« PreviousContinue »
very flowers seemed whispering love to each other, and the lights and shadows fell, by some intuitive sense of fitness, into the form of bridal wreaths. Marble statues representing the Graces, winged Mercuries and Cupids, are so cunningly displayed in relief against the green banks of foliage that they seem the natural inhabitants of the place. Snow-spirits, too, with outspread wings, hover in the air, as if to waft cooling zephyrs through the soft summer night. In the open spaces fountains dash their sparkling waters high into the moonlight, spreading a mystic spray over the sward. Through vistas of shrubbery gleam the bright waters of a lake, on the far side of which the embattled towers of a castle rise in bold relief over the intervening groups of trees.
On an elevated plateau, near the centre of the garden, stands a series of Asiatic temples and pagodas, in which the chief entertainments are held. The approaching avenues are illuminated with many-colored lights suspended from the branches of the trees, and wind under triumphal archways, festooned with flowers. The theatres present open fronts, and abound in all the tinsel of the stage, both inside and out. The grounds are crowded to their utmost capacity with the rank and fashion of the city, in all the glory of jeweled head-dresses and decorations of order. Festoons of variegated lights swing froni the trees over the audience, and painted figures of dragons and genii are dimly seen in the background. .
Attracted by sounds of applause at one of these theatres, I edged my way through the crowd, and succeeded, after many apologies, in securing a favorable position. Amid a motley gathering of Russians, Poles, Germans, and French-for here all nations and classes are represented—my ears were stunned by the clapping of hands and vociferous cries of Bis! Bis! The curtain was down, but in answer to the call for a repetition of the last scene it soon rose again, and afforded me an opportunity of witnessing a characteristic performance. A wild Mujik has the impudence to make love to the maid-servant
of his master, who appears to be rather a crusty old gentleman, not disposed to favor matrimonial alliances of that kind. Love gets the better of the lover's discretion, and he is surprised in the kitchen. The bull-dog is let loose upon him; master and mistress and subordinate
members of the family rush after him, armed with saucepans, tongs, shovels, and broomsticks. The affrighted Mujik runs all round the stage bellowing fearfully; the bull-dog seizes him by the nether extremities and hangs on with the tenacity of a vice. Round and round they run, Mujik roaring for help, bull-dog swinging out horizontally. The audience applauds; the master flings down his broomstick and seizes the dog by the tail; the old woman seizes master by the skirts of his coat; and all three are dragged around the stage at a terrific rate, while the younger members of the family shower down miscellaneous blows with their sticks and cudgels, which always happen to fall on the old people, to the great satisfaction of the audience. Shouts, and shrieks, and clapping of hands but faintly express the popular appreciation of the joke. Finally the faithful maid, taking advantage of the confusion, flings a bunch of fire-crackers at her oppressors and blows them up, and the Mujik, relieved of their weight, makes a brilliant dash through the door, carrying with him the tenacious bull-dog, which it is reasonable to suppose he subsequently takes to market and sells for a good price. The curtain falls, the music strikes up, and the whole performance is greeted with the most enthusiastic applause. Such are the entertainments that delight these humorous people—a little broad to be sure, but not deficient in grotesque spirit.
From the theatre I wandered to the pavilion of Zingalee gipsies, where a band of these wild sons of Hagar were creating a perfect furor by the shrillness and discord of their voices. Never was such terrific music inflicted upon mortal ears. It went through and through you, quivering and vibrating like a rapier; but the com· mon classes of Russians delight in it above all earthly sounds. They deem it the very finest kind of music. It is only the dilettante who have visited Paris who profess to hold it in contempt.
Very soon surfeited with these piercing strains, I rambled away till I came upon a party of rope-dancers, and after seeing a dozen or so of stout fellows hang themselves by the chins, turn back somersaults in the air, and swing by one foot at a dizzy height from the ground, left them standing upon each other's heads to the depth of six or eight, and turned aside into a grotto to enjoy a few glasses of tea. Here were German girls singing and buffoons reciting humorous stories between the pauses, and thirsty Russians pouring down whole oceans of their favorite beverage.
Again I wandered forth through the leafy mazes of the garden. The gorgeous profusion of lights and glittering ornaments, the endless variety of colors, the novel and Asiatic appearance of the temples, the tropical luxuriance of the foliage, the gleaming white statuary, the gay company, the wild strains of music, all combined to form a scene of peculiar interest. High overhead, dimly visible through the tops of the trees, the sky wears an almost supernatural aspect during these long summer nights. A soft golden glow flushes upward from the horizon, and, lying outspread over the firmament, gives a spectral effect to the gentler and more delicate sheen of the moon; the stars seem to shrink back into the dim infinity, as if unable to contend with the grosser effulgence of the great orbs that rule the day and the night. Unconscious whether the day is waning into the night, or the night into the morning, the rapt spectator gazes and dreams till lost in the strange enchantment of the scene.
At a late hour a signal was given, and the company wandered down to the lake, along the shores of which rustic seats and divans, overshadowed by shrubbery, afforded the weary an opportunity of resting. Here we were to witness the crowning entertainment of the even-· ing—a grand display of fire-works. A miniature steamboat, gayly decorated with flags, swept to and fro, carrying passengers to the different landing-places. Gondolas, with peaked prows and variegated canopies, lay floating upon the still water, that lovers might quench
their flames in the contemplation of its crystal depths, or draw fresh inspiration from the blaze of artificial fires. Soon a wild outburst of music was heard ; then from the opposite shore the whole heavens were lighted up with a flood of rockets, and the ears were stunned by their explosions. Down through the depths of ether came showers of colored balls, illuminating the waters of the lake with inverted streams of light scarcely less bright and glowing. Anon all was dark; then from out the darkness flashed whirling and seething fires, gradually assuming the grotesque forms of monsters and genii, till with a deafening explosion they were scattered to the winds. From the blackened mass of ruins stood forth illuminated statues of the imperial family, in all the paraphernalia of royalty, their crowns glittering with jewels, their robes of light resplendent with precious gems and tracery of gold. A murmur of admiration ran through the crowd. The imperial figures vanished as if by magic, and suddenly a stream of fire flashed from a mass of dark undefined objects on the opposite shore, and lo! the waters were covered with fiery swans, sailing majestically among the gondolas, their necks moving slowly as if inspired by life. Hither and thither they swept, propelled by streams of fire, till, wearied with their sport, they gradually lay motionless, yet glowing with an augmented brilliancy. While the eyes of all were fixed in amazement and admiration upon these beautiful swans, they exploded with a series of deafening reports, and were scattered in confused volumes of smoke. Out of the chaos swept innumerable hosts of whirling little monsters, whizzing and boring through the water like infernal spirits of the deep. These again burst with a rattle of explosions like an irregular fire of musketry, and shot high into the air in a perfect maze of scintillating stars of every imaginable color. When the shower of stars was over, and silence and darkness once more reigned, a magnificent barge, that might well have represented that of the Egyptian queen—its gay canopies resplendent with the
na boriphese age of musintillating of stanea, a mhat of the