings, convents, and monasteries, and wide walks fringed with trees, and canals carrying produce from far-off countries into the very heart of the city. Let us have one look more before we descend at Peter's Statue, not bigger apparently than a child's toy, and the Alexander Column, and the golden domes of the Isaac Church, and the huge Winter Palace, and the Hermitage, and the Imperial Theatre, and the long line of palaces facing the quays of the Neva beyond them; then we have to-day witnessed a sight not easily forgotten.
"Saint Petersburg, as it stands on its millions of wooden piles, the liquid, rapidly-flowing Neva, the moving, living crowd of uniform-clad inhabitants—men, women, and children, coaches, droskies, and horses, infantry and cavalry, Cossacks of the Don on their ragged ponies, and skeleton-looking guards with their glittering halberds at every corner. Those at home may gain a fair notion of the scene from Burford's Panorama, but they will soon forget it, while we shall remember it all our lives: there is nothing like the reality to impress it on our minds." So said Cousin Giles as our friends began to descend into the world below.
"We must now visit some of these places in detail," said Cousin Giles as they stood in the square outside the Admiralty gates. "Where shall we go first?"
"To the big new church!" exclaimed Harry. "I want to see if it is as fine inside as it is out."
To the Isaac Church accordingly they steered their course. On their way they encountered a party of British naval officers, whose ship was lying at Cronstadt. Several of them were well-known to Cousin Giles, and they gladly accepted his invitation to visit the church. When, however, they got to the gate in the wooden paling which still surrounded it, the porter signified to them that without a ticket they could not be admitted. Even a silver rouble could not soften him. He looked at it wistfully, but for some reason was afraid of accepting the bribe. Just as they were going away in despair, a tall, gentleman-like officer stepped through the gateway. He looked at them for an instant, and then inquired in French what they wanted. Cousin Giles explained.
"Oh, I will soon arrange that, I doubt not," he replied, returning into the enclosure. He quickly came back, and begged them to enter. "After you have seen the church, if you will come to the Hermitage, I will be there, and shall have great pleasure in showing you over it."
Cousin Giles and the commander of the English ship and the other officers bowed and thanked him, and accepted his offer. He then left them, and they mounted the long flight of steps which leads up to the southern portico. It must be understood that there are three similar porticoes, with lofty granite columns, constituting the chief beauty of the exterior of the building. The roof is supported by massive columns: they, and every part of the walls, are covered with the richest marbles of every colour, highly polished. In the centre is a dome, near the summit of which, as if it were watching over the worshippers below, is seen a dove, floating apparently in air. The effect is good, whatever may be thought of the taste which would allow so sacred an emblem to be thus introduced. The great attractions of the church are a row of malachite pillars on either side of the high altar. Their appearance is very fine; the malachite is, however, only veneered on copper, of which the pillars are composed. There are also numerous pictures of saints, which at first sight appeared to be of the richest mosaic, like those of Saint Peter's at Rome, but on examination they proved to be only on canvas; perhaps they are placed there till the real mosaics are ready. The three brass doors of the church, covered with figures in the deepest relief, are very fine, as is also a large window of stained glass.
Cousin Giles observed, that the richness of the decorations put him in mind of Saint Peter's at Rome; but, both in respect to size and elegance of design, it is much inferior.
The party having satisfied their curiosity, set off across the square to the Hermitage. Their new friend the colonel was at the door to receive them, and, conducted by a guide in the imperial livery, they mounted a superb flight of steps, which led them into a series of magnificent rooms, the walls of which were covered with some of the finest pictures of the great masters. In the centre of each of these rooms were exquisitely-shaped vases of malachite and other valuable materials.
The colonel, in the politest manner, pointed out to the party the pictures most worthy of admiration. Cousin Giles was particularly struck by two holy families, by Raphael, painted at different periods of his life, very different from each other, and yet both equally beautiful.
There are a number of very large pictures in the halls, the favourite subject of which is the retreat of the French from Russia, and the burning of Moscow. This subject is treated in every possible manner. There are also a number of large pictures of the battles in which the Russians have been victorious. They are not fond of keeping up a remembrance of their defeats. There was a good picture of the late Emperor, with his haughty brow, fierce eyes, and determined lips, the very impersonification of self-will and human pride, now brought down to the very dust; but, haughty as was that brow, the expression of the countenance gave no sign of talent or true genius. It was indeed wanting. He had the sense to take advantage of the ideas of others, and the determination to carry them into execution. The colonel stopped to look at the picture, but there was no smile of affection on his countenance. There were also full-length portraits of many Czars, and among others of Paul, which had a rollicking, half-tipsy look about it, very characteristic of the man. The crown was on one side, and the buttons of the waistcoat unfastened, if not, indeed, buttoned awry. Intoxication or insanity was clearly portrayed by the too faithful artist. It was a way of speaking truth in which courtiers are not apt to indulge.
The colonel led the party through a number of halls, each more vast and more beautiful than the former. The walls of one were of white and gold, of another blue and silver, and of a third of a pinkish hue; but the most beautiful of all was the music hall. The pillars which supported the roof were white twisted with gold—a most aerial flight of steps leading to a gallery above, with a second row of pillars. It was more like a scene described in Eastern romance than what one expects to meet with in the solid reality of life. The windows of the hall looked out on a fine view of the Neva, with the citadel before it. The colonel caught the eyes of the British officers looking at it.
"Ah!" said he, taking the hands of the commander and pointing to the fortress, "that is the place you would have had to take if you had come here in the spring; but, believe me, my dear sir, I receive you much more willingly in this friendly way than I should have done at the point of the bayonet."
The colonel spoke in so frank and cordial a way, and with so much grace in his manner, that he completely won the hearts of his guests. They all warmly pressed him to come on board, their ship, promising to show him everything about her. He replied that he would gladly have availed himself of their offer, but that he was compelled to go to Moscow to make preparations for the coronation.
Two fine old soldiers, tall and upright, with huge moustaches, and breasts covered with decorations, stood guard at the entrance of the treasury. It contained jewels of every description, and curious productions of rare art, such as a prince in the Arabian Nights might have been told to bring from a far distant country before he could hope to win the hand of some lovely princess. Among them was a clock under a glass case, consisting of a golden tree, with a peacock, an owl, a cock, a mouse, a stream of running water, and many other things. At each hour the peacock unfolds his tail, the cock crows, the owl rolls his goggle eyes, and the mouse runs out of its hole. But far more interesting than all the crowns of gold, the robes of silk, and the precious gems, are numerous articles manufactured by the great Peter, and the tools with which he worked. Among others is the chair on which he sat—a very rough affair, spy-glasses of huge dimensions, and walking-sticks in numerable—some thin-made switches, others thick enough to knock down a giant, with every variety of handle, ending with the old man's crutch, a complete epitome of human life.
It would be impossible in our journal to mention all the magnificent pictures collected from every part of Europe, and the vast numbers of interesting curiosities.
This beautiful palace, as has been remarked, was built by Catherine, that she might retire to it after the cares of state, and endeavour to forget them among its varieties and objects of interest. That she attained the ease and happiness she sought, is more than doubtful.
"Depend on it, my lads," observed Cousin Giles, "that powerful but bad woman was far from happy amid all the luxury which wealth could give her. Nothing but a good conscience, void of offence towards God and man, can bring happiness, and that she had not got."
The Winter Palace is next to the Hermitage. Though much larger, it is far less interesting, as the interior was burnt down in 1837, when many fine paintings and articles of value were destroyed. It is said that in the old palace there resided not less than six thousand persons, some living in huts constructed on the roof, whence no one thought of disturbing them. Some thousands no doubt reside also in the present building.
That moon-stricken monarch, Paul, built a palace for himself, in the hope that within its fortified walls he might be safe from the attacks of his enemies. So eager was he to have it finished, that five thousand men were employed on it daily. To dry the walls, iron plates were made hot and fastened against them; but what is done in a hurry is generally ill done, and such was the case in this instance: the cost was three times greater than it need have been.
Scarcely had the unhappy Emperor inhabited his new abode three months, when he fell, pierced by the daggers of assassins, in the centre of the very fortress he had fancied would prove his security.
The Hermitage having been thoroughly lionised under the auspices of the polite colonel, the party steered a course across the bridge of boats to the Exchange, a large building with a fine portico and a flight of steps facing the river, on the north side, at the eastern end of Vasili Ostrof, and with a fine open space before it. It was presented by the late Emperor to the mercantile community of Saint Petersburg, whom he wished especially to conciliate. In front stand two granite columns, decorated with the prows of ships cast in metal. On a close examination of the building, our friends discovered that it was covered with stucco, which in many places was already crumbling away, as is the case with many other edifices of high and low degree in this rapidly constructed city. Cousin Giles and his friends were hesitating about entering when they were overtaken by Mr Henshaw.
"Come in," said he. "The merchants here are happy to see strangers; they will not knock your hat over your eyes, as the frequenters of Change Alley are wont to do to intruders."
They followed their friend, and found themselves in a vast hall full of long blue or green-coated gentry, with flowing beards and low-crowned hats, intermingled with others in modern European costume—some looking round in expectation of a correspondent, others in earnest conversation in knots of twos or threes, busily engaged in buying or selling, a word deciding the fate of hundreds of fat oxen now feeding securely in their native pastures, or of thousands of tall trees growing in the primeval forest thousands of versts away. They were much struck by observing an altar on one side of the entrance, with candles burning on it, and the picture of a saint, black, as usual, and in a golden habit, before which the native merchants bowed and crossed themselves as they passed onward to transact their affairs. Here were collected representatives of all nations, and from every part of Russia—a strange medley of physiognomies, tongues, and costumes; but so habitual has become to them a modulated tone of voice, that, in spite of the hundreds speaking at once, a gentle murmur alone is heard through the hall.