c. 1850: Kolotovka
battle of the bands
Few of my readers have probably had an opportunity of getting a good view of any village taverns, but we sportsmen go everywhere. They are
constructed on an exceedingly simple plan. They
usually consist of a dark outer shed, and an inner
room with a chimney, divided in two by a partition, behind which none of the customers have a
right to go. In this partition there is a wide opening cut above a broad oak table. At this table or
bar the spirits are served. Sealed-up bottles of
various sizes stand on the shelves, right opposite the opening. In the front part of the room,
devoted to customers, there are benches, two or
three empty barrels, and a corner table.
When I went into the Welcome Resort, a
fairly large party was already assembled there.
In his usual place behind the bar, almost
filling up the entire opening in the partition,
stood Nikolai Ivanitch in a striped print shirt;
with a lazy smile on his full face, he poured out
with his plump white hand two glasses of spirits
for the Blinkard and the Gabbler as they came
in. Behind him, in a corner near the window,
could be seen his sharp-eyed wife. In the middle of the room was standing Yashka the Turk,
a thin, graceful fellow of twenty-three, dressed
in a long skirted coat of blue nankeen. Near
him stood a man of about forty, with broad
shoulders and broad jaws, with a low forehead,
narrow Tartar eyes, a short flat nose, a square
chin, and shining black hair coarse as bristles.
He was called the Wild Master. Right opposite
him, on a bench under the holy pictures, was
sitting Yashka’s rival, the booth keeper from
Zhizdry. He was a short, stoutly built man
about thirty, pockmarked and curly headed,
with a blunt, turned-up nose, lively brown eyes,
and a scanty beard.
My entrance, I could see, was at first somewhat disconcerting to Nikolai Ivanitch’s customers; but observing that he greeted me as a
friend, they were reassured, and took no more
notice of me. I asked for some beer and sat down
in the corner, near a peasant in a ragged smock.
“Well, well,” piped the Gabbler, suddenly
draining a glass of spirits at one gulp, accom-
panying his exclamation with strange gesticula-
tions, without which he seemed unable to utter
a single word. “What are we waiting for? If we’re
going to begin, then begin. Hey, Yashka?”
“Begin, begin,” chimed in Nikolai Ivanitch
“Let’s begin, by all means,” observed the
booth keeper coolly, with a self-confident smile.
“And I’m ready,” Yakov pronounced in a
voice thrilled with excitement.
The booth keeper pulled down his girdle
and cleared his throat. “But who’s to begin?” he
inquired in a slightly changed voice.
“You, you, booth keeper,” stammered the
Gabbler. “You, to be sure, brother.”
The Wild Master looked at him from under
his brows. The Gabbler gave a faint squeak, in
confusion looked away at the ceiling, twitched
his shoulder, and said no more.
“Begin,” the Wild Master said, with a nod
to the booth keeper.
“What song am I to sing?” asked the booth
keeper, beginning to be nervous.
“What you choose,” answered the Blink-
ard. “Sing what you think best.”
And so the booth keeper stepped forward
and, half shutting his eyes, began singing in
high falsetto. He had a fairly sweet and pleas-
ant voice, though rather hoarse. He played with
his voice like a woodlark, twisting and turning
it in incessant roulades and trills up and down
the scale. His modulations were at times rather
bold, at times rather comical. He seemed to feel
that he was among really musical people, and
therefore was exerting himself to do his best.
The booth keeper sang for a long while with-
out evoking much enthusiasm in his audience;
but at last, after one particularly bold flourish,
He who sings frightens away his ills.
—Miguel de Cervantes, 1605