The Droshky – Russian Travel

The Droshky, or drojky, as it is spelled in Russia, is the national vehicle. There is nothing like it in any other country, and it merits particular description. At this very moment, here is one drawn up at the sidewalk, awaiting its master, who is paying a visit within; it seems to be here expressly to have its picture taken. This is a fashionable drojky, belonging to a young man of rank who is dainty about his equipages. The drojky is a very low, small, open carriage; it has four wheels, those of the rear not much larger than the front wheels of a victoria; those of the front, the size of a wheelbarrow. Four circular springs support the body of the carriage, which has two seats, one for the coachman, the other for the master. This latter seat is round, and in elegant drojkys admits but a single person; in others, there is room for two, but so narrow that you are obliged to pass your arm about your companion, lady or gentleman. On either side two fenders of varnished leather curve above the wheels, and meeting on the side of the little carriage, which has no doors, form a step coming within a few inches of the ground. The color is almost always about the same. It is deep maroon with trimmings of sky-blue, or it is Russian-green with fillets of apple-green; but whatever the color selected, the shade is always very deep.

The well stuffed seat is covered with leather or cloth of some dark tint. A Persian or a moquet rug is under the feet. There are no lanterns to the drojky, and it spins along by night without the two stars shining in front. It is the business of the pedestrian to keep out of the way when the driver cries : “Take care!”

There is nothing prettier, more dainty, lighter, than this frail equipage, which you could pick up and carry under your arm. It seems to have come from Queen Mab’s own carriage-makers. Harnessed to this nutshell, with which he could easily leap a fence, stands, impatient, and nervous, and champing his bits, a magnificent horse, which may have cost six thousand rubles, a horse of the celebrated Orlov breed, an iron-gray, high stepping animal, the luxuriant silvery mane and tail powdered with glittering specks. He moves restlessly about, curves his neck till his head touches his chest, and paws the ground, held in with difficulty by the muscular coachman.

There is nothing on him between the shafts, no tangle of harness to conceal his beauty. A few light threads, mere leather strings not half an inch in width, and caught together by little silvered or gilt ornaments, play over him without being an annoyance to him or taking anything from the perfection of his shape, The mountings of the headstall are encrusted with metallic scales, and there are no blinders to conceal a horse’s greatest beauty, his dilating lustrous eyeballs. Two little silver chains cross gracefully upon his fore-head; the bit is covered with leather, lest the cold of the iron should harm his delicate mouth, and a simple snaffle is all that is needed to guide the noble creature. The collar, very light and simple, is the only part of the harness which attaches him to the carriage, for they use no traces. The shafts go directly to the collar, fastencd to it by straps carried back and forth many times, and twisted, but having neither buckles nor rings nor metal clasps of any kind. At the point where the collar and the shafts are fastened together, are also fixt by means of straps the ends of a flexible wooden arch which rises above the horse’s back like a basket-handle whose extremities are brought quite near together. This arch, called the douga, which leans a little backward, serves to keep the collar and the shafts apart, so that they do not hurt the animal and also to suspend the reins from a hook.

The shafts are not attached to the front of the drojky, but to the axle of the for-ward wheels, which extends beyond the hub, passing through it, and kept in place by an exterior peg. For more strength, a trace placed on the outside goes to the knot of straps at the collar. This style of harness makes it exceedingly easy to turn, the traction operating upon the ends of the axle as upon a lever.