CHAPTER VI. A COSSACK WEDDING - THE PENINSULA OP KAMCHATKA
Our time in Petropavlovsk, after the departure of the Olga, was almost wholly occupied in making preparations for our northern journey through the Kamchatkan peninsula. On Tuesday, however, Dodd told me that there was to be a wedding at the church, and invited me to go over and witness the ceremony. It took place in the body of the church, immediately after some sort of morning service, which had nearly closed when we entered. I had no difficulty in singling out the happy individuals whose fortunes were to be united in the holy bonds of matrimony. They betrayed their own secret by their assumed indifference and unconsciousness.
The unlucky (lucky?) man was a young, round-headed Cossack about twenty years of age, dressed in a dark frock-coat trimmed with scarlet and gathered like a lady's dress above the waist, which, with a reckless disregard for his anatomy, was assumed to be six inches below his armpits. In honour of the extraordinary occasion he had donned a great white standing collar which projected above his ears, as the mate of the Olga would say, "like fore to'gallant studd'n' s'ls." Owing to a deplorable lack of understanding between his cotton trousers and his shoes they failed to meet by about six inches, and no provision had been made for the deficiency. The bride was comparatively an old woman - at least twenty years the young man's senior, and a widow. I thought with a sigh of the elder Mr. Weller's parting injunction to his son, "Bevare o' the vidders," and wondered what the old gentleman would say could he see this unconscious "wictim" walking up to the altar "and thinkin' in his 'art that it was all wery capital." The bride wore a dress of that peculiar sort of calico known as "furniture prints," without trimming or ornaments of any kind. Whether it was cut "bias" or with "gores," I'm sorry to say I do not know, dress-making being as much of an occult science to me as divination. Her hair was tightly bound up in a scarlet silk handkerchief, fastened in front with a little gilt button. As soon as the church service was concluded the altar was removed to the middle of the room, and the priest, donning a black silk gown which contrasted strangely with his heavy cowhide boots, summoned the couple before him.
After giving to each three lighted candles tied together with blue ribbon, he began to read in a loud sonorous voice what I supposed to be the marriage service, paying no attention whatever to stops, but catching his breath audibly in the midst of a sentence and hurrying on again with tenfold rapidity. The candidates for matrimony were silent, but the deacon, who was looking abstractedly out of a window on the opposite side of the church, interrupted him occasionally with doleful chanted responses.
At the conclusion of the reading they all crossed themselves devoutly half a dozen times in succession, and after asking them the decisive question the priest gave them each a silver ring. Then came more reading, at the end of which he administered to them a teaspoonful of wine out of a cup. Reading and chanting were again resumed and continued for a long time, the bridegroom and bride crossing and prostrating themselves continually, and the deacon closing up his responses by repeating with the most astounding rapidity, fifteen times in five seconds, the words "Gaspodi pomilui" (goss'-po-dee-po-mee'-loo-ee), "God have mercy upon us." He then brought in two large gilt crowns ornamented with medallions, and, blowing off the dust which had accumulated upon them since the last wedding, he placed them upon the heads of the bridegroom and bride.