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Title: From Paris to New York by Land
Author: De Windt, Harry, 1856-1933
Language: English
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[Illustration: Harry de Windt]



FROM PARIS TO NEW YORK BY LAND

BY HARRY DE WINDT
F.R.G.S.

[Illustration]


THOMAS NELSON & SONS
LONDON, EDINBURGH, DUBLIN AND NEW YORK



TO MY WIFE



PREFACE


Many who read the following account of our long land journey will not
unnaturally ask: "What was the object of this stupendous voyage, or the
reward to be gained by this apparently unnecessary risk of life and
endurance of hardships?"

I would reply that my primary purpose was to ascertain the feasibility
of constructing a railway to connect the chief cities of France and
America, Paris and New York. The European Press was at the time of our
departure largely interested in this question, which fact induced the
proprietors of the _Daily Express_ of London, the _Journal_ of Paris,
and the New York _World_ to contribute towards the expenses of the
expedition. Another reason is one with which I fancy most Englishmen
will readily sympathise--viz., the feat had never before been performed,
and my first attempt to accomplish it in 1896 (with New York as the
starting-point) had failed half way on the Siberian shores of Bering
Straits.

The invaluable assistance rendered by the United States Government in
the despatch of a revenue cutter to our relief on the Siberian coast is
duly acknowledged in another portion of this volume, but I would here
express my sincere thanks to the "Compagnie Internationale des
Wagonslits" for furnishing the expedition with a free pass from Paris
to the city of Irkutsk, in Eastern Siberia. In America the "Southern
Pacific" and "Wabash" Lines extended the same courtesies, thus enabling
us to travel free of cost across the United States, as guests of two of
the most luxurious railways in the world.

45 AVENUE KLÉBER, PARIS,
_October 1903_.



CONTENTS


PART I.--EUROPE AND ASIA.

CHAP.                                                   PAGE

I.      THROUGH EUROPE. THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY.                 15
II.     THE PARIS OF SIBERIA                                        28
III.    THE GREAT LENA POST-ROAD                                    41
IV.     THE CITY OF THE YAKUTE                                      68
V.      THE LAND OF DESOLATION                                      92
VI.     VERKHOYANSK                                                109
VII.    THROUGH DARKEST SIBERIA                                    122
VIII.   AN ARCTIC INFERNO                                          148
IX.     THE LOWER KOLYMA RIVER                                     171
X.      A CRUEL COAST                                              183
XI.     IN THE ARCTIC                                              203
XII.    AMONG THE TCHUKTCHIS                                       221
XIII.   AMONG THE TCHUKTCHIS (_contd._)                            239


PART II.--AMERICA.

XIV.    ACROSS BERING STRAITS--CAPE PRINCE OF WALES                257
XV.     AN ARCTIC CITY                                             274
XVI.    A RIVER OF GOLD                                            286
XVII.   DAWSON                                                     304
XVIII.  THE UPPER YUKON AND LEWES RIVERS. THE WHITE PASS RAILWAY   323
XIX.    THE FRANCO-AMERICAN RAILWAY--SKAGWAY--NEW YORK             340


PART III.--APPENDICES.

I.      APPROXIMATE TABLE OF DISTANCES, PARIS TO NEW YORK          361
II.     LIST OF POST STATIONS BETWEEN IRKUTSK AND YAKUTSK          363
III.    REINDEER STATIONS BETWEEN YAKUTSK AND VERKHOYANSK          368
IV.     YAKUTE SETTLEMENTS BETWEEN VERKHOYANSK AND SREDNI-KOLYMSK  370
V.      SETTLEMENTS ON KOLYMA RIVER BETWEEN SREDNI-KOLYMSK
        AND NIJNI-KOLYMSK                                          372
VI.     A SHORT GLOSSARY OF YAKUTE WORDS                           373
VII.    GLOSSARY OF VARIOUS DIALECTS IN USE AMONGST THE
        TCHUKTCHIS INHABITING THE COASTS OF N.E. SIBERIA           375
VIII.   METEOROLOGICAL RECORD OF THE DE WINDT EXPEDITION           377



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

HARRY DE WINDT                                  Frontispiece
POOR YAKUTES                                  Facing page 64
THE CHIEF OF POLICE, VERKHOYANSK                          97
A VISITOR                                                128
CAPE DESPAIR                                             193
TENESKIN'S DAUGHTERS                                     224
ESKIMO GIRLS                                             289
CONSTRUCTING THE WHITE PASS RAILWAY                      320


[Illustration]



PARIS TO NEW YORK BY LAND



PART I

EUROPE AND ASIA



CHAPTER I

THROUGH EUROPE. THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY.


The success of my recent land expedition from Paris to New York is
largely due to the fact that I had previously essayed the feat in 1896
and failed, for the experience gained on that journey was well worth the
price I paid for it. On that occasion I attempted the voyage in an
opposite direction--viz., from America to France, but only half the
distance was covered. Alaska was then almost unexplored and the now
populous Klondike region only sparsely peopled by poverty-stricken and
unfriendly Indians. After many dangers and difficulties, Alaska was
crossed in safety, and we managed to reach the Siberian shores of Bering
Straits only to meet with dire disaster at the hands of the natives of
that coast. For no sooner had the American revenue cutter which landed
us steamed away than our stores were seized by the villainous chief of
the village (one Koari), who informed us that we were virtually his
prisoners, and that the dog-sleds which, during the presence of the
Government vessel, he had glibly promised to furnish, existed only in
this old rascal's fertile imagination. The situation was, to say the
least, unpleasant, for the summer was far advanced and the ice already
gathering in Bering Straits. Most of the whalers had left the Arctic for
the southward, and our rescue seemed almost impossible until the
following year. When a month here had passed away, harsh treatment and
disgusting food had reduced us to a condition of hopeless despair. I was
attacked by scurvy and a painful skin disease, while Harding, my
companion, contracted a complaint peculiar to the Tchuktchis, which has
to this day baffled the wisest London and Paris physicians. Fortunately
we possessed a small silk Union Jack, which was nailed to an old whale
rib on the beach (for there was no wood), much to the amusement of the
natives. But the laugh was on our side when, the very next morning, a
sail appeared on the horizon. Nearer and nearer came the vessel,
scudding close-reefed before a gale which had raised a mountainous sea.
Would they see our signal? Would the skipper dare to lay-to in such
tempestuous weather, hemmed in as he was by the treacherous ice? Had we
known, however, at the time that the staunch little _Belvedere_ was
commanded by the late Capt. Joseph Whiteside, of New Bedford, we should
have been spared many moments, which seemed hours, of intense anxiety.
Without a thought of his own safety, or a valuable cargo of whales
representing many thousands of pounds, this gallant sailor stood boldly
in shore, launched a boat, which, after a scuffle with the natives and a
scramble over floating ice, we managed to reach, and hauled us aboard
the little whaler, more dead than alive. A month later we were in San
Francisco, far from the fair French city we had hoped to reach, but
sincerely grateful for our preservation. For twenty-four hours after our
rescue no ship could have neared that ice-bound coast, and we could
scarcely have survived, amidst such surroundings, until the following
spring.

A glance at a map will show the route which I had intended to pursue in
1896, although, as this land journey has never before been accomplished
(or even attempted), I was unable to benefit by the experience of
previous explorers. From New York we travelled to Vancouver, thence
across the now famous Chilkoot Pass to the Great Lakes and down the
Yukon River to the sea, crossing Bering Straits in an American revenue
cutter to the Siberian settlement of melancholy memory. From here I
hoped to reach the nearest Russian outpost, Anadyrsk, by dog-sled,
proceeding thence along the western shores of the Okhotsk Sea to Okhotsk
and Yakutsk. The latter is within a couple of thousand miles of
civilisation, a comparatively easy stage in this land of stupendous
distances. Had I been able on this occasion to reach Anadyrsk, I could,
all being well, have pushed on to Yakutsk, for Cossacks carry a mail,
once a year, between the two places. But the connecting link between
that miserable Tchuktchi village and Anadyrsk was missing, and so we had
to submit to the will of fate.

Follow now on a map my itinerary upon the last occasion, starting from
Paris to Moscow, and continuing from Moscow to Irkutsk by the
Trans-Siberian Railway. Here we strike in a north-easterly direction to
Yakutsk by means of horse-sleighs. Reindeer-sleighs are procured at
Yakutsk, and we then steer a north-westerly course to Verkhoyansk. From
Verkhoyansk we again proceed (still with reindeer) in a north-easterly
direction to the tiny political settlement of Sredni-Kolymsk, where we
discard our deer (for there is no more moss) and take to dog-sleds. A
journey of nearly two months, travelling almost due east, brings us to
East Cape Bering Straits, the north-easternmost point of Asia, and
practically half way from Paris to our destination.

From here the journey is fairly easy, for the beaten tracks of Alaska
now entail no great hardships. Remote Eskimo settlements like that at
Cape Prince of Wales are naturally as primitive as those on the Siberian
side, but once Nome City is reached, the traveller may proceed (in
summer) to New York solely by the aid of steam.

I shall not weary the reader with details of my preparations. Suffice it
to say that, although the minutest care and attention were lavished on
the organisation of our food-supply, lack of transport in the Far North
compelled me to abandon most of our provisions and trust to luck for our
larder, which was therefore frequently very meagrely stocked. Indeed,
more than once we were within measurable distance of starvation, but
this was the more unavoidable in so far as, even at Moscow, I was
compelled to abandon several cases of provisions on account of a
telegram received from the Governor-General of Siberia. The message
informed me that reindeer were scarce, dogs yet more so, and that,
unless the expedition travelled _very_ light, it could not possibly hope
to reach even the shores of the Arctic Ocean, to say nothing of Bering
Straits. Nevertheless, even at the outset of the journey I was blamed,
and that by totally inexperienced persons, for abandoning stores so
early in the day; a certain British merchant in Moscow expressing
surprise that I should have "made such an egregious error" as to leave
any provisions behind. I fancy most explorers have met this type of
individual--the self-complacent Briton, who, being located for business
or other purposes in a foreign or colonial city, never leaves it, and
yet poses as an authority on the entire country, however vast, in which
he temporarily resides. I can recall one of these immovable fixtures in
India, who had never stirred from Bombay save in a P. and O. liner, but
who was good enough to advise me how to travel through Central
Baluchistan, a country which I had recently explored with some success!
The Moscow wiseacre was perhaps unaware that during hard seasons in
Arctic Siberia the outfit of an expedition must be strictly limited to
the carrying capacity of dogs and reindeer. However, this gentleman's
ignorance was perhaps excusable, seeing that his experience of Russian
travel had been solely gleaned in a railway car between Moscow and the
German frontier. I am told that the same individual severely criticised
me for not travelling through Siberia in summer, thereby avoiding the
severe hardships arising from intense cold. He was, of course, unaware
that during the open season the entire tract of country north-east of
Yakutsk is practically impassable owing to thousands of square miles of
swamp and hundreds of shallow lakes which can only be crossed in a
frozen condition on a dog-sled. Even the natives of these regions never
attempt to travel between the months of May and September.

Paris is my home, and I am not ashamed to own that, like most Parisians,
I suffer, when abroad, from a nostalgia of the Boulevards that a
traveller were perhaps better without. It was therefore as well that our
departure for New York took place on a dreary December day, when the
beautiful city lay listless and despondent, swept by a wintry gale and
lashed by gusts of driving sleet. The sky was sunless, the deserted
thoroughfares rivers of mud mournfully reflecting bars of electric light
from either side of the street. As my cab splashed wearily up the Rue
Lafayette I thought that I had never seen such a picture of desolation.
And yet it were better, perhaps, to remember Paris thus, than to yearn
through the long Arctic night for the pleasant hours I had learned to
love so well here in leafy June. Bright days of sunshine and pleasure in
and around the "Ville Lumière!" cool, starlit nights at Armenonville and
Saint Cloud! Should I ever enjoy them again?

"The De Windt Expedition" left Paris on December 19, 1901. Preliminary
notices of the journey in the French Press had attracted considerable
notice in Paris, and a small crowd of journalists and others had
assembled at the Gare du Nord to wish us God-speed. We were three in
number--myself, the Vicomte de Clinchamp (a young Frenchman who acted as
photographer), and George Harding, my faithful companion on many
previous expeditions. The "Nord Express" was on the point of departure,
but a stirrup-cup was insisted upon by some of De Clinchamp's
enthusiastic compatriots, and an adjournment was made to the Buffet,
where good wishes were expressed for our safety and success. After a
hearty farewell the train steamed out of the station amidst ringing
cheers, which plainly told me that Paris as well as London contained
true friends who would pray for our welfare in the frozen North and
welcome our safe return to "La Belle France."

Moscow was reached three days later, and here commenced the first of a
series of minor but harassing delays which relentlessly pursued me
throughout the Asiatic portion of the journey. While alighting from the
train I was suddenly seized with such severe internal pains, accompanied
by faintness and nausea, that on arrival at the Slaviansky Bazar (the
best Hotel, by the way, in the place), I was carried to bed. The attack
was inexplicable. Harding, ever a pessimist, suggested appendicitis, and
a physician was hastily summoned. The medicine-man gravely shook his
head: "You are very ill," he said, and I did not dispute the fact. "Can
it be appendicitis?" I asked anxiously. "Appendicitis," replied the
Doctor; "what is that? I never heard of the disease!"

Morning brought me some relief, and with a not unnatural distrust of
Russian medical methods, I resolved to return at once to Berlin and
consult Professor Bergmann. To abandon the journey was now out of the
question, but our medicine-chest was up-to-date and I could at any rate
ask the famous surgeon how to treat the dread disease should it declare
itself in the wilds of Siberia. The next morning saw me back in Berlin,
and by midday my mind was at rest. I was suffering from a simple rupture
of long standing, but hitherto quiescent, which only required rest and
proper treatment for at least a fortnight. "Then it must be in the
train," I said, explaining the situation and the priceless value of
time. So, after some discussion, I departed with the Professor's good
wishes, which, however, were conveyed with an ominous shake of the head.

Two days later I arrived in Moscow, only to be confronted by another
difficulty: our rifles, revolvers and ammunition had been seized at the
Russian frontier, and at least a fortnight must elapse before we could
obtain them. Moscow fortunately boasts of an excellent gun-maker, and I
was able to replace our armoury with English weapons, though, of course,
at a ruinous expense. But time was too precious to waste. We had now but
a little over four months in which to reach Bering Straits, for by the
middle of May the bays and estuaries of the Arctic begin to break up,
and open water might mean imprisonment (and worse) on these desolate
shores throughout the entire summer. So I purchased revolvers, two
rifles and a fowling-piece at about five times their usual cost, and
hoped that our troubles were over, at least for the present. I should
add that the arms had left London six weeks previously, and that I was
furnished with a special permit to introduce them into the country. But
Russian methods are peculiar, and fortunately unique, I was unaware
before our departure of the fact that if a gun is consigned direct from
its English maker to a gunsmith in Russia it goes through without any
trouble whatsoever. Otherwise, it may take six months or more to reach
its destination.

The New Year was passed in Moscow, and a gloomy one it was. From an
historical and picturesque point of view the city is intensely
interesting, but otherwise it is a dull, dreary place. Russian cities,
not excepting Petersburg, generally are, although the English novelist
generally depicts them as oases of luxurious splendour, where love and
Nihilism meet one at every turn, and where palaces, diamonds and silver
sleigh-bells play an important part, to say nothing of that journalistic
trump card, the Secret Police! I wish one of these imaginative scribes
could spend a winter evening (as I have so often done) in a stuffy hotel
reading-room, with a _Times_ five days old, wondering whether the
Russians will ever provide a theatre sufficiently attractive to tempt a
stranger out of doors after nightfall. In summer it is less dismal;
there are gardens and restaurants, dancing gipsies and Hungarian
Tziganes, but even then the entertainment is generally so poor, and the
surroundings so tawdry, that one is glad to leave them at an early hour
and go sadly to bed.

The distance from Moscow to Irkutsk is a little under 4000 English
miles, the first-class fare a little over a hundred roubles (or about
£12), which, considering the journey occupies nine days or more, is
reasonable enough. There are, or were, two trains a week,--the "State"
and Wagonlits expresses, which run alternately. The former is a
Government train, inferior in every respect to the latter, which is
quite as luxurious in its service and appointments as the trains run by
the same company in Europe.

At 10 P.M., on January 4, we left Moscow, in a blinding snowstorm, a
mild foretaste of the Arctic blizzards to come, which would be
experienced without the advantage of a warm and well-lit compartment to
view them from. For this train was truly an ambulant palace of luxury.
An excellent restaurant, a library, pianos, baths, and last, but not
least, a spacious and well-furnished compartment with every comfort,
electric and otherwise (and without fellow travellers), rendered this
first "étape" of our great land journey one to recall in after days with
a longing regret. But we had nearly a fortnight of pleasant travel
before us and resolved to make the most of it. Fortunately the train was
not crowded. Some cavalry officers bound for Manchuria, three or four
Siberian merchants and their families, and a few Tartars of the better
class. The officers were capital fellows, full of life and gaiety
(Russian officers generally are), the merchants and their women-folk
sociable and musically inclined. Nearly every one spoke French, and the
time passed pleasantly enough, for although the days were terribly
monotonous, evenings enlivened by music and cards, followed by cheery
little suppers towards the small hours, almost atoned for their hours of
boredom.

Nevertheless, I cannot recommend this railway journey, even as far as
Irkutsk, to those on pleasure bent, for the Trans-Siberian is no tourist
line, notwithstanding the alluring advertisements which periodically
appear during the holiday season. Climatically the journey is a
delightful one in winter time, for Siberia is then at its best--not the
Siberia of the English dramatist: howling blizzards, chained convicts,
wolves and the knout, but a smiling land of promise and plenty even
under its limitless mantle of snow. The landscape is dreary, of course,
but most days you have the blue cloudless sky and dazzling sunshine, so
often sought in vain on the Riviera. At mid-day your sunlit compartment
is often too warm to be pleasant, when outside it is 10° below zero. But
the air is too dry and bracing for discomfort, although the pleasant
breeze we are enjoying here will presently be torturing unhappy mortals
in London in the shape of a boisterous and biting east wind. On the
other hand, the monotony after a time becomes almost unbearable. All day
long the eye rests vacantly upon a dreary white plain, alternating with
green belts of woodland, while occasionally the train plunges into dense
dark pine forest only to emerge again upon the same eternal "plateau" of
silence and snow. Now and again we pass a village, a brown blur on the
limitless white, rarely a town, a few wooden houses clustering around a
green dome and gilt crosses, but it is all very mournful and
depressing, especially to one fresh from Europe. This train has one
advantage, there is no rattle or roar about it, as it steals like a
silent ghost across the desolate steppes. As a cure for insomnia it
would be invaluable, and we therefore sleep a good deal, but most of the
day is passed in the restaurant. Here the military element is generally
engrossed in an interminable game of _Vint_[1] (during the process of
which a Jew civilian is mercilessly rooked), but our piano is a godsend
and most Russian women are born musicians. So after _déjeuner_ we join
the fair sex, who beguile the hours with Glinka and Tchaikovsky until
they can play and sing no more. By the way, no one ever knows the time
of day and no one particularly wants to. Petersburg time is kept
throughout the journey and the result is obvious. We occasionally find
ourselves lunching at breakfast time and dining when we should have
supped, but who cares? although in any other clime bottled beer at 8
A.M. might have unpleasant results.

[Footnote 1: Russian whist.]

The Ural Mountains (which are merely downs) are crossed. Here the
stations are built with some attempt at coquetry, for the district teems
with mineral wealth, and in summer is much frequented by fashionable
pleasure-seekers and invalids, for there are baths and waters in the
neighbourhood. One station reminds me of Homburg or Wiesbaden with its
gay restaurant, flower-stall, and a little shop for the sale of trinkets
in silver and malachite, and the precious stones found in this
region--Alexandrites, garnets and amethysts. But beyond the Urals we
are once more lost in the desolate plains across which the train crawls
softly and silently at the rate of about ten miles an hour. I know of
only one slower railway in the world, that from Jaffa to Jerusalem,
where I have seen children leap on and off the car-steps of the train
while in motion, and the driver alight, without actually stopping his
engine, to gather wildflowers! We cross the great Obi and Yenisei rivers
over magnificent bridges of iron and Finnish granite, which cost
millions of roubles to construct. Krasnoyarsk is passed by night, but
its glittering array of electric lights suggests a city many times the
size of the tiny town I passed through in a _tarantass_ while travelling
in 1887 from Pekin to Paris. So the days crawl wearily away. Passengers
come and passengers go, but this train, like the brook, goes on for
ever. Although the travelling was luxurious I can honestly say that this
was the most wearisome portion of the entire journey. But all things
must have an end, even on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and on the tenth
day out from Moscow we reach (unconsciously) our destination--Irkutsk.
For it is two o'clock in the morning and we are aroused from pleasant
dreams in a warm and cosy bed to embark upon a drive of about three
miles through wind and snow in an open _droshky_. But we are now in
Eastern Siberia, and comfort will soon be a thing of the past.



CHAPTER II

THE PARIS OF SIBERIA


We arrived in Irkutsk on the eve of the Russian New Year, when business
throughout the Empire comes to a standstill, and revelry amongst all
classes reigns supreme. It was, therefore, useless to think of resuming
our journey for at least a week, for sleighs must be procured, to say
nothing of that important document, a special letter of recommendation,
which I was to receive from the Governor-General of Siberia. But a
resplendent _aide-de-camp_ called at the hotel and regretfully informed
me that State and social functions would keep his Excellency fully
occupied for several days. It was hopeless, he added, to think of
getting sleighs built while _vodka_ was running like water amongst the
people. So there was nothing for it but to await the end of the festival
with patience, without which commodity no traveller should ever dream of
visiting Asiatic Russia. He is otherwise apt to become a raving lunatic.

Irkutsk has several so-called hotels, the only one in any way habitable
being the "Hotel Metropole," a name which has become suggestive of
gold-laced porters and gilded halls. It was, therefore, rather a shock
to enter a noisome den, suggestive of a Whitechapel slum, although its
prices equalled those of the Carlton in Pall Mall. The house was new but
jerry-built, reeked of drains, and swarmed with vermin. Having kept us
shivering for half an hour in the cold, a sleepy, shock-headed lad with
guttering candle appeared and led the way to a dark and ill-smelling
sleeping-apartment. The latter contained an iron bedstead (an unknown
luxury here a decade ago), but relays of guests had evidently used the
crumpled sheets and grimy pillows. Bathroom and washstand were supplied
by a rusty brass tap, placed, _pro bono publico_, in the corridor. Our
meals in the restaurant were inferior to those of a fifth-rate
_gargotte_. And this was the best hotel in the "Paris of Siberia," as
enthusiastic Siberians have christened their capital.

Irkutsk now has a population of over 80,000. It stands on a peninsular
formed by the confluence of two rivers, the clear and swiftly-flowing
Angará (which rises in Lake Baikal to join the river Yenisei just below
Yeniseisk), and the small and unimportant Irkut river. It is an
unfinished, slipshod city, a strange mixture of squalor and grandeur,
with tortuous, ill-paved streets, where the wayfarer looks instinctively
for the "No-thoroughfare" board. There is one long straggling main
street with fairly good shops and buildings, but beyond this Irkutsk
remains much the same dull, dreary-looking place that I remember in the
early nineties, before the railway had aroused the town from its slumber
of centuries. Even now, the place is absolutely primitive and
uncivilised, from an European point of view, and the yellow Chinese and
beady-eyed Tartars who throng the business quarters are quite in keeping
with the Oriental filth around, unredeemed by the usual Eastern colour
and romance. On fine mornings the Market Place presents a curious and
interesting appearance, for here you may see the Celestial in flowery
silk elbowing the fur-clad Yakute and Bokhara shaking hands with Japan.
The Irkutsk district is peopled by the Buriates, who originally came
from Trans-Baikalia, but who have now become more Russianised than any
other Siberian race. The Buriat dialect is a kind of _patois_ composed
of Mongolian and Chinese; the religion Buddhism. About every fourth
Buriat becomes a Lama, and takes vows of celibacy. They are thrifty,
industrious people, ordinarily of an honest, hospitable disposition, who
number, perhaps, 300,000 in all. This is probably the most civilised
aboriginal race in Siberia, and many Buriates now wear European dress,
and are employed as Government officials.

The climate of Irkutsk is fairly good; not nearly so cold in winter as
many places on the same latitude; the summers are pleasant and equable;
but the fall of the year is generally unhealthy, dense fogs occasioning
a good deal of pulmonary disease and rheumatism. The city, too, is so
execrably drained that severe epidemics occasionally occur during the
summer months, but in winter the dry cold air acts as a powerful
disinfectant. In spring-time, when the river Angará is swollen by the
break-up of the ice, inundations are frequent, and sometimes cause great
destruction to life and property. Winter is, therefore, the pleasantest
season here, for during dry warm weather the clouds of black gritty
dust are unbearable, especially on windy days. Indeed, the dust here is
almost worse than in Pekin, where the natives say that it will work its
way through a watch-glass, no exaggeration, as I can, from personal
experience, testify.

There was little enough to do here during our five days of enforced
inactivity, and time crawled away with exasperating slowness, the more
so that the waste of every hour was lessening our chance of success. But
although harassed myself by anxiety, I managed to conceal the fact from
de Clinchamp, whose Gallic nature was proof against _ennui_, and who
managed to find friends and amusement even in this dismal city. In
summer we might have killed time by an excursion to Lake Baikal,[2] for
I retain very pleasant recollections of a week passed, some years since,
on the pine-clad margin of this the largest lake in Asia, sixty-six
times the area of the Lake of Geneva. Now its wintry shores and frozen
waters possessed no attraction, save, perhaps, the ice-breaker used by
the Trans-Siberian Railway to carry passengers across the lake, a
passage of about twenty miles. But even the ice-breaker had met with an
accident, and was temporarily disabled. So there was literally nothing
to do but to linger as long as possible over the midday meal in the
dingy little restaurant, and then to stroll aimlessly up and down the
"Bolshaya," the main thoroughfare aforementioned, until dusk. This is
the fashionable drive of the city, which on bright days presented an
almost animated appearance. There is no lack of money in Irkutsk, for
gold-mining millionaires abound, and I generally spent the afternoon
watching the cavalcade of well-appointed sleighs dashing, with a merry
clash of bells, up and down the crowded street, and sauntering amongst
the groups of well-dressed women and brilliant uniforms, until darkness
drove me back to our unsavoury quarters at the Metropole. My companions
generally patronised the skating rink, a sign of advancing civilisation,
for ten years ago there was not a pair of skates to be found throughout
the length and breadth of Siberia. Thus passed our days, and the
evenings were even longer and more wearisome. Once we visited the Opera,
a new and beautifully-decorated house, but the performance was
execrable, and "La Dame de Chez Maxim" unrecognisable in Russian dress.
There were also other so-called places of amusement, which blazed with
electric light from dusk till dawn, where refreshments were served at
little wooden tables while painted harridans from Hamburg cackled
suggestive songs to the accompaniment of a cracked piano. In these
establishments we used to see the local millionaires (and there are
many) taking their pleasure expensively, but sadly enough, amidst
surroundings that would disgrace a _dive_ in San Francisco. The company
was generally very mixed, soldiers and flashily-dressed _cocottes_ being
alone distinguishable, by their costume, from the rest of the audience.
For although the Siberian woman of the better class has learnt of late
years to dress well, wealth makes no difference to the garb of mankind.
All of the latter have the same dirty, unkempt appearance; all wear the
same suit of shiny black, rusty high boots, and a shabby slouch-hat or
peaked cap. Furs alone denote the difference of station, sable or blue
fox denoting the mercantile Crœsus, astrachan or sheep-skin his clerk.
Otherwise all the men look (indoors) as though they had slept in their
clothes, which, by the way, is not improbable, for on one occasion I
stayed with an Irkutsk Vanderbilt who lived in palatial style. His house
was a dream of beauty and millions had been lavished on its
ornamentation. Priceless pictures and _objets d'art_, a Paris _chef_,
horses and carriages from London, and covered gardens of rare orchids
and exotics. No expense had been spared to render life luxurious in this
land of dirt and discomfort. Even my host's bedroom was daintily
furnished, _à la_ Louis XV., by a French upholsterer. And yet he slept
every night, fully dressed, on three chairs! There is no accounting for
tastes--in Siberia!

[Footnote 2: "Lake Baikal is about twenty miles from Irkutsk. It is 420
miles in length, its breadth varying from ten to sixty miles. Its
average depth is rarely less than 819 ft., but in parts the ground has
been touched only at 4500 ft. The natives believe it to be
unfathomable."--"Side Lights on Siberia," by J. Y. Simpson.]

Although the "Bolshaya," in which most of the _café chantants_ are
situated, is bright with electric light, the back streets of the city
are lit by flickering oil-lamps, and here the stranger must almost grope
his way about after dark. If wise he will stay at home, for robbery and
even murder are of frequent occurrence. A large proportion of the
population here consists of time-expired convicts, many of whom haunt
the night-houses in quest of prey. During our short stay a woman was
murdered one night within a few yards of our hotel, and a man was
stabbed to death in broad daylight on the busy "Bolshaya." The Chief of
Police told me that there is an average of a murder a day every year
within the precincts of the city, and warned us not to walk out unarmed
after dark. There was no incentive to drive, for the Irkutsk cab, or
_droshky_, is a terrible machine, something like a hoodless bath-chair,
springless, and constructed to hold two persons (at a pinch) besides the
driver. There is no guard-rail, and it was sometimes no easy matter to
cling on as the vehicle bumped and bounded, generally at full gallop,
along the rough, uneven streets.

Three days elapsed before the business of the city was resumed and I was
able to turn my attention to the purchase of sleighs. Fur coats and felt
boots we were already provided with, but I had determined to obtain the
Arctic kit destined to protect us from the intense cold north of Yakutsk
from the fur merchants of that place. Finally, when the fumes of _vodka_
had evaporated, at least a dozen sleigh-builders invaded my bedroom
early one morning, for the Irkutsk papers had published our needs. The
whole day was passed in driving about to the various workshops and
examining sleighs, some of which appeared to have been constructed about
the same period as the Ark. It was not easy to make a selection from the
score of ramshackle _kibitkas_ which were hauled out for my inspection,
especially as I had a very faint notion of the kind of sleigh required
for the work in hand. Fortunately, my friend the Chief of Police, white
with rage and blazing with orders, burst into a yard as I was
concluding the purchase of a venerable vehicle, which bore a striking
resemblance to Napoleon's travelling carriage at Madame Tussaud's, and
which would probably have come to pieces during the first stage.

"Son of a dog," furiously cried the official to the trembling
coach-builder, "don't you know that this gentleman wishes to go to
Yakutsk, and you are trying to swindle him into buying a 'Bolshaya'
_coupé_!" And in less than a minute I was being whirled away towards the
Police Station, where a number of the peculiar sleighs required for this
journey are kept on hand for the convenience of travellers.

"That man is an infernal scoundrel," said the Chief of Police, when told
that Napoleon's _barouche_ was to have cost me 150 roubles. "I will give
you a couple of good Yakute sleighs for half the money. You can only use
them on the Lena." And when I saw the primitive contrivances in question
I no longer marvelled at their low price.

Let me describe the comfortless conveyance in which we accomplished the
first two thousand miles of the journey across Siberia. A Yakute sleigh
has a pair of runners, but otherwise totally differs from any other
sleigh in the wide world. Imagine a sack of coarse matting about four
feet deep suspended from a frame of rough wooden poles in a horizontal
triangle, which also forms a seat for the driver. Into this bag the
traveller first lowers his luggage, then his mattress, pillows, and
furs, and finally enters himself, lying at full length upon his
belongings. There is a thick felt apron which can be pulled completely
over its occupant at night-time or in stormy weather. This sounds warm
and comfortable, but is precisely the reverse, for after a few hours the
porous felt becomes saturated with moisture (formed by bodily warmth and
external cold), rendering the traveller's heavy garments damp and chilly
for the remainder of the journey. There is nothing to prevent the
_Koshma_, as this covering is called (_Cauchemar_ would be a better
name!), from resting upon the face during sleep, and frost-bitten
features are the natural result. So far, therefore, as comfort is
concerned a Yakute sleigh is capable of some improvement, for, even in
fine weather, the occupant must raise himself up on his elbows to see
anything but the sky above him, while in storms the damp, heavy covering
casts him into outer darkness. Under the most favourable circumstances
little is seen of the country travelled through, but, as the Chief of
Police consolingly remarked, "Between here and Yakutsk there is nothing
to see!"

Provisions were the next consideration, and these were obtained from a
well-appointed store on the "Bolshaya." We now had but a dozen cases of
condensed foods, &c., left, and these I wished to keep intact, if
possible, for use in the Arctic regions. On the Lena road the
post-houses were only from thirty to forty miles apart, but as they only
provide hot water and black bread for the use of travellers, I laid in a
good supply of canned meats, sardines, and tea to carry us comfortably,
at any rate, through the first stage of the journey. With months of
desolation before us our English tobacco was too precious to smoke in
civilisation, so a few hundred Russian cigarettes were added to the
list.

At last came the welcome news that the Governor-General would grant us
an interview. Accompanied by an _aide-de-camp_, we drove to the Palace
on the banks of the Angará, and were ushered into the presence of the
Tsar's Viceroy, who governs a district about the size of Europe. General
Panteleyéff was a middle-aged man, with white moustache, light blue
eyes, and a spare athletic figure, displayed to advantage by a smart
dark green uniform. The General is a personal friend of the Emperor, and
the cross of St. Andrew and a tunic covered with various orders bore
witness to their wearer's distinguished career. He received me most
cordially, and asked many questions regarding the land-journey, which
had apparently aroused considerable interest in Russian official
circles. The General, however, had no great faith in the proposed line
to connect his country with the New World.

"We have our hands too full in the Far East for the next century," he
said, with a smile, "to meddle with Arctic railways."

His Excellency assured me of every assistance as far as Nijni-Kolymsk,
the most remote Cossack outpost on the shores of the Polar Sea, on
ordinary occasions a year's journey from St. Petersburg. "Beyond
Kolymsk," he added, "I fear I cannot help you. The Tchuktchi region is
nominally under my control, but even our own officials rarely venture
for any distance into that desolate country. But you will first have to
reach Nijni-Kolymsk, and even that is a voyage that few Russians would
care to undertake; and beyond Nijni-Kolymsk you will have yet another
two thousand miles to Bering Straits. Great Heavens! what a terrible
journey! But you English are a wonderful people!" Here a secretary
entered the apartment with a document, which the Governor rapidly
scanned and then signed.

"Your Imperial passport," he said, placing the paper in my hand, "which
will ensure civility and assistance from all officials you may meet as
far as the Kolyma river. Beyond that you must rely upon yourselves and
the goodwill of the natives, if you ever find them! May God preserve you
all."

So saying, with a hearty shake of the hand, the General touched a bell,
the _aide-de-camp_ appeared, and I was re-conducted to my sleigh,
rejoicing that nothing could now retard our departure. Amongst other
privileges the passport ensured immediate relays of horses at the
post-stations. As there are no less than one hundred and twenty-two of
these (from fifteen to twenty-five miles apart) between Irkutsk and
Yakutsk, and as the ordinary traveller is invariably delayed by
extortionate postmasters, this clause was of the utmost importance. In
many other ways also the document was a priceless one, and without it we
could scarcely have reached the shores of America.

It may be that I have unduly underrated the attractions of Irkutsk to
the average public. If so, the reader must remember that every hour of
delay here was of importance and meant endless worry and vexation to the
leader of an expedition which had not an hour to lose. There is no doubt
that Irkutsk must in a few years become a teeming centre of commercial
activity. The social aspects of the place will then no doubt improve
under the higher civilisation introduced by a foreign element. The
resources of this province are limitless, for the soil has up till now,
minerally speaking, only been scratched by idle fingers. Further afield
we hear of important discoveries of valuable minerals in Manchuria,
while the output of gold in the Lena district has been trebled by modern
machinery within the past four years. Coal has also been recently
discovered within a short distance of Lake Baikal, and is already being
exported in large quantities to the Pacific ports. Irkutsk has, no
doubt, a great commercial future, but should I ever return there I
shall, personally speaking, be quite satisfied to find a decent hotel.
Such an establishment run on modern lines would certainly yield fabulous
returns. At present the only available restaurant is that of the grimy
and verminous Metropole, and even here the local millionaires cheerfully
pay prices for atrocious food and worse wines which would open the eyes
of a Ritz.

Perhaps the most pleasant memory which I retain of Irkutsk is a cheery
little supper which was given in our honour by a Mr. Koenigswerther and
his wife and brother on the eve of our departure. The travellers, who
had only arrived that day, were visiting the city on business connected
with the purchase of furs, and a chance word dropped in the purest
French by Madame at the dinner-table linked our parties inseparably for
the remainder of the evening; indeed, until the next day. Madame
Koenigswerther, an attractive little _Parisienne_, seemed to cast a
gleam of sunshine over the gloomy dining-room in which we had partaken
of so many melancholy meals. The trip here from Paris had already imbued
her with a passion for further exploration, and I verily believe that
she would have accompanied the expedition to Yakutsk if not restrained
by her less enthusiastic male companions. Bed on such an occasion was
not to be thought of, so we visited the theatre and _café chantants_,
ending the evening with a supper at the Metropole (previously ordered by
the fur merchants) which proved that money, even in Irkutsk, will
convert a culinary bungler into a very passable _chef_. Our departure
for the North took place very early on the morning of January 19, and I
have since heard that nothing would induce our merry little hostess to
seek her couch until the tingle of our sleigh bells had died out on the
frosty air.

"A New York!" she cried, as our horses sprang into their collars and
dashed away down the frosty, silent street.

"N'ayéz pas peur! Nous arriverons," answered de Clinchamp, with a cool
assurance which at the time excited my envy, if not admiration!



CHAPTER III

THE GREAT LENA POST-ROAD


The distance from Irkutsk to Yakutsk is about 2000 English miles, but
the post-road by which we travelled during the first stage of the
overland journey is, properly speaking, no road at all. After leaving
Irkutsk the traveller crosses about 150 miles of well-wooded country,
until the upper waters of the Lena river are reached.[3] In winter time
the frozen surface of the latter connects the two cities, and there is
no other way by land. A double row of pine branches stuck into the snow
at short intervals indicate the track, and this is a necessary
precaution, as the hot springs of the Upper Lena frequently render the
ice treacherous and unsafe. A sharp look-out is, therefore, kept all
along the line for overflows, and, when necessary, the road is shifted
to avoid them, but notwithstanding these precautions, darkness and
drunken drivers often cause fatal accidents. In summer time Yakutsk may
be reached by small steamers plying from Ust-kutsk, on the Lena, about
250 miles by road from Irkutsk. The trip takes about a fortnight down
stream, and three weeks in the reverse direction, but sand-bars
frequently cause delays, rendered the more irksome by poor
accommodation, stifling heat, and clouds of mosquitoes.[4]

[Footnote 3: The Lena river has an estimated length of not less than
3000 miles. It rises in the Baikal mountains and flows north and east
past the towns of Kirensk, Vitimsk, and Olekminsk to Yakutsk, thence it
turns to the north-west and enters the Arctic Ocean, forming a wide
delta. The Lena receives several large tributaries, viz., the Vitim,
about 1400, the Olekma, about 800, and the Aldan, about 1300 miles
long.]

[Footnote 4: This must be very slow travelling, for Dobell, the
traveller, writes: "When I descended the Lena from Ust-kutsk in the
spring of 1816, I was only fourteen days going to Yakutsk in a large
flat-bottomed boat."]

Most people in England have a very vague idea of the size of Siberia. It
is only by actually visiting the country that one can grasp the
harassing difficulties due to appalling distances and primitive modes of
locomotion, especially when the traveller is bound for the Far North. I
will, therefore, endeavour to convey to the reader, as briefly as
possible, the area of this land of illimitable space, and cannot do so
better than by quoting the graphic description given by the American
explorer, Mr. George Kennan.[5] He says: "You can take the whole of the
United States of America, from Maine to California and from Lake
Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, and set it down in the middle of Siberia
without touching anywhere the boundaries of the latter's territory; you
can then take Alaska and all the countries of Europe, with the exception
of Russia, and fit them into the remaining margin like the pieces of a
dissected map. After having thus accommodated all of the United States,
including Alaska, and the whole of Europe, except Russia, you will
still have more than 300,000 miles of Siberian territory to spare. In
other words, you will still have unoccupied in Siberia an area half as
large again as the Empire of Germany." According to the census of 1897
the entire population of Siberia is little more than that of the English
metropolis.

[Footnote 5: "Siberia and the Exile System," by George Kennan.]

A couple of Yakute sleighs sufficed for ourselves and entire outfit. I
rode with de Clinchamp in the leading vehicle, while Harding and the
bulk of the stores followed in the other. At first sight, the Yakute
sleigh appears to be a clumsy but comfortable contrivance, but very few
miles had been covered before I discovered its unlimited powers of
inflicting pain. For this machine does not glide like a well-behaved
sleigh, but advances by leaps and bounds that strain every nerve and
muscle in the body. In anything like deep, soft snow it generally comes
to a standstill, and the combined efforts of men and horses are required
to set it going again. However, for the first three or four days, good
progress was made at the rate of about 200 versts[6] in the twenty-four
hours, for we travelled night and day. There was no incentive to pass
the night in the post-houses, which were generally of a filthy
description, although luxurious compared to the Yakute Yurtas and
Tchuktchi huts awaiting us up North. On the Lena post-road, stages were
only from fifteen to thirty miles apart, and with a fresh _troika_
(three horses harnessed abreast) at such short intervals, our rate of
speed for the first week was very satisfactory. Between Irkutsk and the
river Lena part of the road lies through dense forests, which are
generally infested with runaway convicts, so we kept a sharp look-out
and revolvers handy. Only a week before we passed through this region a
mail-cart had been held up and its driver murdered, but I fancy news had
filtered through that my expedition was well armed, and we therefore
reached the Lena unmolested.

[Footnote 6: A verst is two-thirds of an English mile.]

The weather at Irkutsk had been comparatively warm, and we were,
therefore, unprepared for the intense cold experienced only forty-eight
hours after our departure. Although on the evening of the 19th the
thermometer had registered only 10° below zero Fahrenheit, it suddenly
sank during the night to 65° below zero, where it remained until the
following evening. Oddly enough, a dense mist accompanied the fall of
the mercury, rendering the cold infinitely harder to bear. Our drivers
declared that this climatic occurrence was most unusual, and the fact
remains that this was the lowest temperature recorded during the entire
journey south of the Yakute Yurta of Yuk-Takh, several hundred miles
north of Yakutsk. There we had to face 75° below zero, but then Yuk-Takh
adjoins Verkhoyansk, the coldest place in the world. But the dry frosty
air of even this remote settlement inconvenienced me far less than the
chilly breeze of a raw November day on the Paris Boulevards with the
mercury half a dozen degrees above the freezing-point. On the Lena this
Arctic cold only lasted for about eighteen hours, and then slowly rose
again, after remaining at about 50° below zero for a couple of days. The
severest cold afterwards experienced south of Yakutsk was 51° below
zero, and that only upon one occasion. Otherwise it varied from 2°
above to 40° below zero, but even that was sufficient to convert our
provisions into a granite-like consistency, and at first wearisome
delays were occasioned at the post-stations by the thawing out of
petrified sardines and tinned soup converted into solid ice. Milk,
frozen and cut into cubes, was conveniently carried in a net attached to
the sleigh, and this, with tea, was our sole beverage. For a case with a
few bottles of Crimean claret, which we had taken to enliven the first
portion of the journey, was found when broached to contain nothing but
fragments of red ice and broken glass. Even some cognac (for medicinal
purposes) was partly frozen in its flask. On the same day de Clinchamp,
removing his mits to take a photograph, accidentally touched some metal
on the camera, and his fingers were seared as though with a red-hot
iron. Perhaps our greatest annoyance on this voyage was the frequent
deprivation of tobacco, that heavenly solace on long and trying
journeys. For at even 40° below zero nicotine blocks the pipe-stem, and
cigar or cigarette freezes firmly to the lips. The moustache also forms
a mask of solid ice, and becomes an instrument of torture, so much so
that on the third day out on the Lena ours were mercilessly clipped.

The post-houses on this road are, as I have said, luxurious as compared
to the accommodation found among the Arctic races of Siberia, but I
fancy those accustomed to "roughing it," as the word is generally
understood in England, would find even a trip as far as Yakutsk rather a
trial. Of course, these establishments vary from the best, which are
about on a par with the labourer's cottage in England, to the worst,
which can only be described as dens of filth and squalor. All are built
on the same plan. There is one guest-room, a bare carpetless apartment,
with a rough wooden bench, a table, and two straight-backed wooden
chairs, and the room is heated to suffocation by a huge stove, which
occupies a corner of the room. The flimsy plank partition is unpapered,
but generally plastered with the cheap, crudely coloured prints sold by
pedlars. Some of these depicted events connected with our recent war in
South Africa, and it is needless to add that the English troops were
invariably depicted in the act of ignominious flight.[7] I purchased
one, in which three distinguished British Generals were portrayed upon
their knees imploring mercy of Mr. Kruger, and sent it to England, but
it never reached its destination. This work of art had been "made in
Germany."

[Footnote 7: I was surprised by the interest displayed by the Russian
settlers of this district anent the Boer War. In every village we were
eagerly questioned as to how affairs in the Transvaal were progressing.]

In every guest-room, however squalid, four objects were never missing:
the sacred Ikon, portraits of the Tsar and Tsarina, and a printed copy
of the posting rules. On the wall was generally also a bill of fare, in
faded ink, which showed how many generations of travellers must have
been duped by its tempting list of savoury dishes. I never could
ascertain whether these had ever really existed in the far distant past,
or whether the notice was a poor joke on the part of the proprietor. In
any case, the _menu_ we found was always the same: hot water, sour
black bread, and (very rarely) eggs of venerable exterior, for although
the inmates of these stations presumably indulge occasionally in meat,
no amount of bribery would induce them to produce it for our benefit.
Vermin was everywhere; night and day it crawled gaily over the walls and
ceiling, about our bodies, and into our very food, and, although the
subject did not interest us, a naturalist would have delighted in the
ever-changing varieties of insect life. Of the latter, cockroaches were,
I think, the most objectionable, for they can inflict a nasty poisonous
bite. Oddly enough, throughout Siberia I never saw a rat, although mice
seem to swarm in every building, old or new, which we entered. The Lena
post-house has a characteristic odour of unwashed humanity, old
sheep-skins and stale tobacco. Occasionally, this subtle blend includes
a whiff of the cow-shed, which generally means that one or more of its
youthful occupants have been carried indoors out of the cold. In winter
there is no ventilation whatsoever, save when the heavy felt-lined door
is opened and an icy blast rushes in to be instantly converted by the
stifling heat into a dense mass of steam. Indoors it was seldom under
80° Fahrenheit, and although divested of heavy furs we would invariably
awaken from a sleep of, perhaps, a couple of hours, drenched with
perspiration, in which state we would once more face the pitiless cold.
In England such extremes of temperature, experienced day after day,
would probably kill the strongest man outright, but here they made no
appreciable difference in our bodily health.

It was no doubt rough travelling along the Lena, and yet the pleasures
of the journey far outweighed its ills. Before reaching the river our
way lay across vast deserts of snow, with no objects visible save, at
rare intervals, some tiny village almost buried in the drifts, its dark
roofs peeping out here and there, and appearing at a distance like
pieces of charcoal laid on a piece of white cotton-wool. Beyond these
nothing but the single telegraph wire which connects Yakutsk with
civilisation. Coated with rime it used to stand out like a jewelled
thread against the dazzling sky, which merged imperceptibly from darkest
sapphire overhead to tenderest turquoise on the horizon. Who can
describe the delights of a sleigh journey under such conditions, or
realise, in imagination, the charm and novelty of a wild gallop over
leagues of snow behind game little Siberian horses, tearing along to the
clash of yoke-bells at the rate of twenty miles an hour! In anything but
a Yakute sleigh we should have been in an earthly paradise.

And on fine evenings, pleasanter still was it to lie in the sleigh
snugly wrapped in furs, and watch the inky sky powdered with stars--Ursa
Major (now almost overhead) sprawling its glittering shape across the
heavens, and the little Pleiades twinkling like a diamond spray against
dark velvet. At times I could make out every lonely peak and valley in
the lunar world, and even distinguish far-away Polaris twinkling dimly
over the earth's great mystery. The stars are never really seen in misty
Europe.

But a week, ten days, elapses and so little progress is made in the
alarming total of mileage that the heart sinks at the mere thought of
the stupendous distance before us. Few villages are passed and these
are invariably alike. A row of ramshackle huts; at one extremity the
post-house with black and white _verst_ post, at the other a rough
palisade of logs about twenty feet high, enclosing a space from which a
grey column of smoke rises lazily into the frosty air. The building is
invisible, but it generally contains one or more unhappy exiles wending
slowly towards a place of exile. Every village between Irkutsk and
Yakutsk has its _Balogan_, or resting-place for political offenders, but
in the Far North beyond the Arctic Circle prison bars become
superfluous. Nature has taken their place.

There can be no doubt that, for monotony, this journey is unequalled.
After a few days surrounding objects seemed to float by in a vague
dream. Only the "scroop" of the runners and jingle of the sleigh-bells
seemed to be hammered into the brain, for all eternity. And yet, even
the bells in their own way were a godsend, for they were changed (with
the yoke) at every station, and I liked to think that every one of the
hundred and twenty-two stages were accompanied by a different tune!
There were other drawbacks to complete enjoyment. On the whole, the
weather was still and clear, but occasionally the sky would darken, down
would come the snow, and we would flounder about, sometimes for hours,
lost in the drifts. Logs frozen into the river, fissures in the ice, and
other causes rendered upsets of almost daily occurrence, but it was
generally soft falling. I remarked that as we proceeded further north
the post-horses became wilder and more unmanageable, and it was often
more than the drivers could do to hold them. Twice our sleigh was run
away with, and once de Clinchamp and myself were thrown with unpleasant
force on to hard black ice. On another occasion the _troika_ started off
while the driver was altering the harness, and went like the wind before
we could clamber on to the box, seize the reins, and stop them. The
unfortunate _yemstchik_[8] was dragged with them, and I expected to find
the poor fellow a mangled corpse, but we pulled him out from under his
team badly cut and bruised, but otherwise little the worse for the
accident. He had clung like grim death to the pole, or the heavy sleigh
must have crushed him.

[Footnote 8: Driver.]

During daylight we could afford to laugh at such trifles, but at night
time it was a different matter. To tear through the darkness at a
breakneck pace at the mercy of three wild, unbroken horses required some
nerve, especially when lying under the _koshma_ as helpless as a sardine
in a soldered tin. For the first few days overflows were a constant
menace, especially at night when sleep under the apron was out of the
question, for any moment might mean a plunge through the ice into the
cold dark waters of the Lena. I generally had a clasp-knife ready to
slash asunder, at a moment's notice, the ropes which secured the apron
to the sleigh. After a time I could lie in the dark and tell with
unerring precision whether the sleigh was gliding over the river or the
land, and whether, in the former case, the ice was black and sound or
that dread element, water, was rippling against the runners. If so, out
came the clasp-knife, and there was no more _koshma_ for that night.
During the first week we frequently passed places where hot springs had
broken through the ice. One or two of these holes were quite near the
track, and might well, on a dark night, have brought the expedition to
an untimely end.

Talking of ice, we noticed a curious phenomenon in connection with it
while journeying down the Lena. On clear sunny days the frozen surface
of the river would appear to be sloping downwards at a perceptible
gradient in the direction in which we were travelling; occasionally it
would almost seem as though we were descending a fairly steep hill, had
not the unrelaxed efforts of our teams suggested the optical delusion
which, as long ago as 1828, was observed by Erman the explorer, who
wrote: "I am disposed to think that this phenomenon was connected with
the glistening and distortion of distant objects which I remarked not
only in this part of the valley, but frequently also on the following
days. This proved that the air was ascending from the ice and therefore
that the lower strata were lighter than those above in which the eye was
placed. Under such circumstances a plane perfectly horizontal and level
in fact would appear depressed towards the horizon, or, in other words,
it would seem to slope downwards." Scientists must determine whether
this be the correct explanation of this strange deception of nature,
which was often noticeable on the Lena, although we never observed it
elsewhere.

We reached Ust-kutsk (the first town of any importance) on the sixth
day. This place figures largely on most English maps, but it is little
more than an overgrown village. A church with apple-green dome and gilt
crosses, a score of neat houses clustered around the dwelling of an
_ispravnik_,[9] perhaps a couple of stores for the sale of clothing and
provisions, and a cleaner post-house than usual: such is a "town" on the
banks of the Lena. With the exception of Ust-kutsk there are only three,
Kirensk, Vitimsk, and Olekminsk, places of such little general interest
that they are chiefly associated in my mind with the four square meals
we were able to obtain during those three weeks of incessant travel. At
Ust-kutsk, for instance, we refreshed the inner man with a steaming bowl
of _schtchi_ or cabbage soup followed by the tough and greasy chunks of
meat that had been boiled in it, and the meal tasted delicious after
nearly a week on black bread, an occasional salt fish and dubious eggs.
Our own provisions were so hopelessly frozen that we seldom wasted the
time necessary to thaw them out into an eatable condition.

[Footnote 9: An official who combines the duties of Mayor and Chief of
Police.]

There are salt-mines near Ust-kutsk from which about 50,000 _poods_[10]
are annually exported throughout the Lena province, and the forests
around here contain valuable timber, but agriculture did not seem so
prosperous here as in the districts to the north and south. Oddly enough
the cultivation of the land seemed to improve as we progressed
northward, as far as Yakutsk, where, as the reader will presently see,
the most modern methods of farming have been successfully adopted by a
very peculiar and interesting class of people.

[Footnote 10: A "pood" is thirty-six English pounds.]

I was told that during the navigation season, from June until the latter
end of September, Ust-kutsk is a busy place on account of the weekly
arrival and departure of the river steamers. But lying silent and still
in the icy grip of winter, this appeared to me to be the most desolate
spot I had ever set eyes upon. And we left it without regret,
notwithstanding that a darkening sky and threatening snow-flakes
accompanied our departure, and the cold and hunger of the past few days
had considerably lowered the high spirits in which we had left Irkutsk.
Up till now monotony had been the worst evil to bear. In summer time the
river as far as Yakutsk is highly cultivated, and smiling villages and
fertile fields can be discerned from the deck of a steamer, but in
winter, from a sleigh, nothing is visible day after day, week after
week, but an unvarying procession of lime-stone, pine-clad cliffs, which
completely shut out any scenery which may lie beyond them, and between
which the bleak and frozen flood lies as inert and motionless as a
corpse. Even at Ust-kutsk, nearly 3000 miles from the Arctic Ocean, the
stream is as broad as an arm of the sea, which enhances the general
impression of gloom and desolation. But in this world everything is
comparative, and we little dreamt, when reviling the Lena, that a time
was coming when we should look back even upon this apparently earthly
Erebus as a whirlpool of gaiety.

When we left Ust-kutsk at about 3 P.M. night was falling fast, a
proceeding which scattered snow-flakes followed with such vigour that
only a few _versts_ had been covered when we were brought to a
standstill by a dense snowstorm, which, with a northerly gale, rapidly
assumed the proportions of a blizzard. Providence has mercifully
ordained that a high wind seldom, if ever, accompanies a very low
temperature or on this occasion (and many others) we should have fared
badly. But here and in the Arctic a fall of the glass was invariably
accompanied by a rise of the thermometer, and _vice versâ_. During this,
our first storm, it was only eight degrees below zero, and even then it
was impossible to face the wind for more than a few moments at a time,
for it penetrated our heavy fur coats as though they had been of
_crêpe-de-chine_, and cut into the face like the lash of a
cat-o'-nine-tails. I had never experienced such a gale (although it was
nothing to those we afterwards encountered), for the wind seemed to blow
from all points of the compass at once as we blundered blindly along
through the deep snow, pushing and hauling at the sleighs as well as our
numbed hands and cumbersome garments would permit. So blinding was the
snow we couldn't see a yard ahead; so fierce the wind we could scarcely
stand up to it. Suddenly both teams gave a wild plunge which sent us
sprawling on our faces, and when I regained my feet the sleighs were
upset and the horses, snorting with terror, were up to their girths in a
snow-drift. I then gave up all hopes of reaching a station that night.
For over an hour we worked like galley-slaves, and suddenly when we had
finally got things partly righted, the wind dropped as if by magic, and
one or two stars peeped out overhead. The rapidity with which the
weather can change in these regions is simply marvellous. We often left
a post-house in clear weather, and, less than an hour after, were
fighting our way in the teeth of a gale and heavy snow. An hour later
and stillness would again reign, and the sun be shining as before! We
now quickly took advantage of the lull to push on, and in a few hours
were rewarded by the glimmering lights of a post-house. We had reached
the village of Yakurimsk and, being fairly exhausted by the cold and
hard work, I resolved to stay here the night. This was our first
experience of frost-bite (both faces and hands suffered severely), which
is not actually painful until circulation returns, and care must then be
taken not to approach a fire. I have always found that snow, vigorously
rubbed on the frozen part, is the best remedy. The stage between
Ust-kutsk and Yakurimsk was a short one, only about eighteen _versts_,
but it took us six hours to make it. When we awoke next morning bright
sunshine was streaming into the guest-room, which was older and filthier
than usual. But it possessed a cracked and cloudy looking-glass which
dimly reflected three countenances swollen and discoloured beyond
recognition. For we had neglected to anoint our faces with grease
(Lanoline is the best), but after this experience never neglected this
essential precaution.

The postmaster at Yakurimsk, a decrepit Pole of benign but unwashed
exterior, informed me that the woods around his village swarmed with
bears, and that on payment of a few roubles for beaters he could ensure
us a good day's sport. But although the offer was tempting I did not
feel justified in risking the delay. Wolves had also been numerous, but
had, as usual, confined their attacks to pigs and cattle. Before
visiting Siberia I had the usual fallacious notion concerning the
aggressiveness of this meek and much maligned animal. I remember, in my
early youth, a coloured plate depicting a snow scene and a sleigh being
hotly pursued at full gallop by a pack of hungry and savage-looking
wolves. In the sleigh was a Cossack pale with terror, with a baby in his
teeth and a pistol in each hand. I fancy that, in riper years, I must
have unconsciously based my estimate of the wolf's ferocity on this
illustration, for I have now crossed Siberia four times without being
attacked, or even meeting any one who had been molested. The only wolf
which ever crossed my path was a haggard mangy-looking specimen, which,
at first sight, I took for a half-starved dog. We met in a lonely wood
near Krasnoyarsk in Western Siberia, but, as soon as he caught sight of
me, the brute turned and ran for his life!

Our drivers and horses were exchanged at every station so that the
severe work of the previous night did not retard our progress after
leaving Yakurimsk. The weather was fine and we made good headway until
the 28th, on the afternoon of which day we reached the second town of
Kirensk. A few miles above the latter the Lena makes a wide _détour_ of
fifty to sixty miles and the post-road is laid overland in a straight
line to avoid it. It was a relief to exchange, if only for a few hours,
that eternal vista of lime-stone and pines for a more extended view. The
Kirensk mountains are here crossed, a range which, although of no great
altitude, is precipitous and thickly wooded, so much so that in places
the sleighs could scarcely pass between the trees. The climb was severe,
but a lovely view over hundreds of miles of country amply rewarded our
exertions. The glorious panorama of mountain, stream, and woodland
stretching away on all sides to the horizon, intersected by the silvery
Lena, was after the flat and dismal river scenery like a draught of
clear spring water to one parched with thirst. Overhead a network of
rime-coated branches sparkled against the blue with a bright and almost
unnatural effect that reminded one of a Christmas card. A steep and
difficult descent brought us to the plains again, and after a pleasant
drive through forests of pine and cedar interspersed with mountain ash
and a pretty red-berried shrub of which I ignore the name, we arrived,
almost sorry that the short land trip was over, at Kirensk.

Although not the largest, this is the prettiest and cleanest-looking
town on the Lena. Perhaps our favourable impressions of the place were
partly due to the dazzling sunshine and still, delicious air. Dull skies
and a fog would, perhaps, have made a world of difference; but as, under
existing conditions, Kirensk afforded us the only interval of real rest
and enjoyment on the Lena, we were proportionately grateful. And it was
almost a pleasure to walk through the neat streets, with their
gaily-painted houses and two or three really fine stores, where any
article from a ship's anchor to a gramophone seemed to be on sale. A few
mercantile houses and a busy little dockyard, with a couple of
river-steamers in course of construction, explained the prosperous
appearance of this attractive little town, which contrasted cheerfully
with all others which we saw in Siberia. The inn was quite in keeping
with its surroundings, and perhaps a longer time than was absolutely
necessary was passed there, for _déjeuner_ was served, not in the usual
dark fusty room reeking with foul odours, but in a bright, cheerful
little apartment with comfortable furniture and a table set with a white
cloth and spotless china by a window overlooking the river. There was a
mechanical organ, too, which enlivened us with "La Marseillaise" and
"Loin du Pays" as a pretty waiting-maid in Russian costume served us
with some excellent cutlets and an omelette, which were washed down with
a bottle of Crimean wine. These culinary details may appear trifles to
the reader, but they had already become matters of moment to us. And the
sun shone so brightly that the claret glowed like a ruby in the glass as
we drank to the success of the expedition and our friends in far-away
France and England. And so susceptible is man to the influence of his
surroundings that for one fleeting hour New York seemed no distance away
to speak of!

After leaving Kirensk the horses were harnessed _gusem_ or tandem
fashion, for it is here necessary to leave the river and travel along
its shores where the roadway becomes a mere track three or four feet
wide through the forests. As our sleighs were unusually broad, this
caused some trouble, and once or twice trees had to be felled before we
could proceed. When Vitimsk was reached, on February 2, the drivers
there flatly refused to embark upon a stage until the breadth of our
sleighs had been reduced by at least one-third. Fortunately the weather
changed for the worse, and snowstorms and a stiff Northern gale would
have greatly impeded us, so that the lost time was not so precious as it
might have been. There is no inn at Vitimsk, but the post-house was
clean and comfortable, and the _ispravnik_, on reading the Governor's
letter, also placed his house and services at my disposal, but I only
availed myself of the latter to hasten the alteration to the sleighs.
The only wheelwright in Vitimsk being an incorrigible drunkard, this
operation would, under ordinary circumstances, have occupied at least a
week; under the watchful eye of the stern official it was finished in
forty-eight hours. Politically, I am a Radical, but I am bound to admit
that there are circumstances under which an autocratic form of
Government has its advantages.

Until Vitimsk was reached we had met but few travellers during our
journey down the Lena, certainly under a score in all, which was
fortunate, considering the limited accommodation _en route_. But at
Vitimsk I was destined to come across not only an Englishman but a
personal friend. The meeting, on both sides, was totally unexpected, and
as on the evening of our arrival I watched a sleigh drive up through the
blinding storm and a shapeless bundle of furs emerge from it and stagger
into the post-house, I little dreamt that the newcomer was one with whom
I had passed many a pleasant hour in the realms of civilisation. The
recognition was not mutual, for a week of real Siberian travel will
render any man unrecognisable. "Pardon, M'sieu," began the stranger, and
I at once recognised the familiar British accent; "Je reste ici
seulement une heure." "Faites, monsieur," was my reply. But as I spoke
the fur-clad giant looked up from the valise he was unstrapping and
regarded me curiously. "Well, I'm d----d," he said, after a long pause,
"if it isn't Harry de Windt." But Talbot Clifton had to reveal his
identity, for months of hardship and privation, followed by a dangerous
illness, had so altered his appearance that I doubt if even his mother
would have recognised her son in that post-house at Vitimsk. Clifton had
already passed a year among the Eskimo on the Northern coast of the
American continent, when, in the summer of 1901, he descended the Lena
as far as its delta on the Arctic Ocean. Here he remained for several
months, living with the natives and accompanying them on their fishing
and shooting expeditions. In the fall of the year he returned to
Yakutsk, where he contracted a chill which developed into double
pneumonia, and nearly cost him his life. My friend, who was now on his
way home to England, had only bad news for us. The reindeer to the north
of Yakutsk were so scarce and so weak that he had only just managed to
struggle back there from Bulun, on the delta, a trifling trip compared
to the journey we were about to undertake. Moreover, the mountain passes
south of Verkhoyansk were blocked with snow, and, even if deer were
obtainable, we might be detained on the wrong side of the range for
days, or even weeks. All things considered, I would rather not have met
Clifton at this juncture, for his gloomy predictions seemed to sink into
the hearts of my companions--and remain there. However, a pleasant
evening was passed with the assistance of tobacco and a villainous
mixture, which my friend concocted with fiery _vodka_ and some wild
berries, and called punch. I doubt if, before this notable occasion,
Vitimsk had ever contained (at the same time) two Englishmen, a
Frenchman, and the writer, who may claim to be a little of both.

Talbot Clifton left early the next day, and before sunset the sleighs
were finished and we were once more on the road. From Vitimsk I
despatched telegrams to the Governor of Yakutsk and the London _Daily
Express_, and was surprised at the moderate charges for transmission. Of
course, the messages had to be written in Russian, but they were sent
through at five and ten kopeks a word respectively.[11]

[Footnote 11: A kopek is the one-hundredth part of a rouble; the value
of the latter is about 2_s._ 1_d._]

Vitimsk is, perhaps, less uninteresting than other towns on the Lena,
for two reasons. It is the centre of a large and important gold-mining
district, and the finest sables in the world are found in its immediate
neighbourhood. Up till four years ago the gold was worked in a very
desultory way, but machinery was introduced in 1898, and last year an
already large output was trebled. This district is said to be richer
than Klondike, but only Russian subjects may work the gold.

Olekminsk (pronounced "Alokminsk") was now our objective point. I shall
not weary the reader with the details of this stage, for he is probably
already too familiar, as we were at this juncture, with the physical and
social aspects of travel on the Lena. Suffice it to say that a
considerable portion of the journey was accomplished through dense
forests, during which the sleighs were upset on an average twice a day
by refractory teams, and that the filthiest post-houses and worst
weather we had yet experienced added to the discomfort of the trip.
Blizzards, too, were now of frequent occurrence, and once we were lost
for nearly eighteen hours in the drifts and suffered severely from cold
and hunger. Nearing Yakutsk travellers became more numerous, and we met
some strange types of humanity. Two of these, travelling together, are
stamped upon my memory. They consisted of an elderly, bewigged, and
powdered little Italian, his German wife, a much-berouged lady of large
proportions and flaxen hair, with a poodle. We met them at midnight in a
post-house, where they had annexed every available inch of sleeping
space the tiny hut afforded.

A gale and gusts of sleet rendered further progress impossible for that
night, and I was therefore compelled to break in upon the conjugal
privacy of the couple and their faithful companion. Monsieur, who was
sleeping on the floor, at once made room for us, but Madame, who (with
the poodle) occupied the bench, fiercely resented the intrusion and
threatened de Clinchamp, the first to enter the room, with summary
vengeance if he did not at once retire. This my friend politely did,
but it was so bitterly cold outside that I battered at the bolted door
of the guest-room until the little Italian emerged, and volubly
explained the situation. His massive consort, it appeared, invariably
disrobed at night (even in a Lena post-house!), and was not prepared to
receive visitors. Gallantry forbade further discussion, and we shared
the postmaster's dark closet with his wife and five squalling children.
The room, about ten feet by four, possessed the atmosphere of a Turkish
bath, and an odour as though it had, for several months, harboured a
thriving family of ferrets. But with a lady in the question there was
nothing to be done. When we awoke next morning the strange couple had
departed. I never saw them again, but from what I afterwards heard at
Yakutsk their mission to that city was such a shady one that I question
if "Madame's" modesty was not assumed for the occasion.

The remainder of the journey from here to Yakutsk was accomplished
without further incident, and the town of Olekminsk so resembles its
predecessors as to need no description. We reached the place late at
night, but the _ispravnik_ was more hospitably inclined than others we
had met, and gave us supper while the teams were changed. One of the
dishes would certainly have found favour in a Paris restaurant--a fish
called "Nelma," which is found only in the Lena, and is served uncooked
and in thin frozen slices. Ices and champagne terminated the little
repast, which was presided over by our host's pretty wife. The only
other guest was one Vassily Brando, a political exile, whose intimacy
with the _ispravnik_ was strangely at variance with all that I had heard
and read concerning exiles in the remoter parts of Siberia. Brando, a
Jewish-looking person with keen dark eyes, was undergoing a sentence of
eight years here after the usual term of preliminary imprisonment in
Europe. During his incarceration Brando had taught himself English,
which he now spoke almost fluently. This exile told me that Olekminsk
contained twenty other politicals, and was preferred to any other town
or village on the Lena as a place of detention. Neither he nor his
companions could travel for more than ten versts in any direction
without a special permit from the Governor of Yakutsk, but, as the poor
fellow pathetically remarked, "That's no great hardship!" The exiles at
Olekminsk may frequently receive letters and communicate with their
friends (under the supervision of the authorities), and the solace of
modern literature is not denied them so long as it is not connected with
Socialism. Brando was an ardent admirer of Rudyard Kipling, and could, I
verily believe, have passed an examination in most of his works.

[Illustration: POOR YAKUTES.]

We took leave of our kind host, Captain Bereskine, at midnight. It was
bitterly cold (30° below zero), and I was, therefore, surprised when we
alighted at the first post-house, after a long stage of thirty-five
miles, to find our host smilingly awaiting us with sandwiches,
cigarettes, and a bottle of cognac! He had passed us on the road,
determined, even at considerable discomfort to himself, that we should
travel, at any rate through his district, in comfort. Such a thing
could never have occurred in any country but Siberia, where hospitality
is looked upon (amongst Russians) as the first duty of man. Just imagine
leaving your host on a cold winter's night in England to travel from
London to Edinburgh and finding him waiting at, say, Hitchin to bid you
a final farewell. But the _simile_ is weak, for there is a vast
difference between an open sleigh and a sleeping-car.

An interesting personality we afterwards met on the road to Yakutsk was
Dr. Herz, the famous naturalist, whom we fortunately came across in a
post-house, for it gave me an opportunity of a chat with the Doctor
anent his now well-known discovery, the "latest Siberian Mammoth," which
he was conveying in sections, packed in twenty sleighs, to Irkutsk. Dr.
Herz gave us, like Talbot Clifton, very disheartening accounts of
affairs north of Yakutsk. The Doctor had travelled here from the Kolyma
river (our goal on the Arctic Ocean) only with the greatest difficulty
on account of the scarcity of reindeer and the dangerous condition of
the mountain passes. The task of conveying the mammoth, even as far as
this point, had been an almost super-human one, but no trouble or
expense had been spared in the preservation of this antediluvian
monster, which is undoubtedly the most perfect specimen of its kind ever
brought to light. The animal was found frozen into a huge block of ice,
as it had evidently fallen from a cliff overhead, for the forelegs were
broken and there were other signs of injury. The flesh of the mammoth
(which measures about twenty feet high) was of a pinkish colour and as
fresh, in appearance, as during the monster's lifetime, countless ages
ago. Some grasses found in the mouth had been carefully preserved, and
have since been analysed with the view of ascertaining the age of the
prehistoric monster. Time was now of the greatest importance to Dr.
Herz, for everything depended upon the arrival of his treasure in
European Russia in a frozen condition. A few days of warm muggy weather
nearing Europe might render futile the task of many months of hardship.
So our interview was of short duration, but I am glad to say that the
eminent Professor eventually met with success, and that his priceless
addition to the treasury of natural history now occupies a niche of
honour in the Imperial Academy of Science in Petersburg.

Nearing Yakutsk the country becomes unutterably wild and desolate.
Forest trees are now replaced for miles and miles by low withered scrub
and dwarf fir-trees on either side of the river. As we proceed the Lena
gradually widens until it resembles a succession of huge lakes, where
even our practised drivers have some difficulty in finding the way. The
Russian language is now seldom heard, for in the villages a kind of
native _patois_ is spoken. And yet the country is more thickly populated
than upriver, although the pretty Russian _isba_ has given place to the
Yakute _yurta_, a hideous flat-roofed mud-hut, with blocks of ice for
window-panes, and yellow-faced weirdly clad inmates, with rough, uncouth
manners and the beady black eyes of the Tartar. And one cold grey
morning I awaken, worn out with cold and fatigue, to peer with sleepy
eyes, no longer down the familiar avenue of ice and pine-trees, but
across a white and dreary wilderness of snow. On the far horizon,
dividing earth and sky, a thin drab streak is seen which soon merges, in
the clear sunrise, into the faint semblance of a city. Golden domes and
tapering fire-towers are soon distinguishable, and our driver grows
proportionately loquacious as his home is neared. "Yakutsk!" he cries,
with a wave of his short, heavy whip, and I awaken de Clinchamp, still
slumbering peacefully, with the welcome news that the first important
stage of our long land-journey is nearly at an end.[12]

[Footnote 12: This was on February 14, 1902, and 7800 miles (out of a
somewhat alarming total) now lay behind us. To reach this from Irkutsk
we had employed 720 horses, at a cost of under £70 for both sleighs.]



CHAPTER IV

THE CITY OF THE YAKUTE


During our stay in Yakutsk we were the guests of the Chief of Police, an
official generally associated (in the English mind) with mystery and
oppression, dungeons and the knout. But Captain Zuyeff in no way
resembled his prototype of the London stage and penny novelette. By
rights our host should have been a cool cynical villain, always in full
uniform, and continually turning up at awkward moments to harass some
innocent victim, instead of which he was rather a commonplace but
benevolent individual devoted to his wife and child and consumed with a
passion for photography, which was shared by many of the exiles under
his charge. I once had occasion to go to his office and found Zuyeff in
his shirt sleeves, busily engaged in developing "Kodak" films with a
political who had dined at his house the night before! But this would
never have done for a transpontine audience.

Yakutsk (which was founded in 1633 by the Cossack Beketoff) presents, at
a distance, a rather imposing appearance, quickly dispelled on closer
acquaintance. For a more lifeless, depressing city does not exist on the
face of this planet. Even Siberians call this the end of the world. The
very name of the place suggests gloom and mystery, for the news that
filters through from here, at long intervals, into civilisation is
generally associated with some tragedy or disaster, such as the awful
fate of poor de Long and his companions of the _Jeannette_ in the Lena
delta, or more recently the Yakutsk Prison Mutiny. The Tsar's remotest
capital is composed mainly of time-bleached wooden buildings of gloomy
appearance even on the brightest day. We saw Yakutsk at its best, for in
summer time the dusty streets and dingy dwellings are revealed in all
the dirt and squalor which were concealed from our gaze by a clean
mantle of snow. There are no public buildings to speak of, but the
golden domes of half a dozen fine churches tower over the dull drab
town, partly relieving the sombre effect produced by an absolute lack of
colour. Even the palace of the Governor is a mean-looking one-storied
edifice, scarcely fit for the ruler of a province seven times the size
of France! A Cossack stockade of great age faces the palace; and its
dilapidated wooden walls are tottering with age, but are yet in keeping
with most of the houses around them. There is a legend concerning this
fort (erected by Cossacks in 1647) which may, or may not, be true. The
natives granted these first settlers as much land, for the erection of a
citadel, as they could encircle with a limited number of reindeer skins.
But the wily Russians cut the skins into thin, very long strips and took
possession of an extensive site for a town. At present Yakutsk is a city
of the past, one may almost add of the dead, where ghosts walk in the
shape of surly Russian traders clad in the fashion of a century ago, and
sinister-looking fur-clad Yakutes. And yet the dead here may be said to
live, for corruption is delayed for an indefinite period, so intense is
the cold. Shortly before our arrival a young Russian girl was exhumed
for legal purposes, and her body was found in exactly the same condition
as when it was interred five years before. This however is scarcely
surprising in a soil which is perpetually frozen to a depth of six
hundred feet.

The uncanny sensation of gloom and despondency which here assails the
traveller is not mitigated by the knowledge that, to reach Yakutsk you
must slowly wade, as we had done, through a little hell of monotony,
hunger, and filth. To leave it you must retrace your steps through the
same purgatory of mental and physical misery. There is no other way
home, and so, to the stranger fresh from Europe, the place is a sink of
despair. And yet Yakutsk only needs capital, energy, and enterprise to
convert her into a centre of modern commerce and civilisation. Gold
abounds in all the affluents of the Lena; last year the output in the
Vitimsk district alone was over a quarter of a million sterling, and the
soil is practically untouched. Iron also exists in very large
quantities, to say nothing of very fair steam coal near the delta; and
there is practically a mountain of silver known to exist near the city.
Lead and platinum have also been found in considerable quantities
further afield. Were the Yakutsk province an American State the now
desolate shores of the Lena would swarm with prosperous towns, and the
city would long ere this have become a Siberian El Dorado of the
merchant and miner.[13] As it is the trade of this place is nothing to
what it could be made, in capable and energetic hands, within a very
short space of time. Here, as everywhere else on the river, the summer
is the busiest season. In August a fair is held on the Lena in barges,
which drift down the river from the Ust-kutsk with European merchandise
of every description. In the fall the barges are towed back by steamers,
exporting furs, fish, and ivory to the value of twenty million roubles,
the goods brought in only amounting to about a twentieth part of that
sum. Steamers run frequently in the open season both up and down the
river as far as Bulun in the Arctic Ocean, which tiny settlement yearly
exports large quantities of salt fish, furs, and walrus tusks.[14]

[Footnote 13: In face of these natural resources it is satisfactory to
note that a line from Irkutsk to Yakutsk could be laid with little
difficulty.]

[Footnote 14: Steam navigation on the Lena river was introduced in
1885.]

In former days before the Russians annexed the Amur river there was
regular communication between Yakutsk and Okhotsk, on the sea of that
name, but although the road, or rather track, still exists, it is now
rarely used.[15] However, American and Chinese goods do occasionally
find their way into Siberia by Okhotsk, for the latter is a free port,
and if merchandise is destined for the Lena province, it is cheaper to
send it in this way than _viâ_ Vladivostok and the Amur, especially as
steamers now visit the Sea of Okhotsk every summer, sailing from
Vladivostok and making the round trip _viâ_ Gijija, Ayan, and
Okhotsk.[16] In winter time, when the track is in good condition, the
trip from Okhotsk to Yakutsk occupies about a fortnight, with horse
sledges. In summer the goods are carried over the mountains to the head
of the Nelkan River, which is reached twice during the season by
steamers plying from Yakutsk, a journey of two weeks up stream and about
half the time down. The Nelkan district is said to be fabulously rich in
gold, so much so that Mr. Siberikoff, a prominent Siberian millionaire,
lately visited the place with a view to constructing a railway to
connect Nelkan with Ayan, on the Sea of Okhotsk, a distance of about two
hundred versts.[17] The line would be a costly one, but the country is
said to be so rich, that no expense is to be spared in opening it up.
Steamers also run from Yakutsk up to Viluisk, but the trade with this
place amounts to very little, £5000 or £6000 in all, every summer. Near
Viluisk is the Hospital for Lepers founded some years ago by the English
nurse, Miss Kate Marsden. In view of the conflicting statements which
have appeared in England regarding this institution it is only fair to
say that the lady in question is still spoken of in Yakutsk with respect
and affection, and that the infirmary, which after much suffering and
hardship she contrived to organise, is still in a flourishing condition.
In 1901 it contained more than seventy patients in charge of a
physician, his two assistants and three sisters of charity.

[Footnote 15: See projected railway route, chap. xix.]

[Footnote 16: The Port of Ola is now also called at.]

[Footnote 17: This line is now commenced. See chap. xix.]

As for the climate here it is no better and no worse than other places
in this latitude, although Yakutsk is said to be the coldest place in
winter and the hottest in summer in the world. But this is probably a
mistake, for I carefully searched records of the temperature kept daily
for the past fifteen years, and found that the greatest summer heat
experienced during that period was 78° Fahrenheit in the shade, which is
cooler than an average English summer; 69° below zero appeared to be the
greatest cold here between the months of October and March, while at
Verkhoyansk we experienced 78° below zero, which is, I imagine, about as
low as the thermometer can fall on this earth. Winter here begins in
September, and by the first week in October the country is ice-bound,
and semi-darkness and 55° to 65° below zero continue until the spring.
In May the Lena breaks up, flooding the country for hundreds of miles
and isolating Yakutsk for about a month, during which you can neither
get to the city nor leave it.[18] During the three months of summer dust
and clouds or mosquitoes render life almost unbearable. And yet Yakutsk
is a paradise compared to a certain settlement, which I shall presently
describe, within the Arctic circle.

[Footnote 18: The Lena is not perfectly free from ice until the end of
May or early in June. By October 20 it is generally frozen over. "It is
a peculiarity of these northern rivers that their waters are mainly
derived from the melting snows in June and July, when the Lena, for
example, overflowing its banks, spreads here and there to a width of 60
miles or more."--("In the Lena Delta," by G. W. Melville.)]

The day following our arrival a lunch was given in our honour by the
Governor at the Palace, a ramshackle old building, comfortably
furnished, but with no attempt at ostentation. The household was more
like that of an English country house, and there was none of the
stateliness and ceremony here which characterised the Governor's Palace
at Irkutsk. Nor was I sorry for it, for in this land of hunger and long
distances man can well dispense with formality and etiquette. We sat
down over a score to lunch, including half a dozen ladies, one, at
least, of whom was young and attractive, and as daintily gowned as
though she had just returned from a drive in the Bois de Boulogne. But
Madame V---- the bride of a Government official had arrived here too
recently to acquire the mildewed appearance (I can use no other term),
which every woman seems to acquire after a prolonged residence in
Yakutsk. The meal was a merry one and was followed by music and dancing
until nightfall, when another repast was served. By the way, although
the pangs of hunger had often assailed us on the road, the frequency of
meals here was our greatest trial. For they seemed to continue at short
intervals throughout the twenty-four hours. The house of our host, the
Chief of Police, was, for Yakutsk, an extremely quiet and orderly one,
and yet I never once succeeded in getting to bed before 4 o'clock in the
morning, chiefly because the principal meal of the day was only served
at midnight. Breakfast at 9 A.M. consisted of such dainties as black
bread, smoked fish, and _cheese_! This was followed at mid-day by a
heavier meal, where wines, beer, and fiery _vodka_ played an important
part. At 3 P.M. a dinner of several courses was discussed, and at 8 P.M.
tea (accompanied by sweets and cakes) was again partaken of. The
midnight supper aforementioned wound up the day. A sideboard in the
dining-room was laid out with salt fish, ham, _caviar_, raw cucumber,
&c., for snacks at odd moments! There was seldom more than about three
or four hours sleep, but a siesta was generally indulged in from 4 to 7
P.M., and a stay of ten days here convinced me of the wisdom of this
arrangement. Most of the men passed their evenings in gambling at cards,
but the women appeared to have absolutely no occupation of a rational
kind. The entire city only boasted of three pianos, but nearly every
house possessed a gramophone, which generally provided the music after
dinner, when the ladies would sit in a silent circle and listen to the
ruthless assassination of Massénet and Mascagni, while the men played
cards or walked up and down the room chatting and smoking, and
frequently adjourning to the buffet, which in Yakutsk is seldom far
distant. Once a month an amateur performance is given at the club, and
we attended one of these entertainments, which was of a wearisome
description, commencing at about 6 P.M. and lasting till long after
midnight. Of course there was, as usual, plenty to eat and drink between
the acts.[19]

[Footnote 19: The Russian Admiral Von Wrangell (who visited Yakutsk in
1820) wrote: "The inhabitants are not in an advanced state of
intellectual cultivation. They pass much of their super-abundant leisure
in somewhat noisy assemblages where eating and drinking play a principal
part. After dinner, which is a very substantial meal, and at which
_nalivka_, a liquor made of brandy, berries, and sugar, is not spared,
the gentlemen pass the afternoon with cards and punch, and the ladies
gather round the tea-table."]

As sometimes happens in this world men here are far better off than
women, for the former are occupied during the day with their
professional duties, and, if so inclined, they can obtain excellent
fishing and shooting within a day's journey. The Verkhoyansk mountains
can be reached in under a week, and here there are elk, wild sheep, and
other big game, but for the unfortunate fair sex life is one eternal
round of hopeless monotony. There is not even a regiment to enliven the
dreariness of existence, for the garrison consists of about one hundred
and fifty Cossacks, with only a couple of officers in command. Nor is
there a newspaper; only a dry official journal printed once a month,
while the telegrams received by the Governor are sent round to
subscribers of one rouble per month. In summer it is possible to walk or
drive about, notwithstanding the mosquitoes, but in spring or
winter-time the women here are often kept indoors for days together by
the floods or piercing cold. No wonder that physical strength is soon
impaired by an idle life, stimulants, and the eternal cigarette, or that
moral laxity should follow the daily contamination of spicy scandal and
pernicious French literature. I have heard Siberians assert that Yakutsk
is the most immoral city in the world, and (with a mental reservation
regarding Bucharest) I felt bound to agree with them. For if only
one-half of the tales which I heard concerning the gay doings of the
_élite_ here were true, then must the wicked little Roumanian capital
"take" (to use a slang expression) "a back seat." Apparently this state
of affairs has existed for some time, for when Admiral Melville, of the
_Jeannette_, was here twenty years ago, searching the coast for his
unfortunate shipmates, he attended a reception given on New Year's Eve
by the Lieutenant-Governor, and was told by the latter that, "on that
night, as on no other, every man had his own wife at his side instead of
some other man's."[20]

[Footnote 20: "In the Lena Delta," by G. W. Melville.]

At the time of our visit Yakutsk contained under a score of political
exiles, who seemed to be no worse off, socially, than any one else, for
they moved freely about in society and were constantly favoured guests
of the Chief of Police. The exiles, however, were not permitted to take
part in the private theatricals I have mentioned, a restriction which
caused them great annoyance. Their loud and unfavourable criticisms from
the stalls on the evening in question were certainly not in the best of
taste, and, to my surprise, they were not resented by the Governor's
staff. This incident will show that, in Yakutsk at any rate, the
"politicals" are treated not only with leniency but with a friendly
courtesy, which on this occasion was certainly abused. Mr. Olenin, an
exile whose term of banishment was expiring, told me that he had no
fault whatever to find with Yakutsk as a place of exile, so much so that
he had resolved not to return to Russia at the end of his sentence, but
to remain here and complete an ethnological work upon which he was
engaged. As will presently be seen (in the eighth chapter), I do not in
any way hold a brief for the Russian Government, although I have
occasionally been accused (in the English Press) of painting its prisons
in _couleur de rose_ for my own private ends. I simply state what I saw
on this and subsequent occasions, and am glad to say that in Yakutsk
the condition of the political exiles was as satisfactory as it could
possibly be made in such a rigorous climate and amidst such cheerless
surroundings.

I obtained from Mr. Olenin a plain and unvarnished account of the
Yakutsk prison revolt, and subsequent "massacre," which aroused such
indignation in England a few years ago. It was then reported that the
political exiles here were subjected to such cruelty while in prison
that they unsuccessfully tried to starve themselves and then mutinied,
upon which both men and women were mercilessly butchered. As a matter of
fact, at the commencement of the incident the exiles were not confined
in prison at all, but were living in provisional liberty. What really
happened was this. A party (numbering about half a dozen of both sexes),
which was bound for Verkhoyansk, carried more baggage than usual, and
the season being far advanced, the Governor of Yakutsk directed that the
exiles should start forthwith without their belongings, which should be
sent after them as soon as possible. Otherwise, he explained, the
politicals might not reach their destination before the break-up of the
roads, which would probably mean death from starvation or by drowning in
the floods. But an angry discussion followed this edict, and as the
politicals were assembling in the open street for departure a young
student lost his temper and fired his revolver, killing a policeman. A
general _mêlée_ ensued, during which several persons were accidentally
killed and wounded, for a large crowd had been attracted by the sound of
firearms. The exiles, Füff, Minor, and Pik, were shot dead on the spot.
A young woman, Madame Gouriévitch, about to become a mother, was
bayoneted, and died in great agony. Finally, after a hard struggle, the
culprits were secured and confined in the prison, where some of them did
undoubtedly try to starve themselves in order to escape execution. The
case was tried at Petersburg, and three of the ringleaders, Zotoff,
Haussmann, and Bernstein, were duly hanged in the Yakutsk gaol. Zotoff,
who had been badly wounded during the fight, had to be carried on his
bed to the scaffold. The other exiles received long terms of
imprisonment at the political prison at Akatui, where I saw and
conversed with them in 1894.[21] The women were sent to Viluisk, but
have since been liberated.

[Footnote 21: For further details of this prison see "The New Siberia,"
by Harry de Windt. Chatto and Windus, London. 1896.]

Criminal convicts here are also well cared for, although the prison,
which contained about ninety inmates, was old and dilapidated, like
almost every other building in the place. But the wards appeared to be
fairly clean and well warmed, a comfortable infirmary adjoined the
building, and also a home maintained by private subscriptions for the
children of prisoners. Enforced idleness seemed to be the chief
complaint from which the convicts were suffering, for during the long
winter months it is naturally difficult to find them employment.

Being aware that Russian officials are seldom overpaid, the lavish style
in which they entertained us astonished me, for provisions of all kinds
must, I imagined, always be at famine prices in a town within measurable
distance of the Arctic regions. But inquiry proved that I was entirely
wrong, and that living here is as cheap, if not cheaper, than in
Irkutsk. It used not to be so when, in former days, Yakutsk was
surrounded by vast marshes, often submerged, and apparently quite
useless for the purposes of cultivation.[22] But these are now converted
into fertile plains of grain and pasture, this innovation being entirely
due to the "Skoptsi," a religious sect exiled from European Russia, who,
by dint of thrift and industry, have raised a flourishing colony on the
outskirts of the city.[23] Cultivation was formerly deemed impossible in
this inclement region, but now the Skopt exile amasses wealth while the
Russian emigrant gazes disconsolately at the former's rich fields and
sleek cattle, and wonders how it is all done. For the Skoptsi are
up-to-date farmers, employing modern American machinery, which they
import into the country _viâ_ Vladivostok. And their efforts have been
amply repaid, for in 1902 the sale of corn and barley, formerly unknown
here, realised the sum of over a million roubles. Thirty years ago this
district contained but few herds of cattle, and now nearly two million
roubles' worth of frozen meat is annually exported to the various
settlements up and down the river. The inhabitants of Yakutsk are also
indebted to these industrious exiles for the fact that their markets are
now provided with vegetables of most kinds, although only the potato
was procurable some years ago. Now cabbages, beetroot, carrots,
radishes, cucumbers, and lettuce are to be had in season at a reasonable
price, to say nothing of delicious water-melons in August, but I could
not find that any other kind of garden-fruit was grown here, although
wild berries are both numerous and delicious.

[Footnote 22: The explorer Dobell wrote: "In the autumn of 1813 I found
that agriculture had advanced no further than Olekma (Olekminsk), 600
versts above Yakutsk."]

[Footnote 23: The Skoptsi faith, the practice of which is strictly
forbidden in Russia, entails a life of absolute chastity. This sect can
only acquire new members by election, since both sexes so mutilate their
persons that they can neither beget nor bear children.]

The Skoptsi exiles, who number about six hundred, inhabit a village
called Markha about seven versts from Yakutsk. Every man and woman in
the place (there are of course no children) is a Skopt. We visited
Markha one bright morning, driving out with the Governor, his staff and
several other officials in about a dozen sleighs in all. Breakfast had
been prepared for us at the house of the wealthiest Skopt in the
village, and we did justice to it with appetites sharpened by the drive
through the keen frosty air. There was a breeze and the cold was
piercing, but once indoors the sun streamed into the room with such
force that I was compelled to move my seat away from a window. One might
have been lunching in the late spring at Nice or Beaulieu. The
scrupulous cleanliness of Markha after the dirt and squalor of most
Siberian villages was striking. Our host's sitting-room contained even
palms and flowers, artificial, of course, but cheerful to the eye. He
himself waited on us during the meal, and continually plied his guests
with champagne and other rare vintages, for the Skopt, although a miser
at heart, is fond of displaying his wealth. Avarice is the
characteristic of these people, although they are kind to their own
poor. We visited an institution maintained solely by the village for
the old and decrepit of both sexes, and this place would have done
credit to a European city. On the way to this establishment we passed
several windmills, a rare sight in Siberia, also a number of corn and
saw mills driven by steam. The engines were of American make, also all
the agricultural machinery, which was shown us with pardonable pride. In
every shed we entered the cattle looked sleek and well fed, and the
poorest and tiniest hut had its poultry yard. The Lena Province now
contains over 300,000 head of cattle, and their number is yearly
increasing. When the Skoptsi first came here, forty years ago, cows and
oxen were numbered by the hundred.

Books and European newspapers were plentiful in all the houses we
visited in Markha, and the Skoptsi with whom I conversed were men of
considerable intelligence, well up in the questions of the day. But
their personal appearance is anything but attractive. Most of the men
are enormously stout, with smooth flabby faces and dull heavy eyes,
while the women have an emaciated and prematurely old appearance. The
creed is no doubt a revolting one, physically and morally, but with all
his faults the Skopt has certain good points which his free neighbours
in Yakutsk might do well to imitate.[24]

[Footnote 24: When a Skopt dies, his property is confiscated by the
State, but he generally finds means to dispose of his wealth in other
ways. Occasionally it is buried in remote places, where it remains if
not discovered by accident.]

Although the Yakutes form the bulk of the population in Yakutsk (the
entire province contains about a quarter of a million) they do not mix a
great deal with the Russians, and we saw little of the better class. As
a race the Yakutes are not interesting, while in appearance both sexes
are distinctly plain, and often repulsive. The type is Mongolian; sallow
complexion, beady eyes, flattened nostrils and wiry black hair. The men
are of medium height, thick set and muscular, the women ungainly little
creatures, bedizened with jewellery, and smothered with paint. Some
marry Russians and assume European dress, which only adds to their
grotesque appearance. Notwithstanding their defects the Yakutes are
extremely proud of their birth and origin, and consider themselves
immeasurably superior to the Russians, who, they say, are only tolerated
in the country for commercial purposes. A Yakute is therefore mortally
offended if you call his chief town by anything but its native name:
"The City of the Yakute."

Many Yakutes grow wealthy in the fur, fish or ivory trades, and are so
shrewd in their dealings that Russians have christened them the "Jews of
Siberia." But although cunning and merciless in business matters this
Siberian financier becomes a reckless spendthrift in his pleasures, who
will stake a year's income on the yearly Yakutsk Derby (which takes
place over the frozen Lena), or squander away a fortune on riotous
living and the fair sex. All who can afford it are hard drinkers, and
champagne is their favourite beverage. The men of all classes wear a
long blouse of cloth or fur according to the season, baggy breeches and
high deerskin boots,--the women loose flowing draperies adorned, in
summer, with bright silks and satins, and in winter with costly sables.
A lofty head-dress of the same fur is worn in cold weather. The poorer
Yakute is a miserable mortal. He has no warlike or other characteristics
to render him of any interest whatsoever, like, say his Tchuktchi
brethren in the Far North. For the Yakute peasant is too stupid to be
treacherous, and as cowardly as the Tchuktchi is brave, and, while his
wealthier compatriots have learned to a certain extent the virtue of
cleanliness, the poor Yakute is generally nothing but a perambulating
bundle of filthy rags, the proximity of which, even in the open air, is
almost unbearable. But this is only amongst the peasantry. The town-bred
Yakutes are more civilised and cleanly in their habits, and many are
employed by the Russians as domestic servants. All Yakutes pay a pole
tax of four roubles to the Russian Government, those possessed of means
paying in addition an income tax. Ten years ago taxes were levied in
furs, but they are now paid in coin of the realm. I was surprised to
find that these natives are self-governed to a certain extent; minor
crimes, such as theft, petty larceny, &c., being judged by prominent men
in the towns and the head-man of each village. Murder and more serious
crimes are dealt with by a Russian tribunal in Yakutsk.

I shall not forget my surprise one day when nearing Yakutsk to overhear
one driver apparently addressing another in pure Turkish, a language
with which I am slightly acquainted. The mystery was explained by
Captain Zuyeff, who told me that there is such a marked resemblance
between the language in question and Yakute that a merchant from
Constantinople would readily be understood in the market-places of this
far-away frozen land. Many words are precisely similar, and the numerals
up to ten are identical (see Appendix). On several occasions, while
crossing the Yakute region, the natives failed to comprehend my meaning
in Russian, but when I spoke in Turkish they at once understood me.[25]

[Footnote 25: "This race is supposed to be a Turkish branch of the
Turanian stock. Latham informs us that their language is intelligible at
Constantinople, and that the majority of their words are Turkish;
observing, also, that their traditions bespeak for them a Southern
origin. He says: 'The locality of the Yakutes is remarkable, it is that
of a weak section of the human race pressed into an inhospitable climate
by a stronger one, yet the Turks have ever been the people to displace
others rather than be displaced themselves.'"--"Frozen Asia," by
Professor Eden.]

We experienced considerable difficulty in getting away from Yakutsk,
indeed had I not possessed my invaluable passport the expedition would
probably have remained there. For every day invitations came pouring in
for days ahead, and the entertainers would not hear of a refusal. At
last, however, firmness became necessary, and I insisted (being
empowered by my magic document to do so) upon immediate preparations
being made for our departure, although every official in the place urged
me to abandon a project which they averred could only end in disaster.
By suggestion of the Governor a Siberian Cossack from the garrison,
Stepan Rastorguyeff, joined the expedition to accompany us so far as I
should deem expedient, for our further progress now bristled with
difficulties. This man was employed to escort political exiles to the
distant settlement of Sredni-Kolymsk, near the Arctic Ocean, and was
therefore acquainted with the best way of reaching that remote post,
indeed he afterwards proved an invaluable addition to our party.

It seemed hard that fate should have selected this year of all others to
render the journey from Yakutsk to the north almost an impossibility. In
the first place reindeer were so scarce and weak that the 1800 odd miles
to Sredni-Kolymsk (which can generally be accomplished, under favourable
circumstances, in four or five weeks) might now take us three months to
cover. In this case failure of the journey and a summer in this dreary
settlement would be our fate; for from May until October, Sredni-Kolymsk
is isolated by marshy deserts and innumerable lakes, which can only be
crossed in a sled. Throughout the summer, therefore, you can neither
reach the place nor leave it.

A still more serious matter was an epidemic which had been raging
amongst the Yakutes of the far north, and a fear of which had driven the
Tchuktchis (or natives of the coast) into the interior of their country
and along the seaboard in an easterly direction until their nearest
settlement was now nearly six hundred miles distant from Sredni-Kolymsk,
at which place I had calculated upon finding these natives, and
utilising them as a means of procuring food and lodging and guidance
along their desolate coast. Now, however, over six hundred miles of ice
without a stick of shelter or mouthful of food stared me in the face. It
was also suggested that, if many of the Tchuktchis had perished from
the dread malady the remainder might have retreated in a body inland, in
which case death from starvation seemed an unpleasant but not unlikely
contingency. For beyond the aforesaid six hundred miles lay another
stretch of about 1600 miles more, before we could reach our destination:
Bering Straits.

Lastly, Sredni-Kolymsk had itself suffered from so serious a famine that
an expedition had lately been despatched from Yakutsk to the relief of
the sufferers. Provisions there would therefore be unprocurable. Also,
most of the dogs in the Kolyma district had perished from a scarcity of
fish the previous season, and as dogs were our sole means of transport
along the Arctic Coast, the reader will admit that, all things
considered, my expedition did not leave Yakutsk under the rosiest of
conditions!

Nevertheless I cannot hope to adequately repay the kindness shown by
every official in Yakutsk, from the Governor downwards, during that
trying time, for it was undoubtedly their timely assistance which
eventually kindled the bright flame of success out of the ashes of a
forlorn hope. As soon as it was realised that my resolve to proceed
northward was inflexible, every man worked to further my ends as though
he himself was embarking upon the hazardous trip. Even the Governor was
continually concocting plans to render our voyage as easy as possible,
and to that end despatched a Cossack three days ahead of us, so that
reindeer might be forthcoming at the stations without delay. But his
Excellency evidently looked upon the scheme as a mad one, and my daily
anxiety was lest he should suddenly take the initiative, set the wires
in motion with Irkutsk, and put a final stopper on our departure for
America--overland.

We now disposed of our cumbersome Yakute sleighs and exchanged them for
"nartas," or reindeer-sleds, each drawn by four deer. A "narta" is a
long narrow coffin-shaped vehicle about 7 ft. long by 3 ft. broad,
fitted with a movable hood, which can be drawn completely over during
storms or intense cold. The occupant lies at full length upon his
mattress and pillows, smothered with furs, and these tiny sleds were as
automobiles to wheelbarrows after our lumbering contrivances on the
Lena. A reindeer-sled is the pleasantest form of primitive travel in the
world, over smooth hard snow; but over rough ground their very lightness
makes them roll and pitch about like a cross Channel steamer, to the
great discomfort of the traveller.

Furs were my next consideration, for here we discarded civilised
clothing and assumed native dress. The reader will realise what the cold
must have been when I say that we often shivered inside the covered
sleighs (where, however, the temperature never rose above 10° below
zero), under the following mountain of material: two pairs of Jaeger
singlets and drawers, thin deerskin breeches and three pairs of thick
worsted stockings. Over this a suit of Arctic duffle (or felt of
enormous thickness), and a pair of deerskin boots reaching above the
knee and secured by leathern thongs. Then a second pair of deerskin
breeches and a garment called by the Yakutes a "kukhlanka," a long,
loose deerskin coat reaching to the knees, with a hood of the same
material lined with wolverine. Under this hood we wore two close-fitting
worsted caps and a deerskin cap with ear flaps. Two pairs of worsted
gloves and one of bearskin mits, reaching almost to the elbow, completed
the outfit. I had hoped to procure furs for a moderate price in Yakutsk.
But for some occult reason deerskins cost almost as much here as in
Moscow. The good old days are past when peltry was so cheap and European
goods so dear, that an iron cauldron fetched as many sable skins as it
would hold! Stepan also insisted upon the purchase of a number of iron
horse-shoes, which he explained were to be affixed to our moccasins in
order to cross the Verkhoyansk mountains in safety. But the method did
not strike me at the time as practical, and I afterwards had even less
respect for its inventor.

Lastly provisions had to be purchased. Our original outfit brought from
London comprised rations sufficient for six weeks; but this I was
determined not to break in upon, unless absolutely necessary, before the
Arctic coast was reached. There was hardly any food to be procured
between Yakutsk and Verkhoyansk, and, according to Stepan, still less
beyond that isolated village. A reindeer-sled was therefore packed to
its utmost capacity with black bread, salt fish, various tinned
provisions, and a portion of some animal unknown, weighing (in a raw
condition) about 100 lbs. I use the term "animal unknown," as, when
cooked at the first station, the latter looked and tasted exactly like
horse-flesh. I mentioned the fact to Stepan, who was already installed
as _chef_, and he informed me that horse was regarded as a great
delicacy by the Yakutes, and fetched twice the price of any other meat
in their city. "It was bought as beef," added the Cossack, "so that
anyhow we have got the best of the bargain." There was nothing,
therefore, for it but to fall to with knife and fork, and with as little
repulsion as possible, upon the docile friend of man!

We started for the unknown with a caravan of six sleighs in all, of
which two were loaded down with food and baggage. The night of our
departure, February 21st, was fine, and a crowd assembled in front of
our host's house to bid us farewell. But although long and lingering
cheers followed us out of the city, I fancy many of these well-wishers
regarded us more in the light of harmless lunatics than as pioneers of a
great railway which may one day almost encircle the world. Just before
our departure (which was preceded by a dinner-party), a picturesque but
rather trying ceremony took place. Farewells having been said we retired
to don our furs and were entering the sleds when our hostess recalled us
from the frosty night air into the drawing-room, where the heat was that
of a hothouse. "You must not take your furs off," said our host, as I
was divesting myself of a portion of my cumbersome costume, "remain just
as you are." And so we returned to the brightly lit apartment, where the
guests had assembled, and here, with a solemnity befitting the occasion,
they turned toward the sacred "ikon," and knelt and prayed for our
safety and success. This is an old and pretty Russian custom now
obsolete in Europe. And I was almost ungrateful enough to wish, as I
knelt in my heavy furs, streaming with perspiration, that it was no
longer practised in Siberia! But the affecting little ceremony was soon
over, and after a final adieu to our kind hosts, my caravan slid
silently down the snowy, starlit street. An hour later the lights of
Yakutsk had faded away on the horizon, and we had bidden farewell to a
civilisation which was only regained, six long months later, at the
gold-mining city of Nome in Alaska.



CHAPTER V

THE LAND OF DESOLATION


Lieutenant Schwatka, the famous Alaskan explorer, once remarked that a
man travelling in the Arctic must depend upon his own judgment, and not
upon the advice of others, if he would be successful. The wisdom of his
words was proved by our journey from Yakutsk to Verkhoyansk. Every one
at the former place, from the Governor downwards, assured me that
certain failure and probable disaster must inevitably attend an attempt
to reach Verkhoyansk in under six weeks. Fortunately I turned a deaf ear
to well-meant, but unwise, counsel, for in less than nine days we had
reached the place in question, and had left it again on our way
northward in under a fortnight from the time we left Yakutsk. I should
add that our rapid rate of speed was entirely due to Stepan, without
whose aid we should probably have taken at least three times as long to
complete the journey. But the wiliest of Yakute postmasters was no match
for our Cossack, whose energetic measures on previous trips had gained
him the nickname of _Tchort_ (or "the devil") on the Verkhoyansk track.
And a devil he was when drivers lagged, or reindeer were not quickly
forthcoming at the end of a stage!

There are two routes from Yakutsk to Sredni-Kolymsk, near the Arctic
Ocean, which was now our objective point. These cannot be called roads,
or even tracks, for beyond Verkhoyansk (which is only one-third of the
distance) the traveller must depend almost entirely upon his compass and
the stars. The oldest route to the Kolyma is now very seldom used,
although Von Wrangell travelled over it in the early part of the
nineteenth century. On this occasion the Russian explorer avoided
Verkhoyansk, and, proceeding some distance south of the route we
selected, passed through the ruined, and now deserted, town of
Zashiversk. By Stepan's advice we chose the Verkhoyansk route, as being
the one best known to the Cossack, for it is the one by which political
exiles invariably travel. Politicals, Cossacks, and natives alone visit
these desolate northern wastes, unless it be a special mission like ours
or that of Dr. Herz. The Governor of Yakutsk had held his post for
nearly twenty years, and yet had never summoned the courage to visit
even Verkhoyansk. Nor could any of his officials advise me, from
personal experience, which road to select, although their remarks on the
subject recalled the darkie's advice to the cyclist as to the best of
two pathways across a swamp: "Whichebber one you travels, Boss, I guess
you'll be d----d sorry you didn't take de udder!"

Horses were used for the first three stages out of Yakutsk, along a
narrow track through the forests, vaguely indicated by blazed trees. It
was anything but pleasant travelling, for our light _nartas_ were
specially adapted to the smooth, level stride of the reindeer, and the
ponies whisked them about like match-boxes, occasionally dashing them
with unpleasant force against a tree-trunk. It was, therefore, a relief
to reach Hatutatskaya on the second day, and to find there thirty or
forty sturdy reindeer tethered around the station. The method of
harnessing this animal is peculiar. Each sled is drawn by four deer, two
abreast. In front of the four wheeler is a kind of miniature sled, or
platform on runners, on which the driver sits to control the two leaders
in front of him. There are no reins, the entire team being managed by a
thong attached to the off-leader, and the traces are secured by a loop
round the neck, and inside the outer leg of each deer. The latter
carried no bells, and although it may sound childish to say so, we
missed their music terribly at first. The driver is armed with a long
pole, which, however, he seldom uses, for, if the Yakute has a virtue,
it is kindness to animals. A plaintive cry, which sounds like "_yahee_,"
is uttered to urge on a team, and it generally has the desired effect,
for the Siberian reindeer is the gamest animal in the world. I have seen
them working incessantly day after day, growing weaker hour by hour, and
yet bravely struggling on until the poor little beasts would fall to the
ground from sheer exhaustion, never to rise again. We lost many during
the long and trying journey to the Arctic, and I shall always recall
their deaths with a keen pang of remorse. For their gentle, docile
nature made it the more pitiable to see them perish, as we looked
helplessly on, unable to alleviate their agony, yet conscious that it
was for our sake they had suffered and died.

The distance from Yakutsk to Verkhoyansk is 934 versts, or about 625
English miles. Most of the way lies through a densely wooded region and
across deep swamps, almost impassable in summer. About half-way the
Verkhoyansk range is crossed, and here vegetation ceases and the country
becomes wild in the extreme. Forests of pine, larch, and cedar
disappear, to give place to rugged peaks and bleak, desolate valleys,
strewn with huge boulders, and slippery with frozen streams, which
retard progress, for a reindeer on ice is like a cat on walnut-shells.
The _stancias_, as the deer-stations are called, are here from forty to
sixty versts apart. There are no towns in this region, or even villages
in our sense of the word, for a couple of dilapidated huts generally
constitute the latter in the eyes of the Yakute. As for the _stancias_
they were beyond description. I had imagined that nothing could be worse
than a Lena post-house, but the latter were luxurious compared to the
native _yurta_, which is merely a log-hut plastered with mud. You enter
a low, narrow aperture, the door of which is thickly padded with felt,
and find yourself in a low dark room considerably below the surrounding
ground, with a floor of beaten mud, slippery with the filth of years,
and windows of ice. The walls are of mud-plastered logs, also the
ceiling, which would seriously inconvenience a six-foot man. As soon as
the eye grows accustomed to the gloom you find that a rough wooden bench
surrounds the apartment, and that one portion of it is strewn with wet
and filthy straw. This is for the guests. When it was occupied we slept
on the floor, and there was little difference, except that cattle also
shared the _stancia_, and were apt to walk over us during the night. A
fire of pine-logs was kept blazing on the clay hearth night and day, and
the heat was sometimes so overpowering that we suffered almost as much
from it as from the deadly cold outside. But the stench was even worse
to endure, especially when cooking operations were in progress, for the
Yakute will not look at fresh pure meat. He prefers it in a condition
that would repel a civilised dog, and the odour that used to emanate
from a mass of putrid deer-meat, or, worse still, tainted fish,
simmering on the embers, is better left to the imagination. At first we
suffered severely from nausea in these unsavoury shelters, and there
were other reasons for this which cannot here be explained. Suffice it
to say that it was a constant source of wonder to me that even this
degraded race of beings could live amidst such bestial surroundings and
yet survive. Vermin had up till now been a trifling inconvenience, but
thousands on the Lena were here succeeded by myriads of the foe, and,
for a time, our health suffered from the incessant irritation, which
caused us many days of misery and nights of unrest. Stepan told me that
in summer the _stancias_ were unapproachable, and this I could well
believe seeing that we were often driven out of them during dry and
intense cold. But in the open season only Cossacks attempt to travel
through with the mail to Verkhoyansk, once each way. The journey, which
is made on horseback, is a perilous one, owing to unfordable rivers and
dangerous swamps, and the mail carriers are occasionally drowned, or
lost in the marshy deserts, where they perish of starvation. Stepan
had once made the summer trip, and sincerely hoped he might never have
to repeat the experiment.

Travellers on this road are luckily rare, so that the post-houses seldom
contained any guests besides ourselves. The _stancias_ were crowded
enough as it was with the Yakute postmaster and his generally numerous
and disgusting family, several deer-drivers, and perhaps two or three
cows crowded into a space of about thirty feet square. We travelled
throughout the twenty-four hours, and only stopped at these places
sufficiently long to thaw out some food and swallow a meal. The
_stancias_ were too far apart to work on a schedule, and we generally
left one rest-house with very vague notions as to when we should see the
next. On one occasion we were compelled to lay-to in a storm for
eighteen hours (although the _stancia_ was only a couple of miles away),
and to subsist during that time on chocolate and black bread, frozen to
the consistency of iron.[26] But luckily the weather was, on the whole,
favourable. Most of the nights were clear, and at first there was a
bright moon, which was also an advantage, although at times our way lay
through forests so deep and dark that it became necessary to use lights.
We left Paris supplied with an elaborate electric outfit, which now, and
in after-days, would have been a godsend, but the lamps and cumbersome
batteries had to be abandoned with our other stores at Moscow. Probably
the cold would have rendered the wires useless, at any rate I consoled
myself by thinking so.

[Footnote 26: On such occasions Christy's "Kola Chocolate" is
invaluable.]

Two days' hard travelling brought us to Tandinskaya. This is the best
_stancia_ on the road, and we therefore seized the opportunity to make a
good, substantial meal and snatch a few hours' sleep before proceeding
to the next rest-house, which was nearly a hundred miles distant. At
Tandinskaya we changed teams, successfully resenting the extortionate
charges made by the postmaster. All the _stancias_ on this road are
leased by the Government to Yakute peasants, who are legally entitled to
receive three kopeks a verst for every pair of deer. This sum includes
post-house accommodation, such as it is; but as we always added a rouble
or two for the use of these filthy hovels, Stepan was the more incensed
at this postmaster's rascality. The latter claimed payment for about
fifty versts more than we had actually covered, so Stepan averred,
although the distances north of Yakutsk are very vague, and the Cossack
was probably wrong. It was amusing to compare the mileage as given in
the only post-book of this road (compiled in the reign of the Empress
Catherine) with the real distances, which were invariably twice as long.
The officials of those days probably reflected that, if three kopeks
must be paid for a verst, the latter had better be a long one. And the
Yakute, knowing no better, suffered in silence.

On leaving Tandinskaya, we travelled some miles along the river Aldan, a
tributary of the Lena, which is dangerous in winter on account of
numerous overflows. Our drivers, therefore, proceeded with caution,
walking some distance ahead of the sleds, and frequently sounding the
ice with their long poles. It was bitterly cold, for a breeze was
blowing in our faces, and the deer, as usual, slipped and slithered in
all directions, continually upsetting the sleds. This became such a
common occurrence that, after a couple of days, we took it as a matter
of course, and I would often awaken from a nap inside the hood to find
myself proceeding face downwards, the sled having overturned. But the
driver would merely halt the team and replace the _narta_, with its
helpless inmate, on its runners, with the indifference of a child
playing with a toy horse and cart. Luckily the deer never attempted to
bolt on these occasions, but waited patiently until their burthen was
placed "right side up."

To-day the wind became more boisterous, and the cold consequently more
piercing every mile we travelled. We had left Tandinskaya about ten at
night, and towards morning Stepan calculated that we had covered twenty
miles in seven hours. The stars had now disappeared, and snow was
falling fast, also the wind had risen to a gale, which percolated the
felt hoods and furs like a stream of iced water. At daybreak the weather
turned to a blizzard, which raged for twenty-four hours and nearly
buried us in snow; but when the storm lulled a bit we struggled
painfully on for about fifteen miles, and hailed the sight of a
_povarnia_ with delight, for it meant, at any rate, shelter and a fire.
_Povarnias_ are merely mud-huts erected at intervals along the track,
when the _stancias_ are long distances apart. They are dark, uninhabited
hovels, generally half full of snow, and open to the winds, and yet
these crazy shelters have saved many a traveller from death by cold and
exposure on this lonely road. A _povarnia_ contains no furniture
whatever; merely a clay hearth and some firewood which previous
travellers have left there, perhaps weeks before. For on leaving these
places every one is expected to cut fuel ready for those who come after.
Sanga-Ali was the _povarnia_ we had now reached, and it was almost
blocked by snow which had drifted in through the open doorway. But we
set to with a will, and were soon crouching over a good fire on which a
pot of deer-meat was fragrantly simmering. Here we remained until early
next morning, taking it in turns to pile on fresh logs, for when the
flame waned for an instant the cold became so intense that to sleep in
it without a fire might have had unpleasant results.

Sordonnakia, the second _povarnia_, was reached after a journey of nine
hours, by which time the weather had again become still and clear.
Fortunately, bright calm days prevailed south of Verkhoyansk, although
in mid-winter these are the realms of eternal darkness. But in our case
spring was approaching, and on fine mornings I could throw open my
_narta_ and bask in warm sunshine while contemplating a sky of sapphire
and smoking a cigar--one of the last, alas! I was likely to enjoy on
this side of America. On such days the pure frosty air would exhilarate
like champagne, and there was only one drawback to perfect enjoyment:
the body would be baked on one side by the scorching rays, and frozen in
the shade on the other. Another inconvenience was hunger, for there was
never more than one square meal in the twenty-four hours, and often not
that, and nothing resists cold like a well-lined stomach. Our sufferings
were undoubtedly great from Yakutsk to the Arctic Ocean, but they were
greatly alleviated by the fact that it was generally possible, even in
the coldest weather, to enjoy a cigarette under cover of the hood. A
pipe was, of course, out of the question, for the temperature (even
under the felt covering) was never over 10° below zero, which would have
instantly blocked the stem with frozen nicotine. But a Russian
_papirosh_ could always be enjoyed in peace, if not comfort, out of the
wind, and I have derived relief through many an hour of misery through
their soothing influence.

A brief halt only was made at Sordonnakia, for the _povarnia_ had been
left in such a disgusting state by its last occupants that we were
compelled to eat in our sleds. The fifty versts between this place and
the _stancia_ of Beté-Kul were rapidly accomplished, and during this
stage we came in sight of the Verkhoyansk range, a chain of precipitous
mountains which would form one of the chief stumbling-blocks to the
construction of the proposed All-World Railway. If the Paris-New York
line is ever laid it will probably not run through Verkhoyansk. The
direction would rather be east direct from Yakutsk to the Okhotsk Sea
although that is also mountainous enough. Nearing Beté-Kul the landscape
became yet wilder and more desolate, and we travelled along valleys of
deep snow and across dark, lonely gorges, the depths of which even a
brilliant sunshine could not penetrate. What this region may be like in
summer-time I know not, but in winter the surface of the moon itself
could scarcely present a more silent, spectral appearance.

At Beté-Kul we were kept some time waiting for reindeer, which had to be
brought in from a considerable distance. Deer generally take some
finding, as they stray sometimes fifteen or twenty miles from a
_stancia_ in search of moss, but, in our case, long delays had been
avoided by the Cossack who preceded us. The _stancia_ at Beté-Kul was
kept by a more prosperous-looking Yakute than usual, and his wife was
attired in bright silks and wore a profusion of massive gold jewellery.
The Yakutes are expert goldsmiths, but chiefly excel in the manufacture
of arms, especially a kind of _yataghan_, or huge dagger, which is stuck
into the waistband. Yakute steel is much more flexible than Russian,
although I have seen a knife made out of the former sever a copper coin
as neatly as though it were a meat-lozenge.

We shared the postmaster's meal at Beté-Kul, and were introduced to a
peculiar dish, which deserves mention as showing the extraordinary
digestive powers of these people. It was a kind of jelly extracted from
reindeer-horns and flavoured with the bark of the pine tree, which is
scraped into a fine powder for the purpose. I was fated to subsist in
after days on disgusting diet of the most varied description, but to
this day the recollection of that Beté-Kul jelly produces a faint
feeling of nausea, although I can recall other ghoulish repasts of raw
seal-meat with comparative equanimity. Pure melted butter formed the
second course of this Yakute _déjeuner_, each guest being expected to
finish a large bowl. Stepan, however, alone partook of this tempting
dish, but he merely sipped it, while our host and his wife drained the
hot, oily mess as though it had been cold water. But Yakutes will
consume any quantity of butter in this condition. Dobell, the explorer,
says that a moderate Yakute butter-drinker will consume from twenty to
thirty pounds at a sitting. The same traveller adds that "at other times
these natives drink butter as a medicine, and declare it excellent for
carrying away the bile." This was written nearly one hundred years ago,
and it is curious to note that the most modern European treatment for
gall-stones should now be olive oil, given in large quantities,
presumably to produce a similar effect to that obtained by the butter of
the Yakute. By the time this weird meal was over the deer had arrived,
and I declined our host's offer of a pipe of Circassian tobacco, which
would probably have finished me off completely. Both sexes here smoke a
tiny Chinese pipe, with bronze bowl and wooden stem, which half a dozen
whiffs suffice to finish. The stem is made to open so that the nicotine
may be collected, mixed with wood shavings, and smoked again.

We left Beté-Kul at four in the morning, intending, if possible, to
cross the mountains during the day, but the pass had lately been blocked
with snow and the natives reported it in a terrible condition. But time
would admit of no delay and I resolved to make the attempt at all
hazards. Anna-sook, a miserable little _povarnia_ near the foot of the
mountain, was reached after a journey of five hours. The hut was, as
usual, full of drifted snow, which we had to remove before breakfasting
in an atmosphere of 12° below zero, upon which a roaring fire made no
appreciable impression. Oddly enough, in this deserted shanty we came
upon the sole sign of life which we had encountered (outside of the
_stancias_) all the way from Yakutsk. This was a tiny field-mouse, which
had survived the Arctic winter, curled up in a little mound of earth in
a corner of this cold, dark shanty. The poor little half-frozen thing
could scarcely move, but we gathered some fir-boughs and made it a nest,
and left with it a goodly supply of biscuit-crumbs, which it devoured
with avidity and a grateful look in its beady black eyes.

Starting at midday we commenced the ascent of the mountain, which is
crossed by probably the most remarkable pass in the world. From a
distance it looked as though a perpendicular wall of ice, some hundreds
of feet in height, must be scaled in order to gain the summit. Before
ascending, the iron horse shoes brought from Yakutsk were fastened to
our moccasins, ostensibly to afford secure foothold, but I discarded
these awkward appendages after they had given me five or six bad falls,
and my companions did likewise. About two hours of severe work,
increased by deep snow and the rarefied atmosphere, brought us to the
summit, the reindeer and sleds ascending by a longer but much less
precipitous route. During the ascent there were places where a slip must
have meant a dangerous, if not fatal, fall, for midway up a precipice of
over a thousand feet was crossed by a slippery ledge of ice about three
feet in width. Looking down on the northward side, a frozen snow-slope,
about a mile in length, was so steep, that it seemed impossible to
descend it without personal injury. We awaited the sleds for nearly
three hours on the summit, almost perished with cold in a temperature of
nearly 45° below zero, accompanied by a strong breeze which resembled
one described by a friend of the writer, a Chantilly trainer, as a lazy
wind, viz., one that prefers to go straight through the body instead of
the longest way round. To descend, the deer were fastened behind the
sleds, which we all held back as much as possible as they dashed down
the incline. But nearing the valley the pace increased until all control
was lost, and we landed in a deep snow-drift half-way down, men, deer,
and sleds being muddled up in inextricable confusion. I remember
thinking at the time what a fortune such a snow-slide would make for its
proprietor at Earl's Court. Imagine an "ice chute" more than a mile in
length. To stand upright was even now, half-way down the mountain, out
of the question, so the rest of the perilous descent was ignominiously
accomplished on all-fours. We reached the valley in safety, followed by
the sleds, which were now restrained only by drivers and deer. From
below they looked like flies crawling down a white wall. At this point
the Verkhoyansk mountains are about 4500 ft. above the level of the sea.

Leaving the mountains we were soon lost in the forests again, and from
here to Kangerak, the first station on the northern side of the range,
the journey is one of wondrous beauty, for the country strikingly
resembles Swiss Alpine scenery. In cloudless weather we glided swiftly
and silently under arches of pine-boughs sparkling with hoar-frost, now
skirting a dizzy precipice, now crossing a deep, dark gorge, rare rifts
in the woods disclosing glimpses of snowy crag and summit glittering
against a sky of cloudless blue. The sunny pastures and tinkling
cow-bells of lovely Switzerland were wanting, but I can never forget the
impressive grandeur of those desolate peaks, nor the weird, unearthly
stillness of the lonely, pine-clad valleys at their feet.

We passed a comfortable night at Kangerak, for the long, fatiguing day
had rendered us oblivious to the attacks of the vermin with which the
_stancia_ swarmed. My ears had been badly frost-bitten crossing the pass
and caused me great pain, but I slept soundly, and so did my companions
who had escaped scot-free. Only one circumstance marred my satisfaction
at having successfully negotiated the pass; three of our deer had
perished from exhaustion. From Kangerak we travelled some distance along
the river Yana, which scatters itself into a series of lakes on either
side of the main stream. There are dangerous overflows here, and twice
we narrowly escaped a ducking, or perhaps a worse fate, although I fancy
the river at this point is very shallow. Nevertheless I heard afterwards
at Verkhoyansk that whole caravans, travellers, drivers and deer have
occasionally been fatally submerged here, or frozen to death after their
immersion. Our deer, as usual, fell about on the ice in all directions,
and one, breaking its leg, had to be destroyed. The stage was a hard
one, so much so that we halted at a _povarnia_ (Mollahoi) for the night.
Towards morning I was awakened by the stifling heat and a disgusting
odour due to the fact that our drivers had discovered a dead horse in
the neighbourhood and were cooking and discussing its remains. Stepan
opined that the animal had expired some weeks previously, and I could
well believe it. A couple of hours before reaching Mollahoi, Harding
caught sight of some ptarmigan within a few yards of the track. I
mention the fact as this was the only game we came across throughout the
whole of the journey of nearly three months from Yakutsk to the Arctic
Ocean.

When the _stancia_ of Siremskaya was reached on February 27, I realised
with intense satisfaction that the journey, at any rate as far as
Verkhoyansk, was practically over. For if this portion of the voyage had
been successfully overcome in so short a time why should not the
remainder as far as Sredni-Kolymsk be accomplished with equal facility?

And so we travelled on from Siremskaya with renewed hopes and in the
best of spirits, although nearing Verkhoyansk the cold became
intense--strong gales and heavy snowstorms prevailed--and we all
suffered severely. Indeed once Clinchamp was carried out of his sled and
into the _povarnia_, a journey of twenty consecutive hours having
temporarily deprived him of the use of his limbs. The thermometer had
marked 40° below zero even inside my closely covered sled, and one of my
feet was also badly frozen, owing, however, to my carelessness in
neglecting to change my foot-gear the previous night, for if this is not
done the perspiration formed during the day congeals, during sleep, into
solid ice. Harding escaped any ill effects, but in truth, although I
have said little about physical sufferings, most of that journey was
terrible work. I got into a way at last of classifying the various
stages of frigidity on departure from a _stancia_, and this was their
order: (1) the warm; (2) the chilly; and (3) the glacial. The first
stage of comparative comfort was due to the effect of a fire and warm
food and generally lasted for two or three hours. In stage No. 2, one
gradually commenced to feel chilly with shivers down the back and a
sensation of numbness in the extremities. No. 3 stage was one of rapidly
increasing cold, until the face was covered by a thin mask of ice formed
by the breath during the short intervals of sleep, or rather stupor. The
awakening was the most painful part of it all, and when the time came to
stagger into some filthy _stancia_, I would have often preferred to
sleep on in the sled, although such an imprudence might have entailed
the loss of a limb.

At last one bright morning in dazzling sunshine we reached Verkhoyansk,
having made the journey from Yakutsk in eight days, a record trip under
any circumstances, especially so under the adverse conditions under
which we had travelled. I had looked forward to this place as a haven of
warmth and rest, and perhaps of safety from the perilous blizzards that
of late had obstructed our progress, but the sight of that desolate
village, with its solitary row of filthy hovels, inspired such feelings
of aversion and depression that my one object was to leave the place as
soon as possible, even for the unknown perils and privations which might
lie beyond it. It was absolutely necessary, however, to obtain fresh
reindeer here, and a stay of at least a couple of days was compulsory.
What we saw, therefore, and did in Verkhoyansk will be described in the
following chapter.



CHAPTER VI

VERKHOYANSK


Loyal Russians call Verkhoyansk the heart of Siberia. Political exiles
have another name for the place also commencing with the letter H, which
I leave to the reader's imagination. Suffice it to say that it applies
to a locality where the climate is presumably warmer than here. Anyway
the simile is probably incorrect, as there are many worse places of
banishment than Verkhoyansk, although, indeed, the latter is bad enough.
For if prosperous villages near the borders of Europe impress the
untrammelled Briton with a sense of unbearable loneliness, conceive the
feelings of a Russian exile upon first beholding the squalid Arctic home
and repulsive natives amongst whom he is destined, perhaps, to end his
days. Forty or fifty mud-plastered log huts in various stages of decay
and half buried in snow-drifts over which ice windows peer mournfully, a
wooden church pushed by time and climate out of the perpendicular, with
broken spire and golden crosses mouldering with rust--on the one hand, a
dismal plain of snow fringed on the horizon by a dark pine forest; on
the other, the frozen river Yana, across which an icy breeze moans
mournfully--such is Verkhoyansk as we saw it on the morning of February
28, 1902. I thought that a more gloomy, God-forsaken spot than this
could not exist on the face of the earth. But I had not seen
Sredni-Kolymsk. And yet, if we were here forty-eight hours and it seemed
a lifetime, what must an enforced sojourn of five or six years mean to
the unhappy exiles, some of whom had been here for a quarter of a
century. Let the reader imagine, if possible, the blank despair of
existence under such conditions; day after day, year after year, nothing
to do or look at of interest, tortured by heat and mosquitoes in summer,
perished by cold and hunger in the dark, cruel winter, and cut off as
completely as a corpse from all that makes life worth living. An exile
here told me that the church was his only link with humanity, for it
recalled other sacred buildings in which loved ones were worshipping,
far away in the busy world of freedom. One could imagine a man entirely
losing his identity after a few years here and forgetting that he was
ever a human being. In truth Yakutsk was bad enough; but Yakutsk,
compared to Verkhoyansk, is a little Paris. And yet, I repeat, this is
by no means the worst place of banishment in North-Eastern Siberia.

The _ispravnik_ received us in the official grey and scarlet, reminding
me that even in this remote corner of the Empire a traveller is well
within reach of Petersburg and the secret police. But we found in
Monsieur Katcherofsky a gentleman and not a jailer, like too many of his
class, whose kindness and hospitality to the miserable survivors of the
Arctic exploring ship _Jeannette_, some years ago, was suitably rewarded
by the President of the United States.[27] Katcherofsky's invaluable
services for twenty years past might also have met, by now, with some
substantial recognition at the hands of the Russian Government, for a
more honest, conscientious and universally popular official is not to be
found throughout the dominions of the Tsar.

[Footnote 27: The U.S. Arctic exploring steamer _Jeannette_ was crushed
in the ice and sank on June 12, 1881, in the Arctic Ocean, some hundreds
of miles N.-E. of the mouth of the Lena river. Captain de Long and his
party, in three ship's boats, made their way over and through the ice
towards the Lena delta, but one of the boats (under Lieut. Chipp)
foundered with all hands. Another one, commanded by Chief Engineer (now
Admiral) Melville, reached the Siberian coast and found the natives and
salvation, but Captain de Long and his crew landed on the Lena delta,
and being unable to find a settlement or procure food, his entire party,
consisting of twelve persons, perished, after horrible sufferings, of
exposure and starvation. The bodies were eventually found by Melville,
and conveyed to America for interment.]

The _ispravnik's_ house, or rather hut, was no better, within or
without, than others in Verkhoyansk, which consists of one street, or
rather straggling avenue of mud hovels with ice windows and the usual
low entrance guarded by a felt-covered door. The entire population does
not exceed four hundred souls, of whom, perhaps, half were Yakutes and
the remainder officials, Russian settlers and political exiles. Talking
of exiles, I have found that, as a rule, very erroneous impressions
exist in England as to the conditions under which they are sent to
Siberia, a country which has often been greatly maligned by the English
Press. For this great prison-land is not always one of dungeons and
lifelong incarceration. The latter certainly awaits the active
revolutionist, but, on the other hand, an erring journalist may, for an
"imprudent" paragraph, be sent to vegetate for only a couple of months
within sight of the Urals. As Gilbert's "Mikado" would say, "the
punishment fits the crime." And in the towns of Western Siberia I have
frequently met men originally banished for a short term who, rather than
return to Russia, have elected to remain in a land where living is
cheaper, and money more easily gained than at home. Olenin, of Yakutsk,
was a case in point.

The exile of State offenders to Siberia is generally carried out by what
is called the "Administrative Process," or, in other words, by a secret
tribunal composed of civil and military members. There are no Press
reports of the trial, which is held strictly _in camera_, and, as a
rule, a political "suspect" vanishes as completely from the face of the
earth as a pebble cast into the sea. Usually the blow falls
unexpectedly. A man may be seated quietly at home with his family, in
his office, or at some place of public entertainment when the fatal
touch on the shoulder summonses him away, perhaps for ever. The sentence
once passed, there is no appeal to a higher court, nor can a prisoner
hold any communication whatever with the outer world. An exile's
relatives, therefore, when ignorant of his fate, frequently ascribe his
absence to voluntary motives, and years sometimes elapse before the
truth is known. In some cases it never reaches his family, and the
harassing thought that he is, perhaps, regarded by the latter as a
heartless deserter has driven many a victim of the "Administrative
Process" to self-destruction.

A term of imprisonment varying from six months to two years in a
European fortress invariably precedes a term of exile, and this rule
applies to both sexes. There are hundreds of towns and villages
throughout Siberia where men and women are domiciled for various periods
of their existence, but as we are now dealing only with the remoter
settlements within the Arctic Circle we will follow the footsteps of a
political exile deported to, say, Verkhoyansk. From the forwarding
prison at Moscow to the city of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia, politicals
not sent by rail travel with a criminal gang, wear prison dress, and
live practically the same as ordinary convicts. At night time, however,
in the _étapes_[28] a separate cell is set apart for their use. On
arrival at Irkutsk prison-dress is discarded, and an exile may wear his
own clothes, although he remains under lock and key and in close charge
of the Cossack who is responsible for his safe delivery. In summer-time
the two-thousand-miles' journey to the first stage northwards, Yakutsk,
is made by river-steamer, but during the winter months this weary
journey must be accomplished in uncovered sleighs, and is one of great
severity and privation, especially for women. At Yakutsk reindeer-sledge
conveys the ill-assorted pair ever northwards for another six hundred
miles to Verkhoyansk. The reader has seen the difficulties which we
experienced crossing the mountains, where delicate women on their way to
exile are compelled to clamber unassisted over giddy places that would
try the nerves of an experienced mountaineer. I should add that women
never travel alone with a Cossack, but are always accompanied on the
journey by another exile, either a man or one of their own sex. In the
former case, an acquaintance is occasionally made which ends in a
life-long _liaison_, if not marriage. Every year from three to six
"politicals" arrive in each of the settlements north of Yakutsk.

[Footnote 28: Rest-houses for convict gangs along the great post-road.]

An empty hut was set apart for our use: a tumble-down _yurta_ of mud
with the usual ice-windows, which necessitated the use of candles even
on the brightest day. But it contained two rooms and a kitchen, and was
weather-proof, so we lived in comparative luxury. Meals were provided
for us at Katcherofsky's hospitable board, and on the evening of our
arrival we sat down to a supper to which the kind-hearted old
_ispravnik_ had invited several "politicals." And here, for the second
time, I witnessed the incongruous sight of a Chief of Police amicably
hobnobbing with the exiles in his custody. And when one of the latter
remarked at table, "I can always feel cheerful in Katcherofsky's house,
_even in Verkhoyansk_," I could well believe that our genial and
good-natured host was looked upon more in the light of a friend than a
guardian by both men and women of the free command. It was a strange but
enjoyable evening, and the _menu_ of delicious _sterlet_ brought from
the Lena, roast venison, and ice-cream, accompanied by a very fair
champagne, was hardly one which you would expect to find in these frozen
wastes. Coffee and _nalivka_, a liquor made of the wild raspberries
which grow freely around here, concluded the last decent repast we were
likely to enjoy for some months to come. Only one displeasing memory do
I retain of that otherwise pleasant supper-party: I smoked my last
cigar!

There were under a dozen exiles in all here, of whom two were women. One
of the latter was my neighbour at supper;--Madame Abramovitch, a fragile
little woman, whom delicate features and dark, expressive eyes would
have rendered beautiful, had not years of mental and physical suffering
aged and hardened the almost girlish face. Abramovitch, her husband, a
tall, fine-looking man of Jewish type, was only thirty-two years old,
but his life since the age of twenty-one had been passed in captivity
either in Russian prisons or as an exile in Siberia. Abramovitch and his
wife were shortly to be released, and it was pathetic to hear them
babble like children about their approaching freedom, and of how they
would revel in the sight of Warsaw, and enjoy its restaurants and
theatres, and even a ride in the electric cars! I visited them next day
in their dark and miserable home, which, however, was scrupulously
clean, and we drank tea and discussed people and events in distant
Europe far into the night. And Madame sang Polish love-songs in a sweet,
pathetic voice, and I recounted one or two American yarns in Yankee
vernacular which excited inordinate gaiety, so easily amused were these
poor souls with minds dulled by long years of lethargy and despair. And
I wondered, as I glanced around the squalid room, how many years had
elapsed since its mud-walls had last echoed to the sounds of genuine
laughter!

Abramovitch and his wife spoke French fluently, the former also English.
But two-thirds of the political exiles I met throughout the journey
spoke two, and sometimes three, languages besides their own, while
German was universal. In most cases the exiles had taught themselves,
often under the most adverse conditions, in the gloomy cell of some
Polish fortress or the damp and twilit casemates of SS. Peter and Paul.
Most exiles make it a rule on their banishment to take up some subject,
history, chemistry, natural science, &c., otherwise insanity would be
far more prevalent amongst them than it is. At Verkhoyansk books are
occasionally obtainable, but further north their scarcity formed a
serious drawback to study and mental recreation. Even at Verkhoyansk the
censure on literature is very strict, and works on social science and
kindred subjects are strictly tabooed by the authorities. On the other
hand almost any kind of novel in any language may be read, so long as it
does not refer in any way to the Russian Government and its methods. At
the time of our visit "Quo Vadis" was on everybody's lips, and the
solitary copy had been read and re-read into rags, although it had only
been a month in the settlement. Dickens, Thackeray, Zola, and Anthony
Hope were favourite authors, but whole pages were missing from most of
the volumes in the tiny library, and the books were otherwise mutilated,
not by carelessness or ill usage, but by incessant use.

I closely questioned Abramovitch as to the conditions of life at
Verkhoyansk and he said that so far as the treatment of the exiles was
concerned there was nothing to complain of, but the miserable pittance
allowed by the Government for the lodging and maintenance of each exile
was, he justly averred, totally inadequate where even the common
necessaries of life cost fabulous prices. Apparently this allowance
varies in the various districts; thus, at Verkhoyansk it is eighteen
roubles, at Viluisk, south of Yakutsk, only twelve! Fortunately,
deer-meat is fairly cheap here, but all other provisions are
outrageously dear. Flour, for instance, costs twenty-five kopeks or
about 6_d._ per pound, milk (in a frozen condition) five kopeks or about
3_d._ per pound, but the latter is bought from the Yakutes, and is
generally in a filthy and undrinkable condition. Tea and sugar are so
dear that the former is boiled over and over again, but Abramovitch said
that he suffered more from the loss of light than anything else, for
candles (or rather tallow dips) cost a rouble a pound. My friend was
therefore reduced to the dim light shed by the flickering logs of his
fire throughout the dreary winter, when daylight disappears for two
months. And even in summer time there is no way of eking out the slender
sum allowed for existence, which must suffice for lodging and clothes as
well as food. Poultry does not exist, the Yana yields few fish, and the
soil stubbornly refuses to produce vegetables even of the hardiest kind.
By dint of ceaseless care Katcherofsky had contrived to grow a few
watery potatoes, which were served at table with as much ostentation as
early strawberries or asparagus in England; but the experiment was not a
success. The _ispravnik_ had also tried cabbages, with a similar result.
This seems strange, seeing that Yakutsk, only six hundred miles further
south, is a fertile land of plenty, but an exile told me that even in
midsummer the forests around Verkhoyansk appear withered and grey, the
very grass seems colourless, and the daisies and violets scentless
immortelles. This sterility of nature seems to be confined to a radius
of about twenty miles of Verkhoyansk, for beyond this arid circle trees
flourish, grass grows freely as far as the timber line, while beyond it
the _tundra_, from May until August, is gaily carpeted with wild
flowers.

Verkhoyansk is not unhealthy. The worst season of the year is in autumn,
when dense mists from the river Yana often shroud the place for days
together. Bronchitis and rheumatism are then very prevalent, also a kind
of epidemic catarrh, which, however, was not confined to the fall of the
year, but was raging at the time of our visit. Of this fact we had
unpleasant proof, as a couple of days after leaving the place the whole
expedition (except Stepan) were attacked with this troublesome
complaint, which, in my case, was only cured on arrival in America. I
fancy this disease was closely allied to that which attacked Admiral Von
Wrangell's party early in the nineteenth century.[29] But all things
considered, summer is the most trying season here, not only on account
of the heat, which is far greater than that of Yakutsk, but of the
mosquitoes, which make their appearance before the snow is off the
ground and do not disappear until late in the fall. The exiles said that
they were often deprived of sleep for nights together on account of
these pests, which swarm in and out of doors, and inflict a nasty
poisonous bite. Children had died from the fever produced from the
irritation and consequent sleeplessness. This, and continual (and
therefore distressing) daylight, made the advent of winter, even with
all its cold and darkness, a welcome one. For this season also brings
another blessing to these poor outcasts, news from home, which reaches
here once a month by reindeer-sledge, whereas in summer a mail is only
once despatched from Yakutsk, and frequently fails to arrive at its
destination.[30]

[Footnote 29: In 1820 Von Wrangell wrote: "During my stay in Verkhoyansk
a kind of epidemic catarrhal fever prevailed throughout the district;
the symptoms were violent depression of the chest, noise in the ears,
headache, etc.... A Cossack whom I had previously sent forward with my
papers died of the epidemic; every one was more or less ill."]

[Footnote 30: The telegraph wire ceases at Yakutsk.]

In addition to his literary pursuits Mr. Abramovitch had kept a record
of the temperature during his term of exile, and the result of his
careful observations for a period of twelve years was as follows: Mean
temperature for the whole year, 4° below zero Fahrenheit. In hard
winters the thermometer was frequently 75° below zero, and once touched
the almost incredible point of 81° below zero. During our stay only 65°
below zero was registered, but at the first _stancia_, two hundred miles
north of Verkhoyansk, we experienced 78° below zero, a cold so intense
that the breath froze as it left our lips and fell in a white powder to
the ground. And yet, I can assure the reader that I have suffered more
from cold in Piccadilly on a damp, chilly November day than in the
coldest weather in this part of Siberia. For the atmosphere here is
generally dry and does not permeate the frame like that of our sea-girt,
foggy island. Also, during extreme cold there is never any wind, and
this is fortunate, for although 60° or 70° below zero are quite
bearable in stillness, 30° or 40° higher, accompanied by only a moderate
gale, would probably kill every living thing before it. A few weeks
later, when we reached the Arctic Ocean, the approach of a gale was
always preceded by a rising thermometer, and clear, cold weather by a
fall of the same.

At Verkhoyansk, as at Yakutsk, nothing met me but difficulties, and the
_ispravnik_ implored me to abandon the journey. Sredni-Kolymsk, he said,
was twelve hundred miles away, and with weak reindeer it might take us a
couple of months to reach the Tsar's remotest settlement. This would
bring us into early May, and about the first week in June the thaw
comes, and travelling is impossible. And even at Sredni-Kolymsk another
two thousand miles of wild and desolate country, almost bereft of
inhabitants, would lie between us and Bering Straits. Not only
Katcherofsky but the exiles begged me to abandon the journey, if not for
my own sake, for that of my companions. It was unfair, they urged, to
drive men to almost certain death. Altogether I don't think I shall ever
forget the hours of anxiety I passed at Verkhoyansk. Should we advance
or should we retreat was a question which I alone had the power to
decide, and one which Providence eventually settled for me with the
happiest results. Nevertheless, even in the dark days which followed,
when lost in the blinding blizzards of Tchaun Bay, or exposed to the
drunken fury of the Tchuktchis on Bering Straits, I have seldom passed a
more unpleasant and harassing period of my existence than those two days
under the care of Ivan Katcherofsky, Chief of Police of Verkhoyansk,
North-Eastern Siberia.

[Illustration: THE CHIEF OF POLICE, VERKHOYANSK.]

But notwithstanding adverse pressure on all sides I resolved to burn my
boats, and push on, although well aware that, Verkhoyansk once left
behind us, there would be no retreat. And it is only fair to add that my
companions were just as keen on an advance as their leader. The
_ispravnik_, seeing that further argument was useless, shrugged his
shoulders and solely occupied himself with cramming the sledges full of
interesting looking baskets and bottles. And on the bright sunlit
morning of March 2 we left Verkhoyansk, our departure being witnessed by
our kindly old host and all the exiles. Our course this time was in a
north-easterly direction towards the shores of the frozen sea. Before
the start a pathetic little incident occurred which is indelibly
photographed on my memory. My small supply of reading matter comprised a
"_Daily Mail_ Year Book," and although very loth to part with this I had
not the heart to take it away from a young exile who had become
engrossed in its contents. For the work contained matters of interest
which are usually blacked out by the censor. "I shall learn it all off,
Mr. de Windt," said the poor fellow, as the Chief of Police for a moment
looked away, and I handed him the tiny encyclopædia. "When we meet again
I shall know it all by heart!" But twelve long years must elapse before
my unhappy friend bids farewell to Verkhoyansk! Nevertheless, the almost
childish delight with which the trifling gift was received would have
been cheaply bought at the price of a valuable library.



CHAPTER VII

THROUGH DARKEST SIBERIA


Let the reader picture the distance, say, from London to Moscow as one
vast undulating plateau of alternate layers of ice and snow, and he has
before him the region we traversed between the so-called towns of
Verkhoyansk and Sredni-Kolymsk. Twelve hundred miles may not seem very
far to the railway passenger, but it becomes a different proposition
when the traveller has to contend against intense cold, scanty shelter,
and last, but not least, sick reindeer. For the first seven or eight
hundred versts we passed through dense forests, which gradually dwindled
away to sparse and stunted shrubs until the timber line was crossed and
vegetation finally disappeared. The so-called _stancias_, filthier, if
possible, than those south of Verkhoyansk, were now never less than two
hundred miles apart. There were also _povarnias_ every eighty miles or
so, but these were often mere shapeless heaps of timber rotting in the
snow. Throughout the whole distance there was no track of any kind and
the sledges were steered like ships at sea, our course being shaped by
compass and an occasional rest-house or _povarnia_, and these were
easily passed unnoticed on a dark night, or after a heavy snow-fall had
concealed their low log walls.

    "League on league on league of desolation,
    Mile on mile on mile without a change"

aptly describes the long, dreary expanse that stretches from the Yana
River to the Polar Sea, for I doubt if there is a more gloomy, desolate
region on the face of this earth. So sparsely is it peopled that even a
small town can moulder away here into non-existence and no one be the
wiser for years after its disappearance. The authenticity of the
following anecdote is vouched for by Mr. George Kennan, the American
traveller, who quotes from Russian official statistics.[31]

[Footnote 31: "Siberia and the Exile System," by George Kennan.]

"In the year 1879 there was living in the city of Pultava a poor
apothecary named Schiller, who was banished as a political offender to
the village of Varnavin, in the Province of Kostroma. Schiller, finding
a forced residence in a village to be irksome and tedious, and having no
confidence in petitions, changed his location without asking leave of
anybody, or in other words ran away. About this time the Tsar issued a
command directing that all exiles found absent from their places of
banishment without leave should be sent to the East Siberian Province of
Yakutsk. When, therefore, Schiller was rearrested in a part of the
Empire where he had no right to be, he was banished to Irkutsk, and the
Governor-General of Eastern Siberia was requested to put him under
police surveillance in some part of the territory named in the Imperial
command. Governor-General Anuchin, who had then recently come to
Irkutsk, and who had not had time apparently to familiarise himself with
the vast region entrusted to his care, directed that Schiller be sent
to the district town of Zashiversk, which was (supposed to be) situated
on the River Indigirka, a few miles south of the Arctic Circle. A
century, or a century and a half, ago Zashiversk was a town of
considerable importance, but for some reason it lost its pre-eminence as
a fur-trading centre, fell gradually into decay, and finally ceased to
exist. Its location was still marked by two concentric circles on all
the maps, its name continued to appear regularly in the annals of the
Governor-General's Office, and I have no doubt that a coterie of
'Tchinovniks'[32] in Irkutsk were dividing and pocketing every year the
money appropriated for repairs to its public buildings; but, as a matter
of fact, it had not contained a building or an inhabitant for more than
half a century, and forest trees were growing on the mound that marked
its site. Poor Schiller, after being carried three or four times up and
down the Rivers Lena and Indigirka in a vain search for a non-existent
Arctic town, was finally brought back to Yakutsk, and a report was made
to the Governor-General that Zashiversk had ceased to exist! The
Governor-General therefore ordered that the prisoner be taken to
Sredni-Kolymsk, another 'town' of forty-five houses, situated on the
River Kolyma north of the Arctic Circle, 3700 miles from Irkutsk and
7500 miles from the capital of the Empire. When, after more than a year,
the unfortunate druggist reached the last outpost of Russian power in
North-Eastern Asia, and was set at liberty, he made his way to the
little log church, entered the belfry, and proceeded to jangle the
church bells in a sort of wild, erratic chime. When the people of the
town ran to the belfry in alarm and inquired what was the matter,
Schiller replied, with dignity, that he wished the whole population to
know that 'by the Grace of God, Herman Schiller, after long and perilous
wanderings, had reached, in safety, the town of Sredni-Kolymsk!' Months
of fatigue, privation and loneliness had probably deprived the poor
fellow of his reason, a not unusual occurrence in this isolated portion
of the great Russian Empire. But the local police reported to the
Governor-General that the exile Schiller was disorderly and turbulent,
and that he had caused a public scandal before he had been in
Sredni-Kolymsk twenty-four hours, and upon receipt of this information
the Governor-General endorsed an order to remove the offender to some
place at least twelve versts distant from the town. His idea was
probably to have Schiller sent to some small suburban village in the
general neighbourhood of Sredni-Kolymsk. Unfortunately there was no
suburban village within a hundred miles in any direction, and the local
authorities, not knowing what else to do, carried the wretched druggist
about twelve versts out into the primæval wilderness, erected a log
cabin for him, and left him there. What eventually became of him I don't
know."[33]

[Footnote 32: Petty officials.]

[Footnote 33: No wonder Zashiversk figures to this day on most English
maps, when it is shown on an official map of the Russian General Staff
published as late as 1883!]

The first stage out from Verkhoyansk, one of a hundred and fifty versts,
was rapidly accomplished in less than twenty-four hours. This was
wonderful travelling, but the snow was in perfect condition, indeed as
hard and slippery as ice, for at the first _stancia_ the cold was
greater than any we experienced throughout the whole journey from France
to America, the thermometer registering 78° below zero (Fahr.). We
remained here for some hours waiting for reindeer, but the heat and
stench of the rest-house produced such nausea that more than once during
the night I was compelled to don my furs and brave a temperature that
rendered even inhalation painful, and instantly congealed the breath
into a mass of ice. To make matters worse, the hut was crowded with
Yakutes of loathsome exterior and habits, and a couple of cows and some
calves also occupied the foul den, which, of course, swarmed with
vermin. And so did we, after passing the night here, to such an extent
as to cause actual pain for some days afterwards whenever we left the
outer air for a warmer temperature. Oddly enough, these rest-houses were
usually crowded with people, who presumably never left them, for in the
open we never encountered a solitary human being, nor indeed a single
animal or bird, with the exception of a dead ermine which had been
caught in a trap and which our Yakute drivers, with characteristic
greed, promptly took from the snare and pocketed. Talking of ermine, the
district of Sredni-Kolymsk has always been famous as a fruitful
breeding-place of this pretty little creature, and they used to be
obtainable there at an absurdly low price, from sixpence to a shilling
apiece. A friend had therefore commissioned me to procure him as many
skins as we could conveniently carry, intending to make a mantle for as
many halfpence as the garment would have cost him pounds in England.
But we found that ermine had become almost as costly in Sredni-Kolymsk
as in Regent Street. The price formerly paid for a score would now
barely purchase one, for the Yakutsk agents of London furriers had
stripped the district to provide furs for the robes to be worn at the
Coronation of his Majesty the King of England. Far-reaching indeed are
the requirements of royalty!

It was impossible to procure food of an eatable kind here, or indeed at
any other _stancia_ throughout this part of the journey. The _ispravnik_
at Verkhoyansk had assured me that deer-meat would always be
forthcoming; and so it was, in a putrid condition which rendered it
quite uneatable. There was nothing else obtainable but frozen milk
(generally black with smoke and filth), so we were compelled to subsist
solely on the meat from Yakutsk, so long as it lasted, and on
"Carnyl,"[34] a kind of palatable pemmican brought from England and
intended only for use on the Coast. And we afterwards nearly perished
from starvation in consequence of this premature indulgence in our
"emergency rations."

[Footnote 34: "Carnyl" (invented by Dr. Yorke-Davies) is a patent food I
can heartily recommend to Arctic explorers, as it is not only sustaining
but very palatable.]

Shortly after leaving Aditscha, we crossed the river of that name, which
flows into the Yana below Verkhoyansk. The former stream is noted for
its abundance of fish, which, in summer time, is salted and exported in
large quantities to the various settlements throughout the district.
Travelling steadily for forty-five versts we crossed the Tabalak
mountains (or rather hills), and from here under fifteen versts brought
us to Tostach, where the accommodation was a shade less atrocious than
at Aditscha, and where we again had to pass the night to await a relay.
Stepan tried the effect of threats, and then of kicks, but even the
latter failed to arouse the postmaster to any great extent, for the
Yakutes add laziness to their other numerous vices, which include an
arrant cowardice. Treat one of these people with kindness and he will
insult you; thrash him soundly, and he will fawn at your feet. This
constant delay in the arrival of the deer now began to cause me some
anxiety, for Stepan said that he had frequently had to wait three or
four days for these animals at a _stancia_.

Tostach was only outwardly cleaner than Aditscha, for when the inmates
of the _stancia_ had retired to rest, the warmth and firelit silence
brought out such overwhelming legions of vermin that I rose and,
lighting a candle, proceeded to beguile the hours until the dawn with a
"Whitaker's Almanack," which, with a Shakespeare and "Pickwick," now
composed our library. And here an incident occurred which might well
have startled a person with weak nerves, for the most practical being
scarcely cares to be suddenly confronted, at dead of night, with a
ghostly apparition unpleasantly suggestive of graveyards. On this
occasion the spectre might have dropped from the clouds, for I looked up
from my book for an instant, and noiselessly as a shadow it appeared
before me, a shapeless thing in rags with a pale and gibbering face
framed in tangled grey locks. A tinkling sound accompanied every
movement of the creature, and I then saw that the figure was adorned
from head to heel with scraps of iron, copper coins, rusty nails, and
other rubbish, including a couple of sardine-tins which reassured me as
to the material nature of the unwelcome visitor. When, however, the
intruder showed signs of friendliness and nearer approach, I aroused
Stepan, who sprang to his feet, and, with one heave of his mighty
shoulders, sent the intruder flying into the darker recesses of the
_stancia_. "It's only a Shaman," muttered the Cossack with a yawn, as he
rolled back into the dirty straw, and I then regretted that I had not
more closely examined this High Priest of, perhaps, the weirdest faith
in existence, for an hour afterwards, when the rekindled fire had once
more rendered objects clearly visible, the "Shaman" had left the hut as
silently and mysteriously as he had entered it.

[Illustration: A VISITOR.]

Shamanism is strictly prohibited by the Russian Government, although
many Yakutes practise its rites in secret, and the Tunguses[35] know no
other faith. Only few Europeans have beheld the weird ceremonies
performed by these people, generally at night in the depths of the
forest or out on the lonely "Tundra," far from the eye of officialdom.
The most lucid description of Shamanism which I have been able to obtain
is that given by Mr. J. Stadling, the Swedish explorer, who led a few
years ago an expedition through Northern Siberia in search of Monsieur
André. Mr. Stadling writes: "The Universe, according to the Shamans,
consists of a number of layers, or strata, which are separated from each
other by some kind of intermediate space or matter. Seven upper layers
constitute the kingdom of light, and seven or more lower layers the
kingdom of darkness. Between these upper or lower layers, the surface of
the earth, the habitation of mankind, is situated, whence mankind is
exposed to the influence both of the upper and the lower world--_i.e._,
the powers of light and of darkness. All the good divinities, spirits
and genii, which create, preserve and support the weak children of men,
have their abode in the upper layers, in the world of light. In the
layers of the lower world the evil divinities and Spirits lurk, always
seeking to harm and destroy mankind. In the highest layers (the 'Seventh
Heaven'), the Great Tangara, or 'Ai-Toion,' as he is called in Northern
Siberia, is enthroned in eternal light. He is perfect and good, or
rather is exalted above both good and evil, and seems to meddle very
little with the affairs of the Universe, caring neither for sacrifices
nor prayers. In the fifth or ninth layer of the lower world, the fearful
Erlik-Khan, the Prince of Darkness, sits on a black throne, surrounded
by a court of evil spirits and genii. The intermediate layers are the
abode of divinities and spirits of different degrees of light and
darkness; most of them are the spirits of deceased men. All spirits
exert influence on the destiny of man for good or evil; the children of
men are unable to soften or to subdue these spiritual beings, whence the
necessity of Shamans or Priests, who alone possess power over the
spiritual world."[36]

[Footnote 35: The Tunguses number about 12,000 to 15,000, and inhabit
the region lying to the north-west and north-east of Yakutsk.]

[Footnote 36: "Through Siberia," by J. Stadling. London, 1901.]

I met some years ago at Tomsk, in Western Siberia, a fur-trader who had
once secretly witnessed a Shaman ceremony, which he thus described to
me: "Half a dozen worshippers were gathered in a clearing in a lonely
part of the forest and I came on them by accident, but concealed myself
behind some dense undergrowth. In a circle of flaming logs I saw the
Shaman, clad in pure white and looking considerably cleaner than I had
previously thought possible. Round his neck was a circular brass plate
signifying the sun, and all over his body were suspended bits of metal,
small bells, and copper coins, which jingled with every movement. The
ceremony seemed to consist of circling round without cessation for
nearly an hour, at the end of which time the Shaman commenced to howl
and foam at the mouth, to the great excitement of his audience. The
gyrations gradually increased in rapidity, until at last the Priest fell
heavily to the ground, face downwards, apparently in a fit. The meeting
then dispersed and I made my escape as quickly and as silently as
possible, for had I been discovered my life would not have been worth a
moment's purchase."

The museum at Yakutsk contains some interesting relics pertaining to
Shamanism, amongst others some articles found near the Lena, in the tomb
probably of an important personage, for the grave contained valuable
jewellery, arms and personal effects. I observed that everything, from
garments down to a brass tobacco-box, had been punctured with some sharp
instrument, and Mr. Olenin explained that all articles buried with
persons of the Shaman faith are thus pierced, generally with a dagger,
in order to "kill" them before interment. About twenty miles north-east
of Tostach we came across the tomb of a Shaman which, judging by its
appearance, had been there about a century, and the shell with the
remains had long since disappeared.

The deer were a long time coming at Tostach; one of our drivers
accounted for the delay by the fact that wolves had been unusually
troublesome this year, and when Stepan suggested that the wolves were
two-legged ones, did not appear to relish the joke. For the man was a
Tunguse, a race noted for its predatory instincts and partiality for
deer-meat. Reindeer in these parts cost only from twelve to fifteen
roubles apiece, but farther north they fetch forty to fifty roubles
each, and the loss of many is a serious one.

We managed to get away from Tostach that afternoon (March 5) in a dense
snowstorm, although on the preceding day the sun had blazed so fiercely
into the sleds that we could almost have dispensed with furs. The
weather, however, was mostly bright and clear all the way from the Lena
to the coast, which was fortunate, for with sunshine and blue sky we
could generally afford to laugh at cold and hunger, while on dull, grey
days the spirits sank to zero, crushed by a sense of intolerable
loneliness, engendered by our dismal surroundings and the daily
increasing distance from home. The stage from Tostach was perhaps the
hardest one south of the Arctic, for we travelled steadily for twelve
hours with a head-wind and driving snow which rendered progress slow and
laborious. Finally, reaching the _povarnia_ of Kürtas[37] in a miserable
condition, with frost-bitten faces and soaking furs, we scraped away
the snow inside the crazy shelter and kindled a fire, for no food had
passed our lips for sixteen hours. But time progressed, and there were
no signs of the provision-sled which, as usual, brought up the rear of
the caravan. Ignorance was bliss on this occasion, for the knowledge
that the vehicle in question was at that moment firmly fixed in a drift
ten miles away, with one of its team lying dead from exhaustion, would
not have improved matters. When our provisions reached Kürtas, we had
fasted for twenty-four hours, which, in North-Eastern Siberia, becomes
an inconvenience less cheerfully endured than in a temperate climate.
Beyond Kürtas the track was almost overgrown, and our _narta_ covers
were almost torn to pieces by branches on either side of it. There were
places where we had literally to force our way through the woods, and
how the drivers held their course remains a mystery. Nearing the
Tashayaktak[38] mountain, however, we travelled along the Dogdo River
for some distance; but here, although the road was clear, constant
overflows compelled us to travel along the centre of the stream, which
is about ten times the width of the Thames at Gravesend. Here the sleds
occasionally skated over perilously thin ice, and as night was falling I
was glad to reach _terra firma_. The Tashayaktak range is at this point
nowhere less than three thousand feet in height, and I was anticipating
a second clamber over their snowy peaks when Stepan informed me that the
crossing could be easily negotiated by a pass scarcely five hundred
feet high. Fortunately the wind had now dropped, for during gales the
snow is piled up in huge drifts along this narrow pass, and only the
previous year two Yakutes had been snowed up to perish of cold and
starvation. However, we crossed the range without much difficulty,
although boulders and frozen cataracts made it hard work for the deer,
and another one fell here to mark our weary track across Siberia. And we
lost yet another of the poor little beasts, which broke its leg in the
gnarled roots of a tree, before reaching the _povarnia_ of Siss, a
hundred and thirty versts from Tostach. Here both men and beasts were
exhausted, and I resolved to halt for twelve hours and recuperate.

[Footnote 37: When the letter "u" is surmounted by two dots it is
pronounced like that in "Curtain."]

[Footnote 38: The names of places between Verkhoyansk and Sredni-Kolymsk
were furnished by Stepan Rastorguyeff.]

The _povarnia_ of Siss was more comfortable than usual, which means that
its accommodation was about on a par with an English cow-shed. But we
obtained a good night's rest, notwithstanding icy draughts and melted
snow. The latter was perhaps the chief drawback at these places, for we
generally awoke to find ourselves lying inch-deep in watery slush
occasioned by the warmth of the fire. At Siss the weather cleared, and
we set out next day with renewed spirits, which the deer seemed to
share, for they, too, had revelled in moss, which was plentiful around
the _povarnia_, while, as a rule, they had to roam for several miles in
search of it. Siberian reindeer seem to have an insatiable appetite;
whenever we halted on the road (often several times within the hour)
every team would set to work pawing up the snow in search of food, with
such engrossed energy that it took some time to set them going again.
And yet these gentle, patient beasts would labour along for hours,
girth-deep in heavy snow, their flanks going like steam-engines, and
never dream of stopping to take a rest unless ordered to do so.

It would weary the reader to enumerate in detail the events of the next
few days. Suffice it to say that half a dozen _povarnias_ were passed
before we reached Ebelach, a so-called village consisting of three
mud-huts. Ebelach is more than seven hundred versts from Verkhoyansk,
and we accomplished the journey in under a week. Only one place, the
_povarnia_ of Tiriak-Hureya, is deserving of mention, for two reasons:
the first being that it exactly resembled the valley of Chamonix,
looking down it from Mont Blanc towards the Aiguilles. I shall never
forget the glorious sunset I witnessed here, nor the hopeless feeling of
nostalgia instilled by the contemplation of those leagues of forest and
snowy peaks, the latter gradually merging in the dusk from a delicate
rose colour to bluish grey. Only the preceding summer I had stood on the
principal "place" of the little Swiss town and witnessed almost exactly
the same landscape, and the contrast only rendered our present
surroundings the more lonesome and desolate. No wonder the Swiss are a
homesick race, or that Napoleon, on his distant campaigns, prohibited,
from fear of desertion, the playing of their national airs. Smoky cities
could be recalled, even in this land of desolation, without yearning or
regret, but I could never think of the sunlit Alps or leafy boulevards
without an irresistible longing to throw reputation to the winds and
return to them forthwith!

The other circumstance connected with Tiriak-Hureya is that the
_povarnia_, measuring exactly sixteen feet by fourteen feet, was already
tenanted by a venerable gentleman of ragged and unsavoury exterior, his
Yakute wife, or female companion, three children, and a baby with a
mysterious skin disease. We numbered sixteen in all, including drivers,
and that night is vividly engraven on my memory. It was impossible to
move hand or foot without touching some foul personality, and five hours
elapsed before Stepan was able to reach the fire and cook some food. But
notwithstanding his unspeakably repulsive exterior the aged stranger
excited my curiosity, for his careworn features and sunken eyes
suggested a past life of more than ordinary interest. He was an exile,
one of the few who have lived to retrace their steps along this "Via
Dolorosa." I addressed the poor old fellow, who told us that he had once
spoken French fluently, but could now only recall a few words, and these
he unconsciously interlarded with Yakute. Captain ----, once in the
Polish Army, had been deported to Sredni-Kolymsk after the insurrection
of 1863, and had passed the rest of his life in that gloomy settlement.
He was now returning to Warsaw to end his days, but death was plainly
written on the pinched, pallid face and weary eyes, and I doubt whether
the poor soul ever lived to reach the home he had yearned for through so
many hopeless years.

Nearing Ebelach the forest became so dense that we travelled almost in
darkness, even at midday. Snow had fallen heavily here, and the drifts
lay deep, while the trees on every side were weighted down to the earth
with a soft, white mantle, that here and there assumed the weirdest
resemblance to the shapes of birds and animals. I have never seen this
freak of nature elsewhere, although it is mentioned by ancient explorers
as occurring in the forests of Kamtchatka. And as we advanced northward
optical delusions became constantly visible. At times a snow hillock of
perhaps fifty feet high would appear a short distance away to be a
mountain of considerable altitude; at others the process would be
reversed and the actual mountain would be dwarfed into a molehill. These
phenomena were probably due to rarefied atmosphere, and they were most
frequent on the Arctic sea-board.

A number of small lakes were crossed between the last _povarnia_ and
Ebelach. There must have been quite a dozen of these covering a distance
of twenty miles, and fortunately the ice was well covered with snow or
it must have considerably impeded the deer. These lakes vary in size,
ranging from about one to four miles in diameter, and are apparently
very shallow, for reeds were visible everywhere sprouting through the
ice. Swamps would, perhaps, better describe these shoaly sheets of
water, which in summer so swarm with mosquitoes that deer and even the
natives sometimes die from their attacks.

Ebelach was reached on March 9, and as the _stancia_ here was a fairly
clean one, I decided, although reindeer were in readiness, to halt for
twenty-four hours. For even one short week of this kind of work had left
its mark on us, and the catarrh, from which we now all suffered, did not
improve the situation. When I look back upon the daily, almost hourly,
fatigues and privations of that journey from the Lena River to Bering
Straits, I sometimes marvel that we ever came through it at all; and yet
this part of the voyage was a mere picnic compared to the subsequent
trip along the Arctic coast. And indeed this was bad enough, for in
addition to physical hardships there were hundreds of minor discomforts,
a description of which would need a separate chapter. Vermin and bodily
filth were our chief annoyances, but there were other minor miseries
almost as bad as these. One was the wet inside the sleds at night. You
lay down to sleep, and in a short time your breath had formed a layer of
ice over the face, and the former melting in the warmer region of the
neck gradually trickled down under your furs, until by morning every
stitch of underclothing was saturated. On very cold nights the eyelids
would be frozen firmly together during sleep, and one would have to
stagger blindly into a _stancia_ or _povarnia_ before they could be
opened. Again, on starting from a _stancia_ at sunset, the hood of the
sled is closed down on its helpless occupant, who must remain in this
ambulant ice-box for an indefinite period, until it is re-opened from
the outside, for no amount of shouting would ever attract the attention
of the driver. The midnight hours were the worst, when we lay awake
wondering how long it would be before the last remnant of life was
frozen out of us. Two or three times during the night there would be a
halt, and I would start up and listen intently in the darkness to the
low sound of voices and the quick nervous stamp of the reindeer seeking
for moss. Then came an interval of suspense. Was it a _povarnia_, or
must I endure more hours of agony? But a lurch and a heave onward of the
sled was only too often the unwelcome reply. At last the joyous moment
would arrive when I could distinguish those ever-pleasant sounds, the
creaking of a door followed by the crackling of sticks. A _povarnia_ at
last! But even then it was generally necessary to yell and hammer at the
sides of your box of torture for half an hour or so, the drivers having
fled to the cosy fireside intent upon warming themselves, and oblivious
of every one else. No wonder that after a night of this description we
often regarded even a filthy _povarnia_ as little less luxurious than a
Carlton Hotel.

The cold was so great that I had not slept for thirty-six hours before
reaching Ebelach, but we soon made up for it here, where everything was
fairly clean and even the ice windows were adjusted with more than usual
nicety. Glazing is cheap in these parts. When the ponds are frozen to a
depth of six or eight inches blocks of ice are cut out and laid on the
roof of the hut out of reach of the dogs. If a new window is required
the old melted pane is removed, and a fresh block of ice is fitted on
the outside with wet snow, which serves as putty and shortly freezes. At
night-time boards are placed indoors against the windows to protect them
from the heat of the fire, but the cold in these regions is so intense
that one ice window will generally last throughout the winter. The light
filters only very dimly through this poor substitute for glass, which is
almost opaque. By the way, here as in every other _stancia_ a wooden
calendar of native construction was suspended over the doorway. Some
superstition is probably attached to the possession of these, for
although I frequently tried to purchase one at a fancy price the owners
would never sell this primitive timekeeper which was generally warped
and worm-eaten with age. I never saw a new one.

After a square sleep of twelve hours we awoke to find the inmates of the
_stancia_ discussing a dish of fine perch caught from the adjacent lake.
They had simply thawed the fish out and were devouring it in a raw
state, but we managed to secure a portion of the welcome food, which,
when properly cooked, was delicious, and a welcome change from _Carnyl_
and the beef (or horse) from Yakutsk, which had lasted us until now.
Every lake in this region teems with fish, which are never salted here
for export, but only used for local consumption.

The postmaster's family was a large and thriving one. I noticed that the
politeness of these natives increased as we proceeded northward, and
that at the same time their mental capacity diminished. For instance,
two of the people at Ebelach were hopeless idiots and I was prepared for
the terrible percentage of insane persons which I afterwards found
amongst the exiles of Sredni-Kolymsk by the large number of Yakutes of
feeble intellect whom we encountered at the rest-houses beyond
Verkhoyansk. Nearly every one contained one or more unmistakable
lunatics, and it afterwards struck me that in a land where even the
natives go mad from sheer despondency of life, it is no wonder that men
and women of culture and refinement are driven to suicide from the
constant dread of insanity. Idiocy, however, is more frequent amongst
the natives, and in one _povarnia_ we found a poor half-witted wretch
who had taken up his quarters there driven away from the nearest
_stancia_ by the cruelty of its inmates. This poor imbecile had laid in
a store of putrid fish and seemed quite resigned to his surroundings,
but we persuaded him to return to his home with us. This was an
exceptional case, for the Yakutes are generally kind and indulgent
towards mental sufferers, their kindness perhaps arising to a certain
extent from fear, for in these parts mad people are credited with occult
powers which enable them to take summary vengeance on their enemies.

Leaving Ebelach the lakes became so numerous that the country may also
be described as one vast sheet of water with intervals of land. We must
have crossed over a hundred lakes of various sizes between the _stancia_
of Khatignak and Sredni-Kolymsk, a distance of about five hundred
versts. The majority were carpeted with snow, and afforded good going;
but smooth black ice formed the surface of others, swept by the wind,
and these worked sad havoc amongst our deer, of which four, with broken
legs, had to be destroyed. Nearing Khatignak we crossed the
Indigirka[39] river, which rises in the Stanovoi range and flows through
many hundred miles of desolation to the Arctic Ocean. The country here
is more hilly, but sparse forests of stunted bushes and withered looking
pine-trees were now the sole vegetation, and these were often replaced
by long stretches of snowy plain. A long stage of seventy-five versts
without a break brought us to Khatignak, where another reindeer dropped
dead from exhaustion before the door of the _stancia_.

[Footnote 39: The now obsolete town of Zashiversk was situated on the
right bank of this river.]

Some miles beyond Khatignak another chain of mountains was crossed,
although downs would more aptly describe the Alazenski range. But the
snow lay deep and we were compelled to make the ascent on foot, a hard
walk of five hours in heavy furs under a blazing sun. On the summit is a
wooden cross marking the boundary between the Kolyma and Verkhoyansk
districts. The cross was hung with all kinds of rubbish, copper coins,
scraps of iron, and shreds of coloured cloth suspended by horse-hair,
which had been placed there by Yakute travellers to propitiate the gods
and ensure a prosperous journey. The cross, as a Christian symbol, did
not seem to occur to the worshippers of the Shaman faith, who had left
these offerings. We slept on the northern side of the mountain at a
_povarnia_ renowned even amongst the natives for its revolting
accommodation. In the Yakute language "Siss-Ana" signifies literally
"one hundred doors," and the name was given to this sieve-like structure
on account of the numberless and icy draughts which assail its
occupants. The place is said to be accursed, and I could well believe
it, for although a roaring fire blazed throughout the night, the walls
and ceiling were thickly coated with rime in the morning, and towards
midnight a bottle of "Harvey's Sauce" exploded like a dynamite shell,
not ten feet from the hearth! The condiment was far too precious to
waste, so it was afterwards carried in a tin drinking-cup, in a frozen
state, and not poured out, but bitten off, at meals!

Between Siss-Ana and the _stancia_ of Malofskaya the country becomes
much wilder, and forests dwindle away as we near the timber line.
Occasionally not a tree would be visible from sled to horizon, only a
level plain of snow, which under the influence of wind, sunshine and
passing clouds would present as many moods and aspects as the sea. On
one day it would appear as smooth and unbroken as a village pond, on
another the white expanse would be broken by ripples, solid wavelets
stirred up by a light breeze, while after a storm, billows and rollers
in the shape of great drifts and hillocks would obstruct our progress.
As we neared the frozen ocean many storms were encountered, and
approaching Sredni-Kolymsk these occurred almost daily as furious
blizzards. On such occasions we always lay to, for it was impossible to
travel against the overwhelming force of the wind. Frequently these
tempests occurred in otherwise fine weather, and on such days the snow
did not fall but was whirled up from the ground in dense clouds, and
during the lulls, a momentary glance of sunshine and blue sky had a
strange effect. And, as we gradually crept further and further north, a
sense of unspeakable loneliness seemed to increase with every mile we
covered. Let the reader try and realise that during the journey from
Verkhoyansk of over one thousand miles, we had seen perhaps fifty human
beings and--a dead ermine! When at Irkutsk I spoke of journeying to
Sredni-Kolymsk I was regarded as a lunatic by the majority of my
hearers. Yakutsk was their end of the world! And now that cold,
monotony and silence were gradually telling upon the brain and nerves, I
sometimes questioned, in moments of despondency, whether my Irkutsk
friends were not right when they exclaimed: "You are mad to go there."
There were compensations, notwithstanding, for a lover of Nature--the
sapphire skies and dazzling sunshine, the marvellous sunsets under which
the snowy desert would flash like a kaleidoscope of delicate colours,
and last, but not least, the glorious starlit nights, when the little
Pleiades would seem to glitter so near that you had but to reach out a
hand and pick them out of the inky sky.

On March 14 a large caravan hove in sight, composed of perhaps a score
of horse-sleds, which, as we neared it, halted, and a European emerged
from the leading sled to greet us. This bearded giant in tattered furs
proved to be the Russian naturalist, Yokelson, returning to Europe after
a two years' exploration in North-Eastern Siberia--principally in the
neighbourhood of Kamtchatka and the Okhotsk Sea. From Gijiga, Yokelson
had struck in a north-westerly direction to Sredni-Kolymsk, and was
bringing home a valuable collection for the society which had employed
him in the United States. The Russian could only give us the worst of
news from the Kolyma, where my expedition was expected by the
_ispravnik_, although the latter had assured Yokelson that our projected
journey to Bering Straits was out of the question. A famine was still
raging, there were very few dogs, and those half starved and useless,
and neither this official nor any one else in the place knew anything
about the country east of Sredni-Kolymsk. Three years previously a
Russian missionary had started with a driver on a dog-sled to travel
from the Kolyma along the coast to the nearest Tchuktchi settlement,
about 600 miles away, and the pair had never been heard of since. This
was the cheerful information which, happily, the Russian traveller
imparted to me in strict privacy.

Shortly after leaving Yokelson we crossed the Utchingoikel, or
"Beautiful Lake," so called from its picturesque surroundings in summer
time. At Andylach horses were harnessed to the sleds and we used no more
deer, there being no moss between here and Sredni-Kolymsk. The change
was not a desirable one, for the Yakute horse is a terrible animal.
"Generally he won't move until your sled is upset, and then he runs away
and it's impossible to stop him." So wrote Mr. Gilder, the American
explorer, and his experience was ours. But Gilder was compelled to ride
several stages and thus graphically describes his sufferings: "The
Yakute horse can scarcely be called a horse, he is a domesticated wild
animal. A coat or two was placed under the wooden saddle, so that the
writer was perched high in the air like on a camel. The stirrups were of
wood, and it was an art to mount, for they depended immediately from the
pommel. When you mounted ten to one that you fell in front of the
pommel, and as you could not get back over a pommel ten inches high you
slid over the horse's head to the ground and tried again. Yakute horses
are docile, provokingly so, for they have not enough animation to be
wicked. The favourite gait is a walk so slow and deliberate that you
lose all patience, and, if possible, raise a trot which is like nothing
known to the outside world; your horse rises in the air and straightens
out his legs and then comes down upon the end which has the foot on it,
the recoil bouncing you high up from your seat just in time to meet the
saddle as it is coming up for the next step. It's like constant bucking,
and yet you don't go four miles an hour!"

I could sympathise with the writer of the above, for during the first
day's work with these brutes I was upset five times, and felt towards
evening like an invalid after a hard day with hounds.

Crossing lake after lake (this is a Siberian Finland) with intervals of
forest and barren plain, we reached the last _stancia_ of any size,
Ultin. This is about two hundred miles from Sredni-Kolymsk, and the
rest-house showed signs of approaching civilisation, or rather Russian
humanity. For the floor was actually clean, there was a table and two
chairs, and a cheap oleograph of his Majesty the Emperor pinned to the
plank wall. The place seemed palatial after the miserable shelters we
had shared, and I seized the opportunity of a wash in warm water before
confronting the authorities at Sredni-Kolymsk.

On March 17 Atetzia was reached. This is, indeed, a land of
contradictions, for, although only ten miles from Sredni-Kolymsk, the
_povarnia_ here was the filthiest we entered throughout the journey from
Verkhoyansk. It contained two occupants, an old and ragged Yakute woman
and a dead deer in an advanced state of decomposition. The former lay
upon the mud floor groaning and apparently in great pain, with one arm
around the neck of the putrid carcase beside her, and I inferred that
she had been poisoned by partaking of the disgusting remains, probably
in a raw condition, for there were no signs of a fire. But the
medicine-chest alleviated her sufferings, and we left the poor wretch
full of gratitude and in comparative comfort. The same afternoon we
reached our destination, having accomplished the journey from
Verkhoyansk in eighteen days, although four months had been freely
predicted as its probable duration!



CHAPTER VIII

AN ARCTIC INFERNO


NOTE.--The information contained in the following chapter
was chiefly obtained from Government officials stationed at
Sredni-Kolymsk, the facts being afterwards verified, or
otherwise, by political exiles at the same place by my
request.


We reached Sredni-Kolymsk early in March on a glorious day, one of those
peculiar to the Arctic regions, when the pure, crisp air exhilarates
like champagne, and nature sparkles like a diamond in the sunshine. But
as we neared it, the sight of that dismal drab settlement seemed to
darken the smiling landscape like a coffin which has been carried by
mistake into a brilliant ball-room. I once thought the acme of
desolation had been reached at Verkhoyansk, but to drive into this place
was like entering a cemetery. Imagine a double row of squalid log-huts,
with windows of ice, some of which, detached by the warm spring
sunshine, have fallen to the ground. This is the main "street," at one
extremity of which stands a wooden church in the last stage of decay, at
the other the house of the Chief of Police, the only decent building in
the place. So low indeed are these in stature that the settlement is
concealed, two or three hundred yards away, by the stunted trees around
it. Only the rickety spire of a chapel is visible, and this overtops
the neighbouring dwellings by only a few feet. Picture perhaps a score
of other huts as squalid as the rest scattered around an area of half a
mile, and you have before you the last "civilised" outpost in Northern
Siberia. All around it a desolate plain, fringed by grey-green Arctic
vegetation and bisected by the frozen river Kolyma; over all the silence
of the grave. Such is Sredni-Kolymsk, as it appeared to me even in that
brilliant sunshine--the most gloomy, God-forsaken spot on the face of
this earth.

At first sight the place looked like an encampment deserted by trappers,
or some village decimated by deadly sickness; anything but the abode of
human beings. For a while our arrival attracted no attention, but
presently skin-clad forms emerged here and there from the miserable
huts, and haggard faces nodded a cheerless welcome as we drove past them
towards the police office. Here a dwelling was assigned to us, and we
took up our residence in quarters colder and filthier than any we had
occupied since leaving Verkhoyansk. And yet our lodgings were preferable
to many of those occupied by the exiles.

During our visit Sredni-Kolymsk had a population of about three hundred
souls, of whom only fourteen were political offenders. The remainder
were officials, criminal colonists, and natives of the Yakute, Lamute,
or Tunguse races. The Cossacks here subsist chiefly by trapping and
fishing, but are also nominally employed as guards--a useless
precaution, as starvation would inevitably follow an attempt to escape.
The criminal colonists are allotted a plot of ground in this district
after a term of penal servitude, and I have never beheld, even in
Sakhalin, such a band of murderous-looking ruffians as were assembled
here. They were a constant terror to the exiles, and even officials
rarely ventured out after dark.

The police officials here were sour, stern-visaged individuals, and our
welcome was as frigid as it had been warm at Verkhoyansk. The Chief of
Police had recently met his death under tragic circumstances, which I
shall presently describe, and I was received by the acting _ispravnik_,
whose grim manners and appearance were in unpleasant contrast to those
of our kind old friend Katcherofsky. Although this natural prison had no
bolts and bars or other evidences of a penal system, the very air seemed
tainted with mystery and oppression, and the melancholy row of huts to
scrawl the word "captivity" across the desolate landscape. Even the
_ispravnik's_ room, with its heavy black furniture and sombre draperies,
was suggestive of the Inquisition, and I searched instinctively around
me for the rack and thumbscrews. How many a poor wretch had stood in
this gloomy apartment waiting patiently, after months of unspeakable
suffering, for some filthy hovel wherein to lay his head. It seemed to
me that crape and fetters would more fittingly have adorned those
whitewashed walls than a sacred _Ikon_ encrusted with jewels, and
heavily gilt oil-paintings of their Imperial Majesties! A couple of
tables littered with papers occupied the centre of the room, and at one
of these sat the _ispravnik_, a wooden-faced peremptory person in dark
green tunic and gold shoulder straps. A couple of clerks, also in
uniform, were busily engaged at the other desk, sorting the mail which
our Cossack had brought, and in expectation of which a group of poorly
clad, shivering exiles were already waiting in the piercing cold
outside. But when we left this place ten days later not a single letter
had reached its destination, although the post-bag contained over a
hundred addressed to the various politicals.

Even the Governor-General's all-powerful document produced little effect
here, for the _ispravnik_ appeared to regard himself as beyond the reach
of even the Tsar's Viceroy, which, indeed, from an inaccessible point of
view, he undoubtedly was. "You cannot possibly go," was the curt
rejoinder to my request for dogs and drivers to convey us to the Bering
Straits. "In the first place, a famine is raging here and you will be
unable to procure provisions. Stepan tells me that you have barely
enough food with you to last for two weeks, and it would take you at
least twice that time to reach the nearest Tchuktchi settlement, which
we know to be beyond Tchaun Bay, six hundred miles away. A year ago two
of our people tried to reach it, and perished, although they left here
well supplied with dogs and provisions. For all I know the _Kor_ (which
has decimated this district) may have killed off the coast natives or
driven them into the interior of the country, and then where would you
be, even supposing you reached Tchaun Bay, with no shelter, no food, and
another month at least through an icy waste to Bering Straits. As for
dogs, most of ours have perished from the scarcity of fish caught last
summer; I don't think there are thirty sound dogs in the place, and you
would need at least three times that number. Reindeer, even if we could
get them, are out of the question, for there is not an ounce of moss on
the coast. But even with dogs forthcoming I doubt whether you would find
drivers to accompany you, for all our people are in deadly terror of the
Tchuktchis. No, no! Take my advice and give up this mad project even if
you have to remain here throughout the summer. It will at any rate be
better than leaving your bones on the shores of the Arctic Ocean."

My experience of Russian _ispravniks_ is varied and extensive, and I
therefore realised that argument was useless with this adamantine
official, whose petty tyranny was evidently not confined to his dealing
with his exiles. I therefore returned to our cheerless quarters in
anything but a pleasant frame of mind, and almost convinced that our
overland expedition was now finally wrecked. The outlook was not a
cheerful one, for the homeward journey would in itself be miserable
enough, without the addition of floods and a possible detention through
a sultry, mosquito-infested summer at Verkhoyansk. It has seldom been my
lot to pass such a depressing evening as that which followed my
interview with the _ispravnik_, but the prospect of an entire summer's
imprisonment in Arctic wilds affected us far less than the failure of
the expedition. Harding probably echoed the feelings of all when he
exclaimed with a gesture of despair: "When we set out on this job the
devil must have taken the tickets!"

Stepan alone was silent and taciturn. When I awoke next morning at
daybreak he had disappeared, presumably to procure reindeer for the
return journey. But the season was now so far advanced that the
_ispravnik_ called during the day to beg me not to risk a spring journey
to Yakutsk. It was far better, he averred, to remain here and travel
back in safety and comparative comfort in the late fall. It would even
be preferable to attempt the summer journey down the Kolyma River and
over the Stanovoi Mountains to Ola on the Okhotsk Sea. The trip had
certainly never been made, but then no more had our projected one to
America, and how infinitely preferable to arrive at Ola, where we might
only have to wait a few days for a steamer, than to start off on a wild
goose chase to Bering Straits which we should probably never reach at
all. "Besides," continued the _ispravnik_, "the Ola trip would be so
easy by comparison with the other. No drivers and dog-sleds to be
procured, merely a flat-bottomed boat which could be put together in a
few days." From my friend's eagerness to avoid trouble of any kind I now
strongly suspected that laziness was the chief cause of our present
dilemma, although this official's demeanour was so much more
conciliatory than on the previous day, that I fancied that a night's
reflection had revealed the unpleasant results that might follow my
unfavourable report of his conduct at Irkutsk. Although we sat for hours
that day consuming tea and innumerable cigarettes, I was no nearer the
solution of the problem at sunset than at dawn. And had I but known it,
all the time I was vainly urging this stolid boor to reconsider his
decision, help was arriving from a totally unexpected quarter. I
discussed a cheerless and silent meal with my companions, and we were
turning in that night when Stepan strolled in, cool and imperturbable as
usual. He even divested himself of furs and helped himself to food
before making an announcement which sent the blood tingling through my
veins with excitement and renewed hope.

"I have got the dogs," said the Cossack quietly, with his mouth full of
fish and black bread. "Sixty-four of them; we can go on now!" The news
seemed too good to be true, until Stepan explained that he had travelled
thirty miles down the river that day to obtain the animals from a
friend. The dogs were poor, weakly brutes, and the price asked an
exorbitant one, but I would gladly have paid it thrice over, or pushed
on towards our goal, if need be, with a team of tortoises. Even now I
anticipated some difficulty with the _ispravnik_, and was relieved when,
the next morning, he consented without demur to our departure. Indeed, I
rather fancy he was grateful to the Cossack for ridding him so easily of
his troublesome guests. The indefatigable Stepan had also procured three
drivers, so that I had no further anxiety on that score. But several
days must elapse before sufficiently strong sleds for our purpose could
be constructed. I therefore resolved to utilise the time by making the
acquaintance of the exiles and studying the conditions of their
existence in this out-of-the-way corner of creation. This was at first
no easy matter, for if the officials here were suspicious the politicals
were a thousand times more so, of one who had invariably written in
favour of Russian prisons. Most of these "politicals" were familiar with
Mr. Kennan's indictment and my subsequent defence of the Russian exile
system, but the fact that my party was the first to visit this place for
a period of over thirty years imbued an investigation of its penal
system with such intense interest that, notwithstanding many rebuffs, I
finally gained the confidence of all those who had been banished to this
Arctic inferno. And the information which I now place before the reader
is the more valuable in that it was derived, in the first place, from an
official source.

I should perhaps state that my experience of Russian prisons dates from
the year 1890. Mr. Kennan's report on the conditions of the penal
establishments throughout Siberia was then arousing indignation
throughout civilised Europe, and his heart-rending accounts of the
sufferings endured by political and criminal offenders obviously called
for some sort of an explanation from the Tsar's Government. A mere
official denial of the charges would have been useless; a disinterested
person was needed to report upon the prisons and _étapes_ which had been
described as hells upon earth, and to either confirm or gainsay the
statements made by the American traveller. The evidence of a Russian
subject would, for obvious reasons, have met with incredulity, and it
came to pass, therefore, that through the agency of Madame de Novikoff,
herself a prison Directress, I was selected for a task, which although
extremely interesting, subjected me to much unfavourable criticism on my
return to England. Some yellow journals even went so far as to suggest
that I had received payment from the Russian Government for
"whitewashing" its penal system, but I fancy the following pages should
conclusively disprove the existence of any monetary transactions, past
or present, between the Tsar's officials and myself, to say nothing of
the fact that my favourable account of the prisons of Western Siberia
has been endorsed by such reliable and well-known English travellers as
Dr. Lansdell and Mr. J. Y. Simpson. In fairness, however, to Mr. Kennan,
I should state that my inspection of the Tomsk forwarding prison and
similar establishments was made fully five years after his visit.

In 1894 I again proceeded to Siberia (under similar conditions) to
report upon the penal settlement on the Island of Sakhalin, the
political prison of Akatui, and the mines, where only convict labour is
employed, of Eastern Siberia. On this occasion I travelled from Japan to
the Island of Sakhalin on board a Russian convict ship, a voyage which
convinced me that the Russian criminal convict is as humanely treated
and well cared for at sea as he is on land, which says a great deal. I
have always maintained that were I sentenced to a term of penal
servitude I would infinitely sooner serve it in (some parts of) Siberia
than in England. It is not now my intention, however, to deal with the
criminal question, but to describe, as accurately as I can, the life led
by a handful of political exiles.

There are now only two prisons throughout the Russian Empire where
political prisoners are actually incarcerated,[40] one is the fortress
of Schlüsselburg on Lake Ladoga within a short journey of St.
Petersburg, the other the prison of Akatui, in the trans-Baikal
province, about three hundred miles east of Irkutsk. Schlüsselburg I
have never visited, but I inspected the prison of Akatui, and conversed
freely with the politicals within its walls. The majority were men of
education, but dangerous conspirators, condemned to long terms of penal
servitude. The strictest prison discipline, the wearing of fetters, hard
labour in the silver mines, and association at night in public cells
with the vilest criminals was the lot of those whom I saw at Akatui, and
yet I doubt if any of these men would willingly have changed places with
their exiled comrades "domiciled" in comparative liberty at
Sredni-Kolymsk. For the stupendous distance of the latter place from
civilisation surrounds it with even more gloom and mystery than the
Russian Bastille on Lake Ladoga, which is the most dreaded prison of
all.

[Footnote 40: Political prisoners are no longer confined in the fortress
of SS. Peter and Paul. Short terms of imprisonment previous to
banishment to Siberia are served in the citadels of Warsaw and other
cities, but Schlüsselburg and Akatui are the only establishments now
used as political prisons in the real sense of the word.]

At the time of our visit, the exiles here numbered twelve men and two
women, only two of whom had been banished for actual crime. One of these
was Madame Akimova, who was found with explosives concealed about her
person at the coronation of Nicholas II., and the other, Zimmermann,
convicted of complicity in the destruction of the public workshops at
Lodz by dynamite a few years ago. With these two exceptions the
Sredni-Kolymsk exiles were absolutely guiltless of active participation
in the revolutionary movement, indeed, most of them appeared to be
quiet, intelligent men, of moderate political views who would probably
have contributed to the welfare and prosperity of any country but their
own. Only one or two openly professed what may be called anarchistic
views, and these were young students, recent arrivals, who looked more
like robbing an orchard than threatening a throne. So far as I could
see, however, most of these so-called political offenders had been
consigned to this living tomb merely for openly expressing opinions in
favour of a constitution and freedom of speech. And strange as it may
seem, some of them were occasionally almost cheerful under circumstances
that would utterly annihilate the health and spirits of an average
Englishman. But even European Russia is an unutterably dreary land in a
stranger's eyes, which perhaps accounts for this remarkable fact.

The most pitiable characteristic about Sredni-Kolymsk is perhaps the
morbid influence of the place and its surroundings on the mental powers.
The first thing noticeable amongst those who had passed some years here
was the utter vacancy of mind, even of men who in Europe had shone in
the various professions. Amongst them was a well-known Polish
author,[41] who, upon his arrival here, only three years ago, set to
work upon an historical novel to lighten the leaden hours of exile. But
it must be more than disheartening to realise that your work, however
good it may be, will never reach the printer's hands. In six months the
book was thrown aside in disgust, and in less than a year afterwards the
writer's mind had become so unhinged by the maddening monotony of life,
that he would, in civilisation, have been placed under restraint. I met
also a once famous professor of anatomy (who had been here for seven
years), and who, although completely indifferent to the latest
discoveries of surgical science, displayed an eager interest as to what
was going on at the Paris music-halls. Indeed, I can safely state that,
with three exceptions, there was not a perfectly sane man or woman
amongst all the exiles I saw here.

[Footnote 41: I was requested to suppress the name.]

"A couple of years usually makes them shaky," said an official, "and the
strongest-minded generally become childish when they have been here for
five or six."

"But why is it?" I asked.

My friend walked to the window and pointed to the mournful street, the
dismal hovels, and frozen river darkening in the dusk.

"That," he said, "and the awful silence. Day after day, year after year,
not a sound. I have stood in that street at mid-day and heard a watch
tick in my pocket. Think of it, Mr. de Windt. I myself arrived here only
a few months ago, but even I shall soon have to get away for a change,
or----" and he tapped his forehead significantly.

The insanity which I found so prevalent amongst the exiles here is no
doubt largely due to physical privation. When a man is banished for
political reasons to Siberia, his property is confiscated to the
uttermost farthing by the Russian Government, which provides a fixed
monthly allowance for his maintenance in exile. At Sredni-Kolymsk it is
nineteen roubles a month, or about £1 16s., an absurdly inadequate
allowance in a place where the necessaries of life are always at famine
prices. During our stay here flour was selling at a rouble a pound, and
an abominable kind of brick tea at two roubles a pound, while candles,
sugar, and salt cost exactly five times as much as at Yakutsk, where
European prices are already trebled. The price of deer-meat was,
therefore, prohibitive, and the exiles were living throughout the winter
upon fish caught the preceding summer, unsalted, and therefore quite
unfit for human consumption. And this at mid-day was their sole
nourishment, breakfast and supper consisting of one glass of weak tea
and a small piece of gritty black bread! Sugar was such a luxury that a
lump was held in the teeth while the liquid was swallowed, one piece
thus serving for several days in succession. Were a house and clothing
provided, even the miserable pittance provided by the Government might
suffice to keep body and soul together, but this is not the case. Some
of the exiles were accordingly occupying almost roofless sheds that had
been vacated by the Yakutes, while many were so poorly clad that in
winter time they were unable to leave their miserable huts.

The house occupied by Monsieur Strajevsky, a Polish gentleman, whose
personality I shall always recall with sincere regard and sympathy, will
serve as a type of the better class of dwelling occupied by these
exiles. It consisted of a low, mud-plastered log hut about 6 ft. in
height, 14 ft. by 10 ft. was the measurement of the one room it
contained, with a floor of beaten earth, glistening with the filth of
years. A yellow light filtered dimly, even on the brightest day, through
the slab of ice which formed the solitary window, but it revealed only
too clearly the dirt and squalor of the room. Some planks on trestles
formed my friend's sleeping-place, and more planks strewn with books and
writing materials, his table. An old kerosene tin was the only chair,
and as I seated myself my friend went to the mud hearth and kindled a
few sticks, which burned brightly for a few moments and then flickered
out. He then left the hut, climbed on to the roof, and closed the
chimney with a bundle of rags. This is the Yakute mode of warming an
apartment, and it is practised for economy, for Sredni-Kolymsk is near
the tree line, and firewood, like everything else, is an expensive
article. Even timber is so costly here that towards sunset every
inhabitant of Sredni-Kolymsk fired up preparatory to blocking up his
chimney for the night. The outlook from our hut was at this hour a weird
and unique one, as an avenue of fires rose from the mud hovels and
ascended in sheets of flame to the starlit sky. But this illumination
was stifled in a few seconds by dense clouds of smoke. This method of
obtaining warmth is scarcely a success, for I sat during my visit to
Strajevsky in an atmosphere minus 47° Fahrenheit by my thermometer. And
in this miserable den my Polish friend, once a prosperous barrister in
Warsaw, had passed eight of the best years of his life, and is still, if
alive, dragging out a hopeless existence.

In summer time life here is perhaps less intolerable than during the
winter, for the Kolyma River teems with fish, and edible berries are
obtainable in the woods. Geese, duck, and other wild fowl are plentiful
in the spring, and as fire-arms are not prohibited, game at this season
is a welcome addition to a generally naked larder. Manual labour, too,
is procurable, and an exile may earn a few roubles by fishing,
trapping, wood-cutting, &c.; but the dark winter months must be passed
in a condition of inactive despair. During the winter season there are
two mails from Russia brought by the Cossacks in charge of the yearly
consignment of exiles, but in spring, summer, and early autumn
Sredni-Kolymsk is as completely cut off from the outer world, as a
desert island in mid-ocean, by swamps and thousands of shallow lakes
which extend landwards on every side for hundreds of miles. A
reindeer-sled skims easily over their frozen surface, but in the open
season a traveller sinks knee-deep at every step into the wet spongy
ground.

Summer here is no glad season of sunshine and flowers, only a few brief
weeks of damp and cloudy weather, for even on fine days the sun looms
through a curtain of mist. Rainy weather prevails, and the leaky huts
are often flooded for days together by an incessant downfall. Swarms of
mosquitoes and sand flies are added to other miseries, for there is no
protection against these pests by night or day, save by means of
_dimokuris_, a bundle of leaves, moss, and damp pine logs which is
ignited near a hut and envelops it in a perpetual cloud of pungent and
stifling smoke. At this season of the year there is much sickness,
especially a kind of low fever produced by the _miasma_ from the
surrounding marshes. Epidemics are frequent, and during our stay
smallpox was raging, but chiefly amongst the native population. Leprosy
is as prevalent here as in Central Asia, but Russians suffer chiefly
from bronchitis and diphtheria, which never fail to make their
appearance with the return of spring. Every one suffers continually
from catarrh, irrespective of age or race, indeed we all had it
ourselves. And yet in this hotbed of pestilence there is no Government
infirmary, nor is any provision whatever made for the sick. Mr.
Miskievitch (a young medical student and himself an exile) was attending
the community, but a total lack of medical and surgical appliances
rendered his case a hopeless one. I inquired for the old hospital and
was shown a barn-like construction partly open to the winds and occupied
by a family of filthy but thriving Yakutes. The new infirmary for which
a large sum of money was subscribed in St. Petersburg ten years ago
adjoined the older building, but the former was still in its initial
stage of foundations and four corner posts, where it will probably
reign, the silent witness of a late _ispravnik's_ reign and rascality.

But there exists a mental disease far more dreaded than any bodily
affliction, or than even death itself, by this little colony of martyrs.
This is a form of hysteria chiefly prevalent amongst women, but common
to all, officials, exiles, and natives alike, who reside for any length
of time in this hell upon earth.[42] The attack is usually unexpected; a
person hitherto calm and collected will suddenly commence to shout,
sing, and dance at the most inopportune moment, and from that time the
mind of the patient becomes permanently deranged. A curious phase of
this disease is the irresistible impulse to mimic the voice and actions
of others. Thus I witnessed a painful scene one night in the home of an
exile who had assembled some comrades to meet me, and, in the street one
day, a peasant woman, born and bred here, seized my arm and repeated,
with weird accuracy, a sentence in French which I was addressing to de
Clinchamp. This strange affliction is apparently unknown in other Arctic
settlements. It is probably due to gloomy surroundings and the eternal
silence which enfolds this region. The malady would seem to be
essentially local, for the daughter of a Sredni-Kolymsk official who was
attacked, immediately recovered on her removal to Yakutsk. On the other
hand, sufferers compelled to remain here generally become, after a few
years, hopelessly insane. In the opinion of Dr. Miskievitch the
affliction is largely due to a total inertia of the reasoning faculties,
which after a time becomes a positive torture to the educated mind.

[Footnote 42: The Russian explorer, Von Wrangell, mentions an apparently
similar mental disease as existing in these regions in 1820. He writes:
"There is here, indeed (Sredni-Kolymsk), as in all Northern Siberia,
that singular malady called _mirak_, which, according to the universal
superstition of the people, proceeds from the ghost of a much-dreaded
sorceress, which is supposed to enter into and torment the patient. The
_mirak_ appears to me to be only an extreme degree of hysteria; the
persons attacked are chiefly women."--"Siberia and the Polar Sea," by
Von Wrangell, 1829.]

This evil could undoubtedly be remedied. For instance, were mental work
of any kind, even unremunerative, provided by the Government it would be
eagerly welcomed by every exile with whom I conversed, but the
authorities seem to consider apathy of the mind as essential a
punishment as privation of the body. Some years ago the exiles here were
permitted to instruct young children of the Free Community, and their
life was thus rendered infinitely less unbearable than before, but
shortly afterwards, and for no apparent reason, an order was issued
from St. Petersburg to cancel this "privilege."

I found, oddly enough, an almost total lack of resentment amongst the
victims consigned here by an infamous travesty of justice. Madame
Akimova, for instance, a plain but homely-looking person, seemed devoted
to the care of her miserable little household to the exclusion of all
mundane matters. I sometimes wondered, as I sat in her hut, and watched
the pale, patient little woman clad in rusty black ceaselessly striving
to make his home less wretched for her husband, whether this could
really be Theisa Akimova, the famous Nihilist, whose name had one time,
and not so very long ago, electrified Europe. We often spoke of Paris,
which Akimova knew well, but she evinced little or no interest in the
political questions of the day, and I never once heard her murmur a word
of complaint. Nevertheless she is here for life. Zimmermann was another
example of mute resignation, but I fancy that in his case years of exile
had somewhat dulled the edge of a once powerful intellect. Strajevsky,
Miskievitch, and the others were enduring a life of captivity and
suffering for offences which, in any country but Russia, would scarcely
have subjected them to a fine, and yet they never in my hearing showed
vindictiveness towards those who had sent them into exile. And it is a
significant fact that, although the higher officials of State were
sometimes execrated, I never once heard a member of the Imperial family
spoken of with the slightest animosity, or even disrespect. A reason for
this is perhaps to be found in the following incident: Upon one
occasion I expressed my surprise to an exile that his Majesty the Tsar,
a ruler renowned for his humanity and tolerance, should sanction the
existence of such a place of exile as Sredni-Kolymsk.

"The Emperor!" was the answer with a bitter laugh; "you may be quite
sure that the Emperor does not know what goes on, or we should not be
here for a day longer."

Although the expedition remained here for only ten days, it seemed, on
the day of our departure, as though as many months had elapsed since our
arrival. Each day seemed an eternity, for my visit to the huts of the
exiles always took place, for obvious reasons, after dark. During the
hours of daylight there was absolutely nothing to do but to stare
moodily out of the window at the wintry scene as cheerless as a lunar
landscape. Outdoor exercise is undesirable in a place where you cannot
walk three hundred yards in any direction without floundering into a
snow-drift up to your waist. So during the interminable afternoons I
usually found my way to the tiny hut known as the Library. It contained
seven or eight hundred books on dull and dreary subjects which, however,
had been read and reread until most of the volumes were torn and
coverless. Amongst the numerous photographs of exiles past and present
that were nailed to the log wall one object daily excited my curiosity.
This was a funeral wreath composed of faded wild flowers secured by a
black silk ribbon, and bearing the golden inscription "Auf Wiedersehen"
in German characters. One evening at the house of an official I happened
to mention this withered garland, and learned that it had been laid
upon the coffin of a young exile by his comrades only a few weeks
previously. The sad circumstances under which this youth met his death,
and the startling _dénouement_ which followed the latter, form one of
the darkest tragedies that has occurred of recent years in the annals of
Siberian exile. I give the story word for word as it was related to me
by the successor of the infamous Ivanoff who figures in the tale.

In the winter of 1900 there came to Sredni-Kolymsk one Serge
Kaleshnikoff, who, previous to his preliminary detention at the prison
of Kharkoff, had held a commission in the Russian Volunteer Fleet. For
alleged complicity with a revolutionary society known as the "Will of
the People"[43] Kaleshnikoff was sentenced to imprisonment for twelve
months in a European fortress, and subsequent banishment for eight years
to Siberia.

[Footnote 43: Russian: _Narodna-Volya_.]

Kaleshnikoff was a young man of about twenty-three years of age, whose
sympathetic nature and attractive manners soon rendered him a universal
favourite. Even the officials regarded him more as a friend than a
prisoner--with one exception. This was Ivanoff, the Chief of Police,
whose marked aversion to the young sailor was noticeable from the first
day the latter set foot in the settlement. But as Ivanoff was an
ignorant and surly boor, disliked even by his colleagues, Kaleshnikoff
endured his petty persecutions with comparative equanimity.

One day during the summer of 1901, while fishing from a canoe on the
Kolyma, Kaleshnikoff espied the barge of Ivanoff returning from
Nijni-Kolymsk, a settlement about three hundred miles down the river.
The exile, who was expecting a letter from a fellow "political"
domiciled at the latter place, paddled out into mid-stream and boarded
the barge, leaving his canoe to trail astern. Ivanoff, who met him at
the gangway, had been drinking heavily, as was his wont. His only answer
to Kaleshnikoff's polite inquiry was an oath, and a shameful epithet, to
which the other naturally replied with some warmth. An angry discussion
followed, with the result that the Chief of Police, now livid with rage,
summoned the guard. By Ivanoff's orders Kaleshnikoff was then bound hand
and foot, flogged with rope's ends into a state of insensibility, and
flung, bruised and bleeding, into his boat. The latter was then cast
adrift, and the police barge proceeded on her way up the river.

The incident occurred some miles below Sredni-Kolymsk. The next evening,
as Madame Boreisha and M. Ergin (both exiles, and the latter an intimate
friend of Kaleshnikoff) were strolling by the riverside, they met the
latter, who, weakened by exhaustion and loss of blood, had taken more
than twenty-four hours to return to the settlement. Ergin, shocked by
his friend's wild and blood-stained appearance, pressed him for an
explanation, but Kaleshnikoff, with a vacant stare, waved him aside, and
with a despairing gesture disappeared into his hut, only a few yards
distant. A few minutes later a pistol-shot was heard, and Ergin,
instinctively fearing the worst, rushed to his friend's assistance, only
to find that the latter had taken his life. Beside the dead man was a
sheet of paper bearing the words, hastily scrawled in pencil:
"Farewell! I go to a happier land."[44]

[Footnote 44: I was told that the majority of the suicides amongst the
exiles here occur towards the end of their term of banishment, a fact
which seemed incredible until I learned that sentences are frequently
prolonged for an indefinite period, just at the time when the exile is
expecting release. The suspense and uncertainty attending the last
months of captivity are thus a frequent cause of self-destruction,
especially amongst women and the younger men.]

An inquiry followed, and Ivanoff was placed under temporary arrest.
Unfortunately for the Chief of Police, this order did not entail
confinement to the house, or he might have escaped the tragic fate which
overtook him on the afternoon of the very day that his victim was laid
to rest in a lonely grave in the suicides' graveyard[45] on the banks of
the river. As luck would have it, the hated official was lounging
outside his doorway, smoking a cigarette, as Ergin, a gun on his
shoulder, strolled homeward from the marshes. The latter asserts that
the act was unpremeditated, for at the time his thoughts were far away.
But Ergin adds: "The sudden appearance of that evil face and the
recollection of its owner's foul and inhuman cruelty suddenly inspired
me with uncontrollable fury, and I raised my fowling-piece and shot the
man dead, just as he had divined my purpose and turned to rush indoors."
Ergin has ere this been tried for murder at Yakutsk, but I was assured
that he would be acquitted, for Ivanoff's conduct would in any case have
met with severe punishment at the hands of the authorities in St.
Petersburg. Physical brutality is, as regards Russian political exiles,
a thing of the past, and an official guilty of it now lays himself open
to instant dismissal, or even to a term of imprisonment.

[Footnote 45: Only suicides are buried in this plot of ground, which
contains over a score of graves.]

Such is a plain and unvarnished account of the penal settlement of
Sredni-Kolymsk, an accursed spot which should assuredly and without
delay be erased from the face of civilisation. The above tragedy is but
one of many that have occurred of recent years, and although space will
not admit of my giving the details of others, I can vouch for the fact
that since the year 1898 no fewer than three cases of suicide and four
of insanity have occurred here amongst about a score of exiles. And yet
every winter more miserable hovels are prepared for the reception of
comrades; every year Sredni-Kolymsk enfolds fresh victims in her deadly
embrace. "You will tell them in England of our life," said one, his eyes
dim with tears, as I entered the dog-sled which was to bear me through
weeks of desolation to the Bering Straits. And the promise then made in
that lifeless, forsaken corner of the earth, where, as the exiles say,
"God is high and the Tsar is far away," I have now faithfully kept. For
the first time in thirty years I am able to give an "unofficial" account
of the life of these unfortunates, and to deliver to the world their
piteous appeal for deliverance. May it be that these pages have not been
written in vain, that the clemency of a wise and merciful Ruler may yet
be extended towards the unfortunate outcasts in that Siberian hell of
famine, pestilence, and darkness, scarcely less terrible in its ghastly
loneliness than those frozen realms of eternal silence which enshrine
the mystery of the world.



CHAPTER IX

THE LOWER KOLYMA RIVER


"Why don't you try to escape," I once asked an exile at Sredni-Koylmsk,
"and make your way across Bering Straits to America?" For I was aware
that, once in the United States, a Russian "political" is safe from the
clutch of the bear.[46]

[Footnote 46: A political exile escaping to the United States can become
(in ten years) an American citizen.]

"You do not know the coast," was the reply, "or you would not ask me the
question." My friend was right. A month later I should certainly not
have done so.

Indeed, had I been aware, at this stage of the journey, of the
formidable array of obstacles barring the way to the north-easternmost
extremity of Asia, I might perhaps even now have hesitated before
embarking upon what eventually proved to be the most severe and
distressing of all my experiences of travel. It does not look much on
the map, that strip of coast-line which extends from the Kolyma River to
Bering Straits (especially when viewed from the depths of a cosy
armchair); and yet I don't think there is a mile throughout its length
which is not associated in my mind with some harassing anxiety, peril or
privation.

Provisions of all kinds had become so scarce that a special permit from
the _ispravnik_ was necessary in order to enable us to purchase even a
pound of flour. Luckily a relief convoy had arrived from Yakutsk during
the week preceding our departure or a total lack of food must have
brought the expedition to a final standstill. However, after endless
difficulties and a lavish expenditure of rouble-notes, I managed to
procure provisions enough to last us on short rations, with the addition
of our own remaining stores, for about three weeks. I also secured a
cask of _vodka_ (or rather pure alcohol) to trade with the Tchuktchis,
for a sum which, in England, would have stocked a moderate-sized cellar.
Within three weeks I hoped to reach the first native settlement, said to
be six hundred miles distant. Should we fail to do so starvation seemed
unpleasantly probable, or death from exposure, our sole shelter being a
flimsy canvas tent more suitable for a Thames picnic than an Arctic
clime. And so we set out from Sredni-Kolymsk with seven men, five sleds
and sixty-four dogs. One of the sleds was loaded down with provisions,
our precious cask of _vodka_, and sundry deal cases containing
clasp-knives, cheap revolvers, glass beads, wooden pipes, &c., for the
natives, who do not use money. A sack of _mahorka_ was also taken along
for the same purpose. This is a villainous leaf tobacco so rank and sour
that it must be soaked in warm water before smoking; and yet, long
before we reached the Straits, it became far too precious to waste on
the Tchuktchis! Another sled was packed with dog-food, consisting of
inferior salt-fish, which we were also compelled to share with the teams
before Tchaun Bay was reached. My greatest anxiety, next to the food
supply, was regarding fuel. Every drop of oil had been exhausted some
days before reaching Sredni-Kolymsk, where no more was procurable, so
that artificial heat, that essential of Arctic travel, would have to be
entirely derived from the sodden drift-wood occasionally found on the
shores of the Polar Sea. I did not care to think much about what would
happen if this commodity failed us for any length of time. All things
considered, it is no exaggeration to say that my expedition was about as
suitably equipped for the work before it as a man who, in England, goes
out duck shooting in the depth of winter in a silk night-shirt!

Here, as at Verkhoyansk, our departure was witnessed by officials,
exiles and natives. Even the politicals took an active interest in this
hitherto unattempted journey, although perhaps this was partly due to
the fact that certain sealed missives, destined for Europe, were snugly
concealed about my person. Poor Strajevsky, whom I had learned to regard
more as a friend than as an acquaintance, made a sketch of our departure
which he promised to forward to me, but of course the drawing never
reached its destination. Where is now, I often wonder, the unfortunate
artist? He had lived for some time at Montrouge, in Paris, in order to
study the French language, but I was unable to trace any of the friends
there to whom he sent messages announcing his terrible fate.

From Sredni-Kolymsk, which we left on March 22, our way lay along the
Kolyma River[47] to Nijni-Kolymsk,[48] an almost deserted collection of
log huts surrounding a ruined wooden chapel. Our sleds were now lightly
built, uncovered contrivances to carry two men, about a dozen dogs being
harnessed to each. With a good team one may cover a long distance during
the day over level ground, but our poor half-starved brutes travelled so
slowly that my heart sank when I thought of the distance before them.
Throughout that dismal time America used to seem as unattainable as the
North Pole itself! I now directed that the sleds should travel in a
certain order. Mine was the leading _narta_, and Nos. 2, 3 and 4 were
occupied by de Clinchamp, Harding and Stepan respectively. Numbers 4 and
5 were provision-sleds which should have headed, not brought up the rear
of the caravan, although I did not discover this mistake, which nearly
cost us dearly, until after the passage across Tchaun Bay.

[Footnote 47: The River Kolyma, like the Indigirka, has its source in
the Stanovoi Mountains.]

[Footnote 48: "Sredni" signifies "Middle," and "Nijni" "Lower" Kolymsk,
according to their situations on the Kolyma River.]

Harding and Stepan each drove a sled, the three other drivers being
half-breed Kolyma-Russians, of whom two were of the usual stolid, sulky
type. The third, who accompanied me, was a character. A squat little
bundle of furs, with beady black eyes twinkling slyly from a face to
which incessant cold and bad brandy had imparted the hues of a brilliant
sunset. Local rumour gave Mikouline forty years, but he might have been
any age, certainly an octogenarian in such primitive vices as were
feasible within the restricted area of his Arctic home. Mikouline had
once travelled some distance down the coast, and was therefore installed
as guide. He and the other drivers agreed to accompany us as far as the
first Tchuktchi settlement, where I hoped to procure assistance and
transport from the natives. And at first I believed in my driver, for he
was a cheery, genial little fellow, so invariably facetious that I often
suspected his concealment of a reserve stock of _vodka_. And although
Mikouline's casual methods concerning time and distance were
occasionally disquieting, he was a past master in the art of driving
dogs, which is not always an easy one. The rudiments of the craft are
soon picked up, but, as I afterwards found to my cost, a team will
discover a change of driver the moment the latter opens his mouth, and
become accordingly unmanageable. Illustrations of dog-sleds in the
Arctic generally depict the animals as bounding merrily away at full
speed, to be restrained or urged on at the will of their driver, but
this is a pure fallacy, for a sled-dog's gallop is like a donkey's,
short and sweet. The average gait is a shuffling trot, covering from
five to seven miles an hour over easy ground; and even then desperate
fights frequently necessitate a stoppage and readjustment of the traces.
There are no reins, the dogs being fastened two abreast on either side
of a long rope. To start off you seize the sled with both hands, give it
a violent wrench to one side, and cry "Petak!" when the team starts off
(or should start off) at full gallop, and you jump up and gain your seat
as best you may. To stop, you jab an iron brake into the snow or ice and
call out "Tar!" But the management of this brake needs some skill, and
with unruly dogs an inexperienced driver is often landed on his back in
the snow, while the sled proceeds alone upon its wild career.
Laplanders and the Eskimo have each their method of dog driving, but the
above was that practised by ourselves and by the Tchuktchis on the
Siberian coast.

The journey of three hundred miles to Nijni-Kolymsk was accomplished in
five days, and it was pleasant enough, for every night was passed in the
hut of some fisherman or trapper who regaled us with tea and frozen
fish. The Kolyma settler is generally a half-breed; an uncouth but
hospitable being who leads a queer existence. During the short summer
his days are passed on the river in canoes, fishing and trapping, but in
winter furs are donned and dog-sled and rifle become a means of
livelihood. Fish is the staple article of food, and when the summer
catch has been a poor one a winter famine is the invariable result, and
this is what had marred our progress. Nevertheless, a famine here is
generally due to laziness, for the river teems with fish of all kinds,
sturgeon and salmon-trout predominating, and there is also the _tchir_,
a local delicacy. The busiest fishing season is in the early autumn,
when herrings ascend the river in such shoals that forty or fifty
thousand are frequently taken in a couple of days with a single net. Our
dogs were fed on this fish, which appeared to be much larger than the
European species. In the spring-time the Kolyma settler can revel in
game, for swans, geese, duck and snipe abound, although weapons here are
very primitive and the muzzle-loader prevails. Elk and Polar bear are
occasionally shot in the winter, but the former have become scarce, and
the latter only frequent the sea-coast.

Every hut, or even shed, we passed on the Kolyma had a name, which duly
appears on the table of distances in the Appendix, but there are only
two so-called villages between Middle and Lower Kolymsk, Silgisit and
Krest, making the stages of the journey 90, 180, and 240 miles
respectively. A little drive like the final stage of, say, London to
Durham with such short rests would probably knock up an English horse,
but even our weakly teams were fit to continue after twenty-four hours
at Lower Kolymsk. Krest, so named from a large wooden cross which stands
amidst a few log huts, was reached on March 24, and here we were
hospitably entertained by the inhabitants, who all appeared to live in
one house, the interior of which was cosy enough; and I here noticed for
the first time that the windows were made, not of ice, but of fish skin.
The other huts were deserted, for Krest is a fishing village only fully
populated in summer-time. There seemed to be a fair lot of cattle and
horses about the inhabited dwelling, where we shared the usual evening
meal of frozen fish, to which a goodly portion of roast deer had been
added in our honour. The meat would have been excellent had it not
reeked of wild thyme, a favourite ingredient on the Kolyma, but the
frozen berries served with it as a _compôte_ were delicious. These were
a species of bilberry, but my host informed me that a dozen edible kinds
are found within a couple of miles of the village, a kindly provision of
nature, as vegetables are here unknown. There were also edible roots,
one of which I tasted, but have no desire to repeat the experiment. I
was surprised at the sleek appearance of my host's cattle, but he told
me that the plains around Krest afforded good, but coarse, pasturage,
and sufficient hay to last throughout the winter months.

When we left Krest the night was bitterly cold, but clear and starlit,
and that evening is memorable on account of a strange dream which
disturbed my slumbers as I lay snugly ensconced in the sleeping-bag
which was now my nightly couch. Perhaps the roast deer and bilberries
had transported my astral self to the deck of a P. and O. liner at
Colombo, where the passengers were warmly congratulating me on a
successful voyage across Asia. "You have now only Bering Straits to get
over," said one, pledging me in champagne, and the geographical
inconsistency did not strike me until a captain in gold lace, with the
face of a Yakute, pointed out the little difference of several thousand
miles lying between Ceylon and our projected goal. The shock of this
discovery awoke me in terror, to shiver until dawn, yet heartily
thankful that Colombo and I were still where we should be! Not that a
short interval of tropical warmth would have been unwelcome that night,
for although the cold was not so severe as it had been inland, I found
on halting for breakfast that a mirror in a small bag under my pillow
was coated with a thin film of ice.

Grey skies and frequent snow-flurries were experienced as we neared
Nijni-Kolymsk, and as each mile was covered the vegetation on either
side grew scantier, for even at Srendi-Kolymsk the pine forests had lost
their grandeur. Here they dwindled away to scanty fir-trees, stunted
larches and grey-green willows drooping in the snow. There is no sadder
sight in creation than a sunset in these regions, when the heart seems
to sink in sympathy with the dying day, and a dull despair to deaden the
mind, as darkness creeps over a frozen world.

On the morning of Friday, March 28, we reached Nijni-Kolymsk, about
thirty log huts in various stages of decay. This settlement, which was
founded by Cossacks about the middle of the seventeenth century, is
surrounded by low scrub, and, as at Sredni-Kolymsk, the buildings left
standing are so low that they are invisible from the level of the river,
which is here about two miles wide. The surroundings, however, are more
picturesque than those of Middle Kolymsk, for a picturesque chain of
mountains breaks the horizon to the eastward, although the remainder of
the landscape consists of level and marshy tundra. In the reign of the
Empress Catherine Nijni-Kolymsk contained over five hundred sturdy
Cossacks and their families; it was peopled at the time of our visit by
about fifty poor souls, whose gaunt and spectral appearance told of a
constant struggle against cold, hunger and darkness. Nijni-Kolymsk had
once apparently boasted of a main street, but the wooden huts had fallen
bodily, one by one, till many now formed mere heaps of mud and timber;
those still erect being prevented from utter collapse by wooden beams
propped against them.

We found the entire community, consisting of half-breeds, Yakutes and
Tunguses, gathered outside the hut of the only Russian in the place, one
Jacob Yartsegg, who was banished here for life for smuggling rifles for
revolutionary purposes into Russia. Yartsegg, a tall elderly man in
ragged deerskins, informed me that the village possessed no _ispravnik_
but himself, at which I could scarcely restrain a smile. There was
something so "Gilbertian" in the idea of a prisoner acting as his own
jailer! This man spoke a little English and apologised for the damp and
darkness of the only hut he had to offer us. And in truth it was a
piteous hovel half filled with snow, which was soon melted by the heat
of our fire, rendering the floor, as usual, a sea of mud. There was not
a mouthful of food to spare in the place, and we ate from our own
stores. Yartsegg's dwelling was shared by a miserable creature who had
lost a hand and leg in a blizzard the previous year. The wounds, with no
treatment, had not even yet healed, and it made me shudder to think of
the agony the poor fellow must have endured, with cold and hunger to add
to his misery. But although the sufferer was a young man, now maimed for
life, he never complained save when pain in the festering limbs became
excruciating. Under such conditions a European would probably have
succumbed in a few weeks, but Arctic Siberia must be visited to
thoroughly realise the meaning of the words "suffering" and "patience."

The cold is not generally so severe at Nijni-Kolymsk as at the
settlement up river (Yartsegg's record showed 42° F. as the minimum
temperature of the month of March), but the climate here is less
endurable on account of violent snowstorms which occasionally occur even
in summer, and dense fogs which, during spring and autumn, continually
sweep in from the Polar Sea. The sun remains above the horizon for
fifty-two days, and the rest of the year varies from twilit nights in
June to almost complete darkness in midwinter. The village was certainly
not an attractive one, and as its occupants evinced a decided tendency
to encroach on our provisions I resolved to remain in it only a couple
of days. But here occurred the first of a series of _contretemps_ which
dogged my footsteps throughout the coast journey, for the drivers now
refused to carry out their contract, urging that even if a Tchuktchi
settlement were safely reached the natives there would certainly murder
us.[49] Here was an apparently insurmountable difficulty, for Mikouline,
who acted as spokesman, simply snapped his fingers at Yartsegg's
authority. Threats were therefore useless, and kindness equally futile
where this little scoundrel was concerned. In _vodka_ lay my sole hope
of victory, and the "exile-jailer" luckily possessed a limited store,
some of which I purchased, and set to work to subjugate the unruly
Mikouline by the aid of alcohol; an immoral proceeding no doubt, but no
other course was open. For I knew that my driver's example would at once
be followed by the others who, like sheep, blindly followed him in
everything. It would weary the reader to describe my hopes and fears
during the ten interminable days and nights that the war was waged. But
he will appreciate what they meant to the writer from the fact that
every day, even every hour, was now of utmost importance, owing to the
late season and probable break up of the sea-ice at no distant date.
Also we were rapidly consuming the provisions which were to form our
sole subsistence in the desolate Arctic. It therefore became necessary
to place each man on half rations, consisting of two frozen fish, one
pound of black bread and a quarter of a pound of _Carnyl_ per diem. My
triumph over Mikouline cost me several gallons of _vodka_, to say
nothing of hours of disgust and annoyance passed in close companionship
with the now maudlin, now abusive, little half-breed. To make matters
worse, the weather during that wasted fortnight was still, clear, and
perfect for travelling, and the very morning of our departure it broke
up with a gale and blinding snowstorm which occasioned another irksome
delay down river. Just as we were starting, the now sober Mikouline
again showed symptoms of weakening, until I plied him with bumpers of
_vodka_. So long as "the spirit moved him" my driver was all right; but
alas! the _Vodka_ would not last for ever, and where should we be then?

[Footnote 49: The Kolyma Russians have apparently always held this tribe
in great awe, for as far back as 1820 Von Wrangell wrote: "Our
sled-drivers were certainly not free from the deeply-rooted fear of
these people (the Tchuktchis), generally entertained by the inhabitants
of Kolymsk."]

Yartsegg begged me to visit some of his relatives in New York and
acquaint them of his existence, but although furnished with their
address I could never trace these people, and the exile talked so wildly
at times that my failure to execute the commission was perhaps due to
his impaired mind and memory. But half-witted and almost repulsive as
this poor fellow had become, it went to my heart to leave him in that
God-forsaken settlement, when on the morning of April 2nd we again set
out, in the teeth of a biting north-easter, for the shores of the Arctic
Ocean.



CHAPTER X

A CRUEL COAST


A few miles below Nijni-Kolymsk vegetation entirely disappears, and in
winter nothing is visible on all sides but vast and dreary plains of
snow-covered tundra. The first night was passed in a tiny log hut
belonging to a trapper and bearing the name, like any town or village,
of Tchorniusova. It was pleasant to reach even this rude shelter, the
last but one to separate us from the homeless immensity of the Arctic,
for the strong breeze of the morning increased by sunset to a northerly
gale which the dogs would not face. Towards midnight two Yukagirs (a
small tribe inhabiting the country due east of the Kolyma) arrived in a
dog-sled and begged for shelter, having with difficulty reached the hut
after several hours of battling against a furious _poorga_ which had
succeeded a change of wind to a westerly quarter. A _poorga_ is a kind
of Arctic typhoon justly dreaded on this coast, for its fury is only
equalled by the suddenness with which it overtakes the traveller. During
these tempests (which sometimes last two or three days) the snow is
whirled up in such dense clouds that objects a few yards away become
invisible, and it is impossible to make headway, for the dogs,
instinctively aware of peril, generally lie down and howl, regardless of
the severest punishment. The trapper here told me that on one occasion
he observed, after one of these storms, an unusual mound of snow near
his dwelling, and extricated from it the frozen remains of a Yukagir
driver and five dogs. The former had lain down to die within fifty yards
of shelter and salvation.

The weather improved towards daybreak and enabled us to make an early
start. A hard day's travelling followed, for the wind had cleared the
river of snow, and we sledded over slippery black ice, which would have
made a schoolboy's mouth water, but sadly impeded the dogs. Nearing the
ocean the Kolyma widens by several miles, and here we made our first
acquaintance with the ice-hummocks or "torosses" formed by the breakers
of the Polar Sea. Towards sunset a black speck was sighted on the snowy
waste, and two hours later we reached Sukharno, the Tsar's remotest
outpost on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, about eight thousand miles
from Petersburg. Here there was a single hut, so low in stature and
buried in the drifts that we had to crawl into it through a tunnel of
snow. The occupant was an aged Cossack who lived amid surroundings that
would have revolted an English pig, but we often recalled even this
dark, fetid den as a palace of luxury in the gloomy days to come.

We were awakened the following morning by the roaring of the wind, for
another _poorga_ had swooped down during the night, which kept us
prisoners here for the three following days. It was madness to think of
starting in such weather, and there was nothing for it but to wait for
a lull, alternately smoking, sleeping, and cursing Mikouline, the cause
of the delay. Fortunately the hut was weather-proof, and but for
perpetual anxiety I could almost have enjoyed the rest and warmth out of
reach of the icy blast. But who could sit down in peace or sleep for
more than five consecutive minutes when tortured by the thought that the
_poorga_ might rage for an indefinite period and that the journey to
Tchaun Bay must occupy at least three weeks, while our stock of food was
slowly but surely diminishing? Even the scanty allowance I had fixed
upon for each man was doled out by Harding reluctantly, and with a
doubtful glance, as much as to say, "Will it last?" a question which for
the past week had dinned itself into my brain several thousand times
within the twenty-four hours. Here again Mikouline showed signs of
mutiny, and I was compelled to broach our store of _vodka_ to keep him
up to the mark, which I did so successfully that my driver started from
Sukharno in an advanced state of intoxication, after a bout of
fisticuffs with his aged host. But the little scoundrel would certainly
not have started in a sober condition.

We left Sukharno on the morning of April 6, in a strong north-westerly
gale accompanied by driving snow, but later in the day the sky
brightened and we forged ahead as rapidly as rough sea ice would permit.
Soon it became much colder, a favourable sign, for here a falling
thermometer invariably precedes clear, still weather. But it seemed ages
before we lost sight of Sukharno, and while it was still in sight I
often glanced back for a last look at that lonely snow-covered hut, for
it was our last link with civilisation, indeed with humanity. This is,
however, not strictly correct, for later in the day we passed the wooden
beacon erected by the Russian explorer Lieutenant Laptief in the year
1739. The tower, which stands on a prominent cliff, is still in a
remarkable state of preservation and is visible for a great distance
around. And talking of Laptief reminds me of other travellers who have
explored these frozen wastes. I had before leaving Europe ransacked the
book-stores of London and Paris, but had failed to obtain any practical
knowledge of the country which we were about to traverse. Nordenskjold's
"North-East Passage, or the Voyage of the _Vega_," was invariably
produced by every bookseller I questioned, but as the Swedish explorers
never left their ship, this work, as a guide, was quite useless to me.
So far, therefore, as finding the Tchuktchis was concerned I was much in
the position of a wild Patagonian who, set down at Piccadilly Circus, is
told to make his way unassisted to the Mansion House. For although
Mikouline affected a knowledge of the coast, I doubt if he knew much
more than I did. My literary researches showed me that the journey we
were undertaking had only twice been performed by Europeans, or rather
Americans (in a reverse direction) about twenty years ago. This was when
the U.S. surveying ship _Rodgers_ was destroyed by fire in the ice of
Bering Straits, and Captain Berry (her commander) and Mr. W. Gilder
(correspondent of the _New York Herald_) started off in midwinter to
report her loss, travelling through Siberia to Europe, which was
reached, after many stirring adventures, in safety.

The works of the earlier explorers afforded me almost as little
assistance as the "Voyage of the _Vega_." In a volume, however, written
by the famous Russian explorer Admiral Von Wrangell, I gleaned that,
"The first attempt to navigate the Polar Ocean to the east of the Kolyma
was made in 1646 by a company of fur hunters under the guidance of Issai
Ignatiew. The sea was covered with thick drift-ice, nevertheless the
travellers found a narrow passage, through which they advanced for two
days, when they ran into a bay surrounded by rocks and obtained by
barter some walrus teeth from the Tchuktchis dwelling there. Their
ignorance of the language of the natives and the warlike disposition of
the latter made it appear prudent not to venture further, and Ignatiew
returned to the Kolyma. From his imperfect report it is difficult to
judge how far his voyage extended. From the time expended, however, it
is probable that he reached Tchaun Bay."

The subsequent expedition and fate of the Russian explorer Schalarof are
thus chronicled by the same author:

"The ice in the Kolyma did not break up in 1762 until July 21, when
Schalarof put to sea and steered for a whole week on a N.-E. and
N.-E.-by-¼-E. course. On August 19 the ship was completely beset by
large fields of ice. In this dangerous situation, rendered more alarming
by a dense fog which concealed the shore, they continued until the 23rd,
when they found means to work themselves out of the ice and to gain
open water again. They tacked for some time among the fields of ice, in
the hope of making and doubling Cape Shelagskoi; but being detained by
ice and contrary winds, the advanced season at length obliged Schalarof
to seek for a convenient wintering place. This he hoped to find in an
inlet on the west side of the cape which led into Tchaun Bay, first
visited and surveyed by him. On the 25th he passed between the mainland
and the island of Arautan. On the 26th he struck upon a sand-bank, from
which it cost the crew much labour to get afloat again. Schalarof went
on shore, but finding neither trees nor drift-wood, was obliged to sail
further, in search of some place provided with this indispensable
requisite. He shaped his course along the southern shore of the bay, as
far as the island of Sabadei. Finally, he resolved to return to the
Kolyma, which he entered on September 12, and reoccupied his quarters of
the preceding winter."

"On the return of spring, Schalarof desired to put to sea again, in the
hope of effecting his favourite object, the doubling of Cape Shelagskoi;
but his crew, weary of the hardships and privations they had endured,
mutinied, and left him. This forced him to return to the Lena. He then
went to Moscow, and having obtained some pecuniary assistance from the
Government, undertook, in 1764, another voyage to Cape Shelagskoi, _from
which he never returned_."

"For a long time none but vague rumours circulated respecting his fate.
I was so fortunate in 1823 as to discover the spot, about seventy miles
from Cape Shelagskoi, where Schalarof and his companions landed, after
they had seen their vessel destroyed by the ice. Here, in a black
wilderness, struggling against want and misery, he ended his active
life; but a late posterity renders this well-deserved tribute of
acknowledgment to the rare disinterested spirit of enterprise by which
he was animated."

"On Schalarof's chart, the coast from the Yana to Cape Shelagskoi is
laid down with an accuracy that does honour to its author. He was the
first navigator that examined Tchaun Bay, and since his time no fresh
soundings have been taken there."

Apparently the Russian explorer Laptief only once made an attempt to
travel by land from the Kolyma to Bering Sea, but this was by an
entirely different route to ours.

"Considering it impossible to effect by sea the task assigned him by
surveying the Anadyr River,[50] Laptief resolved on an undertaking
attended by equal danger and difficulty, namely, to proceed overland
with his whole crew, crossing the mountains, and traversing the country
of the hostile Tchuktchis. With this view he left Nijni-Kolymsk on
October 27th, 1741, and directed his course towards the Anadyr, with
forty-five _nartas_ drawn by dogs. On November 4th he arrived at
Lobasnoie, on the Greater Anui. As that river forms the boundary of the
country inhabited by the wandering Tchuktchis, Laptief deemed it
prudent, during his passage through what might in some measure be
considered an enemy's territory, to observe the utmost caution, and to
subject his men to a strict military discipline. They ascended the
Greater Anui, crossed the chain of mountains Yablonoi Khrebét, and
reached the Anadyr Ostrog on November 17th _without having seen a single
Tchuktchi on the way_."

[Footnote 50: Which in those days was supposed to fall into the Polar
Sea.]

Concerning another expedition Von Wrangell writes: "The Geodets
undertook a third excursion over the ice in 1771. Starting from the
Kolyma they arrived on the last of the Bear Islands on March 9th. There
they remained six days on account of bad weather, and then started for
Tchaun Bay. Three days they continued in a due east direction, and
having gone forty-eight versts, turned off to the Baranov rocks, from
which they were fifty versts distant, and where they arrived on the
18th. Having rested there and killed a white bear, they continued their
journey along the coast in an easterly direction, but on the 28th, their
provisions running short, they were forced to return. On April 6th they
arrived again at Nijni-Kolymsk, after driving about 433 versts."

All this was not very encouraging, especially the fact, recorded by Von
Wrangell, that a traveller named Hedenstrom once made an attempt to
reach Shelagskoi about the same time of year as ourselves, but "found
the ice already so thin that he was obliged to renounce the plan. He
even found it difficult to retrace his own track to the Kolyma, where,
however, he arrived in safety and spent the following summer."

This was the sole information which I was able to extract from a score
of volumes dealing with Arctic exploration, and, briefly, it came to
this: Von Wrangell had once travelled in winter, with dogs, from
Nijni-Kolymsk to Koliutchin Bay (about two-thirds of the distance to
Bering Straits). Berry and Gilder had traversed the entire distance,
from the Straits to the Kolyma River, under similar conditions; and why,
therefore, should we not do likewise? There was a "but," however, and a
formidable one. These three travellers had made the coast journey in the
depth of winter (with a good three months of solid ice before them),
while we were about to attempt it in the declining spring.

On the first day, when travelling about two miles out to sea not far
from the mouth of the Kolyma River, Harding, with an exclamation of
surprise, drew my attention to a group of men apparently gathered
together on the brink of a cliff. But a moment's reflection showed me
that, viewed from this distance, these figures, if human beings, must
have been giants of fifty feet high. The resemblance, however, was so
startling that we steered inshore for a closer inspection, and my
glasses then revealed the rocky pinnacles which nature has so weirdly
fashioned in the shape of man. The effect in this desolate and ice-bound
wilderness was uncanny in the extreme. Von Wrangell noticed these
pillars in 1820, and measuring one found it forty-three feet in height.
He describes it as "something like the body of a man, with a sort of cap
or turban on his head, and without arms or legs," but to us they
appeared much more lifelike.

We made good headway during the greater part of the first day in clear
and cloudless weather, but towards evening the sky became overcast and a
rapidly rising wind brought down another shrieking _poorga_, which
compelled us to encamp in haste under the lee of a rocky cliff, luckily
at hand when the storm burst upon us. At this time a breastplate of
solid ice was formed by driving snow on our deerskins, and an idea of
the intense and incessant cold which followed may be gleaned by the fact
that this uncomfortable cuirass remained intact until we entered the
first Tchuktchi hut nearly three weeks later. But this first _poorga_,
although a severe one, was nothing compared to the tempests we
afterwards encountered. Nevertheless, our flimsy tent was twice blown
down before morning, its re-erection entailing badly frozen hands and
faces, for having encamped without finding drift-wood there was no fire
and therefore no food. Cold and hunger precluded sleep, and I passed the
cold and miserable hours vainly endeavouring to smoke a pipe blocked by
frozen nicotine. This may be taken as a fair sample of a night in dirty
weather on that cruel coast. At daybreak we commenced another hunt for
drift-wood, which was not discovered for several hours, when every one
was utterly worn out from the cold and lengthened fast.

Sometimes a _poorga_ would rage all day, and in this case progress was
out of the question. The solitary meal would then consist of frozen fish
or iron-like chunks of _Carnyl_ which were held in the mouth until
sufficiently soft to be swallowed. There was of course no means of
assuaging thirst, from which we at first suffered severely, for the
sucking of ice only increases this evil. And want of water affected even
the sleds, the runners of which should be sluiced at least once a day,
so as to form a thin crust of ice which slides easily over a frozen
surface.

On April 7 we reached a landmark for which Mikouline had been searching
in some anxiety, the Bolshaya-Reka or Big River. All that day we had
been at sea, picking our way through mountainous bergs and hummocks,
some quite sixty feet in height, while the sleds continually broke
through into crevasses concealed by layers of frozen snow. On the right
bank of this river we found a deserted village once occupied by
trappers; half a dozen ruined huts surrounding a roofless chapel. The
place is known as Bassarika, a corruption of Bolshaya-Reka, and
Mikouline had known it ten years ago as the abode of prosperous fur
traders. But one hard season every living being perished from smallpox
and privation, and the priest alone escaped to carry news of the
disaster to Nijni-Kolymsk.[51]

[Footnote 51: Twenty or thirty years ago there were three or four
Russian settlements, and at least as many Tchuktchi villages between the
Kolyma River and Tchaun Bay, but there is now not a solitary being on
the coast throughout the whole distance of nearly six hundred miles.]

Our drivers camped here with reluctance, for the place is said to be
haunted, and its silent, spectral appearance certainly suggested an
abiding-place of evil spirits. But one of the ruined huts, although
pitch dark and partly filled with snow, offered a pleasanter shelter
than our draughty tent, and I insisted upon a halt. Drift-wood was
plentiful (it always was near the mouth of a river), and a fire was soon
kindled, or rather a bad imitation of one, for this fuel only yields a
dull, flickering flame. This latter, however, melted the snow
sufficiently to convert the floor of our shanty into a miniature lake,
and we therefore left it in disgust and adjourned to the deerskin tent
shared by Stepan and the drivers, hard snow being a preferable couch to
several inches of icy-cold water. This happened to be my birthday, and
Harding triumphantly produced a tiny plum pudding, frozen to the
consistency of a cannon-ball, which he had brought all the way from
England in honour of the occasion. But we decided to defer the feast
until we could enjoy it in comparative comfort, perhaps on the shores of
Bering Straits--if we ever reached them! My notes between Bassarika and
Tchaun Bay are very incomplete, for they were generally made at night,
when the temperature inside the tent seemed to paralyse the brain as
completely as it numbed the fingers. Oddly enough there is nothing
colder than paper, and when the bare hand had rested upon it for a few
moments it had to be thrust back into a fur mit to restore circulation.

Imagine a barren, snow-clad Sahara absolutely uninhabited for the first
six hundred miles, and then sparsely peopled by the filthiest race in
creation, and you may faintly realise the region traversed by my
expedition for nearly two months of continuous travel from the last
Russian outpost to Bering Straits. Place a piece of coal sprinkled with
salt on a white tablecloth, a few inches off it scatter some lump sugar,
and it will give you in miniature a very fair presentment of the
scenery. The coal is the bleak coast-line continually swept clear of
snow by furious gales; the sugar, sea-ice, and the cloth the frozen
beach over which we journeyed for over 1600 miles. The dreary outlook
never changed; occasionally the cliffs vanished and our way would lie
across the tundras--marshy plains--which in summer encircle the Polar
Sea with a belt of verdure and wild flowers, but which in winter-time
are merged with the frozen ocean in one boundless, bewildering
wilderness of white. In hazy weather land and sky formed one
impenetrable veil, with no horizon as dividing line, when, even at a
short distance away, men and dog-sleds resembled flies crawling up a
white curtain. But on clear days, unfortunately rare, the blue sky was
Mediterranean, and at such times the bergs out at sea would flash like
jewels in the full blaze of the sunshine, while blocks of dark green
ice, half buried in snow under shadow of the cliffs, would appear for
all the world like _cabochon_ emeralds dropped into a mass of whipped
cream. But the reverse of this picture was depressing in the extreme.
For on cloudy days the snow would assume a dull leaden appearance, and
the sea-ice become a slate grey, with dense banks of woolly, white fog
encircling the dismal scene. Fair and foul weather in the Arctic
reminded me of some beautiful woman, bejewelled and radiant amid lights
and laughter, and the same divinity landing dishevelled, pale, and
sea-sick from the deck of a Channel steamer.

But we had little time, or indeed inclination, to admire the beauties of
nature, which are robbed of half their charms when viewed by the owner
of an empty stomach. Did not Dr. Johnson once truthfully remark that,
"the finest landscape is spoiled without a good inn in the foreground"?
Time also in our case meant not merely money, but life, and we were
therefore compelled to push on day after day, week after week, at the
highest rate of speed attainable by our miserable teams, which, to do
them justice, did their best. The poor beasts seemed to be instinctively
aware that our food would only last for a limited period. When the coast
was visible we steered by it, travelling from 6 A.M. until we struck
drift-wood, the traveller's sole salvation on this coast. Sometimes we
found it and sometimes we didn't, in any case it was seldom more than
sufficient to boil a kettle, and bodily warmth from a good fire was an
unknown luxury. Even a little oil would have been a godsend for heating
purposes, but we had used up every drop we possessed before reaching
Sredni-Kolymsk, where no more was attainable, and I dared not waste the
alcohol brought for the purpose of bartering with the Tchuktchis. I can
safely say I have never suffered, physically or mentally, as I did
during those first two weeks along the shores of North-Eastern Siberia.
We were often compelled to go without food throughout the twenty-four
hours, and sometimes for thirty-six, our frozen provisions being
uneatable uncooked. At night, after a cheerless meal, we would crawl
into sleeping-bags and try to sleep in a temperature varying from 35° to
45° below zero. And sometimes lying sleepless, miserable, and half
frozen under that flimsy tent, I resolved to give it all up and make an
attempt to return to the Kolyma River, although even retreat would now
have been attended with considerable peril. And yet, somehow, morning
always found us on the march again eastward. On the beach we got along
fairly well, but steep, precipitous cliffs often drove us out to sea,
where the sleds had to be pushed and hauled over rough and often
mountainous ice, about the toughest work I know of. We then travelled
about a mile an hour, and sometimes not that. The end of the day
generally found us all cut about, bruised, and bleeding from falls over
the glassy ice; and the wounds, although generally trifling, were made
doubly painful by frost and the absence of hot water. I enter into these
apparently trivial details as at the time they appeared to us of
considerable importance, but the reader may think them unnecessary, just
as the man who has never had toothache laughs at a sufferer. Toothache,
by the way, was another minor evil that greatly increased our sufferings
during those dark days of hunger and incessant anxiety.

And yet, if all had gone well, all these troubles--added to intense cold
and semi-starvation--would have been bearable; but everything went
wrong. First it was the dogs, as famished as ourselves, who dragged
their tired limbs more and more heavily towards evening as the weary
days crawled on, and every morning I used to look at their gaunt flanks
and hungry eyes, and think with despair of the thousand odd miles that
lay between us and Bering Straits. Then the Russian drivers, secretly
backed by Mikouline, threatened almost daily to desert us and return to
the Kolyma. One morning all three burst into my tent and vowed that
nothing should induce them to proceed a mile further. Finally, force had
to be employed to keep these cowards together, and, luckily, we were
well armed, which they were not. But this trouble necessitated a watch
by night, as exhausting as it was painful in the pitiless cold. Only ten
days out from the Kolyma we were living on a quarter of a pound of
_Carnyl_ and a little frozen fish a day, a diet that would scarcely
satisfy a healthy child. Bread, biscuits, and everything in the shape of
flour was finished a week after leaving Kolymsk, but luckily we had
plenty of tea and tobacco, which kept life within us to the last.

Then sickness came. Owing to the frequent dearth of fuel our furs and
foot-gear were never quite dry, and during sleep our feet were often
frozen by the moisture formed during the day. One fireless night De
Clinchamp entirely lost the use of his limbs, and a day's delay was the
result. Four days later he slipped into a crevasse while after a bear
and ruptured himself. This bear, by the way, was the only living thing
we saw throughout that journey of nearly six hundred miles to Tchaun
Bay. Then I was attacked by snow-blindness, the pain of which must be
experienced to be realised. Goggles gave me no relief, and in
civilisation the malady would have necessitated medical care and a
darkened room. Here it meant pushing on day after day half blinded and
in great agony, especially when there was no drift-wood and therefore no
hot water to subdue the inflammation. Sleep or rest of any kind was
impossible for nearly a week, and for two days my eyes closed up
entirely and I lay helpless on a sled, which was upset, on an average,
twice every hour on the rough, jagged ice. At last we struck a fair
quantity of wood and halted for forty-eight hours, and here I obtained
relief with zinc and hot water, while Mikouline proceeded to rub tobacco
into his inflamed optics, a favourite cure on the Kolyma, which oddly
enough does not always fail. About this time one of the dogs was
attacked with rabies, and bit several others before we could shoot it.
We lost over a dozen dogs in this way before reaching Bering Straits,
this being probably due to the casual manner in which Stepan treated the
disease. When one animal had to be destroyed he coolly led it about at
the end of a string to find a suitable spot for its execution, and when
another went mad, and I was for despatching it, suggested that we could
ill spare it from the team for a few days longer! And yet,
notwithstanding these hourly difficulties, privations, and hardships, I
am proud to say that I never once heard a word of complaint from a
single member of my party, although those days of constant toil and
suffering in that grave of nature, the Arctic, might well have tried the
constitution of a Sandow and the patience of a Job! And I may add that
no leader of an expedition could wish for three more courageous and
unselfish companions than the Vicomte de Clinchamp, George Harding, and
last, but not least, the Cossack Stepan Rastorguyeff, whose invaluable
services throughout this journey will, I am informed, be suitably
rewarded by the Russian Government.

About one day in four was bright and sunny, and would have been almost
pleasant under other circumstances. Even our chicken-hearted drivers
would become less gloomy under the genial influence of bright sunshine,
and join together in the weird songs of their country until darkness
again fell, bringing with it disquieting fears of the murderous
Tchuktchi. Most of that memorable journey was made through a constant
succession of snowstorms, gales and _poorgas_. We met three of the
latter between the Kolyma River and Cape North, the last one striking us
on the twentieth day out, as we were crossing Tchaun Bay, on the eastern
shores of which I hoped to find a settlement. Although the weather just
before had been perfectly clear and calm, in five minutes we were at the
mercy of such a tempest that men and dogs were compelled to halt and
crouch under the sleds to escape its fury.

During a temporary lull we got under way again, and for seven of the
longest hours of my life we floundered on. As even a gentle zephyr up
here, blowing against the face, means considerable discomfort, and
anything like a gale, acute distress, the reader may imagine what it
meant to struggle against a howling _poorga_. During those terrible
hours one could only glance hastily to windward, for the hard and frozen
snow cut like a whip into cheeks and eyeballs. Every few minutes the
weak, half-starved dogs would lie down, and were only urged on by severe
punishment which it went to my heart to see inflicted, but to reach land
was a question of life or death. Sometimes the coast would loom ahead
through the blinding snow, but we had to steer by the compass, which,
for some occult reason, was that day useless, for it pointed east and
led us due north towards the sea. At last, after a journey from the
opposite coast of ten hours, with faces, feet and hands badly frozen, we
reached land exhausted, and, for the time being, safe. Some drift-wood
and the shelter of a friendly cave were handy, or that night some of us
must inevitably have perished. But after a painful struggle up a steep
cliff, waist-deep in snow, and a crawl into the cheerless refuge, the
cry was raised, "A sled is lost!" and there was nothing for it but to
face the _poorga_ again in search of the missing _narta_ and its driver,
one of the Kolyma men. For perhaps an hour every man floundered about
the hummocks and crevasses of the bay with a dogged perseverance born of
the knowledge that at this time of the year large floes are often
detached from the main pack and blown out to sea. But at last even
Stepan's pluck and endurance were exhausted (to say nothing of my own),
and I blew the whistle for a general retreat to our cavern, only to find
the missing sled triced up with the others and its occupant snugly
reposing inside the rock. And right glad we were to find not only the
man in charge of it but also the missing sled, which had contained the
last remnants of our provisions!

That night, after the evening meal, every mouthful of food we had left
was two pounds of _Carnyl_ and fourteen frozen fish, and this must
suffice for nine men and sixty ravenous dogs! Hitherto we had joked
about cannibalism. Harding, we had said, as being the stoutest member of
the party, was to be sacrificed, and Stepan was to be the executioner.
But to-night this well-worn joke fell flat. For we had reached the
eastern shores of Tchaun Bay, and this was where we should have found a
Tchuktchi village. When the sun rose next morning, however, not a sign
of human life was visible. Even Stepan's features assumed a look of
blank despair, but the plucky Cossack aroused our miserable drivers as
usual with his cruel _nagaika_[52] and compelled them to make a start,
although the poor wretches would willingly have resigned themselves to a
death which undoubtedly overtook them a few days later.

[Footnote 52: Cossack whip.]

We had lost three dogs during the blizzard on Tchaun Bay, and the rest
were so weary and footsore that it seemed little short of brutal to
drive them on. But to stop here meant starvation, so we struggled
painfully onwards to the eastward, growing weaker and weaker every hour.
At times I felt as if I must lie down in the snow and give way to an
overpowering feeling of drowsiness, and Harding and De Clinchamp
afterwards confessed that they frequently experienced the same feeling.
But Stepan, perhaps more inured to hardships than ourselves, was the
life and soul of our party during that long, miserable day, and it was
chiefly due to his dogged determination (combined with a small slice of
luck) that on that very night, when things seemed to be on the very
verge of a fatal termination, we came upon signs of human life in the
shape of a kayak with a paddle propped against it on the snowy beach. An
hour later we sighted our goal--the first Tchuktchi settlement! And the
relief with which I beheld those grimy, walrus-hide huts can never be
described, for even this foul haven meant salvation from the horrors of
a lingering death.



CHAPTER XI

IN THE ARCTIC


Our reception by the Tchuktchis at Cape Shelagskoi[53] was so surly that
I began to think there might be some reason for the repeated warnings of
our friends on the Kolyma. Two or three woebegone creatures in ragged
deerskins, crawled out of the huts and surveyed us with such suspicion
and distrust that I verily believe they took us for visitors from the
spirit world. As a rule the Tchuktchi costume is becoming, but these
people wore shapeless rags, matted with dirt, and their appearance
suggested years of inactivity and bodily neglect. I noticed, however
with satisfaction that their churlish greeting was not unmingled with
fear, although they obstinately refused the food and shelter begged for
by means of signs, pointing, at the same time, to a black banner
flapping mournfully over the nearest hut. This I knew (from my
experiences at Oumwaidjik in 1896) to be the Tchuktchi emblem of death.
Our sulky hosts then indicated a dark object some distance away upon the
snow, which I sent Stepan to investigate, and the Cossack quickly
returned, having found the corpses of several men and women in an
advanced stage of decomposition. An infectious disease was apparently
raging, for several sufferers lay helpless on the ground of the first
hut we entered. I imagine the malady was smallpox, for a lengthened
experience of Siberian prisons has made me familiar with the
characteristic smell which accompanies the confluent form of this
disease. On the other hand, it may have been _kor_, the mysterious
epidemic which had lately desolated the Kolyma district, and of which we
had heard even as far south as Yakutsk.

[Footnote 53: Von Wrangell writes that during his coast journey an old
Tchuktchi near here told him that he was descended from the Chelagi, or,
as they are usually called by the Tchuktchi, the Tchewany, who many
years since migrated towards the west and have not since been seen. He
adds: "The first of these names has been preserved in Cape Shelagskoi,
and the second in that of Tchewan or Tchaun Bay."]

But food must be obtained at any cost. To leave this place without an
adequate supply would have been sheer madness, especially as we had
ascertained from the natives that the next settlement was at least nine
"sleeps" (or, in Tchuktchi dialect, days) away. Our own stores had now
dwindled down to a few frozen fish, but here, for the first (and by no
means the last) time, _vodka_ came in useful, for there lives no
Tchuktchi who will not sell his soul for alcohol. The fiery spirit
procured seal-meat sufficient to last us, with care, for ten days. I can
safely say that this is the most disgusting diet in creation, but we
devoured it greedily, with keen appetites sharpened by the knowledge
that twenty-four hours more would have seen us starving.

There were about thirty people in this place who had escaped the
prevailing pestilence, but all showed such a marked aversion to our
presence that I sparingly dispensed our _vodka_. A drunken Tchuktchi is
a murderous devil, and I had no desire to repeat my experiences amongst
these people of 1896, when my life was more than once in jeopardy
during their orgies. However, the natives of Erktrik (as this place is
called), were so openly hostile that even the usually truculent
Mikouline, who once, under the influence of his favourite beverage, had
offered to accompany me to a much warmer and remoter place than this,
was paralysed with fear. I therefore resolved to push on early the
following day (April 22), but that night we were all too exhausted to
keep the usual watch, and when we awoke late the next morning our three
Kolyma friends had bolted, taking some of our seal-meat with them. There
can be no doubt that the fugitives perished trying to reach their home,
for panic had deprived them of the reasoning power to steal a sled and
dogs, or even a compass, which they might easily have done. The food the
poor fellows took was perhaps sufficient for a week's consumption,
certainly not for a journey of at least a couple of months on foot. A
more vicious and unprincipled scoundrel than Mikouline probably never
existed, and yet I missed him sorely afterwards, and would give a good
deal, notwithstanding all the trouble he gave me, to know that the
little ruffian had reached the Kolyma in safety. But this is, I fear,
outside the bounds of possibility. We did not leave the next day, for
Erktrik, or rather Cape Shelagskoi, proved a Pandora's box of unpleasant
surprises, including another tempest, which, though not so severe as the
_poorga_ which preceded it, detained us here for forty-eight hours.
These were passed in scouring the coast in search of the drivers, but
although their footsteps were visible for a couple of miles they ceased
abruptly where the runaways had taken to the ice in order to recross
Tchaun Bay.

On the morning of April 23 we left Erktrik, now each driving a sled, the
fifth team being hitched on to Stepan's _narta_. A dead calm had now
succeeded the wind, and we halted at midday for a rest of an hour. There
being drift-wood near camp, I decided to eat our daily meal here instead
of waiting, as usual, until the evening. And that was one of the
pleasantest hours throughout the whole of that distressing journey, for
the air was still, and the sun blazed down upon our little tent and
filled it with a bright warm light, which, but for the desolate
surroundings and unsavoury odour of seal-meat, would have recalled Nice
or Monte Carlo. The ice, too, on beard and moustache, and clinking
against the drinking-cup, was scarcely suggestive of the Riviera; but,
nevertheless, the momentary peace and warmth were little short of
luxurious. And the dogs seemed to relish the sun and warmth as much as
ourselves, as they lay around, asleep or indulging in the quaint antics
which often made me wonder whether they were not in some way distantly
allied to the human race. For the Siberian sled-dog is unquestionably
the most sagacious animal in existence, and many a time have his comical
vagaries lightened my hours of despondency. In appearance the Siberian
differs essentially from the Eskimo dog, and is a stronger though
smaller animal, seldom of a uniform colour, being generally black and
white, black and tan, &c. His eyes are often of a light blue colour from
the incessant snow-glare, which has a queer effect, especially, as often
happens, when one pupil has retained its original colour. The leader of
my team, a lean, grizzled old customer with the muzzle of a wolf, was
the quaintest of all. Oddly enough, kicks gained his friendship much
more readily than kindness, if the kicker happened to be a favoured
acquaintance; if not, trouble was likely to ensue, as De Clinchamp once
found to his cost! Towards the other male dogs of my team "Tchort," or
the Devil, assumed an air of almost snobbish superiority, but to the
females he was affability itself. The reader will scarcely believe that
I have seen this weird animal squat gravely in front of one of the
opposite sex, extend his right paw and tap her playfully on the jowl,
the compliment being returned by an affectionate lick on Tchort's right
ear. But this is a fact, and only one of many extraordinary
eccentricities which I observed amongst our canine friends while
journeying down the coast. Tchort, however, was a sad thief and stole
everything he could lay his hands, or rather teeth, upon, from seal-meat
to a pair of moccasins. At night, therefore, when other dogs were free
to roam about camp, my leader was invariably fastened firmly to a sled,
where he usually revenged himself by howling dismally at intervals. But
he was a capital leader and as steady as a rock, excepting when the
team, at the sight of a distant object on the snow, would give one
piercing yelp of joy, and bolt towards it at breakneck speed, utterly
regardless of the brake or curses of the driver. I am bound to say that
on these occasions Tchort was the most unruly of the lot.

Beyond Erktrik the coast becomes so rocky and precipitous that we
travelled chiefly over the sea, and progress was slower than it had
been yet on account of the mountainous ice we encountered around the
numerous headlands. There was little driving to do, every man having to
turn to and haul with the dogs, or lift the sleds bodily across
crevasses, or over steep, slippery icebanks. For a week the sky remained
unclouded, and the sun beat down so fiercely that during the day our
garments were soaked with perspiration, which would freeze to the skin
at night and intensify the cold. West of Cape North the coast is of no
great height, and although distance and the rarefied atmosphere often
made the cliffs appear of formidable dimensions, a nearer approach
generally showed that a man could stand on the beach and,
metaphorically, shake hands with one on their summits. With plenty of
decent food this part of the journey would have been comparatively
enjoyable, but as we had only enough seal-meat to last for ten days, and
as I feared that the Erktrik natives, wishing to be rid of us, had
misinformed me as to the distance away of the next village, I could only
issue provisions very sparingly. Luckily my fears were unfounded, for in
a week we reached the second settlement, Owarkin, which was more
prosperous, and where a goodly supply of food was produced in exchange
for half a dozen dogs, some tea and a few articles of barter. The
natives here were less unfriendly, but as most of them had never seen a
white man we were regarded with great curiosity. All day the tent was
packed with eager faces, and at night-time the canvas opening was
continually pushed aside, much to our discomfort, for the cold here was
very severe. But these people were such a welcome contrast to the
sulky, ill-conditioned natives down coast that we gladly suffered this
minor discomfort. We remained in this place for one night only, and
pushed on with renewed hope, encouraged by the kindly demeanour of the
natives, for Cape North. But now the fair weather broke up, and almost
daily we had to fight against gales and blizzards, which weakness,
caused by filthy diet, almost rendered us incapable of. But we pegged
away cheerfully enough, although every one was suffering more or less
from troublesome catarrh; De Clinchamp was partially crippled by
frost-bite, and snow-blindness caused me incessant pain--agony on sunny
days when there was a glare off the ice. To make matters worse,
drift-wood was so scarce at this time that a small fire was only
attainable every second day. Luckily I had kept a few wax candles, and
with the aid of these enough snow was melted to serve as a lotion for De
Clinchamp and myself. I was harassed, too, by the thought that at our
slow rate of speed Koliutchin Bay (still eight hundred miles away) would
probably be found broken up and impassable, in which case the entire
summer would have to be passed amongst these treacherous natives. For
should the Revenue cutter, which the American Government had kindly
undertaken to send to our assistance in June, not find us at East Cape,
she would probably sail away again, under the impression that we had
returned to the Kolyma. In any case she would scarcely come more than a
hundred miles or so west of Bering Straits, and Koliutchin was quite
three times that distance. There is probably no region in the world
more inaccessible than North-Eastern Siberia, and even had the ill-fated
André managed to effect a landing, say between Tchaun Bay and the Kolyma
River, he would, unless well supplied with provisions, in my opinion,
have perished.

Near Cape Kyber a huge bear and its cub were seen in the ice off the
island of Shalarof,[54] about three miles from the coast. De Clinchamp,
Stepan and half a dozen dogs at once went in pursuit, less for the sake
of sport than of replenishing our larder, but after an exciting chase
the brute got away, leaving its cub to be devoured by the dogs before
Stepan could secure it, a keen disappointment to us all.[55] We
frequently came across tracks after this, but saw no more bears, which
from everything but a gastronomical point of view was no loss. For there
is no more sport in shooting the polar species than in knocking over a
rook or a rabbit.

[Footnote 54: About three and a half versts north of Cape Kyber there is
a rocky island of two and a half versts in circumference, entirely
surrounded by hummocks. I gave it the name of Shalarof, after the man
whose enterprise, courage, and perseverance, and finally whose death in
these regions, have well deserved that his name should be so
recorded.--"The Polar Sea," by Von Wrangell.]

[Footnote 55: Von Wrangell writes that dogs have a remarkable aversion
to bear's flesh as long as it is warm, but this was not our experience
on this occasion.]

Finally Areni, a large village near Cape North, was reached, and here we
found food in plenty, even some deer-meat, which, although putrid, was
most acceptable. The _kor_, or smallpox, had not visited this place, and
we saw and heard no more of this dread disease eastward of this. From
here on to Cape North villages became more frequent and natives more
friendly. In one place the sight of a San Francisco newspaper filled us
with joy and a pleasant sense of proximity, although it _was_ two years
old. We traced it to an American whaler, for the trade of this coast is
now no longer in Russian hands, but in those of the whaling fleet from
the Golden Gate. At present there is no communication whatsoever between
the Tchuktchis and the Kolyma, as we had already found to our cost.

A hard journey of over two days from here, during which scarcity of
drift-wood caused us much trouble, brought us to Cape North.[56]
Darkness had now almost left us, and on April 28 we travelled nearly
throughout the night in a dim daylight, arriving the next morning at a
small village of three huts called Yugetamil. "And it's about time,"
murmured Harding, on hearing the name. But the atrocious pun was justly
received in silence. About fifteen miles east of this we sighted
mountains, perhaps thirty miles to the southward, known to the
Tchuktchis as the Puk-tak range. The highest peak, Mount Uruni, about
3000 feet high, was visible in clear weather.

[Footnote 56: Concerning this region Von Wrangell wrote: "Drift-wood is
scarce along this coast, partly from the consumption by Tchuktchis, and
partly from natural causes. The greater part of the drift-wood found
between the Shelagskoi and the Bering Straits is probably of American
origin, for it consists chiefly of stems of pines and firs. My opinion
that the drift-wood on this part of the coast comes from America is
confirmed by the assertion of the Tchuktchis that among the trunks of
fir they not unfrequently find some that have been felled with stone
axes."]

Nearing Cape North the ice was so bad that our progress seldom exceeded
two miles an hour, but the cliffs here are quite perpendicular, so that
it was impossible to travel by land. In places they were covered to a
height of forty feet or so by the clear green or blue ice formed by
breakers of the preceding year, and the dazzling colours reflected by
the sunshine on the glassy surface of the rocks was marvellous to
behold. Nearing the cape the ice was piled up so high that I feared at
one time we should never succeed in rounding the headland. The sleds
were constantly hauled up hummocks sixty to seventy feet high, and much
care was needed to prevent them falling headlong from the summits with
the dogs. Every one had over a score of bad falls that day, and although
no bones were broken I slipped up towards midday and landed heavily on
the back of my head with my feet in the air. But for three thick fur
caps my skull must have been fractured, and for several minutes I lay
unconscious. All that day we toiled along, now scrambling over
mountainous "torosses," now wading waist-deep in soft snow, which
occasionally gave way to precipitate us into invisible holes. When, late
at night, we reached a small village of two huts (name unknown), men and
dogs were quite exhausted, and had the tiny settlement been half a mile
further we could never have reached it. Here again we disposed of three
dogs for more seal-meat, and went on the next morning rejoicing,
notwithstanding a stiff gale from the eastward accompanied by snow.

At Cape North the natives were the friendliest we had yet seen, and we
actually obtained flour and molasses, priceless luxuries. Pancakes fried
in seal oil may not sound appetising, but to us they tasted like the
daintiest of _petits fours_. And the welcome news that Koliutchin Bay
would remain frozen until late in May enabled me to hope that we might
now reach Bering Straits, a contingency which only a few days before had
seemed extremely remote. This information was furnished by a Tchuktchi
named Yaïgok, whose home was within a few miles of Bering Straits, and
who spoke a few words of English picked up from the American whalemen.
This man was returning with a sled-load of bearskins and fox furs, to
trade to the whaling fleet. He was a fine, strapping fellow, and I
gladly accepted his offer to guide us as far as his village, for twelve
dogs, some tobacco and a couple of clasp-knives. Several natives here
had travelled as far as the Bering Straits, which they called the "Big
River," the land beyond it, Alaska, being known as "Nagurok" in the
Tchuktchi dialect.

The village at Cape North is known to the natives as Irkaïpien. From a
distance the promontory presents almost the appearance of an island, as
it is joined to the low land by a landspit hidden in winter by stranded
ice. This is probably the point seen in 1777 by Captain Cook, from whom
it received its present name, but I rechristened it Cape Despair, on
account of the difficulty we experienced in reaching it from the time
when it was first sighted. Mentioning the fact to Stepan, I was much
entertained by an anecdote related by the Cossack in connection with the
names of places. He had once accompanied a German traveller, who was
compiling a volume of his experiences, down the Yenisei River in
Siberia. On several occasions the tourists' inquiries as to
topographical names were met with the reply, "Imia niet," for the
country they were travelling was new to Stepan. When, however, the book
of travel was published in Berlin, a mountain, two rivers and a village
were carefully described under the title of the above two words which in
Russian signify: "It has no name!"

[Illustration: CAPE DESPAIR.]

I was rather disturbed while at Cape North to hear the name of my old
friend Koari of Oumwaidjik continually mentioned by the natives, for
although I well knew the old scoundrel's influence extended along the
coast in a southerly direction, I was not prepared to find it existing
amongst the Tchuktchis of the north-eastern seaboard. One of my chief
objects had been to avoid the Oumwaidjik people, and I had therefore
planned our route so as to steer north of the place by over two hundred
miles. However, nothing was known here of the enmity existing between
myself and this old bandit, who, by reason of the punishment inflicted
on him on my account by the United States Government, would probably
have made things warm for us had he been aware of my proximity, I had
hitherto imagined that no land communication existed between Oumwaidjik
and the Arctic Coast, and that by the time navigation re-opened we
should be far away from the clutches of my old enemy, with whom our
guide, Yaïgok, was apparently on intimate terms. I therefore resolved to
be careful, the more so that at Natska, a village about ten days east of
Cape North, we found a caravan of sixteen dog-sleds, laden down with
furs, on the point of departure.

"Where are those people going?" I inquired of Yaïgok, as the team
started away across the tundra in a south-easterly direction.

"Over the mountains to Koari!" replied the Tchuktchi, and I prudently
refrained from questioning him further.

Another unpleasant incident occurred at Cape North, where a gale and
heavy snow detained us for two days. A young native, having imbibed our
_vodka_, clamoured loudly for more, and when Stepan refused to produce
the drink, drew a knife and made a savage lunge which cut into the
Cossack's furs. In an instant the aggressor was on his back in the snow,
and foreseeing a row I seized a revolver and shouted to my companions to
do likewise. But to my surprise the crowd soundly belaboured their
countryman, while Yaïgok apologised on behalf of the chief, for the
man's behaviour. Nevertheless, there were dissentient voices and ugly
looks, so that I was not altogether sorry to leave Irkaïpien behind us.

We made rapid headway after this, for most of the way lay over tundra as
smooth and flat as a billiard-table. Our guide's sled continually left
us far behind, for the Tchuktchi's _nartas_ are far superior to those
made on the Kolyma. Yaïgok's dogs, too, were fresh and hardy, while ours
were exhausted by hunger and hardship. Our method of harnessing was also
inferior to the Tchuktchi method, which brings the strain on the
shoulders instead of the neck. These people, like the Yakutes, are very
kind to animals. I never once saw them strike their dogs, which were
urged on by rattling an iron ring fixed for the purpose to the end of
the brake. Yaïgok knew every inch of the road and saved many a mile by
short cuts taken across land or sea. The cold here was great and
drift-wood scarce, but one could be sure now of passing some settlement
at least every three or four days, where even a foul glimmer of a
seal-oil lamp was better than no fire at all. About this time the sleds
gave us much trouble--the rough usage they had undergone necessitating
constant repairs, but these were quickly made, for not a scrap of metal
enters into the construction of a Kolyma dog-sled; merely wooden pegs
and walrus-hide thongs, which are more durable and give more spring and
pliancy than iron nails. Three days after leaving Cape North, and in
fine weather, Wrangell Land was sighted, or, I should perhaps say, was
probably sighted, for at times huge barriers of icebergs can easily be
mistaken for a distant island. Yaïgok, however, averred that it was an
island, and his judgment was probably correct.

The journey from here eastwards to Bering Straits would under ordinary
circumstances of travel have seemed a severe one, for we travelled
through head winds and constant snowstorms, which now, with a rising
temperature, drenched our furs and made the nights even more miserable
than those of intense, but dry, cold. One thing here struck me as
curious, every snow-flake was a most perfect five-pointed star, as
accurately shaped as though it had passed through a tiny mould.
Discomforts, as I have said, continued, not to say hardships, but we had
become so inured to the latter that we could now, with well-lined
stomachs, afford to despise even blizzards with shelter never more than
twenty or thirty miles distant. Our diet was not appetising, consisting
as it did for the most part of oily seal and walrus-meat, but
drift-wood was now more plentiful, and we could usually reckon on that
blessing, a fire at night. There was now little difficulty in finding
settlements, one of which was reached on an average every twenty-four
hours, but it was necessary to keep a sharp look-out, for the low,
mushroom-like huts of the Tchuktchis are invisible a short distance away
and are easily passed unnoticed during a fog or in driving snow. Fogs,
by the way, were very prevalent as we neared the Straits, and became
denser in proportion as the spring advanced.

East of Cape North we had no bother whatever with the natives, who in
many places even refused payment for food and assistance. Passing the
villages of Wankarem and Onman[57] we reached, on May 10, Koliutchin, a
large village situated on an island in the bay of that name. Here we
were received with open arms by the chief, who spoke a little English,
picked up, like Yaïgok's, from American whalemen at East Cape. Professor
Nordenskjold's ship the _Vega_ wintered here some years ago, and the
natives showed us souvenirs of the Swedish explorer's visit in the shape
of clasp-knives and tin tobacco-boxes. The irony of fate and obstinacy
of pack-ice are shown by the fact that all on board the _Vega_ were
expecting an easy passage through Bering Straits to the southward, and
yet within twenty-four hours were compelled to remain for another winter
securely ice-locked off this dreary settlement.

[Footnote 57: Our American charts made these villages sixty miles apart,
whereas they are not divided by a third of the distance.]

Koliutchin Island was called Burney Island by Captain Cook, but Whale
Island would be a better name for it than either, for it exactly
resembles a narwhal on the surface of the sea. There appeared to be
frequent communication with the mainland, for we reached the island
(about four miles in circumference and twenty-five miles from the coast)
by a well-defined sled-track; perhaps luckily, for the bay was otherwise
obstructed by heavy ice. News travels like lightning along this part of
the coast, and Kouniang, the chief, and a crowd of natives received us
as we landed along the beach. As soon as our tent was pitched, deer-meat
(only slightly tainted!), flour and molasses were brought us, also some
sticky American sweets, which having reposed for some time in the
chief's deerskin _parka_, were covered with hairs. But we were used to
this slight inconvenience, for since leaving Yakutsk I had seldom
partaken of a meal which was not freely sprinkled with capillary
particles, either from our own furs or the surroundings. I verily
believe that between Verkhoyansk and East Cape I consumed, in this way,
enough hair to stuff a moderately sized pillow!

Kouniang was one of the richest natives on the coast, and his trade with
the whale-ships was extensive; he providing the Americans with
whalebone, walrus tusks and furs, in exchange for cotton goods, canned
provisions and rubbish of all kinds "made in Germany." The chief would
take no payment for his hospitality, and this was perhaps fortunate, as
I had very little to give him. So many of our dogs had died or been
bartered that only thirty-one were now left, and these, with four sleds,
about fifteen pounds of Circassian tobacco and under a gallon of
_vodka_, represented the entire assets of the expedition. Poverty is a
serious crime in a civilised country, but in some savage lands it means
absolute starvation, and the problem of tiding over perhaps a couple of
months at East Cape without means of paying for food now caused me
considerable anxiety. A credit was awaiting me at Nome City in Alaska,
but the Tchuktchi scarcely understands banking transactions. Everything
depended upon the charity or otherwise of the chief at East Cape; and,
as the reader may imagine, I left Koliutchin in a very perplexed state
of mind.

Koliutchin Bay was negotiated in beautiful weather, much to my relief,
for I had experienced misgivings after our terrible experiences in
Tchaun Bay. But a blue sky and perfect stillness enabled our now
exhausted dogs to carry us across in under seven hours, and I was glad
to reach the eastern shore, for great lakes of open water on every side
showed that we were not a day too soon. The sun had now become so
powerful that most of our travelling was done by night, for during the
daytime the ice was often inch-deep in water, and the runners were
imbedded in the soft and yielding snow. The coast from here on to Bering
Straits is said to be rich in minerals; but although coal was frequently
seen cropping out from the cliffs and mica is plentiful, we saw no gold,
and only heard on one occasion of the precious metal. This was at
Inchaun, about a day's journey from East Cape, where one Jim, an
English-speaking Tchuktchi informed me that he knew of "a mountain of
gold" about ten miles away. The lad offered to walk to the place (now
almost inaccessible on account of melting snow), and to bring me
specimens of the ore, which I agreed to, undertaking to repay him with
one of our much-battered sleds on arrival at East Cape. The next day Jim
returned with several attractive bits of rock, which, however, when
tested by an expert at Nome City, were found to be absolutely worthless.
I had heard of this mountain of gold in London, where I believe it once
figured in an alluring prospectus! Jim, I fancy, was a bit of a humbug,
who had served on a whaler and was therefore not wholly unacquainted
with iron pyrites. Indeed this was the most intelligent Tchuktchi I ever
met, although his language would have startled an English bargee. The
white man he regarded with extreme contempt, alluding to us
indiscriminately as "disfellah" as he sat in our tent, calmly sharing
(without invitation) any repast that was going on, and occasionally
pausing to exclaim, between the mouthfuls, "By G--! you come a long
way!"

At Inchaun, Yaïgok left us, and we proceeded alone and rapidly along the
now level beach and rolling tundra. The comparative ease and comfort
with which we accomplished the last three hundred miles of the coast
journey was due to the fact that the natives are in yearly touch with
the American whaling fleet, and are therefore generally well provided
with the necessaries of life. On May 19 we reached East Cape, the
north-easternmost point of Asia, after a voyage of nearly two months
from Sredni-Kolymsk. At this point the expedition had accomplished
rather more than half the entire journey, and had travelled, from Paris,
a distance of about 11,263 English miles.



CHAPTER XII

AMONG THE TCHUKTCHIS


The wintry aspect of nature around Bering Straits seemed to predict a
late summer, and it looked as though months must elapse before the
Revenue cutter courteously placed at my disposal by the United States
Government could break through the ice and reach us. My original idea
was to try and cross over the frozen Straits to Cape Prince of Wales, in
Alaska, a feat never yet attempted by a white man, but I found on
arrival at East Cape that the passage is never essayed by the
Tchuktchis, and only very rarely by the Eskimo. During the past decade
perhaps a dozen of the latter have started from the American side, but
only a third of the number have landed in Siberia, the remainder having
either returned or perished. The distance from shore to shore at the
nearest point is about forty miles, the two Diomede Islands and Fairway
Rock being situated about half-way across. Bering Straits are never
completely closed, for even in midwinter floes are ever on the move,
which, with broad and shifting "leads" of open water, render a trip on
foot extremely hazardous. Our subsequent experience on nearly seven
miles of drifting ice, across which we were compelled to walk in order
to land on American soil, inspired me with no desire to repeat the
experiment.

East Cape, Bering Straits, practically "the end of the end of the
world," is about the last place where you would expect to find a white
man, especially in springtime, which, in this far North, answers to the
depth of winter in England. When we arrived there, East Cape had been
cut off by ice from the world ever since the previous summer, which
rendered the presence of "Billy," as the natives called him, the more
remarkable. At first I mistook the man for a Tchuktchi, for he had
adopted native costume, and a hard winter passed amongst these people,
combined with a painful skin disease, had reduced him to a skeleton. The
poor fellow had suffered severely, mentally and physically, and could
only crawl about the settlement with difficulty, and yet, when news
first reached the cape of our approach, he had set out to walk along the
coast and meet us, and was brought back from the first village, fifteen
miles away, more dead than alive. Billy was a young man, about
twenty-five years old, whose hardships had given him a middle-aged
appearance. He belonged to the American middle class and was apparently
well educated, and, as I suppress his name, there can be no harm in
giving his history.

A year before we found him, Billy had left his home in San Francisco to
ship as ordinary seaman on board a whaler. But a rough life and stormy
weather soon cured him of a love for the sea, and while his ship was
lying at Nome City he escaped, intending to try his luck at the
diggings. A report, however, had just reached Nome that tons of gold
were lying only waiting to be picked up on the coast of Siberia, and the
adventurous Billy, dazzled by dreams of wealth, determined to sink his
small capital in the purchase of a boat in which to sail away to the
Russian "El Dorado." Having stocked his craft with provisions, Billy
started alone from Nome, and after many hair-breadth escapes from
shipwreck in the Straits, managed to reach East Cape. This was early in
the month of August, when an American Revenue cutter is generally
cruising about, and the Californian was delighted with his kindly
reception from the Tchuktchis, ignoring that the latter are not so
pleasantly disposed when alone in their glory and fortified by a frozen
sea. For nearly a month Billy remained at East Cape, prospecting every
day, and working like a galley slave in the marshy "tundras" swarming
with mosquitoes, only to return, every night, to his walrus-hide hut
with growing despair. For although the streams teemed with fish, not a
glimmer of gold rewarded his labours. Time crept away and the coming
winter had shown her teeth with a cutting blizzard, while ice was
forming around the coast, when one gloomy October day the Revenue cutter
anchored, for the last time that season, off the settlement. And Billy
regarded her hopelessly, knowing that desertion from his ship had
rendered him an outlaw. To board the _Bear_ would mean irons and
imprisonment, and the deserter dared not face an ordeal which, a few
months later, he would gladly have undergone to escape from Siberia.
Billy watched the Government vessel sink below the horizon with some
uneasiness, for his sole property now consisted of the furs he stood up
in. His boat, clothes and even mining tools had all been bartered for
food, and the discomfited prospector was now living practically on the
charity of his savage hosts. The reflection, therefore, that nine long
months must be passed in this Arctic prison was not a pleasant one,
especially as the natives had already indulged in one of the "drink
orgies" which were afterwards resumed at intervals throughout that
terrible winter.

How the man survived is a mystery--treated as a rule like a slave,
clothed in ragged furs, nourished on disgusting food, and ever at the
beck and call of every man, woman and child in the settlement.
Christmas-time found Billy suffering severely from scurvy, and covered
from head to foot with painful boils. Throughout this period, however,
he received every attention and care from the women, who, however,
without medical appliances, could do little to alleviate his sufferings.
Billy said that at times these strange people showed a consideration and
kindness only surpassed on other occasions by their brutality and
oppression. One day gifts of food and furs would be showered upon the
white man, and nothing be too good for him; on the next he would be
cursed and reviled, if not actually ill-treated by all. On drink-nights
Billy concealed himself, even preferring to sleep in the snow rather
than brave the drunken fury of the revellers, which, as the reader will
presently see, was one of my greatest anxieties during our sojourn on
these barren shores. All things considered, our arrival on the scene
was a godsend to this poor castaway, who averred that another month of
solitude would assuredly have driven him out of his mind. But our
presence worked a marvellous difference in a short space of time, and
Billy visibly gained in health and strength as the days went on, chiefly
on account of congenial companionship; for we were almost as badly off,
in material comforts, as our poor friend himself.

East Cape consists of a few walrus-hide huts which cling like limpets to
the face of a cliff overhanging the Straits. In anything like windy
weather you can't go out without danger of being blown bodily into the
sea. Also, on the occasion of my last overland trip, I had been warned
by the officers of the _Bear_ against dangerous natives here, so I
resolved to move on to Whalen, a village a few miles west of East Cape
on the Arctic Ocean, to await the arrival of the _Thetis_.[58]

[Footnote 58: The name Whalen should probably be written as it is
pronounced--Oo-aylin, but I have adopted the mode of spelling in use
amongst the whaling fraternity.]

Whalen consists of about thirty _yarats_ (as a Tchuktchi dwelling is
called) and about three hundred inhabitants. The village stands on a
sandy beach only a few yards from the sea, but when we arrived here the
entire country was knee-deep in partly melted snow, which rendered
locomotion very wet and unpleasant. Here we were kindly received, indeed
rather too kindly, for our presence was the signal for a feast, and in a
few hours every man in the settlement was mad with drink. Fortunately
the chief remained sober and we hid in his hut until the orgie was
over. But all that night men were rushing about the village, firing off
Winchesters, and vowing to kill us, although that morning when sober
they had been quite friendly. We did not pass a very pleasant night, but
the next day all was quiet, and remained so until the appearance of a
whaler again demoralised the settlement. When a Tchuktchi gets drunk,
his first impulse is to get a rifle and shoot. He prefers a white man to
practise upon, but if there are none handy he will kill anybody, even
his mother, without compunction, and be very sorry for it when he is
sober, which unfortunately does not mend matters. Many whalemen have
been slain on this coast during the past ten years, and during the few
weeks we were at Whalen two natives were killed, also a German trader on
the Diomede Islands in Bering Straits. But as the latter individual had
set up a primitive still and announced his intention of flooding the
coast with "tanglefoot,"[59] his own poison was probably seized by the
islanders, who, when intoxicated, murdered its manufacturer.

[Footnote 59: A slang term for whisky on the Alaskan coast.]

Teneskin, the chief of Whalen, was, luckily for ourselves, a very
different type of man to the ruffian Koari; and his stalwart sons,
Yemanko and Mooflowi, who were, like their father, teetotalers, became
our powerful allies when the demon of drink was rampant. Yemanko, the
elder, spoke English fairly well, and the comparative comfort in which
we lived here was chiefly due to his intelligence, for he managed to
persuade his father that my cheques, or rather receipts for food, would
be honoured by the commander of the _Thetis_ on her arrival. This was
our only way out of a tight corner, and I awaited the chief's verdict
with intense anxiety, for should his decision be unfavourable starvation
stared us in the face, and the worst kind of starvation, in the midst of
plenty. For Billy told me that Teneskin received a yearly consignment of
goods, in exchange for native produce, from the whalers, and that a shed
adjoining his hut was packed from floor to ceiling with canned
provisions, groceries and other luxuries. To my great relief the
conclave, which lasted for several hours, terminated satisfactorily, and
it was agreed that every article furnished by Teneskin should on her
arrival be doubly repaid from the store-room of the Revenue cutter. And
notwithstanding some anxious qualms as to subsequent repayment which
occasionally assailed our host, this plan worked well, for while here we
never once suffered from actual hunger. Stepan alone was disgusted with
the preliminary discussion regarding the food supply. These Tchuktchis
were subjects of the Tsar, he urged, and should therefore be compelled
to furnish goods free of cost to the illustrious travellers under His
Majesty's protection. The Cossack even donned his uniform cap with the
gold double eagle in order to impress the natives with a sense of our
official importance. But although the head-dress was at once removed by
irreverent hands and passed round with some amusement, I regret to say
that its effect (from an awe-inspiring point of view) was a total
failure.

As a matter of fact the Tchuktchis know nothing whatever about Russia,
and even the Great White Tsar has less influence here than a skipper of
the grimiest Yankee whaler. For the latter is the unfailing source,
every summer, of the vile concoction known as whisky, for which a
Tchuktchi will barter his existence, to say nothing of whalebone and
walrus tusks. Indeed, were it not for the whalers these people would
undoubtedly perish, for although a Russian gunboat generally visits them
once during the summer, it is more with the object of seizing anything
her commander can lay his hands upon than of affording assistance. The
"Stars and Stripes" are therefore the only colours with which the coast
Tchuktchis are familiar, and I had therefore brought an American flag as
well as our now tattered Union Jack, which proved a wise precaution. The
British ensign they had never seen before.

There are perhaps twelve thousand Tchuktchis in all, the race consisting
of two tribes: the coast Tchuktchis, inhabiting the shore from Tchaun
Bay to the mouth of the Anadyr River; and the land Tchuktchis, who are
more or less nomads, roaming amongst the plains and mountains of the
interior with herds of reindeer, which form their sole means of
existence, while their brethren of the coast are entirely dependent upon
the sea for a living. Although nominally Russian subjects, these people
are the freest subjects in the world, paying no taxes and framing their
own laws, which is perhaps only just seeing that they have never been
really conquered by Russia. Samoyedes, Buriates and Yakutes have all
gone down before the iron heel of the Cossack, but for two centuries the
Tchuktchi has stood his ground, and with cold and desolation for
allies, has invariably routed all invaders.[60] Thus, to this day, these
people are respected, if not feared, by their Russian neighbours, and
although several attempts have been made in St. Petersburg to establish
a _yassak_[61] amongst them, no official has yet penetrated far enough
into the Tchuktchi country to collect it. Although Russia is their
common foe, the land and sea Tchuktchis are staunch friends, for each
tribe is more or less dependent on the other; the coast Tchuktchis
furnishing whalebone, walrus tusks, hides, seal-meat and oil to the
landsmen, and receiving deer-meat for food, and skins for clothing, in
return.

[Footnote 60: "These people for many years resisted every attempt made
by the Russians either to subdue them or to pass through their country.
Of a force numbering two hundred armed men who were sent into their
territory, rather for the purpose of scientific exploration than with
any views of conquest, not a soul returned, nor has their fate ever been
ascertained."--"Frozen Asia," by Professor Eden.]

[Footnote 61: The fur-tax formerly paid to the Crown by the Yakutes and
other Siberian races.]

It is a far cry from Bering Straits to Borneo, and I was therefore
surprised to find many points of resemblance between the coast
Tchuktchis and the Dyaks of that tropical island, with whom I became
well acquainted some years ago while in the service of Raja Brooke. The
Tchuktchi is perhaps physically stronger than the Dyak--unquestionably
he is, by nature, a greater drunkard--but otherwise these races might
pass for each other so far as features, complexion and characteristics
are concerned. And although I have heard men assert that the Tchuktchis
originally migrated to Asia from the American continent, my own
experience leads me to doubt that this fact, the more so that there is
not an atom of resemblance (save perhaps in a partiality for strong
drink) between the Eskimo of Alaska and their Siberian neighbours. As a
rule the coast native is intelligent, and of strong and graceful build,
owing to his life of almost ceaseless activity; out in all weathers, in
summer fighting the furious gales of the Arctic in skin boats, in winter
tracking the seal, walrus or bear, sometimes for days together, amid the
cold, dark silence of the ice. Towards springtime this becomes a
dangerous occupation, for floes are often detached without warning and
carried away from the main pack into Bering Sea, whence there is
generally no return, although marvellous escapes are recorded. Yemanko,
the chief's son, had lived for six days floating about on a block of
ice, and subsisting upon a seal which he had caught before he was swept
into Bering Sea, eventually grounding near East Cape. His only companion
was frozen to death.

I was relieved to find that the country between this and Koari's village
(about three hundred miles south) was now impassable on account of
melting snow, for, if only for the sake of revenge, this wily old thief
would probably have set the natives here against us. Communication
between the two places had been frequent throughout the winter, and
Koari's son, Oyurápok (a deadly enemy of mine), had lately been at
Whalen, but had of course ignored my movements.[62] An Oumwaidjik man,
however, who accompanied him had remained here on account of sickness.
He was almost a lad and therefore knew nothing of Harding and myself,
but we were much amused one day to see him proudly produce a many-bladed
clasp-knife, _once my property_ (!) which Koari had confiscated, with
our other goods, in 1896! There seemed to be no love lost between the
Whalen and Oumwaidjik people, whom I had found as surly and inhospitable
as these were (when sober) friendly and well disposed. It is curious to
notice how the various settlements of this coast vary with regard to the
reputation of their inhabitants. Thus, although we were generally well
treated here, a stay at East Cape would probably have meant serious
trouble with the natives, from whom Billy had fled to take refuge at
Whalen. But the East Cape people are probably the worst on the coast,
although the natives at St. Lawrence Bay are nearly as bad, and those at
Oumwaidjik even worse. And yet, unless a drink feast is in progress, a
stranger who behaves himself is safe enough in most Tchuktchi villages,
so much so that these people are known as _Masinker_ (which in their
dialect signifies "good") amongst the American whalemen. The odour of a
Tchuktchi is indescribable, but so powerful and penetrating as to be
noticeable some distance from a settlement, this characteristic smell
being caused by a certain emanation of the human body which enters
largely into the _Masinker's_ daily use. The fluid is employed chiefly
for tanning purposes, but it is also used for cleaning food platters,
drinking cups and, worst of all, for washing the body, which it is said
to protect from cold. Both here and at Oumwaidjik I tried in vain to
discover the origin of this disgusting habit, which also prevails to a
lesser extent amongst the Alaskan Eskimo. This is only one of the many
revolting customs which I unfortunately had an opportunity of studying
at close quarters while at Whalen, where I came to the conclusion that
the Tchuktchi race must be the filthiest in the world. Were I to
describe one-tenth of the repulsive sights which came under my daily
notice, the reader would lay down this book in disgust.

[Footnote 62: See "Through the Gold Fields of Alaska," by Harry de
Windt. London: Chatto and Windus.]

Furs are worn by the coast Tchuktchis throughout the year, which, as
they are seldom removed, did not make them pleasant neighbours in a
crowded hut. The men wear a deerskin _parka_, a loose garment reaching a
little below the waist and secured by a belt or walrus thong, and hair
seal boots and breeches. In rainy weather a very light and transparent
yellow waterproof, made of the intestines of the walrus, is worn. Men
and boys wear a close-fitting cap covering the ears, like a baby's
bonnet, and have the crown and base of the skull partly shaved, which
gives them a quaint monastic appearance, while every man carries a long
sharp knife in a leather sheath thrust through his belt. The women are
undersized creatures, some pretty, but most have hard weather-beaten
faces, as they work in the open in all weathers. Many have beautiful
teeth, which, however, are soon destroyed by the constant chewing of
sealskin to render it pliable for boots and other articles. They wear a
kind of deerskin combinations made in one piece and trimmed at the neck
and wrists with wolverine, a pair of enormous sealskin moccasins, which
gives them an awkward waddling gait, completing their attire. The hair
is worn in two long plaits, intertwined with gaudy beads, copper coins
and even brass trouser buttons given them by whalemen. Unlike the men,
all the women are tattooed--generally in two lines from the top of the
brow to the tip of the nose, and six or seven perpendicular lines from
the lower lip to the chin. Tattooing here is not a pleasant operation,
being performed with a coarse needle and skin thread--the dye (obtained
from the soot off a cooking-pot moistened with seal oil) being sewn in
with no light hand by one of the older squaws. Teneskin's daughter,
Tayunga, was not tattooed, and therefore quite good-looking, but even
the prettiest face here is rendered unattractive by the unclean
personality and habits of its owner. So filthy are these people that
even the _parkas_ of both sexes are made so that the hand and arm can be
thrust bodily inside the garment, not, as I at first imagined, for the
sake of warmth, but to relieve the incessant annoyance caused by
parasites. Hours of idleness were often passed by a couple of friends in
a reciprocal hunt for vermin.

[Illustration: TENESKIN'S DAUGHTERS.]

I was naturally anxious to avoid the close companionship with the
natives, which residence in a _Yarat_ would have entailed. Teneskin's
hut was the cleanest in the village, but even this comparatively
habitable dwelling would have compared unfavourably with the foulest den
in the London slums. The deep, slushy snow made it impossible to fix up
a tent, but Teneskin was the proud possessor of a rough wooden hut built
from the timbers of the whaler _Japan_, which was wrecked here some
years ago, and in this we took up our abode. The building had one
drawback; although its walls were stout enough a roof was lacking, and
our tent was a poor substitute. However, the place was cleaned out and
made fairly cosy with our rugs, furs and four sleds which were used as
bunks. Then came a serious difficulty, artificial warmth, which, without
a roof, was sorely needed at night. Teneskin's trading goods comprised a
small iron cooking stove, which seemed to be the very thing, with plenty
of drift-wood about, and which Stepan, with Cossack promptitude, annexed
without leave. But an hour later Yemanko rushed into the hut, pale with
rage, and without a word seized our treasure and carried it away. Things
looked even more ugly when very shortly afterwards the Chief,
accompanied by a crowd of natives, entered our dwelling, with Billy as
spokesman in their midst. Then amidst frequent interruptions from the
Chief the mystery was explained. It appeared that a superstition exists
amongst these people that if a cooking place is used by strangers in a
hut belonging to the father of a newly born child, the latter dies
within a _moon_ or month. Teneskin's family had recently received an
addition which was the cause of our trouble, but during the height of
the argument, Stepan quietly seated himself beside me and whispered the
word "Mauser," which reminded me that our host had cast longing eyes on
a rifle in my possession. Much as I prized it a fire was essential, and
the rifle had to go; which it did without delay, for Teneskin, once
possessed of the precious weapon, the baby, to use a sporting
expression, was knocked out at a hundred to one! The stove was replaced
by willing hands with one proviso: that only the Chief's pots and pans
were to be used for the preparation of our food, which proved that a
Tchuktchi is not unlike some Christians in the soothing of his
conscience.

As the spring wore on, strong gales accompanied by storms of sleet drove
us to seek the warmth and filth of Teneskin's residence, which was of
walrus hide, about forty feet round and fifteen feet high in the centre.
The only aperture for light and air was a low doorway. There was a large
outer chamber for fishing and hunting tackle where dogs roamed about,
and inside this again a small dark inner room, called the _yaranger_,
formed of thick deerskins, where the family ate and slept. In here
seal-oil lamps continually burning make it average about 85° throughout
the winter. Beyond the tiny doorway there was no ventilation whatsoever,
and the heat and stench of the place were beyond description. At night
men, women and children stripped naked, and even then the perspiration
poured off them. The nights we passed here were indescribable. Suffice
it to say that the hours of darkness in the inner chamber of that
_yarat_ were worthy of Dante's Inferno. And the days were almost as bad,
for then the indescribable filth of the dwelling was more clearly
revealed. At the daily meal we reclined on the floor, like the Romans in
"Quo Vadis," by a long wooden platter, and lumps of seal or walrus meat
were thrown at us by the hostess, whose dinner costume generally
consisted of a bead necklace. Rotten goose eggs and stale fish roe
flavoured with seal oil were favoured delicacies, also a kind of seaweed
which is only found in the stomach of the walrus when captured. Luckily
a deer was occasionally brought in from inland, and Stepan then regaled
us with good strong soup followed by the meat which had made it. Every
part of the animal was greedily devoured by the natives, even the bones
being crushed and the marrow extracted from them, flavoured with seal
oil, and eaten raw. Teneskin, however, had plenty of flour, and this,
with desiccated vegetables, was our mainstay during the greater part of
the time. As spring advanced, game was added to our bill of fare in the
shape of wild duck, which flew in enormous clouds over the settlement. A
large lagoon hard by swarmed with them, and one could always bag a
couple at least every morning and evening without leaving the hut. But a
shooting party was usually made up every day, and we sallied out with
the natives, perhaps a score of men and boys, the former armed with
Winchesters and the latter with slings, which projected a row of five or
six balls cut out of walrus teeth. To shoot a duck on the wing with a
bullet is not easy, but the natives seldom returned empty handed; and
many a time I have seen a tiny lad of ten or twelve years old bring down
his bird with a sling at twenty or thirty yards. Once I saw Yemanko,
with the same weapon, put a stone clean through a biscuit tin at twenty
yards range. And one memorable day (for once only) a regal repast was
served of three courses consisting of reindeer, wild duck, and Harding's
plum pudding, which, notwithstanding its novel experiences, proved
delicious. It only had one irreparable fault--there was not enough of
it. All things considered, our stay here was by no means the worst part
of the journey, for beyond filthy food and surroundings and the deadly
monotony of existence, there was little to complain of. Every now and
then a drunken orgie would necessitate close concealment, but this was
practically the only annoyance to which we were subjected. Once,
however, Stepan ventured out during one of these outbursts, and was
instantly fired at by a band of ruffians who were reeling about the
village. The man who fired the shot was, when sober, one of our best
friends, and, luckily for the Cossack, was too far gone to shoot
straight. This incident was therefore a comparatively trivial one,
although it served to show the unpleasant affinity between a barrel of
whisky and bloodshed, and the undesirability of Whalen as a sea-side
resort for a longer period than was absolutely necessary. But Teneskin
and his sons were always ready to protect us by force if necessary
against the aggression of inebriates. Indeed had it not been for these
three giants I doubt if the Expedition would have got away from Whalen
without personal injury or perhaps loss of life.

Although our host himself did not indulge in alcohol, he was the sole
retailer of it to our neighbours. I only once saw the stuff, which was
religiously kept hidden save when an orgie had been decided upon and
Teneskin, after receiving payment, barricaded himself and prepared for
squalls. When we arrived at Whalen, most of the fiery spirit left by
the whalers the preceding year was exhausted, and Teneskin was issuing
an inferior brand of his own brewing, concocted much in the same way as
the "gun-barrel water" of the Eskimo and even more potent, if possible,
than San Francisco "Tangle-foot." This is made by mixing together one
part each of flour and molasses with four parts of water and then
letting the mixture stand for four days in a warm atmosphere until it
ferments. The distillery consists of a coal oil tin, an old gun-barrel,
and a wooden tub. The mash is put in the coal oil tin, and the
gun-barrel, which serves as the coil, leads from this tin through the
tub, which is kept filled with cracked ice. A fire is then built under
the tin, and as the vapour rises from the heated mess it is condensed in
the gun-barrel by the ice in the tub, and the liquor comes out at the
end of the gun barrel drop by drop, and is caught in a drinking cup.
This process is necessarily slow, and it took a long time to obtain even
a half pint of the liquor, but the whisky made up in strength what it
lacked in quality, and it did not take much of it to intoxicate, which
(from a Tchuktchi standpoint) was the principal object. I am told on
reliable authority that, on the Alaskan coast, the Eskimo women join
freely in the drunken debauches of the men, but this was certainly not
the case amongst the Siberian natives, at any rate those at Whalen. For
throughout our stay there I only once saw an intoxicated female. This
was the wife of Teneskin, who during an orgie was invariably the only
inebriated member of his household. But she certainly made up for the
rest of the family!



CHAPTER XIII

AMONG THE TCHUKTCHIS--(_continued_)


The time at Whalen passed with exasperating slowness, especially after
the first ten days, when monotony had dulled the edge of success and
worn off the novelty of our strange surroundings. On the Lena we had
experienced almost perpetual darkness; here we had eternal daylight,
which, with absolutely nothing to do or even to think about, was even
more trying. Almost our sole occupation was to sit on the beach and gaze
blankly at the frozen ocean, which seemed at times as though it would
never break up and admit of our release from this natural prison. Every
day, however, fresh patches of brown earth appeared through their white
and wintry covering, and wild flowers even began to bloom on the
hillsides, but the cruel waste of ice still appeared white and unbroken
from beach to horizon. One day Harding fashioned a rough set of chessmen
out of drift-wood, and this afforded some mental relief, but only for a
few days. "Pickwick" had been read into tatters, even our Shakespeare
failed us at last, and having parted with the "_Daily Mail_ Year Book"
at Verkhoyansk, this was our sole library. Sometimes we visited our
neighbours, where we were generally kindly received, presents
occasionally being made us. One day the Chief's eldest daughter worked
and presented me with a pair of deerskin boots with a pretty pattern
worked in deerskins of various colours, obtained from dyes of native
manufacture. I naturally wondered how these could be extracted from
natural products in this barren land of rock, sand and drift-wood, but
Billy partly explained the secret of the operation which is, I fancy,
peculiar to the coast.[63] The ex-whaleman furnished me with this
information during a talk we had over his experiences of the previous
winter. From the same source I also gleaned many facts concerning these
people, who invariably try to mislead the ingenuous stranger. Billy,
however, enjoyed their complete confidence, and had stored up a fund of
interesting information, some of which I reproduce for the reader's
benefit.

[Footnote 63: A bright red colour is obtained from a rock found in the
interior. Green by boiling the fur in the urine of a dog. I was unable
to ascertain how dark blue, the only other dye, is made.]

Next to irresponsible and armed drunkards my greatest anxiety at Whalen
was caused by the medicine men, of whom there were about a score, and
who never lost an opportunity of setting their patients against us.
Medicine men are all-powerful here, although their treatment consists
solely of spells and incantations. But the unfortunate dupes have a firm
belief in these men, who are not only medical advisers, but are
consulted on everything pertaining to the affairs of life, from marital
differences to the price of whalebone. Billy had at one time aroused the
enmity of these impostors, who naturally distrust the influence
generally gained by the owner of a modern medicine chest. Our friend had
landed in Siberia with a bottle of embrocation and some Cockle's pills,
but even this modest pharmacopœia had aroused the bitterest jealousy
amongst the doctors at East Cape. But familiarity breeds contempt, and
when Billy had gradually been reduced to the social standing of the
humblest Tchuktchi the medicine men simply ignored him, and made no
objection to his presence at their _séances_, which generally took place
in the dark. Occasionally, however, the Shamans officiated in the
daylight, when their skill as conjurers would, according to Billy, have
eclipsed an Egyptian Hall performance. To swallow several pieces of
walrus hide, and afterwards vomit forth a pair of miniature moccasins,
would seem a trick beyond the powers of the untutored savage, but the
whaleman often saw it accomplished. He also assisted to bind a Shaman
hand and foot with walrus thongs, and in less than ten seconds the man
had freed himself, although secured by knots which Billy himself could
not have unravelled in a week.

My friend is probably the only white man who has ever assisted at a
whale dance, which took place in a hut, dimly lit by seal oil lamps and
crowded with both sexes in a state of nature, with the exception of
their sealskin boots. The performance commenced with music in the shape
of singing accompanied by walrus-hide drums, after which a long plank
was brought in and suspended on the shoulders of four men. Upon this
three women were hoisted astride, and commenced a series of wild
contortions, back and forth and from side to side, not unlike the "Dance
du ventre." Relays of girls continued this exercise for two or three
hours, until all were exhausted, and then flesh of the whale, caught
the preceding summer, was handed round by children, and washed down by
floods of raw whisky, which brought the entertainment to a close for
that night. The following day athletic sports were indulged in by those
sufficiently sober, the owner of one hut furnishing the prizes and
refreshments. This giver of the feast and his family were distinguished
by faces plastered with the red paint already mentioned as being
obtained from the mountains of the interior. Wrestling and racing were
the chief pastimes, the prizes consisting of a cartridge, a piece of
calico, or perhaps a fox skin. The women did not join in these contests,
but with them a form of "tossing in a blanket" was gone through. A
walrus skin perforated around with holes to give a firmer grip was held
by seven or eight stalwart men, and at a given signal a girl lying in
the centre was sent flying into the air, she who reached the greatest
height receiving the appropriate prize of a needle or thimble. At night
the dance was continued, and on this occasion a fire was kindled around
which the medicine men seated themselves, mumbling incantations and
casting small pieces of deer or walrus meat into the flames as a
sacrifice to the evil spirits. The whale entertainment lasted for three
nights, but the incidents which occurred upon the last evening are not
fit for reproduction here. The whaleman, being more or less of a
celebrity, had attracted the bright glances of several Tchuktchi
maidens. But even when he found his affinity poor Billy's courtship was
of short duration, for his ladylove, when embraced for the first time
upon the lips, indignantly thrust him away and screamed for help.
According to Tchuktchi customs, she had suffered an irreparable insult,
the only recognised mode of kissing here being to rub noses while
murmuring "Oo" for an indefinite period. This was Billy's first and last
experience of love-making here, although Teneskin would gladly have
welcomed a white man as a son-in-law, and without the tiresome
preliminaries which generally precede a Tchuktchi marriage. For, on
ordinary occasions, a man must first obtain the consent of his
_fiancée_, then that of her parents, and when these points are settled
he must reside for several months as an inmate of the girl's hut before
he becomes her husband. A Tchuktchi may put a wife away on the slightest
pretext, but no crime on his part entitles his wife to a divorce. A
curious custom here is that of exchanging wives with a friend or
acquaintance, who thereupon becomes a brother, even legally, and so far
as the disposal of property is concerned.

A Tchuktchi may have as many wives as he pleases or can afford, but
married life here is usually a happy one, which is probably due to the
fact that a wife is never idle. Not only must she attend to the wants of
the household, needlework, cooking, washing, and in winter clearing the
roof of the _yarat_ of snow, but there are hides to be tanned and
deerskins to be dressed and sewn into clothing. A married woman must
also pass cold and weary hours in winter watching for seal and walrus,
and in summer probe the depths of boredom by fishing with a line for
"Tom cod." And from a feminine point of view, there is no reward for her
labours, no balls or parties, nor smart hats or gowns to excite the
envy of her neighbours; all the Tchuktchi spouse can hope for being a
"quid" of tobacco, so rare a luxury that it only reaches her lips when
her husband has extracted most of its flavour. While smoking, the
Tchuktchis, like the Yakutes, use tiny pipes; the smoke is not ejected
or inhaled, but swallowed, and the rankest tobacco is so precious here
that it is usually eked out with seal-hairs.

Tchuktchi-land teems with legends and superstitions of which Whalen had
its full share. A rock off the coast hard by was said to sing and talk
whenever a chief of the village was about to die, and the following
curious legend was gravely related to me by Yemanko. Many years ago
there lived at Whalen a chief with a wife so pretty that even fish were
attracted to the land by her charms. Amongst the dwellers of the sea was
a whale, with whom, unknown to her husband, she contracted a union.
Eventually a young whale was born to the amazement of the settlement,
which, regarding it as a mysterious gift from the spirits, paid the new
arrival great homage. A huge tank was dug and contained the monster
until it had attained its full growth, when it was marked and turned
loose in the sea to decoy other whales. But the natives of Inchaun, an
adjoining village, caught and killed the marked whale, which was scaring
away all their fish. The Inchaun people were thereupon attacked by the
Whalen men, who slaughtered every soul in their village. There is no
doubt that this tribal conflict did take place some time during the
eighteenth century, but I cannot say whether the murder of the marked
whale was the real cause of the battle.

The Tchuktchis appeared to have no religion, and I never saw any
ceremony performed suggestive of a belief in a Supreme Being, although
good and evil spirits are believed to exist, and when I was at
Oumwaidjik, sacrifices of seal and walrus meat were often thrown into
the sea by the medicine men to abate its fury. Three men who died at
Whalen during our visit were clad after death in their best deerskins
and carried some distance away from the settlement, where I believe they
were eventually devoured by the dogs. Several natives told me that a man
who dies a violent death ensures eternal happiness, but that an easy
dissolution generally means torment in the next world, which shows that
the Tchuktchi has some belief in a future state. The theory that a
painful death meets with spiritual compensation probably accounts for
the fact that loss of life is generally regarded here with utter
indifference. A ghastly ceremony I once witnessed at Oumwaidjik is a
proof of this. It was called the _Kamitok_, in other words the
sacrifice, with the full consent, of the aged and useless members of the
community. When a man's powers have decreased to a depreciable extent
from age, accident, or disease, a family council is held and a day and
hour is fixed for the victim's departure for another world. The most
curious feature of the affair is the indifference shown by the doomed
one, who takes a lively interest in the preliminaries of his own
execution. The latter is generally preceded by a feast where seal and
walrus meat are greedily devoured and whisky is consumed until all are
intoxicated. After a while the executioner, usually a near relative of
the victim, steps forward, and placing his right foot against the back
of the condemned, quickly strangles him with a walrus thong. Or perhaps
he is shot with a Winchester rifle, this being the usual mode of
despatching a friend who has asked another to put him out of the world
on account, perhaps, of some trifling but troublesome ailment such as
earache or neuralgia, which the sufferer imagines to be incurable.[64]
And a request of this kind must be obeyed, or if not lifelong misfortune
will attend the man who has refused to fire the fatal shot. Women,
however, are never put to death, nor, so far as I could glean, do they
ever want to be. The origin of this custom is probably due to the barren
nature of this land where every mouthful of food is precious, and where
a man must literally work to live.

[Footnote 64: Mr. Waldemar Bogoras, the Russian naturalist, writes as
follows in _Harper's Magazine_ of April 1903: "One of the attendants I
had with me for two years while in the Kolyma country belonged to a
family with a tradition of this kind. He was a man of fifty, and the
father and elder brothers had already followed in the way of their
ancestors [by the _Kamitok_]. One time, while stricken with a violent
fever, instead of taking the medicine that I gave him, he inquired
anxiously if I were sure that he would recover at all, otherwise he felt
bound to send for his son and ask for the last stroke."--"A Strange
People of the North," by Waldemar Bogoras, _Harper's Magazine_, April
1903.]

That the _Kamitok_ also exists amongst the Eskimo of Alaska is shown by
the following anecdote. Captain Healy, of the Revenue cutter _Thetis_,
told me that he once inquired of a native near Point Barrow whether one
Charlie he had known the previous year was still alive and in good
health.

"Oh no," was the reply, "Charlie dead, I shot him."

"Shot him?" said Healy, taken aback. "What did you do that for?"

"Oh, poor Charlie sick, pains all over, he asked me shoot him, so I shot
him with his own gun and kept it afterwards!"

The Tchuktchis are by no means an idle race, and whenever I entered a
hut I invariably found even the youngest inmates usefully employed; the
women busily engaged cooking and sewing, or cleaning and polishing
firearms, while the men were away duck-shooting or hunting the seal or
walrus. Sometimes we went seal-hunting with our friends, but this is
poor sport, especially in damp, chilly weather. The outfit is very
simple, consisting of a rifle, snowshoes and spear. A start is made at
daylight until a likely-looking hole in the ice is reached, and here you
sit down and wait patiently, perhaps for hours, until a seal's head
appears above water, which it frequently fails to do. In warm weather
this might be an agreeable occupation, but on cold days it seldom
induced me to leave even the comfortless shelter of our hut. Most of the
seals caught here are hair seals, which must not be confounded with the
valuable fur seal, which is used in Europe for wearing apparel, and is
seldom found north of the Privilov Islands in Bering Sea. The latter
animal is too well known to need description, but the skin of the hair
seal is a kind of dirty grey, flecked with dark spots, and is short and
bristly. But it is warm and durable and therefore used by the Tchuktchis
for breeches and foot wear. Recently, too, it has been introduced into
Europe for the use of _chauffeurs_ of automobiles, but ten years ago it
was practically worthless; although the flesh is preferable as food to
that of the more costly species.

A chase after walrus is far more exciting than either a seal or bear
hunt, for their capture involves a certain risk and occasionally actual
danger. As soon as one of these beasts is sighted four or five
_Baidaras_ are launched and set out at a terrific pace, for the crew of
the first boat up gets the lion's share of the spoil. Winchester rifles
are now used instead of the old-fashioned harpoon, so that accidents are
rarer than they used to be, although boats are often upset. I have only
once seen a walrus: a distorted, shapeless mass of discoloured flesh,
sparsely covered with coarse bristles. The one I saw measured about ten
feet long, had quite that girth, and must have weighed over a ton.
Walrus meat as a diet is less repulsive than seal, for it is not so
fishy in flavour and has more the consistency of beef.

We had been here about ten days when a native arrived from East Cape and
reported a whaler off that headland. At Whalen the ice still presented a
hopelessly unbroken appearance, but low, dark clouds to the eastward
looked like open water in the direction of the Straits, and I sent
Harding and Stepan, with the East Cape man, to verify his report. He was
a silent, sulky brute, and I felt some anxiety until the pair returned
the next day after a terrible journey, partly by land but principally
over the sea ice across which they had to wade knee deep in water. For
about six miles crossing the tundra they floundered in soft snow up to
the waist, and finally reached their destination, wet through and
exhausted, to find that the ship, probably scared by heavy pack ice, had
disappeared to the southward. The natives, however, treated them well,
and sent a man to accompany them half way back to Whalen, for the thaw
had come so suddenly that he could proceed no further, and our
companions only just managed to reach home. This was the last journey
made by land between the two settlements, for which I was not sorry, as
the undesirable community at East Cape were now as completely cut off
from us as the pirates of Oumwaidjik. Harding informed me that at East
Cape a totally different dialect was spoken to that at Whalen, but this
did not surprise me, as I compiled while at Oumwaidjik a small glossary
which completely differed from words in use at Whalen. The natives of
the Diomede Island have also a distinctive language, of which, however,
I was unable to obtain any words. A reference to the Appendix will show
the difference existing between the dialects spoken on the mainland of
Siberia. East of Tchaun Bay the same language existed in every village
as far as Whalen. The languages spoken by the Reindeer Tchuktchis of the
interior and the Eskimo of the Alaskan Coast do not in any way resemble
the dialects spoken on the Siberian Coast.

By the end of June the snow on land was fast disappearing, and blue
lakes began to appear amongst the white plains and hummocks of the sea.
But those were weary days of waiting even when warmer weather enabled us
to live altogether in our hut without taking shelter in the chief's
malodorous _yarat_. For the former was crowded all day with natives,
who used it as a kind of club, and left us souvenirs every night in the
shape of a stifling stench and swarms of vermin. As time wore on the
heat in our heavy furs became insupportable, but frequent and sudden
changes of temperature rendered it impossible to discard them
altogether. For often the sun would be blazing at midday with a
temperature of 60° in the shade, and a few minutes later we would be
cowering over the stove listening to the howling of the wind and the
rattle of sleet against the wooden walls. This would last perhaps an
hour or two, and then the sky would again become blue and cloudless, the
sunshine as powerful as before. One day in early June is thus described
in my journal: "Clear, cloudy, warm, cold, windy, calm, sunshine, fog
and a little rain!" The wind troubled us most, for here there is no
happy medium between a dead calm and a tearing gale, and the latter
occurred on an average every second day. Northerly and north-westerly
winds prevailed, and we whistled in vain for a southerly buster to clear
the coast of ice. And yet notwithstanding our many miseries there were
pleasant days, still and sunlit, when I would stroll to the summit of a
grassy hill near the settlement, where the sward was carpeted with wild
flowers and where the soothing tinkle of many rivulets formed by melting
snow were conducive to lazy reverie. From here one could see for a great
distance along the coast to the westward, and on bright days the snowy
range of cliffs and kaleidoscopic effects of colour cast by cloud and
sunshine over the sea ice formed a charming picture. Stepan passed most
of his time on these cliffs watching in vain, like a male sister Anne,
for ships, for, like most Russians, the Cossack suffered severely from
nostalgia.

But the days crawled wearily away, each more dreary than its
predecessor, and the eternal vista of ice greeted each morning the
anxious gaze of the first man up to survey the ocean. Our Union Jack,
now almost torn to shreds by incessant gales, was hoisted on a long
stick lent by Teneskin for the purpose, but I began to think that the
shred of silk might as well have fluttered at the North Pole for all the
attention it was likely to attract from seaward. So passed a month away,
and the grey hag Despair was beginning to show her ugly face when one
never-to-be-forgotten morning Harding rushed into the hut and awoke me
with the joyful news that a thin strip of blue was visible on the
horizon. A few hours later waves were seen breaking near the land, for
when once ice begins to move it does so quickly. Three days later
wavelets were rippling on the beach, and I felt like a man just released
from a long term of penal servitude when on the 15th of July the hull of
a black and greasy whaler came stealing round the point where Stepan had
passed so many anxious hours.

The whaler proved to be the _William Bayliss_ of New Bedford. We boarded
her with some difficulty on account of the jagged ice floes on the beach
to which she was moored. It was an acrobatic feat to jump from the
slippery ice, lay hold of a jibboom towering overhead, and scramble over
the bows. But once aboard, Captain Cottle loaded us with good things
(including a tin of sorely-needed tobacco), and all would now have
seemed _couleur-de-rose_ had Cottle been able to give us news of the
_Thetis_. This, however, he was unable to do, and when that night the
whaler had sailed away I almost regretted that I had declined her
skipper's offer of a passage across the Straits, which might, however,
have been prolonged for an indefinite period as the ship was now bound
in an opposite direction. That night was certainly the worst we ever
experienced, for even Teneskin was rendered helpless by the pandemonium
created by the floods of whisky which had streamed into the settlement
from the hold of the _William Bayliss_. Towards evening things looked so
ugly that the chief and his sons, armed with Winchester rifles, took up
their quarters for the night in our hut, the door of which was
barricaded by means of iron bars. Even Yemanko looked pale and anxious,
for every man in the village, he said, was mad with drink. The chief's
wife and daughters remained in the _yarat_, for a Tchuktchi however
drunk has never been known to molest a woman. Singing, shouting and
deafening yells were heard during the earlier part of the night, as men
reeled about the settlement in bands, and occasionally our door would
re-echo with crashing blows and demands for admission. This went on for
two or three hours, and when things had quieted down and we were
thinking of emerging from the stifling hut for fresh air, a shot rang
out on the stillness. We seized our rifles, and not a moment too soon,
for simultaneously the door flew open with a crash and half a dozen men
reeled into the room. One of them brandished a Winchester, but I noticed
with relief that the rest of the intruders were unarmed. The face of
another whom I recognised as a medicine man, was streaming with blood
from a wound across the forehead. Fortunately all were overcome by the
fiery poison they had been greedily imbibing and were therefore as weak
as children in the hands of seven sober men. In less time than it takes
me to write it the invaders were firmly secured with walrus thongs and
thrown out of doors to sleep the drink off. A watch was kept throughout
the night in case of an attack by reinforcements, but the deadly
"Tangle-foot" had done its work, and the village did not awaken until
the following day from its drunken slumbers. Unfortunately a native was
killed by the shot we heard.

On the morning of the 18th of July Harding and I, while walking on the
beach, remarked a white cloud on the horizon, the only blur on a
dazzling blue sky. Presently the vapour seemed to solidify, and assume
the appearance of a floating berg, until, a few minutes after, we looked
again at the object which had attracted our attention, and lo and behold
a thin black thread was now ascending from it into the clear still air.
"A steamer!" shouted Harding, rushing back to the hut for a field-glass.
But before he could return through the deep heavy shingle doubt had
become certainty and I had recognised the Revenue cutter _Thetis_. This
is the same vessel, by the way, which rescued Lieutenant Greely and his
party on the shores of Smith Sound, but I do not think even they can
have been more heartily grateful to see the trim white vessel than we
were.

In less than an hour our welcome deliverer had threaded her way through
the ice, and we stood on the beach and watched her cast anchor about
half a mile off shore. As the chains rattled cheerily through the hawse
holes Stepan flew, on the wings of a light heart, to the flagstaff. I am
not emotional, but I must confess to feeling a lump in my throat as the
Stars and Stripes were slowly dipped in response to a salute from our
ragged little Union Jack. For with the meeting of those familiar colours
all my troubles seemed to vanish into thin air!

Once aboard the _Thetis_ Harding and I, at any rate, were amongst
acquaintances who had previously served on the Revenue cutter _Bear_. I
also found an old friend, Lieutenant Cochrane, once third officer of the
_Bear_, and now second in command of the _Thetis_, which made this
sudden change from a life of mental and physical misery to one of
security and well-being the more enjoyable. There was nothing to delay
the cutter, save farewells to our kind old host and the repayment for
the food with which he had provided us, and by midday we were steaming
away from the dreary settlement where I had passed so many anxious
hours. And then, for the first time in many weary months, we sat down in
the ward-room to a decent and well-served meal and enjoyed it beyond
description, for are not all pleasures in this world comparative?
Success to the Expedition was drunk in bumpers of champagne, and I then
adjourned to Cochrane's room for coffee and liqueurs and a talk over old
days on the _Bear_. And the afternoon in that cosy, sunlit cabin, the
blessed sensation of rest after toil combined with a luxurious lounge
and delicious cigar, constituted as near an approach to "Nirvana" as the
writer is ever likely to attain on this side of the grave!



PART II

AMERICA


CHAPTER XIV

ACROSS BERING STRAITS--CAPE PRINCE OF WALES


The term "cutter" is somewhat of a misnomer, if literally taken, for the
Government vessels which patrol these Northern waters. The _Bear_, for
instance, which landed us on the Siberian coast in 1896, was a
three-masted screw-steamer of over 600 tons, an old Dundee whaler
purchased for the United States for the Greeley Relief Expedition. The
_Thetis_, although somewhat smaller, is practically a sister ship of the
_Bear_, which latter is regarded as the best and stoutest vessel of the
Revenue Cutter Service. And her officers and men are well worthy of her.
Three or four years ago no less than eight whalers were hopelessly
jammed in the ice off Point Barrow in the Arctic Ocean, and their crews
were in imminent danger of starvation. The season was too far advanced
for a ship to proceed to their rescue, but a party from the _Bear_
managed to carry supplies to the beleaguered ships after a sled journey
of almost unparalleled difficulty, and thereby avert a terrible
catastrophe. Several of the shipwrecked men had already perished, but
the majority were rescued, chiefly through the pluck and perseverance of
Lieutenant Jarvis, first lieutenant of the _Bear_, and leader of the
expedition.

The _Thetis_, when she called for us at Whalen, was bound on a mission
of some peril--the search for two large steamers from San Francisco
which, while trying to reach Nome City, had been caught in the pack and
swept away by drifting ice into the Polar Sea. Both vessels were crowded
with passengers, including many women, and the _Thetis_ had already made
two unsuccessful attempts to ascertain their whereabouts. Indeed, it was
feared that no more would ever be heard of the _Portland_ or _Jeannie_
which had, as usual, been racing to reach Nome City before any rival
liner from the Golden Gate.

When, on that sunlit morning, we left Whalen, a cloudless sky and glassy
sea unflecked by the tiniest floe led me to hope that our troubles were
at an end. Captain Healey of the _Thetis_ had resolved to land us on
Cape Prince of Wales, but when, towards evening, that promontory was
sighted, my heart sank at the now familiar sight of ice packed heavily
around the coast. By nine o'clock we were (to use a whaling term) "up
against" the outer edge of the pack, and shortly afterwards the engines
of the _Thetis_ were slowed down, for the man in the crow's nest
reported trouble ahead. And we found it in plenty, for the stout little
vessel, after cleaving and crashing her way through the floes for a
couple of hours, was finally brought to a standstill by an impassable
barrier. We were now about six miles from the land, but an Eskimo
village under the Cape was plainly visible across the swirling masses of
ice which were drifting to the northward.

"I can't go in any further," cried Healey, and I now had the choice of
two evils--to attempt a landing with the aid of the natives, or remain
on board the Thetis perhaps for weeks searching for the _Portland_ and
_Jeannie_.[65] But I quickly decided on the former course, and a signal
was run up for assistance from the shore, which was quickly seen by a
crowd of natives assembled on the beach. To add to our difficulties a
breeze, which had arisen towards evening, was now assuming the
proportions of a southerly gale, and Healey impatiently paced the deck,
as he watched the Eskimo launch a _baidara_, and cautiously approach us,
now threading narrow leads of water, now hauling their skin-boat across
the drifting ice.

[Footnote 65: Both these vessels were eventually rescued without loss of
life.]

Finally, after a perilous journey, they reached us, and without a
moment's delay the expedition was bundled, bag and baggage, into the
_baidara_, for the position of the _Thetis_ was now not devoid of
danger. Amidst hearty cheers from those on board, we pushed off with
some misgivings, while the cutter slowly veered away northward on her
errand of mercy. I shall never forget that short, but extremely
unpleasant journey. At times it seemed as though our frail craft must be
overwhelmed and swamped, for it was now blowing a gale. Every moment
huge cakes of ice around us were dashed against each other, and
splintered into fragments with a report as of a gun. We made way so
slowly that the shore seemed to recede instead of to advance, for often
boat and baggage had to be hauled across the floes which now travelled
so quickly with the wind and tide that it seemed as though we must be
carried past our destination and into the Arctic Ocean. Sometimes it
looked as though we could never reach the coast, for--

    "The ice was here, the ice was there,
    The ice was all around,
    It cracked and growled, and roared and howled
    Like noises in a swound."

At times the ice-islands we were crossing were tossed to and fro by the
waves so violently that it became almost impossible to stand, much less
walk, on their slippery surface; at others, while all were paddling for
dear life, a towering berg would sail down in perilous proximity, for
its touch would have sunk our skin boat like a stone. Once I thought it
was all over, when a floe we were on became detached from the main pack,
and there was barely time to regain the latter by quickly leaping from
one cake of ice to the other as the waves and current tore them apart.
It took us four hours to reach land, or rather the foot-ice securely
attached to it, and here, worn out after the tough struggle against the
forces of nature, every man took a much-needed rest. It was not until 7
A.M. on June 19 that our feet actually touched the soil of America, six
months to a day after our departure from the Gare du Nord, Paris.

Cape Prince of Wales is a rocky, precipitous promontory about 2000 ft.
high, which stands fully exposed to the furious winds, prevalent at all
times on this connecting link between Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.
Why Bering Straits should be so known remains a mystery, for the
explorer of that name only sailed through them in the summer of 1728,
while Simeon Deschnev, a Cossack, practically discovered them in the
middle of the seventeenth century.[66] Captain Cook, of British fame,
who passed through the Straits in 1778, is said to be responsible for
the nomenclature, which seems rather an unjust one, but perhaps the
intrepid English navigator had never heard of Deschnev.

[Footnote 66: "On June 20, 1648, Simeon Deschnev, a Cossack trader,
sailed from the River Kolyma for the eastward to trade for ivory with
the Tchuktchis. His party sailed in three small shallops drawing but
little water. After a while the known waters behind them closed up with
floes, rendering a return to the Kolyma impossible, but the unknown
wastes ahead were open, and invited exploration. Hugging the coast,
Deschnev sailed through the Bering Straits, landing there in September.
He called the Siberian shore an isthmus, and described the Diomede
Islands, which he plainly saw. Although no mention is made by this party
of having seen the American continent, it was probably observed by them,
for Cape Prince of Wales can easily be seen on a clear day from the
Asiatic side. Deschnev's voyage was quite forgotten until discovered by
accident amongst some old records in 1774.

"Only in August, 1728, did Bering sail through here, going a short
distance into the Arctic Ocean, but returning without giving any sign of
the importance of the pass, or its nature, and believing, most likely,
that what land he saw on the eastern side was a mere island, and not the
great American continent. Captain Cook, who came third, made no mistake,
for he fully realised that the division of the two hemispheres was here
affected, and gave to these straits the name of Bering, August
1778."--"An Arctic Province," by H. W. Elliott.]

The Eskimo settlement which nestles at the foot of Cape Prince of Wales
is known as Kingigamoot, and contains about 400 souls. The place looked
infinitely drearier and more desolate than the filthy Tchuktchi village
which had been our home for so many weary weeks, and it seemed to me at
first as though we had stepped, like the immortal Mr. Winkle in
"Pickwick," "quietly and comfortably out of the frying-pan into the
fire." For our welcome on the shores of America was a terrific gale,
and driving sleet against which we could scarcely make headway from the
spot where a landing was effected to the village, a distance of perhaps
a mile, which took us an hour to accomplish. It was barely eight
o'clock, and no one was yet stirring in the settlement, which is only
visible a short distance away, for the Eskimo, unlike the Tchuktchis,
dwell under the ground.

The sight of a wooden house with glass windows considerably enlivened
the dismal and storm-swept landscape, and we made our way to this
solitary haven, which proved to be the residence of Mr. Lopp, an
American missionary. His home, though snug enough, was too small to
contain more inmates, being already occupied by its owner's wife and
family, but an empty shed adjoining it was placed at our disposal, and
our hospitable friend bustled about to make it as cosy as possible for
our reception. The place was cold, pitch dark, and draughty, being only
used as a store-house, but by mid-day our tent was pitched inside the
building, and a fire was burning merrily in a small stove cleverly fixed
up by the missionary, whose kindly assistance was very welcome on this
bleak and barren shore. Food is scarce enough here, and had it not been
for these good friends in need, we should indeed have fared badly,
having landed with but few provisions. But although they could ill
afford it, the missionary and school teacher, Mrs. Bernardi, gave freely
from their scanty store, thereby rendering us a service which I can
never adequately repay.

Nome City was now our objective point, but how to reach it by land was
a puzzler, the hundred odd miles of country being flooded by melting
snow. Two or three wide rivers must also be crossed, which at this
season of the year are often swollen and impassable. It was clearly
useless to think of walking, so there was nothing for it but to wait for
some passing craft to take us down, a rather gloomy prospect, for
whalers were now entering the Arctic, and few other vessels get so far
north as this. We were lucky to find a white man at Cape Prince of
Wales, for the natives would certainly have afforded us no assistance,
and might, indeed, have been actually unfriendly without the firm and
restraining hand of Mr. Lopp to keep them in order. A wide and varied
experience of savage races has seldom shown me a more arrogant,
insolent, and generally offensive race than the Alaskan Eskimo, at any
rate of this portion of the country. The Tchuktchis were infinitely
superior in every respect but perhaps cleanliness, which, after all,
matters little in these wilds. With all their faults our Whalen friends
were just and generous in their dealings, though occasionally
disquieting during their periods of festivity. The Eskimo we found
boorish and surly at all times, and the treachery of these people is
shown by the fact that a few years previously they had brutally murdered
Mr. Lopp's predecessor by shooting him with a whale-gun. A monument on
the cliff facing the Straits bears the following inscription:

     HARRISON R. THORNTON, born January 5, 1858,
     died August 19, 1893.
     A good soldier of Christ Jesus.
     Erected by friends in Southport, Conn.

It is satisfactory to note that the cowardly assassins met with their
deserts, for the usual excuse of intoxication could not be pleaded for
this foul and deliberate crime.

Although many of the Prince of Wales natives were fairly well educated,
thanks to missionary enterprise, the Tchuktchis could certainly have
taught them manners, for the latter is a gentleman by nature, while the
Eskimo is a vulgar and aggressive cad. Thanks, however, to the untiring
zeal and energy of Mr. Lopp, the younger generation here were a distinct
improvement upon their elders, and the small school conducted by Mrs.
Bernardi had produced several scholars of really remarkable
intelligence. Amongst these were the publisher and printer of the most
curious little publication I have ever seen, _The Eskimo Bulletin_, a
tiny newspaper which is annually published here by the aid of a small
printing-press belonging to the missionary. The illustrations were
engraved solely by the natives, and were, under the circumstances, very
creditable productions. The advertisements in this unique little journal
are suggestive of a fair sized town, whereas Kingigamoot resembled a
collection of sand-hills, the only visible signs of civilisation being
the rather dilapidated huts of the mission.

The ten days we remained here seemed fully as long, if not longer, than
the five weeks we had passed at Whalen for the sun only made his
appearance twice, for a couple of hours each time, during the whole
period of our stay. Most of our time was passed in the cold draughty
hut, for it was impossible to face the gales and dense fogs which
succeeded each other with startling rapidity, while on gusty days clouds
of fine gritty sand would fill the eyes, mouth, and nostrils, causing
great discomfort. There is probably no place in the world where the
weather is so persistently vile as on this cheerless portion of the
earth's surface. In winter furious tempests and snow, in summer similar
storms, accompanied by rain, sleet, or mist, are experienced here five
days out of the seven. If by accident a still, sunlit day does occur, it
is called a "weather-breeder," for dirtier weather than before is sure
to be lurking behind it. A howling south-wester on the English coast
would be looked upon here as a moderate gale. While walking on the beach
one day I was lifted clean off my feet by the wind, although the day was
locally called rather a pleasant one.

One would think that this storm-swept, grey-skied region would
discourage even the natives after a time and make them pine for a more
congenial climate. But to the native of even this bleak and desolate
coast there is no place like home. Mr. Elliott, a reliable authority on
the subject, writes that cases have come under his notice where whalers
have carried Eskimo down to the Sandwich Islands (the winter whaling
ground) under an idea that these people would be delighted with the warm
climate, fruits and flowers, and be grateful for the trip. But in no
instance has an individual of this hyperborean race failed to sigh for
his Arctic home after landing at Hawaii. Nor is this nostalgia of the
frozen north confined to its aboriginal inhabitants, for most explorers
who return from its fastnesses experience sooner or later a keen desire
to return. And the majority do so, obedient to an invisible influence as
unerring as that of a toy magnet over its fish.

I had little opportunity of studying the manners and customs of the
natives while at Kingigamoot. Outwardly the Eskimo differs little from
the Tchuktchi, that is, so far as costume is concerned, but the
physiognomy and languages essentially differ. That the former is fully
as filthy even if more civilised in other ways than the latter I can,
from personal experience, testify. Also that the introduction of
Christianity has failed to eradicate the love for strong drink, which
was quite as prevalent here as at Whalen, although more cunningly
concealed. An American explorer, Mr. Eugene McElwaine, who recently
travelled extensively throughout these regions, gleaned the following
facts, which may interest the reader, but which I am unfortunately
unable to furnish from my own personal experience. He writes:

"The average Eskimo is very uncleanly in his personal habits and
domestic customs, but is always willing to be taught habits of
cleanliness, and is even anxious to change his mode of living when
brought to realise its inferiority or repulsiveness. He recognises the
white man to be his superior, and his inclination is to better his
condition.

"The Eskimo's knowledge of the past is vague and indefinite. Their time
is computed by the revolutions of the moon, their distances when
travelling by 'sleeps,' and they measure a 'yard' by the length between
the two hands with arms stretched horizontally. The Eskimo believe in a
power that rewards the good and punishes the bad, indicating by gestures
that the former go above and the latter below after death. They bury
their dead usually on top of the ground in a box made of small timbers
or drift-wood, elevating the box four feet from the surface, and resting
it on cross poles. Their meagre belongings are generally buried with
them. The small _bidarka_ (skin canoe) is not infrequently used for a
casket when the head of the household dies.

"Their simple funeral rites are conducted by members of the deceased's
own family, no other member of the tribe coming near the house during
the time or attending the obsequies at the grave. While the remains are
being deposited in the box a member of the family builds a small fire
with twigs of willows, and the fire is kept burning until the burial is
completed, after which all present march around the fire in single file,
chanting a prayer, with bowed heads, and then return to their hut. The
household belongings are now removed from the hut and the family move
off to build a cabin in another place which the evil spirit will not
enter.

"The Eskimo are clever in many ways. Nearly all the men are experts in
building canoes, while many are good carvers and draughtsmen. The writer
has a map of the Arctic region, drawn by one of the Kowak River natives,
which is one of the most complete things of the kind ever made. It shows
every river, creek, lake, bay, mountain, village and trail, from the
mouth of the Yukon River to Point Hope, and the native drew it in four
days.

"A hut here is simply an excavation, about three feet deep, twelve feet
long, and sixteen feet wide. Spruce saplings about four feet long and
four inches through are set upright side by side around the interior,
supported by the beams. Two posts six feet long and one ridge piece
support the arched roof, light saplings being used for rafters. An
oblique external portal, five feet long, two feet high, and eighteen
inches wide is constructed in the same manner as the hut. The opening
for the door is about eighteen inches wide by two feet high. This
addition has a twofold purpose: it shelters the entrance to the family
room of the hut, and the air which passes through the portal into the
apartment carries away the smoke and foul air through a hole in the
roof. The structure is finally banked and covered with dirt, and more
resembles a mound than a human habitation. The interior of these
dwellings is not luxurious. The floor is strewn with the pliant branches
of the Arctic willow. A few deerskins lie scattered about, and here the
men, women, and children of the tribe sit day after day, and month after
month, performing their tasks of labour, and it is here when fatigued
that they sleep in security and comfort. A miniature camp fire is kept
burning day and night during the winter months."

My unfavourable opinion of the specimens of this race whom we met at
Cape Prince of Wales is somewhat modified by the following anecdote,
also related by Mr. McElwaine:

"An Eskimo lad about sixteen years of age came into my cabin one morning
suffering with an acute bowel complaint. I happened to have a
preparation for this trouble in my medicine chest, and administered to
him a dose according to directions. It relieved him somewhat, and after
eating his dinner, he returned home, a distance of some ten miles. In a
week or ten days later he came back, bringing with him a number of
curios which he had wrapped with care in a piece of deerskin and placed
in a small canvas sack. Taking the curios out of the sack one by one,
and unwrapping them carefully, he laid them on my table, saying as he
did so in his broken English, 'You like 'em?' Receiving an affirmative
reply, he said, 'You catch 'em,' at the same time shoving the articles
towards me. I thought the young man was bent upon a trade, so, to please
him, I laid out upon the table a number of edible articles, together
with a red bandana handkerchief (a red handkerchief is prized very
highly by all the natives), and awaited his decision. It was soon
forthcoming. 'Me no catch 'em,' he said, pointing to the articles which
he had placed upon the table; 'me give him you.' He left the trinkets
with me, but would not accept a thing in return for them.

"Some four weeks afterwards this Indian boy came to my cabin again. He
brought with him on his second visit a pair of small snowshoes and a
miniature Eskimo sled. He had been told that I had a little boy at home,
and he made me understand that he had made the snowshoes and sled for
him, insisting that I should take them, which I did, but he stoutly
refused anything in return for them. All this was to show his
appreciation of the little act of kindness which I had inadvertently
done him."

Mr. McElwaine concludes: "And yet, against the aborigines of Northern
Alaska many explorers have charged that they are the most ungrateful
wretches in the world."

Personally, I can cordially endorse this statement, but perhaps a very
short residence amongst these people has left me ignorant of their real
merits, and Mr. McElwaine may be perfectly right when he adds, in
connection with the aforesaid explorers: "All such statements are, in my
opinion, founded upon a misapprehension of the true character of this
peculiar race."

Mr. Henry Elliott thus describes the Eskimo, or Innuit, as he is
sometimes called, inhabiting the far northern portions of Alaska: "The
average Innuit stands about five feet seven inches in his heelless
boots. He is slightly Mongolian in his complexion and facial expression.
A broad face, prominent cheek-bones, a large mouth with full lips, small
black eyes, prominently set in their sockets, not under a lowering brow,
as in the case of true Indian faces. The nose is insignificant, and much
depressed, with scarcely any bridge. He has an abundance of coarse black
hair, which up to the age of thirty years is cut pretty close; after
this period in life it is worn in ragged, unkempt locks. The hands and
feet are shapely, the limbs strong and well-formed. An Eskimo woman is
proportionately smaller than the man, and when young sometimes
good-looking. She has small, tapering hands, and high-instepped feet,
and rarely pierces her lips or disfigures her nose. She lavishes upon
her child or children a wealth of affection, endowing them with all her
ornaments. The hair of the Innuit woman is allowed to grow to its full
length and is gathered up behind into thick braids, or else bound up in
ropes, lashed by copper wire or sinews. She seldom tattoos herself, but
a faint drawing of transverse blue lines upon the chin and cheeks is
usually made by her best friend when she is married."

The reader will probably infer, after reading the foregoing notes, that
there is really very little difference, broadly speaking, between a
Tchuktchi and an Eskimo, and yet the two are as dissimilar in racial
characteristics and customs as a Russian and a Turk. Personal experience
inclines me to regard the Siberian native as immeasurably superior to
his Alaskan neighbours,[67] both from a moral and physical point of
view, for the Eskimo is fully as vicious as the Tchuktchi, who frankly
boasts of his depravity, while the former cloaks it beneath a mantle of
hypocrisy not wholly unconnected with a knowledge of the white man and
his methods. But every cloud has its silver lining, and it is
comforting to think that even this rapacious and dissipated race can
occasionally derive pleasure from the beauties of nature. While
strolling round the settlement one day, I gathered a nosegay of wild
flowers, including a species of yellow poppy, anent which Kingigamoot
cherishes a pretty superstition. This flower blossoms in profusion about
mid June around Cape Prince of Wales, and by the end of July has
withered away. Simultaneously a tiny golden butterfly makes its
appearance for about a fortnight, and also disappears. I was gravely
informed by perhaps the greatest inebriate in the village that the poppy
and the insect bear a similar name, for when the former has bloomed for
a while it develops a pair of wings and flies away to return again the
following summer in the guise of a flower.

[Footnote 67: It is only fair to say that the only Eskimo I met were
those at Kingigamoot, and the enmity of these particular natives to most
white men is by some ascribed to the following incident. Some thirty
years ago a small trading-schooner from San Francisco dropped anchor off
the village, and was at once boarded and looted by the natives, who
killed two of her crew. The remainder of the white men escaped with
their vessel, and returned the following year under escort of a revenue
cutter. Several natives were induced to visit the latter, and when
perhaps a score had been lured on board the Government vessel, she
steamed away, intending to carry off the Kingigamoot men and punish them
for the outrage committed the preceding year. But a fight at once ensued
on the deck of the cutter, and every Eskimo was shot down and killed.
Relatives of these men are still living at Kingigamoot, and the
generally aggressive demeanour of the natives here is often ascribed to
this fact, for the vendetta practised amongst both the Tchuktchis and
Eskimo is fully as bitter and relentless as that which exists in
Corsica.]

During my rambles I came across some curious stone erections on the
summit of the Cape. They were moss-grown, much dilapidated, and
apparently of great age. The tomb-like contrivances are said to have
been constructed by the Eskimo as a protection against invaders--the
pillars of stone, laid loosely one on the other, about ten feet high, to
represent men, and thus deceive the enemy. But for the truth of this I
cannot vouch.

The ice remained so thickly piled up around the coast for four or five
days after our arrival here that no look-out was kept. No vessel would
willingly have approached this part of the coast without a special
purpose, and Cape Prince of Wales possesses few attractions, commercial
or otherwise. On a clear day the Siberian coast was visible, and the
Diomede islands appeared so close with the aid of a field-glass that
their tiny drab settlements were distinguishable against the dark masses
of rock. The big and little Diomedes are about two miles apart, and the
line of demarcation between Russia and America strikes the former off
its eastern coast. From the most westerly point of Alaska to the most
easterly point of the little Diomede (Ratmanoff) the distance is about
fifteen miles, and from the most easterly point of Siberia to the most
westerly point of the big Diomede (Krusenstern) the distance is about
twenty miles. On the southern extremity of the larger island, a small
village is situated, containing about a hundred and fifty natives
(Russian subjects), and on the smaller one is another small village,
with about the same number of American Eskimo. Fairway rock, a little
way east of Ratmanoff island, is not inhabited. The comparatively short
distance between the two continents and the intermediate islands has
suggested the utilisation of the latter as supports for a leviathan
railway bridge, a theory which (as Euclid would remark) is obviously
"absurd." For no bridge could withstand the force of the spring ice in
Bering Straits for one week. On the other hand, the boring of a tunnel
from shore to shore is not entirely without the range of possibility,
but of this, and of other matters dealing with the construction of a
Franco-American railway, I shall deal fully in the concluding chapter of
this work.



CHAPTER XV

AN ARCTIC CITY


    "You will find a magic city
      On the shore of Bering Strait,
    Which shall be for you a station
      To unload your Arctic freight.
    Where the gold of Humboldt's vision
      Has for countless ages lain,
    Waiting for the hand of labour
      And the Saxon's tireless brain."

                            S. DUNHAM.


Billy, the ex-whaleman, accompanied us here on board the _Thetis_,
intending to make his way to Nome City. The commander of the cutter had
let him go free, thinking, no doubt, that the poor fellow had been
sufficiently punished for his misdeeds by a winter passed amongst the
savages of Northern Siberia. One day during our stay here a native set
out in a skin boat for Nome, and notwithstanding my warnings and a
falling barometer Billy resolved to accompany him. But shortly after
leaving us the pair encountered a furious gale, which swept them back to
the Cape in an exhausted condition, nearly frozen to death after a
terrible night in the ice.

By the end of a week the latter had almost disappeared. A vessel could
now anchor with ease off the settlement, but it seemed as though we
should have to wait until the autumn for that happy consummation. I had
therefore decided, after consultation with the missionary, on risking
the journey in a _baidara_, when, on the evening of the tenth day, our
longing eyes were gladdened by the sight of a small steamer approaching
the Cape. She proved to be the _Sadie_, of the "Alaska Commercial
Company," returning from her first trip of the year to Candle Creek,[68]
a gold-mining settlement on the Arctic Ocean, which had been
unapproachable on account of heavy ice. Fortunately for us the Captain
had suddenly resolved to call at Kingigamoot in case the missionary
needed assistance, and on hearing of our plight at once offered the
Expedition a passage to Nome City, whither the _Sadie_ was bound.
Bidding farewell to our kind friends at the Mission, without whose
assistance we should indeed have fared badly, we soon were aboard the
clean and comfortable little steamer. A warm welcome awaited us from her
skipper, a jovial Heligolander, who at the same time imparted to us the
joyful news that the war in South Africa was at an end. Twenty-four
hours later we were once more in civilisation, for during the summer
there is frequent steam communication between the remote although
up-to-date mining city of Nome and our final destination, New York.

[Footnote 68: In the summer of 1901, $30,000 were taken out of this
creek.]

Cape Nome derives its name from the Indian word "_No-me_," which
signifies in English, "I don't know." In former days, when whalers
anchored here to trade, the invariable answer given by the natives to
all questions put by the white men was "_No-me_," meaning that they did
not understand, and the name of the place was thus derived. On Cape
Nome, four years ago an Arctic desert, there now stands a fine and
well-built city. In winter the place can only be reached by dog-sled,
after a fatiguing, if not perilous, journey across Alaska, but in the
open season you may now travel there almost any week in large liners
from San Francisco. It seemed like a dream to land suddenly in this
modern town, within a day's journey of Whalen with all its savagery and
squalor, and it was somewhat trying to have to walk up the crowded main
street in our filthy, ragged state. Eventually, however, we were rigged
up at a well-stocked clothing establishment in suits of dittos which
would hardly have passed muster in Bond Street, but which did very well
for our purpose. And that evening, dining at a luxurious hotel, with
people in evening dress, palms, and a string band around us, I could
scarcely realise that only a few days ago we were practically starving
in a filthy Siberian village. Handsome buildings, churches, theatres,
electric light and telephones are not usually associated with the
ice-bound Arctic, but they are all to be found in Nome City, which is
now connected by telegraph with the outside world.

And yet the first log-cabin here was only built in the winter of 1898.
This formed the nucleus of a town of about three thousand inhabitants by
August of the following year, which by the middle of July 1900 had grown
into a colony of more than twenty thousand people. As sometimes happens,
the first discoverers of gold were not the ones to profit by their
lucky find, for this is what happened. Early in July 1898 three
prospectors, one Blake, an American, and his two companions, were
sailing up the coast in a small schooner, when, abreast of Cape Nome, a
storm struck their tiny craft and cast her up on the beach. The gale
lasted for several days, and the men made use of the time prospecting in
the vicinity of the Snake River, which now runs through the city. At the
mouth of Anvil Creek, good colours were found at a depth of one foot,
the dirt averaging from fifty cents to one dollar the pan. Satisfied
that they had made an important discovery, the men returned as soon as
the weather would permit to their permanent camp in Golovin Bay, down
coast, for provisions and mining tools, and thus lost, perhaps, the
richest gold-producing property yet discovered in Alaska. How the secret
got about was never known (perhaps "tanglefoot" was not unconnected with
its disclosure), but three Swedes (one of whom was then a
reindeer-herder and is now a millionaire), got wind of the news, and
quickly and quietly set out for Cape Nome, which they reached late in
September of the same year. Ascending Snake River, they prospected Anvil
and other Creeks, and in three days took out $1800 (nearly £400). After
staking all the claims of apparent value, the Swedes returned to Golovin
Bay, and having staked their ground, were not afraid to communicate the
news of their discovery. It was, therefore, only after all the good
claims had been appropriated that poor Blake and his associates
discovered that their anticipated golden harvest had been reaped by the
energetic Scandinavians.

Fresh finds speedily followed, notably of one rich spot about five miles
west of Nome, where $9000 was rocked out of a hole twelve foot square
and four feet deep in three days. Then gold began to appear on the
beach. Small particles of it were found in the very streets, so that
this Arctic township may almost be said to have been at one time
literally paved with gold. In 1899 the seashore alone produced between
$1,750,000 and $2,000,000.

The presence here of a numerous and influential Press astonished me more
than anything else. Nome City can boast of no less than three
newspapers, and no sooner was the Expedition comfortably installed in
the "Golden Gate Hotel" than it was besieged by the usual reporters. The
rapidity with which the interviews were published would have done credit
to a London evening paper, and I could only admire the versatility of
the gentleman who, only four hours after our arrival, brought out a
special edition of the _Nome Nugget_, containing a portrait of His Royal
Highness the Duke of the Abruzzi in full naval uniform, which was
described as his humble servant: the writer! The jealousy amongst these
Arctic editors is as keen and bitter as it ever was in Eatanswill, and
the next day the following paragraph appeared in the _News_, a rival
publication:

"One of our contemporaries has celebrated the rescue of some explorers
from starvation by publishing the picture of Prince Louis of Savoy under
the caption 'Harry de Windt.' But the Italian prince is also an
explorer, and probably all explorers look alike to the _Nugget_!"

Nome City impressed me at first as being a kind of squalid Monte Carlo.
There is the same unrest, the same feverish quest for gold, and the same
extravagance of life as in the devil's garden on the blue Mediterranean.
On landing, I was struck with the number of well-dressed men and women
who rub shoulders in the street with the dilapidated-looking mining
element. In the same way palatial banks and prim business houses are
incongruously scattered amongst saloons and drinking bars. Front Street,
facing the sea, is the principal thoroughfare, so crowded at midday that
you can scarcely get along. It is paved with wood, imported here at
enormous expense, and a pavement of the same material is raised about
two feet above the roadway. Here are good shops where everything is
cheap, for during the great gold-rush Nome was over-stocked. Wearing
apparel may be purchased here even cheaper than in San Francisco, and
everything is on the same scale; oranges, for instance, which two years
ago cost one dollar apiece and which are now sold in the streets for
five cents. Luxurious shaving saloons abound, also restaurants--one kept
by a Frenchman who is deservedly reaping a golden harvest.

In summer there is no rest here throughout the twenty-four hours. People
wander aimlessly about the streets, eternally discussing quartz and
placer-claims, and recent strikes, which here form the sole topic of
conversation, like a run on zero or the cards at Monaco. Port Said is
suggested by the dusty, flashy streets and cosmopolitan crowd, also by
the fact that gambling saloons and even shops remain open all night, or
so long as customers are stirring, which is generally from supper until
breakfast-time, for at this season of perpetual daylight no one ever
seemed to go to bed. The sight of the principal street at four in the
morning, with music halls, restaurants, drinking and dancing saloons
blazing with electricity in the cold, grey light of a midnight sun was
both novel and unique. At this hour the night-houses were always
crowded, and you might re-visit them at midday and find the same
occupants still out of bed, drinking, smoking, and gambling, yet as
quiet and orderly in their demeanour as a company of Quakers. For,
notwithstanding its large percentage of the riff-raff element, crime is
very rare in Nome. I frequently visited the gambling saloons, where
gum-booted, mud-stained prospectors elbowed women in dainty Parisian
gowns and men in the conventional swallowtail, but I never once saw a
shot fired, nor even a dispute, although champagne flowed like water.
These places generally consisted of a spacious and gaudily decorated
hall with a drinking bar surrounded by various _roulette_, _crap_, and
_faro_ tables. The price of a drink admitted you to an adjoining music
hall, where I witnessed a variety entertainment that would scarcely have
passed the London County Council. But gambling was the chief attraction,
and it seemed to be fair, for cheating is clearly superfluous with three
zeros! Many of the frequenters of these night-houses appeared to be
foreigners, chiefly Swedes and Germans, and a few Frenchmen, and the
company was very mixed, Jews, Greeks, and Levantines being numerous
amongst the men, whilst the ladies were mostly flashily dressed birds
of passage from San Francisco, only here for a brief space before
flitting South, like the swallows, at the first fall of snow.

There was a delightfully free-and-easy, _laisser-aller_ air about
everybody and everything at Nome City, which would, perhaps, have jarred
upon an ultra-respectable mind. Most of the ladies at the Golden Gate
Hotel were located there in couples, unattended, permanently at any
rate, by male protectors. The bedroom adjoining mine was occupied by two
of these Californian _houris_, whose habits were apparently not framed
on Lucretian lines. For the manager appeared at my bedside early one
morning with a polite request that I would rise and dress as quietly as
possible, as the "ladies" next door had just gone to bed for the first
time in three days, and rather needed a rest!

A stroll through the streets of Nome at midday was also amusing,
although the sun blazed down with a force which recalled summer-days in
Hong-kong or Calcutta. It was then hard to picture these warm and sunlit
streets swept by howling blizzards and buried in drifts which frequently
rise to the roofs of the houses, until their inmates have to be
literally dug out after a night of wind and snow. But when we were at
Nome, Cairo in August would have seemed cool by comparison, and I began
to doubt whether ice here could ever exist, for nothing around was
suggestive of a Northern clime. The open-air life, muslin-clad women,
gaily striped awnings, and Neapolitan fruit-sellers seemed to bear one
imperceptibly to some sunlit town of Italy or Spain, thousands of miles
away from this gloomy world (in winter) of cold and darkness. Only
occasionally a skin-clad Eskimo from up coast would slouch shyly through
the busy throng, rudely recalling the fact that we were still within the
region of raw seal-meat and walrus-hide huts.

Most of the prospectors I met here had no use for the place as a
gold-mining centre, but I should add that these grumblers were usually
inexperienced men, who had come in with no knowledge whatever of quartz
or placer-mining. On the other hand, fortunes have been made with
remarkable ease and rapidity, as in the case of one of the first
pioneers, Mr. Lindeberg, a young Swede (already mentioned), who arrived
here as a reindeer-herder and now owns the largest share of Anvil Creek.
From this about $3,000,000 have been taken in two years, and the lucky
proprietor has recently laid a line of railway to his claims, about
seven miles out of Nome. Anvil Creek has turned out the largest nugget
ever found in Alaska.

Generally speaking, however, Nome is no place for a poor man, although
when we were there five dollars a day (and all found) could be easily
earned on the Creeks. I invariably found men connected with large
companies enthusiastic, and grub-stakers down on their luck. Lack of
water in this district has proved a stumbling block which will shortly
be dispelled by machinery. Anvil Creek will probably yield double the
output hitherto extracted when this commodity has been turned on, and
this is now being done at an enormous cost by its enterprising
proprietors. But the days are past when nuggets were picked up here on
the beach, for it now needs costly machinery to find them in the
interior. Even during the first mad rush, when Nome was but a town of
tents, many who expected to find the country teeming with gold were
disappointed. In those days men would often rush ashore, after restless
nights passed on board ship in wakeful anticipation, catch up half a
dozen handfuls of earth, and finding nothing, cry, "I told you it was
all a fake," and re-embark on the first steamer for San Francisco. It
therefore came to pass that patient, hard-working men like Lindeberg,
inured to hardship and privation, whose primary object in the country
was totally unconnected with mining, have made colossal fortunes solely
by dogged perseverance and the sweat of their brow. The general opinion
here seemed to be that at the present time a man with a capital of, say,
£10,000 could succeed here, but even then it was doubtful whether the
money could not be more profitably invested in a more temperate clime,
and one involving less risk to life and limb.

Although epidemics occasionally occur, Nome cannot be called unhealthy.
The greatest variation of temperature is probably from 40° below zero in
winter to 90° above in summer, and the dry, intense cold we experienced
in Northern Siberia is here unknown. Only a short time ago the sea
journey to Nome was no less hazardous than the land trip formerly was
over the dreaded Chilkoot Pass and across the treacherous lakes to
Dawson City. In those days catastrophes were only too frequent in that
graveyard of the Pacific, Bering Sea, and this was chiefly on account
of unseaworthy ships patched up for passenger-traffic by unscrupulous
owners in San Francisco. Nome City can now be reached by the fine
steamships of the "Alaska Commercial Company" as safely and comfortably
as New York in an Atlantic liner, but these boats are unfortunately in
the minority, and even while we were at Nome, passengers were arriving
there almost daily on board veritable coffin-ships, in which I would not
willingly navigate the Serpentine. Shipping disasters have been frequent
not only at sea, but also while landing here, for Nome has no harbour,
but merely an open, shallow roadstead, fully exposed to the billows of
the ocean. There is therefore frequently a heavy surf along the beach,
and here many a poor miner has been drowned within a few yards of the
Eldorado he has risked his all to reach.

Intending prospectors should know that nearly every available mile of
country from Norton Sound to the Arctic Ocean has now been staked out,
and before claims are now obtained they must be paid for. American
missionaries have not been behind-hand in the race for wealth, and in
connection with this subject, the following lines by a disappointed
Klondiker are not without humour:

    "Then we climbed the cold creeks near a mission
      That is run by the agents of God,
    Who trade Bibles and Prayer-books to heathen
      For ivory, sealskins and cod.
    At last we were sure we had struck it,
      But alas! for our hope of reward,
    The landscape from sea-beach to sky-line
      Was staked in the name of the Lord!"[69]

[Footnote 69: "The Goldsmith of Nome," by Sam Dunham. (Neale Publishing
Company, Washington, D.C.)]

That these lines, however, do not apply to _all_ Alaskan missionaries I
can testify from a personal knowledge of our good friend Mr. Lopp's
comfortless, primitive life, and unselfish devotion to the cause of
Christianity.



CHAPTER XVI

A RIVER OF GOLD


The heading of this chapter is not suggested by a flight of fancy, but
by solid fact, for there is not a mile along either bank of the Yukon
River, over 2000 miles long from the great lakes to Bering Sea, where
you cannot dip in a pan and get a colour. Gold may not be found in
paying quantities so near the main stream, but it is there.

From Nome to Dawson City is about 1600 miles, the terminus of the Yukon
River steamers being St. Michael, on Bering Sea. When I was at this
place in 1896, it consisted of two or three small buildings of the
"Alaska Commercial Company," a Russian church and ruined stockade, and
about a dozen Eskimo wigwams. During my stay there, on that occasion,
one small cargo-boat arrived from the South, and a solitary whaler put
in for water, their appearance causing wild excitement amongst the few
white settlers.

Although the civilisation of Nome City had somewhat prepared me for
surprises, I scarcely expected to find St. Michael converted from a
squalid settlement into a modern city almost as fine as Nome itself. For
here also were a large hotel, good shops, electric light, and a
roadstead alive with shipping of every description from the Eskimo
_kayak_ to the towering liner from 'Frisco. We arrived at 6 A.M. after a
twelve hours' journey from Nome, but even at that early hour the clang
of a ship-yard and shriek of steam syrens were awakening the once silent
and desolate waters of Norton Sound. St. Michael feeds and clothes the
Alaskan miner, despatches goods and stores into the remotest corner of
this barren land, and has thus rapidly grown from a dreary little
settlement into a centre of mercantile activity. Seven years ago I
journeyed down the Yukon towards Siberia and a problematical Paris in a
small crowded steamer, built of roughly hewn logs, and propelled by a
fussy little engine of mediæval construction. We then slept on planks,
dined in our shirt-sleeves, and scrambled for meals which a respectable
dog would have turned from in disgust. On the present occasion we
embarked on board a floating palace, a huge stern-wheeler, as large and
luxuriously appointed as the most modern Mississippi flyer. The
_Hannah's_ airy deck-halls were of dainty white, picked out with gold,
some of the well-furnished state-rooms had baths attached, and a perfect
_cuisine_ partly atoned for the wearisome monotony of a long river
voyage.

A delay here of twenty-four hours enabled me to re-visit the places I
had known only too well while wearily awaiting the _Bear_ here for five
weeks in 1896. But everything was changed beyond recognition. Only two
landmarks remained of the old St. Michael: the agency of the "Alaska
Commercial Company," and the wooden church built by the Russians during
their occupation of the country.[70] A native hut near the beach, where
I was wont to smoke my evening pipe with an old Eskimo fisherman, was
now a circulating library; the ramshackle rest-house, once crowded with
"Toughs," a fashionable hotel with a verandah and five o'clock
tea-tables for the use of the select. And here I may note that tea is,
or was, all that the traveller can get here, for St. Michael is now a
military reservation, where even the sale of beer or claret is strictly
prohibited. My old friend Mikouline would have fared badly throughout
this part of the journey, for from here on to Dawson City alcoholic
refreshment of any kind was absolutely unprocurable, and although the
heat was tropical, iced water, not always of the purest description, was
the only cold beverage obtainable at St. Michael or on the river. I was
afterwards informed that the initiated always carry their own cellar,
and having a rooted antipathy to tea at dinner (especially when served
in conjunction with tinned soup), regretted that I had not ascertained
this fact before we left Nome.

[Footnote 70: The Russo-Greek religion is still maintained throughout
Alaska, and nearly a hundred of its churches and chapels still exist
throughout the country and in the Aleutian Islands.]

But although this liquor law was enforced with severity ashore its
infringement afloat was openly winked at by the authorities. Soldiers
were stationed night and day with loaded rifles on the beach to prevent
the importation of spirits, and yet within half a mile of them, anchored
in the roadstead, were four or five hulks, floating public-houses, where
a man might get as drunk as he pleased with impunity, and often for
the last time, especially when a return to the shore had to be made
through a nasty sea in a skin _kayak_. It was even whispered that
"Hootch" (a fiery poison akin to "Tanglefoot") was manufactured at the
barracks, and retailed by the soldiers to the natives, the very class
for whose protection against temptation the prohibitive law was framed.

[Illustration: ESKIMO GIRLS.]

"All my men are intoxicated," the Commandant at St. Michael was said to
have exclaimed. "So I suppose I had better get drunk myself."

But there was little love lost here between the civil and military
element, and these were probably libels, for I have seldom seen a better
drilled or disciplined set of men, although the hideous uniform of the
American linesman is less suggestive of a soldier than of a railway
guard.[71]

[Footnote 71: Permanent military posts of the United States have been
established as follows, throughout Alaska: Fort Egbert at Circle City,
Fort Gibbon on the Tanana River, Fort Valdez on Prince William Sound,
Fort Davis at Nome, and Fort St. Michael on the island of that name.]

The heat at St. Michael was even more oppressive than at Nome, and it
was impossible to stir out of doors at midday with any comfort. We were
therefore not sorry to embark on board the _Hannah_, of the "Alaska
Commercial Company," which contained one hundred state-rooms, of which
barely a dozen were occupied, for at this season of the year travellers
are mostly outward bound. The White Pass railway has practically killed
the Yukon passenger trade, for people now travel to Dawson by rail, and
to Nome by sea direct. They used to go by ocean steamer to St. Michael,
and thence ascend the river to Dawson, for in those days the perilous
Chilkoot Pass was the only direct way from the South into the Klondike
region. Our fellow travellers, therefore, lacked in numbers but not in
originality, for they included a millionaire in fustian, who preferred
to eat with the crew; a young and well-dressed widow from San Francisco,
who owned claims on the Tanana and worked them herself; a confidence-man
with a gambling outfit, who had struck the wrong crowd; and last, but
not least, Mrs. Z., recently a well-known _prima donna_ in the United
States, who, although in the zenith of her youthful fame and popularity,
had abandoned a brilliant career to share the fortunes of her husband,
an official of the "Alaska Commercial Company," in this inartistic land.
I found the conditions of travel on the Yukon as completely changed as
everything else. Even the technical expressions once used by the
gold-mining fraternity were now replaced by others. Thus the "Oldtimer"
had become "a Sourdough," and his antithesis, the "Tenderfoot," was now
called a "Chechako." A word now frequently heard (and unknown in 1896)
was "Musher," signifying a prospector who is not afraid to explore the
unknown. This word is of Canadian origin, and probably a corruption of
the French "_Marcheur_." Various passengers on board the _Hannah_ were
said to be returning to their homes with "Cold feet," also a new term,
defining the disappointed gold-seeker who is leaving the country in
disgust.

But a change which excited both my admiration and approval was that in
the accommodation provided on board the _Hannah_ and the really
excellent dinner to which we sat down every day, although enforced
teetotalism was somewhat irritating to those accustomed to wine with
their meals. It is no exaggeration to say that an overland journey may
now be made from Skagway to Nome City with as little discomfort as a
trip across Switzerland, if the tourist keeps to the beaten track by
rail and steamer. But the slightest deviation on either side will show
him what Alaskan travel really was, and he will then probably curse the
country and all that therein lies. The tourist may even experience some
trying hours on the river-boat, for although the latter is fitted with
cunning contrivances for their exclusion, mosquitoes invariably swarm,
and the Yukon specimen is so unequalled for size and ferocity that I
once heard an old miner declare that this virulent insect was "as big as
a rabbit and bit at both ends." But this is about the only discomfort
that travellers by the main route through Alaska need now endure.
Otherwise the path of travel has been made almost as smooth as Cook's
easiest tours.

As the reader may one day summon the courage to visit this great
Northern land, it may not be out of place to give a brief history of
Alaska, which, only thirty years ago, was peopled solely by Indians and
a few Russian settlers, and was practically unknown to the civilised
world.

It has always seemed strange to me that Russia, a country with a
world-wide reputation for diplomatic shrewdness, should have made such
an egregious error as to part with Alaska at a merely nominal
price,[72] the more so that when the transfer took place gold had long
been known to exist in this Arctic province. Vitus Bering discovered
traces of it as far back as the eighteenth century. William H. Seward,
Secretary of State under President Johnson, was mainly responsible for
the purchase of this huge territory, which covers an area of about
600,000 square miles, measuring 1000 miles from north to south and 3500
miles from east to west. It is said that the coast line alone, if
straightened out, would girdle the globe.

[Footnote 72: The word "Alaska" is derived from the Indian "Al-ay-eksa,"
which signifies a great country.]

The formal transfer of Alaska to the United States was made on October
18, 1867, and its acquisition was first regarded with great disfavour by
the majority of the American public. Although only $7,200,000 was paid
for the whole of Russian America,[73] the general opinion in New York
and other large cities of the Union was that "Seward's ice-box," as it
was then derisively termed, would prove a white elephant, and that the
statesman responsible for its purchase had been, plainly speaking, sold.
It was only when the marvellous riches of Nome were disclosed that
people began to realise what the annexation of the country really meant,
although even at this period Alaska had already repaid itself many times
over. Klondike had already startled the civilised world, but this is,
of course, in British territory. Nevertheless, between the years 1870
and 1900 Secretary Seward's investment had returned nearly $8,000,000,
and within the same period fisheries and furs had yielded no less than
$100,000,000. Gold and timber had produced $40,000,000 more, making a
clear profit of nearly $200,000,000 in thirty years.

[Footnote 73: It is said that most of this was used in Petersburg to
satisfy old debts and obligations incurred by Alaskan enterprises,
attorneys' fees, &c., so in short Russia really gave her American
possessions to the American people, reaping no direct emolument
whatsoever from the transfer. ("Our Arctic Province," by Henry W.
Elliott.)]

It is sad to think that the once maligned politician who acquired this
priceless treasure did not live to see his golden dream realised. A few
days before his death the Secretary was asked what he considered the
most important measure of his official career.

"The purchase of Alaska," was the reply, "but it will take the people a
generation to find it out."

Alaska may be divided into two great south-east and western districts.
Mount St. Elias, nearly 20,000 ft. high, marks the dividing line at 141°
west long., running north from this point to the Arctic Ocean. The
diversity of climate existing throughout this huge province from its
southern coast to the shores of the Polar Sea is naturally very great,
and the marvellous contrast between an Alaskan June and December has
nowhere been more picturesquely and graphically described than by
General Sir William Butler in his "Great Lone Land": "In summer a land
of sound--a land echoed with the voices of birds, the ripple of running
water, the mournful music of the waving pine branch; in winter a land of
silence, its great rivers glimmering in the moonlight, wrapped in their
shrouds of ice, its still forests rising weird and spectral against the
auroral-lighted horizon, its nights so still that the moving streamers
across the Northern skies seem to carry to the ear a sense of sound!"

On the North Pacific coast densely wooded islands are so numerous that
from Victoria in British Columbia to the town of Skagway at the head of
the Lynn Canal there are but a few miles of open sea. Inland, almost as
far as the Arctic Circle, mountain ranges, some of great altitude, are
everywhere visible. There are also many large lakes, surrounded by the
swamps, and impenetrable forests, that formerly rendered Alaska so hard
a nut for the explorer to crack. Only a few miles north of the coast
range fertile soil and luxurious vegetation are replaced by Arctic
deserts. Here, for eight months of the year, plains and rivers are
merged into one vast wilderness of ice, save during the short summer
when dog-roses bloom and the coarse luxurious grass is plentifully
sprinkled with daisies and other wild flowers. In Central Alaska the
ground is perpetually frozen to a depth of several inches, and in the
North wells have been sunk through forty feet of solid ice.

Alaska is fairly healthy, although the temperature in the interior
ranges from 90° in the shade to over 60° below zero Fahr. May, June, and
July are the best months for travelling, for the days are then generally
bright and pleasant and the heat tempered by a cool breeze. On the coast
during the summer rain and fogs prevail, and the sun is only
occasionally visible, for there are on an average only sixty-six fine
days throughout the year. In 1884, a rainfall of sixty-four inches was
registered at Unalaska. The rain seldom pours down here, but falls in a
steady drizzle from a hopelessly leaden sky, under which a grey and
sodden landscape presents a picture of dreary desolation. But this damp
cheerlessness has its advantages, for incessant humidity sheds perpetual
verdure over the coast-districts, where the thermometer rarely falls as
low as zero Fahr. Winter only sets in here about the 1st of December,
and snow has vanished by the end of May, while in the interior lakes and
rivers are still in the grip of the ice. Near the sea the soil is rich
and root-crops are prolific, while horses and cattle thrive well, also
the ports as far north as Cook's Inlet are open to navigation all the
year round, so that, taking all these facts into consideration, coast
settlements are preferable as a permanent residence to those of the
interior, with the exception, perhaps, of Dawson City.

It is said that the mild climate of Southern Alaska is due to the Japan
Gulf Stream, which first strikes the North American continent at the
Queen Charlotte Island in latitude 50° north. At this point the stream
divides, one part going northward and westward along the coast of
Alaska, and the other southward along the coast of British Columbia,
Washington territory, Oregon, and California. Thus the climate of these
states is made mild and pleasant in precisely the same way as the shores
of Spain, Portugal and France by the ocean currents of the Atlantic.

Notwithstanding the society of pleasant fellow travellers, life on board
the _Hannah_ became intolerably tedious after the first few days. The
Lower Yukon is not an attractive river from a picturesque point of
view, and only the upper portion of its two thousand odd miles possesses
any scenic interest. Grey and monotonous tundra rolling away to the
horizon, and melancholy, grey-green shrubs lining the stream formed the
daily and dismal landscape during the first week. There is literally
nothing of interest to be seen along the banks of the Yukon from its
mouth to Dawson City, save perhaps the Catholic mission of the Holy
Cross at Koserefski; which is prettily situated within a stone's throw
of the river, and consists of several neat wooden buildings comprising a
beautiful little chapel and school for native children. The _Hannah_
remained here for some hours, which enabled me to renew my acquaintance
with the good nuns, and to visit the schoolhouse, where some Indian
children of both sexes were at work. French was the language spoken, and
it seemed strange to hear the crisp, clear accent in this deserted
corner of civilisation. An old acquaintance of my former voyage, pretty
Sister Winifred, showed us around the garden, with its smooth green
lawns, bright flower-beds, and white statue of Our Lady in a shrine of
pine boughs. All the surroundings wore an air of peace and homeliness
suggestive of some quiet country village in far-away France, and I could
have lingered here for hours had not large and bloodthirsty mosquitoes
swarmed from the woods around and driven me reluctantly back to the
steamer.

At Koserefski we bade a final farewell to the "Tundra" and its Eskimo,
and from here onwards encountered only dense forests and the unsavoury
and generally sulky Alaskan Indian. They are not a pleasing race, for
laziness and impudence seemed to be the chief characteristics of those
with whom we had to deal throughout the former journey. On this occasion
we met with very few natives, who have apparently been driven out of the
principal towns by the white man. The Alaskan Indian's once picturesque
costume is now discarded for clothes of European cut, which render him
even more unattractive than ever. Moccasins and his pretty bark-canoe
are now the only distinctive mark of the _Siwash_, who is as fond of
strong drink as the Eskimo, and also resembles the latter in his
boundless capacities for lying and theft. But there are probably not
more than 1500 natives in all inhabiting the Yukon region, and these are
rapidly decreasing. I do not think I saw more than fifty Indians
throughout the journey from Cape Nome to Skagway, the terminus of the
"White Pass" railway. South of this, along the coast to Vancouver, they
were more numerous, and apparently less lazy and degraded than the
Indians of the interior.

On board the _Hannah_ the talk was all of gold, and every one, from
captain to cook, seemed indirectly interested in the capture of the
precious metal. The purser had claims to dispose of, and even your
bedroom steward knew of a likely ledge of which he would divulge the
position--for a consideration. The Koyukuk and Tanana rivers on this
part of the Yukon are new ground, and are said to be promising, but I
could hear of no reliable discoveries of any extent on either of these
streams.

"Cities" on the American Yukon consist of perhaps a score or more of log
huts, which Yankee push and enterprise have invested with the dignity
of towns. "Rampart City," for instance, which the _Hannah_ reached on
the sixth day in from the coast, consisted of only about thirty
one-storied wooden dwellings, the erection of which had been due to the
discovery of gold in the vicinity, although during the previous year
(1901) the claims around had only produced £40,000. And yet even this
tiny township could boast of two hotels, five or six saloons, electric
light and two newspapers: the _Alaska Forum_ and _Rampart Sun_. The
circulation of these journals was not disclosed to the writer, who was,
however, gravely interviewed by the editors of both publications. Just
before leaving Rampart City news of the postponement of the coronation
of his Majesty King Edward VII. on account of serious illness, reached
us, and it was gratifying to note the respectful sympathy for the Queen
of England displayed by the American inhabitants of this remote Alaskan
settlement.

Four days after this the hideous Yukon flats were reached, a vast desert
of swamp and sand dunes, through which the great river diffuses itself,
like a sky-rocket, into hundreds of lesser streams, lakes, and aqueous
blind alleys, which severely taxed the skill and patience of our
skipper. Here the outlook was even more depressing than on the dreary
Lena. Before reaching Circle City the Yukon attains its most northerly
point and then descends in a south-easterly direction for the remainder
of its course. At the bend it is joined by the Porcupine River; and here
is Fort Yukon, once an important trading coast of the Hudson Bay
Company, but now an overgrown clearing in the forest, of which a few
miserable Indians in grimy tents disputed the possession with dense
clouds of mosquitoes. But even the appearance of Circle City,[74] once a
prosperous mining town and now a collection of ruined log-huts, was
hailed with delight by the hopelessly bored passengers in the _Hannah_,
for it meant the end of another stage in this wearisome journey.

[Footnote 74: In 1901 the diggings around Circle City produced about
£30,000.]

There is nothing exciting or even picturesque about a modern Alaskan
mining camp. Bowlers and loud checks have superseded the red flannel
shirt and sombrero, and while missions and libraries abound, Judge Lynch
and the crack of a six-shooter are almost unknown in these townships,
the conventional security of which would certainly have amazed and
disgusted the late Bret Harte. When last I travelled down the Yukon,
Circle City (now called Silent City) was known as the "Paris of Alaska,"
and there was certainly more gaiety, or rather life, of a tawdry,
disreputable kind here than at Forty Mile, the only other settlement of
any size on the river, for Klondike was not then in existence. Circle
City could then boast of two theatres, a so-called music hall, and
several gambling and dancing saloons, which, together with other dens of
a worse description, were now silent heaps of grass-grown timber. In
those days the dancing rooms were crowded nightly, and I once attended a
ball here in a low, stuffy apartment, festooned with flags, with a
drinking bar at one end. The orchestra consisted of a violin and guitar,
the music being almost drowned by a noisy crowd at the bar, where a
wrangle took place on an average every five minutes. One dollar was
charged by the saloon-keeper for the privilege of a dance with a gaily
painted lady (of a class with which most mining camps are only too
familiar), who received twenty-five cents as her share of the
transaction. The guests numbered about sixty, and about a third that
number of dogs which had strayed in through the open doorway. When an
attendant (in shirt-sleeves) proceeded to walk round and sprinkle the
rough boards with resin, the dancers fairly yelled with delight, for a
hungry cur closely followed him, greedily devouring the stuff as it
fell! But although in those days the Yukon gold-digger was as tough a
customer as ever rocked a cradle in the wildest days of Colorado, there
was a rough and friendly _bonhomie_ amongst the inhabitants of Circle
City which is now lacking in the Klondike metropolis.

Between Rampart and Circle Cities we experienced an annoyance almost as
great as that caused by the mosquitoes, in the shape of clouds of
pungent smoke caused by forest fires. In these densely wooded regions a
smouldering match dropped by a careless miner often sets hundreds of
square miles of timber ablaze. As the natives are also constantly
clearing and burning the woods for cultivation, the air was seldom
entirely clear, and often so thick as to cause irritation in the eyes,
especially after suffering, as most of us had, from snow blindness and
incipient ophthalmia. On still, sultry days the pain resulting from
smoke and the glare off the river was almost as severe as that which I
had experienced in the Arctic. Mosquitoes now attacked us in myriads,
and the heat was insupportable, but the cooler air of the upper deck was
rendered unattainable by showers of sparks which constantly issued from
the funnels of the hard-driven _Hannah_.

At Eagle City, consisting of about thirty log-huts, we reached for the
first time the end of a telegraph wire,[75] and I was able to cable home
the safe arrival in Alaska of the Expedition; and none too soon, for the
total loss of the latter had already been reported in London. How this
baseless rumour was spread remains a mystery, but fortunately the wire
announcing our safety was published in the London newspapers only three
days after the public had read of a probable disaster. Eagle City,
although even smaller than Rampart, also boasted of a newspaper, the
enterprising owner of which made me a tempting offer for the tiny silk
banner which had shared our fortunes all the way from France. But "the
flag which braved a thousand years" was not for sale, and it now adorns
the walls of the author's smoking-room, the only Union Jack which, so
far as I know, has safety accomplished the journey from Paris to New
York by land.

[Footnote 75: This has since been extended and telegraphic messages may
now be sent through from Europe to Nome City.]

Above Eagle City the journey was rendered even more weary by frequent
stoppages. Once we tugged for twenty-four hours at a stranded steamer,
and finally got her off a sand-bank at considerable risk to ourselves.
Every hundred miles or so the _Hannah_ would tie up to take in fuel at
some wood-cutter's shanty, where the cool, green forest, with its
flowers and ferns, looked inviting from the deck, but to land amongst
them was to be devoured by clouds of ferocious mosquitoes. De Clinchamp
was the happiest being on board, for his days were passed in developing
the hundreds of photographs taken since our departure from Yakutsk; and
Stepan was perhaps the most forlorn, amongst strangers unacquainted with
his language. The poor fellow had been as gay as a cricket amidst the
dangers of the Arctic, but here he was as timid as a lost child, gazing
hour by hour into the water, smoking endless cigarettes, and thinking,
perhaps, of his wife and little "Isba" in now distant Siberia.

On July 15 we passed the boundary into British North-west territory, and
shortly afterwards hailed the British flag fluttering from the barracks
at Forty Mile City as an old and long-lost friend. This was the chief
town of the Upper Yukon in the palmy days of the Hudson Bay Company when
furs rather than gold were the attraction to these gloomy regions. In
1896 this was the highest point reached by the larger river-boats, and
here, on that occasion, we left the tiny skiff in which we had travelled
for over a month on the great lakes, and boarded the steamer for St.
Michael. Forty Mile then consisted of eighty or ninety log-huts on a mud
bank, where numerous tree-stumps, wood-shavings, empty tins, and other
rubbish littered the ground amongst the houses, adding to the general
appearance of dirt and neglect. But now several neat, new buildings have
arisen from the ashes of the old; streets have been laid out with
regularity; and a trim fort is occupied by a khaki-clad detachment of
the North-west Mounted Police. Forty Mile is more of a military post
than anything else, most of its prospectors having left the place for
the Klondike, although a few years back this was the chief rendezvous of
Yukon pioneers. These, however, were mostly "grub-stakers," quite
content if enough gold-dust was forthcoming to keep the wolf from the
door. In those days a nugget of any size was a rarity, and fortunes were
made here, not by the miner, but by those who fed and clothed him. For
instance, in 1886 Forty Mile Creek yielded less than £30,000, but at
this time the total number of prospectors in the entire territory of the
Upper Yukon was under 250, and very few of these who could avoid it
wintered in the country.

At last, on the thirteenth day, we neared our destination. "It seems a
month since we left St. Michael," says the confidence-man as for the
last time we watch the pine forest darken and the great river fade into
a silvery grey in the twilight. From the brightly lit saloon come the
tinkle of a piano and the clear notes of Mrs. Z.'s voice. Her pathetic
little melody is familiar to the wanderer in every lonely land:

    "All the world am sad and dreary
    Everywhere I roam!"

But, fortunately for us, the Yukon, like the Suwanee River, must have an
ending, and I am awakened early next morning to find the _Hannah_ moored
alongside a busy wharf at Dawson City.



CHAPTER XVII

DAWSON


"The Yukon district is a vast tract of country which forms the extreme
north-westerly portion of the north-west territories of Canada. It is
bounded to the south by the northern line of British Columbia, to the
west by the eastern line of the United States territory of Alaska, to
the east by the Rocky Mountains, and to the north by the Arctic Ocean.
The district has an area of 192,000 square miles, or about the size of
France. The region, as a whole, is mountainous in character, but it
comprises as well an area of merely hilly or gently undulating country,
besides many wide and flat bottomed valleys. It is more mountainous in
the south-east and subsides generally and uniformly to the
north-westward, the mountains becoming more isolated and separated by
broader tracts of low land. The Yukon or Pelly River provides the main
drainage of this region, passing from Canadian into American territory
at a point in its course 1600 miles from the sea. The two hundred miles
of its course in Canada receives the waters of all the most important of
its tributaries--the Stewart, Macmillan, Upper Pelly, Lewes, White
River, &c., each with an extensive subsidiary river system, which
spreading out like a fan towards the north-east, east, and south-east
facilitate access into the interior." So writes my friend Mr. Ogilvie,
the Dominion Surveyor, who has an experience of over twenty years of
this country and who is probably better acquainted with its natural
characteristics and resources than any other living white man.

On the occasion of my last attempt to travel overland from New York to
Paris the spot upon which Dawson City now stands was occupied by perhaps
a dozen Indian wigwams.[76] The current was so strong that we only
landed from our skiff with difficulty and the timely assistance of some
natives in birch bark canoes, the first of these graceful but rickety
craft we had yet encountered. Just below the village a small river flows
into the Yukon from the east, and the water looked so clear and pure
that we filled our barrels, little dreaming that in a few months this
apparently insignificant stream would be the talk of the civilised
world. For this was the Thron-diuck,[77] a word eventually corrupted
into "Klondike" by the jargon of many nationalities. Then we visited the
village, in search of food; finding in one hut some salmon, in another a
piece of moose meat, both of venerable exterior. Most of the braves of
the tribe were away hunting or fishing, but the old men and maidens were
eager for news from up river, the sole topic of interest being, not the
finding of nuggets, but the catching of fish. Strange as it may seem the
name of Klondike is to this day associated in my mind with
comparatively clean Indians and a good square meal. But hardly a year
had elapsed before I discovered that on that quiet, sunlit evening, I
was carelessly strolling about over millions of money without being
aware of the fact.

[Footnote 76: Dawson City is named after Dr. Dawson who first
established the boundary between Alaska and British north-west
territory.]

[Footnote 77: An Indian word signifying "Plenty of fish." On old maps
the place is marked "Tondack."]

Dawson City stands on the right bank of the Yukon on a plain almost
surrounded by picturesque and partly wooded hills. There are towns
existing much further north than this notwithstanding all that has been
written to the contrary. Many a cheap tripper from Aberdeen or Newcastle
has been a good deal nearer the Pole, so far as actual latitude is
concerned, for Dawson is south of the Norwegian towns of Hammerfest and
Tromsö; Archangel--on the White Sea--being situated on about the same
latitude as the Klondike metropolis. The latter was founded shortly
after the first discovery of gold in 1896, and a few months afterwards
seven or eight thousand people were living there in tents and log huts.
In 1898 a fire occurred and the whole town was rebuilt on more
business-like lines, buildings, streets, and squares being laid out with
regularity. The fire had not been wholly disastrous, for before its
occurrence typhoid fever was raging amongst the miners, chiefly on
account of improper food, impure water, and the miasma arising from the
marshy, undrained soil. But when the town was restored, these evils were
remedied, and, at the present day, Dawson contains about 30,000
inhabitants (probably more in summer), who, save for a rigorous winter,
live under much the same conditions as the dweller in any civilised city
of England or America. Out on the creeks, the life is still rough and
primitive, but all the luxuries of life are obtainable in town, that is
if you can afford to pay for them, for prices here are, at present,
ruinous. This is chiefly due to the almost prohibitive tariff imposed
upon everything, from machinery to cigars, by the Canadian Government.
During our stay much discontent also prevailed in consequence of the
vexatious gold-mining regulations which had lately come into operation
and which had already compelled many owners of valuable claims to sell
them at a loss and quit the country. An Englishman residing here told me
that so long as the present mining laws exist prospectors will do well
to avoid Canadian territory, and this I could well believe, for while we
were there, Dawson was, on this account, in a ferment of excitement
which threatened shortly to blaze into open rebellion unless the tension
was removed.

The natural charms of Dawson have hitherto been sadly neglected by
writers on Klondike, and yet it is in summer one of the prettiest places
imaginable. Viewed from a distance on a still July day, the clean bright
looking town and garden-girt villas dotting the green hills around are
more suggestive of a tropical country than of a bleak Arctic land. An
interesting landmark is the mighty landslip of rock and rubble which
defaces the side of a steep cliff overlooking the city, for this
avalanche of earth is said to have entombed some fifty or sixty Indians
many years ago, and is of course therefore, according to local
tradition, haunted. Notwithstanding its remoteness Dawson may almost be
called a gay place. Stroll down the principal street at mid-day and you
will find a well-dressed crowd of both sexes, some driving and cycling,
others inspecting the shops or seated at flower-bedecked tables in the
fashionable French "Restaurant du Louvre" with its white aproned
_garçons_ and central snowy altar of silver, fruit, and _hors-d'œuvres_
all complete. Everything has a continental look, from the glittering
jewellers' shops to the flower and fruit stalls, where you may buy roses
or strawberries for a dollar apiece. I recollect discussing a meal of
somewhat rusty bacon and beans (or Alaska strawberries as they were then
called) when we landed for the first time amongst the Indians of
Thron-diuck, and it seemed like some weird dream when one sultry
afternoon during my recent stay I was invited by a party of smartly
dressed ladies to partake of ices in a gilded _café_ with red-striped
sun-blinds on the very same spot. But you can now get almost anything
here by paying for it, on a scale regulated by the local daily
newspapers, which are sold for a shilling and sometimes more. Even in
the cheaper eating-houses, where sausages steam in the window, the most
frugal meal runs away with a five dollar note, while at the Regina Hotel
(by no means a first-class establishment) the price charged for the most
modest bedroom would have secured a sumptuous apartment at the Ritz
palaces in Pall Mall or the Place Vendôme! On the day of our arrival I
thought a bar-tender was joking when he charged me three dollars for a
pint of very ordinary "Medoc," but quickly discovered that the man was
in sober earnest. Nevertheless, only big prices are to be expected in a
region almost inaccessible ten years ago. And what a change there is
since those days. In 1896 it took us two months to reach Thron-diuck
from the coast, and on the last occasion I received a reply from London
to a cable within seven hours! This new era of progress and
enlightenment seemed to have scared the insect creation, for, in 1896,
"smudges" were lit here to drive away the clouds of mosquitoes which
mingled with our very food; and now not a gnat was to be seen in Dawson,
although the creeks around were said to be alive with them.

This is essentially a cosmopolitan city, and you may hear almost every
known language, from Patagonian to Chinese, talked in its streets.
"First Avenue," about a mile long and fronting the river, is the finest
thoroughfare, and the high-sounding title is not incongruous, for
several handsome stone buildings now grace this street which in a few
years will doubtless be worthy of Seattle or San Francisco. One side of
the road is lined by busy wharves, with numberless steamers ever on the
move, the other by shops of every description, restaurants, and gorgeous
drinking-saloons. A stranger here cannot fail to be struck with the
incongruity with which wealth and squalor are blended. Here a dainty
restaurant is elbowed by a cheap American _gargote_, there a plate-glass
window blazing with diamonds seems to shrink from a neighbouring
emporium stocked with second-hand wearing apparel. Even the exclusive
Zero Club with its bow window generally crowded with fashionable
loungers, is contaminated by the proximity of a shabby drinking-bar,
which, however, does not impair the excellence of its internal
arrangements, as the writer can testify. For a Lucullian repast, of
which I was invited to partake at this hospitable resort of good fellows
of all nationalities, yet lingers in my memory!

But hospitality seems ingrained in the nature of the Klondiker high or
low, and during its short stay here the Expedition was regally received
and entertained. A wood-cut, which appeared in the principal newspaper
representing "Dawson City extending the glad hand of welcome to Explorer
De Windt" was no mere figure of speech, for we were seldom allowed to
pay for a meal, while the refreshments and cigars lavished upon me by
total strangers at every moment of the day would have set up a
regimental mess. My host here was the manager of the "Alaska Commercial
Company," which has practically ruled the country from the year of its
annexation, and without whose assistance I should often have fared badly
during my travels in the interior. Mr. Mizner, the agent, occupied one
of the newest and finest houses in Dawson, but I was awakened the first
night by a sound suggestive of a spirited wrestling bout in an adjoining
apartment. The noise continued almost without cessation, and only ceased
when the business of the day recommenced in the streets. Then the
mystery was explained; my imaginary wrestlers were rats, which are not,
I believe, indigenous to Alaska. Originally brought to St. Michael
during the gold rush by an old and patched-up barque from San Francisco,
the enterprising rodents boarded a river steamer and landed here, where
conditions appear especially favourable to their reproduction. Scarcely
a house in the place was free from them, and at night, or rather
through its twilight hours, the streets swarmed with the disgusting
brutes who seemed to regard human beings with supreme indifference. From
latest advices this annoyance still exists and a fortune therefore
awaits a good London rat-catcher in Dawson.

Dissipation used to reign here supreme as it does to-day at Nome, but
the Canadian authorities have now placed a heavy heel upon
gambling-saloons, dancing-halls, and similar establishments. And
although the closing of these places has caused much dissatisfaction
amongst those who profited by them, the measure has undoubtedly been for
the general good of the community. Many a poor miner has come in from
the creeks with gold-dust galore, the result of many months of hard work
and privation, and found himself penniless after a single night passed
amongst the saloons, dives, and dens of an even worse description which
formerly flourished here. In those days the place swarmed with women of
the lowest class, the very sweepings of San Francisco, and with them
came such a train of thieves and bullies that finally the law was
compelled to step in and prevent a further influx of this undesirable
element. Dawson is now as quiet and orderly as it was once the opposite,
for ladies unable to prove their respectability are compelled to reside
in a distant suburb bearing the euphonious name of Louse-Town. This
place is probably unique, at any rate amongst civilised nations,
although the Japanese Yoshiwara, outside Tokio, where every dwelling is
one of ill-fame, is, although, much larger, almost its exact prototype.

Crime in and about Dawson is now rare thanks to that fine body of men,
the North-west Mounted Police. Piccadilly is no safer than the streets
here, which, during the dark winter months, blaze with electricity. The
Irish ruffian, George O'Brien, who, a couple of years ago, built a
shanty in a lonely spot and robbed and murdered many prospectors, was
arrested and hanged with a celerity which has since deterred other evil
doers. For the system of police surveillance here is almost as strict as
in Russia, and although passports are not required the compulsory
registration of every traveller at the hotels and road houses answers
much the same purpose.

Although rowdy revelry is discountenanced by the authorities Dawson City
can be gay enough both in summer and winter. In the open season there is
horse-racing along First Avenue, where notwithstanding the rough and
stony course and deplorable "crocks" engaged, large sums of money change
hands. There are also picnics and A. B. floaters, or water parties
organised by a Society known as the "Arctic Brotherhood," who charter a
steamer once a week for a trip up or down river, which is made the
occasion for dancing and other festivities entailing the consumption of
much champagne. At this season there is also excellent fishing in the
Yukon and its tributaries, where salmon, grayling, and trout are
plentiful. The first named run to an enormous weight, but are much
coarser and less delicate in flavour than the European fish. The Fourth
of July is a day of general rejoicing, for there are probably as many,
if not more, Americans than Canadians here. There is good rough shooting
within easy distance of Dawson, and the sporting fraternity
occasionally witnesses a prize fight, when Frank Slavin (who owns an
hotel here) occasionally displays his skill.

The history of the Klondike gold-fields has so often been told that I
shall not weary the reader by going over old ground: how George Cormack
made his lucky strike on Bonanza Creek, taking out £240 of gold in a
couple of days from a spot which, with proper appliances, would have
yielded £1000, or how the steamship _Excelsior_ arrived in San Francisco
one July day in 1897 with half a million dollars and thirty old timers
whose tales of a land gorged with gold were almost universally
discredited. But these were confirmed by the arrival of the _Portland_ a
few days later with over a million dollars' worth of dust stowed away in
oil cans, jam-tins, and even wrapped in old newspapers, so desolate and
primitive was the region from whence it came.[78] Then, as every one
knows, the news was flashed over the world and was followed by a
stampede the like of which had not been witnessed since the days of '49.
Unfortunately, the simple and primitive way in which the gold was gained
seemed suggestive of a poor man's "El Dorado," and consequently many of
those who went into the Klondike with the first batch of gold seekers
were small tradesmen, railway officials, clerks, and others, whose
sedentary occupation had rendered them quite unfit for a life of peril
and privation in the frozen north. The tragic experiences of these first
pilgrims to the land of gold are probably still fresh in the mind of the
reader--the deaths by cold and hunger on the dreaded Chilkoot Pass, or
by drowning in the stormy lakes and treacherous rapids of the Yukon. The
death list during the rush of 1897 will long be remembered in Dawson
City, for many of those who survived the dangers of the road were
stricken down on arrival by typhoid fever, which allied to famine,
claimed, in those days, a terrible percentage of victims. And yet if the
risks were great, the rewards were greater for those blessed with youth,
perseverance and, above all, a hardy constitution. Perhaps the most
notable case of success in the early days was that of Clarence Berry
(then known as the "Barnato of the Klondike"). When Berry left
California his capital consisted of £20 which enabled him to reach the
scene of operations and to take £26,000 out of the ground within six
months of his departure from home. Mrs. Berry, who pluckily joined her
husband at Dawson, is said to have lifted no less than £10,000 from her
husband's claims in her spare moments. About this period many other
valuable discoveries took place and amongst them may be mentioned
MacDonald's claim on "El Dorado" which yielded £19,000 in twenty-eight
days, Leggatt's claims on the same creek which in eight months produced
£8400 from a space only twenty-four square feet, and Ladue, a Klondike
pioneer, who for seven consecutive days took £360 from one claim and
followed his good fortune with such pluck and persistency that he is now
a millionaire. Of other authentic cases I may mention that of a San
Francisco man and his wife who were able to secure only one claim which
to their joy and surprise yielded £27,000, and that of a stoker on board
a Yukon river boat who in 1896 was earning £10 a month and who, the
following summer, was worth his £30,000!

[Footnote 78: In view of the eventual development of this region it is
interesting to note Mr. Ogilvie's report of his explorations in 1887
which runs thus:

"The Thron-diuck river enters the Yukon from the east, it is a small
stream about forty yards wide at the mouth and shallow; the water is
clear and transparent and of a beautiful blue colour, the Indians catch
great numbers of salmon here. A miner had prospected up this river for
an estimated distance of forty miles in the season of 1887. I did not
see him."]

But the foregoing are only individual cases which have come under my
personal notice. There were, of course, innumerable others, for it was a
common thing in those days for a man to return to California after a
year's absence with from £5000 to £10,000 in his pocket. Take, for
instance, the case of the lucky bar-tender of Forty Mile City who joined
the general exodus from that place which followed Cormack's first
discovery. This man came out of the country with $132,000 in gold dust
which he had taken out of his stake, and after purchasing an adjoining
claim for another $100,000 (all taken from his original claim), it is
said (though I cannot vouch for this statement) that the fortunate
cock-tail mixer eventually sold his property to a New York Syndicate for
£400,000. Of course at this time fairy tales were pretty freely
circulated; how, for instance, one man with very long whiskers had been
working hard in his drift all through the winter and, as was the custom,
neither washed nor shaved. In the spring when the whiskers were shaved
off his partner is said to have secured them, washed them out in a pan,
and collected $27 as the result! This is of course absurd, but facts in
those days concerning discoveries were so marvellous that they were
easily confused with fiction. Thus Mr. Ogilvie, the Dominion Surveyor
and a personal friend of mine, told me that he went into one of the
richest claims one day and asked to be allowed to wash out a panful of
gold. The pay streak was very rich but standing at the bottom of the
shaft, and looking at it by the light of a candle, all that could be
seen was a yellowish looking dirt with here and there the sparkle of a
little gold. Ogilvie took out a big panful and started to wash it out,
while several miners stood around betting as to the result. Five hundred
dollars was the highest estimate, but when the gold was weighed it came
to a little over $590, or nearly £120. This I can vouch for as a fact.

A coach runs daily out from Dawson to the diggings about fifteen miles
away, but although the famous Bonanza and El Dorado Creeks are still
worth a visit,[79] I fancy the good old days are over here when fortunes
were made in a week and saloon keepers reaped a comfortable income by
sweeping up spilt gold dust every morning. Klondike is no longer a
region of giant nuggets and fabulous finds, for every inch of likely
ground has been prospected over and over again. Nevertheless many of the
creeks are doing well, notably that of "Last Chance," which may even
eclipse El Dorado when machinery has been brought to bear. Almost any
claim on "Last Chance" is now a sound investment, but this was about
the only creek which, during our stay, was attracting any serious
attention from outside.

[Footnote 79: Professor Angelo Heilprin has reported that El Dorado and
Bonanza gold generally assays but about $15.50 or $15.80 to the ounce.
Dominion gold shows as high as $17.80, while the gold of Bear Creek, a
minor tributary of the Klondike, is reported to give $19.20 to the
ounce.]

It is probably unnecessary to explain that, with one or two exceptions,
the gold in Alaska is obtained by placer-mining. This consists simply in
making a shaft to bedrock[80] and then tunnelling in various directions.
The pay dirt is hauled out by a small hand-windlass and piled up until
it is washed out. I am indebted to my friend Mr. Joseph Ladue, for the
following description of the various processes which follow excavation.

[Footnote 80: The depth to bedrock varies from fourteen to twenty feet.]

"The miner lifts a little of the finer gravel or sand in his pan. He
then fills the latter with water and gives it a few rapid whirls and
shakes. This tends to bring the gold to the bottom on account of its
greater specific gravity. The pan is then held and shaken in such a way
that the sand and gravel are gradually washed out, care being taken as
the process nears completion, to avoid letting out the finer and heavier
parts that have settled to the bottom. Finally all that is left in the
pan is gold and some black sand, which is generally pulverised magnetic
iron-ore. Should the gold thus found be fine, the contents of the pan
are thrown into a barrel containing water and a pound or two of mercury.
As soon as the gold comes in contact with the mercury it combines with
it and forms an amalgam. The process is continued until enough amalgam
has been formed to pay for roasting or firing.

"It is then squeezed through a buckskin bag, all the mercury that comes
through the bag being put into the barrel to serve again, and what
remains in the bag is placed in a retort, if the miner has one, or if
not, on a shovel, and heated until nearly all the mercury is vaporised.
The gold then remains in a lump with some mercury still held in
combination with it.

"This is called the 'pan,' or 'hand-method,' which is only employed when
it is impossible to procure a rocker or to make and work sluices.

"The latter is the best method of placer-mining, but it requires a good
supply of water with sufficient head or falls. The process is as
follows: Planks are secured and made into a box of suitable depth and
width. Slats are fixed across the bottom of the box at intervals, or
holes bored in the bottom in such a way as to preclude the escape of any
particle of gold. Several of these boxes are then set up with a
considerable slope, and are fitted into one another at the ends like a
stove pipe. A stream of water is then thrown into the upper end of the
highest box, the dirt being shovelled in and washed downwards, at the
same time. The gold is detained by its weight, and is held by the slats
or in the holes aforementioned. If it be fine, mercury is placed behind
the slats or in these holes to catch it. After the boxes are done with
they are burnt and the ashes washed for the gold held in the wood."

These methods seem simple enough and, no doubt, would be in more
temperate regions, but the mines of the Yukon are of a class by
themselves, and the rigorous climate here necessitates entirely new
methods for getting the gold. It was formerly considered impossible to
work after the month of September, but experience has now conclusively
proved that much may be accomplished during the winter months. The
working year is therefore three times as long as it used to be, and the
time formerly wasted in idleness is now profitably employed. The
difficulty of winter mining is, of course, enormously increased by the
fact that the ground is frozen. Every foot of it must be thawed, either
in sinking or drifting, by small fires. The shallower mines are worked
during the summer in the open air, but when the gravel is more than six
feet deep a shaft is sunk, and dirt enough removed to allow space to
work in. Thus the gold seeker with a log hut close to the mouth of his
shaft and provided with plenty of food and fuel may pass a whole winter
in comparative comfort. About a ton of dead ground can be dumped daily,
and a few hundred pounds of pay gravel. The latter is piled up until the
spring when the thaw comes. It is then "panned" or "rocked" without
difficulty, for here, unlike Western Australia, there is no lack of
water.[81]

[Footnote 81: For further particulars anent gold-mining in the Klondike,
see "Through the Gold Fields of Alaska," by Harry de Windt.]

Steam power has now supplanted these more or less primitive methods on
the most important claims, but here again the enormous duty levied by
the Canadian Government on machinery of all kinds, was, while we were at
Dawson, causing universal indignation. A single visit to the creeks
sufficed for me, for although Dawson was free from mosquitoes, the
diggings swarmed with them. And, talking of mosquitoes, no one
unacquainted with Alaska can be aware of the almost unbearable suffering
which they are capable of inflicting upon mankind. Brehm, the famous
naturalist, has furnished about the best description of a luckless
prospector caught in the toils. "Before a man knows," says the
professor, "he is covered from head to foot with a dense swarm,
blackening grey cloths and giving dark ones a strange spotted
appearance. They creep to the unprotected face and neck, the bare hands,
and stockinged feet, slowly sink their sting into the skin, and pour the
irritant poison into the wound. Furiously the victim beats the
blood-sucker to a pulp, but while he does so, five, ten, twenty other
gnats fasten on his face and hands. The favourite points of attack are
the temples, the neck, and the wrist, also the back of the head, for the
thickest hair is of no protection. Although the naturalist knows that it
is only the female mosquitoes which suck blood, and that their activity
in this respect is connected with reproduction and is probably necessary
to the ripening of the fertilised eggs, yet even he is finally overcome
by the torture caused by these demons, though he be the most equable
philosopher under the sun. It is not the pain caused by the sting, or
still more by the resulting swelling; it is the continual annoyance, the
everlastingly recurring discomfort under which one suffers. One can
endure the pain of the sting without complaint at first, but sooner or
later every man is bound to confess himself conquered, and all
resistance is gradually paralysed by the innumerable omnipresent armies
always ready for combat."

Although the climate of Dawson is naturally severe a man may live with
proper precautions through a dozen winters comfortably enough in
Alaska. Many people are under the impression that the winters here are
of Cimmerian darkness, with no daylight for weeks at a time, whereas,
even on the shortest day of December, there are still two hours of
sunlight. 75° F. below zero is about the coldest yet experienced, but
this is very rare, and here, unlike Canada, there is seldom the wind
which makes even 20° below almost unbearable. Winter generally commences
in October, but often much earlier, and the Yukon is generally clear of
ice by the beginning of June. The snowfall is not excessive, three feet
being considered deep. In summer the temperature often exceeds 90° F.
but the nights are always cool and pleasant.

The Klondike district had, up to the time of the great gold strike,
borne the reputation of being an arid ice-bound waste, incapable of
producing anything more nutritious than trees, coarse grass, and the
berries peculiar to sub-Arctic regions. On the occasion of my first
stroll down First Avenue I was scarcely surprised to find all kinds of
fruit and vegetables exposed for sale, the transit now being so rapidly
accomplished (in summer) from California. But ocular proof was needed to
convince me that potatoes, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, indeed almost
every known vegetable, is now grown around Dawson and on the opposite
side of the river. Strawberries and nectarines (Klondike-grown) were
served at the restaurants, of course at stupendous prices, as hundreds
of acres of glass and costly artificial heat had been needed for their
production. Hot-house flowers are now grown here and also sold at a
ruinous cost, but the lucky prospector will cheerfully part with $5 for
a rose, or five times the amount for a puny gardenia, and some of the
market gardens around Dawson are almost as profitable as a fairly rich
claim. High prices here even extended to the commonest furs judging from
the price I obtained for a tattered deerskin coat which had cost me only
eighty roubles at Moscow. But although the garment was now almost
unpresentable I sold it to a bar-tender for its original price, and
heard, on the same evening, that it had again been disposed of to a
"Chechako" from up country for over $200!

Klondike is generally associated in the public mind with intense cold.
We suffered from a perpetual and stifling heat which necessitated the
wearing of tropical tweeds, a sartorial luxury here where a summer
suiting costs about six times as much as in Savile Row. Once there was a
sharp thunderstorm and the rain came down in sheets, somewhat cooling
the atmosphere, but only for a short time, for when the sky cleared a
dense mist arose from the swampy ground, and the air became as heavy and
oppressive as I have known it during the hottest season of the year in
Central Borneo. But the nights were always cool and delicious, and these
moreover were now gradually darkening, an ineffable blessing which can
only be duly appreciated by those who have experienced the miseries of
eternal day. The English tourist who in July races northwards in the
"Argonaut" to behold the midnight sun should pass a summer or two in
Northern Alaska. He would never wish to see it again!



CHAPTER XVIII

THE UPPER YUKON AND LEWES RIVERS.
THE WHITE PASS RAILWAY.


The steamer _White Horse_, in which we travelled from Dawson City up the
Yukon to the terminus of the White Pass Railway was, although much
smaller than the _Hannah_, quite as luxuriously fitted as that palatial
river boat. There is now, in the open season, daily communication
between Dawson and the coast, and the journey to Vancouver may now be
accomplished under six days. In winter-time closed and comfortable
sleighs, drawn by horses, convey the traveller to rail-head. There are
post-houses with good accommodation every twenty miles or so, and this
trip, once so replete with hardships, may now be undertaken at any time
of the year by the most inexperienced traveller. In a couple of years
the Alaskan line from Skagway will probably have been extended as far as
Dawson City, which will then be within easy reach of all civilised
centres.

The three days' journey on the Upper Yukon (or rather Yukon and Lewes,
for above its junction with the Pelly River the Yukon is known by the
latter name), was not devoid of enjoyment, for the scenery here is as
mountainous and picturesque as that of the lower river is flat and
dreary. Settlements are more numerous, and the trip is not without
interest, and even a spice of danger when the rapids are reached. The
last of these down stream, although insignificant when compared with the
perilous falls up river, are sufficiently swift and voluminous to cause
considerable anxiety to a nervous mind. The five granite pillars which
here span the Yukon, at intervals of a few feet, from shore to shore,
are known as the "Five Fingers," and here the steamer must be hauled up
the falls through a narrow passage blasted out of a submerged rock. A
steel hawser attached to a windlass above the falls is used to tow the
vessel up the watery incline, and were the cable to snap, a frightful
disaster would certainly ensue. At this spot, the billows and surf
raging madly round our tiny craft, the dark, jagged rocks threatening
her on every side, and the deafening roar of foam and breakers were a
novel experience which some of our passengers would apparently have
cheerfully dispensed with. There was an awkward moment when the cable
got foul of a snag, and the _White Horse_ swerved round and lay
broadside to the torrent, which for several minutes heeled her over at a
very uncomfortable angle. "Something will happen here some day," coolly
remarked the pilot, a long, lanky New Englander, lighting a fresh
cigarette, and viewing the wild excitement of men afloat and ashore with
lazy interest, and although, on this occasion, we escaped a catastrophe,
and got off easily with shattered bulwarks, I have no doubt he was
right. Going down stream steamers shoot these rapids, which entails a
considerable amount of coolness and courage on the part of the
steersman, for the slightest mistake would send the vessel crashing into
the rocks on either side of the narrow passage.

Six years ago the rapids of the Yukon formed one of the most serious
obstacles to Alaskan travel, and I retain a vivid recollection of the
"Grand Cañon" and "White Horse" rapids during our journey through the
country in 1896. These falls are beyond Lake Le Barge, and about two
hundred miles above Five Fingers. At first sight of the Grand Cañon I
wondered, not that accidents often took place there, but that any one
ever ran it in safety, for the force of the current through the dark,
narrow gorge is so tremendous that the stream is forced to a crest about
four feet high, like a sloping roof, in the centre of the river. It is
essential to keep on the summit of this crest, or be instantly dashed to
pieces on the rocks. The strongest swimmer would stand no chance here,
and no man who has ever got in has lived to relate his experiences. The
Grand Cañon is nearly a mile in length, but our boat ran through it in
less than two minutes.

The first plunge into the White Horse Rapid, only a few miles below the
Grand Cañon, is even more abrupt and dangerous than that into the
latter, and here the water dashes down with an appalling roar. The
foaming crest of the wave, following the first downward sweep, is
supposed to resemble a white horse's mane, which circumstance christened
the fall. The latter was also formerly known as the "Miner's Grave,"
which, seeing that at one time a yearly average of twenty men were
drowned here, seems a more suitable title. But these death-traps are
now happily perils of the past, both being now avoided by the new rail
and steamboat route into the Klondike.

Shortly after negotiating Five Fingers, we passed the mouth of the
Nordenskiold River, which enters the Yukon from the west. This is an
insignificant stream, although coal has lately been discovered in its
vicinity, a fact which may shortly lower the now outrageous price of
that commodity in Dawson. Above this the river widens, and occasionally
expands into a series of lakes, studded with prettily wooded islands,
perfect gardens of wild flowers, but fruitful breeding-places of our
implacable foes, the mosquitoes. A few hours of this, and the river
narrows again, and is fringed by low banks of sand and limestone,
riddled by millions of martin's nests, while inshore a vista of dark
pine forests and grassy, undulating hills stretches away to a chain of
granite peaks, still streaked in places with the winter snow. Towards
evening we tie up for fuel at the mouth of the Hootalinqua River, which
drains Lake Teslin, the largest in the Yukon basin. The mountains at the
head of Teslin form part of the now well-known Cassiar range, where the
rich mines of that name are worked. On board were two prospectors who
had passed several months in the Hootalinqua district, and who predicted
that its mineral wealth would one day surpass that of Bonanza and El
Dorado. But this I am inclined to doubt, as the river was apparently
little frequented, and my friends, although so sanguine of its bright
future, were leaving the country for British Columbia. So far as I
could ascertain, throughout the journey up the Yukon, the immediate
neighbourhood of Dawson City is about the only district in the
North-west Province where a prospector may hope to meet with anything
like success. When this country is opened up, things will, no doubt, be
very different, and new fields of wealth will await the gold-seeker, but
the cold fact remains that at present there is no indication whatever
that such fields exist, outside of Nome and the Klondike, with one
exception. I know Alaska far too well to advise any one to go there who
can possibly find any other outlet for his energy and capital, but if
any man is bent on staking his all, or part of it, in this country, then
let him try the Copper River district, which up till now is practically
unknown to the outside world. Mr. J. E. Bennett, of Newcastle, Colo., a
passenger on the _White Horse_, showed me a nugget worth fifty pounds
which he had picked out of a stream there the previous year. He is now
in the district in question prospecting, and from his last advices had
struck indications of very rich ground. Many have been scared away from
this part of Alaska by reports of dangerous natives, but although the
Indians here were formerly ugly customers, there is now little to fear
on that score. There are very few people there as yet, and it is a poor
man's country with boundless possibilities, one great advantage being
that its chief sea-port is open to navigation all the year round. At the
newly built town of Valdes on the coast, stores of all kinds can be
purchased at reasonable prices, the place being easy of access. I should
add that the Copper River and its affluents are in American territory,
and that it is therefore exempt from the now vexatious mining laws of
Canada.[82]

[Footnote 82: Ocean steamers landing at Orca station, in Prince William
Sound, give miners the chance of reaching Copper River, by a 30-mile
trail over Valdes Pass, at a point above the Miles Glacier and the other
dangerous stretches near the mouth of that stream. Rich placer-regions
have been found along the Tonsino Creek, which empties into Copper River
about 100 miles from the sea. The route up the Copper River across a low
divide to the Tanana and down that stream was explored and first
followed by Lieutenant Allen, U.S.A., in 1885.]

Should any of my readers decide to take a prospecting trip to this newly
discovered northern El Dorado, it may not be out of place to furnish a
description of the kind of outfit required for a year's residence there.
Mr. Bennett was good enough to give me a list of requisites which an
experience of two years in the Copper River district had shown him were
essential to the comfort and health of the prospector. They are as
follows:

CLOTHING.

Three thick tweed suits.
Three suits heavy woollen underwear.
Six pairs wool stockings.
Two pairs fur mits.
Two heavy Mackinaw suits.[83]
Four woollen shirts.
Two heavy sweaters.
One rubber lined top-coat.
One fur Parka and hood.[83]
Two pairs high rubber boots.
Two pairs shoes.
Two pairs heavy blankets.
One fur-lined sleeping-bag.
One suit oilskins.
One suit buckskin underwear.
Towels, needles, thread, wax, buttons.

[Footnote 83: Procurable at Valdes.]


MINING TOOLS.

One long-handled shovel.
One pick.
One axe (duplicate handles).
Five lbs. wire nails.
Three lbs. oakum.
Two large files.
Two hammers.
One jack blade.
One large whip saw.
One hand saw.
One hundred and fifty feet ⅝" rope.
A draw knife.
Two chisels.
One jack knife.
One whetstone.
Two buckets.
Two miner's gold-pans.
One frying-pan.
One kettle.
One Yukon stove.
One enamelled iron pot.
Two plates.
One cup.
One teapot.
Three knives.
Three forks.
Three spoons.


FOOD.

Three hundred and fifty lbs. flour.
Two hundred lbs. bacon.
One hundred and fifty lbs. beans.
Ten lbs. tea.
Seventy-five lbs. coffee.
Five lbs. baking powder.
Twenty-five lbs. salt.
Five lbs. sugar.
One hundred and fifty lbs. dried vegetables and meats.
One hundred lbs. assorted dried fruits.
Ten lbs. soap.
Three tins matches.


ARMAMENT.

One gun (to fire shot or bullets).
One hundred rounds shot and bullet cartridges.
Re-loading tools.
One large hunting knife.
Fishing tackle.
Snow goggles.


CAMPING OUTFIT.

One canvas tent, 8 ft. by 10 ft., in one piece, with floor-cloth.
Spare pegs and guy ropes.
Mosquito netting.


MEDICINE CHEST.[84]

Quinine pills.
Calomel.
Compound catharic pills.
Chlorate of potash.
Mustard plasters.
Belladonna plasters.
Carbolic ointment.
Witch hazel.
Essence of ginger.
Laudanum.
Tincture of iodine.
Spirits of nitre.
Tincture of iron.
Cough mixture.
Elliman's embrocation.
Toothache drops.
Vaseline.
Iodoform.
Goulard water.
Lint.
Bandages.
Adhesive rubber plasters.
Cotton wool.

[Footnote 84: Best procurable at Burroughs & Welcome, Snow Hill,
London.]


A few cheap knives, compasses, &c., may be taken as presents for the
natives. All these supplies will weigh, roughly speaking, 1400 lbs., and
the whole outfit may be purchased at San Francisco, or any other city on
the Pacific slope, for about £60.

Above the Hootalinqua the Lewes is known as the thirty-mile river, that
being about the distance from the mouth of the first-named stream to the
foot of the lake. This is a dangerous bit of navigation, for the Thirty
Mile rushes out of Le Barge like a mill sluice and the little _White
Horse_ panted and puffed and rained showers of sparks in her frantic
efforts to make headway. Several steamers which have been lost here
perpetually menace the safety of others. It is impossible to raise the
sunken vessels, the force of the current here being so great that it
seemed when standing on the deck of the steamer as though one were
looking down an inclined plane of water. The stream here runs through
pine forests, ending at the river's edge in low, sandy cliffs, portions
of which have been torn bodily away by the force of the ice in
springtime to form miniature islands some yards from the shore.[85] A
characteristic of this stream is its marvellous transparency. On a clear
day rocks and boulders are visible at a depth of twenty to thirty feet.
I have observed a similar effect on the River Rhone and other streams
fed to a large extent by glaciers and melting snow.

[Footnote 85: The fall from Lake Lindemann at the head of the lake and
river system is about 800 ft. in a distance of about 540 miles.]

The afternoon of the third day found us entering Lake Le Barge,[86] a
sheet of water thirty-one miles in length, which stands over two
thousand feet above the sea-level, and is surrounded by precipitous
mountains, densely wooded as far as the timber line, with curiously
crenelated limestone summits. The southern shores of the lake are
composed of vast plains of fertile meadow land, interspersed with
picturesque and densely wooded valleys, a landscape which, combined with
the blue waters of Le Barge and snowy summits glittering on the horizon,
reminds one of Switzerland. Le Barge has an evil reputation for storms,
and only recently a river steamer had gone down with all hands in one of
the sudden and violent squalls peculiar to this region. To-day, however,
a brazen sun blazed down upon a liquid mirror, and I sat on the bridge
under an awning with a cool drink and a cigar, and complacently watched
the glassy surface where five years before we had to battle in an open
skiff against a stiff gale, drenched by the waves and worn out by hard
work at the oars. To-day the _White Horse_ accomplished the passage from
river to river in about three hours, while on the former occasion it
took us as many days!

[Footnote 86: Lake Le Barge was named after Mike Le Barge, of the
"Western Union Telegraph Company," who was employed in constructing the
overland telegraph line from America to Europe (_viâ_ Bering Straits) in
1867. The completion of the Atlantic cable about this period put an end
to the project.]

There is, on portions of Lake Le Barge, a curiously loud and resonant
echo. A cry is repeated quite a dozen times, and a rifle shot awakens
quite a salvo of artillery. This is especially noticeable near an island
about four miles long near the centre of the lake, which for some
obscure reason is shown on Schwatka's charts as a peninsula. The
American explorer named it the "Richtofen Rocks," but as the nearest
point of this unmistakable island to the western shore is but half a
mile distant, and as the extreme width of the lake is only five miles, I
cannot conceive how the error arose.

Towards evening we reached the Fifty Mile River, noted for the abundance
and excellence of its fish. A few miles above the lake the Takheena
flows in from the west. This river, which rises in Lake Askell, derives
its name from the Indian words, "Taka," a mosquito, and "Heena," a
stream, and it is aptly named, for from here on to White Horse City we
were assailed by myriads of these pests. Indeed the spot where the town
now stands was once a mosquito swamp in which I can recall passing a
night of abject misery. It was past midnight before the _White Horse_
was safely moored alongside her wharf, but electric light blazed
everywhere, and here, for the first time since leaving Irkutsk, more
than seven months before, clanking buffers and the shriek of a
locomotive struck pleasantly upon the ear.

White Horse City is a cheerful little town rendered doubly attractive by
light-coloured soil and gaily painted buildings. There is a first-rate
hotel adjoining the railway station, which contained a gorgeous bar with
several billiard and "ping-pong" tables, the latter game being then the
rage in every settlement from Dawson to the coast. I mention the bar, as
it was the scene of a somewhat amusing incident, which, however, is, as
a Klondiker would say, "up against me." About this period a "desperado"
of world-wide fame named Harry Tracy was raising a siege of terror in
the State of Oregon, having committed over a dozen murders, and
successfully baffled the police. We had found Dawson wild with
excitement over the affair, and here again Tracy was the topic of the
hour. Entering the hotel with some fellow passengers, I took up a
Seattle newspaper and carelessly glancing at the portrait of a
seedy-looking individual of ferocious exterior, passed it on to a
neighbour, remarking (with reference to Tracy), "What a blood-thirsty
looking ruffian!" "Why, it's yourself!" exclaimed my friend, pointing to
the heading, "A Phenomenal Globe-trotter," which, appearing above the
wood-cut, had escaped my notice. I am glad to be able to add that the
portrait was not from a photograph!

As an instance of engineering skill, the "White Pass" is probably the
most remarkable railway in existence, and the beauty and grandeur of the
country through which it passes fully entitles it to rank as the "Scenic
railway of the world." In 1896, I was compelled to cross the Chilkoot
Pass to enter Alaska (suffering severely from cold and hunger during the
process), and to scramble painfully over a peak that would have tried
the nerves and patience of an experienced Alpine climber. Regarding this
same Chilkoot a Yankee prospector once said to his mate: "Wal, pard, I
was prepared for it to be perpendicular, but, by G--d, I never thought
it would lean forward!" And indeed my recollections of the old "Gateway
of the Klondike" does not fall far short of this description. And in
those days the passage of the White Pass, across which the line now
runs, was almost as unpleasant a journey as that over the Chilkoot
judging from the following account given by Professor Heilprin, who was
one of the first to enter the country by this route. The professor
writes:

"It is not often that the selection of a route of travel is determined
by the odorous, or mal-odorous qualities pertaining thereto. Such a
case, however, was presented here. It was not the depth of mud alone
which was to deter one from essaying the White Pass route. Sturdy
pioneers who had toiled long and hard in opening up one or more new
regions had laid emphasis on the stench of decaying horseflesh as a
first consideration in the choice of route. And so far as stench and
decaying horseflesh were concerned they were in strong evidence. The
desert of Sahara with its lines of skeletons, can boast of no such
exhibition of carcasses. Long before Bennett was reached I had taken
count of more than a thousand unfortunates whose bodies now made part of
the trail. Frequently we were obliged to pass directly over these
ghastly figures of hide, and sometimes, indeed, broke into them. Men
whose veracity need not be questioned assured me that what I saw was in
no way the full picture of the 'life' of the trail; the carcasses of
that time were less than one-third the full number which in April and
May gave grim character to the route to the new 'El Dorado.' Equally
spread out this number would mean one dead animal for every sixty feet
of distance! The poor beasts succumbed not so much to the hardships of
the trail as to lack of care and the inhuman treatment which they
received at the hands of their owners. Once out of the line of the mad
rush, perhaps unable to extricate themselves from the holding meshes of
soft snow and of quagmires, they were allowed to remain where they were,
a food-offering to the army of carrion eaters which were hovering about,
only too certain of the meal which was being prepared for them."

It will be seen by the foregoing accounts that only a short time ago the
journey across this coast range was anything but one of unalloyed
enjoyment, and even now, although the White Pass Railway is undoubtedly
a twentieth-century marvel, and every luxury is found on board the
train, from a morning paper to "candies" and cigars, the trip across the
summit is scarcely one which I should recommend to persons afflicted
with nerves. The line is a narrow gauge one about 110 miles in length,
which was completed in 1899 at a cost of about $3,000,000, and trains
leave the termini at Skagway and White Horse simultaneously every day in
the year at 9 A.M., reaching their respective destinations at 4 P.M. For
a couple of hours after leaving White Horse the track skirts the eastern
shores of Lakes Bennett and Lindemann, through wild but picturesque
moorland, carpeted with wild flowers,[87] and strewn with grey rocks and
boulders. A species of pink heather grows freely here, the scent of
which and the presence of bubbling fern-fringed brooks, and crisp
bracing air, recalled many a pleasant morning after grouse in Bonnie
Scotland. A raw-boned Aberdonian on the train remarks on the resemblance
of the landscape to that of his own country and is flatly contradicted
by an American sitting beside him, who, however, owns that he has never
been there! The usual argument follows as to the respective merits,
climatic and otherwise, of England and the United States, which entails
(also as usual) a good deal of forcible language. Shortly after this,
however, the train begins to ascend, and its erratic movements are less
conducive to discussion than reverie. For although the rails are smooth
and level enough, the engine proceeds in a manner suggestive of a toy
train being dragged across a nursery floor by a fractious child. At
midday Bennett station is reached, and half an hour is allowed here for
lunch in a cheerful little restaurant, where all fall to with appetites
sharpened by the keen mountain air, and where the Scot and his late
antagonist bury the hatchet in "Two of whisky-straight."

[Footnote 87: Lake Lindemann is about five miles, and Bennett
twenty-five miles in length.]

Bennett is buried in pine forests, but here the real ascent commences,
and we crawl slowly up an incline which grows steeper and steeper in
proportion as trees and vegetation slowly disappear, to give place to
barren rocks, moss, and lichens. Towards the summit (over two thousand
feet high) the scene is one of wild and lonely grandeur, recalling the
weirdest efforts of Gustave Doré. Nothing is now visible but a
wilderness of dark volcanic crags with here and there a pinnacle of
limestone, towering perilously near the line, and looking as though a
puff of wind would dislodge it with disastrous results. The only gleam
of colour in the sombre landscape are numerous lakes, or rather pools,
of emerald green, perhaps extinct craters, which, shining dimly out of
the dark shadows cast by the surrounding cliffs, enhance the gloom and
mystery of the scene. Nearing the summit, the road has been blasted out
of many yards of solid rock, a work entailing fabulous cost and many
months of perilous and patient labour. The Chamounix railway in
Switzerland was, at the time of its construction, considered the king of
mountain railways, but it becomes a very humble subject indeed when
compared with the White Pass line.

[Illustration: CONSTRUCTING THE WHITE PASS RAILWAY.]

At Summit we cross the frontier into American territory, and here my
thermometer marks a drop of 25° F. since our departure this morning.
Although this rapidly constructed line is admirably laid, portions of
the ascent from White Horse are anything but reassuring to those averse
to high altitudes, but they are not a circumstance to those on the
downward side. On leaving Summit station the train enters a short
tunnel, from which it emerges with startling suddenness upon a light,
iron bridge which spans, at a giddy height, a desolate gorge. This
spidery viaduct slowly and safely crossed, we skirt, for a while, the
mountain side, still overhanging a perilous abyss. Every car has a
platform, and at this point many passengers instinctively seek the side
away from the precipice, which would in case of accident benefit them
little, for there is no standing room between the train and a sheer wall
of overhanging rock, the crest of which is invisible. Here the outlook
is one which can only really be enjoyed by one of steady nerves, for the
southward slope of the mountain is seen in its entirety, giving the
impression that a hardy mountaineer would find it a hard job to scale
its precipitous sides, and that this railway journey in the clouds
cannot be reality but is probably the result of a heavy supper. Perhaps
the worst portion of the downward journey is at a spot where solid
foothold has been found impracticable, and the train passes over an
artificial roadway of sleepers, supported by wooden trestles and clamped
to the rock by means of iron girders. Here you may stand up in the car
and look almost between your toes a sheer thousand feet into space.
While we were crossing it, this apparently insecure structure shook so
violently under the heavy weight of metal that I must own to a feeling
of relief when our wheels were once more gliding over _terra firma_. The
men employed in constructing this and other parts of the track were
lowered to the spot by ropes, which were then lashed to a place of
safety while they were at work. But although the construction of this
line entailed probably as much risk to life and limb as that of the
Eiffel Tower, only one death by accident is recorded during the whole
period of operations here, while it cost over a hundred lives to erect
the famous iron edifice in Paris.

The gradient of this railway is naturally an unusually steep one, and
should, one would think, necessitate the utmost caution during the
descent, but we rattled down the mountain at a pace which in any country
but happy-go-lucky Alaska would certainly have seemed like tempting
Providence, especially as only brakes are used to check the speed of the
train. However, the fact that two passenger trains are run daily (also a
goods train), and that not a single accident has occurred during the
four years the line has been in operation, are sufficient proof that the
officials of the White Pass Railway know what they are about, and are
not lacking in care and competence. I can speak from personal experience
as to their civility and also punctuality, for, towards three o'clock,
the silvery waters of the Lynn Canal were disclosed through a rift in
the mountains, and an hour later we were steaming into the town of
Skagway, within half a minute of the scheduled time.



CHAPTER XIX

THE FRANCO-AMERICAN RAILWAY--SKAGWAY--NEW YORK


While on the subject of railways a few remarks anent the projected line
from France (_viâ_ Siberia and Bering Straits) to America may not be
amiss. As the reader is already aware, the main object of our expedition
was to determine whether the construction of such a line is within the
range of human possibility. The only means of practically solving this
question was (firstly) to cover the entire distance by land between the
two cities, by such primitive means of travel as are now available, and
(secondly) to minutely observe the natural characteristics of the
countries passed through, in order to ascertain whether these offer any
insuperable obstacle to the construction of a railway.

I would again remind the reader that the overland journey from Paris to
New York had never been made, or even attempted, until it was
accomplished by ourselves. This is the more necessary in so far as,
before our departure from Paris, the project of an All-World railway was
freely discussed in the English and French Press by persons with no
practical experience whatsoever of either Siberia or Alaska. Their
opinions would, therefore, have been equally valuable with reference to
a railway across the moon or planet Mars. From a humorous point of view,
some of the letters published were well worth perusal, notably those of
a French gentleman, who, in the Paris _New York Herald_, repeatedly drew
my attention to the fact that he "claimed the paternity of the scheme to
unite France and America by rail," and this being so, apparently
strongly resented my making a preliminary trip over the ground with dogs
and reindeer. Having ascertained, however, that M. de Lobel had never
visited Arctic Siberia, and had not the remotest intention of doing so,
I scarcely felt justified in abandoning the overland journey on his
account. This ridiculous but somewhat amusing incident was therefore
brought to an end by the following letter:

     "To the Editor of the _New York Herald_, Paris.

     "SIR,--May I briefly reply to M. Loicq de Lobel's letter
     which appeared in your issue of November 23rd. Your
     correspondent has already violently attacked me in the
     Paris _Journal_, his grievance being that he 'claims the
     paternity' of the projected Trans-Siberian and Alaskan
     Railway. This fact is probably as uninteresting to your
     readers and to the world in general as it is to myself, and
     so far as I am concerned M. de Lobel is also welcome to
     annex (in his own imagination) the countries through which
     the proposed line may eventually pass.

     "But this is not the point. According to his own showing,
     M. de Lobel only 'conceived the project' of uniting Paris
     and New York by rail in the year 1898. As I left New York
     in 1896 for Paris by land, with the object of ascertaining
     the practicability of this gigantic enterprise, I think
     that I may, with due modesty, dispute the shadowy
     'paternity' of the scheme, which, after all, is worth
     nothing from a theoretical point of view.

     "The American and British Press of March, April, and May
     1897 will fully enlighten your correspondent as to the
     details of my last attempt, which unhappily met with
     disaster and defeat on the Siberian shores of Bering
     Straits. But I trust and believe that a brighter future is
     in store for the 'Daily Express' Expedition of 1901, which
     I have the honour to command, and which leaves Paris for
     New York by land on the 15th of next month.

     "If, as M. de Lobel writes, 'the Englishman thought best
     not to answer' it was simply because the former's childish
     tirades seemed to me unworthy of a reply. If, however, you
     will kindly insert this brief explanation, you may rest
     assured that, so far as I am concerned, this correspondence
     is closed.

                               "I am, yours faithfully,

                                                "HARRY DE WINDT.

     "ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY,
        LONDON,
          _November 26, 1901._"

With regard to the projected railway, let me now state as briefly and as
clearly as I can the conclusion to which I was led by plain facts and
personal experience. To begin with, there are two more or less available
routes across Siberia to Bering Straits, which the reader may easily
trace on a map of Asia. The city of Irkutsk is in both cases the
starting-point, and the tracks thence are as follows:

No. 1 Route. To Yakutsk, following the course of the Lena River, and
thence in an easterly direction to the town of Okhotsk on the sea of
that name. From Okhotsk, northward along the coast to Ola and Gijiga,
and from the latter place still northward to the Cossack outpost of
Marcova on the Anadyr River. From Marcova the line would proceed
northward chiefly over tundra and across or through one precipitous
range of mountains, to the Siberian terminus, East Cape, Bering Straits.

The second route is practically the one we travelled, viz., from Irkutsk
to the Straits _viâ_ Yukutsk, Verkhoyansk, and Sredni-Kolymsk.

From a commercial point of view, route No. 1 would undoubtedly be the
best, for of late years a considerable trade has been carried on between
Vladivostok and the Sea of Okhotsk. The latter only twenty years ago was
visited solely by a few whalers and sealing schooners, but a line of
cargo steamers now leaves Vladivostok once a month throughout the open
season (from June to September) and make a round trip, calling at
Petropaulovsk (Kamchatka), Okhotsk, Yamsk, and Ayan.[88] There is now a
brisk and increasing export trade in furs, fish, lumber, and whalebone
from these ports, the imports chiefly consisting of American and
Japanese goods.

[Footnote 88: These vessels also carry passengers.]

It has already been shown in a previous chapter that the natural
resources of the Yakutsk district would probably repay an extension of
the Trans-Siberian line to this now inaccessible portion of the Tsar's
dominions. Indeed it is more than probable that in a few years the
mineral wealth of this province, to say nothing of its agricultural
possibilities, will render the construction of a line imperative, at any
rate as far as the city of Yakutsk. The prolongation of this as far
north as Gijiga is no idle dream, for I have frequently heard it
seriously discussed, and even advocated, by the merchant princes of
Irkutsk. A railway to Gijiga would open up Kamtchatka, with its valuable
minerals, furs, and lumber, and also Nelkan, near Ayan, where gold has
lately been discovered in such quantities that a well-known Siberian
millionaire has actually commenced a narrow-gauge railway about two
hundred miles in length, to connect the new gold-fields with the sea.
Even this miniature line is to cost an enormous sum, for it must pass
through a region as mountainous and densely wooded as the eight hundred
odd miles which separate Yakutsk from the coast. But although this
latter section of the Franco-American line, short as it is, would entail
a fabulous outlay, there is here, at any rate, some _raison-d'être_ for
a railway, viz., the vast and varied resources of the region through
which it would pass, whereas to the north of Gijiga on the one hand, and
Verkhoyansk on the other, we enter a land of desolation, thousands of
miles in extent, chiefly composed of tundra, as yet unprospected, it is
true; but probably as unproductive, minerally and agriculturally, as an
Irish bog. The reader is already aware that tundra is impassable in
summer, for its consistency is then that of a wet bath sponge. The foot
sinks in over the knee at every step, and a good walker can scarcely
cover a mile within the hour. In winter the hard and frozen surface
affords good going for a dog-sled and could, no doubt, be made to
support a rolling mass of metal; but even then I doubt whether the thaws
and floods of springtime would not find the rails and sleepers at sixes
and sevens. This opinion is, of course, purely theoretical, for the
experiment of laying a line of such magnitude under such hopeless
conditions has yet to be tried.

Chat Moss in England is the nearest approach I can think of to these
Siberian swamps, but the railway across the former is only four miles
long, and cost, I am told, something like thirty thousand pounds. At
this rate the tundra section of the Bering Straits Railway would alone
involve an outlay of twenty million sterling; probably far more, for
every foot of timber for the roadway would have to be imported into this
treeless waste. And how is this expenditure going to be repaid by these
barren deserts, in winter of ice, and in summer of mud and mosquitoes.
Let another Klondike be discovered near, say, Sredni-Kolymsk, and I have
no doubt that surveys for a line to this place would be commenced
to-morrow by the Russian Government, but neither gold, not any other
mineral has yet been found so far north in anything like paying
quantities. Draw a straight line on the map from Verkhoyansk to Gijiga
and it will divide the southern (or productive) portion of Siberia from
the northern (and useless) wastes about three thousand miles in length,
which a Paris-New York railroad would have to cross.[89]

[Footnote 89: "Around the North Pole lies a broad belt of inhospitable
land, a desert which owes its special character rather to water than to
the sun. Towards the Pole this desert gradually loses itself in fields
of ice; towards the south in dwarfed woods, becoming itself a field of
snow and ice when the long winter sets in, while stunted trees struggle
for existence only in the deepest valleys or on the sunniest slopes.
This region is the tundra. Our language possesses no synonym for the
word tundra. Our fatherland possesses no such track of country, for the
tundra is neither heath nor moor, neither marsh nor fen, neither
highlands nor sand-dunes, neither moss nor morass, though in many places
it may resemble one or other of these. 'Moss Steppes' some one has
attempted to name it, but the expression is only satisfactory to those
who have grasped the idea of steppe in its widest sense."--_Brehm_.]

A so-called prospectus issued by a syndicate, inviting the public to
subscribe for a "preliminary survey" for a Franco-American line, came
under my notice the other day. Here is an extract:

"Ten years ago the name Siberia called up a picture of wastes of snow
and ice. To-day the same Siberia is a land filled with thriving
villages, producing grain and various vegetables; that great compeller
of civilisation, the railway, has broken down the bars between the world
and Siberia. Besides its countless resources of the soil, besides its
rivers filled with valuable fish, and its forests inhabited by
fur-bearing animals, Siberia is now beginning to show to the world its
resources of gold, iron, copper, manganese, quicksilver, platinum, and
coal, the yearly output of which is but a feeble index of what it will
be when the deposits are developed."

All this is very true regarding certain portions of Siberia. The Amur,
Altai, Yenesei, and even Yakutsk provinces. But although the writer
goes on to enlarge upon the boundless possibilities which would be
opened up by the construction of a railway from Europe to America, he
fails to mention that it would have to traverse an Arctic and
unproductive Sahara thousands of miles in extent.

Some enthusiastic visionaries mentioned in an earlier portion of this
chapter have laid stress on the fact that the passenger traffic over
this portion of the line would be enormous, that surging crowds of
sea-sick victims would gladly endure even three weeks in a train in
preference to a stormy passage across the Atlantic, and so forth. But I
fancy a moment's serious thought will show the absurdity of this theory.
In the first place a journey by rail from Paris to New York would
certainly occupy over a month under the most favourable conditions, for
while in summer time all might be comparatively plain sailing, gales,
snow-drifts, and blizzards would surely, judging from our own
experiences, seriously hamper the winter traffic, especially along the
coast. If this leviathan railway is ever constructed it must, in the
opinion of the ablest Russian engineers, depend solely upon (1) the
transport of merchandise, and (2) the development of the now ice-locked
regions it will traverse. The scheme has never been, as many people seem
to imagine, simply to convey passengers and their belongings from one
terminus to the other, for even Jules Verne would probably hesitate to
predict the existence of this line as one of restaurants and
sleeping-cars.

But let us assume that the railway has actually reached East Cape at a
cost of, say, fifty millions sterling from Irkutsk, which is probably a
low estimate. Here we are confronted by another colossal difficulty, the
passage of Bering Straits, which (at the narrowest part) are forty miles
across. Here my friends the theorists have again been very busy, and all
kinds of schemes have been suggested for the negotiation of this
stumbling-block, from a bridge to balloons. Both are equally wild and
impracticable, although the former has been warmly advocated by a
Parisian gentleman, who never having been nearer even Berlin than the
Gare du Nord, can scarcely be expected to know much about the climatic
conditions of North-Eastern Siberia. As a matter of fact, the mightiest
stone and iron structure ever built would not stand the break-up of the
ice here in the spring time for one week. A tunnel could no doubt be
made, for the depth of the Straits nowhere exceeds twenty-seven fathoms,
and the Diomede Islands could be conveniently utilised for purposes of
ventilation. But what would such a subway cost? And above all, where is
the money coming from to repay its construction?

In Northern Alaska almost the same difficulties would be met with as in
Arctic Siberia, for here also spongy tundra covers enormous tracts of
country. A company has, however, been formed for the purpose of laying a
line between Iliamna on Cook's Inlet and Nome City which will, when
completed, be really useful and profitable. Cook's Inlet is navigable
throughout the year, and it is proposed to run a line of steamers from
Seattle on Puget Sound to this port, where passengers will be able to
embark on a comfortable train for Nome instead of facing a long and
painful journey by dog-sled. I understand that this work has actually
been commenced by the "Trans-Alaskan Railway Company," but not with any
idea of connection with a possible Siberian system. This will be merely
a local railway, which, judging from the increasing prosperity of Nome,
and the fact that the line will pass through the rich Copper River
country, should certainly repay its shareholders with interest. The
extension of the White Pass Railway as far as Dawson City is only a
question of time, but the idea of prolonging it to Bering Straits was
not even hinted at when I was in Alaska.

All things considered I cannot see what object would be gained by the
construction (at present) of a Franco-American railway. That the latter
will one day connect Paris and New York I have little doubt, for where
gold exists the rail must surely follow, and there can be no reasonable
doubt regarding the boundless wealth and ultimate prosperity of those
great countries of the future; Siberia and Alaska. But it is probably
safe to predict that the work will not be accomplished in the lifetime
of the present generation, or even commenced during the existence of the
next. When, at the conclusion of the journey, I arrived at New York, I
was asked by reporters whether I considered it possible to connect the
latter city by rail with Paris. Most certainly it would be possible with
unlimited capital, for this stupendous engineering feat would assuredly
entail an expenditure (on the Siberian side alone and not including a
Bering Straits tunnel), of fifty to sixty millions sterling. It seems to
me that the question is not so much, "Can the line be laid?" as "Would
it pay?" In the distant future this question may perhaps be answered in
the affirmative, but at present nothing whatever is known of the mineral
resources of Arctic Siberia, a practical survey of which must take at
least fifteen to twenty years. If reports are then favourable, Russia
may begin to consider the advisability of a line to America, but,
notwithstanding the fact that an attempt has been made in certain
quarters to obtain money from the public for this now extremely shadowy
scheme, I can only say that all the prominent Russian officials whom I
have met simply ridicule the project.

Skagway is pleasantly situated on the shores of the Lynn Canal, in an
amphitheatre formed by precipitous cliffs, the granite peaks of which
almost overhang the little town. A curious effect is produced here by
rudely coloured advertisements of some one's chewing gum, or somebody's
else cigars with which the rocky sides of the nearest hills are defaced.
But there is nothing new in this, for, as far back as 1887, the name of
a well-known American pill and ointment vendor met my astonished gaze on
the Great Wall of China. The North Pole will soon be the only virgin
field left open to the up-to-date advertiser. Skagway is now a quiet,
orderly township, and a favourite resort of tourists, but shortly after
it was founded, in 1898, a band of swindlers and cut-throats arrived on
the scene, and practically held the place at their mercy for several
weeks. The leader of this gang was one "Soapy Smith," a noted
"confidence man," whose deeds of violence are still spoken of here with
bated breath. This impudent scoundrel (said to have been a gentleman by
birth) was clever enough to become mayor of the town, and was thus
enabled to commit robberies with impunity. Many a poor miner leaving the
country with a hardly earned pile has been completely fleeced, and
sometimes murdered, by the iniquitous and ubiquitous "Soapy," who is
said to have slain, directly or indirectly, over twenty men. Finally,
however, a mass meeting was held, where Smith was shot dead, not before
he had also taken the life of his slayer.

Southern Alaska is the Switzerland of America, and every summer its
shores are invaded by hordes of tourists. There was, therefore, little
room to spare in the steamer in which we travelled down the Lynn Canal,
one of the grandest fjords on the coast, which meanders through an
archipelago of beautiful islands, and past a coast-line of snowy peaks
and glaciers of clear, blue crystal washed by the waves of the sea. Its
glaciers are one of the wonders of Alaska, for nowhere in the world can
they be witnessed in such perfection. According to a talented American
authoress, "In Switzerland a glacier is a vast bed of dirty, air-holed
ice, that has fastened itself like a cold, porous plaster to the side of
an alp. Distance alone lends enchantment to the view. In Alaska a
glacier is a wonderful torrent that seems to have been suddenly frozen
when about to plunge into the sea," and the comparison, although
far-fetched, is not wholly devoid of truth.

Nearing Juneau we passed the Davidson glacier sufficiently near to
distinguish the strange and beautiful effects produced upon its white
and glittering surface by cloud and sunshine. This is the second largest
ice-field in Alaska, the finest being its immediate neighbour, the Muir
glacier, which drains an area of 800 square miles.[90] The actual ice
surface covers about 350 square miles, the mass of it, thirty-five miles
long and ten to fifteen miles wide, while surrounding it on three sides
are mountains averaging 4000 to 6000 ft. in height. Vessels dare not
approach the ice wall, about 250 ft. high, nearer than a quarter of a
mile, as masses of ice continually fall from its surface, and submarine
bergs, becoming detached from its sunken fore-foot rise to the surface
with tremendous force. The colour of the ice on the Muir glacier is as
curious as it is beautiful, varying from the lightest blue to dark
sapphire, and from a dark olive to the tenderest shades of green.
Although the feat has been often attempted no one has yet succeeded in
crossing the Muir from shore to shore.[91]

[Footnote 90: The Jostedalbrae in Norway, the largest glacier in Europe,
only covers 470 square miles.]

[Footnote 91: See "Studies of Muir Glacier, in Alaska," by Harry
Fielding Reid, _National Geographic Magazine_, March 1892.]

The captain of the _Topeka_ informed me that glaciers and canneries are
the chief attractions of this coast. I assumed that it could not be the
climate, for rain drizzled persistently from a grey and woolly sky
nearly all the way from Skagway to Port Townsend, and this was regarded
as "seasonable summer weather." With bright sunshine this journey
through a calm inland sea, gliding smoothly through fjords of
incomparable beauty, surrounded by every luxury, would be idyllic. As
it is, cold, rain and mist generally render this so-called pleasure trip
one of monotony and discomfort, where passengers are often compelled to
seek shelter throughout the day in smoke-room or saloon. Swathed in
oil-skins, however, I braved the downpour, and visited one of the
numerous canneries to which the _Topeka_ tied up for a few minutes, and
here I was surprised to find that Chinese labour is almost exclusively
employed. And the ease and celerity with which a fish was received, so
to speak, fresh from the sea, cleaned, steamed, and securely soldered in
a smartly labelled tin, all by machinery, within the space of a few
minutes, was marvellous to behold. Before the days of Klondike, the
fisheries of this coast were the chief source of wealth in Alaska, where
sea-board, lakes, and rivers teem with fish, the wholesale netting of
which seem in no way to diminish the number. The yearly output of these
coast canneries is something stupendous, and they are, undoubtedly, a
far better investment than many a claim of fabulous (prospective) wealth
in the gold-fields of the interior. For the establishment of a cannery
is not costly, labour and taxes are low, and fish of every description,
from salmon and trout to cod and halibut, can be caught without
difficulty in their millions. Codfish which abound in Chatham Creek are
the most profitable, also herrings, of which six hundred barrels were
once caught in a single haul, off Killisnoo. But the number of canneries
on this coast is increasing at a rapid rate, and five or six years hence
large fortunes will be a thing of the past. The now priceless sea-otter
was once abundant along the south-eastern coast of Alaska, the value of
skins taken up to 1890 being thirty-six million dollars, but the
wholesale slaughter of this valuable animal by the Russians, and later
on by the Americans, has driven it away, and almost the only grounds
where it is now found are among the Aleutian Islands and near the mouth
of the Copper River. A good sea-otter skin now costs something like £200
in the European market.

Juneau and Port Wrangell were the only towns of any size touched at
during the two days' trip from Skagway to Port Townsend. The former was
once the fitting-out place for miners bound for the Yukon, but Skagway
has now ruined its commercial prosperity, and it is now a sleepy,
miserable settlement which appeared doubly unattractive viewed through a
curtain of mist. The rain poured down here in such sheets that Douglas
Island, only a couple of miles away, was invisible. Here is the famous
Treadwell mine, where the largest quartz mill in the world crushes six
hundred tons in the twenty-four hours. This mine has already yielded
more gold than was paid for the whole of Alaska.

Fort Wrangell is more picturesque than Juneau, although perhaps this was
partly due to the cessation (for exactly half an hour) of the rain,
which enabled our hitherto cooped-up tourists to enjoy a stroll, and a
breath of fresh air ashore. Wrangell was once, like Juneau, a thriving
town, when the Cassiar mines in British Columbia were a centre of
attraction. Between four and five thousand miners passed through every
spring and autumn, travelling to and from the diggings, and the usual
hotels, saloons, and stores sprang up on all sides. Then came a period
of stagnation, till the last gold rush to Klondike, when it seemed as
though Wrangell would rise from its ashes. But the proposed route into
the country by way of the Stikine River was finally abandoned for the
White Pass, and dealt the final _coup de grâce_ to the little town,
which is now merely a decaying collection of wooden shanties and ruined
log huts, tenanted chiefly by Indians, of whom we met more here than at
any other point throughout the Alaskan journey. The natives of this part
of the coast are called Thlinkits, a race numbering about 7000, and once
numerous and powerful. But the Siwashes of Wrangell were a
miserable-looking lot, the men apparently physically inferior to the
women, some of whom would not have been ill-favoured, had it not been
for the disgusting habit of daubing their faces with a mixture of soot
and grease, which is supposed to keep off mosquitoes, and which gives
them the grotesque appearance of Christy Minstrels. Tattooing no longer
prevails amongst the Thlinkits, but the men still paint their faces and
discard ragged tweeds and bowlers for the picturesque native dress on
the occasion of a dance, or the feast known as a "Potlatch." The
Thlinkits are not hardy, nor, as a rule, long-lived, and diseases due to
drink and dissipation are rapidly thinning them out. Shamanism exists
here, but not to such an extent as amongst the Siberian races, and the
totem poles, which are met with at every turn in Wrangell, are not
objects of worship, but are used apparently for a heraldic purpose. Some
of the ancient war canoes of this tribe are still in existence, but
they are only brought out on the occasion of a feast, when a chief and
his crew appear in the gaudy panoply of war-paint and feathers.

On July 28, Seattle was reached, and here we met with a reception worthy
of far doughtier deeds than we had accomplished. In 1896, Seattle was a
country town of some 30,000 inhabitants, and I could scarcely recognise
this fine modern city of over 100,000 souls which may shortly rival San
Francisco as a commercial and social centre. This wonderful change is
partly due to discoveries in the Klondike, but chiefly perhaps to the
increasing trade of Puget Sound with the East. Fine Japanese liners now
run direct every fortnight from Seattle to Japan, and on one of these a
passage was obtained for my faithful friend and comrade, Stepan
Rastorguyeff, whose invaluable services I can never repay, and to whom I
bade farewell with sincere regret. I am glad to add that the plucky
Cossack eventually reached his home in safety (_viâ_ Yokohama and
Vladivostok) arriving in Yakutsk by way of Irkutsk and the Lena River
early in the new year of 1902. Vicomte de Clinchamp also left me here,
to return direct to France _viâ_ New York and Le Havre.

There is little more to tell. Travelling leisurely in glorious weather
through the garden-girt towns and smiling villages of the "Rouge-River"
Valley, perhaps the most picturesque and fertile in the world, a day was
passed at Shasta Springs, the summer resort of fashionable Californians,
where the sun-baked traveller may rest awhile in a little oasis of
coolness and gaiety, cascades and flowers, set in a desert of dark
pines. A week with old friends in cosmopolitan, ever delightful San
Francisco, a rapid and luxurious journey across the American continent,
land on August 25, 1902, New York was reached, and the long land journey
of 18,494 miles from Paris, which had taken us two-thirds of a year to
accomplish, was at an end.



APPENDIX I


APPROXIMATE TABLE OF DISTANCES
PARIS TO NEW YORK


EUROPE AND ASIA

                                                                E. M.
Paris to Moscow (rail)                                          1,800
Moscow to Irkutsk (rail)                                        4,000
Irkutsk to Yakutsk (employed 720 horses)                        2,000
Yakutsk to Verkhoyansk (employed 80 horses and 240 reindeer)      623
Verkhoyansk to Sredni-Kolymsk (employed 620 deer)               1,006
Sredni-Kolymsk to Nijni-Kolymsk (employed 8 horses,
  27 reindeer, 50 dogs).                                          334
Nijni-Kolymsk to Bering Straits (started with 64 dogs,
  arrived at Bering Straits with 9)                             1,500
                                                               ------
Total English miles: Europe and Asia                           11,263

(Employing 808 horses, 887 reindeer, and 114 dogs.)



AMERICA

                                                                E. M.
East Cape, Bering Straits to Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska          60
Cape Prince of Wales to Nome City                                 140
Nome City to St. Michael's                                        120
St. Michael's to Dawson City                                    1,200
Dawson City to White Horse Rapids                                 450
White Horse Rapids to Skagway                                     110
Skagway to Seattle                                              1,041
Seattle to San Francisco                                        1,000
San Francisco to New York                                       3,110
                                                               ------
Total mileage: Paris to New York                               18,494



APPENDIX II

LIST OF POST-STATIONS BETWEEN IRKUTSK AND YAKUTSK

                                          Versts.
Irkutsk to Koulinskaya                        23
Koulinskaya to Jerdovskaya                    21
Jerdovskaya to Ust-Ardinsk                    21½
Ust-Ardinsk to Alzonovskaya                   31
Alzonovskaya to Bandevskaya                   25
Bandevskaya to Hagatovskaya                   29
Hagatovskaya to Manzourskaya                  30
Manzourskaya to Malo-Manzoursk                31½
Malo-Manzoursk to Katchugaskaya               24½
Katchugaskaya to Verkolensk                   28¾
                                             ----
                                             265¼

_To Verkolensk, 3 kopeks a verst per horse. From Verkolensk to Yakutsk,
4½ kopeks a verst per horse._


Verkolensk to Tumentsofskaya                  25
Tumentsofskaya to Korkinskaya                 16
Korkinskaya to Petrofskaya                    19½
Petrofskaya to Panamarefskaya                 22
Panamarefskaya to Jigalovskaya                21
Jigalovskaya to Ust-Ilginsk                   30½
Ust-Ilginsk to Grousnovskaya                  26
Grousnovskaya to Zakamenska                   19
Zakamenska to Shamanovskaya                   16¾
Shamanovskaya to Golovskaya                   18
Golovskaya to Sourovskaya                     16
Sourovskaya to Diadinskaya                    15½
Diadinskaya to Basovskaya                     22
Basovskaya to Orlinsk                         21
Orlinsk to Tarasovskaya                       17¼
Tarasovskaya to Skokinskaya                   22
Skokinskaya to Boyarsky                       20
Boyarsky to Omolevskaya                       23
Omolevskaya to Riskaya                        18
Riskaya to Bania                              17¾
Bania to Touroutskaya                         16¾
Touroutskaya to Ust-Kutsk                     16
Ust-Kutsk to Yakurimsk                        18½
Yakurimsk to Kazarkinskaya                    28
Kazarkinskaya to Kokiskaya                    20¼
Kokiskaya to Sukhovskaya                      25¾
Sukhovskaya to Nazarovskaya                   25½
Nazarovskaya to Markovskaya                   23
Markovskaya to Oulkanskaya                    21
Oulkanskaya to Krasnoyarskaya                 17½
Krasnoyarskaya to Potapovskaya                14
Potapovskaya to Makarovskaya                  22¾
Makarovskaya to Zaborskaya                    15
Zaborskaya to Bezroukov                       31
Bezroukov to Kirensk                          31
                                      -----------
                                      997½ - 732¼


Kirensk to Alexeieff                          21
Alexeieff to Garbovsk                         21
Garbovsk to Vishniakovskaya                   28
Vishniakovskaya to Spalashinsk                25
Spalashinsk to Ilinsk                         24¼
Ilinsk to Darinskaya                          22
Darinskaya to Itcherskaya                     28½
Itcherskaya to Montinskaya                    22½
Montinskaya to Ivanoushkofskaya               28
Ivanoushkofskaya to Tchastinsk                29
Tchastinsk to Pianovkovskaya                  18½
Pianovkovskaya to Dulrovskaya                 18½
Dulrovskaya to Kireisk                        30
Kireisk to Solianskaya                        26
Solianskaya to Parshinsk                      18¼
Parshinsk to Risinsk                          26½
Risinsk to Tchuskaya                          26
Tchuskaya to Vitimsk                          22½
                                      -----------
                                      1433 - 435½


Vitimsk to Polovinaya                         13
Polovinaya to Peledonskaya                    15¼
Peledonskaya to Krestovskaya                  28½
Krestovskaya to Peskovskaya                   28
Peskovskaya to Graditsa                       25
Graditsa to Khamrinsk                         31¼
Khamrinsk to Kukinskaya                       26
Kukinskaya to Terechinskaya                   20½
Terechinskaya to Mukhtomskaya                 29½
Mukhtomskaya to Murinsk                       22½
Murinsk to Batamaiskaya                       20
Batamaiskaya to Sadkolskaya                   21½
Sadkolskaya to Niouskaya                      25½
Niouskaya to Turuklinsk                       17½
Turuklinsk to Jerbinsk                        17½
Jerbinsk to Tinnaiya                          17¾
Tinnaiya to Kamenskaya                        21
Kamenskaya to Jeloiskaya                      23
Jeloiskaya to Noktinskaya                     30
                                     ------------
                                     1866¼ - 433¼


Noktinskaya to Gotchilnaya                    30
Gotchilnaya to Beresovzskaya                  22
Beresovzskaya to Inniakskaya                  17½
Inniakskaya to Delgeskaya                     22
Delgeskaya to Katchegarskaya                  20
Katchegarskaya to Naleskaya                   21
Naleskaya to Tcherendeskaya                   32½
Tcherendeskaya to Birioutskaya                22½
Birioutskaya to Berdianskaya                  20
Berdianskaya to Dourdousovskaya               20
Dourdousovskaya to Olekminsk                  18
                                      -----------
                                      2111¾--245½


Olekminsk to Solyanskaya                      26
Solyanskaya to Harialakskaya                  22¼
Harialakskaya to Namaminskaya                 24
Namaminskaya to Russkaya                      18
Russkaya to Tchekurskaya                      32½
Tchekurskaya to Billaya                       17
Billaya to Hat-Tumulskaya                     71
Hat-Tumulskaya to Marhinskaya                 22¼
Marhinskaya to Marchihanskaya                 22½
Marchihanskaya to Samatatskaya                25½
Samatatskaya to Elovskaya                     25
Elovskaya to Malikanskaya                     25½
Malikanskaya to Tchuriskaya                   22
Tchuriskaya to Isitzkaya                      17½
Isitzkaya to Krestinskaya                     17¾
Krestinskaya to Jurninsk                      18¾
Jurninsk to Oïmurdusk                         26½
Oïmurdusk to Ad-Dabausk                       16
Ad-Dabausk to Sinskaya                        19
Sinskaya to Batamaïskaya                      27¾
Batamaïskaya to Tit-Arinsk                    24½
Tit-Arinsk to Elanskaya                       22
Elanskaya to Tun-Arinsk                       22
Tun-Arinsk to Bulguniatatskaya                15
Bulguniatatskaya to Bestiatskaya              15½
Bestiatskaya to Pokrovskaya                   23¾
Pokrovskaya to Ulak-Ansk                      18½
Ulak-Ansk to Tektiurskaya                     21¾
Tektiurskaya to Tabaginskaya                  17
Tabaginskaya to Yakutsk                       25
                                             ----
                                             701¾

Total versts, 2813½.
(A verst is two-thirds of an English mile.)



APPENDIX III


REINDEER STATIONS BETWEEN YAKUTSK AND VERKHOYANSK

                                            Versts.
Yakutsk to Turutskaya                         20
Turutskaya to Makarinsk                       30
Makarinsk to Hatustatskaya                    22
Hatustatskaya to Eleginiakskaya               25
Eleginiakskaya to Hagaraderdinsk              20
Hagaraderdinsk to Taraïskaya                  45
Taraïskaya to Khatignak                       37
Khatignak to Tandinskaya                      30
Tandinskaya to Sanga-Ali (_Pov._)             30
Sanga-Ali to Sordonakia (_Pov._)              50
Sordonakia to Beté-Kül                        50
Beté-Kül to Anna-Sük (_Pov._)                 50


VERKHOYANSK PASS.

Anna-Sük to Kangerak                          40
Kangerak to Mollahoï (_Pov._)                 65
Mollahoï to Suruktutskaya                     65
Suruktutskaya to Suruktak (_Pov._)            50
Suruktak to Siremskaya                        35
Siremskaya to Golova-Medvied (_Pov._)         60
Golova-Medvied to Tsissibas                   60
Tsissibas to Yuk-Tak (_Pov._)                 50
Yuk-Tak to Kurinskaya                         70
Kurinskaya to Verkhoyansk                     30
                                             ---
                               Total versts  934

_Pov.--Povarnia._



APPENDIX IV


YAKUTE SETTLEMENTS BETWEEN VERKHOYANSK AND SREDNI-KOLYMSK

                                            Versts.
Verkhoyansk to Lang-Lor (_Y._)                60
Lang-Lor to Batagaï (_Pov._)                  45
Batagaï to Aditschá (S.)            150 _v._--45
Aditschá to Bür-Alü (_Pov._)                  45
Bür-Alü to Tostach (S. *)           115 _v._--70
Tostach to Kürtas (_Pov._)                    85
Kürtas to Siss (_Pov._)                       45
Siss to Tiriak-Hureya (_Pov._)                45
Tiriak-Hureya to Sordak (_Pov._)              45
Sordak to Kurelach (S. *)           270 _v._--50
Kurelach to Sarok-Kalak (_Pov._)              45
Sarok-Kalak to Ustin (_Pov._)                 50
Ustin to Bachaol-Buta (_Y._)                  30
Bachaol-Buta to Ebelach (S. *)      175 _v._--50
Ebelach to Khatignak-Kül (_Y._)               60
Khatignak-Kül to Haras-Kül (_Y._)             50
Haras-Kül to Keni-Kül (S. *)        150 _v._--40
Keni-Kül to Ari-Tumul (_Y._)                  25
Ari-Tumul to Khatignak (S. *)       100 _v._--75
Khatignak to Shestakova (_Pov._)              80
Shestakova to Siss-Ana (_Pov._)               50
Siss-Ana to Tsiganak (_Y._)                   50
Tsiganak to Sokurdakh (_Pov._)                20
Sokurdakh to Andylakh (S. *)        250 _v._--50
Andylakh to Ultum (S. *)                      60
Ultum to Utchugoi-Kel (_Y._)                  40
Utchugoi-Kel to Malofskaya (S. *)             50
Malofskaya to Ehelakh (_Pov._)                60
Ehelakh to Yatetsia (_Y._)                    30
Yatetsia to Sredni-Kolymsk          300 _v._--60
                                            ----
                              Total versts  1510

(*)--Change reindeer.
(_Y._)--_Yurta._
(S.)--Station.
(_Pov._)--_Povarnia._



APPENDIX V

SETTLEMENTS ON KOLYMA RIVER BETWEEN SREDNI-KOLYMSK AND NIJNI-KOLYMSK

                                            Versts.
Sredni-Kolymsk to Botolakh                    50
Botolakh to Silgisit                          40
Silgisit to Olbut                             60
Olbut to Pamaskina                            60
Pamaskina to Yuguz-Tamak                      40
  (_Horses_)

Yuguz-Tamak to Krest                          30
Krest to Gornitza                             60
  (_Reindeer_)

Gornitza to Omolonskaya                       60
Omolonskaya to Lakeyevskaya                   40
Lakeyevskaya to Kimkina                       40
Kimkina to Nijni-Kolymsk                      40
  (_Dogs_)
                                             ---
              Total versts                   520



APPENDIX VI

A SHORT GLOSSARY OF YAKUTE WORDS

       Yakute.        Turkish.
1       _Bir_           _Bir_
2       _Iki_           _Iki_
3       _Us_            _Utch_
4       _Tar_           _Dort_
5       _Bar_           _Besh_
6       _Ali_           _Alti_
7       _Sekki_         _Yedi_
8       _Ahuse_         _Sekis_
9       _Too-oose_      _Dokus_
10      _Ohn_           _Ohn_
20      _Shirbeh_
30      _Olût_
100     _Sūs_

A man--_Kehé_
A woman--_Diak-Tar_
Yes--_Da_
No--_Sok_
Good--_Yutchingan_
Bad--_Koosahan_
Big--_Lohan_
Little--_Atchu-bui_
A horse--_Atté_
A dog--_Ut_
A house--_Djiéh_
A fire--_Wat_
A gun--_Sar_
Meat--_Ette_
Quick--_Turganik_
A door--_Ana_
Water--_Ou_
The sea--_Bayahel_
A river--_Uriakh_
The face--_Surei_
The hands--_Ili_
The arms--_Khari_
The feet--_Atakh_
Rain--_Sammor_
Wind--_Tül_
Snow--_Har_
The sun--_Kün_
The moon--_Oui_
A mouse--_Kugak_
A rat--_Kutchas_
A wolf--_Bireh_
A bear--_Ehä_
A cow--_Anakh_
Beautiful--_Utchingoi_
Ugly--_Kouhahan_
Dry--_Kuranak_
Wet--_Nitchagaï_
Dear--_Garāhan_
Cheap--_Tcheptchiki_
Far--_Gurach_
Near--_Tchugoss_
To go--_Sullar_
To give--_Bier_
To speak--_Etter_
To ask--_Orjitar_
To ride--_Miner_
To buy--_Atlahar_
To eat--_Ahukka_
To drink--_Ihiéka_
To smoke--_Tardar_
A month--_Ui_
A week--_Nediélia_
A day--_Boikun_
An hour--_Birtchas_



APPENDIX VII

GLOSSARY OF VARIOUS DIALECTS IN USE AMONGST THE TCHUKTCHIS INHABITING
THE COASTS OF N.E. SIBERIA


Cape Shelagskoi to Whalen.       East Cape.           Oumwaidjik.
There is: _Warkin_               _Warkin_
There is not: _Winga_            _Winga_
No: _Winga_                      _Winga_              _Naka_
Yes: _Ee-ee_                     _Ee-ee_              _Ah-ah_
All right: _Metchinki_
Here: _Utku_
I--my: _Mori_                    _Wee_                _Kwanga_
You--your: _Turginian_
A deer: _Korang_                 _Kashinat_           _Guwiniak_
A house: _Yarat_                 _Muntarak_           _Muntarak_
Far: _Yar_
By-and-bye: _Yo-yo_
A walrus: _Durka_                _Ibok_               _Ayivak_
Wood: _Ut-Tut_                   _Naksiet_
To sleep: _Zipiska_
Keep still: _Deakarikti_         _Sien_               _Napéré_
I don't know: _Ko_
A dog: _At-Tau_                  _Kokmarok_           _Klikmak_
A man: _Katowvak_                                     _Yuk_
A woman: _Nawonskat_                                  _Aranak_
To drink: _Megwesiak_                                 _Mugwe_
A bear: _Umhang_                 _Nanok_              _Nanok_
A seal: _Memet_                  _Nahksak_            _Maklak_
A sled: _Urgur_                  _Kaimukshik_         _Kamiyak_
A steamer: _It-Kowat_            _Toroma_             _Amakpawit_
A knife: _Vallia_                _Sinkat_
A duck: _Gallia_                 _Tigumak_            _Kawak_
Ice: _Ilgil_                     _Sikok_              _Siku_
Snow: _Alash_                    _Ani_                _Anio_
Wind: _Yu-yo_                    _Anok_               _Anokiva_
Good-day: _Ta-oom_               _Taham_              _Tanakhoom_
You lie:                         _Eklang_             _Eklima-Kotung_
The hand:                        _Askak_              _Eehit_
To smoke: _Takwaigen_            _Aptiok_             _Meluktok_
1:  _Nerisha_                    _Atajak_             _Atajak_
2:  _Irak_                       _Mailop_             _Mailop_
3:  _Nerok_                      _Piniayut_           _Piniayut_
4:  _Nirak_                      _Shtemet_            _Shtemet_
5:  _Metch-Tinga_                _Taklimat_           _Taklimat_
6:  _No-Metch-Tinga_             _Awindlit_           _Awindlit_
7:  _Nera-Ah_                    _Mara-Awindlit_      _Mara-Awindlit_
8:  _Angero-Utkui_               _Pinia-Unlulut_      _Pinia-Unlulut_
9:  _Onasinki_                   _Shtema-Unlulut_     _Shtema-Unlulut_
10: _Menitku_                    _Kullia_             _Kullia_



APPENDIX VIII

METEOROLOGICAL RECORD OF THE DE WINDT EXPEDITION


PARIS TO NEW YORK, 1901-1902

+-------+--------------------+------------------------+------+------+
| Date. |   Place.           |         Remarks.       |8 A.M.|6 P.M.|
+-------+--------------------+------------------------+------+------+
|  Dec. |                    |                        |      |      |
|   19  |  Paris  }          |Dull--some snow         |      |  40° |
|   20  |  Berlin } Nord     |Clear--sunshine         |  42° |  50° |
|   21  |  Warsaw } Express  |Clear                   |  41° |  33° |
|   22  |  Viazma }          |Dull--snow              |  20° |  22° |
|   23  |  Moscow }          |  "    "                |  22° |  19° |
|   24  |    "               |Dull                    |  17° |  12° |
|   25  |    "               |  "   snow              |  -2° |   5° |
|   26  |    "               |  "    "                |  -8° |  -5° |
|   27  |    "               |Fog and snow            | -10° |   5° |
|   28  |    "               |Dull                    |  14° |  21° |
|   29  |    "               |Dull--snow              |   6° |  15° |
|   30  |    "               |Dull                    |  11° |  12° |
|   31  |    "               |Dull--fog               |  20° |  22° |
|  Jan. |                    |                        |      |      |
|    1  |    "               |Dull                    |  20° |  22° |
|    2  |    "               |  "                     |  30° |  33° |
|    3  |    "               |  "                     |  32° |  33° |
|    4  |    "               |  "                     |  37° |  18° |
|    5  |}                   |  "                     |  30° |  28° |
|    6  |}                   |  "                     |  32° |  29° |
|    7  |}                   |  "                     |  19° |  29° |
|    8  |}  Trans-Siberian   |Bright--some clouds     |  21° |  25° |
|    9  |}  Railway          |Bright sunshine         |  12° |   0° |
|   10  |}                   |Fine                    | -15° |  -9° |
|   11  |}                   |  "                     | -14° |   2° |
|   12  |}                   |Dull--snow              |   7° |   5° |
|   13  |  Irkutsk           |Fine                    |   8° |  15° |
|   14  |     "              |Dull                    |  -2° |  10° |
|   15  |     "              |  "                     |   0° |  15° |
|   16  |     "              |Bright sunshine         |  10° |  22° |
|   17  |     "              |Fog and snow            |  15° |  11° |
|   18  |     "              |Bright sunshine         |  -8° |   6° |
|   19  |     "              |Dull                    |  -2° | -10° |
|   20  |} Alzonovskaya      |Bright sunshine         | -31° | -35° |
|   21  |}                   |Fog                     | -65° | -30° |
|   22  |}                   | "                      | -50° | -32° |
|   23  |}                   | "                      | -50° |  11° |
|   24  |}                   | "                      | -12° |   1° |
|   25  |}                   |Dull--snow and gale N.E.|   0° |   8° |
|   26  |}                   |Clear                   |  -8° |   5° |
|   27  |}                   |Snow                    |  12° |   5° |
|   28  |}                   |Clear                   |  -5° | -14° |
|   29  |}                   |  "                     | -35° | -30° |
|   30  |}                   |Fog                     | -51° | -35° |
|   31  |}                   |Snow                    | -10° |  -5° |
|  Feb. |                    |                        |      |      |
|    1  |} Lena Post-Road    |  "                     |  -2° |  -2° |
|    2  |}                   |  "                     |  -2° |  -5° |
|    3  |}                   |Bright sunshine         |   2° |   5° |
|    4  |}                   |Dull                    |  10° |  12° |
|    5  |}                   |  "                     |  15° |  15° |
|    6  |}                   |Fog                     |   2° |  -5° |
|    7  |}                   | "                      |  -5° |  -4° |
|    8  |}                   |Fine                    | -12° | -28° |
|    9  |}                   |Bright sunshine         | -40° | -32° |
|   10  |}                   |  "       "             | -30° | -10° |
|   11  |}                   |  "       "             | -25° | -16° |
|   12  |}                   |  "       "             | -28° | -35° |
|   13  |}                   |  "       "             | -34° | -25° |
|   14  |  Yakutsk           |Snow                    | -15° | -24° |
|   15  |     "              |Bright sunshine         | -24° | -24° |
|   16  |     "              |  "       "             | -32° | -34° |
|   17  |     "              |  "       "             | -34° | -24° |
|   18  |     "              |  "       "             | -32° | -26° |
|   19  |     "              |  "       "             | -20° | -14° |
|   20  |     "              |  "       "             | -24° | -30° |
|   21  |}    "              |  "       "             | -41° |  -2° |
|   22  |}                   |Dull                    | -12° | -10° |
|   23  |}                   |Bright sunshine         | -45° | -20° |
|   24  |}                   |  "       "             | -41° | -23° |
|   25  |} Yakutsk           |  "       "             | -45° | -30° |
|   26  |} to                |  "       "             | -42° | -40° |
|   27  |} Verkhoyansk       |  "       "             | -75° | -75° |
|   28  |}                   |Dull--snow              | -35° | -37° |
|  Mar. |                    |                        |      |      |
|    1  |}                   |Bright sunshine         | -45° | -63° |
|    2  |  Verkhoyansk       |  "       "             | -65° | -50° |
|    3  |}      "            |  "       "             | -40° | -62° |
|    4  |}      "            |  "       "             | -66° | -65° |
|    5  |}                   |  "       "             | -73° | -10° |
|    6  |}                   |  "       "             | -30° | -35° |
|    7  |}                   |  "       "             | -30° | -25° |
|    8  |}                   |Fog                     | -10° | -78° |
|    9  |} Verkhoyansk       | "                      | -30° | -30° |
|   10  |} to Sredni-Kolymsk | "                      | -30° |  -0° |
|   11  |}                   |Bright sunshine         | -55° | -60° |
|   12  |}                   |   "      "             | -35° | -40° |
|   13  |}                   |   "      "             | -34° | -25° |
|   14  |}                   |   "      "             | -40° | -30° |
|   15  |}                   |   "      "             | -25° | -25° |
|   16  |}                   |   "      "             | -10° | -20° |
|   17  |}                   |   "      "             | -15° |   0° |
|   18  |} Sredni-Kolymsk    |   "      "             | -15° | -10° |
|   19  |     "      "       |   "      "             | -20° | -10° |
|   20  |     "      "       |Fog                     | -10° | -18° |
|   21  |     "      "       | "                      | -38° | -25° |
|   22  |}    "      "       |Bright sunshine         | -35° | -30° |
|   23  |}                   |   "      "             | -40° | -25° |
|   24  |}                   |Dull                    |   0° | -10° |
|   25  |} Sredni-Kolymsk--  |Dull--gale S.W.         |  -5° | -15° |
|   26  |}   Nijni-Kolymsk   |Fine                    | -20° |  -5° |
|   27  |}                   |Dull--gale S.E.         |   5° | -15° |
|   28  |} Nijni-Kolymsk     |Dull                    | -20° | -15° |
|   29  |     "      "       |Fine                    | -30° |  -8° |
|   30  |     "      "       |Bright sunshine         | -35° | -10° |
|   31  |     "      "       |   "      "             | -30° | -25° |
|  Apr. |                    |                        |      |      |
|    1  |     "      "       |   "      "             | -26° | -30° |
|    2  |     "      "       |Fine--some snow         | -18° | -20° |
|    3  |     "      "       |Fine                    | -20° | -14° |
|    4  |  Sukharno          |Strong gale N.W.        | -16° | -20° |
|    5  |     "              |  "     "    "          | -15° | -22° |
|    6  |     "              |  "     "    "          | -20° | -20° |
|    7  |  Camp 1            |Bright sunshine         | -16° | -20° |
|    8  |                    |Dull                    |   0° |   0° |
|  9[92]|                    |Strong gale N.          |   0° |  -2° |
|   10  |}                   |Snow                    |  20° | -10° |
|   11  |}                   |Strong gale N.W.        | -10° | -10° |
|   12  |}                   | "      "   E.          |   5° |  15° |
|   13  |}                   |Poorga N.W.             |  12° |  25° |
|   14  |}                   |   "    "               |  12° |   9° |
|   15  |}                   |   "    "               |   4° |  -7° |
|   16  |}                   |   "   S.E.             |  -2° |   5° |
|   17  |}                   |   "   S.E.             |  10° |   5° |
|   18  |}                   |   "   E.               |   0° |   4° |
|   19  |}                   |Strong gale N.E.        |   0° |   0° |
|   20  |}                   |   "     "  W.          |  -5° |   2° |
|   21  |}                   |Fine--N.E. light        |   6° |  10° |
|   22  |}                   |Gale S.W.               |   0° |   0° |
|   23  |}                   |Snowstorms              |  30° |   5° |
|   24  |}                   |  "                     |  25° |   5° |
|   25  |}                   |Dull--snow              |  12° |  19° |
|   26  |}                   |Strong gale N.W.        |  22° |  15° |
|   27  |}                   |Gale N.W.               |  20° |  15° |
|   28  |}                   |Light breeze N.         |  14° |  10° |
|   29  |}  Arctic Coast     |Dull                    |  25° |  -2° |
|   30  |}                   |Bright sunshine         |  -8° |  10° |
|   May |                    |                        |      |      |
|    1  |}                   |Dull--gale N.           |  18° |  16° |
|    2  |}                   |Snowstorms              |  22° |   0° |
|    3  |}                   |Gale N. and snow        |  25° |  15° |
|    4  |}                   |Strong gale N.W.        |  20° |  20° |
|  5[93]|}                   |   "     "  N.E.        |  22° |  20° |
|    6  |}                   |Dull                    |  55° |  24° |
|    7  |}                   |Gale N.E.               |  32° |  28° |
|    8  |}                   |  "  S.W.               |  38° |  26° |
|    9  |}                   |Fog                     |  26° |  20° |
|   10  |}                   |Bright and clear        |  15° |  28° |
|   11  |}                   |   "    "    "          |  18° |  25° |
|   12  |}                   |   "    "    "          |  23° |  17° |
|   13  |}                   |Dull--strong breeze S.W.|  22° |  25° |
|   14  |}                   |  "      "      "       |  22° |  15° |
|   15  |}                   |Poorga N.E.             |  15° |  15° |
|   16  |}                   |Dull--strong gale N.E.  |  20° |  18° |
|   17  |}                   |Strong gale N.W.--snow  |  20° |  18° |
|   18  |}                   |Snow                    |  25° |  20° |
|   19  | Whalen--Bering     |Dull--still             |  32° |  25° |
|       |   Straits          |                        |      |      |
|   20  |    "      " "      |  "     "               |  45° |  25° |
|   21  |    "      " "      |  "     "               |  50° |  34° |
|   22  |    "      " "      |  "     "               |  32° |  31° |
|   23  |    "      " "      |Snow                    |  44° |  45° |
|   24  |    "      " "      |Fog                     |  44° |  39° |
|   25  |    "      " "      |Strong breeze S.--dull  |  36° |  40° |
|   26  |    "      " "      |Gale S.E. and sleet     |  35° |  36° |
|       |    "      " "      |                        |      |      |
|   27  |    "      " "      |Fine                    |  36° |  39° |
|   28  |    "      " "      |Dull--fog               |  42° |  40° |
|   29  |    "      " "      |Dull                    |  43° |  40° |
|   30  |}                   | "                      |  49° |  34° |
|   31  |}                   | "                      |  38° |  46° |
|  June |}                   |                        |      |      |
|    1  |}                   |Bright and clear        |  34° |  28° |
|    2  |}                   |Gale S.                 |  32° |  32° |
|    3  |}                   |Dull--rain              |  42° |  34° |
|    4  |}                   |Bright and clear        |  56° |  51° |
|    5  |}                   |Clear                   |  38° |  52° |
|    6  |}                   |Fine--hazy              |  56° |  68° |
|    7  |}                   |Clear                   |  47° |  65° |
|    8  |} Bering Straits    |  "                     |  46° |  55° |
|    9  |}                   |  "                     |  48° |  88° |
|   10  |}                   |  "                     |  48° |  60° |
|   11  |}                   |  "                     |  45° |  38° |
| 12[94]|}                   |Rain                    |  46° |  36° |
|   13  |}                   |  "                     |  46° |  40° |
| 14[94]|}                   |  "                     |  43° |  40° |
|   15  |}                   |Fog                     |  40° |  42° |
|   16  |}                   |Clear                   |  40° |  55° |
|   17  |}                   |Still                   |  53° |  55° |
|   18  |}                   |  "                     |  51° |  50° |
|   19  |}                   |Gale S.--dull--rain     |  42° |  41° |
|   20  |} Cape Prince       |Strong gale S.W.        |  34° |  40° |
|   21  |} of Wales--Alaska  |  "     "    "          |  33° |  36° |
|   22  |}                   |Gale N.W.--dull         |  45° |  42° |
|   23  |}                   |  "  S.W.--dull         |  36° |  38° |
|   24  |}                   |  "  S.W.--dull         |  38° |  38° |
|   25  |Nome City           |Clear and bright        |  45° |  65° |
|   26  | "    "             |  "    "    "           |  45° |  62° |
|   27  | "    "             |  "    "    "           |  55° |  70° |
|   28  | "    "             |  "    "    "           |  62° |  64° |
|   29  | "    "             |  "    "    "           |  60° |  64° |
|   30  |Saint Michael's     |  "    "    "           |  62° |  73° |
+-------+--------------------+------------------------+------+------+

[Footnote 92: 40° below zero inside tent for three hours at night.]

[Footnote 93: Dates from this must be set back one day on account of
crossing 180° long.]

[Footnote 94: Sea ice opened.]



THE END.



ESTABLISHED 1798

[Illustration]

T. NELSON
AND SONS
PRINTERS AND
PUBLISHERS



[Transcriber's Note: The following typographical errors present in the
original edition have been corrected.

In Chapter II, "accom- the expedition" has been changed to "accompanied
the expedition".

In Chapter IV, a missing quotation mark has been inserted before "You
must not take your furs off".

In Chapter V, "other goulish repasts" has been changed to "other
ghoulish repasts".

In Chapter VI, "arrive as its destination" has been changed to "arrive
at its destination".

In Chapter XI, "a mountain two rivers and a village" has been changed to
"a mountain, two rivers and a village"; and a comma has been changed to
a period after "a voyage of nearly two months from Sredni-Kolymsk".

In Chapter XIII, "by Waldemar Borgoras" has been changed to "by Waldemar
Bogoras".

In Chapter XIV, "a rocky, precipitous promonotory" has been changed to
"a rocky, precipitous promontory"; a comma has been changed to a period
after "during their periods of festivity"; and a missing period has been
added after "a Russian and a Turk".

In Chapter XV, a missing period has been added after "after a terrible
night in the ice".

In Chapter XVI, "fiery poision" has been changed to "fiery poison"; a
missing period has been added after "through the open doorway"; and "we
near our destination" has been changed to "we neared our destination".

In Chapter XVII, a single creek is successively referred to as "Last
Chance" and "Lost Chance": the second occurrence has been changed to
"Last Chance". Also, "held and and shaken" has been changed to "held and
shaken".

In Appendix I, "Niji-Kolymsk to Bering Straits" has been changed to
"Nijni-Kolymsk to Bering Straits".

In Appendix III, "Beté-Kül to Auna-Sük" has been changed to "Beté-Kül to
Anna-Sük".

In Appendix IV, "Keni-Kül to Ari-Tumul (Y.))" has been changed to
"Keni-Kül to Ari-Tumul (Y.)".]





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