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In cases of dire extremity, grants of money without interest up to 100 roubles are made; while during the first three years the settler is exempt from taxes. The plan commonly followed is, that on arrival at Tcheliabinsk, on the farther side of the Urals, the settlers are arranged into parties and sent under superintendence to the locality that is to be colonised by them.
That the numbers had been gradually rising each year1 was in no way remarkable; but the sudden increase that set in last spring was quite unlooked for. It partook of the nature of a wild stampede. How it affected the average Russian may be judged from the following incident. A gentleman personally known to myself, while staying at his country residence, was informed one morning that his cook and coachman desired to speak with him. These two men, who had been a lengthy period in his service and were the recipients of no mean wage, astonished him by quietly intimating that they were leaving for Siberia. Having known them manyyears heventured to expostulate with them, but his suggestion that perhaps they were discontented with their wage and present circumstances was instantly scouted as quite out of the question. He then shared with them what he knew about the general disorganisation that had overtaken the movement during the earlypart of May of last year, with its sad attendant circumstances, telling them in all the truth, not so much from any wish to retain them in his service as from his personal interest in them. It was in vain: their only reply was, "Every one is going, and we must go too."
This year the tide set in early, and between the months of January and May 170,000 people had already passed through Tcheliabinsk—in May alone, 100,000; for a period of about a month, the daily number of incomers was 2000. The population of the above-mentioned town is 17,000, and on a certain day in May there were just so many settlers camping out around the station and along the railway-line, waiting for further transportation. The result was that the organisation of the young Siberian railway was quite unable to cope with this immense human flood. There was neither rollingstock nor officials sufficient to conduct the settler-companies to their destination. In time more waggons were got out from Russia, the question was faced, and very soon that large population was moved on—not, however, before cholera, typhus, and other epidemics had broken out, and many had died. The question assumed so serious an aspect that a Secretary of State was sent out to inquire into this matter: having arrived on the spot, he at once gave orders for the cessation of all emigration, and proceeded personally to make fuller investigations and arrangements. As a result, by the end of the summer practically the whole government of Tobolsk had been settled, and the Taiga or virgin forest there is being surveyed and examined with a view to bringing under cultivation land occupied by it. The Secretary's son described to me the interest he had in seeing the different settlements in various stages of growth—some with only four-and-twenty hours of history, others three or four days old, and others again whose existence dated from several weeks back. Those emigrants who wish to go to the Amur of course perform the journey by sea (forty-five days) from Odessa; but there were families settled in Tobolsk government last summer who had come back overland from that distant country, being discontented with the grant they had received there. In one case a family, after spending all they had (3000 roubles) on the journey to the Amur district and back, had settled down in Tobolsk penniless.
1 The figures for the year 1892 were, roughly, 100,000; for 1893, 150,000; for 1894, about 180,000.
The journey from Tula towards Siberia cannot be called interesting. A painfully flat landscape, monotony of scenery, everywhere the tracks of the settler: that is all. Thus at Riajsk one side of the platform presented the same picture of frightened incarnations of misery, huddling together against the rain that came down in torrents, and crossing themselves at every lightning-flash and thunder-peal. We leave them, and the outlook is replaced by a broad sweep of land that extends on either side to the horizon: hedgeless and brown, where the soil has lately been upturned, but verdant also where one may distinguish the young corn. Occasionally we pass through a strip of wood whose trees exhibit a greenness that may almost be felt: it is the beginning of the Russian spring. Thereafter we traverse wide plains through which the railway track has been so simply led: the telegraph wires decrease in number, and one feels that the world is being left behind. There also, at distances of about 100 yards apart, is stacked in 10-feet lengths the wooden hoarding that in winter serves to shield the line from the fierce drifting of the snow.
Quickly we fly through the government of Penza, to whose prosperity a multitude of windmills testify. Acres of rye creep close up to the railway track and extend unbroken out of sight. At length we reach the Volga, Russia's "most kindly nurse." The great waterway seems dark and muddy from the height of the noble iron bridge that through 600 sajensi spans her breadth. The low left bank, flooded at parts and thickly wooded with small shrubs and trees that hug the river's brink, soon disappears, in contrast with the other bank, in height 100 feet or so, covered with luxuriant vegetation; and you may even see a scrap of sandy beach from which the river has retreated, lying beside the dark current.
We pass a village. Its most conspicuous object is the church, with whitened walls and two green domes. You notice that it holds a central place; you might almost fancy that the village had grown up around it as nucleus. The wooden huts, with their' brown roofs of thatch, lighter in colour where the straw is of more recent date, stand separate in disconnected lines. The roads on which they abut preserve in part their primitive affinity with the surrounding plain — grass - covered where in their breadth they have not yet been trampled underfoot, black where some heavy wheel has rudely cut them up. A few youngsters in bright red shirts lend colour and activity to the scene. On the outskirts of the village each peasant owns a tiny plot, enclosed by stakes, which form the basis of a wall of wickerwork. Inside, you see, perhaps, two horses or a cow; it may be only straw. At the corner you will note a little dovecot raised on a pole, surmounted by a branch of birch. This welcome home is for blackbirds and the sparrows in the winter-time. Nor is this all, for on the extreme border of the small community, separated by a trench from the outer world, is an unkept square extent of land dotted with crosses, blue, black, or white, sometimes of iron, or, again, reduced to a short wooden post: thus does the peasant reverence his dead.
i Sajen = 7 English feet; the actual length of the bridge is 4375 feet.
The rate of speed of our naphthastoked train is 30 versts an hour, and in process of time we leave Samara too behind us. The "elevators" form an important feature at the stations in this neighbourhood. These are large metal granaries, in which the produce of the surrounding country is stored. They are often of great height, and in them the grain is tossed about and mechanically sifted, so as to prevent over-heating. Beyond Samara we pass through gently undulating country, which now and again opens out on broader areas of damp reedy ground, which is occasionally monopolised by copses of stunted willow, birch, and oak. The only signs of habitation over long stretches are the lone cabins of the surfacemen. Sunk in the soil, with low roof sloping backwards, their tiny walls buttressed on every side by plank-imprisoned earth, these humble homes strangely testify to the advance of civilisation. Ufa proclaims that we are nearing Asia. As on the Volga, one sees on the river Ufa many house-rafts, capable of supporting a large floating population. Here and elsewhere we pass trainfuls of returning disappointed settlers.
At length we come in sight of the Ural Mountains, which figure so largely on our maps. The first sense is that of disappointment.
Although they extend a considerable length from north to south, and their breadth is fully borne in upon our minds by the slowness of the train, it is a remarkable fact that the highest peak only scales 5200 feet. Languidly the train ascends 100 feet of thickly wooded hill-country. Geological inquiry discloses the fact that we are traversing two folds in the earth's crust. Occasionally we pass through deeper dynamite - blown cuttings, and issue out of them only to look up to pine- and fir-clad heights. We strike a muddy river—Yarovka—born in these cooler latitudes. We follow it, and on either side at times the beetling brows give way to meadow-land, in which are set at intervals quiet hamlets. The tiny stations have a desolate appearance, and towards the evening a sublime silence reigns, which is only broken by the tinkling of faint cow - bells, the plaintive cuckoo's cry, or the occasional hum of human voices. Thus we pursue our way over varying heights, now riding through a cloud of butterflies that were resting by the wayside, now raising frightened wild-duck from some part of Yarovka's shaded banks. It was early morning when we steamed into Tcheliabinsk. The country had now reverted to the flatness that characterised the western side of the Urals. Birch and beech were still the prominent trees. It was this town that saw the worst features of the emigration fever; but now, in the middle of June, scarcely three hundred remained as witnesses to the past. The platform presented a motley group of interested human beings: swarthy Tartars, sallow Russians, brisk Siberians, Bashkirs, Kirghese, and, to employ another category, the everlasting officer and sundry other petty tchinovniks. The Bashkirs, like the Kirghese, were originally a nomadic people, but have now somewhat settled down, and make excellent agricultural labourers.
Leaving Tcheliabinsk, we pass through country that indicates considerable population. Much has been reclaimed; much is under cultivation. Still more is level steppe, occasionally broken by strips of shrubby copse or statelier trees. Short posts in black and white, with the imperial eagle, help to mark out the boundaries of the land reserved on either side for the railways. The soil, where it is exposed, proclaims itself to be the far-famed tchernozem or black earth; beneath it in section one makes out the widespreading loess. The villages are of course at a considerable distance from the line: this is the genius of all Russian railways.
Everything becomes simpler as we move farther east. Soon the stations resolve themselves into plain log - houses, surrounded by many square yards of birch, that serve as fuel for the locomotives.
Kurgan is the first town at which we stop in Siberia proper. From what one can see of it from the station, it has the appearance of being mainly composed of wooden houses; but, characteristically, two white churches with their green domes and roofs obtrude upon one's notice. Here we witnessed the Qrst meeting after ten years of a well-known political exile with his parents and a younger brother, whom he now saw for the first time. A man selling models of convicts at work also reminds us of the peculiar associations that this country has for the civilised world. We have opportunity to stroll about and look around, for the train lingers an indefinite period at each point. To the Rus
sian time is not money, still less to the Siberian. You might for that matter partake of a lengthy repast at every station if there was the wherewithal; but only at special points is provision made,—an ominous diagrammatic wine-glass before the name of a station in the time-table indicates the presence of a buffet there. At such a place one is commonly allowed twenty minutes; while elsewhere you will notice a line of tables at a fixed distance from the railroad, behind which stand a number of peasant women in picturesque attire, with milk, quass, bread, butter, and other viands for sale.
Omsk is situated in a bare plain, on two rivers, the Irtish and the Om. As a result the town can be descried from a great way off: at this distance the barracks, Cadet Corps College, and the Church of St Nicholas are the most prominent objects. The bridge across the Irtish is of the type commonly met with along the line — iron girders supported on stone piers. The embankment at this point is between 35 and 40 feet high; even yet a staff of men is almost constantly at work keeping it in repair. This was also found to be the case over great lengths of the line farther to the east; the heavy rains are continually washing away in part these huge structures. It is obvious that, in addition to what we may call the temporary demand for workmen, such an immense railway will require a permanent contingent of labourers to clear away snowdrifts and repair the line. To secure this object, it was proposed to introduce navvies from European Russia: steps have been already taken in this direction, and are being carried out successfully. The only distinguishing feature about Omsk station, which was in process of building, is that here one sees half-a-dozen lines of railway. This is, of course, a provision for the future; the three trains weekly in either direction scarcely require them meantime. For the moment, except on the main line, all was in possession of a crowd of settlers.
We have already noticed the numbers of men who are engaged on this vast undertaking. In the heat of the mid-day sun it was assuredly hard work, and one was not surprised to see the somewhat deliberate fashion in which any particular task was carried through. The great majority of the labourers were toiling in white (or what were once white) cotton shirts and pantaloons, barefoot, bareheaded. Some of their tools and implements were primitive—e.g., the wheel less barrow shoved along a plank. One saw the evolution of the spade in a single party, for while some were employing longhandled wooden shovels, all of one piece, others had the edge of the blade protected with a thin binding of tin, while yet others had the ordinary one with iron blade. Another tool looked like half a pick, with the back of the head flattened hammer-wise. They also made use of giant sledgehammers of wood — a vast bole with a stout handle driven into it, making a very formidable weapon. Utilising a thick beam as lever, they would prise up great lengths of rail attached to the sleepers, and so fill in more ballast. One noticed also the absence of what are commonly known as "chairs": the broad-based rails are simply laid on the notched sleepers, and held in position there by a small species of clamp on the inside only. Great care is being exercised in the regulation of this railway. Every hundred yards or so appear white boards indicating the gradients,
which occasionally alter very considerably over quite short ranges. Also at extremely short intervals are posted the usual men in charge of the line, green flag in hand, to signify that their section at least is clear. The railway embankment is continually followed on either side by excavations of varying size, from which the soil was taken for its construction. At those points where over long distances the embankment remains a considerable height, these trenches increase greatly in breadth, but not so much in depth. The cause of this is simply that the ground is frozen at about 6 feet below the surface till towards the end of July, so that the upper stratum only is workable. These broad ditches fill with water, and become the spacious nurseries of myriads of mosquitoes and other objectionable forms of insect life. Beyond these lie immense expanses of verdant plain, whose uniformity is rudely interrupted at intervals by irregularly set thickets of stunted birch. Occasionally some Kirghese boy reveals our laboured progress by forging ahead of the train on his hardy pony. Shaggy, sure-footed, speedy, they are the true Siberian travellers; shrewd also, for when the sun has dipped below the western horizon and the evening air seems to exist for nothing but mischief-making mosquitoes and their inhuman clan, mark how by yonder small encampment in the lee of a birch coppice the patient burden-bearers stand beside the fire, facing the wind, and holding their heads in the smoke to be relieved from their pestiferous associates. Animal life is otherwise not much in evidence. Occasionally a startled hare dashes from his haunt too near the track of progressive man. Perhaps a mallard rises from some weeded brake, and overhead a towering